by (Kate Wood) on Monday December 17, 2012

Shaman, Rascal, Ranger and Black Elk All Mustangs from the Wild

All horses have one direction that is easier than the other, and some days are better than others. Our job is to help them become more balanced. Stretching on the outside and contracting on the inside. Today, Black Elk was not as relaxed and when asked to canter to the left, his less favorite direction, he cantered but pulled.
Rascal and Black Elk, the Butt Biter!

Now, he's big- 16-3, huge bone and well developed. When he's pulling it's a lot of horse out there on the end of the line.

So, what to do?

I started with having him walk and yield his hind quarters, then trot and yield his hind quarters. It's hard work, but when he's yielding, he's NOT pulling. So, once that was established, I let out more line and asked for a canter and VOILA! A beautiful round canter! No pulling on the rope, bending nicely, slow and round.

After a few steps, yes, that little, I praised him and let him come in for a treat.

Back again to yielding at the walk, the trot and once he relaxed into the trot, I asked for the canter and once again- it was just perfect!

I'd love to hear if this works for you as well.

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by (Kate Wood) on Thursday December 13, 2012

Black Elk

Having had hot off the track Throughbreds, appendix quarter horses, anglo- arabs, I was pretty much unprepared for the Introverted Horse. At first he just seemed shy, then I thought perhaps he was a bit of a social geek, as the other horses often seemed to herd up and there Black Elk would be - all on his own. He didn't seem to mind being on his own so much, not upset by it. In fact, it was hard to tell what did upset him. Well, that is - until it was too late.  One thing was clear to me though -  HE DID NOT WANT TO BE PUSHED!

He was lucky to have found me for I was all about exploring draw and positive re-enforcement, clicker training and 'the pause'. I was lucky this was of interest to me, as otherwise working with Black Elk would have been very frustrating. Instead it has been

"wow, that's interesting!"

Rather than: 'what's wrong with him...?" He has taught me a lot about the Introvert - Horse and Human!

Today he taught me something new. I have long since found that working with my horses at liberty, companion walking and just hanging out with them for an hour or so, makes for a much happier training session on the lunge, or riding. I have grown to love this time so much, in the winter months it's how we spend the bulk of our time together. The minutes slip away, the horses all want to be with me, and I sing to them. Nothing is forced, no one is made to do a thing, but lots is offered and the enthusiasm is high. I leave them feeling in a state of bliss.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, the weather is always changing, and we had a low pressure system moving in. I missed the hour of quasi-sunshine, and while out with the herd, it grew progressively darker. With the falling pressure, the horses were feeling lazy and rather unmotivated.

My intention for the day was to work with Black Elk on his cantering, and so in preparation, I heard Carolyn Resnick's voice in my head, and I moved to 'Leading From Behind' with Black Elk. It was pretty fun as Rascal and Shaman companion walked with me, one on each side, while I pushed and paused and turned Black Elk around the rain soaked arena. All very gently, no hurry. This exercise is used for building a work ethic. 

Putting the other boys away with a winter treat of willow to chew on, I put a halter and rope on Black Elk. In the driest part of the arena, I sent him out on the lunge. Walking and  trotting are easy, but he's still not so thrilled about all the energy required to  canter. He has a lovely canter. This 16-3 mustang looks like a Warmblood and his canter is amazingly round, slow and relaxed.

At a trot,  he blew and started chewing and then completely on his own accord offered the canter. Three beautiful circles, no pushing from me, no pulling on the lunge from him, round, balanced, relaxed, the stuff that dreams are made of!

All from a simple, non-confrontational exercise, and of course the hours it takes to make a good connection. It's easy and it's natural. 

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by (Kate Wood) on Monday May 21, 2012

Saturday, my granddaughter, Trinity was with me. She had wanted to spend some time with one of our horses. She's a very active girl, and being still is not easy for her. But she asked for a lesson in connection.
Ranger, Shaman, Rascal

We began by seeing who wanted to interact. It was Ranger, much to my surprise. Ranger is Ken's horse, and the one horse I rarely work with. He has not done much of the liberty work I so enjoy. So, we took Ranger and spent some time grooming him. His mane is long and wavy and it had lots of dreadlocks, so it was a bit of a chore.
Notice the LACK OF CONNECTION and their expressions

The other horses were let out to graze and we let Ranger graze for a while on the lawn, while we talked about what we would be doing. I told Trinity it would require patience and focus and relaxation, and that there was no knowing what exactly would happen. She would just have to relax into the experience.

