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FoodforThought-horseandriderbooks

Sugar cubes. Peppermints. Carrots. Carefully sliced pieces of apple. “Cookies.” Admit it: We all have one. A favorite treat.

When your horse comes trotting up in the pasture, it feels good, right? When he turns and looks over his shoulder after a square halt, your heart melts a little. When he walks, trots, and stays right at your side in the round pen or arena, all sans halter and lead rope, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Was it just the “cookies” that made him do it?

Do you know?

In their book EQUUS LOST? ethologists Francesco De Giorgio and José De Giorgio-Schoorl argue that science says using treats to train a horse—or any animal—is a bad idea, and we should all take our hands out of the goody bag. Here’s what they say:

In today’s social media, there are countless examples of situations where food rewards are used in interaction with all kinds of animals. Dolphins, dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, zebras, tigers, and many others undergo this kind of conditioning. It might look innocent, but it has a direct impact on their limbic system (comprised of brain structures that are involved in emotions).

FoodinHorseTraining-horseandriderbooksWe can understand the severity of this impact by looking, for example, at the importance of the senses for horses, for their well-being in general and, more specifically, in their interaction with humans. If we want to improve our understanding of horses and our interaction with them, we need to be aware of how they create their own experience and leave the horse the freedom to do so.

It’s in the Nose

Horses use their olfactory system to process information coming from odors. They explore and smell in order to be connected with their environment and improve their understanding of it. For this reason, when working with horses, we must learn to be aware of how the horse uses his senses, trying to notice and understand when the horse is interested or focusing on something with his senses. It could be anything! Something on the ground, a fence, something in the air….

Some horses (like many humans!) are no longer used to using their sense of smell to improve their understanding of a situation, and as a result, miss important information that could otherwise be reassuring. This “not smelling” is due to constantly overlooking their needs in their interaction with man. When they want to stop to smell along a path, we ask them to continue walking; when they want to take in the smells of an unknown arena, we ask them to start “working,” for example.

This problem is accentuated further if horses get used to food premium rewards. By being trained to focus on food, their response is stimulated in the limbic system, and the possibility of remaining calm and explorative is almost entirely taken away. They create a strong association between anything interesting to explore and the possibility of food. Of course, the olfactory system is still working, but from a reactive inner state, with the expectation of finding food, instead of simply processing information from an object. A horse that is smelling with food expectations is easily recognizable: his nostrils pass quickly and mechanically without taking in his surroundings, his breath is superficial, and his nose immediately touches a human’s arm or object without first pausing to elaborate the information from a distance or, after slow intense breathing, stopping at a whisker’s distance, taking in all that the moment is telling his perception, to take time to build his own map of the situation. We are not used to paying attention to these kinds of details. We might never know what information the horse is getting, but we can learn to recognize his attention and signs of his elaboration.

Food premiums also have an immediate impact on daily activities. For example, when horses in shared pastures start perceiving man as mere food dispensers, the human presence will immediately trigger food expectations and, consequently, tension in the entire group. This is something we need to take responsibility for instead of trying to correct the behavioral consequences (horses become insistent or even irritated when looking for food), which we caused by using food premiums in the first place.

Can’t Buy Me Love

We often feel the urge to reward because we forget how to live in the moment. The reward becomes a substitute for actually sharing an experience born from an intrinsic interest. Yet, it is from that interest that an authentic relationship can be developed.

Living a calm, interesting life doesn’t need a premium. Life itself should give satisfaction. We live often totally unconnected with ourselves, trying frantically to find contact with the horse, using all kinds of techniques. By offering a premium, we don’t give the horse the possibility to relate to us, congruent and in line with himself.

Equus LostWe need to be aware of the fact that when we give food rewards to horses, we create such a strong magnet that we reduce their ability for free expression. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning that falls within the behaviorist framework. Today, it is high time for such an approach to human interaction with animals to be thoroughly questioned. Behaviorism completely disregards animals’ mental elaboration, emotions, and internal state.

Want to know more? EQUUS LOST? by Francesco De Giorgio & José De Giorgio-Schoorl is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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GettingtotheCoreofIt-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Jaana Maari Partanen.

