Saturday, May 18, 2013

Carolyn Resnick's Teachings

I have been following the work of Carolyn Resnick and her long time student, Robin Gates
for many years. Like Carolyn, I was drawn to mustangs, and taught by mustangs, but these mustangs were in my front yard and the meadows surrounding my house on Orcas Island. while once wild, now they were becoming gentle and used to people, especially me. 

I had totally changed the way I was working with horses, focusing on relationship and draw, and looking for their willingness and happiness, never wanting to overwhelm them and dominate them as I had been taught. I found when I played with my horses this way, they were happy and I felt joyful and renewed from being with them. When I resorted to the ways I had been taught (in times of frustration) I would feel awful, sick in my heart. I decided I didn't care how long it took to gentle and train and eventually ride my horses, I wanted my horses to keep their happy expressions, their spirits, and allow their personalities to shine.

So, I watched them, and I hung out with them, when I asked something of one of them, and they didn't respond, I went softer, asked for less, praised more. I did what I saw the herd leader do, pushing all the horses ahead  of him, around the arena.  I used treats to gain greater focus. I sang to them. I sat with them as they lay sleeping. I greeted them by name each time I came and went, they called to me if I went off for a walk without them. They came to me when I called, they watched for me and moved towards me on the farm, they looked to me for help when they were hurt or sick.

Then, I stumbled upon 'Naked Liberty'. Imagine my happiness to find I wasn't the only one doing things with horses in a unique way, in fact, Carolyn had been forging this path for her lifetime! She'd learned from mustangs in the wild, she had been honing her skills since she was a child. I read every blog post she made.. I watched all her videos, I attended seminars with Robin Gates. And I did the work, first with one horse and then another, more with my two main horses, and less with my husband's horses, who are also school horses.

This  winter in the wet weather, I worked with my 4 mustangs as a herd and less often as pairs. I have been amazed at the changes I have seen in them this spring, as lessons began again, and I started riding.

The horse I have been working with the longest, my oldest pal, Rascal is GLUED TO ME whenever I go out he is just right there, at attention, at my shoulder ready and waiting to do what ever I ask. It just blows my mind! When being ridden in dressage, he is also so much lighter, more attentive, forward and anxious to please.

Rascal is also a teacher and when I start students on him (only after they get good at all their ground skills and connecting) he is such a good caretaker of all of them. I always give a passenger lesson while walking with Rascal. He is not just good, he is perfect. He is so willing and so engaged that he talks to me, humming and deep rumbles in his throat, nickers. The last lesson I gave with him, he hummed and talked to me the entire hour!

I find this the greatest honor, the biggest reward, instead of a dull, turned off horse, wanting to get away from working, Rascal is delighted to be with me and teaching. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Power of an Open Heart


Yesterday I watched the most amazing connection. Celia, a 7 year old came for her fist lesson. She was excited and totally unafraid. She had to patiently wait while her friend had her lesson, but she played happily and freely on her own. They had made friends with the horses feeding them blades of tender grass as children do, and the horses were very happy to see them.

Celia wanted to work with Black Elk, I like to trust a person's intuition, and although I don't normally pair my 1400 lb horse up with a 60 lb 7 year old, that's what I did. He was out on pasture. I always talk to the kids, just like an adult, no talking down. We discussed how to greet a horse and what makes a horse feel safe and not pressured, and what is appropriate in horse culture. We did some hellos and retreats, and then gently we pushed him into the arena. This is how horses lead one another, not with a halter and rope, but by pushing from behind. Cecilia grassed this immediately.

From there we gently learned about haltering and leading, matching the horses energy and then encouraging the horse to match her energy. Walking, stopping, backing up. She was so good at it all! We zoomed through things that many adults take weeks to learn! Soon she was circling him at a walk and a trot with ease, with a gentle reminder of a stick on the ground near his feet. He was entranced by her. In between she knew to stop and love him.  

