My name is Lindsey. I began my horse journey at five years old with a sweet horse named Shadow, a spirited but steady bay Arabian-Quarter Horse gelding. I never have stayed away from horses for too long, between the show ring, trail rides, and training. I’ve worked with a variety of horses over the years, yet still value the practice of learning. Read this blog to find Horse care and..
Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Pam, a dear equestrian blogger friend who has admirable passion and wisdom when it comes to wellness for both horse and rider. Pam and I are doing a blog swap around the topic of Stress & Gastric Ulcers in Horses. To check out my guest post on her site, Horse and Human Wellness Project, click HERE.
Living with Gastric Ulcers in Horses
My pony, Stella, is prone to ulcers. We have treated her for gastric ulcers three times in the five years she’s been with us. Ulcers are extremely painful for horses, and until you see the results of an ulcer for yourself, it may be difficult for you to understand how important it is to avoid their development at all costs.
A few years ago I had barely even heard of the idea of gastric ulcers in horses. If you’d have asked me back then how often ulcers occurred in horses I likely would have answered “I’ve never seen a horse with ulcers”. I had no idea how prevalent they were – the statistics are staggering.
“Gastric ulcers are common in horses. Their prevalence has been estimated to be from 50% to 90% depending on populations surveyed and type of athletic activity horses are engaged in.”
The number seems to be highest in race horses in training (90%), and a little lower in endurance horses and show horses (70% and 60% respectively).
Overall, about one in three horses has ulcers. One in three. To me, this is a horrible statistic, especially since I’ve witnessed the devastating effects of gastric ulcers first hand.
What Causes Gastric Ulcers in Horses?
“Typical” feeding routines: Horses are designed to eat small meals very frequently, and to be grazing or foraging almost constantly. Many if not most horse owners prefer to feed horses two or three times a day, leaving their stomachs empty for hours at a time. This works against the very design of the horse’s stomach, which produces acid twenty-four hours a day. With nothing in the stomach to buffer that acid, gastric ulcers can easily occur.
Stall confinement: It is imperative to a horse’s physical and emotional well-being that they are allowed frequent turnout, constant grazing and foraging, and access to other horses. Being confined to a stall for more than a few hours at a time means that these requirements are not being fulfilled and the risk of ulcers increases.
Transport stress: It is obvious to any horse person that trailering is one of the most unnatural situations in which we put our horses. Being confined to a small space with limited ability to move is enough to cause stress even in humans. In horses, it has been found that gastric ulcers can occur in as little as a few hours when being transported.
NSAIDs: The use of anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute block the production of the chemical in the stomach that decreases acid production. This increases the likelihood of gastric ulcers.
Changes in routine: This is true especially of changes in herd structure (ie losing a pasture buddy, introduction of a new horse to the herd, change in herd hierarchy, etc), but also includes things like moving to a new stable, going to a horse show, or even an increase in training intensity. All of these things cause stress for a horse, leading to an increased production of stomach acid.
Pam’s horse, Stella, in her pasture.
How can you tell if your horse has an ulcer?
Sometimes the signs are obvious. Other times, unless you know your horse very, very well, you might miss them altogether. Oftentimes the severe pain of ulcers can cause horses to behave in extreme ways, leading owners and trainers to think the horse is being “naughty”, and is in need of re-training or, worse, punishment.
Any time your horse shows uncharacteristic “naughty” behaviour, I urge you to first assume that pain is the issue. Harsh re-schooling programs, or any kind of punishment of a horse in pain is, in my opinion, tantamount to abuse.
When Stella’s having a ulcer occurrence, we normally see the following symptoms:
increased irritability or crankiness with both humans and her herd-mates
not wanting to be touched, groomed, have blankets changed, or be fussed with in any way
increased spookiness; being on “high alert” all the time
soft or even runny stools
her coat becomes dull, especially on her neck and chest area
increased rolling, often followed by rearing (the only time this mare ever rears for any reason, either under saddle or on her own, is when she has an ulcer. It is a tell-tale sign for her)
When touched in the girth area, especially on her left side, she will try to bite you. Again, for her, this is a tell-tale sign. This is the only time this sweet pony would ever offer to bite.
Other symptoms of ulcers can include poor appetite, grinding of the teeth, resistance to training, weight loss, reluctance to finish their grain, and poor body condition. It is interesting to note that none of these last symptoms have ever been seen in Stella. This could be partly due to the fact that she does not eat grain, but it just goes to show that the typical picture of the “skinny” ulcer horse is not always an accurate one. Stella has never lost weight during any of her three battles with ulcers.
The only definitive way to positively diagnose gastric ulcers is through gastric endoscopy (commonly referred to as “scoping”). Because most vets do not have access to the equipment required for scoping, and due to the stress caused by having to travel hours to the nearest facility (which, in itself, could cause an ulcer or worsen the current condition), some vets (including mine) will forego this option.
If relatively certain through examination that ulcers are the culprit, they may begin treatment for ulcers without scoping. This is what we have done with Stella all three times – and each time, the symptoms disappeared with treatment, confirming our suspicions.
How can we treat ulcers?
First off – if you suspect an ulcer, call your vet immediately. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no “natural” treatment for ulcers. This is a very painful and potentially dangerous situation, and it must be addressed by a veterinarian as quickly and effectively as possible. This is not the time for trial-and-error or a wait-and-see approach.
We treated each of Stella’s three ulcer outbreaks with GastroGard, which is a brand name for the proton pump inhibitor omeprazole. There are other recognized treatments such as ranitidine and cimetidine, which are histamine type-2 receptor antagonists, and some people claim to have found relief for their horses with sucralfate (although studies have not conclusively shown that sucralfate is particularly useful in healing gastric ulcers in horses).
No matter which treatment you choose, please be sure to follow your vet’s instructions to a T, especially when it comes to length of treatment, and weaning off the medication. Coming off omeprazole takes a long time, and painful rebound effects will be your horse’s punishment for your not having followed the correct weaning protocol.
Stella is prone to ulcers. Pam sees to caring for her holistically in her care, riding, and training.
Prevention is the Best Cure
Having dealt with the devastating effects of gastric ulcers, I am a firm believer in doing everything humanly possible to prevent them from happening in the first place. For Stella, this meant first, changing everything about her current lifestyle, and second, putting some protocols in place to keep the ulcers at bay.
Because one of the most common causes of ulcers is a faulty feeding routine, our first change involved Stella’s hay routine. From the day she was diagnosed, we have followed one simple but non-negotiable rule: free choice hay 24/7. Luckily for us, Stella’s not one to gorge herself on hay. We noticed that she didn’t really eat any more hay once she had constant access to it than she did before. But having it available at all times takes away the stress of wondering where her next meal is coming from, along with providing a fairly constant buffer from stomach acids.
The next change we made for Stella was to move her out of the busy training/lesson barn where I was boarding her, to a friend’s breeding farm, where the horses lived out as a herd in lovely big fields with access to cozy shelters. Stella began to thrive in this environment, so when we bought our own farm and built our own barn and paddocks, we made sure to keep to the same set-up. All of our horses have constant access to the paddocks, and can always make a choice between being indoors or out.
I also made a big change to Stella’s training routine. We now keep our work as stress-free and low-key as possible. This means fewer trips off the property to shows and clinics, shorter training sessions and more days off. This year, instead of heading off to shows or trailering out for lessons, I’ll be exploring the world of online dressage competitions, and video-lessons with my coach.
Perhaps the biggest change to my training structure has been the idea of introducing “low-stress” training options into our routine. For some help with this idea, I reached out Lindsey Rains at Alta Mira Horsemanship. Lindsey’s ideas about horses and training mesh very closely with mine, and I often find myself looking to her blog for insight and guidance with my own horses.
