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  1. kissing Sherlock

    Hmm, still processing some recent learning. This part is stuff that I have been trying to put into words for years, but explaining my thoughts to someone in America has crystallised my feelings into better words. It’s about confidence, and <BLOG_BREAK>believing in yourself.

    I have helped people with all kinds of confidence issues, it could be with handling, hacking, cantering, but the most common one I come up against is jumping.  I have been helping quite a few people with this , and have been e mailing with someone who was interested in my philosophy of what I was doing, as they had seen dramatic results.

    Being questioned is great, the right question sets you to thinking, and clarifies your own thoughts, and in a few e mails I was expressing myself better. I realised that I hate it when people are encouraged to "be brave" and feel the fear and do it anyway, without tackling the real issue, as I think it takes them from being able to listen to their instincts and inner guidance. This makes them lose confidence in themselves even if they manage to do the task.


    I often hear from people that, for instance, in jumping they are scared and do not enjoy it, but they would like to enjoy it as it looks like fun, and it is exhilarating. Usually this confidence loss will be after a fall. I often hear that they have been encouraged to jump and jump, in the hopes that once they have jumped a few times safely then they will realise that they are safe(ish) even if they have previously suffered a fall, possibly with an injury (or potential of injury) and subsequent confidence loss.


    For some people this must be a successful tactic, however I hear from a lot of people who have jumped the jump, time after time, but still, inside, have a nasty fearful feeling, and never really enjoy jumping. That tactic did not work for them.


    In my published “training philosophy” (see link from my web home page) I have looked at the issue some time ago and it reads that I offer “Help with understanding the reasoning behind fears that stop people doing what they want to do. Often being to let the client see that what they may have perceived as them being “cowardly” is in fact a wise inner voice warning of real danger, or that information has been missed. We can then work objectively on the information and risk.”


    I have found that usually when a client has a fear, for instance jumping, then there IS a problem. The “problem” may not be big enough to cause an issue on 99% of jumps but the mind has realised that there IS a danger. It may be a lack of core strength, a technical lack of knowledge, a lack of balance. I usually find that the thing that is missing is that the whole physical flow of jumping has not been moved into the subconscious “muscle memory” of the body, so the conscious mind is stressing as it cannot process all those necessary adjustments.


    Having taken a training course in confidence techniques such as taking time back and reframing experiences to help the mind put things into a different perspective, I do think such techniques have their place. However, I realised that in doing this I was ignoring the fact that the mind had perceived the possibility of Danger, and in reprogramming the mind without at least looking in to the possibility that there was something actually missing I was at best ignoring a gift, also possibly leaving the perceived danger in place, and at worst diss-ing (dis as in disempower, discredit, disrespect) my client and their perceived views.


    I like it when we can explore the issue, explain it and work on it, agree how we will proceed, even if that does still mean a period of being "brave" while the new technique is tried, assessed and refined. For jumping we often work with balance and core strength on the flat, aligning the body in various positions of high and low, until the body can recover its equilibrium from any position without conscious thought. We can also play with scrambling up banks and steep hills (like a take-off time and time again), and cantering down a hill (like landing, time and time again!), until the body is poised and strong, and the body is able to self adjust.


    When we return to jumping it will be with agreement and with an informed bravery, trying something, an assessment of your new feelings, reacting to the new information; not bashing on without regard to your feelings.


    I was talking to someone recently about how their fears had been ignored, and worse, derided. They felt crushed, even though they had in fact successfully jumped fences a good number of times. Jumping the fence had not made them feel better or the fear go away. They had done the task, but felt bad inside.


    I again made a realisation, something I had known but had not previously found the words to explain.


    “There can't be anything more destructive than being ignored and disregarded by YOURSELF!!!”


    This brings me back to FUN. If you are having fun, you will recognise that you do not feel panic and fear, you are learning and feeling exhilarated, absorbed and in the moment. With riding horses there will always be a degree of risk and an acceptance of this. If you are having fun you may be feeling the exhilaration of facing the risk down, but to feel it is "FUN" you will be on the right side of that risk, you are in agreement with your inner self.


    I believe we are here to listen to our inner feelings. It is the way we become happy. Horses, or driving cars, or playing tennis, cooking, or practising Aikido, even our relationships with friends and loved ones, these are all just mediums that we use to explore this, the listening to our inner feelings and being true to ourselves. The riding or jumping is the side issue, the being true to yourself is the whole point.


