Time to Change

Time to change – by Meredith Ransley

“The danger from horse riding is compounded by the interaction of two species, human and horse, which may result in unpredictable events.”
Dr Raymond A. Cripps, AIHW National Injury Surveillance Unit

“We need to be a Horseman  not  Human when it comes to interacting with horses.”
– Shane Ransley, Founder of Quantum Savvy Horsemanship

Big Geoff barrel jumpDo you, as a horse lover, personally know of someone who has been killed or seriously hurt by a horse?  With the statistics alarmingly and unforgivably high, chances are that you do.  Each year in Australia alone, 20 people on average are killed in horse related activities*.  That is, riding or handling horses in some way.  And while the stats are often hard to track down, they state that more than 3000 people each year in our country alone are seriously hurt by a horse*.  Just this week a lady in South Australia fell off her horse and broke her neck, and another in Victoria came off her horse and fractured her skull.  Plus there have been at least two deaths this summer already, and this is just incidents that I’ve heard of without even looking.

The trouble is that statistics are just that.  Numbers, that give a benchmark of occurrences and their frequency.  Something to measure.  They aren’t real to most of us who would just write them off as ‘acceptable’ in this ‘risky’ sport we all partake in, that is horse riding.  It’s annoying and frustrating that those researching the statistics of horse related accidents say, in nearly every paper I’ve read, that the number of injuries and deaths is “comparatively low as a percentage of people actually involved in the dangerous sport of horse riding”.   In other words, lots of people ride horses so what is a couple of thousands injuries and only twenty or so deaths a year?  I’ll tell you what it is.   It’s not low enough for the families of those who died.  It means in the 20+ years I’ve been teaching horsemanship, more than 400 people in Australia have died.  In the UK, the numbers are only slightly lower than in Australia, but some stats claim that in the USA the figure is over 200 a year!

If we just look at things purely as statistics, as percentages if you will, the odds of being killed in a plane crash or by a shark are only 1 in many millions.  But we are all horrified by these facts.  And yet when someone is killed by a horse we say “how terrible” then shrug it off as acceptable in such a risky pursuit.  We’ve conditioned ourselves to the point that it’s no longer shocking.  It’s normal even.

“The way we’ve learned to live with the shock of loss of life, is by telling ourselves it’s a dangerous sport, therefore it’s acceptable.”  Shane Ransley

But it isn’t acceptable.  These aren’t just numbers.  They are real people….Mums of small children, grandmothers, fathers, daughters of distraught mothers who have to live the rest of their lives overwhelmed with questions why and with no answers.

One such Mum, whose 18 year old daughter was killed a number of years ago while attending a horse related course with an accredited establishment, has been doggedly pursuing answers and demanding change ever since.  She has been relentless in chasing down why this happened.  How her beautiful girl could leave home happily one morning, to attend a course she was looking forward to and not ever come home again.  Ever.

Frustratingly, to many people (and I of course include most horse riders in this) this rate of injury and death is acceptable.  Even normal and to be expected.  Recently an acquaintance’s young daughter came off her horse and hurt herself and everyone’s response was, “Never mind, get back on.  These things happen.  When you ride horses you can expect to get hurt from time to time.”  But it isn’t acceptable.  Not to me, not to the families of the people killed and injured and nor should it be to any of you who own or are around horses.

I have been very fortunate to have been consulted by the Mum of the 18 year old, as she pursues her goal of having an industry standard code of practise put in place for all establishments who teach horse related activities.  I have been asked to participate as one of many consultants, to put forward my opinion and to provide input and feedback to the ongoing cause.  To date there has been quite some success with this pursuit, and it does look like some kind of industry code will commence at some point.  However, I am very afraid that it will have little or no effect on the statistics as they are.  I fear that all we will end up with are more useless rules made by people who really have no idea about horses and safety and saving people’s lives.  Why do I fear this?  Why won’t it have an effect?

Most of the professionals consulted agreed that horses and horse riding are dangerous.  They also didn’t want any kind of industry standard being put into place and were happy to do their own risk assessment in their own businesses.  And here in lies the first issue.  Belief number 1; That horses are dangerous.  Horses are not dangerous.  Horse riding is not dangerous.  We have this belief that it is, so when someone falls and gets hurt, we accept it as ‘normal’.  Which is just wrong.  Horse riding should not be dangerous.  Beginner riders on green horses however is unbelievably dangerous and terrifying to watch.  What we need, and in Australia we are terrible for this, is to not let green, beginner riders get on horse’s that are not fully educated.  And I don’t mean educated in the conventional sense of the term, I mean a proper education.  Horse’s that are mentally, emotionally and spiritually educated to take care of a beginner rider.  Here in Australia, we just jump on anything and hope it will be okay.  To protect ourselves we wear helmets, body armour, and put all kinds of gadgets on the horse and then go. We may as well cross our fingers as well for all the good it does us.  And that brings us to Belief number two:  That it’s okay to ride dangerous horses as long as we wear a helmet and use the right gear on the horse.

It’s not okay.  And this is something I see all the time and that both frightens and frustrates me at the same time.  This is a really important point and when I raise it, it’ll seem obvious.  Riding horses shouldn’t buck, bolt, rear or shy. If a horse does any of these things, or has a tendency to do any of these things, it shouldn’t be ridden.  Don’t get on it.  Plain and simple.  A Riding Horse should be emotionally calm, sensible, quiet and using it’s left brain.  It should be thinking. I see so many people on or around right brained, scared horses it amazes me….actually it astounds me that more people aren’t hurt by them.  And when I say a quiet horse, I don’t mean one that is dull, or has no play, or is boring.  I just mean one that is educated, can think it’s way through what would normally be an emotional trigger for a horse and stay calm.  And this, believe me is really easy to achieve with a horse.

To most people, and this may be many people reading this missive, this may seem like a huge and complicated thing to do.  Indeed it must do because even after so many years of having this kind of knowledge and help available, the majority of horse owners and riders still just don’t get it.  And that is because of Belief No 3: We think in order to work with horses, we need to control the right brain instead of educating the left brain.  Think about that one a bit because it is really important.

