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Karen's Blog: Along the Pathway

My blogspot! As time permits, I post here about the horses that inspire me along the pathway - usually you fill find a training tip or two. Enjoy!

My horse crowds me and/or is inattentive! What can I do?

"My horse crowds me, blocks me or gets inattentive and wanders off - I just want to walk to my stirrup, what can I do?"

In this video, Rebecca's Rocky Mountain mare "Splendor" learns through Feel to wait attentively, and tune IN! to Rebecca's plan. Watch for the magic moment when it all comes together for Rebecca - a true clarity of connection through feel if ever there was. 

Read on below the video for more tips!

The related topic here, is why loving your horse the way most folks do (around the horse's head, while standing alongside their neck or eye) has many less obvious effects a person might not know. They are pretty important too.

Unplanned (undesirable) habits rooted in loving on your horse's head/neck:

1) The horse develops a habit of being on the forehand and crooked

  • next time you are near your horse, glance down and see if he is leaning more weight on his left front foot
  • if he is, he is tipping his weight over that shoulder and no longer "loading" his opposite right hind foot
  • when that happens, it impacts many things in your ride:
    • he will feel stiff in his turns to the right
    • he will seem to barrel into his turns to the left
    • you may find you have to keep using your right rein to keep him straight
    • he may seem tricky to ride or lunge in a circle without "falling in" or bending his head to the outside
    • he may not offer a clean canter depart to the left
    • he may tend to break gait when cantering to the right
    • he may have a tendency to buck during the canter depart or while cantering
    • all in all, none of the above are so very fun to ride (a balanced horse with lightness and an available mind is a great deal more fun)
  • A related safety issue is that your horse is already unbalanced in your direction
    • when things speed up, there is a high risk he will get pushy or even run over you
    • when things speed up and you give him some space to lunge, he will likely feel like he is coming towards you with his shoulder
    • obviously, this increases the risk significantly, and can certainly take the fun out of being around your horse.

For this reason we introduce a way to love your horse, while supporting:

  • Your horse's ability to engage his mind and tune into you, from a deeper connection within
  • Practicing a posture that makes it easy for him to be still and attentive when asked
  • Releasing his shoulder to be light on your side, for a light front-end and light turns under saddle
  • Balance shoulder posture, leading to a more balanced ride

Check out this video to see how Rebecca's Rocky Mountain mare Splendor went from crowding her or wandering off to tuned in and feeling back to her in their connection. See if you can spot the moments where Splendor experiments with her body in the light of this new experience, as she accommodates it all "inside" - finding her own lightness.  Did you spot when she offered her head all the way around to me - there is the spot where a little TLC could easily be offered :)  

Be sure to watch until the end when the connection that shapes up between Splendor and Rebecca turns gold. Love it.


This was at a "Refine your Feel" group coaching clinic with Karen Musson of The Art of Riding in Dayton, MN. Karen is committed to de-mystifying "Feel" and how to apply it for a light, fun ride. She will help you find that exquisite place you know is in your horse and show you step by step how to work with him right there. 

Bill Dorrance understood how to "get with a horse" by adjusting to that horse through feel. He discovered the master key to it all: release the horse to you in connection with his natural lightness, then with clear intent, offer a feel that has meaning to the horse and clarity about the placement of his feet. Using the Feel of Release, he "felt of" the horse's mind in an ongoing invitation for the horse to "feel back" to him. "Pressure is something we are trying to get away from". Bill knew that pressure impacted natural lightness and an open mind. He worked from the inside of the horse out vs. the outside in, by adjusting to "fit the horse". With gratitude for his teachings (see "True Horsemanship Through Feel" by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond).


"The last trainer who rode him fell and was badly hurt - just so you know."

A great moment here at a one day clinic, towards the end of our riding session.

I fondly remember this dear lady in front telling me (as I put my helmet on to ride her horse...) "He threw the last trainer that rode him and she was hurt pretty badly". Of course she was just feeling a little anxious (that is not one of the best horse owning experiences to have had). Well, if I were afraid of the horse I was about to ride, I'd sort that out before getting on. And if an owner is afraid of me riding their horse, the same thing applies! Marilyn is a great sport, so I took my helmet off and said "If you think that's gonna happen again I'd best not ride! I don't like that plan too much!!" She laughed and her anxiety faded but bubbled up again "well it was awful, she broke her sternum". 

"MARILYN!" I exclaimed and burst out laughing. There was just something SO absurd about me putting a foot in the stirrup while also hearing these words in my ears!

My reality was that I saw a horse who liked Marilyn quite well and was "just trying to get along", as Bill Dorrance might say. That being said, things were a little squirrely between them and Marilyn knew it. She had asked for help with her hands "I just find I have such busy hands, what can I do about that?"

This horse, whose "real" name was something wonderful to do with chocolate, barn name Samson, was unsettled, throwing his head around, and rushing a few strides in one direction then the other in a way that did not look like they were in agreement. The curious thing was, when you watched closely, neither horse nor rider seemed to have any desire to be in disagreement. Marilyn's hands were indeed rather erratic and so was the horse. But why? She had plenty of miles in a saddle and knew she needed to still them. Pretty soon, I realized I couldn't talk fast enough to coach her from the ground at the speed things were changing. 

