Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Transformation of Niko: Mary Gallagher comments

by Mary Gallagher

Niko recently.
Michelle’s series on the transformation of her off-track Thoroughbred, Niko, is a testimony to time,
healing, balance and perseverance as cornerstones of natural horsemanship. We were privileged to welcome Niko to Freedom Farm and help with his transition from promising but challenged prospect, to the happy, healthy guy he is today. Michelle has done a great job of sharing her journey with Niko, and now Jess Crouch and I are relating some of our contributions along the way. I hope this article series will prove helpful and maybe even inspirational to anyone with a horse in need of transformation.

The grooming game. Jess mentioned in her article on training Niko (link), that she initially used my Grooming Game, a.k.a. ‘grooming on the spot’. The Grooming Game is all about addressing the social needs of the horse first. So often, and I mean 99% of the time, our time spent with our horse is self-serving and agenda-oriented. The grooming game makes the relationship the most important thing. There are no cross- ties or tie rails; the horse is on a loose rope. What follows are a lot of micro yields, followed by long periods of thoughtful connection in the form of grooming. Horses are very social animals and can read the humans intentions instantaneously; if they are not comfortable they will not buy into our agenda. When the horse’s social needs are met first he is more willing and trusting of the human’s ideas.  This was a critical part of Niko’s transformation. He had to trust and want to connect with the human, let go of blocks and trust that he would not be forced to do anything, and that he was safe.

Shoes to barefoot. Another way I helped with Niko was maintaining the balance of his feet. Because we were transitioning him out of shoes and into a better-balanced foot, I focused on frequent, light trims. The plan was to keep his feet in balance on a weekly basis. His muscle memory would cause him to travel in his old, stuck patterns and causing wear on his feet consistent with his imbalance, rather than the balance we were striving for. So patience and consistent trimming were in order. We started Niko in a rubber-lined pen to slow down the wear on his feet, and had him wear hoof boots while he was working. Today, Niko’s feet stay balanced in between trims, and he no longer needs a rubber floor or hoof boots because the old muscle memory has faded and he has developed structural balance.

Balance in mouth and body. As Michelle mentioned, another aspect of Niko's transformation was his teeth. We advised Michelle to find a specialist in dental balance. Again our concern was to restore the natural balanced function of his mouth, one we would expect him to maintain on his own with very little outside help. The better Niko’s dental balance, the easier it would be for him to let go other imbalances in his body. Body work was another part of the equation, again with the intent that one day Niko would be able to maintain his own balance naturally.

Niko’s transformation was truly a whole horse make over, with nature as our model.  We are all so proud of him, who has a great and fun future ahead of him with Michelle. And we feel affirmed in our trust that nature really is perfect, and we need to work with her to find success.

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