Lindsey always keeps the horse’s care and comfort top of mind, so it only made sense that she would be a great resource for figuring out just the right kind of stress-lowering training exercises for an ulcer-prone horse. As usual, she did not disappoint! You can check out her guest post on Horse and Human Wellness project HERE.
Pam Levy is an equestrian blogger and the creator of The Horse and Human Wellness Project, a blog that chronicles her quest to create a stronger connection with her horses. Pam has been riding since she was seven, and in love with horses for as long as she can remember. These days, she’s living her dream on the small farm she owns with her husband in rural Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast. Their herd includes three horses (Sunny, Stella and Q) and two cats (Jack and Arthur). Visit The Horse and Human Wellness Project blog or Facebook page.
Boundaries, in my opinion, are such an underrated thing. They can take on a negative connotation because they imply confrontation at times, which can be uncomfortable. Most people confuse boundaries with abuse or mean-spirited behavior. But boundaries, with humans or with horses, carry a magic to them, a magic that I didn’t discover until my late twenties.
I had to learn the hard way that we teach people how to treat us. If we want them to be kind to us, we have to teach them that we are not okay with rude comments. If we want them to respect our privacy, we have to show them where our personal space begins. And if we want them to love us, we have to be vulnerable enough to show them how we receive love. We cultivate our relationships based on the communication of those boundaries. When we show what we are and are not okay with, we’ve drawn out a sacred space where a relationship can move in and make itself a home. When I finally started getting the hang of boundaries in my life, toxic relationships faded quickly, and more wholesome relationships started to blossom.
And really, horses are no different. Sure, they cannot consider our human-equine partnership at the level that we can. But they do understand and desire leadership, belonging, and safety. Believe it or not, boundaries are what catalyze all these things. When we exemplify leadership through boundaries with our horses, we allow them to blossom into the best horse they possibly can be.
The lack of boundaries, on the other hand, can cause an otherwise talented and kind horse to become dangerous. Without boundaries, your hose could become a liability, a problem, or a project.
Eliminating confusion in your horse. This will make them less tense and fearful, and less likely to spook or react in a bottled up tantrum.
Establishing your Leadership. This will lead to happier rides for your horse and safer rides for you, especially in new situations. While they may not know what to do in a new situation, they will still look to you for guidance.
When we work with our horses, we don’t want them to be in trouble. We don’t want them to misbehave or overreact or spook. But in order to bring forth an even-tempered horse in our training, we need to implement boundaries consistently in the smallest things. For example, if I let my horse rush ahead of me when coming out of the stall, will he listen to me when I ask him to stop on the trail? Horses, when allowed to practice bad habits, will persist their bad behavior, and often escalate to worse behavior.
What we don’t often think about in handling is how our horse suffers for our lack of boundaries. Most domesticated horses are bred to be submissive. With the herd mentality in mind, the more submissive horses are expecting to be led by the dominant horse. In the dynamic between you and your horse, you are the dominant leader.
By not stepping up into your leadership role, you risk making your horse feel like he/she needs to step up on your place. For most domesticated horses, this produces fear, because they don’t necessarily want to lead. This is why a “misbehaved” horse might be more prone to spooking. Their bad behavior is rooted in fear. To make matters worse, when we don’t implement small boundaries, we will overcompensate when our horses escalate their behavior. This only produces more confusion, tension, and fear in our horses around being handled. The combination of all these factors ultimately create a dangerous horse.
If you are just learning about boundaries for the first time, do not worry. The amazing thing about boundaries is that they start to take effect immediately. Follow these simple steps to start transforming your partnership with your horse from hazardous to healthy.
How to Implement Healthy Boundaries with Your Horse:
Don’t Allow Bad Habits to Form or Persist: I know we all struggle with this one from time to time, we need to draw a line with bad habits in our horses: habits like stomping their feet, anxious movement at the mounting block, biting, kicking, rushing past you when walking, or ignoring your aids. Stop them as soon as you see this behavior, and use the Pressure and Release Method to reinforce a better one.
Be Consistent: When your horse knows exactly what is expected of him/her, he/she will more willingly trust your leadership and be at peace. Not knowing how you’ll react to a given situation can cause confusion. A confused horse will more often be tense, fearful, flighty, or aggressive.
Be the Leader: This is hard for us meeker personality types. Horses are big animals, and we don’t necessarily want to piss them off. But by not reminding them that you’re the leader in smaller struggles will almost always lead to a bigger dominance struggle. If you allow this to escalate, you could end up in a new and scary situation on the back of a horse that won’t listen to your direction.
Reward Positive Change: When teaching your horse which behaviors are not okay, it is equally important to show them the behaviors that you favor. Simple rewards include a pat on their neck, soothing touch or tone of voice, or providing them a break from their task. This will reinforce their training more effectively, and possibly cut down training time altogether.
I thought that exercising boundaries would kill me when I started to practice them. With horses and humans, I thought that no one would want to be around me when I wasn’t agreeable. But what I found instead was that boundaries provide the other half of a partnership a means to relate to you and trust you. If you are consistent with what behavior you will allow, your horse will respond generously–trust me.
Boundaries are not complicated at all, but they can be hard. Just keep in mind the positive behavior that you want from your horse. You will then be able to respond to that behavior while it’s still in its simplest form. When you reward the baby steps towards progress, your horse will be encouraged and learn more quickly. This create a safer handling and riding experience for you. But more importantly, it will set your horse’s mind at ease, knowing that he’s not the one that has to call the shots. And remember, always, that your horse is not against you, he’s just waiting for you to be the leader. Do so with kindness, and you’ll have a loyal horse forever.
What comes to mind when you think of boundaries? Have you found them useful in your life, either with people or horses? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weight loss is a sensitive topic that most of us equestrian women want to know more about but are often embarrassed to talk openly about because of the struggles we face. Today, I want to share my journey with you out of overeating and my top weight loss tips after losing 50 lbs and keeping it off.
So let’s get this out of the way: I love food. Food is fantastic in that it nourishes our life on a daily basis and has incredible healing, strengthening, and energizing properties. Most of my Instagram feed is filled with people who are really creative with how they pair food in inspiringly healthy ways.
I love food, but I’ve spent most of my life depending on it. And I don’t mean physically for sustenance and nourishment, as mentioned above. I spent years of my life relying on food to regulate my moods, make me feel secure, and deal with stress and heartbreak.
So, as you can imagine, I have spent many years being heavier than I should have been. When I was young, my binge-eating was easier to hide. I could put away twelve tacos, chips, and ice cream in a day (plus breakfast and dinner) without anyone really noticing, because I was extremely active. I typically played two to four sports regularly, in addition to swimming several times a week.
Struggling with deep depression and searching for meaning in my life, I kept myself numb enough to function by feeding my brain more fats, more sugars, and more carbs.
When I think about how I used to relate to food, I feel sad for the girl that was going through a hard time and couldn’t see her way out. But the reality of any eating disorder is that it happens in a difficult time in our life as a crutch to keep us from dealing with the chaos around us or the pain inside of us. If we use this crutch for long enough, it becomes part of our identity. I’d always felt ashamed about being bigger than other girls my age. But, I needed food to keep me from being sad all the time more than I needed a good body image.
Finally in my twenties, I started to face all of the pain I was afraid to deal with. I didn’t want to see the self-hatred, the betrayal, or the loss that I had experienced. But little by little, I started to feel the experiences, look at them, and move forward. I had the help of a therapist for a while, pastoral counsel at another point, horses through the worst of it, and new, healthy relationships at last.