Equine core muscles are very difficult to isolate with the traditional training techniques common to horse sports. However, by examining what we do with the human body when faced with a weak core, we can find new methods for conditioning these areas of the equine body. In his new book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES, Visconte Simon Cocozza has taken principles of the human practice of yoga and used them to develop novel ways of reaching deep within the horse’s body and gently “unlock” areas that may be a little “rusty,” improve core fitness, and even relieve pain related to conditions such as kissing spine. In this book, he provides step-by-step instruction explaining easy mounted exercises that enhance the horse’s posture and boost his confidence in his body and movement, making him easier to ride, and ultimately, the dance partner you’ve always imagined.

We caught up with Simon and found out a little more about his exciting core conditioning techniques…as well as discovering he has a penchant for chablis.

CoreConditioningforHorses-horseandriderbooksTSB: Your book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES provides a collection of yoga-inspired ridden exercises for the horse that warm him up and strengthen his core. How did you determine that these particular exercises were of such key benefit to the horse?

SC: Well, training the inside of the horse is rather new territory, so it was a combination of researching our current understanding of equine biomechanics and good, old-fashioned scientific method. The anatomical composition of the horse is very well understood, of course, but core motion dynamics and how it all interacts are still largely theoretical. It helped me to look at the mechanical properties of the skeleton in the real world—in motion and under the rider rather than simply it’s construction. When the weak areas and their ridden causes became clear, it was a case of addressing them one by one. Yoga showed itself as a solution early on as it aims to restore natural alignment to the vertebrae in a calm and kind way, which really resonates with horses. With some adjustment for anatomical scale and the addition of the rider to the mechanism as a whole, I found that it was possible to use yoga’s slow, low-impact movements to isolate the weak areas quite quickly and easily. When this presented itself, I was quite surprised.


 
TSB: Do you practice yoga? If so, what are the benefits you have found it has made in your own life? How does it affect your riding and horsemanship?

SC: Ha! I was hoping nobody would ask me this! The yoga instructor I consulted with for the book is the amazing Alison Robertson, based in France. Alison has kindly taken pity on me and is helping me learn what our horses feel like when asked to bend rusty body parts! Despite being a plank of wood, it is definitely helping me feel looser in the back, and in particular I have noticed yoga  “evening up” the two sides of my body around a (semi) flexible spine, which is definitely helping my symmetry in the saddle. However, it is not as easy as I had imagined!
 
TSB: How do your core conditioning exercises fit into other training and conditioning programs? Can they be used in concert with other techniques and training schedules?

SC: This is an important point and something I was not prepared to compromise. We desperately needed a simple way of helping all horses feel better in themselves and develop their optimal spinal function, no matter their given discipline, age, breeding, or temperament. For this reason, there are different exercise plans in my book to help the horse owner develop a core conditioning warm-up exactly for the individual horse in question. I think this been achieved with the warm-up plans I present (Wellness, Flexibility, Connection, or Agility)—the exercises can be tailored to fit any horse, whether a light, young, Thoroughbred racehorse or a seasoned, heavier dressage horse. At the spinal level, function is identical, yet the approach needs to be just right for that individual horse’s type and lifestyle.
 
TSB: One of the benefits of your core conditioning exercises is they can help horses that have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having kissing spine. Can you tell us how your techniques alleviate pain and improve a horse’s chances of recovering from this issue?

SC: Well, “kissing spine” is rather more common than we thought, unfortunately, yet despite the problems it causes, it is a relatively simple engineering problem. The spine is a finely tuned piece of equipment and only operates correctly when aligned properly—and then its complex design works really, really well. Unfortunately, if the angles are off even slightly, like a bent pair of scissors or a rusty lock, the mechanism catches on itself and causes damage to the delicate structure it relies upon to do its job. To make matters more complicated,  it is covered in nerves, making the horse tense up when s/he feels a pinch anywhere along the back. These tensions unfortunately feel like training or even behavioral problems, which is why they are not diagnosed very quickly, making them become habitual and limiting performance and quality of life. The solution is thankfully very simple, involving strengthening the muscles that are already under the spine to redress and realign the horse’s back. The body knows what is good for it, and when activated, these structures spring into action and everything starts to work properly again.


 
TSB: You were born in Italy, were educated in England, and live in France. How did your background influence your decision to become a professional horseman and devote your time and energy to improving the horse’s health and well-being?

