The (nearly) lost art of teaching fundamental concepts

When it comes to riding instruction – especially around the difficult task of teach ‘the seat’ – how would you finish the sentence: “I wish….”???

  • I wish I knew…. (how to teach a feel, how to sit correctly, how to explain this better, …. you fill in the blanks) may be how many will start this sentence.
  • I wish I found… (an instructor, a horse, a way, to learn a correct seat, ….) may be another.

Teaching the seat is difficult as we attempt to explain something that needs to be ‘felt’ to be understood. But there are some simple steps that can help improve the way we teach and learn a functionally correct seat.

An elusive concept

‘The seat’ is an elusive concept. Observing various riding lessons, I get the impression that the seat has become something external, something that needs to ‘look right’ versus ‘feel right’. “Heels down, shoulders back!”

Or something completely removed from function. “Collect him/her!” “Ride a circle!” “Stay by the wall, don’t drift toward the inside!” Without mention how the seat will contribute to reaching the goal, which is ultimately always the communication with the horse.

A ‘correct’ seat always puts function before form. If we want to do more than learn/teach how to ‘sit pretty’ (and often stiffly), we need to ask for/provide better riding education.

5 Ways to re-introduce ‘Seat Education’ into Riding Lessons:

  1. Give (instructor) and take (student and instructor!) longe lessons
    1. Free to focus on our own body and how it interacts with the horse, we can gain security, relaxation and independence and truly observe and correct our ‘functional posture’.
    2. Use a horse that is in rhythm and calm on the longe line and that responds promptly to voice commands.
  2. Practice on a barrel
    1. A barrel or a sturdy saddle stand can be a great tool to start practicing an independent seat. Make sure to fasten the saddle to the barrel or stand so it will provide a true experience when the student is asked to respond to shifts in position.
    2. Have the student respond to rein pressure or pressure to various parts of her body by shifting pelvic position and balancing from the ‘seat root’.
    3. Identify off-center posture that feels ‘normal’ to the student. It is easier to identify and correct a postural habit on a static barrel and then take this new awareness to the horse.
  3. Explain (students ask for explanation) how the seat contributes to all exercises you are teaching (learning) or commands you are giving (given)
    1. Example: Some horses drift to the inside of the arena. The way to counteract this is counter-intuitive. Humans tend to want to ‘push’ with their shoulders. This will bring the rider into the a position that exaggerates the problem and thus causes frustration. One needs to do exactly the opposite, which is counter-intuitive for humans. The instructor needs to take time to explain the role of the seat in detail, otherwise the student continues to struggle.
  4. Address tension and postural habits on the ground
      1. Many clients look for improvement in their horses by releasing tension and thus enabling functional posture in their horses by booking horse massage and especially Masterson Method® sessions. Releasing tension in the rider’s body before mounting can produce similarly positive results.
      2. Ask the student to stand straight, identify any imbalances, then ask to stretch and stand again. Observe how awareness contributes to improvement.
      3. Create small stretching and warm-up routines for your students to do before every ride. You do not need to be a fitness instructor to do so. There are many books such as Dynamic Stretching: The Revolutionary New Warm-up Method to Improve Power, Performance and Range of Motion

     

  5. Practice at home…
    1. For instructors: Practice your teaching at home. Explain to yourself what the FUNCTIONAL role of the seat is in the particular exercise.
      1. HOW to sit in the respective exercise or scenario
      2. WHY to sit like this
      3. WHAT the functional aspects are (e.g. stimulating a muscle, getting out of the way, counter-balancing, staying over the center of gravity, etc.)
    2. For students: Practice your learning content at home.
      1. Mentally revisit the last riding lesson.
      2. Practice the exercises in your mind and on the ground.
      3. What are your questions pertaining to the seat? Do you understand the HOW, WHY, and WHAT?
      4. Write down your questions and bring to your next riding lesson.

I hope these pointers are helpful to you.

Lasting Success

Always remember this quote from the H. DV. 12 German Cavalry Manual:

“Lasting Success can only be achieved if the hearts and souls of all [students and instructors] are filled with the joy of riding and the love for the horse.”

(H. DV. 12 German Cavalry Manual, Original Source of the Training Scale)

Until next time… Enjoy your horse!