As I started to separate my personal identity from the heartache that had formerly defined me, I began to see myself as a healthy and whole person. The picture wasn’t complete at first, but I saw glimmers of who I could be, and I walked towards that girl until the picture became clearer. Looking back at how broken I was to where I am now, I know that God is real and He cares.
As I started to deal with the realities of my life, my mentality towards food started to change, too.
Two short years ago, I married the love of my life and am happy to say he is also my best friend. Well, my best friend happens to be insanely healthy. During our first year of marriage, I lost thirty pounds alone by just mimicking his behavior with food some of the time. During the second year of marriage, we started to get serious about diet and exercise being a part of our life, and I lost another twenty pounds.
The process was gradual and never too difficult. I missed the mark all the time (and still do!) in regards to ideal eating habits. However my eating habits, by continually setting higher goals, have been completely transformed. By adding some exercise to the routine, I started to feel more confident and protective of the body that was working so hard to keep healthy.
Me in 2015 vs. 2018
More recently, I wanted to learn more about how I could make my body stronger and get to a new level of health. I joined the beta group of a program called The Equestrian’s Edge, that specifically helped me focus on how to exercise in a way that benefit me as a woman and equestrian. That journey boosted my confidence exponentially, because I saw my body starting to take shape in ways I never thought possible.
So, why am I sharing all of this? Because I hope it encourages some equestrians who may be struggling with either food addiction or just feeling discouraged about starting their health journey. This is not advice for someone who wants to lose weight fast or be bikini-ready for next summer. But if you want a healthier relationship with food, your body, and your self-confidence, you’re in good company.
Practical Guidelines for Transformative Weight Loss
Personally, my weight loss journey had to be manageable and involve healthier eating habits, routine exercise, and mentality shifts. Please remember that I have 0.00 medical training, so please consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise routine. But if you identify at all with my story, these transformation tips may be a good place to start:
Pay Attention to Portions:
Counting calories at first isn’t bad if it helps you identify portion sizes of food and how many should be eaten in a day. Calories will be different for everyone, but the standard is under 2,000 per day. Some will go lower, depending on their goals. For me, 1,500 calories a day at first helped me understand portions in a day that would help me lose weight. But the really, really important thing to focus on, calories or not, is to eat slowly and stop when you’re full. You’ll have to adjust to a new “full” sensation, because it’s not the “roll me outta here” full anymore. The healthy full is when you feel just satisfied.
Balance Your Macros:
Macros can be a scary word for someone entering the health world, but they’re actually your best friend. Basically, your body needs proteins, carbs, and fats to function. (For example: did you know that some vitamins and minerals can only be absorbed when fats are present? That’s why apples and nut butter are a great combo: the fats in the nut butter help absorb the Vitamin A!). Because your body needs carbs, fats, and proteins to function, focus on getting all three in a meal (focusing on healthy carbs and fats–for example sweet potato or avocado), and you will not only remain full longer, but also be fueling your body in the way it was intended to function. Anything we can do to help our bodies function naturally is a win, right?
Check In With Yourself:
This one has been the longest process but has provided the deepest transformation when rewiring my emotional eating. I kid you not, I left a Starbucks parking lot crying one day because I realized that all I was there to do was buy pastries so that I wouldn’t be sad for a few hours. Checking in with yourself will help you understand when you’re eating to elevate your mood, alleviate stress, or to actually satisfy hunger and nourish your body. Make this a habit by maybe setting your alarm 5 times in a day to ask yourself how you’re doing & why. Or, when you run to the fridge or pantry unexpectedly, ask yourself: “Do I need to talk with someone, journal, or have a good cry? Or do I actually need to eat?”
Move a Little:
Did you know that your body is healthiest when you’re pushing it physically? Physical activity releases endorphins (that affect your mood & mindset), boosts metabolism, and makes you physically stronger to help you live longer. My suggestion: start small. Maybe this means starting with three walks a week, bike rides, hikes, or longer riding sessions. Do something that makes your body feel good afterward. The key to prolonged physical activity is combining cardio activity with strength training. Our bodies need both for optimal health.
Don’t roll your eyes at me! At first, I had to force myself to drink water. What I have found to be most helpful is to start with a glass at the beginning of the day when I first wake up, because it makes me think about drinking water the rest of the day. You can also incorporate fun things to flavor it, like cold-steeping a tea bag throughout the day, or infusing it with strawberries, lemons, or cucumbers to give it a little flavor.
Settle at Your Healthy Body Weight & Type:
Please, please don’t skip this step. The difference between going on a diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle is considering the long-term goals for your body. You want your healthy homeostasis to be right where your body is happiest. Over-eating past this point and starving yourself to be smaller are the two edges of the same destructive sword. So eat healthy, keep moving, drink water, watch your portions, and fall in love with the size and shape that it settles at. In order to continue being healthy, you have to love your healthy body.
Always be Looking to Improve:
I know myself well enough to know that I’ll be looking for a way to slip back into bingeing donuts, chips, and cheeseburgers if I’m not setting new health goals once I’ve achieved my former ones. My mind is always trying to find ways to go back to my old lifestyle, telling me, “You’ve lost the weight, now you can live it up again.” Well, when I was eating everything in sight, I was NOT happy. I was barely surviving. Now, I’m focused on thriving. By continuing to learn about nutrition, I haven’t yet run out of ways to make my daily diet and exercise routine more healthy. So crush your health goals, make them a habit, and keep reaching higher.
Get a Support System:
Living a healthy life can be hard and require sacrifices that can be challenging at first. Having friends to journey with help. Your support system may be a work-out buddy (friend, husband, co-worker) who can go to the gym with you and share healthy eating tips together. It could be a personal trainer or nutritionist, in the case that you feel you’d benefit from one-on-one professional support and guidance. This may be a fitness program that has a broader support group of like-minded people who are taking the same journey.
I was fortunate to find a fitness group that I completely loved when I wanted to take the next step in my fitness journey. The best part? It’s just for equestrians.The Equestrian’s Edgeis a fitness and nutrition program that is geared specifically towards equestrian women who want to be stronger and healthier in horseback riding and every other aspect of life.
While going through the first month of the program, I did a series of videos chronicling my journey through the challenges and victories. This first video is more detail about my health journey upon entering the program and an overview of The Equestrian’s Edge! Check it out below:
Equestrian Wellness: My Fitness Reset Intro - YouTube
To join the waitlist for the launch of The Equestrian’s Edge with Kristin Montero, sign up HERE.
Let’s Journey Together
My heart in sharing all of this with you is to let you know that the journey to your best health is not linear. It will not happen overnight, but it doesn’t need to. Today is never too late to take the next step towards your overall health. Let us make decisions today that will prolong our lives, make us feel happier and healthier, and make us feel stronger riding our horses for hours on end!
What have you done in your health journey to make you a better rider? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at email@example.com
Pressure and release training is something that I only recently found language for, but in practice have found to be effective for years now when working with horses. This article was first featured as a guest post on the Equestrian Blog, Piaffe Style. I am so grateful for that opportunity and for her permission to re-share my article here on Alta Mira Horsemanship. I highly recommend checking out Christa’s blog for training and riding tips!
When it comes to working with horses, we all have our preferences of personality. I think by proxy, some of us are better at training stubborn horses, some better at training sensitive horses. Some of us are better at training thinkers, and others yet are better at training feelers. Some of us can handle more dominant personalities, while others have the right touch to make the most docile horses shine.
As for me, I have always loved the straightforward over-thinkers. I love that they are smart and that they are always telling you what they think is best. The reason I love this personality type is that they are intelligent and always communicating what is on their mind. I never have to really guess too much about their thought process, because they make it plain. Because of this, I can channel their opinionated, contrarian behavior into a challenge that intrigues them enough to keep their attention (for more on this personality type, see my article on How to Challenge the Challenging Horse).
