Thursday, September 3, 2015

"A Compliant Horse or a Willing Partner—There is a Difference"

Howdy Friends,

There is a difference between a compliant horse and a willing partner. A horse trained into compliance by the use of dominant tactics, force or stiff unrelenting repetition and gadgets will always feel the need to test each new rider, owner or caregiver. They will not test out of rebellion or defiance; rather they know no other way to understand what is expected of them.

Kessy walking on a loose lead in a circle, in good posture with her inside shoulder up. Note her left ear to me, happy and willing. To see more exercises see my blog, "Restarting your horse" HERE
Never knowing the connection that comes with existing as a willing partner, the compliant horse understands no other feeling than worry. The compliant horse worries ceaselessly about “getting it right.” That limits their ability to welcome their person into their heart. It limits their ability to truly soften, think and become the partner they could be, and want to be.

Worry may not always be easy to recognizes, horses hide worry. But simple things like tight lips, ridged or semi ridged posture, distant eyes, sensitive to touch, crowding, hurrying when leading, dancing about on the lead or when tied—anything that seems restless, unsettled, IS restless and unsettled. Yes, with what folks commonly call discipline, training, gadgets and “firm” commands a worried horse (too often referred to as a “disobedient” horse) can be made to be compliant.

Repetition in training (I despise that very word), schooling, perfecting movements, over correcting, over schooling, our impatience, all build roadblocks to creating a willing partner. Those things build walls around the horse that prohibit her ability to see you as someone with whom she would like to partner ... Don’t get confused here by thinking, “My horse loves to drill and practice.” Sometimes a horse will give flashes of willingness and excitement during repetitive drills and practice, because they have become familiar with them. It can actually become a safe place for the compliant horse ... But the softness, contentment and ability of a truly deeply willing horse will far outshine the ability and contentment of a compliant horse.

But what of another paradigm? One of, putting the horse first. Yes we have horses because we want to do things with them. With them should mean, “With them.” With their willingness, happiness and love of being with us, playing with us, competing with us. That is putting the horse first.

How do we do that? How can we have a willing partner? A major component to building that partnership is to “put the horse first.” Ask yourself, “What’s in it for the horse? What will my horse get out of this?” We all know what we want ... Why should our horse care or want it if they are not our partner?

Little things like allowing the horse all the time she needs to understand. Whenever I work with someone and there horse the first thing I say is, “We are now on horse time, not people time.” We must always, “Ignore the negative and celebrate the Positive.”

Our human instinct is to correct, we must stop that. Replace correcting with leading. Gently show her the correct way—replace correcting with leading, show her what you are asking and give her time to understand. And be sure to reward the slightest attempt with grand celebration. NEVER, ever not a single time, scold or interrupt or discipline. Go with it; allow her to progress with encouragement—do not push her with force, harsh words and demands. To do that is the very definition of rude behavior. Never be rude.

Everyone who knows me knows I believe the most important thing is giving to the horse. We must give more than we ask, we must meet them more than halfway. A part of building any relationship with our horses I believe must be their housing, diet, exercise and comfort. I believe a regular routine of release and relax exercises (Peggy Cummings Connected Groundwork®) that encourage proper posture and movements do so much to “give to the horse” and build that bond—they truly do give to the horse and ask nothing in return.

The secret to having a willing partner is really no secret at all ... Be one yourself. In everything put your horse first.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry

P.S. If you’ve not yet gotten my book, “It’s for the Horses: An advocate’s musings about their needs, spirit gifts and care,” you can order it HERE 

P.S.S. If you’d like to schedule a Dutch Henry clinic email me

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Rocks for the Health of your Barefoot Horse"

Howdy Friends,
Yup I’m a believer that all horses can, and should go unshod for their highest health. Not only foot health, but overall health of the horse from blood circulation to shock absorption and posture and body awareness. I acknowledge there are problem cases, that for a time may need extra effort on our part, but I maintain unshod is best. I agree boots are sometimes a great thing and there are several excellent boots out there today.
Kessy strolling happily to her run-in on her river rock.
Transitioning to barefoot takes a little time, you might read my thoughts HERE.  Maintaining a healthy barefoot horse is easy, but may require a few management practice alterations. Changes such as trimming, most barefoot horses should be on a 3 week schedule, you might read about that HERE. I also believe many folks can learn to trim their own horses, which is both rewarding and cost saving. Another adaptation to consider is housing, I’m a huge proponent of the “Paddock Paradise” or Track System, you can read more about it HERE. Sometimes people give up on going barefoot because they cannot, or don’t want to adopt the few easy management changes. But I promise they quickly become routine and in the end save down time, money and stress—for you and your horse.
One BIG management practice so important to barefoot horse health is giving your horse enough rocks. Yup, give ‘em rocks! To walk on.
Kessy's rocks cover the lower half of her run-in, and to her water tub. She walks on them each time she comes and goes and drinks. Saturday thinks the rocks feel good on his feet too.
A common catalyst to barefoot failure is, horses stay in stalls with little movement possible, or wide open grassy pastures, or pastures, paddocks and turn-outs with only soft footing—Then the rider asks the horse to carry them on trails with gravel, stones and rocks. Of course the horse will flinch, perhaps protest, but the failure lies at the hands of the caregiver, not the barefoot horse. The horse needs the opportunity to create those rock-crushing solid healthy feet, which is easily done.

Rocks must be provided for the horse to walk on. Some folks call the rocks “pea gravel,” or “river stone.” Whatever you have available in your area consider mixed “round” stone no larger than 2 inches with stone 1 inch and perhaps a bit less. Not fine screening, or crushed rocks with sharp edges. Even if your home turf is dirt, sand and grit adding rocks will improve foot health.
Kessy's feet in the stone. I recommend about 2 inches deep to encourage the massage action.
Walking on rocks does SO MUCH for the horse’s foot health, exfoliates dead tissue, cleans mud and manure should that be present, and even massages the foot, aiding in blood circulation and mobility far above the foot. The ancient Greek Xenophon (c. 430-354 BC) first pointed out that “naturally sound hooves get spoiled in most stalls,” and in his classic work “On Horsemanship” advised measures to strengthen horses’ feet including, “palm sized rock beds for horses to walk on.”

I maintain, for my mare Kessy, an area of rock that starts in her run-in and extends outward about 30 feet. I just refurbished it the other day, the rock do gradually drift away and sink in so maintenance is required every now and then. About 2 inches deep will do the trick. They should be placed where horses frequent such as the water supply, as Kessy’s is, and as I do directly on the route to the run-in. Many folks with track systems have several locations along the way the horses walk through.
Here you can see the rock path ... Kessy givin' me a little lovin'
I hope you’ll consider giving rocks to your barefoot horse.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry 

P.S. - If you've not yet purchased my book, "It's for the Horses: An advocate's musings about their needs, spirit, gifts and care," find it here  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Sometimes the horse just can’t ... It’s Not disobeying

Howdy Friends, 

Sometimes a horse simply can’t do what we ask, they are not disobeying—nor do they need more training, or discipline. We need to pay closer attention to our horse, and less to our own demands, desires. Sometimes I get broken hearted at what I see; the story I’m going to relate here is one of those times.
Kessy demonstrating how we walk "off the forehand" Something she could not master for a long time, and needed much "release and relax" exercises to help her find her soft self and healthy posture. Any horse can master this. (Exercises demonstrated in my book "It's for the Horses:An advocate's musings about their needs, spirit, gifts and care")
A few weeks ago I went to a festival of sorts. In addition to exhibits, displays, foods and demonstrations were a few horse demonstrations. Some I watched, some I didn’t. One exciting performance was a very talented young woman and her horses. Quite a show they put on. And what drew me to watch was the fact she used rescue horses in her performance. She did the show twice in the day and I watched both times. Afterwards I regretted that I did.

After each show she and her primary horse bowed. The first time her horse bowed right along with her. After the second show, he did not. She did not accept no for an answer and insisted, in fact she kicked his leg, he tried, and even kindly turned his head to her shouting, “I can’t right now.” She never heard. In fact she kicked him so hard I heard the thump from 50 feet away. Finally he fought the stiffness and, obvious to me, the tightness and pain, and he bowed.

Then she got her long whip and worked him to bow again and again. To add to my distress watching this, I heard women behind me complimenting her for “not letting him get away with it.” One even called out, “That’s right, make him do it 5 times!” ... I fought hard to contain myself.

To be fair to the women behind me perhaps did not notice the stiff right shoulder and sore back, but I did. I also noticed how kindly the horse, who had just performed in high heat some very demanding stunts, had tried to tell his owner he was unable to move in the manner that required a bow. She never noticed, because for her it was all about the show. 

I did speak with her later that day and explained what I saw. I admitted that during the stunts and tricks he positively needed to obey immediately and without question, her safety demanded that, and he had. But for the bow when he politely tried to communicate he was in his right, and she missed his plea.I even offered to teach her the basic “release and relax exercises.”  She was uninterested in hearing the horse’s point of view. 

