Things Equestrian


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finding Your Horse's Song

Have you ever thought about riding to music? When you watch freestyle tests, do you ever think, wow! that looks like fun.

It is, and you can easily do it, too.

Enter Michael Matson

You can do this without the clinic, but I think you'll find the following information useful.

(If you disagree, go to The Takeaway section:) )
A friend of mine organized a clinic with Michael Matson, an equine music man with a database of over 1400 songs to choose from. Intrigued, I signed up.
Michael asked me to walk, trot and canter Cruz so he could determine the gelding's beats per minute (BPM) in each gait. Asked what kind of music I like, I answered "classical."

This is my genuine preference, but research at Hartpury College in England has determined that horses respond positively to classical or country music! So I'm on the right track.

(I remember my heavy horse van sinking into the mud while I was competing in a one day event at Hartpury. It had to be towed out by a tractor. My life is never simple!)

Letting the Horse Decide 

Michael said Cruz would let me know when we found the right melody. I thought this was pretty far-fetched, but rather than argue I carried on trotting while he searched for music to fit Cruz’s BPM in that gait. A few songs came and went, with no approval from my bay.

Then, bingo! he suddenly began to swing to the rhythm of the next tune, with new energy, cadence and lift. It was just as Michael had said: Cruz was loudly pronouncing "this is the track, Mum!" It was astounding.  

He was so into the beat that I relaxed and ‘rode with the flow.’ We were - at last - a dancing partnership, moving in sync and enjoying the music. I had a silly grin on my face: Cruz tends to be the exception which proves the rule and I had worried that we would never find ‘our song.’

He was pickier about the right tunes for walk and canter, but he did discover them. :)

It was exciting to watch for those aha! moments with my friends' horses, too. We had a terrific time at the clinic. Michael is great fun to work with and patiently takes as long as necessary to find the perfect melodies for each animal.

The Takeaway

He concluded our session by giving me a CD with my three tracks on it, plus information on how to find local experts on putting a freestyle test together. But he also included a link to free software - called Audacity - to download and use for producing my own freestyle test CD.  

Although I thoroughly recommend putting one together, you don’t need a clinic to get this information. Michael has an awesome website where you can learn how to determine your horse’s beats per minute and find music to match his walk, trot and canter.  

Michael's resources page gives the link for the Audacity software plus the Freestyle webpage at USDF where you’ll find instructions for creating your own freestyle test at every level.

The Next Step 

I immediately put Cruz's music on my iPod. At Walmart, for less than $10, you can purchase a small portable‘boombox’ for iPhones and iPods. Attach it securely to your belt (you’ll need to use more than the  original clip to keep it from moving) then you and your horse can both hear the music while you ride: it’s way more beneficial than just listening to it by yourself. 

At home I’ve been playing the music during my regular riding sessions and it has hugely improved my sense of rhythm, as well as relaxing both of us. We keep in sync when we hear our songs.

Using the Audacity software and the USDF instructions, I've put together a First Level Freestyle Test to use for my team ride at the PVDA Chapter Challenge in November. We need lots of practice before then, but it’s gonna be fun, and I will update you on how our competition ride goes.

Meanwhile, how about finding that special song in walk, trot and canter for you and your horse?

Here are those links again:

I promised an update on our results at the show: we got 70%!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is It Time to Use a Horse Communicator?

Dana, a beautiful black mare, was clearly unhappy. My friend Cheryl had tried everything to make her comfortable – changing her feed, adding supplements, checking the saddle, the bit, her teeth, getting the chiropractor, special shoeing – you name it, she’d done it.  Or so she thought.

But her efforts were to no avail. The horse was antsy and disobedient under saddle.
Another friend suggested she get in touch with Mary Long, an animal communicator. Why not let the mare herself explain what was bugging her? Mary doesn't have to be physically with your horse: you simply phone her up.

The fee was $50 to ‘chat’ with her horse through Mary for 30 minutes, so what did Cheryl have to lose?  

Can We Talk?


All Mary Long needs to know about your horse is the gender, height, breed, color and name. She doesn’t try to weasel extra information out of you as clues about your horse. She simply requests the most basic details in order to locate your horse and tune into him/her. 

Cheryl gave Mary that bare minimum and waited to see what her horse had to say. 

The results astonished her.  

Dana told Mary that her front left leg ‘felt funny’ all the time. (The mare has a problem with the hoof on that leg which impacts her movement. Mary couldn't have known about it. Dana explained how best to ride her through this.) 

If Cheryl were more assertive when riding, Dana wouldn’t feel the need to act up.  

The mare’s jaw was out of alignment, which is why she couldn’t soften to one side. (Cheryl called in a specialist, who discovered that jaw was indeed ‘twisted.’ She straightened it out and now Dana flexes equally well on both sides.) 

Her back teeth were hurting. (A new horse dentist was called in, who found sharp edges on the back teeth. Together with having the jaw adjustment above, Dana’s head stays quiet and steady.) 

In addition to addressing the physical problems, Cheryl has shown more leadership in her riding style. 

The upshot? A happy mare and a happy owner. 

May I Talk, Too?  

Inspired by this story, I decided to call Mary about my gelding, Cruz Bay. You know, the horse I’ve had so many ‘interesting’ episodes with! 