These days, I’ve found myself working with Rose, the complete opposite of my favorite personality type: flighty, elusive, sensitive, and puzzling. When I first started working with her, she had already deeply bonded with her owner. She didn’t really care to connect with me at all. Oy vey.
Rose was difficult with everyone who handled her. Aggressive, spooky, and extremely dominant, she fought anything she didn’t want to do. After observing Rose’s behavior, I came to realize that behind her aggressive dominance was a very sensitive horse that wanted to please her rider to a perfectionist’s degree. Not knowing how to do that, she had resorted to a withdrawn state, not easily allowing handlers to lay down any rules for her. No matter the circumstance, she had gotten to a place where she just would not listen.
Though she was obstinate and fiery, she was incredibly spooky. She reacted in big ways to everything she was afraid of. Between taking off around the arena, barreling into the person leading her, and trying to get away from her handler, she was a mess when she was afraid, because she felt she needed to fend for herself.
What Can You Do With a Horse That Won’t Listen?
In an effort to help make her rideable again, I started spending more relaxed time with her. I tried to understand what made her tick: what she wanted, what she feared, and how she responded to leadership. I made it clear early on that I was not trying to be her friend. Of course, I wanted her to feel she was safe in my care. But first, I wanted her to act in a way that was safe around me.
It was a battle at first. She didn’t get two steps out of her stall without trying to rush past me. So I backed her up, led her back out of her stall again…for her to rush past me again. But I didn’t let her off the hook. I made it such a hassle for her to misbehave and disrespect my leadership, that she just started to give. This is the essence of the Pressure and Release Method: to show the horse that the correct behavior provides them rest. Rose is smart. Though she really wanted to please deep inside her, she didn’t want to give up her autonomy at first. Her dominance had protected her through confusion and maybe even mishandling. But now that she was safe, it was time to let that go.
With a little persistence, and a couple of Join-Up encounters in the arena (a method perfectly aligned with the Pressure and Release Method), her whole demeanor slowly began to soften. Every time I worked with her, I gave her a choice. She could either make her life difficult by misbehaving, or listen and be rewarded. Over the course of the next few months, Rose began to develop a posture of listening, which just increased with each session. Anyone can learn the basics of how to work with a horse who, like Rose, just doesn’t want to listen.
How to Use Pressure & Release Method:
Get Your Emotions Out of the Way
This time with your horse is all about what they are experience in the moment, including their mental process, their physical and psychological state, and their fears. To project the emotions of your bad day or unwarranted frustration will be counter-productive to your horse, because it could issue them negative signals when they are in fact offering you a positive change of behavior. Pay attention so that you do not miss vital moments that will expedite your training process. Consider this a tender, sacred time for you to really see your horse mid-process (for more information, see The Power of Being Present in Our Training).
Choose Ahead of Time the Behaviors You Will Accept
…and the ones you won’t. In order for you to properly train your horse through Pressure and Release, you will need to know the behavior is worthy of reward through Release. You will also need to know the undesired behavior that will cause you to continue the Pressure. You want to focus solely on the outcome you want so that you can recognize even the small stages of it. Be ready to reward even the slightest accomplishment towards that desired outcome, but be clear about the behavior you will no longer accept.
The appropriate time to press your horse is when they are exhibiting the behavior you do not want. You base the type of pressure on the circumstance. If they walk past you or invade your personal space when leading, back them up several steps. Say they rush past you again–back them up until they pay attention. And when they don’t move from a walk to a trot at your command, press on their sides persistently. Keep pressing–add the crop if necessary–until they move up to a trot. Then….
Get your leg off of them immediately, reward them with a pat on their neck and a soothing “Good Horse” with your voice. It is that simple. The idea is to make the correct behavior for your horse the path of least resistance, and any other problematic behavior the hardest to do. The very moment that they give, you release. The release may be putting them back in their stall after they finally figure out your request. Or, it may just be walking a few relaxed laps around the arena. If the concept was difficult for them to grasp, give them a big pat, untack them, and put them away. They will realize in a drastic way just how well they did, and remember it for next time.
Reinforce and Build on Small Steps:
The beauty of the Pressure and Release Method is that you can build on the smallest accomplishment. Be sure to show an obvious release as soon as they offer you the correct behavior. If they seem confused, release when you simply see the first step towards good behavior. Soon, your horse will begin to understand that their attentiveness to their handler directly benefits them.
You will be surprised how quickly your horse progresses, because you’re not just teaching him/her to correct the given behavior or movement. You and your horse are learning to effectively communicate together. Horses respond incredibly to the Pressure and Release Method, because they instinctively want to be at peace. As you get in the habit of Pressure and Release, you will see how much of your training can hinge on this simple and effective mindset.
The Most Difficult Horses Can Rise to the Occasion
Pressure and Release helped Rose, because it gave her a choice. She had the choice to be crazy and pushy, or attentive and responsive; the choice to submit and be safe, or to do things her way and be unprotected. It caused her to consider the dynamic with her handler and to see that humans want her to be safe. Knowing that she was offered rest and protection, her talents rose to the surface.
Now the horse that I felt I was stuck working with has become a delightful horse that I look forward to seeing every week. The fear-driven aggression faded to the background as she began to blossom into an incredibly intelligent, responsive, and attentive horse. As she gave up her autonomy, even the nature of her spooks changed. More often she is looking to her rider for direction in how to respond to the fear.
Every horse is a work in progress. That is the beauty of our task and privilege as equestrians: to grow as riders, and to positively impact the experience of the horses we encounter.
What do you do when you work with a horse that won’t listen? Have you had success with pressure and release, or something else entirely? Drop a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Christmas shopping for the horse lover can be tough. There are some super cute gifts out there for the fun and classy equestrian if you look in the right places. But most gifts that you can easily find in a department store are just plain corny. As a horse lover, most people don’t know what strikes that perfect balance between cute, cool, and totally horse obsessed. Sometimes it’s just plain difficult to find something original for our horsey BFF. But believe me, she does not want another horse calendar.
So what can you get for that equine aficionado of yours for Christmas that will say “chic equestrian” without going all My Little Pony? Here are some of my top picks for the special equestrian in your life. *Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I chose my favorite buys from Etsy shops and will receive a small commission at no extra cost to the buyer to help run this website. See my full disclosure here. Without further ado, here are my top picks this Christmas for your favorite horse lover!
A Gift to Start the Day Right:
Whether your equestrian friend is more sassy, more classy, or just plain sweet, there’s a mug here that she’s bound to love. And, of course, she’ll think of you when she’s sipping on her morning coffee. (Click on the photos to purchase)
All I Care About is My Horse and Like Two People Mug from Wild Lime Gifts
Is there a better feeling for an equestrian than the moment when their most challenging horse becomes the most pleasurable to ride? It is that moment of sweet accomplishment when you and that horse have hit a beautiful harmony after ages of toil, reevaluation, misunderstanding, and finally….connection.
These past few months, I have been working with a horse who is the complete opposite of my favorite equine personality type. I typically prefer the opinionated overthinkers: the horse that wants to learn, yet has his own opinion on everything you do, and wants to anticipate your requests before you even mention them. They are my favorite because, though opinionated, they are always talking to you.
The mare I have been riding recently has not only been the opposite personality type, but she is also very green and unsure about everything. Fiery, sensitive, and elusive, Rose will often bite, kick, or stop when she doesn’t understand.
How Do You Make a Horse Want What You Want?
