dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Black Magic

 Last week I had the opportunity to take both horses to a clinic with a local horsemanship coach, Danique Henderson. I was excited because I have followed her for a few years and really liked her work and philosophy.  When a friend was having her at her stable and invited me I leapt at it. 

this dog kills me- he lost his toy so 
he decided that I could throw hay instead

A really nice thing about this clinic is that it was a 15 minute trailer ride away.  Usually I'm looking at 90 minutes minimum so this felt like a treat. We were in the afternoon so I had time in the morning to do chores ride Carmen and get organised. It was also a good chance to practice loading and unloading all by myself in a low-stress situation.  

I put Carmen on first and then brought Quaid out. It took a little to have him load himself in the trailer. He dithered a bit but was not stressed. My back up was to lead him on and tie him and then put up the butt bar but I didn't need to. With a sigh and some encouragement he walked on. When we arrived I unloaded him and handed him to an unsuspecting young woman who was standing there.  I put them in their stalls and got them settled with water and hay.  Stephanie had stalls that had them separated which was great.  Quaid became obsessed with the pony next door. The pony was less enthused. Carmen's stall was at the end of the aisle and had an elevated floor. She looked huge. 

I was able to watch a couple sessions before it was my turn. I decided to bring Quaid first. 



I'm about to describe the clinic from what I remember and learned. Any errors are not a reflection on Danique- I probably have it wrong


When I brought Quaid in he was quite 'up' and definitely tense. Danique asked about him and I explained that he was 3 and I wanted to improve my groundwork skills with him. I said 'he's quite excited right now'

Danique "this is him wound up?'

Me: yes this is about as excited as he gets. 

D: wow. that's pretty good. 

It took, I dunno, about 3 minutes for her to figure us out. She then asked if she could take him. I answered of course. To summarise: she believed that he didn't really pay attention to me because I was his safe space. So he felt okay with tuning me out while looking at the others watching, sniffing the ground and looking around. All of which was totally fair. 

talking to Danique, see his focus is elsewhere? (PC Stephanie)

She took him and put a little pressure to get him to tune in and respond. She noted that he was definitely not afraid of pressure (the whip) which made him easy to work with. Even when she got after him a little harshly for totally blowing her off he would jump and look at her like 'what the heck lady?' 

Danique then showed me how to use my energy to help him understand when to respond and when to chill. She talked about how horses learn in rhythm so we need to make sure that we do happens in that way. It was a pretty simple exercise but difficult to keep it all together. As humans we don't always pay attention to our energy and how horses are so attuned to it.  The exercise was simply to walk, stop, back up and/or turn. She talked a lot about intention and how I need to match it to my energy. So if I want him to do something I need to tighten my stomach and bring up my energy. To halt I let my energy leak out my feet. To first teach him to back up I was to use my feet and then bring my arm around with the rope in front of his nose so he could see it. It didn't take long for him to tune in. I could tighten my core, pick up the rope and walk toward him and he'd back up. I could pick up the rope and keep my core soft and he'd stay so I could come up and pat him. I am thinking that if you were watching it would be hard to see the difference. 

Another side note: she really really liked Quaid. I told her his breeding and it turned out that a horseman she admires recommended she use the same stud.  She also asked what colour he was and I said 'bay'. But he has this gold sheen. I said he's still bay as far as I knew. But let's just go with he's pretty. But she right, he has these gold hairs so it's so easy for him to shine with a little bit of brushing. 

My takeaways were:

  • be clear in my intention 
  • keep working on making sure he attends to me
  • don't accept him ignoring or being distracted and doing things half-assed
Then it was Carmen's turn. I told her that what I wanted was to get some guidance on doing liberty with her. Danique had me lunge her a little and then take off the halter. After about a minute Carmen looked at me and left to go down to the audience and check it out. I laughed and came down. 

So then Danique told me what she saw in our relationship. She said that Carmen was a talented horse with a strong will. That she chooses whether to listen to me and she's pretty sure that I'm not the one in charge. I had to laugh that it was so obvious to her. Clearly she's a witch like Jane (I mean that in a positive way).  She showed me a light line with a loop on the end. She explained how you can make it into a halter and put it around the neck when you're introducing liberty. Eventually you just tuck it into your waistband and that keeps your hands free. 

The exercise we worked on was to lunge Carmen around in a circle, when her attention shifted from her she would ask for her to yield her hind leg and stop. If she did that but was still attending elsewhere she would up the pressure until she had full attention.  Then it was my turn. The idea was to keep her close and going around me. When she'd shift her attention out I was to bring it in by asking her to move her hind leg. Danique gave me lots of feedback and coaching on how I was holding my whip and line. Also that I was using too much body language and could tone it down a bit. Eventually I could have her go around, lose focus, ask her to bend in with her hind end and then send her back out in one move. Danique told me to think of it like a half-halt. 

I saw a lot of parallels in this work and in my lessons with Jane having her flex to the inside. I do love when things mesh like that. 

I watched another lesson (a riding one) and then cleaned the stalls and loaded the horses to leave. This time both loaded quietly and calmly with no persuasion needed. When I got home I took Quaid out and then Carmen. It all felt very doable all on my own. 

I gave them a day off and then played with them yesterday. Before I rode Carmen I went through the exercises again. When I did ride I found her attentive from the get go- I didn't have to argue about it. It's not like the ride was perfect but it was a productive ride and one that was very encouraging. My groundwork session with Quaid was also really good. None of him trying to graze as I led him to the ring and getting his attention back was pretty easy. 

I know that 'one fine day does not a summer make' (to butcher a proverb) but this felt right to me and I'm going to enjoy continuing to build on it. 


  1. It's always fun when someone loves your horse and compliments you on them. Also cool that she read Carmen so easily.

  2. what a great session -- and so cool to get that perspective with each individual horse! doozy just had her first horsemanship lesson last week too, and i'm still sorta digesting it, but it's all kinda the same key takeaways that you write above. it was nice bc even tho i've done a few sessions with the same pro, and he always uses his same established methodology so it's familiar stuff, i still got fresh insights into how to keep improving my side of the communication equation. tho, i really like your observation above with Quaid, about how he's comfortable tuning you out bc you're already his "safe space." that idea kinda clicks a few other thoughts into place for me, something to think about!

  3. oh, the energy! totally agree, and im often so disconnected from understanding my own energy. 😔 but the horses are great mirrors!

    1. It’s hard to manage my energy by times but I am getting more aware

  4. How interesting. Sounds like an awesome clinic! Some real parallels with TRT energy section...

  5. Sounds like a really productive day! I love how Quaid settled in pretty quickly and took to the lesson. He's going to be such a fun horse for you!

  6. It sounds like you gained some wonderful new insight into working with both of them. That is funny about Carmen. She definitely sized her up fast. I like your disclaimer at the beginning, too. I always dread writing about my lessons because I am concerned I will misquote them. A lot is going on and it’s easy to hear some things, but not others, or think you heard something. Now that I’m doing weekly lessons with my trainer, I’m seeing things I missed from before. It’s a lot of information, especially with two horses.

    1. It is a lot which is why I like to have the disclaimer. I don't want anyone getting mad at someone because I misunderstood.


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