Using Masterson Method(TM) principles for training success

It might seem odd, but surely not to those who have been interested in any concept of riding and training with feel: One of the fundamental principles of the Masterson Method(TM) (Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork, see Jim Masterson’s website) lends itself perfectly to raise awareness in the rider/trainer and promote training success with the horse.

It’s real simple. If the horse resists, yield…, then try again. Seems counter-intuitive to many, as we human beings are used to meeting resistance with resistance. In equine bodywork, Jim Masterson found, that meeting the horse’s resistance with resistance or force, would negate any efforts in creating the right state of mind or ‘frame of nervous system’ (for the horse) to successfully relax the horse and help him release tension. Instead, resistance is met with softness. If the horse resists, the handler yields, then softly asks again. Soon the horse registers that there is nothing to resist against, relaxes and becomes compliant and even cooperative.

After practicing the Masterson Method(TM) on many, many horses – client’s and my own – and noticing how these principles almost automatically and instantly spilled over into other areas of my interaction with horses, I became more aware of how this principle can actively be applied in working with your horse, whether it’s riding for pleasure or training with a goal.

Here an example: My horse Yogi (formerly known as ‘Jimmy Dean’, see my blog ‘The Jimmy Dean Story’) had learned in a different environment in a former life, that lunging is a scary thing and it’s best to whirl around, buck and run backwards, then look for a hole in the fence or other escape routes. This prompted lots of folks to provide lots of different input on how such thing should be (man or woman-)handled.

The solution became quite simple when I actively applied the principle of yielding. When Yogi started twirling his hind around, raising his head, slightly rearing and starting to move backwards, I let him do it for a moment, then calmly asked him to step towards me and move out on the circle again. No battling, no fight. Soon – actually after two lunging sessions – Yogi got it: there is nothing to resist against. Whatever it is I thought I’m protecting myself against, doesn’t exist.

Is this an all new and revolutionary insight? No, maybe not. But it helps to keep it on the surface of your consciousness and consciously make it a habit: When the horse resists, yield, then ask again.

Watch this video on youtube to see how this works in a bodywork situation. Then try it on your horse.

Just thought I’d share this with you! Enjoy your horse!

The Rollkur debate – confusing, overdone or right on target?

The internet is buzzing with a debate around the ‘Blue Tongue Video‘ published by the Danish website Epona.tv. Here one can witness how a top level dressage rider rides his horse in hyperflexion (Rollkur) with a hard hand until the horse’s tongue hangs out of his mouth, limp and blue, a sure sign of lack of blood supply to the tongue. Outrage, outcry and much discussion later, some action is being taken, BHS is speaking up, FEI is reacting in statements, riders pro and con Rollkur are voicing their opinions on every forum left and right. Amateur riders, pony club members, horse lovers, professional athletes, veterinarians and anyone who cares follows the developments. Lots of publicity is generated, some ride the wave for their own reasons, others passionately fight for what they think is right.

Then there are those who speak up, sounding something like: “Dressage horses lead a pampered existence, should we not focus on more pressing issues in horse welfare?”

Whoa…PAUSE…..and let’s start thinking a bit, instead of just letting the heat of the argument take over our grey cells.

I think the answer must clearly and loudly be: NO.  World Cup level horses are in the public eye. Their riders set the standards. Young riders look to them for guidance and inspiration. A ‘training method’ that is essentially a short-cut to success and harms horses that give their all physically or at least (for those who want to continue doubting physical damage) degrades the horse in a body posture where he is stressed, totally dominated and cannot see, should be unacceptable at the highest level of competition. Those who have the power to set standards, should take the reins and do so.

This discussion is not about abandoned backyard horses, starved or mistreated equines and other atrocities. It’s about setting standards and bringing highest level equine competition back to traditional principles of respecting these generous animals enough to show them compassion and consideration.

