This is the place where I record my current learning experiences with horses. I’m personally aiming to become an excellent horsewoman, but the nature of horses is that they are truly catalysts for personal development. So, while half of my musings will be from a point of observation and communication with horses, this only reflects the way that I am personally developing. Because of this, it is my hope that you can relate to my blog on whatever level you wish. If you are a fellow horseman-in-training: good to meet you, it's wonderful to be on the same journey! But at the same time, if you are a complete stranger to me or to horses, you are just as welcome. Hopefully this blog will bring you some amusement; even if it is just laughing at how mad we horse people can be!

In this blog, you can find pages about my life so far, mentors, and of course, horses and my adventures with them.

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory..."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Evening play sessions!

It would be difficult to have a favourite time of day here, as it is all so wonderful. From taking guests riding in the morning, to teaching Dowdy and Gramsead, to doing the odd jobs, to walking to the orphanage, to playing with or teaching the children, or going around the villages, or teaching Adult English classes, or reading my book, or talking to a variety of people over dinner - I LOVE it all! But, I really enjoy the bit of time I get to myself and the horses at the end of the day.

Friendly game with Noita, the best time of day for bonding,
building on our understanding and trust!

I head down to the horses paddock most evenings, for my bit of down time. Depending on the mood, I'll just sit with the horses, read a book, or have a play (training) session. I usually end up playing with my two favourites: Bahati (the 5 year old, that was castrated last month so still sees himself as the dominant member of the herd!) and Noita (the very sensitive, and gentle, yearling).

Different variations of circling game with Bahati:

I love having my hands on the ropes again, and a bit of time where I don't have (very interested and teachable) people asking about what I'm doing, and requiring assistance with their own horsemanship. Its amazing how quickly both Noita and Bahati learn, it is so rewarding to work with them both. I'll soon start playing with the three foals as well, they are so much fun to watch, so full of playfulness and energy!
Even now, after having experienced this moment with many horses,
I STILL get a lump in my throat when a horse CHOOSES to be with me.
There is nothing more rewarding.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I've decided to stay on at Mufundi. Anja has now headed back to school, and I've moved into Geoff and Vicky's house (deluxe to the max! :))

A well earned lunch break, spent down at the stream en-route to the orphanage!

The guest lodge will be relatively quiet over the next week or two, as all the Easter crowds have headed back to their respective workplaces. Its a great opportunity to prioritize over the horses and horse-workers. We were so busy with guests over Easter, that I didn't have much time for anything extra. We'll also have time to sort and clean all the tack and bits'n'bobs in the tackroom, it will be a big job, but we've got the time!

Friendly Game with Dowdy and Bahati. The most common phrase coming from Dowdy these days is: "Always Friendly first. Rafiki, rafiki"

Driving Game, our conversations go something like this: "Imagine that your ears are back," "...But his ears are forward" "Yes, its good (Nzuri San/Saafi Sana) he is paying attention. Your ears must be back though"

This week I'm continuing to teach Dowdy and Gramsead the Seven Games (we've learnt 3 so far); they've been learning the games with Noita, the yearling, and Bahati, both of which I've already taught the Seven Games. It's so much easier to learn on a horse that knows what he's doing! The idea is that when the guys are more competent, they'll start teaching the games to other people and horses... and so the domino effect begins

Playing the 'touch it' game, and driving from the middle of the horse.

I am very much aware that-with a limited amount of time to spend here-my main focus should be on teaching Dowdy and Gramsead. This will hopefully enable them to train the horses (especially backing the youngsters and handling the foals) with a different mindset.

Gramsead: Attentive when he is here, but unfortunately not the most committed of people.