When we face challenges as riders, we have two choices: we can either make the horse do what we want them to, or we can offer an opportunity to partner with us. The first choice involves a lot of fear tactics, and often at the risk of overlooking potential pain, fear, and confusion they already experience. The second presents the horse with the choice to either work with us and be rewarded, or work against us and experience pressure.
Pressure is something that horses instinctually work to eliminate, which is why release is the ultimate reward to teach them. Release, in any form, is a way to show the horse that they are on the right track, without ever having to escalate to forceful training methods. The idea is to entice them in a positive direction, not look for the wrong behavior and punish it. This Pressure & Release philosophy works with the sensitive and stubborn horses alike, because it makes the ideal outcome their path of least resistance.
Breaking it Down: How to Make Your Horse Attuned to You
1. Find Your Focus: Every rider should know the trajectory of where they want their horse to be. As a lesson groupie, I used to rely on my trainer to tell me what I should expect from my horse. Once I started working on my own, I realized I needed to pre-determine my desired outcome for my horse. Be it behavioral achievements or learning a new movement, all horses thrive when challenged.
2. Be Attuned to Your Horse First: Before you can provide any feedback to your horse, you’ll need to know as much as possible about their world at that current moment. Take note of their mood, any change in behavior, whether they seem relaxed or anxious, and if they could be experiencing any pain. Be aware of what they are communicating to you from the moment you walk into their stall.
3. Create Pressure: Whatever it is that you want to teach your horse, the key is to apply just enough pressure to encourage the behavior, movement, or pattern. The pressure should be appropriate for the situation. If it’s a movement under saddle, this might be leg pressure and seat weight. If it’s a spooky corner in the trail that’s hard for your horse to pass, it could just be making it a hassle for them to back up or turn around. If it’s reaching farther into their back as they move, lean deep into your back pockets and maintain steady contact with their mouth.
4. Then, Release: As soon as your horse takes that first step to accomplishing the desired outcome, release the pressure. Back off of the leg, loosen your body, or release a little of your reins. This will reinforce that the behavior they just performed provides them rest. Knowing this, they will come back to the behavior more quickly next time, because they want to have that experience of rest again sooner.
5. Reinforce Small Steps: The wonderful thing about attunement is that the process itself gets easier as you incorporate it deeper into your training. You’re not only encouraging the good behavior or movement, but also a posture of more quiet and attentive listening.
Troubleshooting Attunement Issues
There are certain things that could inhibit your progress when conditioning your horse for attunement. The most common issues are pain, fear, confusion, and disrespect. After multiple attempts at teaching your horse the next movement or behavior, your horse may still not be responding. But all can be resolved by remaining present with your horse. So ask yourself if there could be any source of pain or fear, whether he fully understands your requests, and if you’ve been to passive in your boundaries recently.
This method of creating a release in our training reinforces both our leadership and trustworthiness in our equine partnership. Instead of forcing your horse to do anything, you’re creating a circumstance where they can continue their behavior and maintain a state of discomfort and annoyance, or they can let you lead them to the next level, where they will restore their restful state. Showing them that your behavior is predictable will reinforce their loyalty and respect for you over time. In essence, you are conditioning them to understand that meeting your requests is the path of greatest reward. Additionally, your horse will come to see that you will always treat them kindly, even if they don’t want to give at first.
Now that Rose has caught on to the pressure-release dynamic, she is so much more willing to offer curiosity instead of fear in new challenges. Her development into a relaxed, sweet, and willing horse is a beautiful thing to behold. The fun part about training our horses is when we get to celebrate those victories together. But more than that, it’s about the memories and report we build with them over time. Given time, consistency, and kindness, your horse will undoubtedly offer their best efforts in return.
Have you tried the pressure-release method? How did it go? If you try this method after reading this post, please let me know how it went at email@example.com!
I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop right now, and I can’t believe that the time has come to write this post. Exactly one year ago, I was getting all of my ducks in a row for the launch of Alta Mira Horsemanship. One year ago today, my first post went live. Between creating content, finding just the right photos, and reading each post over and over again, it felt surreal to launch my own website.
My hopes behind Alta Mira Horsemanship were to share what I have learned about horse and human partnership. I haven’t always known how to listen to horses or communicate effectively to them. When I started to really learn the essential elements of partnership, it completely revolutionized my riding experience and opened up a world of training that had always been a mystery. Many of the articles here are a recapitulation of the curiosities about equine behavior and the learning journey that followed.
The Best Yet: Year One
That being said, there are certain articles from this first year that hold a dear place in my heart. My favorite article from the year is “The Trainer that Changed Everything”. This will probably continue to be my favorite all-time article, because it is the story of the one trainer in all of my riding experience who set me on this path of learning about horse partnership and attuned riding. Abby will actually be blessing us with a guest post later this year, which has me gushing with excitement!
The most popular post from the year was “When Depression Takes Away the Desire to Horseback Ride.” I wrote this article because of all of the fellow horse girls who were sharing on Facebook about depression. I was heartbroken seeing post after post about girls who had even lost their desire to ride. This article was a response to provide encouragement to those going through depression.
After a year of blogging, I am more inspired than ever to continue writing and connecting with the online equestrian community. The following are my top inspirations:
Good Reads: I learned from more seasoned bloggers to read to stay inspired in your content. Recently I’ve started down a path of reading Jean Claude Racinet, after which I’ll be moving on to Philippe Karl. These two are masters in the classical French Dressage Training Method known as Ecole de Legerete. This material has been such rich reading and easily applicable to working with the horses.
Horse Listening: Kathy Farrokhzad – Kathy has been an inspiration to me as a blogger since I began. Out of all the blogs I’ve come across, she is always providing valuable information to her readers and, in my opinion, has created a space for our equestrian blogging niche on the internet. She is the expert that makes things simple for the everyday reader. If that’s not the definition of a good blogger, I don’t know what is.
Partnership Stories: I have met so many people with incredible stories about how their heart-horses came into their lives. Each of these stories have given me such inspiration and encouragement about the impact of horses on our lives. Read about them in A Partnership Like Ours.
Horse Time at the Barn: Even though I don’t own a horse anymore, I am extremely blessed to be able to ride on a regular basis. My dear friend allows me to come work with her horses, Chip and Rose. They are extremely different in personality, background, talent, and conformation. Every week they give me fresh inspiration about the challenges and victories of horse training and riding.
Fellow Equestrian Bloggers: This year I was so blessed to stumble upon an Equestrian Bloggers Facebook Group where I could all connect, collaborate, and support fellow Equestrian Bloggers. I’ve met people from all around the world, and from right down the street!
Proud Moments From the Year
Blogging has a way of opening up a multitude of online opportunity. Right away, I was so glad to be included in Haynet’s Equestrian Blogging Directory, which is an excellent resource for Equestrian Bloggers. I was also honored to be added to FeedSpot’s Top 100 Equestrian Blogs! FeedSpot is a news & media site that allows you to receive new posts directly to your inbox and explore through their Equestrian Blog List.
Better than Accomplishments, What I’ve Learned This Year:
Between learning how to run my own website, figuring out all the social channels, and incorporating my own creativity through graphic design, blogging is always busy and never boring. I’ve loved being able to pour creativity and passion into one place and shape the result.
Through this process, I have learned that comparison is the greatest enemy to creativity. Because creativity takes an incredible amount of vulnerability, to regularly produce something creative takes a lot of courage. The easiest way to discourage yourself is to compare to others. I almost quit several times this year because I saw other bloggers doing much better than I was, and thinking that my blog would never be good enough.
I learned through that comparison game that being unique is something to value, not criticize. Every blogger who you’ve heard about has put tons of work, thought, and heart into their blog. To join that community as myself has given me a greater sense of personal voice. I have a space to bring my perspective and experience to help make the horse world a better place.