SReinhold_sm

Stefanie Reinhold
www.ReinholdsHorseWellness.com

A Torturous Practice among Jumpers Ends in 2022

It is with great sadness that I read how some of the really bad news around equestrian sports come from my country of origin: Germany. The widely read ‘Suddeutsche Zeitung‘ had the following headline: ‘The End of Torterous Horse Practice‘.

Right Under the Spectator’s Nose

horses jumping show jumping brushing boots
A cruel practice is coming to an end: “Zuckis”

The practice in question: Bandages and brushing boots – meant as protective gear – are spiked with pressure points and tightened to the point of pain. The purpose: When show jumping, the horse will now lift his legs higher and be sure to avoid any type of contact with the jump. The unsuspecting spectator simply sees a spectacular show jumping performance.

A ‘Lame’ Decision?

The FEI’s General Assembly in Montevideo recently decided to prohibit the practice (in German called ‘Zuckis‘) – starting in 2022. So a little over 4 more years left to torture horses legally. For many horses, it will come too late. They will end their torturous career in the service of an overly ambitious prize money hunter.

Wraps Getting a Bad (W)Rap

‘Zuckis’ are now in the public eye – it’s a good thing. The flip side: Wraps and other leg protection are getting a ‘Bad Rap’, much like nose bands. Important to remember: It’s not the piece of equipment per se that is at fault. Real protective gear for horse legs like wraps and brushing boots are a blessing and protect the fetlock joint from injury. It’s the abuse of the gear that makes it ‘verboten’. If we ask our horses to maximize their athletic potential in jumping, we do need to protect the horse’s legs.

So a little over 4 more years left to torture horses legally. For many horses, it will come too late. They will end their torturous career in the service of an overly ambitious prize money hunter.

What can you do about it?

Let Common Sense (& Compassion) Prevail!

It’s once again up to the spectators to raise the flag. Become aware, speak up, don’t applaud when you witness such practice (especially not on easily-shared social media) and DO THE RIGHT THING yourself – modeling this to kids and younger riders to raise compassionate show jumpers!

Commons sense tells us to differentiate between those, who protect their horses with brushing boots and those, who abuse gear to realize their own ambitions in equestrian sports. Compassion mandates us to speak up for the horse – no matter where and when.

Spot the Offender

When visiting or participating in an event, here some things to look out for:

  • A helper runs into the warmup ring before the horse enters the arena and quickly tightens the horse boots (there is a term in German for doing something very quickly: ‘Ruck Zuck’ – therefore the boots are called ‘Zuckis’ when used for this torturous practice).
  • The horse lifts his legs unnaturally high and overjumps.
  • The horse seems tense and in a rush to get things over with.
  • During the ride, the horse kicks out repeatedly with the hind legs, as if to get rid of something (the ‘Zuckis’…).

I am grateful for you, the reader, who is undoubtedly NOT in the ‘Zucki’ camp!

Enjoy your horse!

SReinhold_sm

Stefanie Reinhold

 

Why you should use the best grooming brushes you can find…and where to find them.

scratchy horse brushes
What not to use: These brushes are scratchy and dull the coat!

If you own or lease a horse, chances are you have to groom him. You can find plenty of tools online and at your local farm supply or tack shop. Most grooming brushes look like what everyone else is using. And they are cheap, many featuring synthetic bristles and meant to be replaced quite frequently. 

Most grooming brushes look like what everyone else is using. And they are cheap.

So why go for anything else?

Grooming is so much more than cleaning your horse. It is not only a chore that leads to a certain result, but also an opportunity to bond, listen to your horse, have a mutually satisfying experience, and get even better results! As with any job or chore, the right tools are key. My frustration with what I could find in tack shops led me on a quest to find a better horse brush. 

But do you really need better horse grooming tools?

Let’s ask these questions first:

grooming your horse safely

  • Do you care how your horse feels?
  • Do you want a good relationship with your horse?
  • Do you want the best possible grooming results?
  • When making purchasing decisions, do you care about the environment?
  • Do you appreciate quality that lasts for years?

If you answered YES to at least 3 of those questions, read on.

 

Grooming can be so much more than cleaning your horse.

Gentle strokes with a soft brush are a tactile experience that feel good to your horse and will be appreciated.

But many grooming experiences are pure torture.

afraid horseRemember, your horse’s skin is extremely sensitive. Just play this through in your mind and see it from the horse’s perspective. 

