7 Clinics makes for valuable couch time

cindyCindy Meehl speaks for many of us when she introduces 7 Clinics, the excellent instructional DVD set featuring Buck Brannaman.

After decades in the saddle, she felt she was a good rider and doing right by her horses.

“I had always done it in a way that I thought was right, that I thought was kind. But I was putting way too much pressure on the horse, too much leg, using strong bits. We weren’t really communicating. I was being more of a dictator,” she says in the set’s introduction.

Taking a Brannaman clinic introduced her to a whole new approach and impassioned her to share Brannaman’s work and philosophies with as wide an audience as possible.

7 clinicsAfter the hugely successful 2011 documentary film, “Buck,” producer Meehl still had over three hundred hours of footage. She felt she owed it to the horse community to share Brannaman’s expertise in an instructional format, she said.

What follows is 10 hours of straight-forward guidance on everything from beginning ground work to advanced problem solving.

“It’s not magic. He gives you the tools to get so light,” said Meehl. “And what a difference it makes in the horses’ understanding of you and [your] understanding of them.”


7 Clinics lines up pragmatic exercises for working with horses at any level, any discipline. Each DVD features a detailed, chaptered menu, making it easy to bounce from one topic to another or progress logically from one exercise moment to the next.

The first two discs are dedicated to groundwork, followed by lessons on horseback for the remaining five discs. All told there are more than 10 hours of tutorial.

If you haven’t seen or heard Brannaman before, know this: the Montana horseman is blunt, usually unsmiling and humorless. If you’re waiting for a flash of white teeth, a laugh, or a virtual hug, you’ll be waiting a long time. Nonetheless, the Ray Hunt protégé is focused and fervent in his dedication to the horse and his interest in passing his understanding onto students. He makes it clear that it’s the humans that desperately need help.

  • On the one-rein stop: “It ought to be something you’d bet your life on.” Read more about Buck’s take on bolting here.
  • On the use of gimmicks: “I don’t use gimmicks. I don’t use martingales, tie-downs, drop nose bands, none of it. There’s never been a gimmick invented that’s gotten through to a horse mentally. Physically, there are levers that people have devised that are frightening. They force rather than ask the horse to give.”

buckHorsemanship is not like going to a fix-it shop. It’s a lifetime commitment which might involve retraining oneself to be consistent and disciplined in offering a soft feel. Brannaman chides students not to miss opportunities for release and to make connections as clear as possible for their equine partners.

Betty Staley and Annette Venteicher Coker, successful clinicians in their own rights, help flush out the narrative, bringing different perspective to Buck’s work and what he brings to horses and riders. When Buck discusses “hooking on” Staley elaborates: “Hooking on is the horse accepting your leadership. Then you owe him something. It’s your responsibility to never put him in a position where he can get in trouble or fail, be it too high a jump, too complicated a dressage move, or too aggressive a cow…”

Watching 7 Clinics may be the perfect mid-winter pastime when riding has been put on hold. As is said, riding is “setting the horse up for success.” 7 Clinics has the same idea in mind for its viewers.

Read about Meehl’s work with Unbranded.

Read Meehl’s take on mustang politics and policy.


When ‘Head Down’ cues are wrong

12698417_10206060104568943_3263497108000024842_oAs owners and riders, we have the privilege of teaching our horses lots of nifty movements and exercises. We can do it with force and intimidation, with treats and sweets, or with the concept of partnership in which horses will:

  • appreciate a relationship of trust and dependability
  • consistently be shown where and how to find comfort and relaxation
  • learn that being with you is better than not being with you.

It’s not unlike raising a child. There are lots of ways to do it, but if you teach positively and with these things in mind, you’re more likely to end up with a resourceful, cooperative, independent thinker who has good manners.

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In two videos on “Head Down” cues, horseman Warwick Schiller dedicates several minutes to nuances of this specific horse work. Schiller, who has racked up more than eight million views on over 300 videos, warns of teaching and using ‘head down’ cues when the horse is otherwise worried or anxious.

Watch Part I and Part II.

“It’s not that I don’t like the cue. But I see a lot of people using it inappropriately,” said the Australian who’s based in central California. “An uptight horse with its head down is still an uptight horse. If you can do things to get rid of the anxiety, he will relax and put his head down.”

10848567_10153253935530098_3162972350650642496_oRiders mustn’t mistake obedience for relaxation.

