Tag Archives: horse-training

The Spiritual Side of Training

The Spiritual Side of Training

Anything that starts with spiritual can sound a bit woo woo, but spiritual can just mean having a relationship based on a profound level of mental or emotional communication.

When I was a girl I clearly remember being told to imagine what it was like for the horse, to think about things from the horse’s perspective; but how do you tune into the horse?  How do you connect on a level where you can listen to what he is saying?

In order to have such a relationship with either human or horse, it’s necessary to be fully present, to be light, to clear a space inside of you for them, to give energy, and probably most importantly, to listen.  Then to know what to say or do, you have to trust your intuition, which you might call trusting your instincts, or trusting the angels, or giving up control with absolute certainty and trust that your good intent will guide you. Reading that back, it sounds kind of nuts, but really it’s just about finding your own way to connect with others, be they human or animal, to be on their wavelength.

Personally, I just think of it as listening to my heart, trusting my intuition to do what feels right at the time.  Always with the wellbeing of the horse first.  I don’t believe that it’s possible to tune into either the horse or the rider, without listening to your heart, and that it’s the mechanical and ego based training that has done (is still doing) so much damage both physically and mentally to our horses.

Of course we need the knowledge first, and we have to coach within our level of experience and expertise; but once we are confident in our ability we can trust our intuition, we can feel what is right in the moment. You may have a great training schedule, or lesson plan written out, but when you tune in, when you listen to the horse, or the horse with it’s rider, those plans may well be put on a back burner, you teach what you see and feel on the day.


Giving Energy

As a coach this may be seen as an important skill to master, as giving someone energy without having to say a word has got to be a great start!  If you focus your attention on something you can fix your intention to direct your energy to it. Thoughts are energy. Think loving thoughts, when you look at someone, their energy levels increase, think nasty thoughts then their energy levels drop. This works to such an extent that when muscle tested, the person who is sent love is strong, and the person who is sent bad thoughts is weak.  Just by thinking good thoughts about a person they feel good, they feel strong, good intent may be enough to give energy, and therefore to give strength to both human and equine alike.


Through Me

To-Me   >   By-Me   >   Through-Me   >   As-Me

In his model of the levels of consciousness, Shore Slocum describes through-me as the point beyond by-me.  Through-me is the place where we lighten the ego and give up control; this is when we stop making it happen, and start to allow it to happen.

Through me, is about getting out of the head and into the heart, acting from instinct, trusting that love will always lead in the right direction.   Having sought the knowledge, the right questions and answers will come from the subconscious if we just allow them to.

(For interest; the person who is a To-Me is a victim, things happen ‘to’ them and they have no choice or responsibility. Something or someone made it happen to them, & something or someone made them feel that way. In order to move to By-Me a To-Me has to give up the blame.  Of course, the greatest examples of As-Me are Jesus, The Buddha & the Prophet Muhammad . At this level, everything is as one. These great leaders see themselves in others, there is no judgement, there is no separateness.)


In conclusion 

Spiritual coaching may sound to some like something done by slightly nutty people whilst dancing naked under a full moon; but really, it’s just a way of talking about tuning in, and listening to those who we seek to share our knowledge with.


“How do we train for a journey of spiritual transformation alone? The truth is we need a spiritual coach, a sensei to teach us – to show us how to focus our attention & to demonstrate how to live in the present & how to achieve Zen like tranquillity. We need a teacher to show us how to see ourselves – not just with heightened objectivity but also with greater forgiveness. For that job there is a master: a sage who can teach any willing student the way. That sage is the horse.”    Allan J Hamilton MD



Teaching the Horse Flying Changes

Teaching the Horse Flying Changes

A good change should be clean, with the front & hind legs changing in the same step.  It must also be straight, with no swinging.  It should give the impression of going uphill, with the hind legs coming well under the body.  The speed & rhythm should remain the same before & after the change.

“The flying change of lead is a fresh canter depart inside the canter”   Nuno Oliveira.


 The following notes are from personal training experience & research, with references in italics…


The criteria that must be reached before teaching changes


The canter must be established, with a very clear three-beat, & moment of suspension.


The horse must be relaxed, loose & supple.


The hind feet should follow in the same line as the front feet.


The rider should be able to give & retake the reins with the horse remaining in self-carriage & balance.


The horse must be sensitive & obedient to light & subtle aids.

Whilst remaining relaxed, the horse must be able to strike off on either leg anywhere in the arena.

The simple change of leg exercises must be secure.