  • Someone approaches you with a tool, intending to work it across your skin.
  • You don’t have a choice in the matter, you are tied up and any attempts to protest to unpleasant touch (wiggling, pinning ears, kicking) will be interpreted as ‘ naughtiness’.
  • You know what discomfort is coming, your sensitive skin flinches in dreadful anticipation.
  • The groomer just tries to get it all over with because ‘the horse does not like to be groomed’.
  • Moreover, the results are mediocre, the coat looks dull, something to attack with a horse vacuum or another bath or ‘shine spray’….

This type of torturous ‘get it done’ grooming does nothing to improve the condition of the coat or the relationship between horse and human.

What happens in ‘your grooming story’?

  1. Does the groomer use a tool that feels good or just anything that may be about the barn, scratchy or not?
  2. Does this interaction between groomer and horse lead to a better relationship or to resentment and even fear?

Let’s continue our story imagining our groomer has already discovered the many advantages of using high-quality brushes such as  HorseHaus brushes:soft horse face brush

  • Our horse will be relaxed and unafraid, and looking forward to the grooming session.
  • He will use this time to relax deeply and enjoy the company of the groomer, who goes about her task in a methodical, but also gentle and considerate manner.
  • At the end of the session, our horse may have dozed off or show other visible signs of relaxation, his coat clean, healthy and shiny.
  • Our groomer will have learned a lot about skin condition and little bumps or scratches on the horses body.
  • She will be satisfied with the result and carefully clean and put away her grooming brushes to keep them neat and ready for the next grooming.

Now horse and rider are ready to begin their activities together.

Whatever your activities you pursue with your horse, you both will feel more comfortable and trusting toward each other after a considerate and successful grooming session.

You will feel good about grooming and your purchase.

  • Others may notice how shiny and healthy your horse’s coat looks and you will wonder whether it is not just the proper cleaning but also the gentle massage you give your horse with every grooming (and the answer is yes).a shiny horse
  • Knowing that your brushes will last for years, you feel good about your purchase.
  • The fact that neither people nor natural resources got hurt in the manufacturing of the brushes (HorseHaus brushes are FCC certified) or sourcing of the raw materials make you feel even better.

Which type of groomer are you?

Life is learning. If you are currently the groomer with the horse that does not like to be groomed, the scratchy plastic brush wielding type, do not despair!

Read about the 4 step grooming process and peruse the different types of horse brushes to put a set of HorseHaus brushes together that meets your needs. 

Questions about grooming or brushes?

Please send anemail to Stefanie to get answers and a 10% off coupon for your first purchase.

Enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

 

How bitless isn’t all the rage…

Every horse is different – when it comes to mouth shape and sensitivity. Some horses simply cannot make peace with a bit, others are bothered by a bridle.

My sensitive Lusitano gelding Regalo tends to curl up with even some gentle bits. For him, the answer is an original Meroth Freedom snaffle (caution, don’t buy a knock off, more about that in this blog post).

When I approach him just with reins and attached bit in hand, he willingly opens his mouth and lets me place the bit inside, then patiently stands while I fasten the bit at his jaw. I make sure to have two finger wiggle room as I don’t want to tie the tongue down, simply stop the bit from falling out.

Riding with gentle contact makes for a relaxed horse. No metal in the mouth, no bridle hugging the head.

Regalo seems happy, is responsive and no longer curls up.

Hirse with leather bit

Besides, doesn’t he look handsome without bridle?

5 Signs Your Horse Is Unhappy with Bit or Bridle

  1. Shakes head
  2. Grinds teeth
  3. Doesn’t take bit
  4. Curls up (behind the bit)
  5. Tension in poll and TMJ

What do you think? What are your experiences with bit and bridle? Do you use a leather bit by Meroth? Comment below.

As always, enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold

A guest blog article by Connie Johnson Hambley

We’ve all seen it.

The perfectly executed Grand Prix course or the fastest barrel racing time. The rider thinks and the horse moves. Mind and body meld and it’s not a human on a horse, but one team. One unit.

Closing the gap between horse and rider is essential at the highest levels of the sport, but the skill is important for all riders. Not only do I ride as often as I can (which is not nearly as often as I’d like), I volunteer as a horse handler at a therapeutic riding center assisting people with disabilities learn to ride. A handler’s role is to ensure safety first and to allow the rider as much support toward independent riding as possible. Seeing horses settle and adjust to a new rider provides a window into a world without words. Everything shrinks to cues and responses, cause and effect, and the intuition that guides the horse/human connection. It’s a privilege to witness this and my respect for these horses has skyrocketed.

