Connected Horsemanship
            at Valkyrie Ranch

Connecting horse and human in
relationship and communication

Articles & Case Studies

Self-Mastery before Horse Mastery

Posted by Lauren on March 2, 2014 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Self-Mastery before Horse Mastery 

                The concept of self-mastery before horse mastery is often a very new concept to riding students, yet it is invaluable to the success of a rider at any level. It is so easy for riders to blame the horse for their short comings; but in the moments of failure the truth cuts deep… the horse is only ever a reflection of his rider. How can a person impatiently expect so much of their horse and then in the same breath demand the horse to be absolutely gracious and tolerant of them. It is absolutely absurd to expect an animal to show a greater degree of responsibility, intelligence, grace & patience then we ourselves possess.  When said so bluntly, again, it cuts deep; it is, however, absolutely necessary for the justice of all horses that we riders begin to realize and practice that truth.

                What exactly do I mean by self-mastery? I mean for you to master your own body, emotions & thoughts to a greater degree than the level you intend to control your horse. If you cannot seem to remember to look where you’re going, open your shoulder and keep your hands quiet how on earth can you expect your horse to maintain a bend, not fall in through the corner and keep from playing with the bit or tossing his head? As I said before it is absurd! To be a successful rider you must have a heightened awareness of your surroundings, your own body and the horses’ body. You must have the capability to remember and put into practice every valuable thing you see, hear, read and learn. You must be able to maintain a zen type mindset which is able to influence the horses mind as well. Emotions aside you must live in the moment, not of what should have been but of what is, while at the same time always thinking towards and preparing for your next movement. You must have absolute clarity of intentions and directions.

 It is almost comical at times to watch someone trying so hard to work on a specific little detail that they don’t even realize they are meandering aimlessly around the arena. I often like to interrupt their concentration to ask them where exactly they are going, to which they respond with a puzzled look, “well, I don’t really know”. Of course we all start there and we go through stages of development just like a child first learning to walk most certainly cannot be expected to walk a perfectly straight line with nothing to hold onto. But like a child we must eventually grow up and develop the automatic muscle memory of walking. As an adult you no longer have to think about each little piece that goes into walking, “Left knee bend, extend forward, shift weight, regain balance, right knee bend, extend forward, shift weight, etc...” Instead you simply decide that you need to go shut the door, make lunch, or whatever and your body just walks. Our adult bodies so often take for granted these automatic muscle memories that eluded us as infants. It is the same for a rider. Though you may be an infant now it is crucial to let go of the couch and take those first few wobbly steps towards maturity.  A successful rider must develop in themselves the appropriate strength and flexibility in their body; it is not fair to ask the horse to carry you when you cannot even carry yourself! Develop and enforce correct posture in and out of the saddle. Grab onto the reins of your nerves and learn to control your emotions instead of allowing your fear or anger control you. Gain coordination through intentional and precise movements (yoga, tai chi and the like are a huge help).

                I am not necessarily saying that you are required to obtain the ultimate degree of self-mastery before being allowed to touch a horse; but again, you must have a greater degree of mastery over yourself then the level of mastery you expect to accomplish with the horse. If you do not yet have mastery over your hands then ride in a bitless bridle on a loose rein. If you do not have control of your seat and the ability to keep yourself from bouncing on your horses back then by golly do something about it! Take lessons on a lungeline, strengthen your abs and legs, relax and stretch your muscles, develop some rhythm, whatever it takes. It is not right to expect the horse to carry you with absolute grace, beauty and integrity, without protest, when the being that he is required to follow is jerking, bouncing, unbalanced, unmotivated, unfocused, unclear, impatient, not confident, etc. And God forbid that the poor horse have enough and injure the obnoxious root of all his discomfort! Oh heavens no, now he is dangerous, crazy, unsafe! He is to be sent to some rough cowboy down the street or the auction if that doesn’t work. Of course no one would ever think that perhaps if that same horse had been handled with a greater degree of justice and skill the outcome would be quite different.  If riders and handlers stopped expecting the horse to “take care of them” when they refuse to make any effort towards taking care of themselves, the number of “unmanageable” horses or even just those with bad habits would significantly diminish.

