Togetherness

 Ever feel nervous when faced with traffic?

Ever feel nervous when faced with traffic?

What is a quiet ride to you? 

Is it making it back from a hack without falling off? Is it keeping your horse under control in traffic, in the fields or on a new route? Or is it enjoying the moment, on the trail with your horse? 

I have sworn that I will never take a quiet ride for granted, ever.


 One of our early canters - many moons ago!

One of our early canters - many moons ago!

 Meet the "giraffe" - ears alert, flight mode activated!

Meet the "giraffe" - ears alert, flight mode activated!

Gone are the days that I would have to psyche myself up to take my horse out on the roads, or that I would have to postpone when the wind was up. Taking my horse for a stroll down country lanes, across fields and down dirt tracks safely is an absolute privilege; one for which I am incredibly grateful.

It was a Sunday afternoon and I felt the undeniable fluttering - a feeling which is so familiar, yet one I hadn't experienced for a while. As I was riding in the sunshine, I couldn't seem to let go of that feeling; even now, unable to decipher between anxiety, or excitement. 

Thor and I had set off along a country lane. Within half an hour I had made the decision to go for a canter. This would be his first canter on a hack since last summer. A "non event", right? I chose a long, straight field margin to set off. I could see it approaching and with each step forward, I felt a surge of adrenaline. 

 Head down, jowls open, neck and back stretched - relaxation ensues.

Head down, jowls open, neck and back stretched - relaxation ensues.

So many riders are well acquainted with good ol' adrenaline. It is anxiety-inducing, sometimes difficult to control - an energy high! 

With anxiety, nervousness, or even excitement, comes tension. It is easy to become unaware of tension in the reins, in your stirrups - even your butt cheeks! Whilst you are focusing on your emotions, quite often the smallest tension is being picked up by your horse. Immediately, they are ready for flight mode!

In this state, your horse is ready to spook. With heightened emotions, it is translated to your horse that danger is imminent. After all, why else would you be so flustered? 

In this instance, I always allow my horse to stretch down to graze. We are in this together. I ask my horse to lower his head right down to the ground, to open his jowls and to fully relax. A grazing animal is never a stressed animal; this is a point of relaxation. This is my moment to lower my own energy, if needed. This is our moment to be back to the same place. As horse and rider, we owe it to one another to be calm, happy and considerate.


 Partners and pals. Looking forward to summer!

Partners and pals. Looking forward to summer!

After a few moments, we were ready. I asked for a couple of walk -> trot -> walk transitions before asking Thor to canter, to ensure we were both relaxed, ready and responsive.

What. A. Ride.

It is truly the first time Thor has been there with me. We were moving as one; a soft, steady canter - slow, uplifting and simply glorious! Riding bareback, it is easy to lift up whilst cantering, so the horse can move freely underneath you and for it to be as comfortable as possible. I do this by lifting at my thigh and riding a two-point (or half seat!) canter with my horse. When ready to slow down, I simply sit down gently and lower my heels, becoming a human brake! Absolutely no weight in the reins - they may as well have not been there at all. It was flawless... We steadied down to a halt with such finesse.

This was our togetherness. 

That canter was really something special to me. I hope I never forget it. It takes a ride like that to help you truly appreciate how far you've come; yourself and your horse. 

Anxiety and fear are natural responses. Excitement is manageable. With the right tools, exercises and support, anyone can overcome these niggles. Our horses are great teachers - if we would just take time. Time to listen, feel, try and try again. 

 

For help to find calm with your horse, please do feel free to get in touch.

Sin it to win it

I often feel like I am looking at something entirely different to many of my peers, to so many of my friends and to what sometimes feels like a majority of the horse world. 

 How can we say we are against this kind of riding but scores say otherwise in competition?

How can we say we are against this kind of riding but scores say otherwise in competition?

The fact is that people have become so used to seeing horses overbent that it has become desirable. It has become the "norm". When you look at this photo, do you see a relaxed horse? Do you see the horse displaying it's "natural beauty and grace" - which is desirable in dressage? What do you see? 

Myofacial release...osteopathy...physio therapy...remedial hoof treatment... 