    I was speaking recently to someone I was helping about their journey, and discussing how I could put into writing what I have learned. They said that to them it was finding the last piece of the puzzle to make up the big picture. With their jumping there was one piece missing, and although they could jump it was not a happy experience. When we changed the way we were learning, broke the technique down to small pieces, they found the missing piece, and the whole picture came into focus.


    We were discussing how so many clients, when they have become confident with an aspect of their horsemanship, then they also gain in confidence in other areas of their life. We discussed how that once they had given themselves the respect to take time to listen to their instincts, and quantify and solve the problem, they trusted in themselves. The crossover into other aspects of people's lives has often surprised me, my role is not that of psychologist, psychoanalyst or councillor, it is possible for anyone to become trapped in an unhelpful pattern of thought and need the services of any one of these qualified professionals. The role I seek is that of teacher, coach and mentor, the roles are distinct.
    We further discussed that for that person, they had seen that once you had fitted the final piece of the jigsaw in place you had the full picture as regards jumping, but you could also change the picture to whatever subject you like. The framework of the basic jigsaw, and being able to analyse a problem and trust in yourself to listen to your instincts to see an answer was in place. The subject, or picture, can then change. I like that analogy.



    There, that is what I have learned! The quantum leap learning to me is that horses are just a medium for exploring life and practicing being true to myself. As is EVERYTHING else.

    Not to say that horses are not VERY IMPORTANT, of course they are even MORE important to me as they are THE primary way that I am learning about life and how I fit with it. Horses are the way that I have poured time and effort and love into becoming more feeling. It is through horses that I have been able to practice stillness and presence and feeling the flow of energy and the universe itself.

  2. Complete story
    The first idea I played with on returning from America was the idea of giving a strong enough signal that the horse can find the release. That was a nice safe topic to start. I also observed and thought about something else I observed. The cutting trainer had a whole stable full of lovely horses, all active, soft, athletic and full in their ability to express themselves. I observed this man on a green horse, and that horse was attempting to “play out” his ideas on what he should or should not be doing.

    This horse’s ideas did not be a match with the job in hand, but the rider did not become upset or tense, he showed the horse what was required and got out of the way to allow the horse to comply. He did not STOP the horse forcefully <BLOG_BREAK>from doing what it wanted to do, he just stayed soft, went with, and corrected. At one point Cordy even asked if the rider was intending to do the strange things as he stayed so relaxed and happy with how the session was progressing. The horse always found the correct answer in the end, and “submitted” without losing his dignity.

    The ride was an education to watch. The rider was relaxed and focused, but I think the biggest word to describe it was present.  I realised that the rider had detached himself from the outcome. Now, the rider did care what happened, he had a job for that horse to do, but in the moment he allowed the horse to move, to make the decision right or wrong, and then corrected what was not right. I guess the ego of the rider was taken out of it, he was just present with the horse and in the moment, not present with other concerns. The other thing I observed was that the horse stayed soft in his mind, even when he was trying to “lock up”, because the rider did not join him in that drama. The horse then stayed free enough to see other options.

    This idea of detaching from the outcome has been presented to me by Sherlock, most notably in his loading. For a while we had a problem with loading, after he had slipped on the ramp one day he decided that he did not wish to go up the ramp. For the “big session” after the mishap  it took 3 hours, and it was a journey for me of epic learning proportions.

    We did the normal things of establishing boundaries, so he would not run into me or pull me back, and in a big way that put me in charge. We quite quickly got to the stage where we could walk to the foot of the ramp, and get a foot on, the two feet on, all with small requests and rewards. We even moved to three feet on, and even four feet on the ramp. With most horses this would be enough to step by step help them to understand loading.

    With Sherlock that day, even though we had achieved this first part step by step, and calmly, there was a mental block to actually going UP the ramp. I found that if I upped the pressure any then Sherlock would go to his left, and behind the loading gate, so he could not enter the ramp from there.

    I know that if I take all pressure off to re-straighten Sherlock then I will have taught him that the release of pressure will come if he goes off to one side, I will have rewarded him for the wrong thing, and he would have gone off to that side each time. So, I realised what was happening, resolved to be  consistent, and even when Sherlock went around the side of the lorry I kept my request to come on inside. I think I should point out that for Sherlock "extra pressure" amounts to a small "click" with my voice, or a slight lift of the rope. He is very sensitive to signals, and only small requests are necessary for him to respond.