We began by sitting on the stump in the arena. I stayed with her, as she was somewhat frightened of the horse. He went over by the gate wanting to go be with the other horses. So we sat together, and I told her, we are not to think about the horse, our job is to listen to the birds, the sound of the wind, watch the clouds, feel the sun,  enjoy the moment. But, not picture the horse, or try to get the horses attention. So, that's what we did and as we relaxed and softened our eyes, Ranger came over to be with us.

He hung his head down and sniffed the back of Trinity's hair, he inhaled her scent. He explored her. He was gentle and slow, as if she were a new foal. If she got frightened, I told her to just wave her hands a little bit and he moved a step or so away. She was NOT to touch him. After a while he just stood over us and hung out. Carolyn Resnick calls this Sharing Territory. It's what the old cowboys did when they went to fix fence day after day with a young horse, focusing on the fence, but giving the horse time to know them - Without the focus of the predator on them. It builds trust.

After a while, I told her, I'd leave the arena, and she could stand up and wait for Ranger to see if he'd join her.  From outside the arena, I instructed her in the dance steps of building the connection. This is what it looked like...
He was happy to be with her, but I hoped with time she could become the leader.

He stayed right with her, as she walked around and around, making circles and weaving between barrels.
I wanted to see him by her shoulder, not pushing her along, so in our effort to change the dynamic, he walked off, and she was instructed to follow him, gently, stopping when he stopped and moving him in the direction she wanted him to go. Just as he did moments before.

When Ranger rejoined Trinity, he was more willing to walk by her shoulder.

 Without force, without a halter or a rope a novice 8 year old is "leading" Ranger easily and naturally. When I asked her what she felt she said: I felt like I was one with the horse.

Neither of them is scared!

The horse feels safe and relaxed.

And once again, I was in awe and in love with this work! This is such a loving way to Experience Horses!  For more information check out my website:

After building a connection

Before building the connection

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by (Kate Wood) on Monday January 30, 2012

Our trip off island with Shaman to the Robin Gates Clinic, in our trailer was calm and uneventful. He loaded in about one minute, looking confident and relaxed and off we went to the ferry. Sometimes it's best to pay attention to the flow of things and the road blocks as well! I certainly had had some things standing in my way of taking Rascal and Black Elk.

When we unloaded Shaman at the farm, he was well behaved and contained himself, until  he saw the terrifying red and green horses in the adjoining pen! Having always lived 'au natural' he had never seen a horse in a blanket. Off he blasted - fortunately I had long since learned to release a rope easily, so he raced around, snorted and eventually realized, oh, they are just horses!

I could write in depth about the clinic, but it's really something that should be experienced, and it's hard to tell about. Robin's message was: I Am Just Telling You What You Already Know. It's about connection, not force, it's about meeting the horse where the horse is, not demanding he meet you where you want to be, it's about listening to the horse, it's about being loving and compassionate, it's truly about making your relationship with the horse the most important part of being with the horse. It's about just being with the horse!

It's NOT about performance, or dominance or tricks. It's heart opening and fosters self realization. It's spiritual - connecting your spirit with the horse and with yourself. It's magic!

In the video you will see Robin meet Shaman where he was that day. Where he was emotionally - and spiritually. She became like him: you could almost hear him say ' you are just like me!' and then he joined her,  and in finding a leader, relaxed. It truly was amazing.

People at the clinic were surprised at how nice a mustang can be; a woman with a very elegant (and expensive)  warmblood said she'd be looking at the BLM next time she was horse hunting. A vet said it was such a pleasure to see a horse move so correctly and without any pain. Many commented on his correct conformation, perfect feet, sweet disposition and respect.  I felt like a representative sent from the BLM!

This video was on the first day and he was frightened by all the eyes on him. Quite a new experience, except for when he was in the corrals at the BLM in Burns, Oregon.  The next day, I made sure I was in the arena with him, as people wandered in, we met each person and I had many offer him a treat, soon he was no longer worried about all those new folks.

I was the last one at the clinic, waiting for my husband to come with the truck. He had been overloaded on the ferry and was running late. I loaded Shaman easily, took off his halter and then in backing out of the trailer he came out with me. Brilliant!  Now it was dusk and he was free.

He ran over to see a horse in a pasture down by the driveway. I have to admit, I was thinking Oh boy.... now what!  Would he listen to me in this place that was still so new, would he come to me as he does so happily at home, would he be frightened and run? But, all went well, and I walked over to him quietly, waited a moment for him to offer his head and slipped the rope over his neck and put on the halter. Little did I know that I had an audience who were also holding their breath for me! Again, we loaded, this time I was careful to keep him in the trailer!