Traditionally, everything we do involves controlling the horse and his instincts (his right brain).  We want to use bigger bits, more tie downs, nose bands, side reins and on and on.  And just in case that doesn’t work, we need to wear helmets and body protection.  Everything we do, every decision we make is based on the need or the belief that we need to control the right brain.  And that is complicated and hard and something we still haven’t been successful with because of one thing.  It can’t be done.  You are never going to control the right brain of anything let alone a flight response prey animal like a horse.  At best all you will do is contain them, but certainly not control.  I bet you have all experienced, or else seen someone who has, a horse that has been right brained and emotional and felt the need to flee or be free.  It is terrifying.  The moment that containment is no longer enough and they really try to break free.  They would rather risk hurting themselves…..or worse, in an effort to be free.  And if you are around them or on board in that instant, you soon become aware of just how vulnerable and insignificant you are in that moment.

In all honesty, if I felt that I had to put a helmet on, or wear body armour, then I would not get on the horse.  And I mean a riding horse.  I am not saying that people should not wear helmets.  Far from it.  But I do think we should consider more fully the times they are actually needed and make sure our horses are better prepared before we get on.  This is the problem; trying to ride horses that shouldn’t be ridden.  The problem isn’t that horses are dangerous.  I want to be really clear on this because I know there are some people who may get confused by what I am saying or try to twist my meaning.  A ‘Riding Horse’ should not bolt, rear, buck or shy.  If a horse does any of these things, it needs more help, more education by a true horseman to overcome it fears.  Or else the person causing the horse to do these things should step away from the horse!  A beginner rider who is still learning about balance and developing their seat, should certainly wear a helmet and should only ride a fully educated horse.  Period!

Any horse of course can put a foot wrong at times, so we need to be prepared for that.  But even a beginner rider can stay on a horse that stumbles a little at walk.  Even trot.  Usually they end up in a fit of the giggles when it happens.  If a horse stumbles at canter or gallop it can be difficult to stay on but this shouldn’t be beginner riders in an arena.  For people doing eventing, racing, jumping, colt starting or horse training and so on, it only makes sense to wear a helmet.  The risks in this case are higher from a practical view point.

What about trail riding or hacking?  Trail riding is one of the riskiest and most dangerous sports to under-take and one of the most commonly pursued by horse lovers.  As a horseman it is very easy to understand why it is risky.  Horses are flight response prey animals.  Their default system tells them to run (in a straight line) if they get scared. Out on the trail there are any number of things to trigger a horse’s flight response so it is really easy for a horse to trigger right-brain and flee.  It is usually not beginner riders who get hurt on trails, but people who lack horsemanship on emotionally uneducated horses, trying to ride in straight lines! (Horses being prey animals are very vulnerable in open spaces and presented with straight lines will often trigger a right-brain flight response.)

Educating the left brain, to teach the horse to think through moments that may trigger survival behaviour, is actually really easy to do.  But it has nothing to do with controlling the right brain, or training the horse, or wearing him out, or beating it out of him.  It is just a matter of learning to become a horseman.  And I don’t mean someone who just calls themselves that.  Someone who thinks that being able to stay on a horse makes you a horseman, or working with horses, or having been around them forever and a day.  I mean a real horseman.  Someone who understands horses, what makes them tick and can communicate with them in a very real and repeatable way and who horses trust and respect.

One of the points of interest that was brought up in regard to the new standard code of practise, was that people who teach horse activities should have riding accreditations and teaching accreditations.  All very well but what about horsemanship accreditations?  Most people who fall from horses and get seriously hurt are not beginner riders.  Probably the most at risk are those who have been riding for some time, even years and who think they are good riders.  And maybe they have even have had lots of riding lessons.  But what they still lack is horsemanship skill.  Having a good seat will not necessarily save you on a bucking or bolting horse.  Having the horsemanship to know when to step off, or better, not get on at all, will save you every time.

The other day a man was killed when he walked up behind his horse and patted it on the rump.  It responded by kicking him in the throat and killing him.  A tragic accident many said.  A freak thing to happen.  I am sorry but it was not.  It was a head shot….a kill shot.  Horses know exactly where their feet are going.  They are very good at warning shots.  Just watch them with each other for a while and you’ll see it.  They know just how hard to kick or bite to let each other know and get their message across, without inflicting damage.  I am very, very sorry for this man and his family.  It was a truly terrible thing to happen.  But you should be able to walk up behind your own horse and give it a pat without risk of injury.  I know some of you won’t agree and you’ll probably even be quite cross with me in regard to this, but that is because you still think horses are dangerous.  A horse shouldn’t be so wound up and so scared that it feels the need to defend itself to this degree.  And if it is, we should have the horsemanship to be able to tell and to steer clear.

There are examples of lack of horsemanship everywhere.  Recently a British elite equestrian was under attack for her let’s say ‘forceful’ dealings with a horse at a demonstration.  She had the chance to work with a famous race horse and try to turn it into a dressage horse.  I don’t know the time frame she was given but the outcome was not very successful.  She had to resort to a lot of force and strength to get it to do anything and people were upset by it.   But let’s look at this scenario because it is one we see all the time in Australia.  A race horse is bred and trained to run as fast as it can in a straight line.  It is what we call a long horse.  Flat out, fast, straight, length of stride.  A dressage horse is bred and trained for elevation of stride.  To collect, round up, engage and power up in an elevated or lateral frame of movement.  A good race horse then, should not be a good dressage horse and vice versa.  It was ridiculous to try to turn one into the other.  A horseman should know this without thinking.  Of course it can be done, with enough time and education you may be able to take all the forward out and redirect it to up but it’d be like trying to turn a Ferrari into a 4WD.  Even if it can be done, what is the point?