So many owners with the best intentions have spent their hard earned money on ensuring their horses get the best professional care just to find they are having to call these wonderful people out for regular call outs for the same ailment.

I speak to alot of people who are unaware of how their riding can have negative implications on their horses' health. One of my major niggles, is the overbending of the horse's neck.

Let's look into this a little further...

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Hyperflexion

Now, I see alot of campaigning against the FEI and numerous organisations worldwide for many reasons, especially the use of Rolkur. This is encouraging! 

How many posts, how many magazine covers, how many pictures - how many top competition riders have you seen with horses pulled in, with all kinds of contraptions? How many angry posts about the mistreatment of horses, showing them with chins pinned to their chests - even some with blood in their mouths? 

I completely support the cessation of this kind of riding and I think it is long overdue that the authoritative bodies take notice and (hopefully!) take action. 

However... I also see numerous trainers and instructors encouraging and actively teaching students to ride with their horses, most regularly, unnaturally curled at the C2 and C3 vertebrae as part of common practice. Sure...some of them aren't "behind the vertical" but their necks are still distinctly swanned in an unnatural poise. Too many are misinformed about where the "vertical" actually is and what is best for the horse, anatomically speaking. 

So where is this unnatural bend? 
 

 It has to be pointed out that the "poll" as we reference it, is the occipital protrusion at the back of the horse's skull. Many will refer to it as the poll  joint  between the atlas (C1) and the skull.  (Image: Google)

It has to be pointed out that the "poll" as we reference it, is the occipital protrusion at the back of the horse's skull. Many will refer to it as the poll joint between the atlas (C1) and the skull.
(Image: Google)

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The Vertical

Ask a rider where the vertical is. Often, people believe the vertical is an imaginary line from the horse's forehead down to the ground. I am in agreement with this. However, where a horse should naturally carry themselves in relation to this imaginary line is another matter. 

This horse here is behind the vertical. The hind end is not engaged and it is heavy on the forehand. Yet, because horses are regularly seen pulled into an outline on the show circuit, it is too often deemed acceptable - even desirable. 

If a horse's highest point is the poll whilst in movement, naturally, the nose will be just in front of the vertical. This is because the horse's face slopes slightly. 

A good guide to having your horse in the correct position is to see the cheek strap of a conventional bridle angled vertically down the face whilst riding. In this position the horse's highest point should be the poll and the nose will be slightly over that vertical line!

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So why do horses constantly win competitions when they are behind the vertical? Why is it ok for them to be overbent? Why do we still see those who are against this kind of riding, allowing it to happen or even teach it? How is it ok for some and not for others? 

I do not find this acceptable. It saddens me to see riders prioritise their competition schedules, entering tests beyond theirs or their horses' capabilities, instead of focusing on the training and well being of their horses. As a new season approaches, what are your thoughts?

Introduction

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I've recently acquired new students, friends and many new followers who may or may not know the extent of how Sense Equine all started. In the beginning, it was my own story - my issues and lack of understanding which set me on the path to my passion and what is now becoming the beginning of my life's work.

My bridle-less horse was not always so calm. 

He used to barge - y'know, when your horse pulls you to a grassy patch and plants their head in the foliage, with no consideration to you hanging onto the rope for dear life! Many a time I was pulled to the ground in pursuit of a lush bank of grass. In fact, one time I distinctly remember thinking I had lost a few fingers as the rope wrapped around my hand as he bolted off... uuuff!

My horse wasn't just difficult to handle, he was borderline dangerous. Now, don't get me wrong, he wasn't malicious in the slightest, he was just dominant. Dominance is dangerous when it comes to handling a horse. With every bit of "cheek", my confidence dwindled. He was just a youngster...and I didn't really know enough when faced with these issues. Small problems became a little tougher, but I never gave up! 

I got assistance from different trainers; Western...English..."Natural Horsemanship"... Emphasis was always on controlling the horse but not helping us to be calm and connected. Months passed and we seemed to be making progress, albeit bucking when ridden and the odd tanking off in hand! I put it down to being "a youngster thing" and carried on trying my best. 

