Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings

Lily was now safe with her chosen people. Many of the neighbors had farms with horses, and yet she had passed them all by to get to the Morrises. One has to marvel that she knew where to go and how to communicate her need. Perhaps the Universe had a plan!

The farm was now “horse friendly.” Amy and Brian settled into the daily chores of feeding and maintenance. Lily quickly established her ranking as herd leader over Olympia. Harmony spread over the farm.

Yet as time passed, questions began to mount. There was so much to learn about these beautiful horses. Reading, researching on the internet, and asking neighbors was not enough. At first Lily was just as sweet as can be. But as she became comfortable and secure in her new home, she began to express her power of leadership. She started letting Amy and Brian know that she would be led to the barn or pasture only when she wished. She would simply plant her feet and refuse to move. Amy was both intimidated and sympathetic. She felt that, considering the horrific treatment Lily had in her past, it was reasonable that she would not want to be controlled in any way. She was afraid Lily would become fearful if she insisted she move. So, she would soothingly talk to Lily, and if Lily didn’t want to follow, well, she didn’t!

What began as a subtle resistance to leadership grew. It wasn’t long before Amy & Brian realized they needed some professional assistance. They first called Dr. Logan King to examine both horses. They wanted to rule out any physical discomfort. Dr. King discussed general care and management, and gave them a clean bill of health. It was then they discussed hiring a trainer. Dr. King knows that I often work with individuals with special training needs and do not use force. The recommendation was made and shortly I was to make my first visit to their farm.

In meeting Amy and Brian, I was struck by their warmth and caring manner. They were eager to learn. They introduced me to Lily and Olympia, and I immediately saw the rising difficulty through Lily’s body language. She was curious and walked right up to me in a friendly manner. As we stood talking, I noticed Lily taking steps towards me as though she were taking over and asking – no, telling – me to move. I quietly put my hand on her chest and backed her up a few steps. She repeated that a couple of times, and then with ears pinned, turned and walked away.

I did not say anything to Amy & Brian regarding the interaction since my habit is to observe and ask questions during the first part of our original meeting. Recognizing their lack of knowledge of horse keeping and handling, they were willing and eager to start with the very basic of basics. Both were like super absorbent sponges! We worked on proper grooming and then went outside to begin a session on handling.

lily and amy in the round penWe worked with both horses, enabling both Amy and Brian to partake in the experience. Olympia is a bit of a bull at times, but good hearted and easily redirected to constructive habits. Lily immediately “postured” her lack of desire to be led. It was obvious that we were dealing with a learned behavior.

Horses that have been abused will protect themselves in various ways. Some fight, some go quietly inside themselves and some simply become frozen in stance. I never once thought Lily was misbehaving; she was simply doing the only thing she knew to do when she felt she was not in control. Loss of control meant pain. Horses “brace” against pain, and this is what she did. Of course there would be no pain coming from us, but she is not a human, and we needed to find a way to communicate this to her. I know from experience that horses that have been abused must be asked to work through their fear. If they don’t, the behavior will always be present.

I also knew that I was asking beginner handlers to begin a task which was normally performed by experienced professionals. Amy was clear that they did not wish to send Lily out for training, and wanted to learn and develop along with her horse. Perfect! If one possesses determination, dedication and follows proper guidelines this is a method I find highly successful. Although many owners do not wish to do this difficult stage in training, those who have the desire and possess the right attitude will develop their knowledge of horsemanship with a clarity that will be with them forever. I explained it would be a long process, since I would be working with both beginner handlers and a horse with a history of abuse. If they were willing to take the journey I was willing to be there for them every step of the way.

We spent the rest of the session in discussion/demonstration of horse behavior and language. Explaining the importance of not humanizing Lily’s behavior, I began working with both Amy and Brian on yielding exercises to the bonding with a leadership process. Wanting to keep both humans and horses safe during training, I asked if they might consider getting a round pen. They agreed, and by the time I arrived the following week, it was in place and they had already been working on the ground work I’d instructed them on. The roller coaster ride was about to begin!

This is the third part in a series of posts about Lily. Check back soon to read the rest of this story!

Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily
Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue
Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings
Lily’s Story Part 4 – Following the Leader
Lily’s Story Part 5 – Learning “Feel”
Lily’s Story Part 6 – Making Mistakes and Moving on

Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue

After the discovery of Lily’s deceased pasture mate and their call to Animal Control, Lily’s visits came to an abrupt halt. Amy and Brian were confident that Animal Control had intervened, and that Lily was now in good hands. They also realized they would not be welcome or allowed on the owner’s property.

Time passed, but the pretty and proud horse haunted Amy and Brian’s thoughts. It was as though Lily was telepathically communicating with them. Soon they found themselves sneaking through the acres of pasture and trees between them to visit Lily. What they found saddened and concerned them. Lily was confined to a very small stall in what can only be described as a shack. Conditions were deplorable. She was thin. Amy and Brian knew Lily was once again calling out for help. They did not know that there was an Equine Division at the Department of Agriculture, and were at a loss for what to do. They continued their discreet visits with carrots in tow, while trying to sort out their dilemma.

But the determined horse was not waiting to be rescued. Lily once again took it upon herself to seek help. Looking out the window one morning, there was Lily on their front lawn. The sight broke their hearts. Lily was dragging a rope tied to her neck that she had managed to break. Her hind legs were hobbled and all four legs were rubbed raw. She had laboriously traveled all the distance between them. She couldn’t have spoken any clearer. Amy & Brian knew they could not allow Lily to go back to this person or she might not survive. Fearful that the owner would harm Lily if he found out she had escaped, they had to come up with a plan to save her. Amy and Brian decided to buy her, but first, they needed to convince the owner to sell. Amy knocked on the neighbor’s door and simply told them they had fallen in love with Lily and would like to buy her. It worked! The deal was sealed and Lily was saved. She would never be in danger again. The life she had chosen was about to begin.

Lily was home at last… but the farm was no longer set up for horses! The Morrises began the transformation of clearing the barn of landscaping equipment and turning it back into a horse barn. Fencing had to be erected, supplies had to be purchased. Being total novice horse owners, they even had to search online for instructions on how to lead a horse! They asked neighbors for advice on feeding, handling, and care. During this time Lily was simply free to come and go as she pleased. This was not a concern because it was clear that Lily had finally made her way to a home where she would be loved and treated with care. She had no intention of going elsewhere.

It was both exciting and intimidating for Amy and Brian, but the sweet horse was gentle and friendly and it felt exactly right… except for one thing. They began to think that Lily must be lonely for a partner, a horse partner. Of course! Lily is a herd animal and needs a herd. Not having any criteria or guidelines on purchasing a horse, they spoke with their neighbors and found Olympia, a very handsome Tennessee walking horse. They were thrilled at the opportunity. Olympia became their second horse, and Lily had a friend. Now they were really a horse farm! Or were they? What was ahead? They saw neighbors riding their horses through the fields and wondered about riding Lily and Olympia. What about saddles, bridles, bits? They were completely unaware of hoof care. They had no knowledge of veterinary care. Neighbors were generous, but not completely knowledgeable. There was so much to learn, where to begin?

lily and olympia with the morrises

This is the second part in a series of posts about Lily. Check back soon to read the rest of this story!

Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily
Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue
Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings
Lily’s Story Part 4 – Following the Leader
Lily’s Story Part 5 – Learning “Feel”
Lily’s Story Part 6 – Making Mistakes and Moving on

Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily


Lily and Amy

This is the story of an appaloosa mare, Lily, and her people, Amy & Brian Morris.

lily and her people

Amy & Brian purchased a lovely farm in Jackson, GA. The property was formerly a horse farm, and although the Morrises are animal lovers, the farm was intended for Brian’s commercial grower’s business.

It has a horse barn and 38 acres of beautiful land. They used the barn storage and equipment, and soon the property was dotted with large greenhouses. Horses were not on the agenda!

One morning Amy looked out her window to find a beautiful horse peacefully grazing on their front lawn. She visited with Lily, then canvassed the neighborhood until she found where Lily lived. The owner came to fetch his horse, and off Lily went.