The trouble is that we don’t even understand which end of the horse is the bit that needs to be communicated with.  Because we believe that we have to control the right-brain, we try to put things on the horse’s head to achieve this control.  A horseman knows that it has nothing to do with the head physically.  You can take control of the head but that doesn’t mean you’ll have control of the rest of the horse.  We’ve all seen horses bucking or bolting with someone hanging on to the reins (and therefore their heads) for dear life and it making no difference whatsoever.  Control of the horse comes from the back end, from the hind feet if you really need control.  From being able to communicate with the hind quarter and the horse having the trust and confidence in you to offer disengagement of it.  Communication with the horse when riding, comes through your seat and the lateral softness of the horse.  Even a horse that is collected and truly engaged can only be so if his back and ribs are soft laterally and his hind coming underneath him.  Getting a hold of his head will only make him feel more contained and claustrophobic.  If you cause him enough pain he may do your bidding but how will he feel about that?  Do you think you’d really be getting the best from your partner if you are hurting him?  Most horses who have assumed the ‘correct’ head set, are also hollow in the back or over flexed at the poll, to try to give themselves some relief.  Even people who think they are being kind by riding in bitless bridles still don’t get it.  It is not about the head.   And there are plenty of bitless bridles around that still work by causing pain or depriving the horse of air.  Cruel.

True self carriage comes from soft lateral ribs and back, calm emotions and an engaged hind quarter.  You shouldn’t need anything on their heads at all for that.

While it is wonderful that at last there seems to be some, who are at least listening to the need for things to change within the horse industry, the new code of practise for beginner riders won’t save lives.  I doubt it will make any difference to our statistics at all.  It is time to change.  Time to change our antiquated beliefs about horses and to stop thinking that horsemanship is just owing a horse.  All riders, beginners and experienced riders alike, are at risk until we understand that it is Horsemanship that needs to be encouraged and mandated.  A true understanding of the way horses think and respond and a knowledge of true communication.
* Related statistics taken from;
J R Silver, High Street, Wendover, Bucks HP22 6EA, UK
http://www.nature.co…l/3101280a.html
*Flinders University Study
http://www.nisu.flin…4-Mortalit.html
Australian Institute for Health and welfare
http://www.aihw.gov…./?id=6442464348
National Injury Surveillance Unit – Raymond A Cripps
http://www.nisu.flin…/bulletin24.pdf

Meredith Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
enquiries@quantumsavvy.com
Meredith’s Blog
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Connection & Harmony

Ever wondered how building a true connection through groundwork can improve every aspect of your relationship with your horse? Check out Meredith’s video for a glimpse of what can be achieved.

 

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The Sea of over-information

dustyHow do you tell the difference between sh#@ and shoe polish?  Between something of worth and real value or something superficial and of little real use.  Between something of substance and experience vs something with no real depth, no proof or past evidence that can stand the test of time?

Right now I sit with a group of incredible people.  A group of dedicated, knowledgeable, experienced horsemen.  People who spend much of their time, effort and energy trying to further not only their skills with horses but also finding ways to better help the horses and humans under their influence and care.

In short, Professional Horsemen.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had people come to me seeking help after wasting many hours, a lot of money and risking injury by taking ‘advice’ and ‘training’ from the myriad so called ‘horsemanship professionals’ who are currently flooding the globe with their questionable skills.  Through the advent of social media, it has become incredibly easy to snap a glossy picture or two of you and your horse, write a few wise words and promote yourself from the ranks of amateur to supposed professional.

And how is the unsuspecting horse lover, seeking help with their horse, supposed to be able to wade through the ocean of over-information to determine the genuine article from the weekend warrior.

I’m very proud to say that every member of the Quantum Savvy Team is a professional horseman.  Someone who is genuinely committed to helping others.  Between us we have hundreds of thousands of hours of working with all types of horses (and humans!) across the world to create a knowledge bank that is staggering. And  each  member of the team wants just one thing….to share their knowledge and skill with as many horse owners and horse lovers as possible.

My advice to anyone seeing help with their horse is to do your research, thoroughly.  And that means, look beyond the glossy photos and the flashy ads.  Get to know the person your dealing with.  Ask them about their experience and what they’ve achieved and not just what they can do with their horse but what they’ve been able to have their students achieve.

If they can help others to achieve their dreams and goals, there is a good chance they can help you to achieve yours also.  You and your horse deserve nothing less.

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Forget a code of practice – make Horsemanship mandatory!

Diesel_GonndiwindiWhat an incredible time we have had during our ‘You Can Do It Too!’ Tour, and a very timely one also. While we have been busting a butt to try to change the way people work with and relate to horses, to try to promote the vital need for a dramatic increase in horsemanship skill and the long past due call for people to learn how horses truly think and behave, the NSW govt has been amidst a push to administer an industry code of practice for equine related activities. I have at this stage had only a cursory glance at the proposed code so I will have much more to say on this later and will call on all of your to do the same, however I have been involved with this proposal in one way or another for some years now. While the motives of those involved are certainly commendable, I very much fear the new code will only give us more rules to follow that will make little or no change to the very real issues that are at hand….and these are the mainstream and accepted mistreatment and misunderstanding of horses and the injury and death of far too many of our precious horse lovers. The code deals mainly with beginner riders, but those most affected are ‘experienced’ horse owners / riders.
 
Serious changes do need to be made, hence our just completed 2 month tour of Qld, where we provided FREE help, advice and support to any and all who were interested. But introducing this new code of practice will be like putting seat-belts in cars that have no brakes or steering. They are trying to save lives with more rules when they should be focusing on horsemanship. Quite frankly it worries me a lot and after many years of trying to get this point across and being asked to be involved with formatting this code, I feel like I have been screaming into the wind. And no one is hearing me.
 
More rules, more pointless standards,more helmets, more protective gear, more, more, more is NOT going to save the lives people are hoping it will. And it is not going to stop an issue that almost no one seems to even care about, and that is people causing pain, stress and anxiety in their horses. People are being hurt and killed because of their lack of horsemanship skill and by riding and handling horses that they shouldn’t be. Period. It is WAY past time to change folks. Wake up to yourselves horse owners. Horses are not dangerous, unpredictable or life threatening if you know how to properly relate with them and understand their behavior. They are large animals so of course their is always some risk however all risk can be HUGELY reduced by increasing horsemanship skill. All level of riders are at risk, not just beginners….all level or riders need to get with it, and acknowledge that when it comes to understanding horses truly…..they don’t!!!!
 
