Leslie’s Liberty Diary

Leslie’s Liberty Diary is just that… a running journal of sessions as Leslie continues to advance Liberty training with her herd. Leslie often stops in the middle of her sessions to jot down (in her iphone) insights, breakthrough moments and sometimes humorous antics. Leslie’s Liberty Diary shares some of moments with you. Enjoy!

July 29, 2019

Mimicking... a Social Glue in the Herd and between Herd Mates

I watch my horses all the time. I watch them when I am with them, of course, but I also watch them through the outdoor camera (as seen from this video) and that’s where it gets really interesting. I catch the most amazing things. I catch behavior that is very, very helpful to me in creating liberty ideas, communication and liberty play.

I have made a distinction recently between mimicking behaviors and syncing behaviors. The differences are very real. How I decide to label them, of course, is unique to my way of thinking. Others may label these behaviors very differently, or use the labels that I chose to mean different ideas. No matter, we’re all just pondering the same thing.

Mimicking imitates or approximates an action or an idea. It is about the action or idea. Mimicking is: “Horse see, horse do.” Syncing is the feeling of another creature, their energy, their emotions, their attention and yes their movement. It is a going along with, a feeling between creatures. It is a coming together, a melding of minds and beings and energy into a unit. But syncing is more automatic, it just happens between horses, between horse and human, without much forethought.

The video in this post illustrates a mimicking behavior, which is easier to spot.

Horses seem to mimic each other for all kinds of reasons. The common thread is that it’s deliberate and thought out in advance, even if just a few seconds. There’s a “reason” behind the mimicking, even if that reason is: “That looks interesting, let me try it.” Often, however, I find that there’s a social reason for the mimicking. A desire to create a connection, in that moment, or in the case of the video in this post, to say: “I belong with you, I belong in this herd.”

You see, the young bay Arabian, India, who I have posted on a lot, is a relative newcomer in the herd (I say relative, he’s actually been a herd member for about 1 1/2 years, but this herd has been together for over 10 years.) The dun in the video does not care for this youngster. India is a very clever horse and has used mimicking to various and often very creative ways to “fit in.” The dun pushes young India forward, just a bit, and then stretches his back leg. India sees this behavior and offers the identical behavior – is this a coincidence? No, indeed! India is gesturing to the dun that he belongs in the herd, he is connected to the dun, whether the dun agrees with it, or not. This is very interesting to me and it’s for this reason, and many others, that I’ve added a lot of new mimicking exercises to my Liberty videos (to be released soon). We can mimic our horses as a way of reaching across and connecting with them. And we can also encourage them to mimic us. Both create a social glue. Good stuff!

June 13, 2019

Confidence through Verve, Spirit, Athleticism

Yes, it’s true that if we expose our horses to a lot of novelty and let them learn through their experiences that everything tends to work out well, our horses will become more confident over time.

But I have found that there are other roads to building a horse’s confidence, and I was reminded of one of them just yesterday.

I took out my palomino mare, Stella, out for a good romp around the arena at Liberty. It is the first time that she and I have had one-on-one time in many, many months… probably longer. We had a ball. She was her usual athletic and fiery self and sent herself off on a good gallop around the arena,(a habit that she created many years ago). We often play Liberty at higher speeds before we settle down for more close up Liberty sessions, and yesterday was no different. (The video clip shows a typical high-energy start to our Liberty play.) She was in a fine frame of mind and thoroughly enjoyed herself. We reviewed some old learning, I made a few mental notes on a some things to focus on the next time and then we went on a walk around the ranch. The new ranch owners have refurbished the round pen and so I thought I’d show it to Stella and let her experience the new digs. She was a wild woman in there, leaping and bucking and trotting around with her tail the air. I took advantage of her excitement and revisited some ideas, which went along beautifully. After less than 10 minutes, we left the round pen and walked around the ranch. Stella was excited at the new smells and new horses on the property, that she has not seen up close yet. Stella wanted to prance the entire time. She’s very responsive and with a continual reminder from me to please walk, she did her best to comply.