                In order to achieve self-mastery one must be perfectly and completely honest with themselves. What are your weakest points? How might you overcome them? Often times the solution is found far from the barn; but I guarantee your extra curricular efforts will benefit your horsemanship. By all means continue to spend time with your horse and developing your riding skill, it is a good test of your progress. Continue to work on yourself until you have acquired strength of body, strength of mind and strength of spirit. Do not fool yourself in thinking that you can get there without some blood, sweat and tears. It takes time, hardwork, determination and dedication. The rewards, however, far surpass your effort. If you can achieve self-mastery and a heightened sense and balance of the physical, mental and spiritual you will discover a whole new dimension of horsemanship that you never even knew existed.


Equine Gastric Ulcers

Posted by Lauren on December 1, 2013 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Click on the link for information about Lauren's study on ulcers and her Ulcer Heal Herbal blend:

What every horse owner should have on hand!

Posted by Lauren on November 6, 2013 at 11:20 PM Comments comments (0)

After being called out to help with a clients "semi-emergency" on a Sunday (which, by the way, is my day off) for the second time that month I decided it was neccessary to put together a basic list of natural remedies that every horse owner should have on hand and know how to use. Of course there are real emergencies when we need a vet and of course you should not hesitate to call one if that be the case, however, it is still nice to have something that can help in the mean time...

Horse Owners Natural Remedy Preparedness Kit 

¨      Lavender Essential Oil: Forany kind of trauma, stress or injury. Calming & healing, creates overallsense of well-being.

¨     PeppermintEssential Oil: For respiratory & digestion. Goodfor colic, digestive upset, coughing or other respiratory issues.

¨     ArnicaMontana: A homeopathic remedy that helps kick start thebodies healing response in the event of any trauma, injury or illness.

¨     NuxVumica: A homeopathic remedy, can be used for colic/upsetstomach, also should be given before &/or after any necessary vaccines oranesthesia to help it clear & prevent side effects.

¨     EpsomSalt: Internally used as a detox & laxative, can begiven to help alleviate/prevent colic. Externally used as a poultice or soakfor injuries (sprains, strains, swelling, soreness, etc.). Being a source ofmagnesium it can also help balance minerals in certain horses.

¨     Psyllium: Clearssand out of the digestive system to help alleviate/prevent impaction colic.

¨     TeaTree Oil: Very strong, natural, topical antiseptic to helpprevent infection.

¨     Peppermint Leaf: Given internally as a brewed tea or just the leavesmixed into feed. Supports respiratory & digestive systems. Can alleviatedigestive discomfort/colic.

¨     FennelSeed: Given internally, can be whole seed or powderedform, helps alleviate gas colic & upset stomach.

¨     PainRelief: Cayenne Pepper & Devils Claw (both in powderedform, given internally) have anti-inflammatory & pain relieving properties.

¨     AcupressureChart: You should make sure to always have an acupressurechart available as one of your first lines of defense in the event of anillness or injury. Using acupressure points you can support any/all of the bodysystems that are being affected. Here is a link to a great articles about thebasic of acupressure & a free chart you can print out:

¨     Activated Charcoal: Use internally in the event of poisoning.

Conventional First Aid suggestions to also have on hand…

¨     Antibacterial:Iodine, hydrogen peroxide, nolvasic or the like, for cleaning any open woundsto prevent infection.

¨     Topical Wound Care: Includes dressing/ointment, cotton rolls& bandages.

¨     PainRelief: Aspirin, Banamine or Bute; always nice to haveavailable in severe situations & emergencies. Use as directed by aveterinarian.

¨     Liniment: Used topically for stiff, sore, achy or injured muscles.

¨     Extra things to have around: Buckets, palatable feed to mix with medicine/herbs, clean rags, an oral syringe, polo wraps, twine or rope, all emergency contacts & phone numbers.


What Is Rein Contact? by Ross Jacobs

Posted by Lauren on August 27, 2013 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

What Is Rein Contact? by Ross Jacobs

The question of what is contact gets argued on dressage forums all over the world. Amateur and professionals have different opinions. Even many of the gurus of dressage can’t agree. With that in mind there is no chance that what I am going to say is going to sit well with everybody.