After this first visit, Lily’s presence became a regular occurrence. She was always friendly, and quietly meandered around their farm eating grass. The Morrises would contact her owner and he would come for Lily. Not having any horse experience, the Morrises didn’t realize that Lily showing up on a daily basis was not a normal thing for horses to do. But they did notice that Lily appeared to be losing weight and was definitely on the thin side.

One morning, as Amy and Brian were preparing to take their two dogs for a walk Lily came towards them up the drive. But instead of her normal grazing pattern, she turned back down the drive. She would stop periodically and shake her head at them. She pranced and stomped her foot at them, and they realized that Lily was trying to get them to follow. Lily led them to a hidden area on her owner’s property where Amy & Brian were horrified to see Lily was leading them directly to her pasture and her DEAD pasture mate. The horse had been dead for some time.

Amy & Brian were horrified at the scene and as they looked beyond the tragedy they saw that Lily’s living conditions were appalling. It was obvious that Lily’s insistence that they follow her was intentional. She had come to them for help. She chose them.

Not knowing anyone in the horse community, the Morris’ did what they thought would be the right thing and called animal control. In addition to inadequate housing for the horses, the owners had dogs tied to trees without shelter and roosters everywhere. The conditions for all of the animals were atrocious. Animal Control responded to their call, but took no action. In the meantime Lily’s visits stopped.

This is the first part in a series of posts about Lily. Check back soon to read the rest of this story!

Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily
Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue
Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings
Lily’s Story Part 4 – Following the Leader
Lily’s Story Part 5 – Learning “Feel”
Lily’s Story Part 6 – Making Mistakes and Moving on

When a horse avoids the bit

I sometimes get asked training questions via e-mail. Although nothing can replace hands-on individual training, I appreciate the chance to help people working with their own horses to find a kinder, gentler, and more effective approach to developing a true partnership. I will be posting some of these questions and answers on this blog. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see covered, please comment or email!

QUESTION: Sandi, I have been watching your site for a while. I got an OTTB a couple of years ago and am in the process of re-training him. I started out taking some Natural Horsemanship lessons. I am now trying to work with my horse to develop fitness and working with him doing dressage. He has a problem accepting the bit – I am using a loose ring snaffle. He opens his mouth and chews. My instructor says he is avoiding the bit by opening his mouth – he tightened the nose strap and then added a caveson. It makes me uncomfortable – how can we work through this without harsh tools? Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Hello! Since you’ve been to my website you may have read my article on Cavesons. I am very much against any device used to keep a horse’s mouth closed. This is not beneficial in any way in creating a healthy working relationship with your horse. It causes discomfort and makes him unable to use his mouth in natural movement. It also inhibits salivary gland function. If a horse is in discomfort, he will connect it with his work. Attitude and behavior problems can follow, or just general apathy towards his work.

You stated you were uncomfortable with the technique, and I feel you are correct to listen to your instincts. Regardless of who you work with, it is your horse, and ultimately your responsibility to keep him happy and healthy. Do not be hesitant in asserting your position. If your instructor does not respect your view she/he may also not respect your horse. We expect a horse to respect us and yet many people do not respect the horse equally.

Horses chew, chomp, and open their mouths for a variety of reasons. Being a TB, he may be a bit high strung and somewhat nervous of his new job. If so, the process of retraining him may need to be done slower, carefully watching his body language to know if you’re on the right track. Busy mouths can mean discomfort. Perhaps the bit is wrong for his mouth conformation, or it may be fitted incorrectly. Have his teeth been maintained? Mouthing can be a result of another physical discomfort, such as his back or limb soreness. It can be caused by hands that are too tight, unstable, or too busy. It can be caused by simply asking too much of the horse. Mouthing is simply an expression, but it’s an expression of discomfort. I urge you to take the caveson off, loosen your regular noseband and rethink all of the above. Herm Sprenger makes a wonderful training snaffle. I always suggest an eggbutt or a “D” ring versus a free round ring that can pinch lips easily. It’s important to know your horse’s mouth conformation. Some horses have a low pallet, some high. Lower pallets are harder to fit comfortably. Also, is the width of the bit correct? And how thick is the mouth piece?

Normally, I would start with checking the bit, the mouth, and the bridle for any possible problems. Then I check the saddle for a correct fit. I like to see the horse move freely on a lunge with a halter, then watch the horse being worked. Most often the problem can be evaluated through this process.