Now…the confidence part. When I returned her to the herd a very interesting thing developed and immediately. A little background first. Stella and the oldest mare in the herd, Aspen, have a kind of rivalry that has been going on for years. On occasion, they posture and squeal and circle each other, and kick at each other, from a distance. Stella always backs down. Within less than a minute of returning to the herd yesterday, I heard squealing from the herd. I turned and looked and Stella is taking on Aspen – in fact, it appears that she went right for her in the hopes of engaging her. Amazing! Stella was feeling her verve, her vigor, her moxie, and it’s all because of the excitement she felt during our Liberty play and I believe, the thrill of using her body athletically. Spirit + athleticism… creates a kind of “horse-nality” which leads to a special kind of confidence. Cool.

This brand of confidence comes from self-esteem – just plain feeling good about what’s going on, feeling good in their bodies and feeling good about you.

Oh, in case you are wondering… Stella backed down to Aspen, yet again. But I don’t think that diminished her spirit or confidence one bit.

June 10, 2019

I'm with You

I teach that it’s very rewarding, it’s very important, and it’s very smart to create a social relationship with your horse. This does not mean, in the beginning, basing your relationship on all the things that you want to do; it means forging a social relationship based upon the events and activities that are important and interesting to your horse. After all, WE are the one that are insisting on a co-experience with horses, not our horses.

I was reminded of this just yesterday with my Arabian gelding India. We got off to a rough start when I first owned him, and in recent years, he has shown me that many of my ideas about Liberty need more work – ha! He has become quite social and relaxed, however, and he is a wonderful young horse.

I have been in a forced sabbatical due to family priorities in recent months and am just recently returning to my work and play with my horses. When I take India out, it’s very interesting to see the flashes of thoughts and reactions that cross his mind and flow through his body. In one moment, he is reverting to old reactionary behavior, and in another moment, he is soft and engaged, remembering that we actually have grown through most of the more challenging times. I have set aside as much time as needed with him (figuring it will require a few months or so) to remind him that we are a “modern couple,” and he doesn’t need to revert to old ways or old thinking. The way to do this (and this is for another post) is to safeguard all of our time together in such a way, that only good things flow and prickly moments are avoided, or quickly diffused when they arise. In time, he will be in the mental and emotional habit of assuming that things will go well and co-create a harmonious experience when we are together.

But I digress. Yesterday, we were getting reacquainted, and India was keenly interested in the new fenced in area just beyond the large arena because two donkeys are living there. India had not seen them up close, perhaps only hearing them from a distance. He goes to the fence, and careens his neck and head as far as he can and pricks his hears forward and flares his nostrils. He’s a fine-boned Arabian and he looks like a statue when he does this- beautiful! As he is looking at the donkeys, I too, careen my body- I step up on the fence and peer at the donkeys. I focus on them intently. India looks at the donkeys and then looks at me, and then looks at the donkeys.

There is a tree at the end of the arena, right where we are looking at the donkeys, India loves to eat from this tree. The branches are pruned very high, but India has a long neck and stretches it up like a giraffe to grabs the stems and leaves. It must be very satisfying for him. Yesterday, I decided to join him. I stood up on the fence and reached way up into the trees and began to pull off leaves. India looked at me with a soft expression and then returned to his banquet. He looked at me again and again. In my mind and in my heart, I was saying to him: “I’m with you.”

When we returned to our Liberty session, was he suddenly devoid of ancient and mild cantankerous behavior – not completely, but a softness and an an easy way flowed from him. How do I know? At one point, when I felt energy rise up in his body and I sensed that he want to flit around at a trot or more, I brought up my energy and he responded in kind with a gentle springing into a trot and a flipping of his neck. Previously, sending him particles of energy sometimes was met with defiance and a concerted effort not to respond, even though every fiber in his young energetic body was eager to do otherwise.

