Re-Invigorating Training: Variety is the Spice of Life

Re-Invigorating Training: Variety is the Spice of Life

Longe to the left: walk, trot, canter. Longe to the right: walk, trot, canter. Bored yet? Chances are, if you are tired of this common routine, so is your horse. In horse training, as in cuisine, travel and conversation, variety is the spice of life.

This does not diminish the benefits of some forms of routine. Horses enjoy routine around feeding times, turnout and owner visits. And longing is an effective tool to assess or improve your horse’s condition, and to help to burn off excess energy before riding. However, there can be two extremes: either being tuned out (I recently witnessed someone longing his horse while he was talking on his cell phone) or agenda-based (longing before riding, but reacting negatively if the horse does not perform as expected in the prescribed time frame).

But with ongoing training, to achieve true buy-in, both of you need to be inspired with new challenges and an continuing conversation. This philosophy is embraced by Frédéric Pignon, collaborator and trainer for the Cirque du Soleil show Cavalia, in his six foundational principles of training:

1. To foster an equal relationship with the horse based on trust and respect; something that each of you must learn from one another.

2. Never to adopt “standard” or inflexible methods of training and communication; you must recognize that each horse develops in his or her own way.

3. As a trainer, you are their partner. It is your job to reduce stress, as well as to become a safe, trusted “haven” for the horse.

4. Always to be patient with a horse; never push them too fast or too insistently. By varying the horses’ routine, you prevent them from getting bored or becoming unresponsive.

5. Never to use force or become angry; horses aren’t meant to be dominated or broken.

6. Work hard to establish more “natural” forms of communication; if you listen, your horse will tell you how to speak with him in subtle, almost invisible ways.

(Excerpted from Used by permission.)

Re-Invigorating Training: Variety is the Spice of LifeJoAnna Mendl Shaw, Director of The Equus Projects (, has been creating performance works with dancers and horses since 1999. She has found that “especially for horses that like to think, repetition becomes boring. The drilling becomes drudgery, and the horses become bored if tasks are done in the same order all the time.” She has witnessed a horse memorizing the choreographic sequence and skipping to the end, and that too much repetitive rehearsal leads to the anticipation of cues. Mixing things up keeps both the horse and the dancer engaged and curious, and can also lead to improvisation and a deeper connection in a performance.

Recently, my Morgan Cross Tango became arena sour and no amount of prompting or waving of the longe whip would get him truly involved with my requests. He would stand stock-still, telling me, “Is this fun for you? Because I don’t know why we are doing it.” This caused me to be introspective about my methods; why was I asking him to longe? He had already joined up with me and would follow me off-lead. He was living in pasture, so had plenty of room to move and did not need to burn off excess energy before riding. I was just following a regular routine practiced by many.

So instead of training in the arena, we went to the pasture and I started running freely. I did this every day for weeks. Sometimes he would walk over to where I had stopped to catch my breath, and sometimes he would just eat grass. Once in a while, he would jog for a few paces. And then one day, he came along for the run. And we have been running together ever since. This was fun, for the both of us. Now it was time to test if this had just been an anomaly, or if this had truly been training.

Re-entering the arena, I used the same body language and communication we had developed in the pasture. And he started running from the first step. I set up cavalettis in different patterns, and though it took some confidence-building on his part, he would eventually conquer them. Our connection has never been stronger, and he now gives me the look of “Are you ready to run? Because I am.”

When you approach training with a fresh perspective and a revised set of expectations, you will be amazed at the differences you will see in your horse. It is never too late to create a new starting point.

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In The Eyes of A Horse


I was nervous. All I could think about were the many people he had hurt. Would I be next?

As he approached, I realized I was in his world now. My fate was literally up to him. Would he give any kind of a warning? Would he chase me off? Would he change his mind and attack? Whatever his decision, I was powerless to stop him.

Like so many mustangs, Charlie was taken from his home. Indiscriminately rounded up, he found himself in a holding pen. Waiting.

Perhaps he was there for weeks, months, maybe even years, the days bleeding together in a life of confinement. Until one day, he was rescued, given a second chance. His new life was to be as a trail horse and an example of what was possible, a partnership between human and mustang. Just one problem, no one told Charlie.

After years of training and many well-intentioned trainers, Charlie didn’t become the trail horse he was intended to be. Instead he was relegated to a small paddock. Alone. Many highly qualified horsemen had worked with him, some Charlie liked, some not so much. But he wasn’t interested in their new life. He had only one goal, freedom. He fought through his training, even hurt people along the way. The humans he faced weren’t always kind. Some had made progress with him, but his resistance was so intense and total that it was decided he was too unpredictable to be put on the string. So once again, he was in a holding pen of sorts… waiting.