SC: I have been very lucky that my family has a strong history with horses, which has helped enormously. My mother is an instructor, so I was brought up around, on, and under horses, and my Italian family has been composed of almost all swashbuckling military horsemen and women for millennia. Perhaps it is simply in the DNA? Although I am a nerd and wanted to be a scientist, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with horses. After a few years working in the commercial side of the horse industry, I became uncomfortable using some of the restrictive and insensitive methods that we employ without question in European training. Restraint and force did not seem to be necessary with such a highly complex and essentially perfectly designed creature as the horse, and I strongly felt that there had to be better way. So I spent a few decades trying to understand how it all worked. This work has, of course, all been done before, long ago, yet I feel I may have reiterated some forgotten knowledge that may allow us to smooth off some of our modern corners.
 
TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

SC: By far, it is to put ourselves in the horses’ hooves. When working with these sensitive beings that worry and tense up so easily, we really must show them our love in every moment of our work together, especially when we run into problems. This is when they need us the most.  They are so very, very emotional, and we should remember that there is always an innocent reason for their actions, even if it looks otherwise.


 
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

SC: Oh, I think it would have to be a Pura Raza Espagnol, an Andalusian. These horses are like generous people, that is why we use them in movies, for the High School, such as in Vienna, and for tricks like dancing, performances, and stunt work. Try that sort of thing with a Warmblood and he will just walk away!

I am tempted to say I would read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe, but that is a bit obvious, so it would have to be Douglas Adams’ quadrilogy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I feel sure the PRE would enjoy me reading to her/him, too.
 
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

SC: I am fascinated with Working Equitation, and I love watching it. It has so much potential for perfection and looks like dressage meets “handy pony” meets gymkhana, but for grown-ups. I mean, they gallop over a bridge and carry a spear!
 
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

SC: Integrity. Without that, nothing else matters.
 
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

SC: Focus. Some of them look at you and say with their eyes, “Hi! Lets interact!” and they hold focus on you. Time stands still when that happens, and no matter what package s/he is in, your souls connect. This is the essence of a great relationship and the first thing I look for.

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TSB: What is your greatest fear?

SC: A global shortage of olives, Nutella, garlic, or Chablis, in that order. I suppose I ought to say world war, although the former would surely trigger the latter.
 
TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

SC: I have an unreasonably large collection of Passier saddles. I love them, especially the old ones. They are masterpieces of craftsmanship and each one rides a little differently. I am not even ashamed of this and have instructed my family to bury my favorites with me…preferably after I have died, though.
 
TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

SC: I would like to be able to fly. But that’s not very realistic. In “Real Life” I would like to be a little taller. When in Germany and Holland I feel child-size—in fact, their children are often taller than me! A short stay (pun intended) in Italy or Portugal usually puts that right.
 
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

SC:  Landjaeger sausage. It’s like the Holy Grail of bacon. 
 
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

SC: Oh, there are so many answers to this one! If I had to choose one it would be waiting, at dusk, for the Spaghetti alle Vongole to come to the table at a little waterside trattoria on the Amalfi Coast, surrounded by people I love.
 
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

SC: Without question, the physicist Nikola Tesla. He was the twentieth century’s da Vinci. He almost changed the world. Almost!
 
TSB: What is your motto?

SC: May I suggest a quote instead?

“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” ― Douglas Adams

Simon Cocozza’s book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

JonathanFieldandHalBreyerfest-horseandriderbooks

Are you packed and ready to head to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of BreyerFest? That’s right, July 12-14, 2019, marks 30 years that Breyer Animal Creations has brought to life a fabulous family festival that combines the excitement of a real horse fair with model horse activities, and this year, TSB author Jonathan Field is a featured performer, along with his wonderful horse Hal. Hal, who was one of the equine stars in Jonathan’s glorious  book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, is coming out of retirement and making the trip to this year’s Breyerfest for a very special reason: He now has his very own Breyer model! A very limited supply of the Hal model will be available for sale at BreyerFest.

HalBreyerModelInsta-horseandriderbooks

Hal Breyer model available at BreyerFest 2019. Limited quantities so hurry! Hal model imagery courtesy of Breyer Animal Creations.

Here is Hal’s story as Jonathan told it in THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES:

 

“Hal’s my number one horse, and my best horse friend. We have been through a lot together, learned a lot together, traveled thousands of miles, and quite frankly, I owe a lot of my career to Hal.  

“A Quarter Horse gelding, Hal was given to me when he was three years old. For many reasons, he had been running into problems with training, and was subsequently bought back by his breeder. After returning home, he tried to pin his owner in his stall and threatened to kick her. He bucked when ridden and was always getting into mischief. Hal is a horse that if you don’t come up with something for him to do, he will happily come up with something of his own. And, it’s likely to be troublesome. 