It is really, really simple; don’t get on a horse that is not calm…..ever. Understand that a safe and true partnership begins on the ground. All riders and horse owners need to stop wasting their money on gadgets, gear and feed additives and instead, invest their time in developing their partnership with their horse and establishing TRUE horsemanship. Forget the rules and the gadgets. Our code of practice should be to make horsemanship mandatory.
#makehorsemanshipmandatory.

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Had any trouble with your horse lately?

12909414_620920128065439_3680557784536923712_oI had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine recently, about her horse who had been unwell and who she’d had the vet out to, to see what was wrong with her.  My friend had found it really hard to build her mare’s fitness over a period of months and began to suspect that there was something physically wrong with her.

She retold the conversation she’d had with the vet……….

“Have you had any trouble with her lately?  Has she been playing up?”

“What kind of trouble do you mean?”

“You know, rearing, bucking, refusing to go forward, head tossing.  That kind of thing.  That’s pretty standard for horses with this condition.”

“No!…nothing of that kind.  If she’s struggling, I back off a bit and let her rest……catch her breath.”

“Wow…that’s amazing!  It’s great that you really listen to your horse.”

Further tests by the vet showed that the mare had some nasal scarring which was actually stopping her from being able to breath properly, so she was simply not getting enough air, which made her seem very unfit. My friend, who has a fair and reasonable amount of care and empathy for her horse, was simply taking note of how her horse felt and acted accordingly when she struggled to go forward for any great length of time.  She’d back off, let the mare rest and catch her breath, before getting back to work.

But the vet’s questions and amazement at this response to the horse’s feedback was frankly incredible.  While the vet totally agreed with my friend about how to manage the horse’s lack of air, her shock at the fact that my friend had listened to her horse and not pushed her to keep working, was amazing.  She totally expected to hear that the horse had developed dome pretty serious behavioral problems over this issue and was surprised to hear how my friend had handled it.

Which begged the question from both of us….what the heck are people doing in other cases of this kind?  Blaming their horse for being lazy?  Punishing them for finding the work hard?  Thinking their horses were bad, naughty, suddenly possessed if their behaviour made a change?

We’re so quick to tell our horses when they’re wrong, but conversely slow to realise that if we’d just take enough interest in the feedback they give us, we’d have far less problems with them and much happier horses.  We’re pretty quick to take the credit when our horses do well, but should they do wrong we’re even quicker to punish them and let them know.  We’re oblivious to our horses feelings and thoughts to the point of cruelty.

How far off the track are those horse owners who still think that horses are bad and dangerous and just out to get us?  When will we realise that if we just take the time to be aware of and listen to their feedback, that life instantly gets better for both rider AND horse.  Horses are always trying to tell us something, but most times their efforts land on deaf ears.

My friend did nothing more than to care about her horse and how she felt, but sadly it seems she may be in the minority!

  • Meredith Ransley April 2016

 

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No more runaways.

Rhiannon and Mum You Can Do It Too!My kids love their ponies. I love my kids.  So, I need to be able to trust the ponies to keep my children safe.  But as good as the ponies are, and even after all the time we’ve spent on educating them to be calm, quiet, confident and tolerant, they are still living creatures with thoughts and ideas of their own.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be taking part in a day of horsemanship demonstrations in South-East Qld, and one of the demos I did involved little people (3 of which were mine) and their small ponies.  Our subject was ‘Safe Ponies, Happy Kids’.  The point of this demo was to highlight to parents and guardians, the importance of a proper education of small ponies, many of whom really get no such thing and as such, suffer a less than favorable reputation.  How many people have rolled their eyes and said ‘typical pony’ after said pony has done something they perceived as ‘naughty’.

In truth of course, the pony is no such thing.  It is simply giving the owner /handler a bit of feedback.  Unfortunately, because they are so small, much of the feed back they give is missed, dismissed, shrugged off or worse, laughed off!  So the behavior which in a large horse may be taken more seriously, goes unheeded and eventually gets worse.  The result being that our precious little person gets run off with, bucked off and knocked over.

Little ponies need as much education as big horses.  In fact they need more, because the small person who is riding them, often doesn’t have the skill, balance, timing or experience of a more grown up person.  So they trust the pony and us to do the right thing by them and prepare the pony properly.

I made a few points during my demo, two of which seemed to really resonate strongly with may people.  One was, that we need to help our little people become and stay confident with their ponies.  Confidence, as most grown up riders know, is very easy to lose and in many cases, extremely hard to get back again.  Over-facing small children with a pony that is too big, that has little education, has too much spirit and not enough tolerance, can destroy a horse-loving child’s confidence, sometimes forever.  And as a horse lover, we all know how sad that is!  To love something with such passion and yet be terrified of it at the same time.  So providing a pony with a truly solid education that is suitable for the level of the child rider is paramount.

The other point I made that seemed to really strike home for people, was to teach small children to get off their pony, quickly, if the pony is moving off or doing something they don’t want or like.  How often have we seen a small child on a runaway pony?  Even the thought is terrifying.  And yet, for some bizarre reason, if a horse plays up, we’re taught in many circumstances, to stay on!  It seems to be expected.  The thought doesn’t seem to cross our minds to just get off.

Not only is it okay to step down, it’s the smart thing to do.  Live to ride another day.  Don’t try to stay up there and ride it out….especially in the case of small children.

Humans of any age, will go into the fetal position when they get scared.  Which on a horse translates to sitting forward and gripping on.  So if a pony starts to move off, or gets a bit scared or just wants some different grass, and the child follows their instincts and grips a bit tighter, this is enough to propel the pony forward even faster which of course triggers more grip and the cycle continues until you end up with a child on a runaway pony.  We need to learn to overcome our human instinct.