I met him 2 years later, still in the holding pen. I was tasked with the responsibility of bringing him around as best I could. I began working with him, doing some basic exercises, just to get an idea of what I was working with. He seemed kind enough, willing, but when I pushed him just a little, asked him to do more than he desired, he turned towards me, squared up, ears forward, and charged.

Charlie wasn’t playing. He clearly showed me that, despite my best intentions, he didn’t trust me any more than all the other humans trying to shape him, trying to train him, trying to change him. He wanted me out and he wasn’t going to compromise. I dove out of the way, just avoiding getting trampled. Quickly I jumped to my feet, knees shaking. I wanted to leave the paddock, but knew for Charlie’s sake, I had to end on a good note. I regained my composure, slowly approached him, stroked his head for a brief moment, and then, feeling I had found some small but significant success, left him in peace.

I had heard all the stories about the infamous mustang that wouldn’t be tamed and was excited at the opportunity to work with him. But I realized, at that moment, if I really wanted to help him, more training wasn’t the answer. What he really needed was his freedom.

So I began a campaign to set Charlie free. It took 2 more years and a great deal of diligence and persistence, but I found him a home. Everyone was more than happy to let him go. I felt after all he had gone through, all he had fought for, he had earned his freedom and they agreed.

His release went smoothly and eventually he found his place in a new herd. After years of struggle and resilience he was free once again.

So there I was, only a few short months later, standing on a hill, in a field… his field. Charlie’s approach was rhythmic, confident, and deliberate. I didn’t know what he would do, but retreating was not the answer. I had to stay and face whatever he had in store for me.

He brought his nose to mine, smelled me at first, and then began sharing breath. Grateful, I returned the favor, spending a moment, cheek to cheek with this majestic being. Looking into his eye, I was surprised at what I found. I did not see the anger, the pain, the resentment, nor that for which he was so well known, revenge. Instead, I saw gentleness, gratitude, and peace.

Charlie wasn’t living in the past. He was completely present, living this moment, sharing the moment with me. It was a lesson I would never forget. I often hear people say they are attracted to horses for many reasons – the power, the beauty, the excitement, the freedom. But I think they are draw for much deeper reasons, reasons they might not even be aware of.

For me, gazing into the eye of the horse is looking into the eye of God. I am looking at the Divine Presence in us all and it is staring right back at me, asking nothing of me but simply to be. Expecting nothing of me but my authenticity; to put the burden of all my thoughts, feelings, fears, ambitions and distractions down and see who I truly am. This is an invitation to open my heart and be present in this moment.

The experience people have sought for eons through religion and spiritual practices I have in one moment with a horse. As the conduit of that Divine Spirit our equine partners can give a young girl the acceptance and partnership she longs for. It can heal a young child from the isolation of autism. It can give a felon hope, helping him to see a better way. It can revive the passions of a woman who has lived her entire life in quiet desperation. All of this without words, without demands, without persuasion. The true power of the horse is not in its hooves, its power and its speed, but its love and compassion, its presence and its unconditional acceptance.

I am often reminded of Charlie and that day on the hill. He could have done anything. He could have exacted his revenge, revenge for all the suffering he endured, revenge for the brothers and sisters he would never see again, revenge for the freedom and the life stripped from him. Instead, Charlie chose life. Charlie chose forgiveness…

Charlie chose love.

Bereavement in Horses


Just how does death affect horses? This year, I’ve unfortunately had the opportunity to observe the herd when they lose one of their number. It’s quite strange to witness the different effect it has, depending on the horse.

The first we lost was Puppet, overnight colic and found dead in the morning. Cali was affected so much; she loved Puppet, which was odd, because she tends to not be much in love with the other horses in general, apart from Delphi, Puppet’s mum. Delphi seemed almost relieved when Puppet left us. Is that because Puppet was a youngster and in the wild would, by that age, have been making her way away from her dam? The saddest thing about the whole episode is when we buried her in the field. Little Pedro stood on her grave and didn’t move for two days. The whole herd was subdued.

It happened in early January, 2016, so the weather wasn’t doing much to give any cheer. But the general sadness was palpable, and I wondered if the horses felt it as much from me as I did from them. When a horse dies they’re so big that a certain amount of indignity is unavoidable. When the tractor picked up Puppet and took her to the grave it had just dug, the horses followed along with me, a group that was as aware of what was happening as any group of human mourners. It was the most funereal thing I had ever witnessed to be fair, and apart from Pedro, after the burial the horses just turned away, like they understood it was over.