“So Hal came to me to be restarted. After about a month in training, his owner came to watch me with him. After our session, she approached me with tears in her eyes. I thought I had let her down, but they were tears of happiness. She went on to tell me how much Hal had meant to her from the time she raised him. He held a very special place in her heart and she named him after her dad’s initials. The tears came because she was so elated to see Hal look as happy with a person as he had with his dam. I was taken aback, and very glad my customer’s tears were good tears! 

“That day, I thought we were doing well because of my skill, but the reality was I was a young trainer, early in my career. Looking back, I wish I could take credit for Hal making such a change, but I think we were just a good personality match. He taught me more than I taught him. 

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“I was looking for a horse at the time and Hal’s owner was so pleased with what her horse and I had done together that she said she would love to see how far our partnership could go. So she offered Hal to me that day. I accepted, and promised to make her proud of what we would do together. 

“In a lot of ways, Hal and I hit it off right from the start. He was very sensitive, but also worried. He is a ‘thinking kind of horse.’ If he’s going to buck with you, it’s because he got scared first, then says, ‘I bet I could buck this guy off.’ It is more of a plan than a true prey animal flight reaction. 

JonathanFieldHalBreyerfestPIN-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

“In the beginning, it was like every little thing meant something too much to Hal. If he got confused or overwhelmed, he would lose confidence and want to flee. If he couldn’t run away, he would kick or buck. He took everything so personally. Even a simple thing, like how fast I approached to catch him, could put too much pressure on him. 

“Gradually, I learned that if I came toward him slowly and respectfully, he quietly waited with no problems. He was just a horse that was born wired sensitive. His confidence was a bit like porcelain: easy to crack. 

“To this day, I still see some of these attributes in Hal from time to time. Now, he is a star and has his own fan club. At the big expos and events where we perform, many people want to go to his stall and see him. Some of my horses eagerly await the attention, with their heads out of their stalls, waiting for a rub. Not Hal.  

“Then, the amazing thing is Hal and I go out to the arena at show time, and he fills the room with joy! As he gallops around looking right at the crowd, it looks like he is having the time of his life—and I believe that he is. 

“Early on, liberty was the best thing for Hal. It gave him the freedom to move and express himself, building his confidence in me and mine in him. As we started to gain some trust and communication, things changed. I began to have the benefits of a supersensitive horse, but with trust to build a partnership. It was then that my riding with him took off.”

Jonathan and Hal 4-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

Don’t miss your chance to get a limited edition model of Hal at the 2019 Breyerfest! And read more about Hal and Jonathan Field’s other horses, as well as learn his techniques for teaching a horse how to play with you at liberty in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

Horse Shoe Picture Frames and Luck Catchers in Horse Fun

Do you know kids who dream of having a horse of their own? A four-legged friend who comes when they call and nickers when they’re nearby? Who doesn’t judge or pick favorites? Who always listens quietly when they need someone to talk to? When a real horse or pony is still in the future and not in the barn outside, playing with plastic horses, doing horsey crafts, and learning about how to ride and care for horses is the next best thing.

Horse Shoe Luck CatcherHere are two simple fun summer projects to make when horses are your favorite thing: a horse-shoe picture frame and a “luck catcher.” Both of these craft ideas are easy and don’t require a lot of set-up or clean-up. They are two of the many projects featured in the book HORSE FUN by Gudrun Braun and Anne Scheller with artwork by award-winning Manga artist Anika Hage.

CLICK HERE to download your FREE PDF instructions!

HORSE FUN is for all horse-crazy kids, whether they ride “now” or “not yet,” combining real horse knowledge with super-fun games, quizzes, crafts, and activities. It teaches the basics of horse care and equitation while keeping learning interesting with equine trivia. Plus, there are lots more craft projects to try! Make tote bags, jewelry, and even a hobby horse to compete in hobby horse shows (all the rage)!

Here’s what one young reader said about HORSE FUN:

Horse Fun Book Review Girl on Mustang

 

HORSE FUN is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

FathersFatherhoodHorses-horseandriderbooks

Dads. What a marvelous invention. My own repaired fence, stacked hay, held horses, and drove the antique trailer he’d found for next to nothing to countless 4-H shows, all so I could be a horse girl. Pretty sure, looking back, there were plenty of other things he would have rather been doing, and better ways he probably could have spent his hard-earned money, but I don’t remember him ever complaining.

