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The Women & Horses Newsletter - August 2008

Get to Know Your Horse and Yourself
by Mary D. Midkiff

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I hope your Summer is going well for you and your horse. It has been a busy one for me and I want to share some observations and good finds from the last couple of months of training.

I am working with a variety of breeds and ages, from three year olds to eight year olds, from Kentucky Mountain Horses to Dutch Warmbloods. Even though each age and breed has its considerations, what works is identifying how the horse would operate or operates within their herd, identifying their personality tendencies and honoring them for who they are individually.

When first meeting a horse I always like to allow them to smell me and nose me a bit kind of like horses do when they first meet. It's all about touching noses and checking in with pheromones and scents. I like to also smell their breath to notice if it is fresh and clean smelling or if I pick up on a septic situation. I check when the horse was last professionally floated by a master equine dentist. Horses need to have consistent dental care at least once per year with a thorough float, leveling and balancing exam. This is not just a filing from the vet while giving annual vaccinations.

Next I like to look at their head. I consider the overall shape and symmetry, nostril and muzzle shape, forehead width, where the eyes are set on the head, ear shape and distance between the ears and finally the throat latch area. This evaluation will give me a glimpse into the horse's health, ability in performance and overall personality type. Please note that if I see an eye that seems small or somewhat closed I do know this can change with a healthy diet, alleviating pain, attitude and happiness in their environment and training. A nice big round eye can emerge over time when the horse is always supported for a pain-free happy life.

I progress to the horse's body, overall conformation, muscle development, balance and size. I always make sure I know what the owner wants and expects from the horse and that this horse can match those expectations. If the two don't mesh then we will have a conversation about what can work for the horse and the owner. I always make sure we are all on the same track of commitment and dedication and that our goals with the horse are realistic.

I like to go over the horse with my hands to detect knots, injuries, hot spots, skin issues, muscle density or lack of it and see how the horse reacts to my touch. Many horses have never had someone really get their hands deep into the horse's body. They have been groomed and petted but not manipulated all over.

One of the horses I work with is a 5 year old Paint who is heavily muscle bound and he hasn't been ridden or worked in many, many months. A part of his muscling issues are related to his breeding, part of it is his diet, part his metabolism and part his tendency to hide and hold his emotions. It is my job to start peeling these layers away and get to a happy, flexible, freely expressive horse.

Now comes an especially important element of the process of re-wiring or un-doing all that is present and not serving the horse or the owner. The human element! ( It's equally important also for starting babies.) The human must be clear, open and non-judgmental in all interactions with the horse for there to be any chance at getting the happy, healthy, willing horse that we want. The human cannot be holding onto any agendas, stress, tightness, tension or pressure in order to communicate with the horse. When you enter his or her space you step into another world, the world of the horse herd.

I explain this to all of my clients that they have an equal stake in this relationship and they are the one that will be forwarding our progress between sessions. The follow up that they provide is the key to training this horse to be a safe and comfortable ride.

It all starts in the ground work, leading the horse, establishing that you/human are the leader. Leader does not mean using dominance and force. Leader means establishing who you are if you were a horse in their herd. You are a partner in the game of survival and flourishing in life.

I have one mare that I train who is clearly an alpha mare. I know that in a herd setting she would be fighting to be number one and establishing with all the other horses that she is the leader of the herd. With her I have to equal her determination, play predator with her, ask her lots of questions and surprise her with the answers, keep her engaged, show her that she can let go of all the responsibility of taking care of everyone in the world and I can give her that relief.

After I have interacted with the mare, I have the owner take over and give it a try and encourage them to be exactly what the mare needs and requires to be safe, manageable, trainable and happy in her relationships with humans. It is an exploration for both owner and horse and they really get to know each other inside and out. We are creating a lifelong partnership of trust, confidence, joy and play and relaxation. From there we can put any kind of performance on top of this foundation; dressage, cutting, western pleasure, jumping, driving, hunting or whatever you envision the two of you accomplishing together.

Another client horse is a lovely young Kentucky Mountain Horse that is a follower, looks to the herd for all of his direction, would have been a worker bee always looking to the queen bee for what he should be doing, a caretaker of others inside the herd as directed from the lead mare, timid, fearful, hyper-reactive and has no individual knowledge of himself away from the herd. With him I have to be a rock. I am solid in every way when I am around him, I touch him all over and do a great deal of deep body massage to get him to let go of his apprehension. The owner and I did a lot of body work in the stall with him at first just to get him used to having people all over him. He loved it and showed us his affectionate side which was so rewarding.

He thought his life was destined to be a watchhorse (watchdog), always on alert for what the leaders wanted. Now he is letting go of all of that and seeing he can be a great quiet companion to a woman who loves him dearly.

We made sure that he was getting good nutrition plus Epsom salts in his water and Pro-Bi, the best pro-biotic supplement for horses that I have found, to calm his nervous intestinal tract. Go to www.a-b-c-plus.com to read about and purchase Pro-Bi.

Again, I would work with him, then have the owner step in and do the same things and have her continue all of our practices every day until I returned a week later. I have her call me with any changes or issues that might come up.

Once we got him into the arena to start interacting with me I slowed everything way down for him, like training underwater so that he could comprehend my movement and accept it and me for being in his space. It has been almost 9 months now since I first started with him and I have ridden him 6 times now safely and comfortably, total acceptance, affection and relaxation. It will be awhile before I put the owner on him but I have faith that we are on a path that will work for both of them.

You can be a leader of horses. It is within your power to have that with horses. You must be intentional, peaceful inside of yourself and committed to what you are doing. Remember horses are just like mice, rabbits or chickens. Everyone wants to eat them and they know it! Horses see us as predators unless we shift this perception to being their leader and the one that gives them release, pleasure, security and fun.

Practice your leadership skills with your horse and let me know how it's going.

More to come in September! Stay tuned. Happy Riding,

Mary D. Midkiff

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