Without seeing your horse I cannot tell you exactly what the root of the problem is. Going through each of the above steps should bring clarity to you. Regardless of how you chose to proceed, I encourage you to trust yourself. If your trainer does not wish to be flexible in his thinking and open to possibilities, you will have to make a decision as to how to continue your training.

I often say “listen to your horse, he is the best teacher of all!” Please let me know if you have other questions or if I can be of any further assistance. I would also be interested in knowing your progress, and wish you much success!

Working with a “stubborn” horse

I sometimes get asked training questions via e-mail. Although nothing can replace hands-on individual training, I appreciate the chance to help people working with their own horses to find a kinder, gentler, and more effective approach to developing a true partnership. I will be posting some of these questions and answers on this blog. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see covered, please comment or email!

QUESTION: I was looking over your website and was convinced in writing this email hoping maybe you could help me with our horse Cyber.

We bought Cyber this Feb and he was untouched, untrained at the age of eight years old. He is a Belgian/thoroughbred cross and stands at 17.1. I bought him because he had a teddy bear personality and hoped he would make a good trail horse for my husband. We brought him to the farm where we board, gave him a couple of days to get settled in and then began working with him, first with leading because he wanted to run you over while leading… it was bad, but we got that fixed and he now does perfect.

We then started his lunging, he does good but sometimes he will try to kick at your face and I’m not sure how to fix that. After we got him turning well and his paces were good, we started with introducing the bridle. I started him off in a full cheek copper snaffle. He takes it well, but he has a very hard mouth and I’ll get to that in a minute.

To make a long story short, we have been riding him in a western saddle and he does well for the most part, but is SO stubborn. He will not turn well at all. This horse does not know how to walk in a straight line and will not listen to you. He will walk and trot, but if you ask for any more, he begins crow-hopping, or he will kick out with one leg and then freezes up and will not go any further. I have taken him out on one trail ride following two other riders, and he did really well for his first trail ride. We did not push him at all, but he will not go on any more. Me and my husband tried, and we got a little up the road before he bucked my husband off.

So we have been working him back in the arena, but he just does not listen no matter what we try to do. He will walk straight into the fence with you, he will not turn, and it takes a lot to stop him. We have to do a one rein stop, and we end up going in a bunch of wide circles before we can stop him.

We have had a vet and a farrier come out and look for any problems and they didn’t see anything. I don’t know if I’m using the wrong bit or what. I don’t know what to do, I’ve never owned a horse like this before. When you are on the ground with him, he wants all the attention he can get. He is so sweet that I trust my little girls around him and he will lick you to death.

I cannot afford training these days, but I feel like I’m doing a very bad job doing it myself, so I put him up for sale. But everyone that comes out and gets on his back leaves right away, because he is so stubborn you can’t do anything with him – you’re just up there and he does what he wants. You pull on the right rein to go right, but he will side pass and take you left until you’re up against the fence, leg crushed.

I don’t want to sell him, Sandi, but I’m lost and frustrated. I hope you can give me any advice on what I can do for this big boy of mine. Thank you for your time.

ANSWER: Hello! I am struck by your desire to work things out with Cyber. Your open-minded attitude and willingness to learn is a great combination for success! Acquiring a new horse is only the beginning of the process in becoming partners. Both your role in training, as well as learning what Cyber is trying to communicate to you, require a clear understanding of body language. I am pleased that you had him vetted for potential physical discomfort. Did you also have his teeth examined? Have you checked his tack? Improper fitting saddles can pinch and cause pain.

The type of bit you’re using sounds fine. Is it the correct size? Is it placed correctly in his mouth? I do not believe in the theory of hard mouths. I do believe an uneducated mouth can cause a horse to protect himself by bracing against pressure. Horses’ instinctive behavior is to brace against whatever is causing them discomfort. The bit should not be used for control, but for communication. Cyber must learn to focus on you through the bit and give to gentle pressure in all aids.

