I am so thrilled to have another article by Lori Brown Smith that I could not wait to put it up. This is another sample of the kind of articles that will be in my upcoming webzine “Good News for Horses.” If any of you would like to write an article for the webzine- or have important news or topics that we all should know about to better the lives of horses, please email us at email@example.com and put in the subject line: Article for Webzine.
As many of you know, Lori is my office manager and it seems that I spend more time with her than anyone else! It has been a thrill to watch her learn and grow as a student of mine into becoming one of my Certified Clinicians. For those of you who don’t know Lori, she has been a student of mine for about 10 years. Lori is an accomplished mounted shooter and has multiple California state and world championships and is the 2005 CMSA Women’s World Rifle Champion.
Lori has ridden in the Tournament of Roses Parade for 12 years as part of the Ramona Outdoor Play and as a Spirit of the West Rider, and performs in Wild West shows shooting sidesaddle. Her Friesian stallion Alger- also known as the “Black Dragon,” is the 2008 FPZV Stallion Performance Test Champion in addition to his long list of accomplishments.
I am also happy to share with you some photos of Lori working with her horses. Sharolyn Wandzura took the beautiful photos of Lori and Alger working with the Waterhole Rituals. It was an amazing day, with the most beautiful clouds in the sky! Enjoy!
Sculpting Our Energy Within-
What we Think, Say and Do Around Our Horses- By Lori Brown Smith
Over the years that I have been working with horses and learning from Carolyn, it seems that even the most complex things that we can do with our horses can be boiled down into a few simple things: focus, body language, energy level and the clarity of the communication between human and horse.
When I was a little girl, my mom used to go trail riding with a lady who always fretted about the ruts in the trail. I remember sitting in the barn listening to them talk about her Arabian gelding Fred: “Without fail, if there is a hole on the trail, Fred with fall in it!” For some reason, listening to this as a child really left a mark on my memory. What I could not get over was the idea that even if the hole or obstacle was not directly in Fred’s path, he would some how become very flustered and end up in the hole. At the time, I thought that Fred was perhaps magically drawn to the rut or ditch in the trail, and sometimes I would get to follow on my Shetland pony and I would get to see this phenomena happen right in front of me. My pony was never drawn to the ruts and ditches, but then again looking back- I never looked at the hole, I was focused on and looking at the trail that went around the hole. As the years went by, Fred never got hurt on the trail, or had trouble continuing on the trail once he was in the ditch, but he always seemed to take the road less traveled, that’s for sure.
Many years later I still recall those moments on the trail and I continue to analyze what it is that I saw. After replaying the situation in my Waterhole Ritual enriched mind, I know what happened. The rider’s body language, intention and focus were all in the wrong place. Fred may have fallen into a hole once on accident, but it left such an impact on the rider, that she began to look for the holes thinking that he would automatically fall into them. Her focus was on the wrong thing. By looking at the hole in the trail, her body language signaled to him to move toward the ditch, and since her focus was on the ditch, that is most likely the mental picture that she had in her head as well. Her communications were clear to Fred- her energy and intention was to ride through the rut! After time passed, the two developed a pattern- all based on misplaced focus, body language and energy, creating the opposite communication than what was intended.
I wish now that I could go back in time – freeze the moment and alter her body language and focus just before she and Fred were upon the ditch. I would have changed her body language so that she was not looking at the hole, and position her so that her body was faced down the path around the hole. Even her eyes would be looking down the trail, or on the footing around the ditch, not the ditch itself. I would change her intention from trying to avoid the ditch, to walking down the trail without even thinking about the ditch. Her focus would be on what a beautiful trail she and Fred were on and what a great horse is was and how wonderful the ride was. Negative thoughts would not be allowed to come into her mind, and certainly none about holes or ruts.
When working with horses, we need to be clear about our thoughts and intentions, what our focus is on, and follow through with our body language. It took me many years of working with horses in high stress situations to truly understand the importance and safety that these things create and provide. Driving a carriage with a team of horses along with my parents in downtown Los Angeles with a newly married couple in the back of the carriage, I had to hold it together for my horses. The worst was when we had to be stopped somewhere for a long period of time, or even somewhere that was not so long but felt like an eternity such as having to wait at a red light. Yawning became my favorite tool. I would even stand with my weight on one foot to show our mares that I was so relaxed that I was going to fall asleep waiting at the intersection! The magical part of this is that it worked! Not only did they relax seeing me in such a state, but I began to relax even more because my body took on a relaxed posture.