Yes, India, looking at donkeys, eating from a tree and feeling excited – I am with you and in time, it seems, that you are with me.

May 27, 2019

Why I Keep My Horses Forever

Copper painting

I fall in love with most horses readily, even those that I don’t own personally. However, if I am to be truthful, I’ve actually owned a few horses that I didn’t love instantly or even after a period of time. And when I used to help people with their horses (otherwise known as a “training”), I have met some horses where I was challenged to feel any connection with them at all. When you can’t connect with a particular horse, I have found that they most definitely feel it. With these horses, I told myself that they had a powerful lesson for me and I was grateful to them to learn the lesson – this usually helped. Over time, however, the ease of connection has become greater as I feel a great desire to experience all that I can with and from these creatures.

I have sold only one horse (two, truth be told, as you will learn in a moment), and he is featured in the painting that I have posted. I ran across this painting recently in my mother’s bin of old artwork. This was a “first try” of a painting of a horse that I used to own, named Copper. I adored Copper and he adored me. I sold him back to his original owner, along with a mare that had been given to me that I spent very little time with. I re-homed him for reasons that made beautiful sense at the time, and still do. That story is for another post. I don’t regret that she has him because she continues to take glorious care of him, and she still gives me updates on him from time to time. Years later, however, I must say that I regret that I sent him out of my life. It broke my heart in ways that I would never have anticipated. Further, I re-homed him before I was deep into my new passion of Liberty, and frankly, he would have been a glorious video star for my lesson videos because he naturally showed what happens when a horse is very connected to a human. I was Copper’s favorite creature, I was his BFF. He preferred me over horses- – unusual in the equine species. We could have made beautiful Liberty music together. He is one of only two horses that I rode bareback and bride-less, this would have also been wonderful to explore and feature in my videos.

When a horse enters my life now and I take responsibility for him or her, they never leave my life except through death. The heartbreak of losing Copper is a big reason for that. But it’s not the only reason.

Every horse has a lesson to teach me, and often many lessons to teach me. My most recent horse, my young India, who I have posted on a great deal in this blog, for example, was an important lesson horse for me. He is one of a few horses that I have met over the years, who does not prefer many of the ideas that I have been discovering and honing in my Liberty method – ha! When I began applying them, India let me know very clearly that the ideas were not for him and if I wanted to connect with him, I needed to go back to the “drawing board” and come up with some new ideas! He has caused me to create yet new dimensions to my Liberty method (and he’s not over with that “assistance” yet). Further, he did not seek my company or attention for considerable time – he just frankly didn’t care for me. India knew that there was a herd in “our” lives and I sensed that he was keen on becoming a member of that herd. I sensed that when he became part of the herd, much of his general discontent about me and his life would be resolved. I was right on that. He is a much more balanced and content individual now. I still had to create some new ideas so that we could connect better, but taking care of his social horse needs was a major step forward for us. And in fact, this is one of the main lessons that he had for me. Horses often must be content in their “other life” first before they can become content with their time with you.

I know that there is a line of thinking that some horses and humans just don’t mesh, there’s little chemistry there. Sometimes the struggles and unhappiness for both the human and the horse are beyond the reach for the owner to resolve. I get that and I’m not opposed to folks feeling that it’s not fair to the horse to be in a situation that is not harmonious, and of course, that also applies to the human in the relationship as well. Case in point: A friend of mine found himself with a horse that he could not bond with. The horse threw him in bucking fits several times and he broke some bones over a few years. This horse did not care for this human and my friend did not know how to mend the relationship, and frankly, I’m not sure that he wanted to. I found a new home for this horse, and he and his new owner are best friends. She began to ride him bareback and bride-less right away, down country roads, out in the open (this is the horse that used to run off and buck very hard). She adores this horse and he adores her. So, yeah, i get it. However, for me, I have owned a few horses that frankly it took us years to become bonded, but when that bond finally revealed itself – it was strong and deep. Speaking for myself, every horse has a lesson for me, especially the horses that are challenging.