The simplest way to do this is to teach little children from a very early age, how to slide off.  If they’re sitting on their pony and the pony moves off, just get off.  Long before a child develops a great seat, or has the timing or coordination to stop or turn a horse, they can very easily learn to just slide down.  Then, run back to where they were to begin with and hop back on.  Ponies learn really quickly that moving off will get them no where.  And the child loses any fear of being run off with and actually gains a lot of confidence from knowing what to do and they can actually do something about it if it happens.

And yes, these are little children.  Children from two or three up to six or seven years old. Supervised of course.  Big enough to be on a pony but not so big as to be able to pull on or manhandle a horse into doing what they want!  Thank goodness.  And hopefully they’ll never learn this method of riding horses.

They’ll never learn to be cruel and pull on the ponies mouth or use force or coercion to get a pony or horse to do their bidding.  But they will learn how to be safe, how to communicate clearly and fairly with their equine and if all else fails, how to get off and take a fresh start.  And doing just that, is okay!

Meredith Ransley

April 2016

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Will that be one shot or two?

Atlas

Atlas

Once upon a time, the world was HUGE.  Getting from one place to another took ages and here in Oz, it also took several gerry cans off petrol and several spare tyres.   Long distance phone-calls were exciting, rare events that had us dashing to the phone to talk to a distant friend or loved one and we marveled at how well we could hear them…..even though they really did sound like they were on the other side of the world.  Snail-mail was also exciting as it brought letters and news and newspaper clippings, and this wonder-of-the-modern-age was something we benefited from 5 days a week!  We had 5 whole TV stations to tune into, that brought us much edited and censored news and info and heaven for bid we somehow managed to survive without mobile phones or computers!  And we had to actually go to the bank and the shops!  Good grief!

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and living in our new world of ease, access and availability.  It means I can live and work where I choose because I love it here, but still get what I need from anywhere in the world.  How cool is that!

Trouble is though, that now, things are so easy to get, so available and we have so many options, it can be incredibly confusing trying to decide what, when and who.  And I don’t just mean “shall I have the double espresso or the latte” kind of decisions either.

Take horsemanship for example.  It seems every man, woman and their dog have something to share and show these days.  The magic answer, the perfect video, the one and only training tool or tips you can’t possibly do without.  And this is great.  It means that all day, every day, there is someone out there somewhere who has help, advice, information or products to help just about any horse owner with just about any horse.  And I wish good luck to each horse-lover in trying to find the one that best suits them without wasting a lot of time and money.

However!….this is not what I want to talk about today.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot though.  And even more so recently.  Of course, I reckon Quantum Savvy is the best pathway to success with horses that there is…..I sure know it works!  But there is so much more to sift through and choose from.  Even if you’re not actively looking, one way or another some horse trainer, horseman or coach, is going to cross your path.  So my thoughts have been, how on earth do people choose?  To borrow a phrase, how do horse owners choose sh#t from shinola (shoe polish). We’re inundated with it until it is overwhelming and we’re left drowning in a sea of methods, terminology, opinions and advice.  So what do we do?

Like I said, it has made me think a lot about this conundrum.  And one thing it really made me do, was take a good look at what I do, and why.  The message I am trying so hard to get across and the legacy I’d like to leave.  I feel I really have something important and valid to say and to share, but how do others know?  What am I really trying to achieve with my life’s work; what is it that I feel so desperately in need of getting across to people?

Now, this much I do know, for I have been trying to spread my message for more than 20 years.  I’ve traveled Oz and OS many times, to share my thoughts, discoveries and ideas with horse owners in many countries.  And I figure I’ll keep doing it as long as there is breath in my body.  And that is, that until we learn to keep it simple, until we put our ego aside and step back and really listen to our horses, until we stop trying to make things hard for them and blaming them when things don’t go right and instead take responsibility for everything our horses do, true horsemanship will escape us.

To this day, there are very few people at any level and I include the world’s ‘top’ equestrians and trainers in this, who really ‘get’ horses.  Who understand the fundamental concept that we have to stop trying to get our horses to submit to our will, stop trying to control, coerce and manipulate them into doing what we want them to do and expecting them to tune in to us.  Until we do this we will never learn to tune in to them.  To tap into their frequency and really hear them and what they have to say.

A good horseman whether male or female, knows that the only way to be truly great with horses is to do just this….tap into their frequency.  To take on board their feedback.  To listen, pay attention and take your cue from them.  Then and only then, will life between horse and human become as simple, safe, calm and solid as it should be.

We have to stop making things difficult for horses to do the right thing and instead do our very best to help them to be right.  Stop the blame, stop the make, stop the silencing of their opinions and instead listen and learn.

Horses are simple.  They are kind, fun, playful, intelligent and clever.  They can tell us and teach us everything we ever need to learn.  If we take our lead from them, they’ll tell us what we need to know; when it’s okay to move on and when it’s not.  If you are a good horseman, you’ll know that you need very few ‘tools’, or constraints or any gadgets.

But you do need compassion.  For it is what is in your heart that will out in the end.  If your heart is filled with thoughts of ownership, dominance, submission or make, this will all manifest itself in the kind of relationship you have with your horse.  There is no room for impatience, force, fear or intolerance.  And you know, you can say the right words, use the right lingo, be pretty handy with a rope or even be a good rider, but if the intention in your heart is not working in favour of your horse and truly getting the best outcome for their well being, confidence and happiness, they will know.  And they’ll express it pretty quickly.

What do you do when your horse tries to tell you something?  Do you try to cover it up?  Silence it in someway?  Strap it in and down or closed so no one else knows?  If so, your days are numbered.  More and more people are becoming aware of what is going on here.  They are understanding that the more ‘stuff’ you use on your horse, the less you really ‘get’ horses.  Make no mistake, the gear you use or think is okay, tells the rest of the world way more about you than it does about your poor horse.