Riders should nurture and guide the horse’s discovery of relaxation.

“There’s nothing wrong with responding to pressure, but the horse shouldn’t be worried  when he’s doing it,” he added.

Amy Skinner discussed this training idea in her article on Ground Tying:

“People who work at keeping their horses confident, interested, and relaxed often find the benefits will show when they need their horses to be still and with them,” she explained.

“You’d like your horse to be happier to be with you than elsewhere. These horses will stay with their people because of the many hours spent working toward mutual respect, understanding, and confidence-building. …I don’t consider my horses to be “well behaved.” I’m not really interested in teaching behaviors. What I want is a horse whose behaviors are naturally occurring by his own choice. He is with me not because I trained him to be, but because he’s more comfortable there than anywhere else.”

Perfectly Plump? Say it ain’t so!

I’m guessing you got this same catalog in the mail last month. It pictured three “happy” horses moving towards the camera. My IMG_1154immediate reaction: “Gawdalmighty, they’re so fat!”

I shared it with some horse friends who thankfully agreed. I called Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Gimenez lectures internationally on horse emergencies and disasters and has seen her share of skinny (ie, neglected and starving horses).

Funny enough, she saw the catalog cover and had the same reaction. More and more, she said she sees obese horses where she goes. The problem is local (Gimenez lives in Georgia), national, and sometimes in Europe, too.

“Just today, I went to visit a horse that was reported as supposedly 1 or 2 on the Henneke Body Condition Score. I went to check it out. The horse was maybe a 4. It was fine. But on the way home, I saw these horses in a field. They were horrifically fat. 7, 8, 9 on the scale. Fatter is not hennekebetter,” said Gimenez.

Read more about HBCS or download a helpful scoring chart.

Just like dogs, cats, and humans, horses can be seriously harmed through overfeeding. And just like other animals, it can be a painful and expensive endeavor to maintain them and bring them back to a more appropriate weight.

Can we say, chronic laminitis, Cushings, diabetes, insulin resistance, kidney failure, founder, added stress on joints? Lots of discomfort for your horse and your wallet.

Gimenez said our society has become more and more accepting of heavy horses. It reminds her of the age of European Romanticism when obese humans and horses alike were painted admirably. Remember Napoleon on his handsome horse? Maybe he’s so stressed Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.45.23 AMbecause he’s overweight and working hard.

“In society, we’ve always thought being a little plump is ok,” said Gimenez. “But we know that it’s unhealthy either way.”

As you contemplate fitness, remember to consider your horses’ condition as well as your own.

As Randy Rieman mentioned in his Focus on Fitness remarks.

“It’s part of the responsibility to the horse: the trifecta of saddle fit, horse fitness, and rider fitness. Both under and on top of the saddle, fitness matters,” he said.

Read more about our Focus on Fitness.

Check out Harmany Equine’s grazing muzzles.

Check out slow feeders from Hay Pillow.

Read about a miracle rescue: Honey goes from 1-2 to a healthy 4 on HBCS.


Backing up to move forward

Last fall, before making the move to Colorado, Jolene and I took several mammoth leaps backwards in our training progress. Read more about the debacle.

Since then, we’ve gone back to the very basics: ground work, round pen work, roadside walks, jogs, and hikes on a lead line. They are all exercises in building back the confidence and partnership that we lost in one unfortunate afternoon. I did get back in the saddle a few times last autumn, but I could feel nervousness in both of us. It seemed right to spend time with more rudimentary work.not too old to learn challenge

In the process, we filled in holes I didn’t realize existed. Specifically, the exercises covered the very basic stuff that I thought we had a handle on:

— lateral flexion– yielding hind quarters

— yielding front quarters

— backing

— forward impulsion.

We could do those elements. But could we do them with lightness and softness? Could we do them under duress?

In the past, my human need for meeting goals and “making progress,” did not jibe with my equine partner, nor did it tell the real

The nostrils say it all! Excited but choosing to stick around

The nostrils say it all! Excited but choosing to stick around

story of where we were as a unit. An example: With the mule in a rope halter and a long line, I could ask her to move to the left of right and she’d comply. But if I asked her with too much energy or with distractions around us, she would either plant herself or bolt.

So, for days, we worked on moving away from pressure, with Jolene going left, then going right, away from me and backwards as I pushed her with my advances. If I moved quickly and demonstratively (with the help of the contained space of the round pen), she learned to stay with me instead of bolting.