When a horse enters my life now, they are with me for the rest of their lives because of the lessons that they have to teach me. But of course,, there is also that falling in love thing too.

March 26, 2019

Don't Correct or Punish or Ignore what you don't Prefer... Replace it with Something Else

Horses are just being horses, and a part of being horses is they develop behavior habits or behavior rituals very, very quickly, especially if it’s rewarding in some way. This is why horses can be taught something new so quickly.

It’s also why behaviors that you don’t prefer seem to blossom overnight. An old friend of mine who is a horse gal from way, way back used to have a saying about horses: “Three times… and it’s a habit.” And she is right about this.

When your horse is expressing a new habit, know first of all, that she is just being a horse. Rituals are very, very important to these creatures. Also, if the habit is not one that you prefer, know that you probably also had a hand in creating it, or at minimum, you were looking the other way when it was developing. But there’s good news – when you finally see this new behavior one day, the very process that created it can be used to replace it with a new behavior. However, it is important to realize that there is some kind of wiring that is going on in her mind and in her nervous system and replacing something that is occurring, especially if it’s satisfying in some way, with something new and different, will require diligence and some time (and the old behavior may flare up from time to time as well, but should be easily dampened). Anyone whoever said that teaching horses is simple and straightforward, well, isn’t paying attention.

A recent case in point for this discussion: A few of my horses get extra meals each day in pens adjacent to the area where my horses live. These horses learned this routine very, very quickly, as you can well imagine. There are two pens next to each other that are joined by a gate. My mare Aspen walks through the first pen to get to the far pen for her extra meal. My young horse India walks into the first pen for his meal. When they are through eating, we do this in reverse. I open the gate for India to return to the herd, I leave this gate open and open the gate between the pens to create a way through for Aspen to return to the herd. She has taken to sprinting through both of the gates in these pens and running out into the herd. The running among the herd is lovely, but the sprint, which just recently “blossomed” is creating anxiety in her, needlessly. So I decided that we needed to interrupt this new behavior loop and replace it with a new one. A smart and straight forward way may have been to put a halter and line on her and lead her quietly through the two gates, ask her to stop and relax before I take the halter off. This system would work very well and in short time, I would be able to bypass the halter and line and ask her to follow me quietly through the gates.

However, I decided to challenge myself to see if I could begin to replace this behavior without equipment, giving myself only 1 try at it, because every day that goes by that she’s anxious about the whole thing, the wiring in her mind is getting stronger. Yesterday, I endeavored to help her, and this is what happened: I opened the outside gate and let India walk out. I left the gate open and went to the second gate where Aspen was waiting to sprint through it, and I opened it and stood in the middle of the area. This is not always advised with some horses, especially if they are nervous, blocking them can just put fuel on the fire. But Aspen is very responsive to my Liberty communication, so I stood there, paused and breathed for a few seconds and then asked her to follow along behind me, which she did at the walk, as best she could. Then I stepped back when I neared the outer gate and she broke into a trot as she went through it, and trotted out into the herd, but quickly “piddled” down into a walk – clearly there was little energy that needed to be expended. This is not perfect, but it’s considerably calmer. I’m going to try again, today, adding a pause before the outside gate to encourage her to relax a bit. If she walks through both gates and returns to the herd calmly, then I will know that this is going to work. If I find that there’s still some excitement being generated, I will put a halter on her the next time and encourage her to relax as we go through the gates, taking off the equipment in a week or so.

The most important part of replacing an old behavior with a new one is time and diligence. I anticipate that it will take up to 10 times going through these gates calmly before a new habit is starting to be formed, and probably 10 more times before it is set and possibly even longer. If there are interesting developments with this process, I will be sure to post on it!

A bit of an update… I had a brainstorm the very next day and it is working well. When I let India out of the first pen, I closed the gate, I opened the gate and Aspen walked into the outer pen, where India had just been. I went over to the outer gate and she met me there and waited. I opened the gate and she walked out, rather quietly… and then trotted out to the herd. Again, this is moving in a better direction. Stay tuned for more.