I decided to send off an email to the Parelli email-list to see what other people think I should prioritize on, hopefully it will give me a couple of ideas, and if nothing else, start a great conversation:

Hi All
I have to say that this is the quietest the list has been in a long time, hope it means that spring has arrived and that you're all out playing with your horses! My excuses for being so quiet is a)lack of time b)lack of motivation and c)lack of internet...
I'm having a ball over here in East Africa. I've now moved up from the coast, and am volunteering at a lodge in the Highlands. With 19 horses to play with (including 3 foals and a yearling) 2000 acres of mountainous range to ride over (and take guests on treks - spent an average of 4 hours daily in the saddle over the last week), very teachable workers to Parellise, and HIV/AIDS orphans to occupy in the afternoons, I think I've arrived in my element :)
I’ve realized that -with only 4 weeks to spend here- there isn’t really much time for me to dilly dally with pointless concepts. I would like to make a lasting impact (to sow seeds, so to speak) and I think the most effective way to do this, is to Parellise the (incredibly teachable and keen to learn) workers as much as possible. There isn't much point in me playing with the horses, only to have my work undone by the two workers (for lack of a better word), or to show the guys things (level 3 tasks) that are too advanced for them, as this could only frustrate both them and the horses. So, I have been thinking about the foundations of the Parelli system, and the fundamentals of the programme. If the two workers could come away with some of the Parelli mindsets/attitudes, they'd be on the right track to discovering the horse. The exciting thing about this place is that there are already such fantastic foundations in place - the horses live very natural lives as it is, they generally think that humans are great things, and the workers are very caring and gentle. I find that there is no need to 'undo' other people's problems, rather build on the basic set-up that is in place.
One of the 7 'attitudes/keys to success' is support, so thats a big reason why I'm making contact with you all. Many of you are far more experienced than me, but all of us are ultimately on a personal learning experience through Parelli, and many times, the things that made learning easy for us, will also help others. Perhaps things that are second nature to some of you, and seem perfectly obvious to you, will not be so clear to me. So, I guess my question is firstly: 'What do you think the fundamentals of the Parelli programme are, and with a limited amount of time in which to influence these guys, what do you think are the essential principles/values of Parelli?’ and secondly: 'How were these concepts brought home? What made them relevant to you?'
A couple of things I've come up with are: The 7 games, the 7 attitudes/keys to success, its not about the -, pressure motivates but its the RELEASE that teaches, LB/RB, partnership (51%/49%) rather than chauvinism, prey/predator psychology
And now you see why I could happily be here for a year or two...
One example of making these things relevant is this: the horses are free to roam all afternoon, and one of the workers always stays with the herd - so my first task was to make them aware of the horses communicating, and to stop them from interfering. Each morning I’ve reminded them that they are 'students of the horse,' which entails them not being allowed to reprimand or speak to the horses while they’re out grazing. I explained what the seven games are, and got them to keep a record of what games they saw the horses play throughout the day. They have already been making small adjustments, such as realizing that the horses use driving game a lot more than porcupine, whereas they guys/workers had been using mostly porcupine (steady pressure) when moving the horses around (for tacking up etc.) I hope that once they're more aware of the horses communicating with each other, they'll be able to imitate the horses, and communicate using the 7 games rather than human methods.
We've all had 'aha!' moments - those times when something just goes click, and makes the world of difference in our horsemanship, so please do share. I find this an interesting discussion topic in itself, but practical examples that I could share with the workers would be useful. Easy tasks/activities that could illustrate certain concepts, and get them on the right track to discovering the next thing would be brilliant –concepts with a domino effect, so to speak. I do have a couple of limitations, my lack of Swahili being the biggest, and the next biggest being the fact that the only Parelli material I have with me is my Carrot stick, 12 ft line and halter. But hey – these limitations aren’t too drastic, as there are still SO many things to learn and discover. Such exciting stuff!!!!
Hope you’re all well, savvy on!
Kerrin x
L3 Student (recently received the news that I passed my L2++ with a lot of L3 ratings, and a L3++ for my friendly game! BIG SMILES)

Mufundi - Pressure motivates, but its the release that teaches

Here are a couple of ramblings I've made in my diary, just different discoveries I've been making in my time here. Mostly unedited things, forgive me if any of this confuses you...