So at the end of all my thinking, and all my pondering, I realised one thing.  It really doesn’t matter what method, technique or school of thought you use.  Because if you have good things in your heart, you’ll always find a way of applying even the worst of ideas and methods, in a good and kind way.  And if your heart is filled with make and dominance, you’ll interpret even the kindest of approaches with ideas of advantage and mastery.

So choose at will!  I wish you well in your search for whatever works for you and your horse.  But remember, in the end, what comes out through your hands will depend on what first comes from your heart.

– Meredith Ransley

Quantum Savvy March 2016

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Suffer not in silence

For Diesel_BBB_1an intelligent species, humans can be pretty dim at times.  We can also be pretty callous, cruel, arrogant and ignorant.  Possibly never more so than when it comes to horses.

How is it that when our horse has an issue with something and tries to tell us, instead of simply listening to them and taking on their feedback, that we look at a way of silencing them?  He bucks, we punish him,  he tosses his head, we tie it down.  He grinds his teeth, we strap his mouth shut – or worse!  He won’t go, we kick, he runs off we pull harder on his mouth.  He gets even more impulsive and runs off harder, shies at everything, pulls on the reins, pushes on our hands and legs and we, the ever inventive species, come up with more and more ways and even more gadgets to control, entrap, subdue and silence the physical behavior.  And when we do succeed, even for a time, we applaud ourselves on our cleverness of fixing the problem.

We can no longer see it, so it must have gone away.  Well done us.

For some reason, it never occurs to us that there is something wrong and that our horse would tell us what, if we’d only listen.  But we’re so quick so try to control them and make the behavior go away so that we feel better, that we don’t stop to consider how our poor horse feels.

And if the gadgets don’t work, we can buy special feeds to calm our horse down, numb his mind and suppress his anxiety.  We could of course just take a moment to wonder why our horse is anxious, scared, nervous, defensive, aggressive in the first place.  But we don’t.  That would mean taking responsibility for our horses behavior when it is much simpler just to blame him.

Horses are pretty straight forward.  Most issues a horse has can be solved pretty easily if we just take the time to listen.  Stopping the behavior doesn’t fix the problem, it just masks it so it can someday manifest itself in another, generally much worse way.

The more ‘stuff’ you need when working with or riding your horse, the more I would encourage you to stop, take a step back and listen to your horse.  Things shouldn’t be that difficult,  complex or dangerous.  Horses are extremely tolerant, sensitive animals who will tell us all we need to know if we take the trouble to tune in to them and tap into their frequency instead of expecting them to tune in to ours.  That is just ego.  Put it aside, try to understand how your horse feels, communicate with them and try to help them be right instead of blaming them when things go wrong.  Then both of you will have a much happier and more fulfilling existence.

Meredith Ransley 2016

Quantum Savvy

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The ‘Perfect’ pair of hands!

HIMtwoYou know…..just reflecting more on this whole master rein business. And how it is supposed to be like ‘the perfect pair of hands’. What possesses us to think that our hands should be fixed? Given the desired forward, flowing movement of a horse, when you think logically about how much movement there is in the head and neck (wither, back etc) of the horse, why do we not put two and two together? If your hands aren’t moving, and your seat can’t move because of the fashion of saddle design at the moment, of high backs and huge knee rolls, where is the movement supposed to go? If your hands aren’t sympathetic and are fixed. the poor horse’s mouth has to absorb all that movement. Think about how much pain this must cause the horse and how heavy it would make them. Add to that the fashion of riders to sit upright, perched with their spinal column stacked bone upon bone (instead of tucking your tail under you and allow your hips to absorb the movement) you then also have a rider just banging up and down on the horse’s back. And we wonder why they poke their noses out and hollow their backs. Riders of all levels do it and are quick to blame the horse and strap him in and down instead of taking on his unhappy feedback.

I’ve currently got my Level 3 group working on their feel and developing lightness in their hands and in their horses. They are practising by sitting on a fit-ball while holding a piece of wool as reins (just tie it around a post or similar). Their goal then is to do all of their rein positions and transitions up and down, via their seat (hips, upper leg only) without changing tension on the wool. The result, lightness, softness and harmony of horse and rider. And almost no weight on the reins.

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You don’t need a bridle – connect with his mind and his body will follow

Diesel

Diesel

If a horse’s movement, power, collection and impulsion come from the hindquarter, shouldn’t the bridle go on their tail?

Since the earliest times of horse / human relationships, we’ve been obsessed with getting leverage on the head of the horse.  In what has been a vain attempt to gain control and submission of these versatile, powerful creatures, has also been to the exclusion and detriment of the best the horse has to offer.  For if you get control of his head, you lose his mind, heart and full capacity of his movement and power.

What we say, do and teach in Quantum Savvy, is often very different to conventional thoughts and teachings when it comes to horses.   From the point that we begin always with ground work, the way we sit when we ride, the way we ask our horses to carry themselves, our focus on riding the whole horse, being able to communicate with the horse’s entire body and not just trying to somehow control them by getting a hold of their heads. And so on.

I was having a really interesting conversation with someone the other day, about changing the focus of riders from this one simple yet fundamental cornerstone of horse riding. The lady I was speaking with had some really great questions about why we, in QS, do what we do and how it affects our horses. She had a pretty conventional background in dressage and eventing and was of the belief that some horses simply could not go without a bridle. She also felt therefore, that anyone who could ride without a bridle, must obviously have a lot of great things going for them with their horse.

As a case in point, she sent me a video of a top European rider, doing a bridle-less demonstration on one of her competition horses. Watching the video and the way the horse moved, I could tell pretty quickly that although the horse did indeed have nothing on it’s head, it must have been ‘trained’ to be ridden bridle-less, rather than developed to the point that it could be ridden this way. And believe me there is a huge difference.