    Sherlock did not like this added pressure, his evasion had failed. I managed to keep myself calm and without emotion, and continued the request. Sherlock reacted by running through a whole list of silly things to do, such as standing on the ramp from behind the loading gate to rearing up high and clacking his front feet together. I stayed with the idea that this was just him acting out his options, and just consistently asking for him to join me from inside the lorry, with pressure on the rope that released whenever he made a move in the right direction, either mentally or physically. I was also pleased that although he was “acting out” his options, he did not pull on me or barge me at all, he stayed exploring his options within the preset boundaries.

    In the past with other horses this run through of silly things to do is the time they are deciding that they will in fact comply, they are just exploring their options, and when they realise that the place of calm, and softness is inside the lorry then they will load. Sherlock though had one final test for me.

    For Sherlock to load that day it had to be very important to me. He had one last test, and that was that he could put himself in danger of injury. There is a small triangular gap between the loading gate and ramp, and he decided to try to post himself sideways through it. I mean he slanted his head, squidged his legs up, and tried to sideways, belly following, post himself through. I was horrified. I could not immediately think that I could allow this, but I also knew that if I stopped what I was doing then he would repeat this behaviour whenever he was asked to load. By releasing the pressure now I would have “taught” him that this silly move was the correct answer to my problem.

    I have found this a few times with Sherlock, to really be a person who is worthy of leadership you have to be prepared to stay consistent through lengths that most horses would not dream to push you. But once I have made the extra mile, then Sherlock is happy, and will stay happy with my leadership in that area for the future. He is a more extreme case, with Charlie the very fact that I ask him for something is usually enough that he complies. Most of the time with Sherlock that is true too, but when I rub up against one of his more strongly held beliefs, then we have to work it out together.

    That day, this was his last test. He groaned as if I was asking him to lie down and die, I stayed level, and asked for him to come into the lorry. I had looked at the loading gate, it was solid and fixed firmly, he could test it and I did not think it would give, so I asked Sherlock to come into the lorry. He did. Just like that, I had stayed focused enough, and he realised that he had explored freely his options, he just got down off the ramp, stood straight, walked to the base of the ramp straight, and walked up the ramp. Like “OK, this is a job that is very important, needs doing, and I will do it now”.
    With the horsebox, and with my general riding (1 1/2 hours of "test" on the beach one day, at the end of which he tucked his pretty little head in and did whatever I wanted), and with every other "thing" that we had this situaton occurr then we have had happiness and calm with the subject from that time on.
    So, to “keep” Sherlock I know I have to give him his freedom to explore his options, even to allow the possibility of losing Sherlock. I never did write the blog on “Sherlock’s loading diary” as this idea has taken some processing, the diary was too difficult to do. The idea of losing Sherlock is not one I can readily comprehend. But for him to really trust me he is a horse who needs his freedom of choice enough that this is an option that had to be explored.
    I find this idea of allowing Danger difficult to think round still. I certainly do not advocate that everyone put their horses in danger, it is our responsibility to keep them safe from harm. With most horses they simply do not push the matter so hard. I struggle with the idea, but Sherlock has shown me that for him, this is how far my objectivity has to go. Until I do have this safe in my mind then I guess there will always be some horses that I do not be wholehearted enough for. At present I am happy to know that for now I am limited!
     I still struggle with this concept, I am still missing something, and watching the trainer in Arizona has helped me to realise some links.
    I have known for some time that when I work horses belonging to other people I get better results than when I train my own. It is a frustration to me that I can take horses with less physical talent and make of them horses that are a delight to ride. I believe this is all part of the same thing. Sherlock is so significant to me as my only horse that I do not allow the idea of making mistakes. I do not set tasks that will test us, and when we are tested I do not allow mistakes, I try to protect him. This ties in with the subject of my last blog. Sherlock needs to make mistakes for me to explain that this was the incorrect answer, so he can continue to try options to find the right answer. In my constant quest to protect him from mistakes I am almost correcting a mistake before it has even been made, which must be very confusing. I am giving him so much “Chatter” that he cannot see the lesson I am trying to teach.

