Posts Tagged With: horse expo

Clinician Highlights: Chris Cox at Horse Expo 2012

Chris Cox presented “Rebuilding Rider Confidence” at the Western States Horse Expo on Saturday. He took two nervous riders and helped them find their mental and emotional balance by finding their physical balance.

NOTE Reading the horses (and humans!) while listening to Chris Cox and Lynn Palm describe what was happening proved instructive. We heard a lot of familiar words — approach, retreat, pressure, release, partner, responsibility. Our Parelli studies empowered us to see and learn not just from what the clinicians said, but from what they did not say, and from what they did and did not do.

I am grateful for and proud of the students who were willing to share their fears with us and expose their process in front of a thousand people. I learned a lot from auditing their lessons, and saw myself in each of them! (Here’s my highlight from Lynn Palm’s session.)

Chris Cox was funny, matter-of-fact, gentle but persistent. For both of his students, the only way out was through. One of his techniques was to ask the student what she did for a living. When she answered, she had confidence and balance in her voice and body. He said to keep that confidence and balance when she was with her horse. That many unconfident riders are confident in other areas of their lives. “Climb that panel and get in here and look at this horse’s teeth,” he said to the dental hygienist.

He also pointed out that the rope between the horse’s ears was not a mistake. It put it over the horse’s poll and ensured that the horse did not choke.

Both of his students habitually leaned forward when they rode. They increased their lean when they rose to higher gaits or when they got scared at the walk, curling tight and grabbing with their hands, the way humans do when we feel threatened. Thus, both were afraid to canter. (When Chris asked the second student “have you ever cantered before?” she said “once, but not intentionally.”)

He played with their horses on the ground first, doing pre-flight checks in all zones and establishing a relationship with the horse. The second horse had a big reaction to the rope getting under his tail, bucking with his legs impressively high in the air.

Chris pointed out that in trail riding a horse could get a branch or leaves or other things brushing its butt and stuck in and under its tail, and that playing on the ground is not about “tiring the horse out before you ride” but rather about testing and teaching. “It’s there, so why not bring it out and fix it?” Chris asked, rhetorically.

Then he had the student get into the saddle and coached them on their seat. They didn’t have reins to grab onto and he taught them how to push on the saddle horn instead of pull it.

What you don’t know, you don’t know. ~ Chris Cox

One of the women especially didn’t want to go forward, not really, and the horse that had been gleefully cantering around on-line was now barely able to step forward himself. I’m not sure I have ever seen so clearly the connection between a rider’s walk-on-but-not-really body language and a horse’s hesitant steps. But Chris didn’t let either woman get stuck at a threshold by allowing a lot of walking time. Both women had to post without reins to lean on, and then both reached their peak fear when he told them to cue for the canter.

I noticed that I was tense in my belly and was not breathing either, and took some deep breaths and shook my arms and legs a little bit, up on the stands. And he kept the pressure on the student, at a phase 2, not increasing but not backing off, until each one reached the “fuck you it serves you right if I die and mess up your stupid demo” stage and signaled, firmly, with leadership, for the canter. Chris said calmly “good girl” and “shoulders back” and “sit down” and “very good” and both women very soon relaxed and the fear gave way to euphoria. The second direction was harder physically but easier emotionally and neither one took as long to get into the canter the second time.

The only way to replace fear is through knowledge. Find a program. Don’t let your dreams die. When your dreams die, you die. Being overweight and old is not an excuse. ~ Chris Cox (from my notes, possibly paraphrased)

During the session, I realized in a way I never have before that every time I have come off a horse, my shoulders were inappropriately in front of my hips. “Inappropriately” because I wasn’t jumping or roping or riding a race horse. The times I have ridden through a buck, shy, or spook, my shoulders were not in front of my hips.

Lately in my riding with Rocky I have experimented with body position, exaggerating in all kinds of ways, not just leaning forward or back but also wiggling to one side and the other, as if he were an exercise ball I wanted to bounce on and then find my balance. I also try to lie on him and pet his butt with my feet, like colt-starters do. He tolerates this and has become more relaxed about it every time. And now I have a better seat than I’ve had in years.

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Understanding the Horse’s Mind: Robert M. Miller, DVM, at the Horse Expo 2012

We spent two whole days at the Western States Horse Expo this weekend and feel like we barely saw anything, but we saw everything we most wanted to see (except, alas, the perfect pair of ranch work boots).

Our highlight was Robert M. Miller, DVM. Miller has a lifetime of experience as an equine vet and as a zoo vet, and during his talks would say things casually, like, “my wife and I were on a veterinary safari in Africa…” as if that’s part of real life and not something amazing out of a novel.

First, we caught most of his talk about the connection between horsemanship and artistic talent, which he wrote about in his book The Passion For Horses & Artistic Talent.
He believes that people who love horses also often express themselves in art, without even realizing that their “little hobby” is actually art. He said that the popularity and critical recognition of Western art and cowboy poetry are growing disproportionately to other artistic segments, and he wrote this book to celebrate this and increase awareness of the connection between horses and art.

Jan and I thought that it’s possible that we all have artistic tendencies and that he just happens to be looking at horse people. But the thing about horses is you see their beauty, when they are still and when they are in motion. And to bond with horses you need to open up, and be willing to listen, and to express, and to accept that the default human way might not be the best approach. Miller said that he’s rarely met a farrier who didn’t also do metal art

Then we sat spellbound for an hour for his main lecture of the day, “Understanding the Horse’s Mind.” He is not a showy speaker, but his information is compelling, and his stories are wonderful. I found myself wanting to make slides with photos and bullet-point text for those who can’t learn just from listening. Jan and I can both learn from reading, so we took notes as we listened, and read as we wrote, and have spent the past two days blurting out things like “quick! the 10 essential things to remember about a horse’s mind!” and seeing if we can get them all.

One of the things that made his talk so great was that he illustrated every point with stories from a lifetime of working not just as an equine vet but as a zoo vet. He gave examples from other species to show how horses are different, or how horses are similar but to a different degree, or how horses are the same.

This talk inspired me to buy his book Natural Horsemanship Explained: From Heart to Hands, because he went into detail about what happens in the brain of the horse, not just in the mind. Having read several layperson-friendly books in recent years about neurobiology and neuroplasticity and “the brain and the mind,” we’ve become increasing intrigued by the physical changes in the brain that occur in response to changes in mental and emotional fitness (and, in fact, overall physical fitness as well). Miller says that he wrote this book for people who are already familiar with natural horsemanship, including top-level clinicians, to explain why it works — what is actually going on in the horse’s brain that causes things like the 7 Games to be so effective for horse and human partnership.

For example, one of the 10 things to know about the horse’s mind is that horses are not innately afraid of predators. They are afraid of predatory behavior. Thus, horses can partner with humans, befriend dogs, bond with barn cats. A “dangerous” or “problem” horse with one owner can become an athletic, calm, responsive partner with another owner. Or with the same owner, when the owner changes, as Linda discovered with Regalo.

Jan and I discussed this at some length and realized that when horses drive each other, they exhibit some characteristics of “predatory” behavior. Head low to protect the throat, ears flat, eyes hard and intense, slow stalk that can escalate into a sprint if need be. The other horses might not be “afraid” of the dominant horse’s drive, but they sure can scoot out of the way fast.

Can you guess the other nine of the 10 most important things to know? I’ll share my notes, but I’ll put them after the More link so you can think about it first.

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Categories: Events, Lessons, Reflections | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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