She gazed into his face, held his cheeks, fed him bits of grass, arranged his body, even picking up his feet. She encouraged him with her energy, she knew without being told to move her feet while circling him and he began to trot, she also bobbed her head. He seemed to fully understand. More and more I just watched the magic unfold. Only offering suggestions for her safety. He loved playing with her. He was entranced.
 Her mother sighed and said: "Don't you wish we had been taught like this?"

At the end of the lesson time, I just let them play. They played for over an hour in a joyful free way that I have never fully experienced or even seen. I have seen people grasp for it and have it for a few minutes, but this was so spontaneous and full of life that I knew I was experiencing something truly rare and wonderful. Fully at liberty, Black Elk danced with this little girl. Trotting and cantering, turning and following, up on the stump, time for blades of grass, she played and he played. They were in complete harmony and talk about bliss!

When he was turned out to pasture again, she knew to go with him, and pet and coo to him more, while he ate grass. If we could only all be this natural and in the moment, wouldn't life be something?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Bliss with my Horses

Shaman, Rascal, Ranger, Black Elk
This winter, my boys taught me about being in bliss.  Every evening as the light was leaving, I'd head out to be with the herd. I begin by shoveling the arena where they hang out during the day playing with each other, sleeping in the sun, rolling in the sand. As soon as I enter the arena, all the boys would come to me and hover around. I greet each by name. Rascal is always the first to greet me and is soon glued to my side, Shaman is next lowering his head by my knees, Ranger quiet but present, waiting.  Usually Black Elk is in the rear, bigger than the rest, trying to push them out of his way.  I am honored by their attention.

I head down to the far end to begin to shovel, Rascal at my right shoulder, his head perfectly vertical at attention, ears upright curved at the tips, like many mustangs. He stops on a dime when I stop. Shaman full of Spanish Brio and Black Elk at 16-3, built like a war horse, jostling with one another to be on my left side.  Shaman, small but strong winning this round. As I move to shovel, each horse steps aside and moves quietly without  a word or a touch. I make a game out of it, I back up, they back up, I move towards a hip, and a horse circles, I move toward a shoulder and they turn on the forehand.

A few more scoops. Pretty soon I forget about shoveling. I am singing. Different songs, repetitive lines, my energy is shifting. We walk, we waltz, we circle and back up, we cha-cha, all the boys who want do a 'chorus line' with me facing them. I smile and laugh. I sing, I am in bliss. We wander the arena as a herd, matching steps, matching hearts.

Black Elk heads to the stump. Look, I can do this he is saying. The competition too fierce for his quiet nature. Yes, standing and waiting is a great trait. A few treats are shared. They are all up on their stumps. They are stumping it, a waiting game, an attention game, eight eyes all on me. I sing. I invite Shaman to circle the others with me. He gets a few pellets, the ones who wait get a few pellets. I back up. They wait. I call them, one by one they come. Rascal and Shaman first, Black Elk slowly leaving the biggest stump taking his long steps to me, nodding his head, feeling like he's grinning. Ranger quiet but persistent, don't forget about me.

I am singing, they are with me, I am one of the herd, we move together, sideways to the right, sideways to the left, a few steps forward a few steps back, a bite of apple. Black Elk bites Rascal, and now he is at my right side. We move forward in bigger steps, I am by his shoulder, I let out my air, he stops. Rascal pushes Shaman out of his way, he's on my left now, a big boy by each shoulder. Shaman is off looking for escaped pellets. The sun is setting, I am still singing, I am in bliss, I go back to shoveling. Pretty soon we call it a night, I am in bliss....

Monday, February 25, 2013

Study Horsemanship and stay on the Farm

Travel and Learn about Horses on Orcas Island. Come stay in our yurt  and re-connect with yourself and your loved ones, take some natural horsemanship lessons with our mustangs. "After a 2 hour lesson.. I felt like I had been meditating for a week!" Dawn T.  Watch the birdlife in the meadow and adjacent waterfowl refuge. Frogs will sing you to sleep, mustangs will entertain you, the farm is quiet and peaceful, our guests say it's paradise!