First, understanding horses’ natural instincts, behavior, and language can help clarify so many issues. Horses are herd animals. In the herd they have a leader, and they look for direction and security in that horse. When horses interact with humans, they still need a leader. If you are not that leader, they will become yours! You can definitely be a friend to your horse, but one must have both trust and respect first. At eight years of age, Cyber is a mature horse. Without any early training, he may not understand the “pecking order” involved with humans. In nature, horses establish this pecking order in their own herd. The leader should be both trusted and respected.

In relating to humans, horses will react as though you are another horse in the herd. You must first establish a leadership with him in order to gain his cooperation. A 17.1 hand horse can be an imposing figure when unwilling. Since you’ve been to my website you already know I do not believe in being a bully to gain respect. I chuckle to think of those that would try intimidation on such a large horse to accomplish this! A frightened horse will instinctively want to run from his fear. If unable to run, he will fight. I like to think of training as placing the horse in a position that will cause him, not force him, to do the right thing. Aggressive training is designed to bully the horse into submission, but this does not result in the bully being appreciated or trusted. I would much prefer a horse that enjoys his work and time with me, rather than one that responds out of fear. If given a choice, the majority of horses will seek the gentle leader. It sounds as though you have already gained his trust, and now in order to gain his respect, ground work — lots of ground work — will be necessary.

I advise starting with relationship development in a round pen. It appears you may have done some, however, according to your description of Cyber and the difficulties you state, I believe you may need to take this further. You cannot have respect under saddle without first establishing it in hand. Round pens are wonderful aids in helping to keep a horse focused. When we are able to take the “wide open space” away, the instinct to run away is quickly discouraged. It becomes you and the horse. Regardless of whether Cyber is kicking out in playfulness, or as an attempt to control you, it is a dangerous expression and one that must be corrected. I’ve seen too many people chase horses around a pen to exhaustion, thinking that’s what you do. This can lead to disaster, potentially harming your horse either physically or mentally. One must know the difference between correction and abuse. Asking the horse to move forward in the round pen the instant he shows himself in this fashion will make him realize his behavior did not intimidate you, but instead to focus on your continued request for him to move on. It will also allow you the opportunity to reward him when he does move forward. Round pen or ground work done properly will cause the horse to look at you and focus. Studying body language and understanding the signs of leadership acceptance will clarify to you where the horse’s mind is.

I advise you look for a professional that is versed in natural horsemanship to teach you lessons in ground work. If there is not someone in your area that you are comfortable with, there are some wonderful videos by Monte Roberts on partnering with horses. Mark Rashid is also an excellent example of passive leadership. He has several wonderfully written books based on horse behavior. Two of my favorites are Horses Never Lie and Considering the Horse. There are numerous other books and videos written on this topic, but many “natural horseman” use methods that can hardly be termed as natural or kind. I would ask any prospective trainer to allow you to watch some training sessions. If this is not allowed, I would not recommend him/her to work with your or your horse. I always insist in working with both horse and rider together. You will ultimately be his trainer and need to understand the process. You must not hesitate to protect Cyber in any situation where you are not in agreement with his treatment in training. Remember, he is your horse, and ultimately it is your obligation to be certain he is in good hands at all times.

Once your leadership role is established, I would recommend you move forward on rider education. One must be able to sit properly on a horse, using body language through your position and aids to communicate to the horse what you are asking. Just developing the basics of correct use of aids and body language will be tremendous help to you. A rider who does not sit balanced can easily cause discomfort to a horse by both gripping and bouncing. Cyber may be a substantial horse, but he still will feel any pain inflicted. Again, I feel seeking a competent trainer that will assist you in accomplishing would be a tremendous help to you. Horses do not automatically understand our language. Training with kindness is a process. Learning the order of training steps, and not moving forward until each step is solid, will build a foundation that you can rely on and continue to develop.

As a guideline for the use of any aid, I always ask with as gentle pressure as I possibly can, i.e. leg pressure to move the horse forward. If the horse does not respond, I will instantly release that pressure and quickly clarify the request by asking again with a bit stronger leg aid. I will continue this process until the horse takes just one step in the right direction and immediately release the pressure. This will clarify to the horse what you were asking for. Think of it as “an open door” for him to walk through. Teach him to seek those open doors by clearly showing him the direction you are seeking. Put him in a position that will cause him to take the right step, not force the right step and you will soon have a willing partner that enjoys his work with you. Your use of a circle to stop Cyber is quite clever. A horse being quietly asked to walk in a circle gets focused more easily as well as it’s boring to walk on a circle. He will eventually realize it’s to his advantage to stop. As you are circling continue using your body aids (seat) and voice commands to clarify your request.