My fateful meeting with my own trainer, Theresa, was in the USA, at a trade show. I asked her what she thought of my horse...this crazy lady was overly familiar with me as she told me I was in an ill fitting saddle, sitting on my horse's kidneys, with an armchair posture and absolutely no relationship with my beloved horse! So, naturally, I ignored her for a couple of years...! 

After the birth of my little girl, I called Theresa. I asked her what I should do. I was getting tired of battling with my horse, trying to "tame" him. I just wanted a horse to ride safely and to enjoy. At this point, I was only riding in an indoor school, religiously lunging to rid him of excess energy and always ensuring I was never alone when riding. I was told to start from the beginning. Get a bareback pad and bitless bridle and start again! 

 It wasn't always easy... buck buck buck...

It wasn't always easy... buck buck buck...

 Our first session!

Our first session!

So that is exactly what I did. I bought my Ultimate Bitless Bridle and Skito Bareback Pad and began to learn.

The first time I rode with my new bridle and pad, I honestly thought I was going to die! No lunging, I took my horse into an open, outdoor arena, hopped on board and just sat. I asked him to move forward with just my hands - lo and behold, he moved! My horse was calmer than I had ever known him to be! This was a sign, to me, to listen. I wanted to learn all I could to help us move forward. 

 5 minute exercises for a healthy, happier horse!

5 minute exercises for a healthy, happier horse!

It took me months and months of exercises; moving the hips, shoulders and lowering the head. I learnt to assess my horse and how to read him. I started becoming aware of how he moves, when he is feeling good and when he is not feeling so great. I began to become in tune with my horse. I was being given the tools to communicate with my horse in a simple, soft and calm way. I would love to hear if any horse would oppose to that?! Consequently, my horse began to respect me.

For the first time, he wanted to be in my company, he wanted to play and to learn with me.

 My husband riding Thor bridle-less and bareback, I'm a horse - family fun! 

My husband riding Thor bridle-less and bareback, I'm a horse - family fun! 

 Our bond is unbreakable. I now have reached a better understanding of my horse.

Our bond is unbreakable. I now have reached a better understanding of my horse.

He became by best teacher. 



 

 Yeah...he's always a good boy... not!

Yeah...he's always a good boy... not!

It is because of what I have learnt and what I am continuing to learn, that I am passionate about helping others and their horses.

I understand how it feels to be anxious. I know what it is like wanting what's best for your horse but not always making the right decisions, without realising. I have been there. I have had to swallow my pride many times and have taken the bad days with the good. I believe I am stronger for it and can help to encourage and support others on their journeys. 

Ultimately, there are many ways to the same goals, no "rights" or "wrongs" - I choose to train with the horse's health in mind, for calmness and for fun. I give my students the tools to become the great horsemen and horsewomen they are.


Stay tuned for our next post...

Trust and Patience

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Trusting our horses.

The first thing that springs to mind is trusting the horse to keep us safe, trusting the horse to clear a jump, or trusting a horse to do it's job well. But how well do you really trust your horse? Do you trust them to make their own decisions? Do you trust them to think for themselves? 

 

We all love our horses dearly and whatever we do with our horses, whatever discipline we choose, we all have our horses' best interests at heart. 

When training, we systematically break down every aspect of a new movement and encourage our horses in so many different ways; clucks, clicks, whistles, kisses or treats.

I hear so often from people that their horses become "bored" with training or do not "perform" well in certain scenarios and the trainers resign to the fact this must be why their horse isn't learning or progressing.

Horses love routine. They love predictability. Horses do not become bored with training, as repetition is the way they learn; the trainer is the one lacking in patience! People do not like taking steps back and repetitive behaviour for them is the issue. If the horse starts to become unresponsive to training, it is worth taking a moment to think outside the box! 

So the question again, how well do you trust your horse? Do you give your horse credit for their intelligence, for their way of thinking, to work things out? It's very easy to overlook their thought processes. Let me explain...

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Let's liken this to a parent/carer and child. My daughter is 18 months old and she is learning every single day. 

Naturally, as a mother, I want to "spoon feed" her information and guide her the best I can so she can accomplish new things. 