A bit of internet research on the rider, confirmed my thoughts. The horse’s movement looked forced, mechanical and contained. Typical of a horse that has spent many hours being lunged, ridden and trained in general, in a fixed position. If this is done enough times, for sufficient hours, the horse will hold it’s position for a time, after the bridle is taken off. Sometimes the training will last for a few minutes, and sometimes for hours.  Just as any training with horses does. How often do horse owners send their horses to the trainer to get them going ‘right’ and tune them in? A process that must be repeated every so often because it is training….not teaching or communication. So it doesn’t last. It doesn’t stick. Some horses are more adept at accepting and holding their training and some rebel against it. You’ll find more about this in the horse training section of my book.

There are two ways to achieve bridle less riding. One is the way we do it….by working up to it, preparing our horses and ourselves and developing a strong communication and understanding between us. All of our early riding is without a bridle….we ride in a rope halter or hackamore and earn the right to eventually go to a bridle. By which time we no longer need one anyway. Many people then choose to continue to ride without a bridle.

The other way is to do as I mentioned above…..train your horse with repetition to do what he is told and what is expected of him. Aside from the obvious issues that are detrimental to the horse, this method is part of an ongoing process. It’ll only ever get so good, the horse’s movement will never look natural and flowing and it doesn’t stick. It has a shelf life and also a safety issue. Under pressure, if things go badly, there is no real communication between horse and rider so the rider is then at the mercy of the horse’s instincts. If you’ve ever been on a horse who has forgotten you are there, you’ll understand just what a terrifying thought this is.

Riding bridle less or working at liberty is not definitive proof of good horsemanship or even of a good understanding of horses. In fact, in many cases, what people do to achieve these results is no better than what others do with the obvious use of tools, leverage, fear and force. We need to create an awareness of the difference.

Our goal…that of Shane and myself and the QS Team, is to change the paradigm and the global beliefs of all horse lovers and owners. We need to fundamentally change the way people understand, interact and communicate with horses. We’ve got to get away from traditional use of force and leverage and the general acceptance of these things as standard practise.  Sadly, so much of this is such a part of the day to day dealings with horses that no one even questions it.

We are not anti-bit. Not at all.  As well meaning as they are, people who are against bits still don’t get it. It has nothing to do with the head of the horse. It is about communicating with the whole horse. Of engaging his mind and his emotions. If you do that, there is no more need for control with your horse than there is with your spouse, child, work mate or friend. This is what people do not understand. We do not need tools to ‘control’ horses.   If fact, the more tools we need, the less understanding of horses we have.  What we do need is to properly understand how to listen to them, communicate with them and create rapport with each other. This is an equal partnership.

If you can do that then you don’t need a bridle, regardless of if it has a bit or not. This is why we also don’t like bitless bridles. Many of these are no better than bitted bridles, as they still focus on leverage and control of the head.

The other side of this is that to achieve true forward, soft flexion in both lateral and vertical movement, collection and elevation, you need to be able to communicate with the whole body of the horse. None of these things come from the head and never have. It astounds me how many people think they do. How many horses do we see running and playing in the field in full flexion, doing everything we ever dreamed of doing with them, without a bridle or bit in sight! Collection and forward come from the horse being laterally soft from nose to tail, engaged in the hind and lifting through the back. If you have that, then the head-set of the horse will be what it will be. It will depend on the suppleness of the horse, the confidence of the horse, the willingness of the horse and confirmation of the horse. Some horses find it easy to offer vertical flex without any real engagement of the hind or lateral softness, just because of their breed. Others will be quite developed in their education (what we term education) and soft through the body but are not able to offer a lot of vertical flex again because of confirmation. Vertical flex should be the last thing anyone looks at when it comes to judging whether a horse is collected or not. Classical Dressage masters knew this, which is why a vertically flexed horse in the early stages of classical training, is frowned upon. But in Competitive Dressage it is so desired, that many riders whose horse is not yet ready for vertical flex, resort to use short-cuts and cruel methods to achieve it. And in the process sacrifice true engagement, forward and softness.

In QS, we focus on achieving lateral softness and forward through the whole horse before we ask for collection and engagement. This is why you will see many horses in the early stages, not yet vertical. It is not our focus. However what you will see is horses who are very light, very soft, very responsive, very happy and very forward. It is beautiful. As they go through the levels and become more confident in contact (shorter reins asking for more collection), fitter and stronger, you’ll see them offer greater and greater collection and elevation of movement. It really is a spectacular thing to see. And all the while the reins are very light. In my Harmony in Motion classes, I actually (jokingly) ban my students from using more than 2 fingers on the reins. If they have to close their third finger, their horse is getting too heavy.   So they either need to rest (because the horse is tired from carrying themselves in such a strong position),or go back to lateral work to soften the horse through the body again, because they have become braced somewhere.

As I watched the video of the bridle-less rider, the horse looked very heavy (even without a bit!), forced and unnatural.  All signs of a horse who has been ‘trained’ with no option, and for many hours, using repetition and a lot of leverage.  All of which just trains the good bits out of your horse. In my opinion the horse’s movement was ugly. A quick look at the riders facebook page had revealed many photos of horses just as I suspected, being trained in leverage with no options. If you do enough of this, it will hold for a while. Long enough to do a demo or two and then it’s back to the leverage again. Probably even in the warm-up arena.

In April and May of this year, Shane and myself and many of our Team, are doing a 2-month tour of Queensland to create more awareness of the need for change. We will be doing free demos in each of the towns we visit, but more importantly we are opening up the doors to anyone and everyone to come and watch us all, every day during the following week, practising and playing with our horses. What we want to show people is that you can achieve collection without leverage, you can do piaffe without spurs, you can lead without a halter, you can connect without a lead rope, you can communicate without force and that control is not safety nor the basis for a happy partnership.

Conventional thinking around horses is not the way to achieve your dreams. Lightness, softness, willingness and harmony can be achieved by anyone, but it’s time to stop trying to control the horse’s head and start to communicate with the whole horse; body, mind and soul.

Meredith Ransley – Quantum Savvy Feb 2016

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Change your heart, change your horse.