    I guess this is a bigger version of the novice rider who nag nag nags to keep the horse walking, then that rider will wonder why the horse does not move off a light aid. How is the horse supposed to have learned that lesson?  If that rider would give a light aid, and if the horse does not give the right response then that rider were to give a big enough cue that the horse can move forwards, then the confusion will quickly be cleared up. The same idea in a bigger way, in every part of training.

    The big thing for me as what I said in the previous blog, that before the rider can “train” the horse to good effect then that rider has to firstly be still in body, poised and relaxed, and then also still in mind, poised and relaxed, in the moment. This for me included in the mind being detached from the outcome, the horse free to explore the options. This is a lesson Sherlock has been trying to teach me.

    In that Arizona desert, that cowboy was a living example of that. Oh yes, he HAD a desired outcome, and he guided the horse towards that, but he did not try to take over that horse’s mind and spirit to achieve it.  I guess he had accepted the ideas that maybe this horse will not make it, but by accepting that possibility he then he allowed the horse the best opportunity to indeed make the connections and make the grade. And to do that with spirit and dignity intact.






  3. Release
    OK, last month I set off for America to see how the “Cowboy Magic” works, (see my Blog from April).  While I was there I had all the help and support I could wish for, and I have now also had a week back home to think about what I have experienced.

    I rode the real life cowboy horses belonging to two trainers, both horses were ridden in big bits and spurs, and were relaxed and soft, collected and able. I also had the privilege of being able to <BLOG_BREAK>train people in both English and Western, people at different stages of their horsemanship, so I could see the raw journey of both methods, and all this was in an enquiring and open learning environment. The Cutting competition was also great as I could put the Western style of riding to a real practical use, the horse and I had a joint and common purpose. Until my second lesson I did not realise that once “on the cow” you are not even permitted to pick up the reins, you must have both hands down holding the saddle and cloth. This is while performing slides and stops, spins and turns. The horse must be focused, still and confident in its mind to work as one with the rider.

    There has been a big message in this for me, one which I think will help me and Sherlock together.

    Firstly the basics, common to English and Western. The rider must be still both in body and mind, less “chatter” for the horse to have to work through. Being balanced in the saddle, sitting in the centre of the horse. In the sport of “cutting” this is tested to the full, see the photos on www.andycooper.fotopic.net and you will see that if the rider is not central and poised then the rider would be shaken loose.

    During my trip I saw some horses with less experienced and less poised riders, and they were not free to move under the riders, they were slow and ponderous, or tense and worried. In the clinics we worked on simple exercises, that I do in England too, such as altering the stirrups to help the rider have a solid base. Have the rider able to stand up and sit down at will at any gait, without falling forwards or backwards (or holding on!). Once the base was secure but relaxed we could work on the contact, having soft and following hands so the rider could feel the horse and stay with it.

    This is a “feeling energy” thing as well as a pure mechanical thing. As the horse moves forwards there is a wave of energy, if the rider falls off the wave then the horse’s balance is disturbed, even if the rider did not apparently move in the saddle much. With some horses the brakes come on, with others the horse shoots forwards. Often the rider tries to counteract the change of pace with a hand or leg aid, but they are then mechanically fighting the loss of balance bringing in tension and discord.

    Once the rider is in balance with the horse, poised and still, then the attention is on the horse. The rider has the responsibility to be with the horse, and the horse then has the responsibility to stay with the rider too. This is where I have found there was a different emphasis English to Western, and also Experienced rider to Inexperienced. It is as much the second as the first.

    The inexperienced riders tended to try to “be kind” and if the horse was not responding as they would wish they were ask, ask, ask, then asking again. The constant asking caused tension in the rider, and resentment in the horse. The horse eventually becomes dulled to the request. It seemed that the horse was not getting a direct enough request for it to give the correct response, therefore it never got the release, it was not comforted by the knowledge that it had made the correct decision.

    I realised this with my cutting horse, Smartie. On my first lesson I did not have spurs. Smartie is a very good ranch horse, and can be a good cutting horse. She is superbly trained, and does dressage moves in the long shank bit, in a relaxed and soft way. However, when faced with a cow she would really rather control it by biting it than by chasing round using body language! This works for her in a practical situation, but in a Cutting Competition it loses marks. The first lesson with me Smartie did some biting of cows (see the photos for “Jaws 4”), and I also noticed that the horse was kind of grumpy, even though I was being “kind”.