It’s All Because Of You
I want to end this anniversary post with a huge thank you to all who have read posts here on Alta Mira Horsemanship and reached out through social media. You have been a continual source of encouragement and motivation. I’m also indebted to my support system: fellow equestrian bloggers, friends, family, and husband. This whole process has been so meaningful because of you.
My hope for the next year is to continue the conversation around best training and riding practices for our horses, horse communication & partnership, and inspiration for the equestrian towards their fullest life. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being part of this conversation.
How do you want to shape the equestrian world? How can we make this world better for our horses and fellow riders? What would you like to see more of from Alta Mira Horsemanship?
Abuse is a big word amongst animal lovers. Many of us have met or rehabilitated animals that have been through some sort of abuse or neglect. But what are we supposed to do when the horse we rescued is so broken that they seem impossible to work with? Furthermore, is it possible that we could perpetuate practices that could lead to abuse without even realizing it? Of course, none of us would outright abuse our animals, but stay with me, because in this article, we will address:
How and why abuse happens
How to identify a horse who has suffered abuse
How to approach their handling and training
Abuse is often considered the opposite of bonding, the opposite of trust, but that’s not always the case. An abusive dynamic happens when you’ve gained the trust of an equine, and then utterly shattered it to the point of them regretting that trust, not just in you, but in all humans.
How and Why Abuse Happens
None of us really want to hear this, but we are all capable of abusing our horse. Be it through poor instruction we have received, high-octane emotions from our personal life spilling over into our barn time, or being inconsistent with how we handle our horse, we are all capable of shattering our horse’s trust and mistreating them, even if for just a moment.
In order to understand the root of abuse, we need to be able to recognize it in ourselves. We need to identify with the problem in a way that doesn’t compound blame or hatred. There are some who don’t care that they mistreat or neglect their horses, and that is simply abhorrent. But the majority of abuse happens due to ignorance and not knowing a better way to deal with horses.
The first way that abuse can happen is when the handler is out of touch or not dealing with his or her own stressors, emotions, or trauma. We have all been here to a certain degree, right? We come to the barn with all the angst from work, stressing about our finances, or heartbroken over a relational fracture. Instead of recognizing and dealing with the emotions themselves, we let them slip out in unhealthy ways at our horse’s expense.
Does this sound familiar?
Now, imagine someone who lives their life that way, and continues to take out all of their angst on their horse. Horrendous in practice, it is usually triggered in a moment when “the horse is being bad.” So they kick him hard on the side, they wail on him with a whip or run him way too hard. Notice that these are all reactions that have deviated from more appropriate reactions.
It is not abusive to make your horse circle when he’s not listening. It is abusive to spin him around you for twenty minutes on end at a near-canter with his body completely tight with fear. It is abusive to beat a horse with any object, or to repetitively yank on their face, withhold food from them, or practice any correction with cruelty. If the pattern continues, the horse begins to associate humans as their predator, not their ally.
How to Identify a Horse Who Has Suffered Abuse
Every horse will tell you about their past abuse in different ways. Some will be incredibly aggressive, others will be skittish. Others yet will be loners, keeping to themselves and not interested in interaction whatsoever. Many horses will be a combination of all of these things depending on the level and length of abuse they experienced.
The basic question to consider is if the horse’s reaction seems appropriate to the situation. Are they much more aggressive than the average horse about personal space? Are they extremely skittish to the human touch? Do they spend time hiding behind other horses and stay away from humans? They may have been abused, and you can find specific issues of trauma based on situations that trigger these reactions even more.
However they tell you about their past harm, the greatest challenge with an abused horse is their memory. All their behavior stems back to the reality of their trauma, because to them it is still imminent. From an instinctual perspective, to forget what happened to them is to set themselves up for harm again. Depending on how significantly they were traumatized, the horse may or may not be able to differentiate the difference between a trustworthy human and an untrustworthy one.
You may have read the story of Karen & Isaac in A Partnership Like Ours. In Isaac’s case, he had been so thoroughly abused that all humans were awful. Though Karen is now working one by one through his individual fears from his past, his overarching fear was about humans, not situations or objects.
Seeing humans as the predator, the horse will try to protect itself. Many will run away as much as possible. Some will be ready to bite, kick, or bulldoze out of self defense. The task is great to rehabilitate these animals from their dangerous yet fragile state, but it can be done.
How to Approach Their Handling and Training
While we may not be able to intervene when a horse is being abused, we can change the trajectory of their new experiences. We can show them with time and patience that humans can be trusted, and teach them certain manners to prevent future abuse if they need to be rehomed.
Please note that with abused horses, extra measures of safety need to be taken. Do not work alone with an abused horse if you are inexperienced with horses or have never dealt with behavioral issues before. When in doubt, take the safest route with retraining.
The Basics of Handling and Training an Abused Horse:
Take Things Slowly: Let this be the one tip to rule the others. The abused horse will have suffered trauma that you probably don’t know about. You only have part of the story, at best. Anything could be a trigger. Take all new experiences slowly until you have a feel for their reaction. If you push a horse too far through something they are afraid of, it could backfire and break some of the trust you’ve built with them.
Have a Loose Agenda: Because you don’t know what will be under the surface of their trauma, be willing to redirect your lesson plan at any time. Whatever you may have planned to work on might be too overwhelming for them. They may even let you know that they are ready to walk through something that you didn’t expect them to. Take the opportunity to be present with them in the moment and to learn together. Retraining a traumatized horse is more about doing things together, and less about a checklist of accomplishments. Go with the flow and get creative with what they are allowing you to see.
Be Clear About Boundaries: A lot of abused horses were punished because their owners weren’t consistent with their boundaries. They would allow the undesired behavior to happen until they finally snapped on the horse, leaving them guessing as to why they were in trouble. In order to gain your horse’s full trust, you will have to be clear about what you expect of them and stick with it. Not all boundaries will be communicated at once, but if you don’t allow your horse to bite, make sure (even if it’s just a jerk to their lead rope) that the behavior will never be tolerated. Don’t escalate your punishment, just make it a hassle for them to overrule you as their leader. The abused horse will settle knowing that they don’t need to be in charge (see Part I for more on this).
Spend a LOT of Extra Time Bonding: Even more than your average horse, the abused horse needs to know that you have the best intentions for them. When you’re not schooling them, let them know that you are there to care for them. If they are standoffish, come to their paddock to leave them a little extra grain. Spend time hanging out around them. Pet or massage them on their neck and shoulder first (the safe zone) and progressively get them used to your touch over their whole body. Talk to them soothingly. Give them every reason to believe that you are trustworthy and want to care for them.
Horses are naturally skittish animals as it is. With domestication, we teach them how to relate to us humans, as well as how to trust us. Horses that have been abused are harder to train than a horse that is new to handling, because their experience with humans has been largely negative. Your task is to convince them that the species that inflicted so much harm upon them before are no longer dangerous.
The amazing thing about horses who have undergone abuse is that they are capable of incredible compassion and trust. As much as they fear trusting a human again, they, more than the average horse, crave the feeling of safety and connection. The abused horses are worth the extra time, effort, and patience to rehabilitate, because in return they will offer their whole heart back to you for the chance to belong to someone who will not harm them.
Have you ever rehabilitated an abused horse? What was the biggest challenge? What was the greatest reward?
Product Review: Healing Salve by Heather Wallace Animal Massage Therapy
When I moved to Seattle from Southern California, it seemed like I was surrounded by hippies. As far as I was concerned, everyone here was a hippie. Granola, birkenstocks, boho skirts, and all-natural-free-range-organic-non-gmo-homeopathic everything. After putting up a little resistance, I did learn the real benefits of eating clean, whole foods and that homemade granola really was the bomb. I even came to agree that essential oils could do wonders to stimulate or relax the brain through different scents.
