Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tom Shields gives me Insight into working with Kahleesi

I was lucky to have Tom Shields work with my newly purchased off the track Thoroughbred mare, Kahleesi at the 2015 Natural Horsemanship Trade show. Tom shared a lot of knowledge and expertise during his hour demo with Kahleesi.

Little did I know he would provide me more insight and knowledge in a follow up email - I want to share it with you because I think he shares some great information.

We are currently planning a clinic with Tom for a weekend in November later this year - stay tuned for details later this spring.

"You asked me a question on Saturday about "matching the energy of your horse".  I gave you a short answer about bringing the horse my peace ... but upon more pondering I believe the question (a very good one) requires a more detailed answer.  I will attempt that with as few bunny trails as possible.  I will speak from the rehab perspective or dealing with mentally damaged horses.  

When first working with a damaged horse the energy we usually encounter is a combination of fear, flight and mistrust.  This energy is toxic and does physiological damage to all systems in the horse.  This energy should be met with a calm, confident push balanced with enough passive draw to assure the horse that they are in "good hands".  "Good hands" needs a clear definition in our industry.  In my world, good hands never pull ... they only block.

Once the initial push and draw has been established most horses with initiate multiple challenges to your abilities as the new leader.  As I said on Saturday ... it is the obligation of your horse to test and challenge your ability as a leader.  Since leadership is established through competition and ability ... this is very much like sparing in martial arts.  There are a set of rules that must be adhered to so you can't be accused (by the horse) of cheating.  If you are correct consistent and fair in all your actions ... if your response to the behavior of the horse is appropriate (from the perspective of the horse) and predictable your behavior will bring a calm to the horse.

If the horse's energy comes up and becomes toxic again our job is to de-escalate that energy and turn it into a calm and focused energy.  If the horse's energy drops away to pouting or just being overwhelmed ... our job is to reassure and strengthen.

(Kahleesi) is a very smart mare.  As I worked with her on Saturday she started inverted (hollow) and stressed.  As I worked with her she tried a bunch of things ... some overt and some subtle ... to suck me into making a mistake so she would have an excuse to be mad and stressed.  Because I met her energy with a calm, assertive push and balanced that push with a passive draw ... and because my body language never gave her an excuse to be mad at me ... she began to pout.  If you remember, she made wiggle marks in the sand with her nose as we were working.  That's the body language of a pouting mare who was being told she simply was not top horse in my presence.  I didn't make mention of that during the demo because I don't want people focusing on that and missing the entire issue of relaxation in general.  Once (Kahleesi) feels the physiological and bio-mechanical benefits of being with me (or you) ... the "work" becomes easy and fun.

So the long answer to your question is ... I match the horse's energy with the appropriate energy to bring a calm, focused work ethic.  That looks different for every horse in every circumstance.  The principal, however, works for every breed and every temperament.  Application of the principal requires a base of knowledge and attention to detail ... and a keen willingness to listen to the horse and modify our behavior to benefit them.

So I apologize for the short, trite answer.  Hopefully this fills in the gaps I left.

Blessings ... Tom"  

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