March 8, 2019

Horse Play and Human Play... Horses Know the Difference

It’s not always possible to play with our horses the way they play with each other. We can’t run as fast or as far as they can, and frankly, who wants to be lunged at, bit and slammed the way some horses play with each other?

But we don’t have to throw the “horse play” out with the bathwater, so to speak. We can develop a play style and routine that is do-able and safe for the human, and more importantly, our horses can learn the difference.

I was reminded of this just the other day. My horse Bonito (seen in the photo above) has been very sick for some time. He has leaky gut syndrome and it has effected his hooves. It is a long, long story and I believe that he has finally turned a corner and will improve to the point that he may get all of his previous health and previous hoof health back. But, it’s still a bit too early to post on it. Stay tuned for future posts on this remarkable and sometimes very disheartening journey.

Bonito is feeling better and I’ve observed it in his careful instigations of play in the herd. He is gently provoking some play with his regular playmates with the “gotchya… gotchya back” game that horses do with their heads and sometimes teeth, something I have not seen in considerable time. It is very encouraging to see this. He is clearly not ready for full-blown running, leaping, galloping and cavorting, although I’ve seen hints of it.

The other night I was in his pen next to the herd (he is on a different diet than the herd and he eats separately during the day and is put out with the herd at night). I was cleaning up or moving something around and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bonito lifting his front legs, one at the other, very, very high, in the style of a Spanish walk. He used to do this in the past as a way of getting my attention because he knew that I would laugh and pet him. He has not been able to do these movements because his hooves have been hurting. When I saw this, I laughed out loud and petted him. Then he began to back up everywhere I was to cause me to scratch his rump, which of course, I did. Then he came over and put his head on my shoulder and nuzzled my hair. And finally, he instigated a game that we have played many times and that is the picking up of a bucket or a stick or whatever, shaking it and then dropping it on the ground, where I would mimic what he just did and we would go back and forth.

This playful exchange went on for about 20 minutes, and I was struck by a few things: Obviously, Bonito is feeling better. He was also letting me know that he wanted to engage with me now in our regular play. And finally, I remembered that I had been seeing similar efforts on his part with the herd, and I was struck by how different our styles of play were and how Bonito understood the differences.

March 6, 2019

Going with and not often Against our Nature.

Why must we always go against things, confront things, go AT things, push into things? Why must we always be right, in control, directing things, correcting things? Of course the answers to these questions are deep within the human psyche and have been honed for eons… so let’s bring things into the present with a short retelling of a moment I had yesterday with one of my mares. This moment offers a tiny example of an approach and an energy that is of a harmonious and getting with and going with expression.

My mare Sweet Pea needs extra grain each day to keep weight on. When she was through eating from a large tub in a small pen adjacent to the herd, she began to eat weeds that have sprouted up in recent rains. I am not familiar with these weeds, and so I generally don’t prefer that my horses eat weeds of an uncommon type (I had a horse end up in the hospital with plant poisoning because he ate something unusual that was within reach). I opened the gate to let her out with the herd, it was near where she was eating the weeds. She did not leave the weeds to return to the herd – no surprise. She was not wearing a halter, so I reached down and put my hand underneath her jaw and she lifted her head up. I kept my hand on her jaw and took a step towards the gate, she did not follow me. I asked again, and she began to back up a few steps. I turned towards her, and put my hand on her chest and in my usual way, asked her to back a few steps, stepping along with her, petting and praising her the entire time. When she stopped, I scratched her and told her that was a beautiful back up. Then, putting my hand back underneath her jaw, I asked her if she would come along with me, and she stepped forward with me, walked past the weeds to the opened gate and walked through it readily and easily… and harmoniously.

I’m not going to put on my instructor’s hat, explaining all the implications of this way of thinking and contrast it with the more typical ways that folks deal with horses that are expressing a preference to do something other than what the human has in mind. I don’t need to go there because what I described says it all, and you all are very smart, indeed.