Thanks, Dad.

We tracked down some of our authors and asked them to share their memories of their fathers…or their own experiences being “Dad.” We’ll let them tell their own stories.

 

David Thelwell, son of popular cartoonist Norman Thelwell, author of PONY CAVALCADE and PONY PANORAMA

“When you are a child, ‘Dad’ is just that person who is always there to support and nurture you, to amuse and annoy you. He’s someone to turn to…and someone to stop you doing what you really want to do.

“When he is gone, you can put his life in perspective and see how important he was to you and what he was as a person.  I am grateful for everything my father did for me and my sister, and now I can understand his legacy and achievements.

“I was lucky—as long as I can remember my dad worked from home, so he was always around, and I could see what work he was doing in the studio. I thought, how great to spend your life drawing and painting, doing something that you enjoy. As I appreciate now, he gave joy and laughter to so many people, for so long. That is something few people ever achieve.”

NormanThelwell-horseandriderbooks

Norman Thelwell at work in his studio. Photo courtesy of David Thelwell.

 

Dan James, author of LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP:

“My dad was 99 when he passed away last year. He served in the Second World War, was a stockman, and loved the Outback. He had a lot of very funny statements. One of my favorites was, whenever we complained about working outside in the heat, ‘Well, if you worked a little faster, you would create your own breeze.’

“His name was George James.”

 

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Dr. Bob Grisel, author of EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN:

“This Father’s Day, I will be thinking about my hero. He is a chinook helicopter pilot flying regular nightly missions in Afghanistan. He is not there to cause anyone harm, but rather is there to help his comrades of all nationalities and provide cultural stability to a torn country. He is the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate ‘warrior’ that I have ever known. He is my hero as well as my son. How can Father’s Day get better than that?”

BobGrisel-horseandriderbooks

Ben Grisel is second from right. Photo courtesy of Dr. Bob Grisel.

 

Florence Le Goff, daughter of renowned equestrian coach Jack Le Goff, author of HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST:

“When I was a young girl my father and I would enjoy fishing together on his boat. A day on the Essex River was full of fish (and sometimes eels and rays!), lobster retrieval, and driving the boat while he gave you a lesson on ‘red right return.’ Much like our riding sessions, he was a humoristic drill sergeant! He was a master at enlisting you to help launch the boat on the ramp, pull up the lobster pots, and be his ‘Number Two.'”

JackLeGoff-horseandriderbooks

Jack Le Goff fishing with friends. Photo by Florence Le Goff.

 

Jonathan Field, author of THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES:

“Being a father is the priority in my life right now. I aim to lead as an example for my boys to go forward as strong young men, to hold themselves with integrity, and to value others.

“I was so proud of my son Weston the other day when the hockey arena maintenance man told me he had never had a boy come up to him, shake his hand, and thank him after every ice time (which is at least four days a week). I was particularly touched because I never suggested to Weston that he should do this specifically, but just, in a general sense, to look out for the people around you who help you in some way…and thank them.

“This also made me begin to realize that in some ways my work as the guiding hand for a young man is coming to an end…soon we will stand alongside each other, and I will be in a new role as a father.”

 

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Tik Maynard, author of IN THE MIDDLE ARE THE HORSEMEN:

“Being a dad has made me want to be a better son. My dad, at 76, has started eventing again, and now we all go to the horse shows as a family.

“Here are two things that I would not have believed a year ago: Having a kid is more time consuming than having a horse. Having a kid is more rewarding than having a horse.

“I love this saying I heard recently, from Confucius: “You have two lives. The second begins when you understand you only have one.”

 

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Denny Emerson, author of KNOW BETTER TO DO BETTER and HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD:

“Winter or summer, my father’s Morgan, Millers Commander, was a huge source of joy and companionship. What more can we ask of a horse?”

 

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Daniel Stewart, author of FIT & FOCUSED IN 52 and PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING:

“Several years ago I was teaching a 12-day clinic tour of Alaska and asked my father to join me for the trip. I’d work from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and then he and I would spend the rest of the day together, acting like tourists. At some point toward the middle of our trip, he asked if he could read my book RIDE RIGHT; he spent the next few days reading it from cover to cover. When finished I asked him what he thought. While I was expecting something along the lines of ‘Wonderful,’ or ‘Great,’ or ‘I’m so proud of you…’ he simply said, ‘So when are you going to write another?’ When I replied that I didn’t really plan on writing another book, he said I was crazy and that I had much more to teach than what he had read.