Pressure Motivates, but its the release that teaches

In most cases, this sentence is like a light turning on. But soon, the horse even seems to figure out that plan, and it's no longer any good! The key is to find the amount of pressure needed. For instance, with a more dominant, left-brained horse, the pressure might be greater, or there may be a need for more incentive, provocative pressure. BUT one needs to be careful not to push a right-brained horse beyond his pressure limits, as he'll explode or shut down. I guess it all boils down to the principle of 'never ask a trying horse to try', and if it ever becomes 'too much,' retreat! Also, with a more dominant horse, you've got to find your phase 4, but pressure is more than physical pressure.

Principle to Purpose

As with anything in life, one always hits the question of ‘why?’ And, I’ve realized that 'just because' is a valid answer. I’ve been discovering that the beauty of communication and relationship is that it's not always an immediate, life or death situation. Sometimes, there isn’t a point to relationship. Beauty is just for the moment. Just because. Why not? As I am a person who quite quickly deems things as pointless, boring, or unnecessary, it's been so valuable to learn to ‘just be.’

Now, with horses, is it enough for me to answer ‘because,’ or do they need something more, a reason behind relationship? OR, it is that when I supposedly answer ‘just because,’ they are in fact receiving it as pressure, or perhaps, a different element of perfection – in that I’m expecting them to ‘just be’ when in fact they NEED to move around, and be provocative. In which case, ‘just being’ is a huge pressure in itself. Also, is it possible to do something without a reason, but still do it well? For instance, I’d like the horse to do a perfect circling game, just because. Perhaps when ‘just because’ is in the picture, the word perfect can’t also come into the equation… hmmm, stuff to ponder…

Firm vs Friendly, Assertive vs Soft

Firm versus friendly, assertive versus soft. What is the difference, and how can the receiving party really tell the difference?

I think that one word to sum it all up is ‘Respect.’ I find that the horses here interpret Friendly Game as their opportunity to disrespect me, and when I'm firm, they automatically think that I'll disrespect them. I want to show them that in both there is respect. 'I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine, but this is MY personal space.' ‘Don’t be afraid, but do what I say…’

We tend to teach our horses assumptions, and in essence, rather than learn to respect us, they learn to respect our tools and then only in certain scenarios. This is not true communication with the person/figure in question – rather, it is an association of certain behaviour with different tools/items/materials, and the realization that those things require certain responses. So rather than communicating with the human who has a whip at hand, they run in a circle on adrenaline. We teach assumptions, because we think the horse is being so good, and responding so quickly. What we don't realize is that they aren’t really responding to our request.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Busy, busy, busy!

Its amazing to have been given so much freedom over the horses, I've been managing everything; from what time they come up to the compound (their evening paddock is about 5-10 minutes walk away) to who rides whom and when, taking bookings, and taking guests out riding.

Guest riders

The Easter period has been exceptionally busy at the lodge. With around 54 people staying here for the last 10 days, most of which have wanted to ride, Dowdy and I have certainly spent a lot of time in the saddle! It averages out to around 3 hours of riding a day...

It's hard to focus in low light on the back of a moving horse, but you get the idea....

On a personal level, I've been practising riding with my carrot stick, something I don't do nearly often enough. I've been setting Dowdy different riding challenges, such as feet in/out of the stirrups, riding without stirrups, standing in your stirrups etc, and those same challenges have applied to me!

The life!!!

Most of the guest riders are beginners, or have a limited amount of experience. It can be a bit hair raising at times, especially when you've got a group of 12 people riding at the same time. One learns to trust the horses a lot, they definitely are a great bunch. I would love to have more time here, firstly to Parelli train all the horses and Dowdy so that I could show the riders some Parelli/riding basics that the horses will easily respond to.