    Having looked at the photos of the first lesson I realised that this horse was not listening to me, that most of the lesson I was kick, kick, kicking to have her overtake the cow, the pressure was never off as she never did quite the right thing. There was no “release”. I thought about it, and for the second lesson I borrowed some “Cowboy Spurs”. This was a worry to me, big circles with rowels,  I have seen other riders with them on, but I have not had them myself.

    So, with my spurs, we started by “working a flag” which is actually a “toy cow” on mechanised wired, which can dash backwards and forwards in the round pen. I warmed Smartie up, and each time she did not really move forwards I used the spur. I used it enough that she really went forward, and could get the release of me being able to just then ride with my energy, I made her responsible for keeping forwards, I was responsible for staying in balance, and for telling her if circumstances changed and we needed to alter what we were doing.

    Smartie  was SO MUCH happier. No nagging, and after the first few strong directions she no longer needed spurs, she understood what was expected, and happily complied.

    The same was true with the long shank bit. Smartie was able to do fantastic slide stops, in fact she hardly slides, she sits right down and digs in, gallop to dead stop in a flash. But, if the signals are mixed the stop is not clean. This is where the learning was for me, as in the competition you cannot use the reins at all. I had presumed that the “stops” were achieved by the severeness of the bit, or at least the FEAR of the severeness of the bit. Here was the rub, Smartie had no fear of the bit.

    I was lucky as I was riding a horse not generally ridden by other riders, she had no confusion and was therefore able to show me how her training worked. The trainer teaches his horses to balance, to be soft and compliant firstly in a snaffle bit, and then when they understand they are changed to the long shank bit. Only once they understand all the basics does he teach them the stop, they are just ridden with direct consistency. The bit is a strong one, but the rider only has to pick up the reins. There is not the nag nag nagging commonly seen in English riding when the rider is seeking an “outline”. It is smooth, ask, and if that does not get the correct response they give enough of a request that the horse understands, and gives the correct response to have the release. Then, as I asked, just by a shift of weight, Smartie would do a dead stop, and have her “release” before I even picked up on the reins!

    There is a note of caution here, and this is where I believe the image of the “cruel” western rider comes from. If the basic work is not done first, if the rider is not balanced with a relaxed poise, if the rider is not still and calm in the mind, if the horse does not understand to soften to the bit or respond to the leg, THEN the big spurs and long shank bits COULD be used as a weapon against the horse. Without the balance and poise the tack could cause injury, both physically and mentally.

    I guess there are good and bad riders in all types of equestrianism, those able or less able, those patient or less so, those aware of their ego and internal chatter or not. And, if the rider is not balanced and poised, both in body and mind then I guess a mild bit and no spurs is a safer option. The eye opener to me has been how, often, in our quest of “kindness”, we have lost the realisation of the mental relief the horse has when the release is given.

    I guess I was so lucky to be working with two real live Cowboy Horsemen. Not “city slickers”, but people who live and breathe their horses, from generations past. I can witness that assured confidence and stillness inside when riding the horse. I have called this “detaching from the outcome”, where the horse is free to make a choice, the horse can make a mistake, and the rider stays relaxed and poised mentally, and helps the horse work it out, no tension or judgement on the horse, just requesting until the horse finds the release.

    So, back to England and I have been putting my ideas to Sherlock. You will have read from past blog entries that he is happy and willing, but does not always carry me forwards. The past three days, when this has happened I have suspended my “human” ideas of “kindness” where I ask small, and ending up nagging. Instead I have checked that I am in balance, both physically and mentally, then I have applied an aid strong enough that Sherlock has gone forwards. He has then found his release.

    Finding the try and giving the release is something I have been working on for a long time, as is giving an aid big enough to elicit the response required; it was the level of importance in this that was different. I guess the difference in focus may be because these were not “pleasure horses”, they were horses with a job to do. And the result is one that would make “pleasure horses” more.....well, pleasurable. I also think that because they have a job to do there is focus from that and a sense of togetherness. I often use jumping as the cowboys use working a cow, it is not about the jumping it is about a common goal.

    What an adventure in America this year, I am still thinking it through and making more connections day by day now I am back.




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