In summary, I believe you, your husband, and Cyber would benefit greatly from some lessons. With the right help I doubt you’ll still want to sell him. I very rarely suggest selling a horse, if the rider has the determination and willingness to learn. Training can become complicated, and someone who uses a positive approach to training is of the utmost importance. I always feel we should downplay the negative and focus on the positive. Reward quickly for effort not just for correctness. A tiny step into the right direction will lead you to your goal.

Remember, Cyber is only capable to doing what you the rider/handler are telling him, or it can also be what you’re not telling him. The process of developing that wonderful connection with a horse can take some time and effort, but in the end it is an amazing feeling to have such a wonderful and noble creature as your friend. I wish you success and would love to hear of your progress.

How to improve your upper body position in the saddle

I sometimes get asked training questions via e-mail. Although nothing can replace hands-on individual training, I appreciate the chance to help people working with their own horses to find a kinder, gentler, and more effective approach to developing a true partnership. I will be posting some of these questions and answers on this blog. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see covered, please comment or email!

QUESTION: What would be the cause of a rider’s upper body moving (swinging) in the canter? This rider seems to have a secure and relaxed seat.

ANSWER: There are a few possibilities that would cause this to happen. The first thing I would look at is whether the rider is sitting evenly on the three points of his seat (two seat bones and pubic bone), forming a balanced triangle. This is the basic foundation for balancing, not gripping when one rides. If a rider is unbalanced, putting too much weight on any one point, it can cause the upper body to swing (i.e. weight too far back).

Second, check the vertical line of position (ear, shoulder, hip and heel). Any misalignment of the vertical line will cause an imbalance that may be preventing the rider from using his body in isometrics.

Third, once balance in the seat is obtained, the rider must be certain he is not either standing in the stirrups or putting pressure on them. The stirrups are there to support your foot only. The rider’s legs should be “draped” over the horse without squeezing or gripping. You should feel the horse’s sides gently moving in and out against your calf. This allows you to become a part of the horse’s motion instead of an obstacle.

Fourth, riders also have a tendency at times to squeeze their knees, which disconnects the upper and lower body and causes the whole upper body to swing in the canter.

Fifth, the pelvis must be free, without restriction in following the movement of the horse. Remembering, any misalignment and/or gripping, squeezing, standing, or pushing will cause us to distance ourselves from moving in harmony.

SOLUTIONS: Once all of the above are assessed and if necessary corrected, I find that working on the lunge line is a wonderful aid to teaching independence in the body. Ask the rider to first drop the stirrups (this should be done on only a reliably safe horse), then ask him to canter with their arms out to the side, palms up. Follow this with the rider twisting at the waist to face you and then twisting to face the outside, and then back to center. Repeat several times, being certain the  rider does not change position in his seat balance or any other part of his body while doing this. Riders tend to compensate, and this would defeat the purpose of this exercise.

Continue with asking the rider to put both arms in front of him, then straight up, then behind him. I would then ask him to reach his arms straight above his head and “climb a rope.” I love this exercise as it frees the waist and ribs. Make sure they are actually pretending to climb without changing the seat, legs or any other body part. Swimming the back stroke with your arms (alternating) with easy rhythmic circles will again help to isolate the pelvis.

If the rider is still swinging try asking him to swing one leg forward and one back at the same time. Hold it for two seconds and then switch. Continue with the legs by asking them to point one toe down and the other up. Using isolated circles (reverse) with first the ankle, then from the knee down, then from the hip down, will all assist in independence of the body.

A more quiet exercise is to ask the rider to simply drop one arm in a relaxed manner, placing it behind his thigh. In summary, any excess movement from our bodies will inhibit our effectiveness in influencing the horse. Being certain we are first balanced in our seat, properly aligned, and have no pressure, squeezing, or tightening throughout our body will allow harmony in motion.

Is dressage necessary?