March 2, 2019

Fluid Movements Flow from the Mind

Snowy morning thru camera

Every day, in many different ways, for many different reasons, I ask at least a few of my horses to back up a few steps, to back away from something or back away from me. We’ve had a lot of rain and even snow (!) recently and as such, it’s been a muddy mess in the area where my horses are living. (I’ve included a photo for some fun – this is the desert southwest, USA, wow). As a result, feeding them and maneuvering around them has been a challenge and I’ve been asking my horses to move their bodies around me more so than usual. In particular, I’ve been asking my horses to back up or back away a lot this past week.

Yesterday I was reminded of something I have been feeling for a long, long time: The most fluid responses from our horses come when the idea springs from our horse’s minds. Let me describe this in greater detail.

If I want my horse to back up a few steps, I may put my hand in front of his or her chest, or I may even lightly touch their chest, and then say (as I always do): “Would you back for me, please?” And after a very brief pause, my horse gently and fluidly backs up a few steps, and if my hand is still in front of their chest, they will continue to do so. I am struck by how easy and smooth these movements are. I am reminded that when the idea comes from the horse’s mind, in response to my request, that their bodies flow like water going downstream. There’s an ease to it, no “corners” in their movements, no jagged edges. The pause, of course, is key, because the horse is gathering his thoughts and preparing his body for movement. It’s amazing that many of us have been taught to “blow through” this pause, asking for an immediate response. Quickness in horsemanship has been equated with respect, erroneously, in my opinion. But there’s seldom beauty in a quick response.

Flow, ease and fluidity is an ideal that I hold in my mind and reach for in all of my requests and suggestions for movement. And in fact, if my horse responds in an abrupt, jerky, erratic fashion, I know that the response is bodily or from their nervous system, and is not the ideal that I am seeking.

February 28, 2019

Energy Attraction... Is It Real? How can You Feel It?

Banjo lateral dance fb

Energy attraction. It’s a key to Liberty and many folks talk about it, but what does it feel like? How do you know when it’s happening? Well, the best way to understand energy attraction and feeling it is to feel the opposite – feel when attraction is most definitely NOT happening.

Let’s consider for a moment that there is probably energy flowing between everything in the universe. So, there is already energy flowing between you and all the creatures you come into contact with. What I am describing is a palpable brand of energy that seems to fill the space between you and your horse that you both feel and respond to, physically and emotionally. It is a brand of energy that seems to have a social purpose and an emotional purpose. It is a brand of energy that has INTENTION. It binds two creatures together, causes them to feel of each other (a subtle communication) and feel connected to each other emotionally. How do you know if this is occurring? Here’s a few ideas:

When you get the chance, visit with, ideally hang out with and be very near, a horse that you’ve never met before. It’s important that this horse is loose and is able to leave. Stand about 1-2 feet (1 meter or less) away from this horse for awhile and very casually walk around them. Mostly likely (not always), the horse will just stand there and not react to you, other than to sniff you, perhaps. Often with a new horse, it will feel like there’s a wall between you. When you do something, this horse typically doesn’t respond to what you are doing, and other then sniffing you, they also seldom move closer to you or shift their weight towards you. A new horse feels like a large, living, breathing flesh-statue. Then do the same thing with your horse. Chances are they will show that they are aware of every little thing you are doing, they may lean into you, go towards you, and respond as you move around them. Most importantly, it will feel to you that there’s a sea of energy between you. It may even feel that you and your horse are in a small energy bubble that is enveloping both of you. Is your horse more comfortable with you and the new horse is more cautious? Absolutely. But I believe that in order for there to be a flow of energy that can be felt, your horse must “open the door” if you will and give permission for the energy to flow through. Energy attraction is an emotional attraction as well as a visceral experience.