But homeopathic medicines? That would take much more convincing.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I may have received payment and/or free product in exchange for my honest review. There may be affiliate links, where I receive a small commission for any purchase at no extra cost to you. As always, please consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about your horse’s health or treatment.
I have never been fully sold-out on all-natural healing products. I love the idea of using whole ingredients and avoiding the long-term risks of sketchy chemicals. At the same time, I’ve hardly ever known natural products to be comparable to the leading allopathic products on the market.
Well, this healing salve may have disproved my prejudices.
Heather Wallace is an Equine and Canine masseuse based in New Jersey, USA. Heather also happens to be a rising equestrian author who is looking to release her second book this year. She is keeping us in suspense for now as to the release date, but I am very much looking forward to reading Confessions of a Timid Rider. She also authors the Bridle & Bone blog, that focuses primarily on holistic equine and canine care. By extension, she offers various essential-oil-based natural products, including Fly and Tick Spray, Muscle Rub Spray to reduce inflammation and increase circulation, Serenity Spray for natural stress relief, and Healing Salve through her massage therapy practice.
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For Chip’s specific needs, I was able to test Heather’s Healing Salve, a comprehensive essential oil salve that is formulated to speed up the recovery process for cuts and scrapes in horses and dogs. The active oils were chosen because of their antibacterial and antifungal properties. The semi-solid all-natural base helps the salve apply and either absorb into the warm skin, or remain solidly adhered to the hoof wall. It can also be applied to dog paws to prevent them from cracking as they tread across the snow and cold ground.
The winter was colder and longer than anticipated in Washington State, and we have received way more snow than we thought we would! Chip already tends to accumulate scrapes in the winter time, but this year was particularly difficult. He has a tendency to roll in the gravel run of his stall, which cuts up his hocks when the ground is cold, leaving open sores that scab over just to reopen within a couple of days. His hocks never seem to heal fast enough to prevent him from reopening his wounds.
My first impressions of the salve upon application were its amazing smell and versatility in application areas. With anything scented, you never know until you open it if it will actually smell good and if that scent will be very strong. I know that the claim of the Healing Salve is practical, but I’m happy to report it also has an uplifting and calming scent to it. I have learned enough about essential oils to know that a clear, strong scent speaks to the oil’s quality.
The healing salve remains solid in cold weather, so I needed to melt a bit of it in my hand for it to be pliable enough to apply. However, once it was soft, I liked the fact that I could either apply it directly to Chip’s skin–where it just melted and absorbed due to his body heat–or work the putty into the outer walls of his hoof, where it stuck well without sliding right off.
Pro Tip: Bandage Wrapping
Sometimes the greatest struggle in our horses’ healing process is how much they move around. In Chip’s case, it seemed he was rolling around in his gravel run and re-aggravating the same exact places on his hocks where he had started to scab over, hence reopening the wound. One way to combat this is to clean the wound, apply your medicine or salve of choice, then wrap it with a simple bandage pad and Vet Wrap or the grocery store alternative, as I did below:
This helps prevent reopening, at least for a little while, to buy the wound a little more time to start the healing process.
So. . . Are Natural Products Really Worth It?
As skeptical as I was about the effectiveness of natural products, I was so pleased to find improvement in all of the areas that I placed the Healing Salve. In total, I applied it to three trouble spots, all targeting different things: 1. The open cuts on Chip’s hocks, 2. A fungal growth under his armpit, and 3. The cracked new growth on Chip’s hooves.
After three applications of the Healing Salve, Chip’s hocks had healed past the scab phase and are now healed over. However, he started showing improvement just one day after the first application
Chip’s left hock one day after the first application of Heather Wallace’s Healing Salve
Chip’s right hock after three applications of Heather Wallace’s Healing Salve – completely healed from open wound
The fungal area below his armpit actually decreased by about 40% and no longer has the open sore that erupted a few weeks ago. Chip’s hoof wall looked less cracked within one application as well. I could not believe that one product caused notable improvement in all of these areas, and an all-natural one at that.
In addition to its effectiveness, I appreciated the gentle nature of this product. At all the application sites, even with open wounds, Chip never flinched when I applied the product. He is a tough horse, but he would have let me know if the salve stung at all. But he didn’t even notice that I had applied anything to his wounded areas.
These products can also be used on humans, so I decided to use it just for fun, and to make sure it didn’t sting at all when applied. Funny enough, it worked well as a natural triple antibiotic on my little cuts, and even reduced a couple of pimples I applied it to. I absolutely love products that work for both my horse and for me.
Natural Healing Products Have So Many Uses
As I described above, the Healing Salve positively affected all of Chip’s problem areas, ranging from the fungal infection to the open wound. Even his hooves showed improvement from winter cracks. Along with the Healing Salve, Heather sends along a lovely information card, that states how to apply the salve, along with the various benefits it carries. Being an all-natural essential oil-based product, it is a blend of antibacterial and anti-fungal ingredients. It also doubles as an Insect Repellent and provides Stress Relief and Anti-Inflammatory properties.
After trying Heather Wallace’s Healing Salve, I am pleasantly surprised at how well natural products can work for horses. And I love the fact that the ingredients are so much safer long-term for our big furry children. To contact Heather Wallace for a consultation, make a massage therapy appointment (for my New Jersey peeps), and to inquire about her Healing Salve and the other products she offers, check out her website here. Be sure to give her blog a read, also, for more information on holistic care practices for canines and equines.
What are your thoughts on Holistic Equine Products? Have you had any experience with them? What are your favorites? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thank you all for your continued support in reading this blog. I can’t believe that it has now been nearly one year of blogging. The greatest delight has been meeting so many of you online and getting to know your story and your passion for making the horse world a better place. I am ever so grateful for this online equestrian space.
An Interview with Jennifer Gentner, founder of Living Hope Ranch.
Forty minutes outside Lansing lies the quiet Americana town of Laingsburg, Michigan. Nestled in its countryside is Living Hope Ranch, a place for broken children to come and find solace; a place where hurting hearts can play and let go of sorrow; a place where children can see the reality of wholeness on the other side of their struggle.
Living Hope Ranch was born long before there was ever a physical place or an official nonprofit organization. Jennifer Gentner was a Freshman at Michigan University working with third-grade inner city children in Lansing. The students at the time were not doing well: their home life was chaotic, and they were were scholastically underperforming. Having recently given her life to Christ, Jennifer deeply desired to connect with these kids, and to empower them to have a better life.
The children, however, refused to connect with her. For the better part of nine months, she saw no change in their attitude or studies. Jennifer finally asked herself, “How can I get a breakthrough?” She considered connecting to these children through the one pastime that had been her solace since she was ten years old: horses.
Growing up, Jennifer lived in a tumultuous household. At the hands of those around her, she suffered every abuse imaginable. Her mother had divorced and remarried multiple times, and the lack of a father’s love took its toll on her young heart. When she was in fifth grade, she had a teacher who loved to take her class on field trips, including the Planetarium and even a day trip to Chicago. One of these trips was to a camp in remote Michigan that had horses. From that first interaction with these intuitive, strong, tender creatures, Jennifer felt an incredible new feeling of simultaneous freedom and escape.
Longing to create a space in her life for her new-found refuge, Jennifer started working as much as she could in order to pay for horseback riding lessons. She spent hours on end at the barn, and worked diligently to train her first horse, Fox. Fox was a two-year-old Saddlebred gelding when he came to her from Kentucky. She was the first person to ever ride him, and trained him from the ground up.