Consider the special needs rider from the horse’s point of view. The horse has had years of training to understand the physical cues on its mouth, sides, and balance. Then it carries a rider whose impaired body provides sporadic, confusing, or delayed cues because neither the rider’s mind nor body can process the physical commands effectively. Think of it as static on a radio obscuring a clear signal to the horse. I use the same technique for handling as I do for my own riding–I empty my thoughts of everything outside the ring and focus on what the horse is trying to process. As a horse handler, I try to be very aware of the moment the horse decides who to tune in. The rider on its back or the handler at its head?

Your horse is very aware of you. Is your rapid breathing and tight grip on the reins because you’re not pleased with it? You might know you’re keyed up because you had a rough day at work or a fight with your spouse, but your horse has no clue. All the tension you hold is static stopping your clear signal from being transmitted to the horse. The flip side of this is also true. If your horse is reacting to your tension, then its raised head or failure to bend could lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to over corrections and bigger problems. Did you misinterpret your horses signals? Did you even sense it?

It’s not easy to be completely present each time you ride. Draining your mind of everything but the rhythm of the horse becomes a form of meditation and is a skill built over time. Many refer to this as ‘mindfulness.’ Once mastered, ‘equestrian mindfulness’ can be applied in other areas of your life and there are even books written on ‘horsefulness.’

As a writer, my days are spent “inside my head” searching for the right combination of words. But, when I’m at the barn, I can just be. No words are needed–just a rhythm and a focus on my physical space as well as my mental space. If I’m too much in my own head when riding, I won’t be aware enough of the horse.

To strike this delicate balance, I allow myself a transition from my “other” life to my “horse” life. For me, immersing into the sights, sounds, smells of the barn trigger a relaxation response. I encourage my horse to join me in this transition by performing a greeting ritual. Neck rubbing, treat offering, and forehead snoodling are important steps before grooming and tacking.

These consistent actions help me relax and bring my horse into closer communication with me.

After all, we’re a single unit. We’re a team.

About the author:

IMG_3960Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a small dairy farm just north of New York City and was a child when an arsonist burned her family’s barn to the ground. Memories from that experience grew the stories that have become The Charity and The Troubles.

Hambley uses every bit of personal experience to create a story that is as believable as it is suspenseful. Hambley writes about strong women from their perspective in situations that demand the most from them. No special powers, no gadgets, no super human abilities. Just a woman caught up or embroiled in something that she has to get out of, hopefully alive.

Interviews include: Boston’s Literati Scene TV Show; Hallie Ephron’s guest on Jungle Red Writers: Ireland, Horses and Senseless Fire; Hank Phillippi Ryan’s guest on Femmes Fatales; Pawling Public Radio; Blog Talk Radio; Rounded Corner of the Writing World; (Australian Author) Penny de Byl’s Five Minute Profile; and Poughkeepsie Journal In Minutes, A Generation’s Work Destroyed by Flames.

Hambley writes page-turners and The Charity is the first in a series. Its sequel, The Troubles was published May 2015. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for updates and information.

Social:

Website: www.conniejohnsonhambley.com

Blog: http://thecharitythriller.blogspot.com

Twitter: @conniehambley

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thecharitythriller

While generalizing is always a bad idea – I’ll start with a little generalizing in order to keep this blog post at a manageable size. The topic – as you well know – fills many a book!

Fritz Stecken riding according to HDV12
Fritz Stecken on Noble. Perfect Lightness!

After, what seems, several decades of lots of pushing, prodding, pulling, and bracing in main stream equestrian sports – namely dressage – the general consensus seems to be getting back to a more classical approach, i. e. Lightness! Luckily for our horses, there has been increased buzz around classical riding websites and Facebook pages (such as Silvia Loch’s Classical Riding Club or the HDV12 German Cavalry Training Manual. as demonstrated so wonderfully here by Fritz Stecken on Noble). Along with that goes more awareness around so-called ‘modern’ riding techniques that cause bracing, tension and hyperflexion with the respective public criticism (e. g. “Rollkur” type of techniques or tense “circus-like” dressage performances).

But what’s the hype about?

Why Lightness is Necessary

And here King William on a noble steed on a loose rein!