Horses – ‘Celebrity horses’ and 4-H horses alike – are NOT SPORTS EQUIPMENT, but rather living, breathing creatures that totally depend on our mercy. Let’s make sure that celebrity riders show our young riders the right way to do it: with patience, compassion and consideration for the horse, according to time proven classical principles. Let’s raise awareness around this issue to create some buzz and get people to think about why there were 18 year old horses in Olympic competitions only 70 years or so ago, while the average age of a German sport horse euthanized due to unsoundness, is 9. (Karin Kattwinkel, author of several books on equine wellness, website link here, German only).

Setting the right standards and providing the right information will ensure that less amateur or backyard horses will stand abandoned and neglected after failed attempts to ‘Rollkur’ them into shape. Speaking up for ‘celebrity horses’ will help many horses in the end.

For more inspiration and information, I encourage you to visit Dr. Gerd Heuschmann’s website.

An new name, a new life: Jimmy Dean becomes Yogi

It’s been a while that I blogged. Lots has happened! The horse formerly known as Jimmy Dean has a new name, a new owner and a new lease on life. He also has a newly shaped right hind, since flip-over accident, watermelon-sized hematoma on the right hind and ensuing healing process. OK, first thing is first.

The new name: The registered name of the horse formerly known as ‘Jimmy Dean’ is “Good Lord I’m Sizzlin'”. Someone with a sense of humor very much unlike my own, therefore gave him the barn name “Jimmy Dean”. You know… the sausage. Since he has been on the brink of being sent to the meat buyer by a former owner, I thought this name had to go.  Since ‘nomen est omen’ and even the wise native Americans knew that a) a name can bring about a change in you and b) names change during a life time for this reason, I was diligently looking for just the RIGHT name. Hmm… Remington? Diego? Buddy? All good suggestions. Tired of the decision making process, I gave it up to a dream, went to bed and told myself whatever I wake up with, that’s it. It was Yogi. What a great fit! His best buddy’s name is Yankee (you get it: Yogi Berra and the Yankees) and Yogi Bear as well as anything else I associate with Yogi’ism speak of calm and inner peace. Done! Jimmy Dean became Yogi!

The new owner: St. Francis Horse Rescue in  Rosholt, who took on Yogi from an uncertain fate and then sent him to me for evaluation and possible rehab,  is a well managed rescue, taking on some of the worst cases of neglected horses in cooperation with humane societies and authorities (seizures etc.). They also are a retirement home for senior horses, who have given their all but outlived their ‘usefulness’. I brainstormed with St. Francis on what to do with Yogi, who needed more rehab time than anticipated due to deep rooted experiential issues in this horse in combination with his physical challenges. We decided together that my retired high-testosterone gelding Cody would be happy to take charge of their mare herd in Rosholt while I would keep Yogi and could continue to work with him.

The new lease on life: As an almost ‘unadoptable’ horse (bucking issue in combination with physical challenges) and too young (6) to be a retirement horse, Yogi faced an uncertain future. Having more time to work with Yogi, will give him a new lease on life.

New hind end: The accident left Yogi with an odd shaped right hind, some hardened tissue and possibly some muscle damage. With proper exercise, massage and bodywork, this can surely be overcome. It does look a bit ‘special’ right now. But just when you lift up the tail…

Progress Update: After almost 60 days of confinement, Yogi returned to his herd and now spends most of his time with buddies Yankee (best bud), Mr. B and Flicka. He has started lunging again, has been carrying a tightly cinched saddle without bucking (that’s right, we don’t need to start on square one again!!!) and has displayed complete FEARLESSNESS in the face of a giant blue tarp. After an initial balk, he walked right over the crumply, flighty thing, didn’t mind me twirling it all around him and even became the ‘walking giant blue plastic bag‘ when I completely wrapped him in the tarp, head and all, and he walked about the barn blindly, his feet getting a bit tangled in the tarp. Zero problemo! With the inner calm of a Yogi, he emerged from the tarp after a few minutes as the ‘mystery horse’, with a sweet and content facial expression.

So stay calm, breathe deeply and stay tuned for more YOGI NEWS!