How advanced in training the horse must be is a *controversial point – some trainers use the lack of balance of the horse to help teach the change, & use the horses natural inclination to change legs to stay in balance. Other trainers want the horses far more advanced, able to counter canter a 10m circle & work in true collection, & taught the changes purely off the correct aids & timing. The latter is the more classically correct.

Read the rest of this entry

The Greatest Feeling

The Greatest Feeling

Rubi’s eye whiskers brushed softly against my face, then she rested her muzzle gently on my arm, & there we stood, breathing heart to heart. I bowed my head to rest it against her, we were totally accepting of each other, completely at peace. With the soft rays of the evening sun warming the back of my neck, I swear that I was in heaven. No trophy or rosette, no thrill of a ride, nothing could touch this feeling of being so connected with the spirit of a horse. At last, not only did we trust each other, but also Rubi was choosing to be with me.

That was our experience yesterday, & it was only four days ago that Charlie came to see us. As he stood in her stable I worried that Rubi may hurt him, as she could be so unpredictable & intolerant of people in her space, but in no time at all, she had taken herself to stand only a few feet from him. Charlie called me into the stable, & he quietly instructed me. As Rubi sidled a little closer to me, I felt her letting go, I felt us connecting, & tears streamed down my face, & there we stood, completely absorbed in our own little world, just ‘being’ together, & for three quarters of an hour, time stood still.

Clearly Rubi has suffered, & my strong feeling is that she had her trust betrayed to such an extent that she built a barrier around herself, only allowing glimpses of her loveliness. But Charlie has the gift, not only to connect with the horses himself, but also to open a door in the heart of both the horse & it’s carer, so that they can find a much deeper understanding & bond.

Rubi has taken me on an incredible journey, quite a roller coaster of an emotional ride, but thanks to Charlie, I feel that Rubi & I now have a connection that we can build upon.

Charlies website is www.charlieholleshorsehealing.co.uk

What is Ethical?

What is Ethical?

To be ethical means that you are doing what is morally right. But the ‘right’ way to interact with our horses is open to personal and fashionable  interpretation.

Within the huge range of what ‘might’ be deemed acceptable my view is still far from ‘super ethical’.   At this point on my journey, I think that in principal, if the horse is comfortable, and the rider is considerate, then it’s probably okay to ride, I even like to think that it might be possible to have a relationship with a horse whereby the horse likes being ridden! But lets consider a couple of examples of views from one end of the scale.

“all sentient beings, have a basic right not to be treated as the property of others”   The Abolitionist approach to animal rights.

“…the horse is not designed to be ridden.  The horse should not be ridden at the cost of their health and well being”.  Academia Liberti

The views of both the Abolitionists and the Liberty trainers may seem extreme to the vast majority of horse enthusiasts,  however if we are to count ourselves as ‘horse lovers and carers’ as opposed to ‘horse users and keepers’, there are elements of their beliefs that must surely be given due consideration. Personally, I have huge respect for these views  (see their websites) and admire these people who live by their super high values.

For millennia we have practiced speciesism,  presuming our superior intelligence to animals and our right to dominate and exploit them because of their inferiority.  But researchers from all over the world are making remarkable discoveries about animal intelligence.  Just one example is  from the University of Adelaide, where researchers argue that humans really aren’t much smarter than other creatures — and that some animals may actually be brighter than we are, in fact Dr. Arthur Saniotis, a visiting research fellow with the university’s School of Medical Sciences, says  “science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beingsand Professor Henneberg (also from that faculty) says that “The fact that they may not understand us, while we do not understand them, does not mean our ‘intelligences’ are at different levels, they are just of different kinds. When a foreigner tries to communicate with us using an imperfect, broken, version of our language, our impression is that they are not very intelligent. But the reality is quite different”  

Now… it is also widely recognized that, just like us, animals feel pain.  But horses are stoic creatures, they have to be, if they acted like footballers every time they got a knock, then they would historically have been eaten!  Then there is the concept of animals feeling emotions, however controversial this may be, any empathetic person will tell you that animals most definitely do have feelings, we recognize in our horses emotions such as excitement, depression, contentment, and anger… to name but a few.

Given that horses are intelligent, sentient beings, what right do we have to use them, or to use force to make them perform for our entertainment?  

We should question every part of our training and ‘use’ of horses, and we should allow horses to live as closely to their natural condition as it is possible in this crowded world.  At this point on my journey, I am not suggesting that we all stop riding horses, and  I want to believe that there is a way to interact with horses in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.