Students range from 5 to 65. They come to learn about  Connecting with Horses and Natural Horsemanship.  This is a great learning experience for those new to horses, those with fear issues, and if you are planning to get a horse. Come spend a  week or so, learning about horses, ground skills, liberty work, how to connect naturally.  Learn to ride, once you are confident on the ground. Our mustangs are personable and friendly, responsive, respectful and well trained.

 You can snuggle down under a down comforter in our Queen Sized bed and truely rest.

There is a table and chairs and candlelight for dining. A woodstove to take the chill off, a fire pit for outdoor cooking and a hamock to hang out in...

Bottled water and a one burner propane stove for heating up some tea or a small meal. A warm shower can be found at the Deer Harbor Marina about 1.5 miles away. You can also launch a kayak or rent a kayak there, or go whale watching. (See my blog about Deer Harbor)

Soft light will glow inside the yurt and you can see the leaves gently moving in the breeze.

Love Bird Watching? This is a birder's paradise! Heron Rookery, all types of water birds, gold finches, eagles, hawks and lots of owls..can be seen on the farm.

Formerly wild mustangs can be watched while playing and eating in the nearby meadows.

This very affordable get away is $65/night.     Email me at

See our website:                 360-376-4642 

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Teach your Horse NOT to Pull on the lunge

Shaman, Rascal, Ranger and Black Elk All Mustangs from the Wild

All horses have one direction that is easier than the other, and some days are better than others. Our job is to help them become more balanced. Stretching on the outside and contracting on the inside. Today, Black Elk was not as relaxed and when asked to canter to the left, his less favorite direction, he cantered but pulled.
Rascal and Black Elk, the Butt Biter!

Now, he's big- 16-3, huge bone and well developed. When he's pulling it's a lot of horse out there on the end of the line.

So, what to do?

I started with having him walk and yield his hind quarters, then trot and yield his hind quarters. It's hard work, but when he's yielding, he's NOT pulling. So, once that was established, I let out more line and asked for a canter and VOILA! A beautiful round canter! No pulling on the rope, bending nicely, slow and round.

After a few steps, yes, that little, I praised him and let him come in for a treat.

Back again to yielding at the walk, the trot and once he relaxed into the trot, I asked for the canter and once again- it was just perfect!

I'd love to hear if this works for you as well.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Lesson From the Introverted Horse

Black Elk

Having had hot off the track Throughbreds, appendix quarter horses, anglo- arabs, I was pretty much unprepared for the Introverted Horse. At first he just seemed shy, then I thought perhaps he was a bit of a social geek, as the other horses often seemed to herd up and there Black Elk would be - all on his own. He didn't seem to mind being on his own so much, not upset by it. In fact, it was hard to tell what did upset him. Well, that is - until it was too late.  One thing was clear to me though -  HE DID NOT WANT TO BE PUSHED!

He was lucky to have found me for I was all about exploring draw and positive re-enforcement, clicker training and 'the pause'. I was lucky this was of interest to me, as otherwise working with Black Elk would have been very frustrating. Instead it has been

"wow, that's interesting!"

Rather than: 'what's wrong with him...?" He has taught me a lot about the Introvert - Horse and Human!

Today he taught me something new. I have long since found that working with my horses at liberty, companion walking and just hanging out with them for an hour or so, makes for a much happier training session on the lunge, or riding. I have grown to love this time so much, in the winter months it's how we spend the bulk of our time together. The minutes slip away, the horses all want to be with me, and I sing to them. Nothing is forced, no one is made to do a thing, but lots is offered and the enthusiasm is high. I leave them feeling in a state of bliss.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, the weather is always changing, and we had a low pressure system moving in. I missed the hour of quasi-sunshine, and while out with the herd, it grew progressively darker. With the falling pressure, the horses were feeling lazy and rather unmotivated.

