By Cari Swanson Swanson
Looking back, I realize that my grandmother trained horses using natural horsemanship techniques without knowing that is what she was doing. She taught me how horses think, how they have to learn from four sides, the front, back, left and right. She explained to me that the secret to training is moving the horses feet. If my horse stopped, or reared, or got stuck, she would tell me to move the feet, either laterally or forward or backward to unlock the blocking. It was all about finding a way to make the horse respond to us.
I believe in these techniques because they are innate in my way of working with horses.
My entire approach is holistic; one must consider the mind body and spirit. By nature, horses want to please us. They do there best to communicate to us what is going on. Trouble begins when the trainer does not listen to the horse.
As I began working with different horses I came to understand each one is an individual and needs to be considered as such. Of course there are basics and a training scale to follow, but often a particular horse would break the rules and teach me something new. This is when I recognized that the greatest teacher is the horse.
Over the years I have met many natural horse trainers. After trying to find someone to help me with a seemingly impossible flighty filly, I was introduced to Buck Brannaman at a clinic. He worked with her and taught me many things, the most important lesson is to be patient.
I have always been fascinated by true horseman, people who seek to understand the mind of the horse. Somehow I am drawn to horses no matter where I travel. While living in Luxembourg for my junior year abroad, I discovered dressage at a local farm. A great master taught me the training scale which I learned is founded on relaxation and rhythm. Whenever a problem arose, he insisted on returning to a relaxed gait. No matter where I am horses seem introduce me to interesting people and places.
When traveling in South America I was introduced to an unusually talented horse trainer, Ruben Morales who was incredible at understanding and communicating with horses. I watched him break wild stallions, tame yearlings, and fix complicated behavioral problems using his system. I invited him to visit my farm for a year so that we could share our knowledge and different worlds of the horse.
Through studying the higher movements of dressage, I have met and trained with Tony Mason. He learned from the masters of the old school of classical riding in Austria and Germany. His deep understanding and clear communication of both the rider and the horses biomechanics have helped me trememdously. Tony is instrumental in helping me understand the power of the mind while working with horses and how destructive anger or frustration can be. Horses are very sensitive by nature and pick up any negative energy. I have seen horses refuse to move and yet dance when they see Tony.
Recently I met Rex Petersen, a reknown horse trainer who trains trick horses for Hollywood films. If you are shooting a film and need a horse to jump through a window, or lay down and play dead, or rear up and fight, he is the guy to call. Rex studied with the great Glen Randall for years and admits to knowing a fraction of what his teacher knew. He helped me understand that many times we learn how to convince a horse to do something by mistake. Each horse has different buttons that trigger a response. You should always be open to experimenting and feeling your way to solve a problem.
All of these people agree that the most important lesson is to continue to be open to learning and discussing new ways of understanding the horse. There are many books to read and learn valuable information about understanding the nature of horses. We must never stop learning and always remember that the horse is our greatest teacher.