“So, long story short, I went straight home and started work on my second book. When I look back on that father-son trip, many memories come to mind, but none of them as inspirational as when he told me that I was crazy for not writing another book!”

 

Jochen Schleese, author of SUFFERING IN SILENCE:

“I often wonder what makes or forms our thoughts; why we feel what we feel, or why we do something for someone else instead of just for ourselves. This year I lost my dad, and although he is not with us anymore, he will always be in my heart. I am his legacy, in so many ways. From the the day I was born he was there for me. He taught me values that I passed on to my children. As a child I often thought, ‘Why is my dad so strict with me?’ only to realize many years later that he did what he did because he loved me and wanted me to be ready for this fast-moving world.

“I believe this should be the job of all of the fathers of this world. Love, protect, and teach your children what is right and what is wrong. Be role models to teach your children love and respect, and teach them to earn trust with fairness and kindness. It should be in each father’s instinct, to protect and provide, to teach and take care of their children and family, so they can survive when they someday lose their father.

“My dad taught us to try to always understand the ‘why’; to be independent with our thoughts; to become leaders and not lemmings; to understand that the person who knows the ‘how’ will always follow the person who understands the ‘why.’

“I am so lucky and happy to have such beautiful children with my wife. My children are truly beautiful—not only outside but more importantly, inside. I always spent as much time as I could with them in their early years—as much as my business travels allowed. Besides the evenings and weekends, I also took Tuesdays off. We called this ‘Family Day’ and spent it doing things together: skiing, swimming, playing board games, reading. In hindsight, children grow up so fast, I feel I should have spent way more time with them. I guess my dad and I are really alike…we live and breathe each day for our family. Nothing makes me more happy than to see such healthy, wonderful, and successful children, and to enjoy the wonderful memories of the time I have had with them. It’s a tribute to the way we brought them up that my kids still love to spend time with us, go on vacations with us, and call us from wherever they are in the world—almost daily.

“One of my many wishes I have as a dad is that my children will always have as wonderful a memory of me as I have of my dad. This year will be my first Father’s Day without him, and although he was just ‘buried’ at sea in the Baltic, I will never lose his love and guidance.”

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

Survivors of trauma, loss, illness, abuse, stress, and depression can face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But today, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that horses play a crucial role in therapy for those struggling with significant psychological and emotional challenges. Horses respond to angry, inhibited, heartbroken, defiant, terrified clients in many different ways, often breaking through defensive barriers via their physical presence, or by pointing to areas of psychological distress not immediately apparent. The horse’s response guides the treatment team, as well as the client, in the healing process.

Consider these true stories:

Ashley was locked in closets as punishment, and physically and sexually abused, resulting in an angry and violent child who threatened her adoptive family—until she met Cocoa and Radar, the horses that helped her learn to trust again.

Brenda was diagnosed bipolar and lived through humiliating domestic abuse, but three horses—Delilah, Wiscy, and Diesel—helped her establish a sense of self-worth, hope for the future, and ultimately, the will to go on.

Nick was angry, suicidal, and a veteran with combat PTSD, who now says, “Horses literally saved my life.”

Inspired by her own childhood trauma when she spent seven days in a coma, awakened to a severely compromised body and brain, and rebuilt her life with the help of a horse, Michelle Holling-Brooks founded Unbridled Change, a non-profit Equine-Partnered Therapy organization that helps match horses to individuals in need. In her book THE HORSE CURE she shares amazing stories of the people she’s worked with and the “horse cure” that changed their lives. We had a chance to catch up with Michelle and ask her a little about her incredible organization and the dramatic life circumstances that led her to founding it.

 

TSB: What is the purpose of the organization Unbridled Change and why did you start it?

MHB: Unbridled Change is a non-profit mental health organization whose mission is to provide a place for our clients to find the hope, healing, and growth they have been searching for through the partnership of horses. The way we complete our mission to help our clients is mainly through providing Equine-Partnered Psychotherapy and Coaching. We take mental health therapy out of the office and into the arena or paddock with the horses.

The reason I started Unbridled Change was because I know firsthand the healing that can happen when you work with horses. Life can change in an instant and you can lose trust in yourself, others, and the world around you when it does. Sometimes when that trust is broken it can be hard to accept help from another human; however, we might be willing to accept support from an animal. Horses did that for me. They helped me “cure” myself on many different levels. I wanted to provide a space and program where I could share and others could experience what helped me learn how to heal.