Mary loves owners who have specific questions for their horses. Your horse will be chatting continually with Mary throughout the session, with many fascinating and helpful facts to convey to you. But this is also a valuable opportunity to let your horse help you with any problems you may have with him/her –usually why we call Mary in the first place. 

Here is my half hour session, divided into two sections: Cruz Communication (stuff he wanted me to know) and Mom’s Questions (stuff I wanted to know). 

My reactions are in parentheses. 

Cruz Communication

I love dressage and like to feel ‘floaty.’ (Hurray! That's great news.) 

I watch other horses and think ‘I wish I could do that.’ 

I admit that I hang on the bit and like to change sides. (Little rogue!) 

I see the bit as a toy to play and distract myself with. (At least this bodes well for the double bridle! You’ll have twice the fun J) 

I try hard, but I don’t always understand what you want. I make myself sore with misunderstanding.  (Oops, Mom’s fault!) 

I want synchronicity with you so much that it hurts. (Awwww!) 

I describe myself as light on my feet and powerful. (Boy, ain’t that the truth!) 

You’re a good rider. (I hope that wasn’t just flattery .) 

You need to keep my face steadied. (Mary tells me that you’re saying this a lot.) 

I won’t figure it out: I need instruction and I see you as my trainer. (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.) 

I think your hands are wimpy. (Ouch!) 

I feel your legs are nice and steady. (Thanks for that, at least!) 

I don’t like you bracing your hands and pressing your knuckles into my back.
(I had no idea what you were talking about here. I NEVER do that while riding. Then I rode another horse and suddenly realized what you meant. When I lean down to tighten my dressage girth, I brace my hands and press my knuckles into the withers! I hope you've noticed that I’m now very careful not to do that.) 

I feel some achiness from overachieving. (I need to make it easier for you to move correctly. Less is more.) 

I want you to cup my chin to steady it. I don’t know how else to describe it. (I still don’t know what you mean by this, but I now notice that you like to rest your chin in my hands or on my shoulder when I’m on the ground. Not sure how to translate this into riding yet.) 

Overall I’m happy and I see this as my forever home. (Awwww! again.) 

See what I mean? Cruz was very chatty. After all, this was his one chance to communicate with me J 

Mom’s Q & A Session 

Q: Why are you so afraid of other horses in the warm-up?

A: I’m not afraid of the other horses, but of their riders. They power through and I want to stay out of their way. They seem out of control.  

I trust you, but not them. The warm-up ring is a combat zone! I don’t want to run into anybody and you need to tell people to get out of the way! 

Q: Have you ever crashed into another horse?

A: Yes. I was being ridden by a tall man who was a very good rider. We were in the warm-up and another horse cut in front from left to right just as I was jumping and I hit the other horse on his right side. (This was a revelation – I knew who the rider was. Cruz was in training and I had never been told about this incident.) 

Mary: I will tell Cruz to trust you that you’ll keep him out of trouble. 

Q: Why did you bolt on our last trail ride, after we’d already gone past the scary section of our ride?

A:  I was just being an idiot. The buck was ‘take that, you scary situation!’ and after that I took control.

(Did he ever! Not sure how this makes me feel better about his behavior, but at least that explains it!) 

Mary (at my request): Hilary wants you to be a ‘pony horse’ – i.e. quiet like the horses which accompany the racehorses at the track to calm them down. 

Cruz: I can do that.

Note: Inspired by this, I yesterday went on my first trail ride after the above  bolting incident. I took charge, stayed calm and kept Cruz on a light but firm contact. I put him in travers or shoulder-in whenever he got worried about something like the lapping lake water, plastic Canadian geese, and big signs, etc. 

He hates narrow spaces, but we had to ride through a small gateway with a post in front of it to get into the equestrian park and back out again. So I rode a line through it which gave him a clear view of the space on the other side.  

He responded instantly and quietly to all my aids during the whole ride.  Things are improving!J
Cruz: I like your caramel coat: I feel you’re in charge when you wear it. 

Hilary to Mary: I have two of them, but can’t wear them all the time.
Mary: If you can’t wear them, you’ll need a token to show him to say ‘you can trust me, because I’m wearing this.’
(I wear a crucifix all the time, and finally remembered to show this to Cruz yesterday. I will make a point of showing it to him every time I ride. What better protection could we have than Christ’s?) 

Using the Info

It’s important to write copious notes while Mary is communicating with your horse. Not everything she says will immediately mean something to you or even make sense. But when you go back over what you’ve written – not just once, but several times over the next few weeks and months – more bits of the puzzle will come together.

I admit to having been rather skeptical about the whole process, both before and during, especially when Cruz was apparently talking nonsense. But that’s where having taken detailed notes was so vital, because I was later able to see that it wasn’t nonsense at all.

My relationship with Cruz has hugely improved since my session with Mary, and I thoroughly recommend you talk to her if you have any concerns about your horse.

She is not the only animal communicator available, and you may want to try someone else. But she certainly worked for me and my horse so here are her contact details.

Mary Long’s Details


Phone: 302-239-6366

Cost of consultation:

$30 for 15 minutes

$50 for 30 minutes (which I highly recommend – you’ll be amazed at how much ground you cover in that time!)