Me riding Bahati

Although I like to handle all the horses, my favourite is Bahati, and I've been riding him consistently over the Easter period (from the 1st April until now; around 10 days!) I've been riding in my Parelli halter, and he is already responding brilliantly. I've been asking him to do some yielding exercises, such as moving his hindquarters/forequarters and eventually, sideways (leg-yield) I was also proud to safely put a child on him; when I arrived I was told that Bahiti is not used for the guests as he is too fiesty (dominant). Its amazing to see the results after having ridden him for around 20 hours. He is already so much more chilled!
Geoff and Vicky have asked me to stay on for a couple more weeks, Anja has to be back for school, but I could easily stay on. I'll need to do a bit of schedule planning, but it looks as if I'll be staying :yay!
Proud to have put a child on my 'noble steed:' Bahiti

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Leadership; what to do when the horse questions it?

Foal Training

Today someone was telling me about a situation she had recently with her horse, and asked me what I would've done in the scenario. She was out on a hack, and got to a certain point where the horse decided he wanted to turn back home - and after some struggling, they went back home. The next time they rode the same route, the horse stopped at the same point, but this time he threatened to buck if they didn't turn back. I automatically said that, if its not pain related, its dominance related. This got me thinking about leadership on a deeper level. It seems to me that a great leader will never bring the horse (or human) into a win/loose situation.

I think that a horse will fight whatever the human puts in the way of resistance. He will match and persist with the same amount of force that I use. Another thing is that, somewhere along the line, the horse will test the leadership and if that leadership* doesn't meet the mark, he will (rightly) challenge it. My job is to establish leadership in the small things (interactions), and when the horse does test my leadership, either rise up to the mark, or, if I am not a good enough leader on that day, or in that scenario, at least have the humility to back down, and re-establish leadership, respect, and TRUST (amazing how these things are connected) in the last place that I had it.

If the horse challenges the leadership in the first place, its because he's had reason to question it somewhere along the line. Therefore, when the horse challenges my leadership, its definitely NOT the time to give the horse something to fight (a win/loose scenario). Things are only as big as we make them. The horse will mirror my attitude.

Some horses - often labelled 'fierce' 'dominant' or 'stubborn' - have a greater sense of leadership and respect; these horses need to be treated with greater dignity, that is all. It is also true that 1 human/handler represents the whole of the human species, so if that human shows a lack of true leadership, respectful and trustworthy, the rest of us will pay - as that horse will view all humans as untrustworthy leaders (predators!) until someone shows him otherwise. And remember, the horse is right to be suspicious and mistrustful! His safety is at stake!

*often leadership has nothing to do with dominating, but is rather about the times that we've retreated, at the correct time. The times that we *cough* admit that the horse is right.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Football with the kids

A lively muddle of energy!


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm helping out at the NGO's orphanage in the afternoons. On Easter weekend we helped the children prepare a couple of songs (and exchanged a couple of English songs for Swahili songs, they were VERY amused at our singing of 'head, shoulders, knees and toes') to sing to the lodge guests at lunch. After lunch we had an easter egg hunt and water fight. 

Learning songs

The older kids are passionate about football, and they have their own football field. Anja and I headed down for a game of football this afternoon; all good fun. I was just a little bit lacking in the area of technique, but I made up for it with my enthusiasm...

Football skills practise

I love playing with the toddlers, and there are a LOT of them (around 13). We've invented our own makeshift game of 'sleeping lions.' Basically I wander around chanting 'watoto lala' (children sleep) and they all have to pretend to sleep. As soon as they 'wake up' I chase them and tickle them. I never knew that they could have so much fun with this; I now have most of the children, including the older ones, chanting 'watoto lala' as they see me approaching the orphanage!

Time for a break and a cuddle


Dowdy's 'ears back' face:

Now that Dowdy is beginning to understand the ways that horses communicate with each other, we're looking at implementing those things ourselves. So, its all very well to know how the horses are moving each other about, but how do we do those things? How do we mimic the 'ears back' how do we do something that has the same effect as kicking or biting?