TSB: In your book THE HORSE CURE you share the story of how you survived a dramatic illness, which left you in a coma for seven days, and when you did wake, you were faced with severe damage to your motor skills, vision, hearing, language, and understanding, as well as being paralyzed from the waist down. How did this traumatic event in your life prepare you for the role you now play as the founder of Unbridled Change?

MHB: I don’t think I would be who I am or doing what I do every day at Unbridled Change without that illness. The moment I was wheeled back into the barn and found comfort in a horse’s embrace was the moment my life purpose was born. By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew that all I wanted in life was to help others find the same sanctuary and healing that I had found with horses. I knew that the amazing impact horses had on me could also help others.

I think the experiences I had because of that illness also gave me another gift that took me longer to really understand. That illness gave me a gift of knowing and understanding. I know what it is like to feel lost in a body that will not respond. I know what it feels like to be left without a way to communicate what you need or want on even the smallest level. I know what it feels like to be so angry at the world that you end up feeling nothing. I know what it feels like to not want to be alive because the pain (physically and emotionally) is too bad. And I also know what it feels like to find your way back to willingness, connection, and love after all that pain. Horses gave me a lifeline through that wild sea of despair, pain, and trauma.

Now, as the founder of Unbridled Change, I can offer that same lifeline to our clients so that they too can heal.

TSB: In THE HORSE CURE, you share some of the experiences you’ve had with clients and the horses that are a part of the Unbridled Change herd. Why do you feel it is important to tell these stories?

MHB: I think the power of sharing these stories is that they give the reader hope. The stories let the reader see little bits and pieces of themselves reflecting back through the pages. I also feel that the stories and pictures in The Horse Cure give the reader the opportunity to feel and see what partnering with horses for human healing can really look like. By sharing these stories, we can take the mystery out of this type of therapy.

Hopefully these stories will open the door for more people to think about working with horses to help them heal.

TSB: You had your own experience with the healing power of horses, and now you’ve witnessed it again and again. What do you feel it is about horses that helps people struggling with trauma, loss, abuse, stress, and depression? Why are they such an integral part of the therapeutic process?

MHB: Horses are, by nature, sentient beings that want to be in relationship and balance with the world around them. When I was recovering from my illness at 13, I didn’t understand humans. They didn’t make sense to me because they would say one thing and do something different.

I felt at odds with the human world because most of the time nothing “matched.” I couldn’t trust it. But I could trust horses. They acted in alignment with the world around them. They didn’t lie to me. They didn’t judge me for being in a wheelchair or talking differently. They didn’t care that I had crazy frizzy hair, was too skinny, or about what I was wearing. They only cared and judged me on one thing: how did I treat them and myself. If I was willing to be trustworthy and respectful with them, ask for my needs fairly and without hurting them, I found out they actually wanted to be around me!

I think this natural trait is why horses are such great partners for the therapeutic process. People have the same basic desire to be a part of a “herd.” We, like horses, are not designed to be alone and without connections. Like horses, we also want to feel safe in that connection.

When you combine the therapeutic process with building a relationship with a horse based on trust, respect, and willingness, you have a way for the client to actually see their own patterns in relationships. In these interactions, the client has a chance to discover any “blocks” that might be preventing them from stepping into a healthy relationship. Additionally, they have the option to practice their skills by working through those blocks. The “therapy” then happens organically, in the moment based on the horse interaction and then processing with the mental health professional on the team.

You can read some of the many miraculous stories of horses helping humans in THE HORSE CURE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

 

Whether it was the dawdling pony, ignoring our short, five-year-old legs ricocheting off his sides, or the experienced schoolmaster who knew enough to make us earn a forward ride, we have all struggled to put a horse in front of our leg at one point or another. A common mistake when your walk leaves much to be desired, it would seem, is to actually spend time working on the walk. The short of the long is: Don’t do that.

Christoph Hess, FEI “I” judge in both dressage and eventing, gives us these alternatives to developing a good walk in his book BETTER RIDING WITH CHRISTOPH HESS:

 

A good walk is developed by the rider through correct riding in the basic gaits of trot and canter. This sounds paradoxical at first, but practice shows that a good walk cannot be achieved by always “working” the horse in this gait exclusively. Rather, a good walk is developed by having the horse securely on the rider’s aids, allowing himself to be ridden “through” while stretching and in balance at the basic gaits of trot and canter.