When she tries something new I am on guard and ready to step in and correct her, help her, so she knows how to continue. 

But do I trust her? Do I trust her to figure things out by herself? Is my little independant daughter being given a choice if I am stepping in and making the decision for her on every attempt at something new? Or am I being impatient for her to learn? 

By posing the question to her, for example, to climb onto a step, it would surely help with her mindfulness and decision making to guide her, but ultimately to let her try to figure it out for herself. I have presented a task to her, she decides on how to proceed and the time taken to achieve the results is totally dependant on the individual - my baby girl.

Even more simply, if you are the one learning a new skill. Isn't it frustrating if you are trying to work something out and your teacher doesn't give you time to think? Or if they start repeating louder and more slowly, still, without giving you time? Isn't it patronising? This is likely to make you feel under pressure and less willing to learn more.

So similarly, for a horse to carry out a new task, it cannot be as black and white as "learn, praise, mastered!" in a day. Sometimes it takes time and that is ok. Every horse in an individual, they are all different.

Trust and patience go hand in hand when learning with a horse. Have you ever asked your horse to do something, they haven't understood and you ask again with more gusto, with more steps to your training, perhaps? Or do you trust him to make sense of the task at hand? By "dumbing down" our conversation with our horses, are we really allowing them to think? Are you really listening to them? Too many cues, or repeating louder does not make the lesson more easily understood, but amplifies any anxieties present and adds tension to the situation. Ultimately, the trainer becomes prone to frustration and the horse at best becomes confused and at worst walks away having had a less than positive experience.

Have you ever had a moment with your horse, when they spontaneously moved so beautifully, or had given you their mind, wholly, even just for a moment? How did it make you feel? 

These moments aren't a fluke. A horse has senses and are incredibly receptive to their environment and to us. Your horse makes decisions; sometimes they are without giving us a second thought, sometimes with us in mind.

What I have learnt is quietness and calm are underrated. Too many people are in a rush and do not want to take the time to truly get to know their horse.

Asking softly, listening, being trusting and patient, will all result in more effective learning, a happier horse and a stronger bond between horse and handler. 

Learn to play with your horse, enrich their learning with questions rather than demands and expectations. Learn to understand that they are much more capable than we give them credit for.

If you truly believe horses to be sentient beings, perceptive... how "loud" are your cues currently whilst riding or on the ground? How much movement do you give in the saddle; do you kick or squeeze with your legs? Do you pull or give tension on the reins? Where is your head? How are your hips positioned? Are your legs tense? Or relaxed? How animated are your actions? Are they shouts or gestures? 

I have found that my horse is more and more responsive with the more freedom I give. The softer I am, the less tension, he is more receptive of what I am asking. Practise letting your mind go, feel your body relax and take time.

Become a horse person, not just a horse owner.

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A saddle of a lifetime!

So here it is... a saddle post! 

For years I had thought of saddle fitting, adjusting, re-flocking and buying all incredibly complicated. It needn't be! The saddle buying process is not only stressful, but seems like such a gamble to find not only the correct fit, but something that looks and feels special too.

 

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Sense Equine and our sister company Show Ready have become UK representatives of DP Saddlery. German design and extraordinary craftsmanship, the DP range is made to a high standard. 

One of the reasons we highly recommend these saddles is because they are not mass produced. More often than not, the saddles circulating social media selling pages and in the UK market are not subjected to the same quality assurance. You certainly get what you pay for. When a saddle is made in high numbers it is simply impossible for the same high quality and care to be attained. This can result in uneven work and saddles which are not lined up correctly, which not only affects balance for the rider, but also muscle development and ultimately the health of our horses.

DP saddles are made to order and can be completely customised to your own taste. DP uses an Ultra-Flex tree for many of their models, which is lightweight and allows full movement of the horse. It is one of the most reliable flexible trees on the market today. 

A saddle to fit all? 

Yes! Finally! 

DP Saddlery have introduced a revolutionary way to adjust their saddles yourself! An allen key is used to adjust the saddle as required, by as little or as much as you require. This means your saddle will not only change with your horse as muscles develop or shapes change, but will also cut expensive call out fees for saddle fitting or adjusting. (See video below for ease of adjusting!)

