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Slow the World Down and Process
by Mary D. Midkiff

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The Women & Horses Newsletter - May 2005

Because our world and life is so fast paced we forget that the learning process needs to be slow, for both horse and human, for us to process, absorb and understand. So take a deep breath and think in slow motion when working with your horse. Ask the horse a question and wait for the answer. If it is the correct answer, reward him with kind words and a stroke or two. If it is the wrong answer just say nope that was not what I was looking for and repeat the question or instruction. Make sure you are very clear with your body position and intention. If he is anxious or nervous or moving too fast in his answer this means you need to go even slower and reward tiny subtle accomplishments.

I was very pleased to hear the trainer of Giacomo, the Kentucky Derby winner, say that he had to mentally condition the horse as well as physically condition the horse to get this far. It was refreshing to hear someone involved in the pressures of big money and racing to embrace this philosophy.

It is still not the norm, but more and more I am learning that people are taking the whole horse into consideration. Horses are not "do and obey," "dominance over force" creatures. They only fully function and gain well being through cooperation and understanding with other living beings which is the foundation of all healthy relationships. They want and need boundaries like we all do to get along but they also need compassion to survive.

I have asked horse people (who may choose to remain anonymous) that I have or am working with, for their permission to share some experiences with you in order to give you insight into horse behavior. Also check out my website for Q & A bulletin board questions.

I spoke at the Colorado Horse Rescue annual Holistic Horse Fair last weekend and met some interesting horse people. One experienced horseman and I shared many stories after my talk and he told me the number one consideration that people overlook or misunderstand in horses is pain. Pain is almost always mistaken as bad behavior. Pain is the culprit for bad behavior, inability to peform a certain movement, inability to move forward comfortably, bucking, rearing, bolting, stopping at jumps, sour attitude, poor eating habits, developing bad vices, etc. As I do, this man most of the time gets the horses nobody else wants or can do anything with. He told me of one example of an accomplished Thoroughbred show horse that went from owner to owner to owner and got cheaper and cheaper because of all the bad behavior and he was a very hard doer on top of the problems making him unusable and expensive.

Thankfully the last owner had the sense of mind to hand the horse over to Jim Rea. Jim said the first thing he did was take him down to Littleton Vet Clinic and have a complete work up. They found the horse's feet were almost to the point of founder and he had multiple gastric ulcers among other problems that had developed as a result of all the pain, like sore tight muscles. It was no wonder the horse was a mess, very unhappy, didn't want to move, wasn't utilizing his food and was deeply depressed. Once his physical issues were resolved and the pain subsided he was a new horse. He began to gain weight, move again, accept round pen training and went on to be a nice horse under saddle again. This horse was headed for the meat market because no one was willing to stop and listen to him and get him checked out. Thankfully there are people out there like Jim Rea (www.gentlehorses.com) of The Colorado Natural Horsemanship Center in Parker, Colorado who realize most horses are good partners if you give them comfort in mind, body and emotions.

Clara and T came to me about a year ago ready to become partners. Clara, a rider in her youth, was excited about getting back to riding and was given her sister's horse T, a Trakehner/TB cross gelding to recondition and put back into work. T had been turned out for a few years but had had adequate training to know the basics. On one of Clara's first rides before I met her, T had bucked her off and she wasn't sure what happened or why but she had her reservations about him going into our lessons together. Clara thinks T is 10 now but we are not sure because no one has his papers.

We had several good weeks of ground work and riding lessons started when T began to bunch up his back and fuss and get hyper active at the trot. We tried changing saddles, we tried a few different approaches to going into the trot but he was still about to explode. I finally went over and pressed around his back and croup and found he was very sensitive and sore and deducted that he had probably had a fall or a bad slip in his pasture while rearing and playing with his buddies. So we had the chiropractor come out and Clara gave him almost 3 months to heal.

Two weeks ago we decided it was time to start back with him. Clara was ready and so was T. We checked out the saddle fit before Clara mounted and to our surprise T's body had changed considerably, the saddle was no longer sitting level. We agreed that her saddle system set up needed to be reset to a level place on T again. Without the saddle we decided to turn our lesson into a bareback session. Clara warned me that T hated anyone riding bareback on him and I had questions about that.