We've covered a couple of fundamentals: 
1. Pressure motivates, but its the release that teaches (so its all very well that you're doing the action, but it has to mean something. Its when the horse responds appropriately that you release the pressure) 
2. Find the amount of force that the horse is using, and then use the same amount and a little bit more back
3. You have to know, how much pressure to use, where to apply the pressure, and how to apply the pressure (known as phases, zones, and games in Parelliville) 

We played about with a couple of 'horseless simulations'  - getting each other to do different things, but without using verbal cues. That was fun! We also practiced our 'ears back' faces, for the first couple of days they were 'students of the horse' but today, I told them that they must do the same things as the horses.... yes, ears back, kicking, biting, eating grass, pooping (nope, not quite that far, but you get what I mean!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Aren't I privileged to be riding in this environment?!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First Principles

I've been thinking creatively about ways to get certain concepts across to Dowdy and Gramsead (the staff who take care of the horses here at Mufundi). This is a challenge, partly because of certain barriers, language and lack of Parelli resources being the biggest, but also because I won't be here for very long (2 weeks, although we've talked about extending my time here).

At the moment they are excellent at just 'being there.' They spend all day out grazing (not them, literally!) with the horses, moseying around as they do, telling them off if they kick each other, but other than that just being there. This is fantastic, because the horses see them as one of the herd. BUT, I'd like to make Dowdy and Gramsead (D&G) more aware that the horses are communicating with each other. That they don't just kick each other at random, and that there is a heirachy.

So, I made a list of four of the Parelli games: Friendly, Porcupine, Driving, and Yo-Yo. These games are really the fundamental ways of communicating, the other three games are really a mixture of these four foundational games. For those of you who don't know what the Seven Games are.... basically Pat Parelli came up with an easy way for us dummies to understand how horses move each other about. The idea is that if we understand the way they THEY (horses) move each other around, we could mimic these ideas, and in turn communicate/move them around in the way that makes sense to the horses. While a lot of our human communications are verbal, horses predominantly use body-language. So, in the same way that our hierarchy is based upon who speaks the most eloquently, or the loudest, or fastest, or most humourously, the horses hierarchy is based upon who moves the other horses around the most, whilst they themselves move the least (who moves whose feet?)
Any non horsey person will tell you that the horses back end is a dangerous place, as they 'unpredictably kick.' Yes, well done for having common sense, but no... there is a LOT more to it than that. Anyway, if you'd like to know more about horse communication, and Parelli, visit the Parelli website:

The Parelli games are about the different ways that horses move each other around to establish leadership and communication. I showed D & G the first four: 
  • Friendly: Is about establishing trust. Everything you do should be based upon the fact that you're not going to eat the horse!
  • Porcupine: Is about moving the horse using steady or constant pressure ie you push the horse until he moves, an obvious one being asking the horse to move his back end away from you, or pulling on the reins/halter
  • Driving: Is about moving the horse using rhythmic pressure. The pressure here starts by just looking at the area you'd like to move, then applying rhythmic pressure, and if the horse doesn't respond, tapping the area, getting progressively stronger. An obvious example of this is when one kicks with the leg when riding; although many riders kick incessantly, or without response, so in essence are playing (an extremely noisy and disrespectful) version of the friendly game.
  • Yo-Yo: Dowdy couldn't find a Swahili translation for this, so we just translated the words 'backwards/forwards' which is really what the Yo-yo game is about. Getting the horse to move backwards, and then coming to you.
In order to make D & G more aware of the horses communicating, I have given them the following list. 

Every time they see a horse playing a particular game, they are to record it. They have already become aware that the horses use Driving Game way more than they use Porcupine. This is an adjustment for D&G as they mainly use Porcupine when moving the horses around.