QSEthreeWithout warning the horse turned and lunged at it’s owner, teeth bared, ears pinned. I quickly stepped in to help and no one (or horse!) was hurt but the owner was left shaken naturally, for some minutes. The horse did not have any follow through or any real intent to hurt it’s owner, or else it surely would have had it wanted to, but what could cause such a seemingly unprovoked attack?

Horses will always respond directly to what they get from us. Where as humans will most often respond to what we see or physically feel or experience, a horse will respond to anything and everything in their environment. In the more obvious of cases for example, they’ll shy from a sudden movement or noise, bite or kick if they feel pain or under threat, bolt or buck if scared or hurt. But they also respond and just as clearly, to things they feel and sense. And this includes the energy we give off and the intention or purpose of our very thoughts and feelings.

To us, as humans who are really no where near as adept at reading these intangibles, these action and reactions often just manifest as mysterious and perplexing behaviors.

But rest assured, these things are just as real to a horse as the sun shining in the sky, the grass they eat and the dog that leaps out from the bushes.

We do see it and acknowledge it in small ways quite often. I’m sure we can all think of a horse who allows some humans to approach it but not others. Or farriers, vets, chiropractors who quickly put a horse at ease and yet others who always seem to have trouble with the exact same horse! Or the day we come home from work upset and in a bad mood and consequently our horse behaves badly that day.

But, it is even more than this. More common place, more everyday and more frequent than many horse lovers realise.

This is going to sound really obvious but I would ask you to really consider what I’m about to discuss.

If we can change our heart, we change our horse.

Anxiety, fear, anger, trepidation…..all of the unwelcome human emotions, effect our horses just as clearly as a spur or a whip. If you approach a horse with any of these in your heart, he or she will respond in kind. Even if, by all intents and purposes, outwardly at least, you look exactly the same as the next person who feels none of these things, your horse will be able to tell. Of course, if you look close enough, you’ll see that there is a stiffness, a tension, hesitation about a person feeling these emotions. But many times we don’t see these things. We may even be good at disguising them from others, or even from ourselves! But there are no secrets when it comes to horses. They know. They can sense it, see it, smell it and distinguish it for what it really is. And as a flight-response prey animal, have the intelligence to know that its not good.

And so, the calm horse gets anxious, the confident horse gets wary, the quiet horse is hard to catch and the steady reliable horse gets nippy and threatening. And we wonder why?

We look for answers everywhere. We call our friends, the vet, the horse trainer, the holistic expert but nothing really seems to work long term. Because the answer we seek is not ‘out there’. The problem instead is looking us right in the face…..at least when we look in the mirror.

We’ve heard the phrase before. Your horse is your mirror, and this is very true. But sometimes the mirror is cloudy and hard to see into. Or it’s cracked so we get a warped reflection. And sometimes it just isn’t as simple as that. For all that we look, we still cannot see. It takes a very brave person to look objectively in the mirror and give themselves an honest, objective and solutionary reply rather than one that just focuses on what’s wrong.

So put aside your mirror and instead of looking for answers, try listening. If your horse is doing something you don’t want, no matter how big or small, the answer will always be to listen. Your horse is giving you feedback. He or she is trying and trying and sometimes trying!…to tell you something that you aren’t hearing.

You can keep at your horse as much as you want, trying to fix him and change him but you’ll get nothing of the sort. Unless you are prepared to change yourself, change what is in your heart, then nothing will change. You might train your horse or teach him to submit or succumb but in his heart and soul, nothing is changed. Only the way he feels about you because no matter how hard he tried, you didn’t hear him.

The trouble is that we just want our horses to be on our frequency. We spend so much time and effort trying to get them to do what we want and no where near enough effort on taking into consideration what our horse needs.

If you have what I call a ‘Good Boy’ horse, he’ll put up with you, find what it is that he can live with and be, to keep you happy. A ‘Good Boy’ horse will put up with and tolerate a heck of a lot. And we feel like we’re pretty marvelous because our horse does what is asked, does as he’s told and doesn’t complain too much. And sometimes, this most social of creatures will come to us for a scratch or a rub, reaffirming just what a good job we’re doing. He has figured out your frequency, he can live with it for the sake of peace and relative harmony and so all is good in the world.

Other horses simply won’t put up with it. Not even in a small amount. This is true most often of young horses who haven’t yet figured out that the best route is to just give in. What these horses need us to do, is to find their frequency. Tune into them and find what it is that they need, how they need to move, express themselves, exist. Once we’ve done that, then we can begin to introduce our ideas but only when and if the horse is ready.

A good horseman can and should do this fairly quickly. A horseman worth her or his salt, will be able to find the horse’s frequency, listen to the horse’s feedback and work together from this aspect, in a pretty short space of time. This is as it should be. If someone is taking weeks or even months to tap into the horse’s frequency and be able to have a basic conversation with the horse, they’re missing something. They either aren’t listening, are not hearing or don’t understand the conversation. When this happens and a period of time elapses, this time spent with the horse turns from conversation to training. And the period of teaching the horse to give in, to succumb and retreat begins. The best of the horse begins to die.

Many, many times I have seen horses being misunderstood. Misdiagnosed and mistreated. They are blamed for their actions and behaviors when all the while it was what was in the heart (and mind) of the human that caused the issue in the first place. Horses get reprimanded, punished, blamed all the time, every where. They get medicated, isolated and sent to the trainer to be fixed. Which fixes nothing.

I’ve seen anxious horses contained and controlled, aggressive horses hit and beaten, ‘dangerous’ horses kept in isolation, treated with extreme caution and prejudice and even put-down, all because the human was either not aware of, could not or would not control what was in their own heart.

A little bit of anger and frustration will make a horse fearful and flighty. Anxiety can make a horse aggressive and defensive, trepidation can make a horse cautious, nervous and reactionary.

If you desire to have your horse and yourself on the same wavelength, to both be confident and fully enjoying yourselves together and for him or her to cut you some slack from time to time, it must first begin with you. Change what is in your heart, listen to your horse’s feedback and put effort into tuning into their frequency and you will change your horse, forever.

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