I think in order to understand what contact is you have to understand what is its purpose. Why do we want to have contact? If you can understand the purpose of it, you will be able to know when you have it or not by how your horse responds. If you have correct contact you will get the result you want (or closer to them). So here is my take on what is the point of contact in training and riding.

Contact is a line of communication between the rider/handler and the horse. You can have contact in the saddle and on the ground. You can have contact through your seat, your legs, your hands, your voice, your whip etc. All these open a line of communication whereby you can convey your intent to a horse. Contact is nothing more than communicating to a horse.

The appropriate contact is never constant. It is always changing. It needs to change because the availability of a horse’s mind to listen to the contact is always changing due to his changing focus. The contact a rider might need to convey a meaning to a horse may have to change in a moment-to-moment fashion in order for the horse to get the message. The amount of feel you might need to apply to the reins or seat will change many times during a ride. It’s no different to be a teacher in a classroom. Sometimes the teacher can speak softly if the students are listening and other time he will have to shout in order to be heard.

Now that we know what is the purpose of contact, we can then define it. When riders and coaches talk about contact they are almost always referring to the feel on the reins. So for the purposes of this discussion I will confine my thoughts to how a rider might use the reins to achieve contact.

I want you to look at the photos and think about what they all have in common. It might surprise you if I tell you that they all have the same contact! This is why.

“Contact is the minimum amount of feel on the reins required to evoke a change in a horse.”

I refer here to contact as being correct contact and by change I mean a change in a horse’s thought (which is the only change worth having).

So if you look at the pics again you’ll see each rider is using different rein pressure, yet each has the correct contact because that’s how much rein pressure is required to get a change in each horse. So they all have the same contact because they all have the minimum amount of feel on the reins to achieve a change in their horses.

In the world of dressage horses are taught to “seek” the contact. In other words they are trained to push into the reins. In some horses it is a simple holding of the bit at the end of the outstretched rein. In other horses it is a bearing down onto the bit – a leaning into the reins. It will differ a little from trainer to trainer. But what dressage people almost universally criticize is to ride a horse on a rein with slack in it. It is widely considered to be incorrect because they think that slack in the rein means no contact and no control.

But let’s again look at the purpose of contact. It is a means of communicating a rider’s intent to a horse and the correct contact is the MINIMUM amount of rein pressure needed to evoke a change in a horse. So if riding a horse with a rein that is not taut can achieve both these criteria, then the rider must be using the correct contact. In fact, I would argue that to ride such a horse with more rein pressure than that is incorrect contact.

The purpose of riding – any sort of riding – is to achieve as close a unity with a horse as possible. To me, this means that the means of communication we use to talk to our horse should be quieter as we approach that unity. The more advanced a horse becomes the more subtle our aids and the less pressure we need to transmit our intent. It would seem that the ultimate goal of every rider would be to have a horse that can be directed by the smallest change and the least amount of pressure. It just seems logical therefore that a horse that can be ridden correctly with slack in the reins is more advanced than a horse that requires anything more than that in order to be correct.

But I want to emphasize the importance of being ridden CORRECTLY. Correctness is key here. I would not want to sacrifice the correctness just so I can say my horse does canter pirouette on a loose rein if it is a poor canter pirouette. If taking a stronger feel on the reins would help my horse find a better quality canter pirouette, then I would. There is nothing to be gained by letting a horse flounder in mediocrity so you can ride on a loose rein. This is one reason why I don’t like most of the liberty riding that I see. Most horses ridden at liberty perform very poorly and correctness is forgotten just for the sake of showing that the horse can be ridden without a bridle. To me, that has no merit. And I say the same thing about contact. There is no merit in riding a horse with hardly any rein pressure if he needs more rein pressure in order to help him be correct.

Contact is not one thing. Contact is the minimum amount of rein pressure a rider needs to evoke a change in a horse. On some horses that might be 10kg and on others is might be the weight of a carbon atom. Both are correct for those horses. But to ride a horse with a stronger feel on the reins than is needed is incorrect use of contact. Likewise, too little feel on the reins to help a horse change his thought is also incorrect use of contact.

I think to argue that a horse that can be ridden correctly with slack in the reins is either evading the bit or falling behind the bit is to forget the purpose of contact. I believe once you appreciate what is contact and why it is needed, that idea seems backward and counter to what our ultimate goal should be in riding. I believe it comes from a reading of the books and not a reading of the horse.