We took him into the round pen and took all of his tack off except the halter. I worked with him and Clara for a few minutes first establishing body positioning with T and teaching him how to release his hind quarters and move one back foot at a time in both directions. After I felt he was secure with this positioning we took him over to the mounting block and I asked Clara just to lay over his back. We patted him all over, went over him with the wand, talked to him and then Clara jumped up and laid on his back. T completely freaked out and almost went over backwards.= This told me that we had a serious fear memory issue going on. I guessed that sometime during his young horse life someone jumped on his back out in the field and made him run and it really scared him. To him it would have seemed as though a tiger had pounced out of the tree down onto his back.

We brought him back up to the mounting block and I got a towel and put it all over him. He had no negative reactions and just stood there quietly. Then we tried the lay over approach again. This time I administered acupressure on T's neck while Clara jumped up and down on the block making noise and patting his back. Finally she was able to jump up on his back and lay there without him moving. I had her lay on him for a few minutes and we were even able to walk a few steps without him loosing focus.

We gave him a couple of small treats for his accomplishment. We then decided to do the same thing on the other side. The right side was even worse. At first he would not go within 6 feet of Clara and the mounting block. I went back to the spatial positioning of the feet again, over and over with lots of pats and strokes and positive words in between each step until he was really listening and watching every move I made, no matter how subtle. After about 20 minutes I was able to get him right up next to Clara. We stood there for quite awhile and she rubbed his back and made noises on the mounting block while I administered acupressure again. This was such a big accomplishment that I decided to end it there. He had given a great deal mentally to overcome his deep seated fear. I had Clara give him a few handfulls of grain in a feed tub in the round pen and we left him there alone for a few minutes to process what we/he had done.

This is a horse that has had several years of training, been through dressage and hunter barns as a sale horse and yet he could not handle someone laying on his back. He had a history of being nervous and sensitive, which is even more reason to take it slow and allow the horse to process every little thing you do with him and allow the time for the release of good chemicals into the nervous system. You never know where the behavioral issues are coming from. He also needs lots of body work to help re-align his spine and this will help him to learn to self-release. If a horse's body is clear and out of pain, when something does slip out of place, most of the time they are able to re-align themselves, and they heal quickly. A supple aligned body is a body that will take care of itself in short order.

Our next session will be interesting to see how he comes back to the same questions.

I have a wonderful friend who is 70 years young. Alana is an amazing spirit with great determination and try. We have known each other for several years through horses but I had never worked with her and her horse. She had told me over the years of the troubles she was having with her Morgan mare. The mare is fancy, beautiful, petite-sized with a large ego and power. Shasta was/is determined to be the alpha mare over Alana and expresses her opinions loud and clear.

Alana has tried working with many different trainers to get Shasta to work and behave and the mare just fusses or resists or acts stubbornly or flares her temper. Finally, Alana and I talked and she decided to try me out. From the very beginning it was clear to me that the partnership wasn't going to work if they kept going forward with the same approach. Alana is a very creative artist and thinker and she was, in my view, always trying to shape Shasta and herself into a beautiful piece of art working together in harmony as sport partners, and when she didn't get what she expected she became frustrated and very tight in her body. Shasta on the other hand was tight and sore in her body, she was all bound up and stiff and was angry about not being able to float and fly like she knew she could. Alana suspects that the mare's tight body issues are from an injury a few years ago. Both females were frustrated, but what to do?

I felt that freeing them both and getting them to identify their issues was the way to start. I started showing Alana how to lunge Shasta and work with her in the round pen asking her to move forward and enjoy herself and play and buck and run. After this kind of start to each session, I began asking Shasta to listen to me more on the lunge line and I would squat down and whistle to her and ask her to connect with me on the line and bring her head down and stretch. I asked Alana to demonstrate the same thing and showed her how to begin moving with her horse. You trot when you want her to trot and you canter when you want her to canter. I always use this to help a horse learn to play with me and have fun, then over time I do less and less until I can just begin to trot or canter and they go off that cue and my words. Horses watch every move you make, they look for your eye contact, they notice if you are not paying attention to them. You must always focus on them when you are working in their space.