Later in May when Delaney died, arguably the worst day of my life, the reaction was the same. He had a badly broken leg from a kick and had to be PTS. The vet came and as she did the deed and I held on to Delaney’s head as he fell, the other horses gathered in a circle and sniffed at him. Again, it was clear that they understood. As with Puppet, I left the body for 24 hours for the horses to come to terms with it. They stayed close to his body all night, and the next morning when the tractor came again they did exactly as they had with Puppet. They followed his body, with me, us all in a line, and the herd watched as he was covered with earth.

Delaney had always been the link between the Baywatch crew; Cali, Delphi, Puppet, and the reject, Raggy Dolls; Fray and Tycho. Smurf, Pedro and Trotsky also functioned as go betweens, Smurf, because he was an original, like Delaney, and Trotsky and Pedro, I suspect, because they were entire and liked hanging with the chicks. Delaney though was the true go between. He seemed to control the herd and have it all together. He never acted like herd leader, but it was so apparent after he died that he had been just that. The herd completely fragmented, and it took some time for order to be restored.

Eventually peace resumed, until the day before Christmas Eve, Trosky also succumbed to colic and we lost him too. The biggest impact was on Tycho. He completely regressed into his earlier madness, to the point that when people came to the field he would really kick off. I had to save the lady from the Woodland Trust from him, as he tried his best to eat her. It was difficult even for me to keep him talking as she legged it over the gate to safety. I had no idea that Trotsky had been so dominant in the herd. Either Tycho was feeling like suddenly the weight of the world was on his shoulders, or he was playing up because he had a chance to be boss again.

This behaviour continued for some weeks, and it was a good couple of months before he came back down to the point he was at before. When Trotsky was buried, everyone followed as they usually had, but everyone was very jumpy; getting a bit bucky and kicky, as though they were frustrated. Tycho went crazy all over the field; I was having to watch I didn’t get hurt. He seemed to suddenly hate everything; me, the others, the tractor…. And my guys love tractors because tractors bring hay. He was so disturbed, and it was, frankly, pretty terrible to watch.

We don’t give enough credit to the fact these animals have their families like we do. The whole family unit shifts when one passes, and the herd has to get over it and make do. It’s apparent to me that horses suffer bereavement at least as much as we do, and their feelings manifest themselves in different ways. I wonder if death is easier on them than separation; as in death they have the opportunity to understand what has happened. When they’re separated they don’t. We hurt as much from divorce or physical loss of a companion as we do from death, so it’s important to remember than horses do too, and give them time, and to understand.

A Conversation with Nature



Have you ever noticed that certain sounds, cues, or movements work the same, no matter what language, person or animal you are using it on? Think about it…if you see your child (or your animal) getting into possible harm’s way and you have to stop it immediately, the first thing you do is make a noise or sound. It usually sounds like a few loud grunts that in your mind mean “NO! Don’t do that”. It’s an instinctual “uh, uh, uh, uh” that comes out of your mouth before you can actually think about what words you wanted to say. It’s been my experience that these instinctual sounds of “No” work on children, adults, dogs, cats, horses, etc.

All animals seem to have a natural code of conduct. I think this code of conduct is where some of our human instincts come from as well. Like the natural sounds we make when we are trying to stop something from happening. If someone raised their index finger and said “uh, uh, uh, uh”, the child, horse, or dog always knows exactly what you mean.


A-Conversation-with-NatureHave you noticed how children are “natural” around animals and seem to magically connect and communicate with them? There seems to be a universal rhythm that children connect to that allows them to talk to animals. I have seen so many children around horses that simply ask a horse to move or come with them and the horse instinctually knows what the child means. Whether the child uses sound, the movement of their hand, or just looks at their horse, the horse always seems to completely understand. For most people it seems that this universal rhythm is lost somewhere between childhood and adulthood.

Finding the inner child within and connecting and listening to nature taught me to connect with my horse at a much deeper level. Just spending quality time, in a peaceful way with my horses, has changed them, changed our relationship, and, ultimately, changed me. It was this “listening” and “connecting” with nature that allowed me to connect with my horse. This was the first step to being able to really start communicating with my horse at a new level, using herd behavior and body language.