Dressage for the Horse

Posted by Lauren on November 18, 2012 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Dressage for the Horse

            When many people hear the word “dressage” an image of sleek, prancing warmbloods in the Olympics often comes to their minds. There is a misconceived notion that if one wants to participate in the discipline of dressage you need the right kind of horse that has the right breeding and the natural talent for the movements;of course don’t forget all the expensive equipment, tack, outfits, lessons, show premiums and barns that go along with “dressage”. In this limited view the true art and essence of dressage has been lost. In order to fully understand the intentions and purpose of dressage we must look back to its origins. It began with the ancient Greeks training their war horses skillfully and precisely. From this we get the famous work of Xenophon, The Art of Horsemanship, which is the oldest known text related to horse training that we have available today.  This war horse training program evolved throughout Europe which led to the work of the masters such as Newcastle, Pluvinel and Gueriniere and the founding of the great classical riding schools. In all of this the training methods, as they stretched and grew, remained ever true because it was understood that the work of dressage was never a means unto itself. The purpose of dressage was to bring the best out of any horse. A human athlete needs a balanced and intentional work out plan that includes things such as strength training, stretching for flexibility, cardio, etc. in order for their body to be in the best shape possible to avoid injury and participate in their sport. This is the intention of dressage, to create a willing, supple, strong, balanced, collected,obedient, responsive horse.


   Most horse people have become accustomed to the fact that horses are one sided; just like humans are right handed or left handed. Many riders, however, tend to accept this and do their best to just live with it. But you don’t have to work around it; there is something you can do about it! The gymnastics exercises of classical dressage make up a straightness training fitness program to balance your horse both lateral as well as create collection. A horse’s one sidedness means that they are typically in a permanent state of bend to one side. The result is that the muscles on one side of the spine stay stretched while the muscles running down the opposite side of the spine stay contracted. This crookedness means that one hind leg is working harder than the other and the same is true in the front legs, it means that maintaining a bend and circling to one side will be easier than doing the same to the other, one lead will be easier to pick up, and so on. This crookedness leads to many problems both in performance and health.

   But what defines straightness? Is it just walking a line next to a straight fence or is there something more to it? The term ‘straightness on a circle’ comes to mind and it is really not as confusing as it may at first sound. An absolutely straight & balanced horse will be able to be just that…straight through the body. This means that the horse is moving on only two tracks, if the front feet were to draw a straight line exactly where they stepped then the hind legs would also step on those same two lines.

There are a couple ofdifferent ways that you can check this but I will give you two that should be fairly simple for even an untrained eye. The first is to have someone walk the horse as straight as they possibly can directly away from you. Make a mental note of where the left front foot stepped, now where did the left hind footstep? Was it on the same line as the front or was it off a little to either side? Now watch the right front step, where did the hoof print of the right hind end up in comparison to the hoof print of the right front? Was it off a little to the left or right? Or was it directly, perfectly straight on the line? The second exercise you can do (although this one is may be little more subjective if you as a handler do not execute it correctly) is to have your horse back up several steps (at least 10 or 20). Make sure that there are no fences, distractions or obstacles anywhere close to him on either side. Was he able to back in a perfectly straight line? Make sure that you do not muddy the results by inadvertently pressing more to one side or the other. Do this a couple of times and as the handler also try switching to either side of the horse just to make sure that you are not pushing him to one side. Is it difficult or impossible for the horse to back a perfectly straight line? Does he consistently curve to one side or the other? If he tends to curve towards the right as he is backing then the left leg is taking longer steps then the right leg and vice versa. Don’t be surprised; I can guarantee you that all horses are naturally going to be crooked to some degree or another. Now getting back to our ‘straightness on a circle’ concept, the idea is that the horse that is straight should be able to lunge or ride a circle while keeping their foot falls on only two tracks. In this case the topline and spine of the horse is bent to the degree of the circle, but the horse is still able to maintain its straightness bystepping on only two tracks. If the horse is circling to the right then the right front and right hind should both fall on the same inside track. The left front and the left hind should both fall on the outside track. The horse’s feet on one side are both stepping straight onto the same line that line just happens to be going around a circle. There you have it…straightness on a circle. The circle is an often undervalued movement in riding but for many horses and riders it is the most difficult part of the test. A correct and balanced circle is the foundation and glue of a straightness training program. The horse’s inside hind should step directly in line with the inside front, in this case it should not be crossing over the outside hind as many horses do. The horses should also maintain absolute integrity in their bend; it should be through the entire body nose to tail. The horse should be engaging and pushing with both hind and should not fall onto that inside shoulder. If a horse cannot maintaina symmetrical, consistent circle of a specific size (not spiraling in or out) then the horse is not straight and balanced. There is no better example of the saying“the proof is in the pudding” then testing the straightness, balance and coordination of a horse by assessing the quality and consistency of their circle.