Alana had her saddle re-flocked and re-fitted and I began to massage the mare and check out her body. Alana was/is determined to do the best she can for the mare. She was tight and sore all over and appreciated every little release I could give her. I taught Alana where to massage and what to focus on to give Shasta some pleasure. Alana told me that for the first time Shasta was coming to her in the pasture and seeking her hand. This was a new relationship developing and Alana understands that this is a slow process of healing.

We kept on this program once per week. Alana had the mare's mouth checked out because she was so fussy with her head and mouth. Sure enough the dentist found a large abcess inside her mouth and her teeth were not in balance or level. The healing in the mouth began our process of re-building this lovely horse. Shasta had a slight injury to one leg and had a few weeks off and the vet suggested that Alana look further into Shasta's way of going. We talked about it and decided to have her looked at by a wonderful human and horse chiropractor and saddle fitter.

The chiropractic alignment work started a few weeks ago and we can already tell a significant difference in her gait, her attitude, her willingness to work, her fluid joint movement, the swing in her trot and her understanding of what Alana is asking. It's like we are all working together to free the bird inside.

I have also been working with Alana's biomechanics in the saddle. She goes to a Pilates class once per week which has been very helpful in her fitness and stability in the saddle. We start every lesson with Alana finding her neutral pelvis position and aligning the legs and upper body with the correct position of the spine and neck. We work on softening her elbows and wrists and making a connection with Shasta through the hand to mouth and seat to hocks.

We will continue on this path as the pair learn to feel each other more and more and seek each other out more and more. Alana so wants their partnership to be a happy one. Once Shasta is pain free, which may take awhile, she will be happy to share the spotlight. It's my job to bring them together in the happiest, safest, healthiest, most comfortable way.


I share these experiences with you to show you how various issues can be handled. But none of this work can progress unless the human side of the partnership is willing, open, trusting and fully clear in their bodies and minds. If your body is tight, not released through the lower back, and your joints are locked when you work with the horse, the horse will receive mixed and confusing messages. If your abdominal core is loose and wobbly, you cannot expect your horse to be balanced and supportive and moving forward under saddle. When you want your horse to be a great partner you must be his or her equal in every way. I realize this is a tall order for many of you but it is worth it all to have joyous, safe, fun and thrilling rides together for many, many years. Take care of yourself the best that you can and do it for the "long run" with your horse partner. _____________________________________________________________________

NEW article for your interest on feeding alfalfa - "Protein Praises and Woes" by Gretchen Topel

Check out the website for Masai Barefoot shoes/sneakers called MBTs. Excellent shoes for saving your joints while giving you correct conditioning.

Check out the website for Synergist Saddles. Synergist makes endurance, english and western saddles specifically designed for the female rider. Their products are beautifully made, have wide fitted panels and comfortable seats.

My Women & Horses TM Essential Oils for Horse and Rider are almost ready to debut. We have everything planned for a June launch.

Maggie Parker, Pilates for Riders instructor, and I are working on a "Get Fit To Ride" Exercise Booklet Series for the female rider. It should be out no later than July 1. The first insert is called "Finding Neutral Pelvis Position". This is the basic position necessary to all riding for effectiveness, comfort, balance, stability and power. It will feature photos and diagrams of positions and exercises for you to establish and maintain the neutral pelvis position.

My website is being updated to include a Women & Horses Products and Gift Shop. I will be able to sell directly the website with credit card payments starting in June. I will be offering my books, videos, ball and bands, plus the Essential Oils, notecards, the new "Get Fit to Ride" booklet series and other items helpful to the female rider. They will include a selection of bras designed for high-impact sports like riding for the large breasted woman, natural horse care products for grooming and cleaning, breeches and clothing with interesting and fun design elements and more.

My own horse Redge is going through many positive changes these days. We are in month 10 together and he is a safe horse to ride now, trustworthy and very happy. We are slowly progressing in connection work along with free happy-go-lucky trail rides. What a fun dance partner he is becoming!

Peggy Cummings (www.peggycummings.com) will be visiting me to work with me and my horse from July 10-12. She will take a few additional lessons during those days and you are welcome to come meet her and observe her marvelous work.

My next clinic is in Sheridan, WY with Lucy Widener and friends from June 3-5. See the Calendar for details.

Happy Riding, Mary

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Mary Midkiff, 1119 Merrick Drive #362a, Lexington KY 40502
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