My intention for the day was to work with Black Elk on his cantering, and so in preparation, I heard Carolyn Resnick's voice in my head, and I moved to 'Leading From Behind' with Black Elk. It was pretty fun as Rascal and Shaman companion walked with me, one on each side, while I pushed and paused and turned Black Elk around the rain soaked arena. All very gently, no hurry. This exercise is used for building a work ethic. 

Putting the other boys away with a winter treat of willow to chew on, I put a halter and rope on Black Elk. In the driest part of the arena, I sent him out on the lunge. Walking and  trotting are easy, but he's still not so thrilled about all the energy required to  canter. He has a lovely canter. This 16-3 mustang looks like a Warmblood and his canter is amazingly round, slow and relaxed.

At a trot,  he blew and started chewing and then completely on his own accord offered the canter. Three beautiful circles, no pushing from me, no pulling on the lunge from him, round, balanced, relaxed, the stuff that dreams are made of!

All from a simple, non-confrontational exercise, and of course the hours it takes to make a good connection. It's easy and it's natural. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

A lesson in Connection

Saturday, my granddaughter, Trinity was with me. She had wanted to spend some time with one of our horses. She's a very active girl, and being still is not easy for her. But she asked for a lesson in connection.
Ranger, Shaman, Rascal

We began by seeing who wanted to interact. It was Ranger, much to my surprise. Ranger is Ken's horse, and the one horse I rarely work with. He has not done much of the liberty work I so enjoy. So, we took Ranger and spent some time grooming him. His mane is long and wavy and it had lots of dreadlocks, so it was a bit of a chore.
Notice the LACK OF CONNECTION and their expressions

The other horses were let out to graze and we let Ranger graze for a while on the lawn, while we talked about what we would be doing. I told Trinity it would require patience and focus and relaxation, and that there was no knowing what exactly would happen. She would just have to relax into the experience.

We began by sitting on the stump in the arena. I stayed with her, as she was somewhat frightened of the horse. He went over by the gate wanting to go be with the other horses. So we sat together, and I told her, we are not to think about the horse, our job is to listen to the birds, the sound of the wind, watch the clouds, feel the sun,  enjoy the moment. But, not picture the horse, or try to get the horses attention. So, that's what we did and as we relaxed and softened our eyes, Ranger came over to be with us.

He hung his head down and sniffed the back of Trinity's hair, he inhaled her scent. He explored her. He was gentle and slow, as if she were a new foal. If she got frightened, I told her to just wave her hands a little bit and he moved a step or so away. She was NOT to touch him. After a while he just stood over us and hung out. Carolyn Resnick calls this Sharing Territory. It's what the old cowboys did when they went to fix fence day after day with a young horse, focusing on the fence, but giving the horse time to know them - Without the focus of the predator on them. It builds trust.

After a while, I told her, I'd leave the arena, and she could stand up and wait for Ranger to see if he'd join her.  From outside the arena, I instructed her in the dance steps of building the connection. This is what it looked like...
He was happy to be with her, but I hoped with time she could become the leader.

He stayed right with her, as she walked around and around, making circles and weaving between barrels.
I wanted to see him by her shoulder, not pushing her along, so in our effort to change the dynamic, he walked off, and she was instructed to follow him, gently, stopping when he stopped and moving him in the direction she wanted him to go. Just as he did moments before.

When Ranger rejoined Trinity, he was more willing to walk by her shoulder.

 Without force, without a halter or a rope a novice 8 year old is "leading" Ranger easily and naturally. When I asked her what she felt she said: I felt like I was one with the horse.

Neither of them is scared!

The horse feels safe and relaxed.

And once again, I was in awe and in love with this work! This is such a loving way to Experience Horses!  For more information check out my website:

After building a connection

Before building the connection