To make the saddle fitting and buying experience even less painful, Sense Equine and Show Ready are offering free saddle fitting advice to ensure you know exactly how to fit your DP saddle correctly and when it will need adjusting (if at all!). These saddles can be made to fit, so are an incredible investment. It is estimated that DP saddles need re-flocking, on average, every 2000 ridden miles. Sense Equine and Show Ready will re-flock your saddle free of charge when the time comes. One time purchase - yearly savings! Yes!!!

So there you have it! 

Our sincere recommendation for a saddle which is made to move and change with your horse. This is a saddle which will last and something special which can be made bespoke to your and your horse. 

If we can make horses more comfortable and save you money, we are happy! 

See the full DP saddle range at www.showreadyshop.com
Baroque, English, Western models are available.

If you are concerned about your current saddle fit please do get in touch and we would be happy to advise. For any further details on our saddles you can PM us or email alex@senseequine.com

Equestrians are linguists

A dear friend made me realise that learning to communicate with your horse is no different to learning a new language.

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There are many ways to learn a new language...some ways are better than others and everyone learns best with their chosen method.

If you don't learn the language correctly, if you skip the basics, miscommunication is imminent! You would not allow yourself to learn just "part" of a verb or only how to speak in the present tense when learning a language, so why scrimp on your learning or teaching as an equestrian? 

Arguably, starting a horse or getting to know a youngster or gaining a new addition to the herd, is one of the most fun times in horse training. This is your moment to get to know one another, to become acquainted and is the true beginning to a thorough and steady education together.

Somewhere along the way, many have forgotten the art of playing. Once you have your basic understanding of how to move your horse, and are able to do it well, you are open to use what you've learnt to practice conversations with your horse. In the beginning, it will not look like much to an outside eye, but you will start to feel your horse and will begin to realise your horse does "talk" to you - they're not just a good listener! The tools you were taught for the basic movements now become your own.

When you have taken the time to slow down, speak softly and practice with your equine partner, you will have the tools to move freely as one and to progress. 

This is where the fun begins! As you play with your "words" and learn to make "sentences" together! 

We are equestrians. We are linguists.

Not your average riding lesson...

Sense Equine is all about having fun and keeping the horse happy and healthy.

It's important to make it clear from the very start that we are different to most other trainers! 


We do not teach you how to ride but we do teach you how to keep your horse fit and healthy - it just so happens that your riding will improve with your new found knowledge and practices! We will give you the tools to become an exceptional horseman. 


This is NOT discipline specific, it is neither dressage training, nor western - not even "natural horsemanship" - this is Foundational training to fit with anything you may do with your horse. 

We compare the training to "building a house". We will talk you through how to "lay the foundations" and show you how to "build something to last". After all, without a solid foundation, any house will fall. The same goes for horse training; without a thorough foundation to the training, the horse and rider will always succumb to issues at some point. (Lameness, behavioural issues, pause in lesson progression)

Allowing yourself to take time and to master each movement completely before moving onto the next stage will ensure you build an incredible bond with your horse, boost confidence in you both and will be the making of a good foundation. This is what we actively encourage and help you to do. Practice, patience and praise go a long, long way. 

 An endurance horse learning "straightness" - your Ultimate Bitless Bridle can come in all colours!

An endurance horse learning "straightness" - your Ultimate Bitless Bridle can come in all colours!

In the beginning, we choose to train with a bitless bridle, or with a bridle fitted with a Fulmer snaffle bit so the horse's whole head can move from the cheek, rather than being at risk of twisting around by the mouth. You will learn complete softness and how to move your horse lightly with your hands, opening a whole new line of communication.

We also recommend to many clients to use a bareback pad in the beginning for a variety of reasons; to learn to become more balanced, for greater range of movement with your horse whilst rehabilitating and in some cases, as a saddle replacement. 

We will teach you how to check your tack, how to keep your horse sound and to check for any discomfort after rides/ground work. You will learn about the symmetry of your horse and how to help your horse to become and maintain true balance and straightness. 