Lightness is to touch what whispering is to voice. Just as pushing, pulling, prodding is to touch what shouting is to voice. As we become more enlightened about the nature of the horse, we learn that our silent, sensitive partners respond better to whispering than to shouting. As ‘loud’ interaction (whether via touch or voice) creates bracing in our horses, ‘soft’ interaction is the key to suppleness. Suppleness is the highest goal and basis for any schooling of the horse, no matter the school (French, Spanish or German).

So we (those of us, who put the horse’s wellbeing first) are looking for ways to become lighter. Lighter in our aids, lighter in our influences, lighter in our interactions with our sensitive equine partners.

Where Does Lightness Start?

Most riders spontaneously think of the reins. Indeed, sensitive, light rein contact is an expression of lightness. However, lightness starts at a deeper level: The mental and physical relaxation and suppleness of the rider, which can then find its expression in riding in lightness, developed through careful and systematic training (and ‘un’training!).

Getting Started With Lightness – Before Climbing in the Saddle

You don’t have to wait until you sit on the horse to work on your lightness. As a matter of fact, once you climb aboard, it’s hard to work on yourself. Mental & physical suppleness, which finds its expression in lightness, is best started in our every day activities.

5 Tips on How To Develop Lightness

  1. Practice Mindfulness – While this sounds like something out of a Buddhist retreat manual, it’s rather simple. 10 minutes a day of focusing on the ‘here & now’ won’t turn you into a meditation expert, but can do much for your ability to relax and be in the presence, a useful skill for riders living in the information age. Do this at home, at the office (but not while driving!)  (Resources: The UCLA offers free online meditation audio OR Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program from Jon Kabat-Zinn)
  2. Use Mental Imagery – day-dreaming with a purpose! Research shows that what we mentally train, we have an easier time realizing in ‘real life’. So day-dream away, but with a plan! Imagine yourself riding, then imagine yourself riding in lightness. Isolate various areas of your body, then put the picture together. Tackle anxiety, confidence issues, and limiting beliefs, we well. Do this while waiting at the doctor’s office or on an airplane, for example. (Resources: More about mental imagery for athletes here OR The Art of Mental Training: A Guide to Performance Excellence (Collector’s Edition))
  3. A Little Stretching – goes a long way! Find a good time of day to incorporate some stretching exercises. 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night can make all the difference! Many stretching exercises can be done during breaks at work, too! (Resources: Free fitness videos by FitnessBlender OR The Anatomy of Stretching, Second Edition: Your Illustrated Guide to Flexibility and Injury Rehabilitation)
  4. Improve Mobility – suppleness starts with your mobility. Overcome aches and restrictions that we accumulate through our every day or work activities. (Resources: Speak to someone at your gym about foam rolling OR The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body)
  5. Last not Least – ditch unnecessary stress! Mental stressors cause tension in the body. Take a conscious look at what stresses you in your life and see what you can eliminate (e. g. the dog walker, who is always late; the hairdresser, who just can’t get it quite right; possible overcommittments, etc.)

Hope you will feel inspired to create Lightness in your life. It’s bound to make Riding with Lightness so much easier!

Enjoy your horse & be well!

A light touch in all your interaction with your horse.
Have a light touch in all your interaction with your horse.

Stefanie Reinhold

“Does Dressage Need a Makeover to Attract a Mass Audience?”

Rider
Felix Bürkner – classically correct in ‘fancy pants’. The occasion: A costume ball in the 1920’s. Image courtesy of equivox.de.

This headline appeared in social media this morning, linking to an article by a British horse magazine. Below it, a young rider in a purple dressage coat, lavender pants, horse decked out in matching colors. Frankly, I don’t remember what exactly the horse looked like, apart from the colorful accessories.

Now, thinking about that question again, all I remember in my mind is the rider’s flamboyant outfit. Reading through the ‘yeah’ and ‘nay’ comments and opinions of others, I simply can’t come up with an intelligent answer, in spite of sipping on a decaf soy latte.

But, wait a minute… Is this even the right question to ask?

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Whenever there is the need for analysis, there is a need to ask the right questions and confirm the definition of the substance at stake (IT project managers will agree here).

In other words, if we want to determine whether a change needs to be made, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. What exactly are we talking about? DRESSAGE, you will say.

What Exactly Is Dressage?

And where do we find the correct definition?