Now that we have defined straightness and established some tests and criteria for it, what do you do about it? By following the principles of classical dressage and incorporating the gymnastics exercises into your horses routine you will work to stretch the muscles on the one side of the spine that prefer to contract and to contract and strengthen the muscles on the other side of the spine that prefer to stretch. You will also work to strengthen the weaker of the hind legs and teach the hind legs to engage under the center of balance and put forth equal effort. Exercises such as circles (only precise and correct ones count),shoulder in, haunches in, haunches out and half pass will work to this end.

The benefits of straightness training far out way the work put into it. A horse that moves balanced and straight will develop even muscle tone, be able to carry the weight of a rider more efficiently, will have a decreased risk of injury as well as avoiding many other health and chiropractic problems, increased longevity, and will exhibit far more athletic ability than they may have at first naturally appeared to possess. In most cases the straightness training has better results and moves along quicker if the old muscle patterns and imbalances are changed by a holistic practitioner, craniosacral therapist,chiropractor, massage therapist, TTouch, and/or acupuncture (just to list a few).  A whole horse approach to care and training is the most important aspect to keeping a healthy horse and athlete.The combined effects of straightness training and holistic care and healing can often turn troubled or ordinary horses into extraordinary animals whether they are being used just for fun, for work or for performance.


            In straightness training the gymnastics exercises are used to help balance the work load equally between the hind legs. Once the horse is straight and balanced laterally the next step is increased collection and carriage which means to be ever asking the horse to put more and more weight on the hind end, to step the hind legs further under the center of weight, to engage the abs, lift the back,and lighten the front. The gymnastics exercises are continued, sometimes to a greater degree, all of which ask for more work from one hind leg, then you can progress to the piaffe which asks for greater engagement from both hind legs simultaneously.The fruition of all this work is manifest in the levade which is asking the horse to gracefully put all of their weight onto their two hind legs. There is far more to do with collection then what we have time to cover in this short article so I have only mentioned a few basic concepts; do know though that what was covered in the couple of sentences before this does not intend to give you a full view of all the nuances of collection or the bigger picture. The important thing is to recognize and understand the biomechanics, anatomy and movement of the structure that makes up the front legs and the structure that makes up the hind legs. The horse in the wild is more than happy to allow the front legs to do more than their fair share of weight bearing, but for the purpose of riding, caring weight, performing, etc. the hind legs are far better suited for the job. The hind leg, when used correctly, is anatomically designed like a loaded spring, full of force, strength and power. A horse that understands the need to carry the majority of their own and the rider’s weight on the hind end will be sounder, balanced, healthier, at less chance of injury, stronger, more athletic and more physically capable as a result of the shift in how they move and carry weight.

For the Horse

            A horse that is straight, balanced and collected is better suited, more capable and happier doing any job asked of it whether its owner prefers to walk down the trail, work a ranch or win high point. A horse that is healthy, happy, strong and able to do the work asked of it will have a better quality of life overall.

            Dressage was never meant to be about finding the perfect prospect that will win the blue ribbons; it was never intended to be a means unto itself. The purpose of classical dressage was always for the betterment of the individual horse. The discipline you want to do, the breeding and talents of your horse, you or your horses past experience are all somewhat irrelevant when it comes to whether or not you and your horse can and should incorporate dressage into your training. Whatever your purpose, goals, or discipline classical dressage will transform your horse into something better then you ever imagined it could be. It is not a matter of if your horse is suitable for dressage but of understanding that ultimately dressage is for the horse.