It was only fitting that she should introduce her current students to the horse that meant so much to her, and hoped that such an experience would provide a liberating escape to them also. Jennifer knew what it meant to feel broken, forgotten, and hopeless. She also knew that a day away from the city interacting with Fox could give them the same sense of freedom that she first felt many years before. The school unexpectedly approved her request to take the children on a day trip to the barn with their transportation, even though she wasn’t a staff member.
When the children stepped off the bus and saw Fox’s big, soft, brown eyes, everything about their demeanor transformed. Within no time, these distant, tough children were throwing hay, laughing and revealing the first smiles Jennifer had seen in nine months. Her heart-horse had built a bridge where connection seemed impossible. God began to speak to her from that point forward about her purpose of reaching the greater need of broken and disadvantaged children in her region.
Years later, Jennifer married her husband, Robert, and they had seven children. She still often considered God’s call on her life to reach the inner city children of Michigan. Jennifer started dreaming of all the ways that she could fashion a ranch just for them. She wanted to give them the full ranch experience, including cows, chickens, sheep, and a remote country setting. Over the years, the dream of Living Hope Ranch was born.
The vision for Living Hope was not just to create a haven for children in broken situations, but also to rehabilitate horses who had been deeply broken as well. In December of 2015, God spoke to Jennifer again, saying that she was going to rescue the first horse for Living Hope Ranch. Prior to this, she thought that non-abused horses would be better for the children coming to the ranch–horses without the baggage of mistreatment are often safe without the need for retraining and the extra time it takes to build trust.
But God told Jennifer, “You are going to rescue horses, and you are going to rescue kids, and they will rescue each other. Rescue horses have more compassion and are able to identify and relate to broken children much more quickly and deeply than a horse who has not undergone trauma.”
While in prayer, Jennifer saw the face of a mare who was in trouble at that very moment. She had the distinct sense that this horse was going to be her first rescue. The name that came to mind was Petra, which means “Rock” in Latin. Jennifer also sensed God telling her, “You’re moving.” Within seven days, the house sold for full price, and she and her husband packed up the entire household and moved to Laingsburg.
Meanwhile, Jennifer had been seeing a rescue campaign pop up on her social feeds called “Saving Sugar.” She dismissed the promotion, passing over it twice before she paid any attention to it. The third time she saw it, she took a good look at Sugar’s face. This sweet mare was strikingly familiar. It was Petra, the same mare she had seen in prayer.
This mare was all white, starved, with her legs cut up from barbed wire. Her eye had been kicked in and left to rot and liquefy in the socket. Her owner at the time had neglected the mare and was unaware that she was undernourished and in desperate need of medical care at the current boarding facility. A woman named Jessica had watched the mare become progressively thinner over the course of a few months. When she saw her injured eye go untended, she refused to remain silent any longer.
Jessica could not afford to keep the horse, so she set up a GoFundMe page–“Saving Sugar”– to raise money to remove the festering eye and to purchase items for her next owner to care for her. Jennifer got in contact with Jessica and through the course of the conversation, they both realized this was the Living Hope Ranch’s first rescue horse. Jennifer sent Jessica a photo of the prayer journal page where she wrote down all of the specifics about Petra’s appearance and background, and told her she had been praying in anticipation of her rescue. Jessica wept as Jennifer recounted every detail. She had been low on faith, and prayed God would help her find a home for this horse she cared so deeply about.
But there was one problem: Jennifer had no place to keep this rescue horse when she finally found her. She and her husband were still in the middle of moving. Within two days, Jennifer got a call from her friend and barn owner, Sarah. She told her she had prepared a paddock for Jennifer to bring Petra and keep her there free of charge. “That field is your field. You can put as many horses there as you’d like.”
When Jennifer went to pick up Petra, the desperate mare loaded immediately onto the trailer. Because of the fundraiser, Jessica had purchased a halter, lead rope, winter blanket, special grain, and beet pulp pellets–enough to sustain Petra for her transition time.
Jennifer and Robert now have three more horses that work at the ranch, one of whom has also been rescued. Jennifer has several children from the inner city / foster care system who come to the ranch to ride on a regular basis. The children come from a range of troubled backgrounds, are often suicidal, self-harming, have one or both parents in prison, or themselves are in the juvenile court system. Some have even been prostituted already in their young life.
When the children come to Living Hope Ranch, the main objective is to provide them a solace from their troubles and to offer them a place to heal. Each child gets a 90-minute undivided session with Jennifer, which includes one chore on the farm, then time with one of the animals. After choosing which animal to work with, Jenn will walk them through a session where they talk as they interact with the chickens, sheep, cows or horses.
The children do not leave empty-handed, either. The each get to take mementos back with them: a necklace that says “Faith, Hope & Love”, their very own copy of the Bible, as well as a coloring workbook that teaches them all about horses. Often times, this is the first the children have been allowed the opportunity to learn about God.
During the session with the animals Jennifer says, “God shows up in big, huge, unmistakeable ways….It’s so beautiful, so orchestrated, that God just gets the glory.” One child in particular, who she calls Mali, didn’t even want to engage with the animals when she came to the ranch. Thirteen years old and from inner city Lansing, Mali entered one of her sessions with Jennifer just wanting to talk: “I have so many questions from the Bible you gave me.” Answering each question one by one, Jennifer asked her what she thought of the God of the Bible. Mali replied, “Honestly, I’ve been planning on becoming a Christian my whole life, I just didn’t know how.”
Knowing the gravity of her decision to place her faith and her life into God’s hands, she added, “I just don’t want to do this and my life not change.” Jennifer explained the gospel to her in those precious moments together, from the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, to the life-changing presence of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him.
“Mali gave her life to Christ, right in my sunroom,” Jennifer recalls with a deep sense of gratitude: “That’s why we do what we do, to bring hope.”
Jennifer and Robert hope to continue to grow the vision of Living Hope Ranch to reach the most broken children in their region. They don’t want notoriety or a pat on the back, they want to see lives changed and a greater measure of hope imparted to children in despair.
Jennifer shares that God has already shown her the face of the next horse she is to rescue for Living Hope Ranch, a Palomino who will be named “Havilah”, which means “one who has suffered much in order to bring forth,” and refers to the purest, highest-quality gold in all the earth. (We will update this article when Jenn finds Havilah the Palomino)
They have and continue to subsidize all of their operations, from the land they live on and use, to the provision for the animals, down to the necklaces and workbooks they pass on to the children. Robert goes to work every day to provide for Jennifer and their children, in addition to the greater family of vulnerable children that come to the ranch.
Jennifer and Robert have several projects on the horizon to improve Living Hope Ranch, to help rescue more horses, and empower more children; including a tack room, round pen, and new arena sand to improve riding conditions. Find out how you can help further Living Hope’s by visiting their Facebook Page.
The time spent with these children is dear to Jennifer’s heart. Each child comes to Living Hope Ranch at a unique point in their journey towards wholeness. The fact that she can just be with them to share God’s love with them as they heal and provide refuge feels like the most important work on the earth–because to Jennifer, it is priceless work with eternal value!
Jennifer and Robert go prayerfully into each day as they pursue the purpose God has placed on their heart: to bring healing and hope into the hearts of others. They encourage and support one another, because their life together has taken on the greater purpose of serving and loving on those who are hurting around them. They live to fight another day for the children who desperately need hope: a Living Hope, a Hope that does not perish, spoil or fade. They fight for the children who need to see that there is life to be lived on the other side of their suffering. They fight for the children who need to see a family that loves each other instead of abusing each other. They fight for the children who need to know that they can be loved unconditionally, forever.
Be sure to follow Jennifer & Robert Gentner on Facebook for more updates on Living Hope Ranch!