But how would you like it?  If we accept that horses can feel, just like we can, then all we have to do is imagine ourselves in their place. How would you like to be kept in your bedroom (no matter how comfortable your bed is, or how smart your wardrobe is) 23 hours a day? and how stiff and unfit would you feel if the other hour you were made to work hard in the gym? What would work better for you, Pilates and Yoga or having straps and draw reins to make you stay in ‘the right shape’?  Would you be happier running towards pleasure, or away from pain?  If  someone insisted you had a piece of metal in your mouth, and you opened your mouth because of some discomfort, would you want someone to listen to you, and look to remove the discomfort for you, or would you want a crank cavesson, or tightened flash to stop you showing your pain? And where does this pain originate?  Generally from ignorance on our part.

As long as horses are part of an ‘industry’ they will be open to abuse.  Industry is all about money, there is no room for sentiment in business.  But horses need time and understanding, and as long as we accept that horses are part of any industry, they will be bred in huge numbers, ridden before they are mature, forced to perform, broken down, and then discarded.   So it is paramount that the governing bodies of ALL equestrian sports have welfare, and the constant improvement and implementation of welfare at the very top of their agenda.  At the present time, it is my belief that most of them just give lip service to welfare, they are still governed by the need to make money, please sponsors, and make the sports more spectacular! But sports are the theatre of horsemanship, what the elite show, the masses will believe is right, and will follow… sports governing bodies have a huge responsibility for equine well-being.

The best horse people listen to their horses, and they feel their pain.  Oh my dear God, I am SO far from getting this right! I am human, but I hope that I am learning from my mistakes, I hope that the horses forgive me and continue to teach me, and I pray that humankind wakes up, and we become kindhumans.





‘Feel’, above all

‘Feel’, above all

‘Feel’, above all, comes from our hearts, our breaths, our softness and our tension, we should ‘feel’ with every atom of our body.

‘Direction’ comes from our body language.

Our hands… well, they should just be the very fine tuning in the equine/human duet.  But, sadly, we have learnt to completely ‘control’ our horses with our hands.

No matter how ‘good’ we think our hands are, most of us have no idea of what we are actually saying to our horses, or what our horses are saying to us!  In fact most of us actually ‘block’ our feeling and connection by overriding (with our hands) our horses natural responses to what the heck our bodies are doing up there!  

To explore this thought, nine brave and lovely ladies from Stratford Riding Club, on their very special horses, practiced riding today, without their reins!

The idea was not to ‘direct’ so much as to experiment with voice and body language, and ‘feel’ the response. The ladies rode with absolutely no rein contact, holding the buckle end, but they did have the use of a neck strap if needed, with the aim of making that aid lighter and eventually not needing it at all.

By starting with the riders desire to go from walk to halt, we realized how much we use our hands for this simple request… the horses kept walking round quite happily ignoring their frustrated riders, as the temptation was to keep asking for halt in the same way!

If you always do what you’ve always doneyou’ll always get what you’ve always got”  Henry Ford

So the ladies tried different body language, changing their balance and alignment (I will blog on alignment soon, but also see mary-wanless.com), becoming more aware of, and changing, their breathing.  Some of the ladies practiced ‘heart breathing’ (see HeartMath.com) tapping into their intuitive self, and by creating a feeling of mindfulness, and being ‘in the now’, they felt even more ‘connected’ with their newly responsive equines.

This is truly about finding a better way to communicate with our horses, but to do it we have to create a whole new language (Robinson Crusoe meets Man Friday), listen to what the horses say, allow them to respond to what we say, reward those responses, and endeavor to understanding them.

Once we had an understanding about walk to halt, we went on to see how we could interact with our horses for them to understand that we would like to change direction, turn and circle. The ladies took their focus to where they wanted to go, by doing this they subtly changed their body language, and the horses subtly changed their direction!

By the end of the sessions, all the combinations were easily going between walk and halt, most were going happily from trot through to walk and halt, and 6 of the 9 cantered round in both directions, without reins in the canter or the transition to the trot.  Without exception all the horses looked more relaxed, forward going… and happy :O)

I do this ‘work’ with my gorgeous young horse Remi, but this is the first time that I have asked a group of riders to ride without their reins, and the results were even better than I expected. All the ladies picked up the challenge and ran with it… I am SO pleased.

This is my first blog… I am a blog virgin! So I am not entirely sure how this all works, but I hope that the riders will have somewhere to share their feelings about their experience today.

Photo: My dear friend Loulou riding Gucci bridleless.