After riding him a few moments I noticed something funny, or amusing to me anyway. "Hey Marilyn! Look! I have busy hands too!!" and stated the obvious conclusion "it must be your horse!!!" HAHA. The reason was that when you rode to the left he'd pitch to the right slightly, and vice versa, plus he had no real straight in between. It certainly made it easy to find yourself sliding into making constant adjustments with legs and hands. Plenty of scope for B U S Y!  He felt the way he looked with Marilyn though - he had no real plan to be resistant at all.

The real issue was one that causes rough rides and wrecks all over...

In response to a feel on the right rein, he loaded up the right shoulder, tipped the bridge of his nose to the left and thought left. In response to a feel on the left, he loaded up the left shoulder, tipped the nose to the right and thought right. In other words, there was a real mixup about the rider's meaning as well as his own locomotion to produce a smooth turn at all. This is EASY to set up unwittingly when handling the horse on the ground - until you know what to avoid and what to do instead. 

The good news is, this is also fairly easy to fix... in essence, instead of a clenched jaw and a loading of the shoulder in the direction of the intended turn, you need a released jaw and an offer of a hip on that side for things to get back on track. I got this going on Samson, then coached Marilyn to do the same. Then off she rode on her own and it was so FUN to see them really sharing the same plan about where they were going together and things started to look more mellow from there :)

Well, this was meant to be a short post bwahaha, but it just all came flooding back when I saw this picture. It's a story that touched me to the CORE. 

CAN YOU GUYS SEE? With the setup this horse had, as much as he tried to get along, he had a built in response to the feel on a rein that would have him pitch both shoulders if a rider picked up a contact on both reins? And then could appear "resistant" about going forwards (having got in his own way)? And then... if pressured to move forwards, would have little available to him but to liven up in the hips i.e buck? And that this... in fact... would be an accurate response in terms of the Feel from the rider relative to his body at that moment...?    

I was rabbiting on about this to Marilyn as she listened rather intently. My purpose was simply to dispel the myth that this horse had any other plan than to get along, with all the heart in the world. As I finished, Marilyn said "Well that is exactly what happened. The trainer was riding on contact. He wouldn't go forward, no matter how much she asked, so she eventually added a flick of her training whip behind". My heart sank right there, plunged over the cliff.  

The point though... Horses are AMAZING. Just LOOK! at the response in these two DEAR horses after one ride that brought new clarity to their connection under saddle. They are SO ready to dump the misunderstandings and take a fresh start. That's Wendy behind - her story was as touching for totally different reasons, but that is for another time LOL


Clinic - Kingston, IL, nr. Chicago

We had an awesome clinic nr Chicago this past weekend! First: thanks to @Ginger Romano and to Mary and Yvonne at Spirits Whisper Acres rescue for such a smooth running event. Beautiful.

It was Gaited Horse weekend!, with several Missouri Foxtrotter fans, among others, fun fun.

We explored how a few seemingly small changes to how we handle our horses on the ground can be far reaching in the ride we want - while not inadvertently setting up and practicing the one we do not want! We addressed strategies for handling challenges such as spooking, bucking, picking up canter leads, sticky up & down transitions, and the other big one that is so common it tends to be accepted as a "given" but does not need to be... that spot where a horse crowds the handler when his life spirals up on-line, causing the handler to keep moving out of his way for safety, while the horse's attention is elsewhere.


Clinic - Shafer, MN

Love this work! Back from giving a clinic in MN with a most rewarding new group of horses/riders. Thanks to all of you and especially to Jenny Buskey at Amador Acres for a beautifully organized event.

Happy, happy that a simple new visual illustrating why the feel of release opens up a different connection with the horse was helpful, and clarified how this leads to a closer relationship, and increased try. It boils down to this: does the horse find our meaning within our ongoing feel, or in the momentary release of our feel (of pressure) or "marker"? Is the reward an absence of pressure, treat... or the actual ongoing feel between us?


Workshop - Deerfield, OH

Saturday was Gaited Horse Fest! Worked with 2 Rockies and a Walker. Fun! Thank you Amoroso Equestrian Center for being such fabulous hosts.

One Rockie was quite fascinating, apart from his glorious mane lol. An awkward tightness through his neck/back, made him pacey - impacted his ability to travel across diagonal base of support hence more lateral movement. Challenging in a simple backup too, same reason, where he felt rather like a brick wall. He held his breath in any approach around his front-end, and was unable to receive a feel via his tail to release that root of the neck. I adjusted to access him from further away. Released him to a gallop.


Workshop - Granville, OH

Had a blast at the Granville workshop on Saturday. Explored taking groundwork up to the saddle and the connection between the two. 

Super fun to ride two very different horses to show how to put this together - easy to release a turn if the horse's weight is in the right place, and body/diagonals shaped for the maneuver. If a horse 'takes over' it works out better in the long run, if you shape his body, release his feet and jaw so his mind blends with your idea as he comes back vs him ending up where you want, with his mind still elsewhere - correction does not feel good, getting together again through feel does, so leads to a better connection. Keeps things clear too... by avoiding practicing left=right/right=left!


More Articles...

Mark Rashid


"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond


"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance


"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech


“ le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle


"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle