2018 Series 1

The Foundations of Perception

Week 5:  February 19-25, 2018

expanding our senses of movement and touch

Welcome!  Believe it or not, this is the last week of Session 1: The Foundations of Perception.  This week I want to talk a bit more about our horses and their side of the conversation.  It's so common to increase our own awareness only to discover that our horses can't hear our whispers of communication.  It's so important to understand that communication only happens well when both parties are able to listen and contribute to the conversation.  If our horses are in pain or have PTSD or have basic survival needs that are not being met it's going to be difficult for them to listen to us - no matter how good we get at our side of the conversation. 

So, this week we'll cover some diverse territory by way of tying these ideas into horsemanship and giving us some ways to take these concepts into motion.

Week 5: Expanding our Senses of Touch and Movement:

Course Content Links

position for inhand lateral work front view.jpg

Week 5:  Expanding our Senses

Touch and Movement

Document link


Live chat video from february 24:

Topics covered:

  • Things to look for that indicate we're on the right track.
  • How to use our emotions to guide us.
  • How to stop inward dialogue doubts.
  • How to progress without being repetitive or confrontational.
  • Engaging horses in going forward together.
  • Thoughts on de-escalating when a horse gets really nervous.
  • How to manage with a horse who wants to come strongly into your space.

Just so you all know, there are some really great conversations that took place under the post where I did the poll for the live chat.  I also posted those conversations to the Groups.io page.

Week 5: Bonus Materials

PDF Document:

hands on palpation:

We can gather a great deal of information through informed touch.  Here is a list, description and diagram of palpation points I've been using for many years to help me toward identifying any physical issues that might be preventing a horse from being receptive.  Hands on Palpation Guide


Here is a video of me demonstrating the palpation points on Rivaldo.


Last week I shared this video clip from last year to help answer some questions about how you go about giving your horse more clarity and direction without reverting back to being dominant.  The truth is it has everything to do with how engaged we are with our horses while we lead them.  In this clip I demonstrate how to use the tone in our core to help communicate with our horses on a lead line as well as how to use our energy and intention to help them know we want them to move.

more information about how our body and mind cope with stress and trauma:  an article a wrote a few years back:  Falling down and getting back up


Several questions were asked this week: how do we progress without being repetitive or confrontational?  How do we encourage a horse to move forward?  How do we use our emotions to guide us?  How do we set functional boundaries?  I decided the easiest way to answer all of these questions is to share a few videos from last year's class.  I recorded sessions with two horses over the course of several months.  In this first one you'll meet Merlin who started out very shut down.  As he woke up a bit he'd get very volatile at times - so he'd go from not responding to over reacting.  So you can see how I took the concepts we've been working with here and apply them to helping a shut down horse wake back up and learn to respond reliably to suggestions/body language. 

Here is a link to a document I wrote elaborating on Merlin and how things progressed with him:  Merlin Progression Document

In this second video you'll meet Huey.  Huey has been with me for a number of years and has really taught me patience.  I have to do things on his time frame.  He was very traumatized by his early training and has very much struggled to let that go.  He tends to get too much energy and can be quite spooky and reactive.  When he is stressed all he can think about is getting back to his comfort zone.  So for those you with horses who tend to get too much energy going here's how I worked with that.  In both videos I go back and forth between liberty and on line.  I do talk about how and why I make the decision to go one way or the other. 

Closing thoughts for session 1:

As I’ve said before, the explorations thus far may seem simple, too simple to worry much about.  But often, the greatest power lies in the simplest of practices.  Here is what we have covered so far

  • Being in a body: noticing my internal dialogue and what it feels like to be in my body and stay in my body, in a variety of conditions and circumstances.
  •  Self-care and basic survival needs:  developing my capacity to recognize what happens to my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state if I am meeting my needs versus when I am not.
  • Resourcing: becoming familiar with my internal and external resources and learning how to support myself to stay embodied and be resilient.  These things help me pick myself back up when I fall down (figuratively speaking).
  • How healthy horses interact with the world:  as a baseline for understanding that a healthy body system can take in vast amounts of sensory input without becoming overwhelmed by it.
  • Expanding our awareness: learning to be more actively, consciously engaged with the environment on an ongoing basis.
  • Working with our senses:  the five basic senses - sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste.  How do I gather information from the world and how does my body interpret that information?  What senses are already highly developed and which ones are less so?

Remember, don’t underestimate the value of these core practices.  Keep coming back to them!  You’ll find reminders all along this crooked path we travel together to do just that.

But what if I don’t feel drawn to some of the explorations?

If you have not felt compelled to do these early explorations or have only done them once and thought – ‘that was easy, what’s next?’ – I encourage you to go back and touch base with yourself again before moving on to the next round of learning.  From here on out you will be asked to continue expanding your awareness, moving into the outer strands of your web that need a strong anchor point.  The better you know yourself, what supports you and what compromises you, the better chance you have of holding your ground in the face of challenges, of not becoming overwhelmed by your experiences. 

I invite you to pause, take a breath, take stock, and review all the concepts listed above.  If there is any area where you feel you don’t have a full understanding or appreciation for how this practice applies to you, your life or working with horses, perhaps spend a bit more time with that practice before moving on or touch base with me and ask for suggestions.  If you feel irritation, overwhelm, frustration or angst of any kind around any of these practices, it means something.  Spend a little time investigating the source of your angst.  If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, ask me some questions and dig a bit deeper.  Make sure your personal web has a strong core!

By way of example let me share how some of these concepts are guiding me and helping me build my own web.

My current personal journey involves finding ways to interact with horses that do not involve force, coercion or bribery.  I’m curious to discover, when I give my horse a voice and allow them to choose whether or not to participate, will they want anything to do with me?  What is it about me that shifts and changes to sometimes make me a horse magnet and other times make me a horse repellent? 

Can my horses retain their sense of freedom even when I use tack and work in close quarters?  Is there an ethical way for me to make a living working with horses?  These are just a few of the questions I’m in the midst of pondering.  These areas of inquiry require enormous focus, intention, consistency, curiosity and presence for me to show up and engage without expectation. I have to put aside pretty much everything I’ve ever been taught in order to do my own research.  I have to dig deep to find the ‘me’ that is a horse magnet and to not lose heart.  I know I can’t go back to my old ways, so I’m highly motivated to not throw in the towel and go work at Starbucks! 

In order to access the ‘me’ that horses love, in order to keep bouncing back when things get stirred, I’ve had to get to know myself pretty well.  I have learned that not meeting my basic survival needs (primarily those of staying hydrated, eating enough of the right things, and getting enough rest) causes my nervous system to fray, creating anxiety.  I am still learning how my senses prioritize the information coming in based on those survival needs. 

I know what it feels like to be grounded and fully in my body.  I’ve walked myself through many layers of the backlog of unexpressed emotions and trauma that flooded my system as I settled more deeply into my skin.  I know the feeling of the resounding note of trauma when it surfaces in me or a horse, and how to let it move through.  I know equally well the endless reserves of strength and courage at the heart of who I am, and that no matter how uncomfortable something is I always find my center again. 

I learned how useful it is for me to learn new things as part of my process of self-discovery.  For example, learning to sing and play guitar highlights places where I feel insecure or shy.  I’ve learned how this shyness impacts my ability to interact with the world, how self-criticism and perfectionism stifle my ability to do anything and how frustration interferes with my coordination and tact.  Learning to dance has shown me how hard it is to trust another human being and allow myself to relinquish my illusion of control, even if just for a few moments.

If I’m hiking, my senses narrow to include body awareness and trail awareness, with my internal focus increasing the more strenuous the terrain.  All of my senses can only engage outward with the environment and other life forms in the environment when I go slowly or pause and take it in.  I’m only just developing the ability to keep my senses open when I am actively doing something with a horse.  It’s a whole different kind of focus.

I have developed enough awareness to stand in my own sovereignty even in the presence of horses or humans who are stressed or angry, or steeping in their own trauma/anxiety/depression/fear/enthusiasm.  All of this awareness helps me become the kind of person (all the time) that my horses find magnetic.  My awareness and sensitivity increase almost daily.

The further I go down this path the more immediate the connection, the more complete the information I have access to.  I finally feel like the core of my web is solid and strong and I’m beginning to test it out as I interact with the horses, people and the environment.  Everything in life becomes a playground for self-exploration and self-knowledge, allowing us to have the best chance of bringing our best selves to our incredibly perceptive horses!

This is the journey the horses and I would like to share with you!