When we had this down solidly, I took her out of the round pen and gave her more space. She could bolt across the pasture if she wanted to. Jolene assessed her new surroundings and chose to stay with me.

Next, I took her out on the road, and as I’d done in the round pen, raised the energy level higher than was her comfort. Again, she learned more and more that it was a pretty good deal if she chose to stay with me.

Moving Jolene from L to R.

Moving Jolene from L to R.

At the same time, I reminded myself to work as lightly as possible, to get my cues as soft as can be. The efforts have paid off. For example:

— While leading her, I can go from a walk to a jog without any additional pressure on the line.

— While standing just ahead of her (both of us facing forward), she will step back as soon as I indicate that I’m going to move backwards.

Suffice to say, the understanding, confidence and relationship pieces are more solidly in place than this time last year, when I thought we had a good thing going on (but definitely did not).


For Lent, can you give up being human for a while?

Our piece on the Death of Natural Horsemanship was one of the most circulated pages ever for BestHorsePractices. It invigorated many lengthy online conversations on the state of today’s horsemanship, which brand of horsemanship is best, and what it all means.

IMG_7228Absent in the conversation, of course, was the other animal in the equation, the horse.

  • What would the horse think of all the scuttlebutt?
  • What would he think of those professing allegiance to one training method or another?

Horses likely don’t see any difference between a Parelli Carrot stick, a Clinton Anderson Handy stick, or a tree branch with a plastic bag tied on the end of it.

They don’t wince over your word selection or accent.

They care less what boots you’re wearing.

They do pay attention to how you use that stick.

They do hear what kind of emotion is put into your words.

They do care how you move in those boots.

In other words, the horses operate more like this: Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

rrrYou might consider returning the favor. Put down the books and DVDs, walk away from screen time, be quiet, and watch them.

— Watch them move in the field with herd mates.

— Watch how they behave in confined spaces or around you.

— Watch for their curiosity.

— Watch the micro-movements of their ears, eyes, and how they position their bodies vis a vis you.

Put yourself in their proverbial shoes and stop being human for a while. Or: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19

As Dr. Temple Grandin wrote in Humane Livestock Handling:

Troubleshooting animal behavior is easier when you understand how animals think…Some adult humans think almost entirely in words. Their thoughts include very little visual imagery. Animals, however, think only in pictures, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes.

Verbal or word-based thinkers tend to overlook the sensory details that form an animal’s world. This becomes a problem when people handle animals based on their own needs and perceptions rather than on the needs and perceptions of the animals they handle.

rrDr. Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, says we need to distinguish horses as who, not what.

“Who” animals know who they are; they know who their family and friends are. They know their enemies. They make strategic alliances and cope with chronic rivalries…A vivid familiar life is not the domain of humans alone.

The lives of our equine partners is deeper and more complicated than we often appreciate. When we slice and dice their reality into neatly packaged portions, then marinate it in fancy jargon, the result is as removed from realness as a fast food burger from cattle on the range.

Seek knowledge, of course. But don’t forget that your best teacher may be waiting for you out in the paddock or field.

Read more about how research can enlighten your horse work.

Read more about Learning to Connect.

Read more about compassion and intelligence.


Learning to Connect!

Remember the teacher in Peanuts cartoons? She of the trombone voice? Wahwahwahwah. Her lectures left some Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.41.27 PMsleepy and others bewildered.

Consider the complexity of the teacher-student connection: the thought in the teacher’s brain, turned into words, then heard and interpreted by students. Is it any wonder Peppermint Patty was snoozing and Charlie Brown was bamboozled?

Add a horse to this equation. The horse receives cues from the rider (and sometimes the instructor) and may or may not understand the rider’s intentions. It’s a massive spaghetti plate of interpretation, full of possibilities and pitfalls. No wonder we struggle to improve and connect as a horse-rider pair!

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At BestHorsePractices and NickerNews, we’re assembling a group of articles and features dedicated to sorting through learning to connectthe missed and made connections. Our Learning to Connect features will help you with features from guest columnists from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Check out:

Amy Skinner on education getting in the way

Shelley Appleton on Emotion and Intellect

Shelley Appleton on Successful Learners’ Traits

Rob and Debbie, Not too Old to Learn

Learning to Learn: explaining Long-Term Potentiation

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