A-Conversation-with-Nature-2I have spent many, many years watching my horses’ herd behaviors, listening to my horses’ body language, practicing both from a human perspective, and trying to see everything from my horses’ perspective. I feel that I have naturally evolved in my journey with horses and have found my authentic self, the same authentic self that I had when I was a child. The “Listening” and the “Connection” have evolved into better “Communication” with my horses and with all animals.

As proof of this evolution, I have noticed that animals are coming into my life and asking for help. I had a beautiful black kitten jump into my truck and curl up in the passenger seat in the parking lot of a train station at midnight on Halloween evening. A baby bunny, which had been born on my birthday, came into my life in December and needed to be taken care of. I released her on Easter and Ginger (as I named her) still comes out to eat and visit with me when I’m with my horses. Not to mention the 30+ cats and kittens who have come in to my life in the past few years, literally up to my front porch, to ask for love and care. I’ve even had raccoons and skunks in need of care come right to my front door and tap on the glass for attention.


Just today a baby crow came up to me as I was walking outside. At first I thought it was attacking me, loudly squawking with its wings out and its mouth open. Then I realized it was just walking (ok, hopping really) towards me asking for help, as it was very hungry. The crow’s tail had been chewed and it looked like he had gotten into a scuffle with a cat. He was just a fledgling, so he couldn’t fly yet.

A-Conversation-with-Nature-3The crow stopped right at my feet and cried for food. I looked at him and told him that I was going inside to get some food and would come right back out. I quickly got some food and went back outside, and to my neighbor’s surprise; the crow was still there waiting for me. I sat down and wanted to make sure he felt safe. So I used another sound cue that most people and animals know…”shhhhh, it’s ok”. It seemed to calm him down. I think he could tell that my intentions were honest and true. I think animals can see through most people and are able to see true intentions and know a person’s heart.

When I sat down to feed him, he jumped on my foot and let me hand feed him. He just knew that I had no poor intentions and would never hurt him. I just wanted to keep him safe and healthy. Some people say it’s “a MOM vibe”. This “Communication” leads to a personal “Conversation” that is still going on today. I still make him scrambled eggs for breakfast on the weekends and he flys in waiting for me.

I then put him in a dog crate in order to keep him safe from the neighborhood cats. I fixed it up for the crow and will help him heal and release him once he can fly and keep himself safe. With nowhere to hide from the neighborhood animals, and not being able to fly or feed himself, this is his best hope. It’s all about “intentions”.

I love all animals and it makes me very happy that they trust me and feel comfortable enough to come to me for help. I see my evolution, becoming a Certified Master Trainer began with “Listening”, which gave rising to “Connecting”, then evolving in to “Communication”, and then becoming a personal “Conversation” with animals.

Health, Horses, Healing and Hippocrates

Health Horse Healing

In 2005, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and like any devoted daughter who was devastated by the thought of losing her “rock,” I went in search of answers. I came up with Hippocrates, a hidden treasure of health and wellness located in West Palm Beach, FL. While for my mom, going to their three-week Life Transformation Program didn’t happen, I never forgot what I heard in the orientation session we attended.

Since then, I have devoted a large portion of my life to learning about alternative methods of health. I’ve delved into healthy eating habits, essential oils, detoxification, pH balancing and so much more.

Because of the knowledge gained over the years, often people will come to me for advice for simple things like a cold or more complex issues like cancer. Together we discuss things they should consider to help strengthen their mind, body, soul, spirit and their immune system. My consistent answer to everyone is, “if I were in your shoes, the first thing I would do is go and take the three-week Life Transformation Program offered by Hippocrates.”

Hippocrates-1-15-17-3495-DDeRosaPhotoNow 12 years later, I still make the same suggestion but when people started to ask very specific questions, it became clear that if I wanted to give them answers, I needed to test the waters. While three weeks would be my ideal, a busy lifestyle allowed me one week to see what Hippocrates is all about. Now as I look back on that experience it’s my goal to share what I call the “gift of health” to others, especially those involved with horses.

Hippocrates Can Also Help Horses

Florida in the winter is an area that has a host of horses in every breed and discipline including dressage, show jumping, reining, racing, polo, and so much more. So, it only makes sense that Hippocrates is a place for the horse people who love and care for them.

While I continue to learn about how Hippocrates helps heal people, I was not aware that in the past it also has helped horses. In fact, over the years the same philosophies that Hippocrates uses for people, it has also used to heal and improve performance in people and in horses.

I chatted with Hippocrates owner Brian Clement about that horse connection which took place back when this place of health and wellness had its headquarters in Massachusetts.