“Dressage is like watching cement dry.” “Dressage is like watching grass grow.” We’ve all heard the comments from non-dressage riders. In all honesty, I can understand how, especially at the lower levels, it appears redundant. But I also can say with elevated pulse that it can bring an exhilaration unlike any other I’ve experienced riding horses! It is my passion. Yes, many years ago I rode hunters, I competed in combined training, and even fox hunted. I’ve felt the slide and spin of a reining horse. I’ve felt the gallop that causes your eyes to tear up. But nothing compares to the creation of Baroque art! With the development of all the natural inborn talents of the horse, art is created, and those fortunate enough to be astride experience living art.

I totally understand that other riders have that same feeling with the discipline of their choice. I am not wishing to develop a “Dressage Cult,” but I do believe that dressage is a valuable and healthy foundation for all styles of riding. In my opinion, dressage is necessary in the training of all horses. Dressage is equine gymnastics. No one can deny the beautiful musculature, coordination, and grace of a human gymnast. The gymnast spends many hours developing joints and musculature. Without the gradual and correct development of their body, their ability to perform would be greatly compromised. Horses are no different. All of the movements in dressage are natural. It is a systematic and gradual development of the horse. When we take the time to properly develop the horse’s joints and musculature, the horse is able to perform movements of incredible power with maximum grace. Using dressage to develop the foundation for your style of riding will enable you to jump that fence with less effort, to run faster, turn easier, and stop quicker. So, regardless of discipline, a horse will perform with much greater ease, coordination, and power.

It should be a non-confrontational relationship guided by love and kindness. I am not naïve, however, and dressage, unfortunately, is not always ridden with love and kindness. We only have to click a mouse and we’ll see Rollkur, which is both physically and psychologically damaging. We also see mouths clamped shut with cavesons, hands jerking on mouths, and spurs digging in sides. This saddens me to see in any discipline, and my choices are to either turn my head the other way or to reach out when opportunity allows to share a softer and kinder approach. There are riders with far more talent and experience than I, but there are a lot of horses in this world calling out for help. My goal in teaching students and training horses, and my goal with this blog, is to make a difference in even a few horses’ lives. My hope is that by sharing a different approach, that perhaps it will trickle down and people will “pay it forward.”

The physical and psychological well-being of a horse are synonymous. What better way to bring the spirit of the horse and rider together?


Hi!  My name is Sandi Forester.  I’ve been passionate about horses for most of my life and involved with training and teaching for 43 years.  My passion has never diminished and I find myself increasingly fascinated by these magnificent creatures.  They are artistic masterpieces, substantial in size and gentle in spirit.  They willingly partner with mankind, serving us for centuries as general transportation, taking our troops into battle, carrying mounted police, delivering mail, milk, and medicine.  They have been and continue to be an elite status symbol for some, and in today’s world are primarily entertainment and pleasure for a vast number of people.

“Horse people,” real horse addicts cannot imagine a life without their horse, resulting in never ending topics to discuss with like minded individuals.  We may have nothing else in common, but this one common ground is enough to form a society of sorts!  So, this blog will have several topics where I’d like share my experiences, opinions and information with you and invite you to share yours as well.

Today, being the first post I’d like to talk about Natural Horsemanship.  Regardless of your style of riding, your level of riding, or your breed of horse, it all begins with the understanding of the horse in nature.  With the study of the horse we can learn to communicate, train, and partner with them. By understanding the instincts, natural behavior, and language of the horse, I believe the spirit of the horse and rider can come together in harmony.  I am sure that every horse-loving person would like to have such a relationship with their partner.

So, who is the horse? First and foremost, he is a PREY animal.  He must rely on his instincts for survival from the predator.  And who are we? The human is a PREDATOR.  Understanding the difference of both the physical and psychological aspects between prey and predator is the first step in the process of communicating and training your horse using Natural Horsemanship.

I look forward to sharing my views on these essential subjects in detail with future posts, followed by how we can use this information in training our horse using a soft and natural approach. Additional areas of discussion will be classical dressage, general training, and horse care and management. I also plan to introduce you to some of the horses I work with now, and horses who have taught me along the way.

I hope you will enjoy my blog, and I encourage you to comment at any time.