In many cases, we can help to prevent common lameness issues through good riding practice and informative reasoning behind each lesson. Sense Equine works alongside some incredible vets, osteopaths, farriers and physios to bring you a wealth of knowledge and good advice to help you and your horse when required. (Recommendations can be made in the UK and USA.) 

Whether you are looking to improve your riding, solve a training issue, start a youngster or just want to have fun and try something new - we really are for everyone! These methods are well suited for rehabilitation purposes and for those interested in keeping their horses healthy for years to come.

Learn the way the Masters intended - become a good horseman!

 

5 easy ways to become a better horseman

Did you know we can teach you everything with 5 basic movements?

Lower the head, disengage the hind end, shoulder over, shoulder in and reverse arc.

Would you believe me if I told you it could be simple, fun and that learning the basics can take no time at all?

Are you looking to improve your riding?
Do you want to be confident and feel safe in the saddle? 
Is a good relationship with your horse important to you? 


If "yes" to the above questions...read on!

Alex's Story: 

It all started when I was backing my haflinger, Thor.

On the ground I was being dragged around. There were days I felt helpless. I felt like I was constantly battling with him to be calm and to be manageable.

When I was finally in the saddle, I struggled with understanding how it was supposed to feel. With so many instructions, learning to be a good horseman seemed complicated!

Think about your legs...mind your hands, your seat is most important...your heels must be down, head up, shoulders back, squeeze here, lift here, stretch here... Yikes! And all of this before a thought about the horse!

 

 

We believe the most important aspect of learning with your horse is to enjoy it. If you aren't having fun and your horse isn't happy, what is the point? 
 


So, here is what we offer:

 

- to show you how to be calm and to relax around your horse

- help to teach your horse to relax and to engage their mind

- to give you the tools to be your horse's guide and to build a good relationship with them

- bring you the foundations to being a good horseman, whatever your level or discipline, in an informed, simple way

- remind you to have fun!

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FREE Lesson: Teach your horse to relax

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Our first lesson is * Relaxation *

Lowering the head helps to take your horse out of the "flight" mindset and also helps to engage their mind.

It is easy to carry out on the ground, in the saddle, in a halter, bridle, bitless or bitted!

Here is a step-by-step picture guide of how to lower the head whilst on the ground and when you're on your horse.

Just a couple of minutes of practising this movement each time you ride will help you to calm your horse.

Did you know that the first way we humans communicate is via our hands?

It's no different when opening a line of communication with your horse 👋🏻 - soft and gentle is key!

 

 

5 tips for building a bond with your horse

5tips

5 simple tips for a better bond with your horse

It's easy to forget to obvious things when you're busy worrying about much more exciting stuff!

But keeping these little gems in mind whilst training, or even just doing odd jobs around the yard, will do wonders for your relationship with your horse.

  1. Praise often - you can never ever ever give too much praise to your horse! Treats, a scratch or verbal encouragement, always let them know they have done well. 
     
  2. Be calm - an anxious mind is no use to a horse and is not a good mindset to be in whilst around these large animals. If you find yourself worrying, try counting back from 10, slowly. You could try singing too - regulate your breathing and relax.
     
  3. Be fair - don't expect too much of your horse. They have a mind of their own, be respectful of this. 
     
  4. Downtime - allow your horse to just be a horse! Giving your horse time and space to just be themselves is not to be overlooked. Everyone needs some downtime; your horse included!
     
  5.  Grooming - mutual grooming takes part in herds to establish social bonds. Not only will this stengthen the bond with your horse but its also great for skin and hair health.

    What is your best piece of advice to those wanting an unbreakable bond with their horse? 

    Comment below and share your wisdom! We'd love to hear from you!

You want natural horsemanship? This isn't for you!

Yes... we have a great relationship with our horses.
Yes... our horses can move with "invisible aids".
Yes... issues which are all too common are "fixed" with our teachings.

But "Natural Horsemanship" is nothing more than a marketing strategy.

If you want to be able to speak to your horse calmly and to become a good horseman, then this is for you. 

If you want to be able to speak to your horse calmly and to become a good horseman, then this is for you. 

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