Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Missing Pieces

"More Notes from Leslie Desmond Clinic in Fort Collins CO"

Last month I shared with you notes from the Leslie Desmond Clinic I attended in Fort Collins Co. The article was titled "Everything Counts Even the Little Things". You can reread the article by going to the newsletter archive links on the left side of this page. At the end of last months article I promised to share more insights I gleaned from Leslie.

As I watched Leslie handle horses in a natural way with subtle yet clear communication I noticed some pieces I was still missing. The most obvious one was, I often lacked the awareness of what the root of the neck and shoulders of the horse were doing and how this affected the overall performance. I realized I was often too focused on the nose and the head of the horse instead of keeping the root of the neck available and the shoulders open and responsive.

When I got home from the clinic I started to notice a lot of tension in my horse's shoulders. I discovered I needed more access to his shoulders. Every time I went out to ride after the clinic I could hear Leslie's voice saying, "Don't stuff the forehand down. Never unstick the shoulders by pulling on the head. Get the belly out of the way and the hips under to get the shoulders opened up." I have been focused on getting the horses hindquarters and rib cage relaxed soft and responsive, which I have almost accomplished. When I started paying more attention to the rest of the horse especially the root of the neck and shoulders the whole horse started to balance better which in turn makes riding easier and more enjoyable.

We need a freedom and lightness in the shoulders in order to get good turns. When we have this freedom a hackmore or snaffle bit shouldn't weigh anything, because we are releasing the horse into position instead of pulling them into the turn. In other words we want to see how little we can do to get the best possible response.

Every good horseman, trainer or nationally know clinician talks a lot about pressure and release. However, Leslie said, "the idea of feel and release fits a horse better, because feel and release is what a horse NEEDS!" This is the second missing piece which I am still trying to find a way to put into words on a page so it makes sense to most of us. This concept is easier to see than to describe. Here are some quotes from my notes which may help us understand this other way of thinking about feel and release as opposed to pressure and release.

**Feel and Release with Intent has to be clear to you or the results won't be clear to the horse.

**The release has more to do with intent and focus than applying and letting go of pressure.

**Never pursue a horse who has yielded.
**Stop asking before the horse gives out.

**The response of the horse should be a reflection of intent, not an escape move from pressure.

**A horse is in self-preservation mode if he is moving to escape from something.

**The horse is never the target of pressure, if this happens step away and re-present with better intent and focus.

**When the horse stops being the focus they are able to blend in with you.

**Focus on where you are going and how you want to get there then the horse will have more confidence to come along with you.

**Step back to release a horse into speed.

**Give the horse more line opening the leading hand for more speed. (This could be a lead line or even reins while riding.)

**It's not about domination, it is about clarity.

**Don't think of punishment. Change your thinking because punishment has no place with horses.

**A genuine invitation to do something leaves "No "as an answer.

**Let a "No" response be OK because that makes a "Yes" response from the horse have meaning.

**However even though "no" can be a response we could accept from a horse, I want to clarify that Leslie stressed over and over the importance of respect.

**In fact she said, "Trust is not as important as respect." So if your horse is pushing you around while saying "No". It would be wise to change your approach. You must be worthy of respect and you must earn it from a horse.

**Accuracy comes from respect!

I don't want to put anyone on overload. There is enough to think about from these two missing pieces; (Keep the root of the neck and shoulders available & Feel and Release fits a horse better than pressure) I still have not exhausted the notes I took at Leslie's clinic. I will share even more in next months newsletter which may help link up some of the missing pieces we could still have in our horsemanship attitudes and skills. When we have more of the missing pieces in place it will help ensure our success with horses.

Happy Trails,
Sherry Jarvis

Everything Counts Even the Little Things!

"Notes from Leslie Desmond Clinic in Fort Collins CO"

Leslie is a woman of detail. It was obvious she always had a plan, was thinking about her options and adjusting to fit the situation. Everything mattered to her and most important she could read a horse better than anyone I have ever seen. Her super insight into what the horse needed gave her the uncanney ability to be in the right spot with the correct guidance for the horse and therefore the horse offered her a willing and soft response.

As I travel around the country it seems most people just want to get on and ride their horse. They want riding lessons more than anything else. Most of us don't pay enough attention to the little stuff like how we hold our horse. The very first thing Leslie addressed was the importance of how to set up a horse to be with you. She said, "A horse needs to learn how to be with you." This begins with the basics of how and where we stand as we hold a horse. She suggested we always stay at the shoulder behind the elbow, because this position is better for the horse. As we do this we should blend with the horse and let them be. Our belly button should always be behind the elbow to love and give affection to our horse. Don't love on the nose of a horse, it is RUDE! Even when we are hanging out with a horse we are training them.

Many people stand to far forward where they have to keep bumping the head of the horse to keep him still. In this spot they are in the horses blind spot. By not standing in the blind spot the horse will be able to keep his feet still because he can see anything he needs to look at by moving his head not his feet. When we stand in his blind spot the horse always has to adjust his feet in order to see something of concern to him. Blocking a horses view teaches them to move you because they are trying to see. So it is better to stay out of the way. This is all part of learning how not to set our horses up to fail, instead set them up to succeed.

Leslie pointed out there are many ways to be with a horse and some work better than others. However it doesn't matter what way you choose because horses can and do figure out what we want because of who they are not because of who we are or how skilled we are. She said, "Horses are PEOPLE EXPERTS!" This is why they have survived in our world for so long. Horses know what we know and more important they know what we don't know. We should never forget what a horse needs us to know.

Leslie pointed out that everyone who holds a lead rope is a trainer. Even the person who mucks your stall or feeds your horse, your vet, farrier, or anyone else who handles your horse are all trainers of your horse. If we miss the small stuff it will turn into big stuff. If your presence makes a horse upset you must make the neccessary changes in you which will make a difference for the horse. Don't expect the horse to change first. A horse will come to your level of competence. Your presence should bring out the best in a horse.

We heard over and over the importance of ground work in order to have a successful riding horse. Some of the quotes from my notes are:

Every ride reflects the ground work you have or don't have.
Efficiency of your ground work determines whether you can get shoulders and lightness into a turn or not when riding.
Refinement on riding needs to be built in on the ground first.
You can't get a better riding horse than what you have on the ground.
Don't ride a horse who doesn't respect you on the ground.

There are two other aspects I will mention in this newsletter which were a repetitive theme throughout the clinic : ATTENTION and INTENTION!

It seems fairly obvious you have to have the attention of a horse before you ask them to do something. But if you really start watching, it will amaze you how many times people ask a horse for something when his attention is else where. You don't have to bear down on a horse to get their attention. Be more subtle, use their curiosity. If you have the horses attention and you can think it and visualize it they will do it willingly and instantly.

Your intent has to be clear to you or the results won't be clear to the horse. When the horse stops being the focus they will blend in with you. If you focus with great intention on where you are going the horse will have more confidence to come along with you.

I took 10 pages of notes at this clinic so this is just the very beginning. You can expect more notes from what I learned in the next newsletter. I must go now, because tomorrow is the beginning of the Alumni Women's Confident Leadership Camp. The first year the theme for this very special group of women was "Hearts finding wings so dreams can fly". Last year the theme was "The Journey Continues". This year we will be asking ourselves "Are we there yet?" So until next time remember to make your intent clear and get your horses attention before asking him to do something, because everything counts even the little things.

Happy Trails,
Sherry Jarvis