Logically, we would turn to the ‘rules we ride by’. The ‘rules’ are the FN Principles of Riding, which in turn are based on the pure and unadulterated classic German riding theory and source of today’s “Training Scale”, the HDV12 German Cavalry Manual, last edition of 1937. Let’s see how the HDV12 defines dressage:

“In order to be able to fulfill all requirements that military duty demands of a war-ready cavalry horse, the green horse’s body needs to be systematically developed by means of gymnasticizing, and the horse needs to be carefully educated. Both elements combined are called dressage.” (HDV12 German Cavalry Manual for Training Horse & Rider, 1937)

This makes a lot of sense. So Dressage is a means to an end, not an end itself. Horsemen, mostly in the cavalry, culminated practical knowledge over centuries, learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating an able and willing equine partner, documented this and it in the form of an Army Regulation.

“…The goal of dressage is to school the horse to the optimum performance level and to make it obedient. This goal can only be achieved if the horse—while maintaining and developing its natural [mental and physical] disposition—is brought into a form and posture in which it can fully develop its potential. In such form and posture, the horse will be able to prove equal to the demands of service for a long time.” (HDV12/1937)

Aha! So the goal is to create an willing and able equine athlete, who will stay healthy and usable for a long time! In 2015 speak: ROI (Return On Investment), folks!

In the context of preparing the horse for a partnership in military service (end), dressage was the systematic schooling (means) needed to create this able military steed. Not an end in itself.

Dressage competitions, in turn, are merely benchmarking events. Here is where riders show how far they have come in their schooling of their horse, here is where this schooling is judged not against the performance of other riders, but according to the governing parameters: the Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).

Let’s recap:

  • The original question was: “Does dressage need a makeover to attract a mass audience?”
  • We asked the question: What are we talking about? What is dressage?
  • We discovered the correct definition of dressage as a systematic schooling of the horse to create an able and willing all around equine athlete.
  • Dressage competitions are benchmarking events, where we are judged against the ‘rules we ride by’, which are the FN Principles of Riding (based on the HDV12).

Final Thoughts on Dressage, Right Questions, Mass Audiences & Fancy Pants

The ‘makeover’ question raises a lot of other questions in my mind.

Why do we need mass audiences? Why does dressage need to appeal to mass audiences? Who benefits from making some of the proposed changes or even making these concerns priorities?

First and foremost, dressage is or should be about the horse. The real question is a different one. It is time to take the officials by the horns and ask more relevant questions:

Are you or are you not basing the rules we ride by on the classical guidelines (HDV12)?

“Today’s FN Guidelines—the Principles of Riding, the official instruction manual of the German National Equestrian Federation—were developed on the basis of the H. Dv. 12, whereby the 1937 edition provided the main orientation.” Eckart Meyners in his foreword to the English edition of the HDV12/1937

The answer is therefore officially – see FN Principles of Riding – yes! That means it’s time that

Then, an unlimited number of athletes and spectators can enjoy dressage, knowing we are doing right by the horse. No matter what color your fancy pants…

Enjoy your horse!

Stefanie Reinhold
Stefanie Reinhold

“Letting Go” has sort of become a popular subject in all sorts of context. Letting go of expectations, letting go of your children, letting go of convictions or patterns that don’t serve us well. Anything from “Letting go of attachment” (Zen) to “Letting go of love” (Dr. Phil). And if you’d like see this thought expressed in a song, there is anything from Lynard Skynard (Free Bird), over various relaxation tunes to hip hop.

But what does it mean in the context of horse ownership? Having had to face the topic of letting go in various situations recently—including one very important horse related situation lately—I’d like to explore this topic a bit deeper. Note: This is a NOT a gloom and doom article! It’s all about life. 😉

A beloved senior gelding
A beloved senior gelding

Convenient solutions?

As we Americans (with or without German accent…) are a convenience-addicted society, we include death in the spectrum ‘servicable’ life occurances. With servicable I mean, “Please let someone else handle it!”. We don’t really want to have anything to do with it and let service providers such as funeral homes handle most aspects (generalization, of course). As many Western societies, we do not include death as part of life as it is the case in many other cultures. Furthermore, we cannot influence the date and time that death occurs, making it an unpredictable occurrence that we’d rather not think about.

One exception is pet or horse ownership. Here we have the responsibility of deciding when is the right time to let our companion go, meaning confront ourselves with the inevitability of death and bringing it about for our beloved companion. What could be harder, especially when there seem so many medical options to prolong life available today?

(I purposely want to exclude the topic of ‘death decision evasion’ by those horse owners, who decide to sell their senior horse at auction and thus letting someone else (the meat buyer, the slaughter house) make the tough decision.)