“When I was still in Boston guests who came through the program and got extraordinary results were horse owners and some were race horse owners,” Brian commented.

One of those owners approached Brian and asked if he thought the health benefits that humans were seeing could extend to a horse. Knowing that horses are already Vegans (which is the foundation of Hippocrates), he felt pretty positive that the same premise could be transferred to horses.

One of the healing techniques that Hippocrates uses is wheatgrass poultices on wounds and it was this concept that they passed on to horses. This is done by taking left over pulp from after the wheatgrass is juiced and using that as a poultice to heal whatever is under it.

There was some trial as to how much to use on a horse compared to what you would use on a human but once that was figured out, not only did the horse’s healing improve but as Brian explained, “It was faster because the horse is a Vegan. It wasn’t only the wheatgrass. We gave them a wide variety of sprouts.”

Hippocrates-1-20-17-3867-DDeRosaPhotoThe horses loved the sprouts and clearly looked forward to their daily addition to their diet. They also used different salves with herbs to help dissolve growths. In addition, owners and trainers were encouraged to ensure the horses were kept warm when they were sleeping. The combination of all the above proved to solve a host of problems and get the horses back in action much quicker than the normal turnaround time had been for the various conditions.

“I learned a lot from that. I learned that we are not different. For the first time I gained a different respect for their intelligence. I believe that one of the horses thanked us. He got better and you could see a difference, not only in his attitude, but in his hair and mane,” Brian added.

A New Home in Horse Country

Once the headquarters moved down to Florida that part of the business ended, but with so many horses around, Brian has a renewed interest in working with horses again. He feels the best way to do that is to work with the people who own, train, ride or care for them.

Before extending the benefits to the horse, it’s important that those working around the horses understand what Hippocrates is all about and then extend that knowledge to the horse. It makes the most sense for the individual(s) to be the ones who first learn the practices of the program. Once they see and understand how the Hippocrates lifestyle and protocols can benefit them, their family and friends then they can decide what might also work for their horses. The result will be a better life for everyone.

Both Brian and his wife Anna Maria have a love for horses and if you wander around the property you will see a variety of horse statues and artifacts.

“Anna Maria and I both see the horse as elegant and complete. They don’t have self-esteem problems. These large bodies running 50 miles an hour; it’s a noble image,” said Brian.

“Everyone likes horses and everyone likes babies. We are universal. We perceive ourselves as global. We have 17 and 18 countries around the world. We embrace them not just for their image but the extraordinary emotions. What other species has the endless love of the horse.”

For Brian and his wife, healing horses was just an extension of what his goals are for people. Health is the most important present we can receive, and for Brian, seeing what he believes is working to heal so many, “is a gift for me. The plan I had was and is to change humanity. I took on this mission because it is that important. You can’t help to change humanity without a presence.”

Hippocrates-3-12-17-6318-DDeRosaPhotoBrian feels that in a way he’s had a part in knowing that more people throughout the world are Vegan than ever before.
Brian and Anna Maria live a life that never stops. Last year they spent 210 days somewhere in the world sharing their philosophy about the road to health.

When asked about the endless hours Hippocrates requires, Brian was quick to add, “I am happy to love my work. As you get older your ego tames itself. Your brain is a foe not a friend. Your heart is your best friend.”

With the horse lover in me coming out I wondered if Brian wanted to end on one last horse moment and sure enough he did and commented, “In general people who have a love of horses have a sense of warmth and humanity. Maybe they should hold that for their lives and maintain the same level of concern for their companion as they do for the horse.”

Health has no boundaries and as a long time equine journalist who writes about and photographs horses, sharing my Hippocrates experience, especially with those who are horse enthusiasts, continues to be important to me.

For more about the seven articles from my week at Hippocrates and to read future articles go to

On the last Wednesday of each month, Hippocrates has an Open House where you can learn more about what this institute offers. They also host half hour walking tours at noon on Thursdays and Saturdays with a program consultant. It’s a great way for you to capture the essence of this place up close and decide if any of Hippocrates programs would support your wellness goals.

Keep in mind that even though your horse can’t go to Hippocrates, you can take advantage of the knowledge you gain, because many of the same protocols can also be of value to your horse. In fact, you can discuss your thoughts with one of the many Hippocrates professionals. They would be happy to guide you on how to best implement some of the things already mentioned in this article as well as other protocols, such as essential oils, massage techniques and more. These and other things could make life easier for both of you because Hippocrates is about health and healing for humans, so why not give that gift of wellness to your horse.