TrainingaGoodWalk-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Peter Prohn

At the walk, the rider can check how rideable her horse really is. She can determine if the horse is supple and relaxed, responding to the driving aids—without the horse being lazy and lethargic—and “seeking” the bit, meaning he is stretching toward the rider’s hand. The rider must always be able to ride forward, and also sideways, at any time. The better and, above all, more responsively the horse accepts the rider’s driving aids, the better the results on the walk will be.

 

HowtoGetaGoodWalkpin-horseandriderbooksRide It Correctly

In dressage tests, the walk scores are given a coefficient of two, which means the walk counts twice. For one, the crucial rhythm, fluidity, and ground cover are scored. For another, the judges pay attention to ensure the rider actually rides the walk and does not just go along as a “passive passenger.” This active riding of the walk is an important criterion for assessing whether or not the rider is on the correct path to training her horse. To accomplish this, the rider applies her driving leg aids at the moment the hind leg on the same side is striking off. This is a process during which the horse ideally “picks up” the driving aid himself. The prerequisite for this is a supple hip joint. At the same time, the rider should follow the nodding of the horse’s head and neck with her hands and have the feeling that the horse is framed between her aids. As this takes place, the horse will stretch forward and downward, opening the angle at his throatlatch, and through this, the line from forehead to nose should come just slightly ahead of the vertical. This is the prerequisite for the horse to establish an even rhythm and achieve ground-covering strides.

Though this sounds easy when put into words, it is really not easy to achieve in practice. In the course of her education, every rider must discover for herself the right feel for riding the walk. On the one hand, she needs to allow the horse to walk on without driving him excessively; on the other hand, she cannot become really passive, which can lead to a considerably worse walk.

RideBetterwithChristophHess-horseandriderbooks

An even walk with a clearly recognizable “V.” This is a visual aid for a clear four-beat rhythm. Under no circumstances should the foreleg and hind leg on the same side come close to moving concurrently. This would indicate a pacing walk. Illustration by Cornelia Koller

 

Trot-Canter Transitions

Doing transitions from trot to canter and canter back to trot is one of the most valuable exercises for effectively improving a horse’s “throughness,” willing cooperation, obedience, and responsiveness to his rider—all necessary for a good walk. I recommend you incorporate these transitions very deliberately into the content of every daily training session. Practice these on a big circle, making sure your horse stays on your driving aids, even as he “shifts up a gear” from trot into canter and then “shifts down a gear” from canter back to trot. On the “downshift,” it is especially important that you maintain the impulsion from the canter as you return to trot, without the trot becoming rushed. You should visualize yourself “cantering into the trot” as you begin to trot. This is only possible when you are supple through your hip joint, following the movement of the new gait, allowing it to carry you along. In order to further optimize your horse’s “throughness,” you should just slightly lengthen the canter strides just before the downward transition to trot, then after the successful transition, just slightly lengthen the first trot strides. As this takes place, the horse must maintain a forward tendency. Under no circumstance, should the transition be from an extended canter into an extended trot (which has a tendency to be a “passage-like” gait). As the actual transition takes place, you must always have the feeling that you could offer a release, typically by moving one or both hands forward along the horse’s neck, or allow the horse to “chew” the reins from your hand.

If you ride the transition from a backward orientation, meaning from short canter strides and/or into short trot strides that lack impulsion, you will not be able to ride a rhythmic, fluid, and efficient walk. At the moment of the transition, take more feel of the horse’s side with your inside calf, which will make the transition so much easier; with a well-trained horse, you will then be able to complete the transition without application of rein aids. You’ll feel, respectively, as if you’re only “listening in closely” to the horse’s mouth with your hands (through your reins). In this way, you will avoid applying inside rein. Doing so blocks the horse’s strikeoff from the inside hind, which leads to a failed transition. The canter-to-trot transition, in particular, has a pivotal significance to harmonious and, thereby, sensitive riding in all three basic gaits.

One more useful tip: a few canter strides before your transition to trot, think leg-yield; if you’re more advanced then think shoulder-fore or shoulder-in. The same applies to the transition from trot to walk.

Ride Better with Christoph Hess REV-horseandriderbooksFor more riding and training tips from Christoph Hess, check out RIDE BETTER WITH CHRISTOPH HESS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

Are you looking for new ways to rev your riding engines? Jane Savoie’s bestselling equestrian sport psychology book IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE RIBBONS is now available in audiobook format!

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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