Add to this, the horse had also, just one hour before her performance, been used as a demo horse for chiropractic therapy ... and then put through the rugged paces of their performance—small wonder he was stiff and sore ... But he was totally polite. I thought it was common knowledge that a horse be given 24 hours at least, after a chiropractic treatment to rest ...

I wrestled hard with whether or not to relate this story, but I sense he wants us to hear his plea, “Sometimes the horse just can’t ... and it’s our job to hear them.”

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry 

P.S. ~ To have a look at my book "It's for the Horses:An advocate's musings about their needs, spirit, gifts and care" please visit 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Goodbye Susana—We will Miss You"

Howdy Friends,

Sometimes I write as tears drip onto my keyboard. This is one of those times. I didn’t know Susana as long as many others have, but in the three years I’ve enjoyed the honor of contributing stories for TrailBLAZER Magazine, I’ve come to love, feel and understand her passion for helping others, helping horses and producing a magazine for horse enthusiast second to none. For thirty seven years she devoted her life to bringing joy, ideas, helpful information and stories to folks like me who believe the world is better with horses in their life. She made all our worlds better by being a part of our lives.

I’ve often described TrailBLAZER Magazine as a coffee table book, so splendid were the pictures, so thoughtful the stories. So exquisite the look. So valuable the information on those glossy, beautiful pages.

Susana, and Bobbie Jo were the first ever to offer me a regular column in a world-wide magazine to tell the stories I call, “People and Horses Helping Horses and People.” Together we celebrated dozens of people who are devoted, like Susana, to making the world better for horses and their people. One of the highlights of my life has been working with the team at TrailBLAZER creating each “Heartbeats” story. How can I thank her for that?

The final issue Susan and the team were working on at the time of her passing is available on trailBlazer's website here. 

Susana’s in Heaven today, reunited with horses she’s known over the years. Sadly her magazine comes to a close now, but because of her dedication, wisdom and heart, many folks like me will continue to enjoy a life made better for knowing her. Goodbye Susana, we will miss you.

God Bless~Dutch Henry

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Welcoming a New Horse Home"

Howdy Friends

In recent weeks I’ve had several emails from folks who have purchased a new horse and quickly became saddened, frustrated or disenchanted. All had statements along the lines of, “He wasn’t this way when I rode him there,” or “This is not the horse I bought.” In every case the horse had been tried at the seller’s location and had been “perfect.”
It was 6 months before Kessy welcomed a hug ...
We’ll not talk here of the many topics of what might have been done to better understand the horse, or seller, or situation before deciding to purchase the horse—that as they say is like closing the gate after the horse has galloped away. And perhaps a topic for another discussion.

Rather let’s examine the new situation the horse finds himself in at his new home. With his new people—from the horse’s perspective. Perhaps it would be helpful to read my post, “There’s more to our story,” CLICK HERE. 

Whatever was the series of events that brought the horse into a new owner or caregiver’s world, he is here now ... Seen from the horse’s point of view, this is a huge upheaval. Magnificently upsetting. Remember horses are very much creatures of habit, as am I. I even wrote several times about the value in being “routine.” Horses love routine, let’s not debate or spend time on that, but trust me they do.

Suddenly the horse is torn from known habitat, friends, animal and human, perhaps family, and finds himself in a completely new world.

Consider you are loaded into a cargo truck, driven for some period of time, then unloaded, deposited in a room you’ve never seen, find yourself surrounded by people you don’t know, and who speak a language of which you understand only a few words.

Then you’re asked to perform the task they think you know how to do, as if nothing in your life has changed—even though they make all the requests in a language you cannot comprehend. When you fail, they get frustrated, eventually angry—they blame you and the connection you seek becomes distant. You begin to stress; you realize quickly you had better not trust these new people. Perhaps it would be best to not try. Perhaps you should rebel?

Add to this many horses have had a cascade of “new people,” or “new homes.” Perhaps the horse had been purchased by a dealer who had only days or weeks with the horse. Constant breakage of the horse’s routine has left him uncertain, sometimes frustrated. Sometimes rebellious in an effort at self preservation. And through it all, his trust in humans is challenged, weakened, perhaps broken.

We should remember that horses remember everything. All their people, homes and friends—animal and human. They miss their routines, their friends, their old life, just as we do. When we bring a horse into our lives it is our job to help them cope. It can be wholly unfair to make demands of them at this time.

Some horses adjust in a few weeks; others may take a year or more. Sometimes when a new horse is purchased it is not kept at the owner’s home, it is boarded. Boarded horses must often adjust to new and strange activities, sometimes many different handlers, and often only see their “owner” a time or two a week. Think of the upheaval for the horse then. Just imagine you find yourself in a totally different world and are expected to know, understand and comply with all the rules, standards and laws ... while you struggle to grasp the new language.

I believe it is imperative to ask nothing of the horse until you create the beginnings of a bond, partnership or relationship. Start with the exercises I so often write about, they give to the horse while asking nothing in return, except they enjoy them. You can find them in my book, “It’s for the Horses,” CLICK HERE. Sit with the horse at least an hour a day, do nothing but enjoy each other’s company. Reading to them during this alone-time can be remarkably healing and rewarding.

The first order of business, I believe, is to help the horse understand his new surroundings, his new people, his new job and routine. Welcome him into his new world with all the compassion, love and care you might a brand new baby just coming home from the hospital. 

Or a foster child about whom you know little of their past and is terrified or disenchanted.

To make demands of a new horse too soon can be so damaging to the horse’s ego and self esteem, and trust, as to far too often prove irreparable, and the horse may once again “go down the road.” I once had a horse who at the age of 9 had had 11 owners on the registration paper! He took over a full year to begin to gain his footing.

Buying a new horse is possibly the most exciting thing we horse lovers can do, it is our responsibility to make it just as exciting for the horse. Take it slow, is my advice, shower them with love, kindness and support—forget the training, competition and demands until they tell you, they are ready. Patience will always be rewarded with trust, I promise.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry 

View the book trailer for "It's for the Horses" HERE 

Friday, July 24, 2015

"500 Trail Rides Together, Kessy and Me"

Howdy Friends,
Yesterday Kessy and I enjoyed our 500th trail ride! We’ve been partners five years and two months, that’s about 100 rides a year. And Saturday has been along on nearly every ride. I keep a journal of our adventures and spent a little time reviewing our journey today. In the beginning we had a number of rough patches to sort through, I got a chuckle today reliving some of them. We had our first Coffee Clutch together May 17, 2010. Kessy turned 12 this past May.
The Coffee Clutch gang back in 2010
Most our rides have been between an hour and an hour and a half, due to my issues with my back and legs. I always say I ride so I can walk, equine assisted therapy. If we use 4 miles an hour and calculate the just over 650 hours we’ve logged about 2,700 miles, all bitless and barefoot. Kessy never had a bit in her mouth or shoes on her feet. We ride the woods surrounding our home, occasionally venture out to State Parks, but I much prefer saddlin’ up and riddin’ right out. After the pre-ride exercises for Kessy of course.
Saturday has run along for nearly every ride.  He missed a few this summer in the heat, he's packin' on a number of years now ... And he missed a couple in deep snow, too deep for his short legs.
She’s developed into quite a lady, taught me much and continues to teach me. I like to think she’s learned a thing or two from me as well. Does she do everything I ask, nope. Do I do everything she asks, nope. We understand each other, and each other’s assets and limits, and make a wonderful team.

Kessy has become quite the bird watcher, willing to stand quiet while I spot a bird, as long as I need. We’ve had adventures in the wild with everything from turkeys, coyotes and even riding up on black bears. Never once, not even in the early months, did she ever fail to stay under me, no matter the size of the spook. She has often modeled for pictures for our Coffee Clutch blog, facebook, and my book, “It’s for the Horses.” She’s helped teach folks those exercises, and even assisted for a few hoof trimming lessons. She gives the grandchildren rides when they visit.

Her gaits have developed into things of grace and beauty. She has a delightful flat walk and running walk. Her rack, which we discovered only 2 years ago, has become smooth, flowing—and fast. Her canter is as comfy as my recliner. Her gallop blazing. Oh yes she has a big trot too. Kessy is half TWH and half National Showhorse. Early on she did not know she had any gaits. The first time she held a running walk for more than 100 feet was May 30, 2010. I looked that up in her journal.
Comin' in on our 500th trail ride.
We celebrated a bit today after our 500th trail ride, Kessy had an apple, I had coffee and we talked and hung out together most of the afternoon. We look forward to many more years and trail miles together. I know she’ll never read this but, “Thank you Kessy for accepting me and taking care of me!”

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry

 P.S. To have a look at my book “It’s for the Horses: An advocate’s musings of their needs, gifts, spirit and care,” please go to .