Friday, May 7, 2021

Riding in Sync With the Feet

by Mary Gallagher

I call my latest video “Riding in Sync With the Feet”, the latest in a series on synchronization as it relates to connecting with the feet and communicating with our horse. It features a deceptively simple looking exercise over poles, at the walk (more on that later).

Horses naturally synchronize. It’s a part of being in a herd, and of being a prey animal. Life for a horse in a herd hangs on being connected to the group, with multiple eyes and ears tuned to environmental threats, moving together.

So the better we learn to synchronize, the better we move with our horse partners—largely by staying out of his way and allowing him to freely express himself. We may think horses only get to do that after the ride—tack off, running to be with their friends, etc. But we can cultivate that freedom of expression even as we ride.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Remembering Meho (1990-2021)

by Mary Gallagher

I admired Meho from the moment I saw him, a handsome weanling owned by the mother of one of my students. They raised racehorses, and Meho was a good one, earning well over $50,000 at the track before being sidelined with a bowed tendon. I couldn't believe my good luck when he came up for sale and I was able to buy him for Freedom Farm. I began training him as a hunter/jumper, and one of my boldest young students, Chelsea Crabb, rode him at a number of shows. Meho did well, and, I realized he could benefit from more focused time with me.

At the time, I was deep into the Parelli training, spending weeks at a time at the Parelli center in Florida. My Parelli horse, William, began having lameness issues and needed time off. Enter Meho, the speedy OTB with a big personality. He made the trip with me to Florida and boy, did we ever learn a lot--quite a bit through mutual struggle, which I have shared in many a ground work class since. How we came around to our lasting partnership is a tale of its own, but suffice it to say, I had to let go of what I thought I knew and allow him to show me who he was and begin to really understand him. I've never forgotten that time with him.  He in turn learned to be present, accept contact, and slow the heck down (early round pen sessions with him at the "canter" wore quite a groove in the sand, shall we say...).

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Observe, Observe, Observe!

by Mary Gallagher

Pecan responds to Mary while keeping an eye out

Imagine standing on the ground, watching a horse in the process of spooking. What can we observe?

  1. Thought exits: “Yikes! What is that spooky thing?!” Their mind goes blank—run! They turn around, get ready to run again—head up, lots of blowing.
  2. Thought returns: They turn around, freeze—stand still (testing the stop) run again, stop without freezing, take a few steps. Then—
  3. Extend nose, while blowing and smelling.
  4. Stretch and reach with nose and neck.
  5. Cautiously move in the direction of the nose, engaging the feet.

Spooking is something all horse people have witnessed, but I’ve made a point here to break it down to predictable components—sort of a slow motion camera to show the process. We can expect this pattern in a spooking situation, and that kind of predictability gives us options, if we can train ourselves to 'observe, observe, observe'. Now extend that expectation to all horse behavior. What if every movement is the horse testing to see if it is safe to linger or better to leave...?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Horsemanship at Beach Camp - A Conversation

First ride on Long Beach

Newsletter editor Mary Tulin gets Mary Gallagher and Kathy Schmidt to talk about horsemanship at the beach—how they took a group of Hoof Beats students and horses for a private clinic in Long Beach, Washington. [Photos courtesy students Haleyanna Fell, Elise Dean, and Elly Dam.]

Kathy Schmidt: When I tell people about Beach Camp with the kids, they always ask, did you gallop on the beach? People have a romantic idea of that, and are sure that’s what we went for.

Mary Tulin: Well....did you?

KS: Of course! But that was on the last full day—after three days of preparation. You have to take into account the readiness of both the students and the horses. Some were raring to go on day one, but their horses needed time and prep; and some horses would have been fine, but their rider wasn’t quite ready.

Mary Gallagher: Besides, there’s a lot of great stuff to do with horses that’s not galloping full tilt!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Fun and Imagination Can Be Useful Tools in Training: Introducing Colts to the Trailer

By Mary Gallagher

Recently I trailered a couple of young horses I’ve been training back to their home at Wensleydale Farm in Oregon. I invited two of my advanced Hoof Beats students, Elise and Elly, since they had been handling and riding the trainees, and since there are more great young horses at Wensleydale, including new colts. I really enjoy coaching my students, and this day was extra fun for us all because we got to play with baby horses!

Horses are full faculty learners at birth, ready within a few hours to follow Mom out into the big world. What this means for trainers is, you can’t start too early exposing a baby horse to all sorts of different things, familiarizing them with human contact and making it easier for them to adapt to the human world in the future.

With talented students, it is a match made in heaven—a curious colt and an imaginative handler. In this case, there were no great deeds to accomplish, just a chance to let the girls help two colts test out life in a safe way.

We decided to try some basic yields which would help prepare the youngsters for trailer loading. Elise and Elly played some preparatory games on line, getting the babies to follow a feel in all directions. After they all got comfortable moving around outside, we thought of asking them to move in and out of open stalls in the barn.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Imagination is a Great Teacher

by Mary Gallagher

I’ve been thinking a lot about imagination, as I do my rounds at Freedom Farm. As I shared last month, I’ve been spending more quiet time doing a greater variety of things with my personal horses and trainees, and have been encouraging my students to do the same with their horses.

Without the pressure of upcoming shows, and with the necessity of quiet, more individualized activities, we are discovering and developing new avenues of purpose with our horses, making use of our surroundings to develop, test, and hone our skills and our partner’s skills.

With a little attention, we can easily find sources of inspiration around us, to get us going on a meaningful journey of discovering our oneness with nature. And with our horses, by mindfully cooperating, we can awaken the intelligence innate in both us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Lots of time on your hands? Work on Enhancing that Relationship!

By Mary Gallagher
Creative grooming.
With all the extra time we are spending at home during this month of quarantine, I thought it would be a perfect time to really focus on enhancing my relationship with my horses. Young Einstein, one of my trainees from Wensleydale Farms, offers a perfect example of the benefits of enriching and enhancing our relationship through fun and seemingly random
When I begin with any horse, I spend time observing them before we start. I try not to have a set-in-stone plan of what I want to do, but just a general idea of where I want to go. I start from who the horse is, and where their natural skills will take them.

Sure, there is the usual pan of oats and grooming, but even that should not be the same every time. I make sure to groom him untied, most of the time. And with all the hair the horses are shedding this time of year, it’s nice to groom in an area where we don’t have to sweep it up, like out on the grass. (Birds love using it for nests)
Einstein is almost three, a growing part-draft horse whose strengths, I feel, will lie in being an all-round ranch horse. So along with his general training, I have been taking him for outings around the farm. These are not necessarily riding excursions, but I do put a saddle on him in case I come across something that I would like to do while riding.