Here’s another way to feel energy attraction with your horse. When your horse is loose, walk along with them at their shoulder. You are shadowing them, not leading them. As you are walking along, step to your side a bit as you are walking forward. Feel what your horse does. Does he also step to the side in the same way? Walk along and try again and see what he does. As you are walking along, slow down for a few steps and then resume your speed. What does your horse do? Does he just naturally seem to slow down, even if just a bit? Now do the same thing by stopping, very easily, not suddenly. Does your horse stop or slow down as well?

If you are following along with your horse and his body does not naturally respond to yours, zig when you zig, zag when you zag, chances are that energy is not flowing between you. Again, if you get the chance, try this exercise with a brand new horse- the LACK of flow will feel very striking to you. Feeling when energy is NOT occurring is the first step towards creating a sensitivity to when it is happening.

Now, what I am describing is a kind of syncing, but I have found that syncing comes naturally when there’s an energy attraction. As a matter of fact, without an energy attraction, the handler has to teach their horse to sync. With the energy attraction, it just happens. That’s why I spend a lot of time developing the energy attraction before I begin to play with syncing – so much easier! On a separate note, I use the incredible power of syncing and mimicking to teach in a very natural way, whenever possible. I distinguish between the two modeling type behaviors. Mimicking requires more thinking and is more deliberate, I feel. Syncing occurs often automatically, and especially when there’s an energy attraction.

Go and feel the energy for yourself – it is sublime!

February 8, 2019

Easy Transfer of Ideas, Movement, Learning

I was reminded of something yesterday that I’ve been doing for years and it’s an amazing way to create easy movement and easy learning in our horses. Let me describe an opposite scenario of what I’m relating first. Let’s look at asking our horses to back up when we are next to them or in front of them.

A common way of doing this is to begin with the horse standing still and having no particular reason to go backwards, other than you are making a fuss in front of them, pushing them backwards, creating energy in front of them that they would want to get away from (creating a reason to go backwards, I suppose). When your horse backs up, you stop and reward and after a period of time, your horse learns a signal to back up. This is pretty typical.

I’ve always felt that this was a mindless way of teaching horses to back up, and I say mind-less, because there’s no reason or purpose (mind) attached to the learning. Just… do it. One of my personal mantras for years has been: “There must be a better way to do everything with horses.” Of course, the quest to discover better ways is endless.

Back to my post… I show my horses my communication for backing up a variety of ways, syncing is one of my favorite ways, but I also teach horses by capitalizing on situations, and then using this to build an understanding. Which brings me to the story from yesterday.

My mare Aspen has never liked backing up. All I have ever had to do is take a step towards her, and she would back up. But not because she was complying with my suggestion, but rather she doesn’t like me near her head – never has. This backing up is not a relaxed move, however, and so in recent months, I’ve been applying a tried and true way of helping her back up, calmly, and then transferring it into new situations.

Here’s what I have been doing. During winter months, Aspen needs an extra meal of grain and alfalfa because she loses weight very easily. I bring her into a small area near the other horses to eat. To let her out of this area, I need to swing the gate towards where she’s standing (because she’s ready to return to the horses), and I simply put my hand in front of her chest and begin to open the gate, I am standing in front of it – and she naturally backs up. I add the following: “Would you back for me, please?” And, “thank you,” when she is done. Over a period of weeks, I added a step or two, and she would back up, calmly, even further.

Now, the transfer. When I ask my horses to back up or back away when I am out with the herd, most of them will take a few to several steps backwards, smoothly and easily. Not Aspen, she will always pivot one way or the other on her hind end and then leave the area. I’ve never insisted that she back differently, it wasn’t important to me.

Yesterday, I needed her to back away from a fence so that I could walk by, and I put my hand in front of her chest and said: “Would you back for me, please?” And she backed up, readily and calmly – no pivoting. Of course, I followed up with: “Thank you.”

Ahhhhhh, very nice, indeed. Thank you Aspen for the reminder on how well this system of transferring ideas from one situation into another can work so effortlessly.