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by (Kate Wood) on Wednesday January 25, 2012

 This is a continuation of the letter from yesterday. My student wanted to know what I thought of a horse she had gone to see, and this was my response to the video she sent me.
Shaman, Rascal, Ranger, Black Elk

This horse is a really pretty guy, very flashy. At 5 years of age you can be sure he is very green.  Parelli says green and green results in black and blue. I think he's right. I also know it's hard to find a good solid citizen that we could all hope for,  to learn from. The perfect horse would be closer to 10 and maybe even 18! Lots more hours on an older horse. Parelli says 2000 hours are needed on a horse for a beginner. Yes, that's a lot. If you figure 2 hours a day/ 5 days a week, that would be about 4 years. Some horses are quiet, unflappable and just cope. Quarter horses are bred for that quality. Those QH/Halflinger mares that I trained were more like that, especially Sadie, it's not that they were smarter, but they were so much less fearful that they progressed with out much fuss.

My style is to ask the horse only a bit more each day, my goal is NO DUST and NO BLOWUPS! I rarely have any. My training can look like grass growing, but you end up with a happy and confident horse who is delighted to see you and willing to participate. 

All this to say that temperament is paramount. There is a difference between temperament and spirit. Think about that!

This horse was not so happy being ridden. Did you notice his tail? Wringing, swatting about, either his back hurt or he didn't like what he was doing. You want to see a horse's tail relaxed and swaying, it's an extension of his back. He also seemed rather dominant and I think he could be pushy. (not terrible but you'd need to be firm with your boundaries)

He was not relaxed or happy in the arena doing ground work either.  He was much more relaxed on the road. I think you'd find him a lot to start with. That being said, if you are not in a rush to ride, if you are willing to spend time hanging out, doing ground work, walking the trails, working at liberty, knowing riding could be a year or more in the future for you, knowing the journey will be slow as you are both green, then find out more about him, if you like him.

Gotta go make dinner,

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by (Kate Wood) on Tuesday January 24, 2012

Shaman and Student Laura
This weekend was my second Robin Gates Clinic. I had intended to take Rascal as he was the most trained of my horses, and really ready for a new place. Lynn's farm is calm and feels  safe and I felt it would be a good beginning for new experiences.

Naturally three days prior to the clinic Rascal turned up sore. I did Jin Shin with about 50% improvement, but felt the ride in the trailer was likely to bring up the issue again. So, I deceided to take Black Elk, as it had been Black Elk who I'd worked with the most of late, and who was the most mysterious to me!

Since I had planned on trailering with a friend, this meant now I only had a few days to get him ready. He happily loaded on my trailer and off we went to my friend's. He was pretty full of himself over at her place and I saw a part of him that I did not expect - he acted bold and in charge! Whew - wish I had a camera when he climbed on top of the hay box to prove his point that he was top dog! Her horse, very kind, laid back and younger than Black Elk, was OK with his showing off, and they had a quiet night.

Once there, I realized I was totally unprepared for having Black Elk travel with another horse, tied with side panels and not loose. By the next morning,  the goal I had set for myself that day was to play with my horse in a new place - if we got into the new trailer and could stand tied - great!  We played around trees and through new gates and up and down the hills and eventually, I gave it a half-hearted go at getting him in my friend's trailer.

Loading, tieing, being confined by the side pannels,  and then trailering to a strange place via boat and highway. Frankly, I was questioning why I wanted to do this at all! Why would I risk my lovely, loving horse by draggind him down the busy highway, away from his home, his herd and his security to have him participate in a clinic? What was in it for him? Not much that I could see.... it was all about me. And for me... I didn't really know why I had wanted to do this so much either!

When he wasn't willing to put more than his front feet in my friends trailer and she suggested that it was time for some pressure, I made the decission to take him home. This wasn't the right time for this horse to be pressured and I needed to be in control of his well being. So, we quietly went to our trailer and he loaded up without a pause.

The night I came home from my first Clinic with Robin Gates, Shaman had come to me in a dream. In the dream he said: "Why is it always about Rascal and Black Elk, why are they always first string with you? Why not me?" That dream made me feel so sad for Shaman, as it was true in many ways.

So, I had thought about taking Shaman - first of all as he had come to me in that dream, and because he loves Liberty Work - often offering things like rolling barrels, getting up on mounting blocks, backing up when I stand behind him.   He allso has a boldness and sense of self that is stronger than either Black Elk or Rascal. I felt he could deal with the newness most easily and in fact he loves showing off, and he'd done the most trailering.

With 16 hours left, I decieded to take Shaman, in our own trailer to meet Robin and crew.

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