A little mare—and a big lesson

I recently worked on a little Arabian mare in Germany, who—for the sake of privacy—I will call ‘Dusty’, since she seemed like a bit of fairy dust to me. Sometimes you encounter animals (or people) who clearly live beyond our plane of everyday existance and just seem to have something quite extraordinarily etheral about them. And Dusty, 28 years old and riddled by arthritis and the long-term effects of old injuries, was such an animal. I was called to perform bodywork, nothing unusual, even on a 28-year old horse. Anticipating a quiet and gentle bodywork session for a reportedly ‘cranky’ elderly horse, I did not expect anything out of the ordinary. It turned out to be a very extraordinary experience where I learned so much about the horse, our human agenda, and the profound effect of the type of interactive bodyworkI have been fortunate enough to learn.

Dusty during bodywork

In the end, the owner and I looked at a little horse with the biggest heart, who now felt open to simply let go of any braveness and who—after some very gentle bodywork and encouragement—felt free to express her physical discomfort and general exhaustion with her condition. It would go too far to explain what happened in detail. But on that day and during the following week, Dusty taught me and her owner a big lesson: Horses often try much harder than we think to please us and ‘do a good job’. If that job is defined as “I need you to hold on longer for my sake”, the horse will try to do that, no matter how strong the pain or how great the odds may be. This is a reminder that we need to learn to differentiate between our need to keep a horse around for our sake and the horse’s situation and quality of life. We need to answer the question: Do I ask my horse to hold on for my sake or for his/her sake?

Dusty’s owner sent me several updates after the session and reported that Dusty’s demeanor had changed considerably. She was no longer hiding her discomfort and was very affectionate to her owner, following her around and just trying to stay as close as possible. She had to be removed from the herd to stay safe and spent some quality time closer to her owner. Her owner had to come to terms with the reality that letting go and ensuring a peaceful transition into the next realm (if that is what you believe, I do) in the company and with the support of the caring owner is imminent.

It would be a hard decision. Her owner had spent 25 years with this horse, met her when she was still a kid. Vets, friends and barn personnel gave various advice from “put her down” to “try this medication or that treatment”. But on that day, it became clear that Dusty had reached the point where holding on was too much to ask.

Here an excerpt of her letter to me after her’s and Dusty’s last day together. It was very inspiring to me and hope you will feel the same way:

“We put Dusty down last Thursday after she had continued to show pain symptoms even after being put on the highest possible dose of pain medication.

It was a sunny morning, not too cool, just the kind of weather that Dusty liked best. Everything was real peaceful and Dusty was completely calm. My sister, who is also a vet and just happened to be visiting [from out of town] was also there and assisted my vet. My husband was also there to say good-bye to Dusty and to comfort me.

My husband and I went to the barn early in the morning so Dusty would have some time to graze with her chubby friend Labiroun on the big pasture. I stayed with Dusty the entire time and followed her around the pasture. After two hours, Dusty stopped eating and I sat down with her and listened to her breathing. She positioned herself over my body as if I was a foal that needed protection and pressed her muzzle against my head. Then, slowly but surely, Dusty went to the spot where the barn owner and I had agreed that we would put her down. She went there all on her own. 15 Minutes before the vet came, Dusty stopped at exactly that spot as if she knew what this was all about and as if she wanted to express agreement.

When the vet came, Dusty took a small step towards her. I was so afraid that I was trembling but when it counted, I was very calm because it was more important than anything else not to put any more stress on Dusty than she already had. Labiroun did not notice anything, she continued grazing with the black pony a distance away…”

Her owner’s favorite picture of Dusty

I am very grateful to Dusty’s owner that she agreed that I could share this report with you. My hope is that all who find themselves in a similar situation will feel encouraged to create a similarly peaceful and loving atmosphere around this last service to their horse.

On that note…

Life is for the living, and those we love and we have shared wonderful times with continue to live in our consciousness and hearts. At the same time, letting go is part of life. It pays to think about that part of life before it occurs and come to terms with your own beliefs and even think through steps you would take once the time comes.

Reminder:

  • Enjoy every moment you have with your horse while you are still walking your path together!
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff and see if you can make your relationship a genuine exchange.
  • ‘Listen’ to your horse. If you have a good rapport with your horse, you can be sure: Your horse is trying, up to his last minute.

Be well and enjoy your horse

 Stefanie Reinhold