Separating the Mind and Body With practice, I learned how to take the dangers, distractions or nuisances of whatever situation we were in into consideration without them becoming my focus. I take a mental note of what is going on around me, but my thoughts, words, where I look, and my entire body is driven down the path of safety wherever I might be with my horse. This has served me well at home in the arena, on the trail, on busy city streets, mounted shooting, and down Colorado Boulevard in the Tournament of Roses Parade. There are still times when I have to work harder to achieve these goals than others, but it is about learning and refining and acknowledging that it is a journey.
I have found that when coming into a situation where there are possible hazards in your path, to acknowledge them or even worse- verbalize the hazard out loud to your horse is the worst thing that you can do. Not only will this break your concentration, but it will bring your focus to exactly what you are looking to avoid. Observing the situation is important- but our focus must remain on the path to safety.
The Power of Verbalization Here is one of the ways that I have found that best cements my focus and body in the right direction- I say what I want to accomplish out loud. Not only does my horse get to hear it, but it gives me added clarity in my directions and where it is I want to go. When Companion Walking, this is a great way to focus on where you will be going. By saying what it is that I am doing out loud, I have also found that it helps me to picture in my mind what I would like to do and refines my directions and leadership.
As with any relationship (with people or horses) that is having difficulty, generally a lack or poor communication can be to blame. This is just one of the many pearls of wisdom that Carolyn has instilled in me over the years, because the same is true with our horses. If we are not clear, or give our horses poorly understood messages, then how can they have a good relationship with us, much less a performance?
Here are a few examples of verbalization that have come in helpful for me with my horses and our performance. When my horse is traveling too fast, it can be easy for me to speed up with him, but if I think to myself “Sack of potatoes” and say it to myself as well (well actually I kind of sing it to myself, when no one can hear, poor horse! Truth be told, I believe this was something Carolyn told me to think of during a lesson :-) ) I begin to slow myself down, and as a result- so does my horse. When I picture myself riding as if I were a clumpy sack of russet potatoes, my mind is focused on slowing down, and my body follows by slowing down as well. This visualization works great because I don’t know of any sack of potatoes that has a fast pace or rhythm! Sure enough, my horse will slow down and become soft as well. When this happens, it certainly feels like magic to me.
As a side note, John Wayne is one of my favorite people to try to imitate when I am around my horses. His relaxed swagger, and the way he appears to be connected to the ground wherever he is has really helped me to push my body language to a new level and ground myself in a similar way. It might be someone different for you, but I find this to be a fun exercise to try.
Another example that perhaps has been witnessed in public if you have seen me at a mounted shooting event is when I talk myself through the entire course. When I do this, I generally turn in a better time, and my path on the course is very precise, and it is fun to do- at least for me, because I narrate through the entire thing! For example when I would talk to my horse Ben it might sound something like this- “O.K Ben! Here comes the right barrel! Let’s set ourselves up- right leg- outside leg- let’s go boy! Come on Ben, Go Ben! Go!”
It might sound a little corny- but it was always fun, my horse had the benefit of additional clarity, and it usually gave everyone around me a good laugh! However, the point was not to entertain, it was to maintain and increase my focus, communication, direction and purpose of my performance and connection with my horse on the mounted shooting course. I cannot remember a time when I talked my way through my performance that my horse and I did not have a wonderful performance. Not only did it many times improve our time and performance on the course, but it made me more relaxed. If I am in situations where I can’t be as verbal with my horse, I whisper or strongly say the words to myself in my head, which also works.
Using our body language and the power of our minds in a purposeful way is exciting to me because of the amazing results that it offers. When we are able to clear the clutter from our minds and be clear about what we want, I find that the path becomes clear as well. When our intentions are clear, and we place no limitations on what we can and cannot do, we can become sculptors of the energy within us and our horses to create a magical dance wherever we might be together.
Let the Dance Begin!
Lori Brown Smith
Well, I hope you all enjoyed Lori’s article, I know I sure did!
Soon the Insider Circle and Extended Circle classes will be upon us- the count down is on! Although the Insider Circle is now full, the Extended Circle is available and offers an excellent learning experience as well. If you have not signed up, you can go to the upper right hand side of the blog and find where to sign up. If you have any additional questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Extended Circle Question” as the subject line. Looking forward to working with all of you soon!
Please report any new horse and human sightings!
Have a great weekend!