Category Archives: Behavioral musings

If mom was watching

Think about this when you are working with animals —

If their mother, or your mother, was watching… would she have a smile on her face? Would she be happy with how you are working with her child (fair, deliberate and graceful?)? Would your mom be proud of you and think, “That’s my kid!”

I always like to keep this in mind, especially when starting horses. Would their be a smile on a mother’s face, somewhere out there, watching this progress?

I hope so.


Photo by Rebecca Schmidt Pearl getting used to the saddle pad - Day 1 saddling

Photo by Rebecca Schmidt
Pearl getting used to the saddle pad – Day 1 saddling

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Teaching Tricks

Just sing along

I always tell people, when a situation gets a bit tense with an animal, or feelings of frustration and impatience arise, to start humming. Or go all out and sing! Take a singing break. Do it. It’s fun.

Why? Humming, singing, whistling… all of these things cause us to breathe, relax and get a bit distracted. You will feel your muscles loosen and a general positive energy flow through you. When I was a working student at David Lichman‘s ranch, I was absolutely in love with his arena speakers! We could ride around and play with our horses while blasting music. It was like one big party and we always made so much progress at the same time.

Today while working with the horses (here in Australia), I got my little iPod nano out (it clips onto your clothing – I really recommend this kind of iPod to anyone working with animals!) and put an earphone in one ear. Working with horses is fun, but when you’re listening to your favorite tunes, you get into a kind of flow. It really is as if you are dancing with your horse and it can be so inspiring!

If a horse is hard “to catch”, you will just take all of those pauses as a chance to listen to some music. You won’t get frustrated and this carries over to the horse.

For all of my dog owners – music will help you, too. It generally puts you in a positive state and makes you a calm leader. Which is exactly what all animals need. Try putting some (fitting) music on the next time you are with your animal/s and see what happens! Just remember, if you’re using headphones, don’t turn the music up too loud, especially if you are working with horses or bigger, exotic animals. You want to be aware of your surroundings and of any (warning) sounds – for your safety! Best is if you use only one earphone.
Tell me all about the results or past experiences in the comments!

Photo by Tiamat Warda Patches, the Appaloosa mare

Photo by Tiamat Warda
Patches, the Appaloosa mare


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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Tasmania

Don’t arrive empty-handed!

All over the world, it is common courtesy to bring a gift to someone’s home. It doesn’t matter if they are your best friends, relatives, or it is your first time visiting a business colleague. You make an effort to bring a bottle of wine, a salad, or maybe a desert.

When we step into our horse’s pasture or stall, we are stepping into their home. It is where they live and needs to be respected. When we visit someone we (usually) don’t just barge in without a knock or a “hello”, and we bring something with us.

Does this change how you view approaching your horse now? What do you bring with you? A carrot will do. Or maybe a bucket of water or a nice long scratch on a hard-to-reach spot. This causes our horse to really look forward to our visits.

It’s the same thing when grandma or auntie visits. You see their car or hear their voice and you get excited. Maybe they brought some baked goods or a little gift for you… or just a really good mood and a smile!

We expect our horses to do a lot for us for no reason. What do they get out of it? How does it benefit them? Well, I’m sure you could think of some reasons… but would your horse understand it and agree?

Bring something to the table to offer your horse – take the time to give them something they’ll really enjoy.

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo

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Filed under Behavioral musings, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions

“It’s Like Riding a Bike…”

There are things we do in life that we have been doing for years and years. Like riding a bike. Then one day, like me yesterday, we decide to ride that bike without holding onto the handlebars.

I was riding my bike down a long stretch of forest path – straight and flat. With nothing better to do, I figured, why not give it a try? Not just a little bit here and there like I’ve done in the past, but really master it. The entire bike ride, I had been sitting steadily in my seat, focused and quiet. As I was preparing myself to let go of the handlebars, suddenly I leaned forward and my center of balance got thrown off.

Of course, it didn’t work. I stopped practicing for a moment and thought about it. Then I sat in the bike’s seat as I always do, let go of the handlebars, and instead of slowing down my pedaling due to uncertainty or shakiness, I sped it up. Almost going faster than before, I was pedaling hard and confidently. All of a sudden it worked. Within 5 minutes I was able to bike without my hands and even took out my phone for a quick look. Like a real 21st Century adult!

How does this relate to animals… we often change how we hold and conduct ourselves when one aspect of something that we are comfortable doing, changes. For example: when you ride your horse for the first time without reins, a lot of people lean forward and give cues completely different than they normally do. We can’t be surprised when our horse doesn’t understand what we are asking. It’s as if an entirely different person is riding!

Or when you are taking a walk with your dog/s and another dog comes up in the distance. Up to that point, you were probably sauntering along, minding your own business, lost in your thoughts, relaxed… you get the picture. Then a dog comes and BAM. There you are, frantically turning around toward your dog who might be off the leash, grab him or maybe you just get tense and change the way you walk, without even noticing it yourself. Maybe if you had kept your calm demeanor, nothing out of the ordinary would have happened.

It’s something we can slowly become aware of. All of this came to me while I was riding my bike for the first time, hands-free. It was so easy! I just had to go on doing what I had been doing all along. Just with that one little change.

What is something you have struggled with? Do you find yourself getting tense or changing your posture when you mix things up? Tell me about it in the comments!

I own no rights to this photo. Unknown Photographer

I own no rights to this photo.
Unknown Photographer


Filed under Behavioral musings, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

Training Opportunities

Throughout our day when uncomfortable situations arise, we avoid them at all costs.

You could be taking a relaxing walk with your dog and suddenly a frustrated dog leaps against a fence and barks angrily at you and your dog. It’s not nice. We don’t want to stay in that situation. Our response, most everyone’s (especially if you have a dog who pulls and barks back), is to do anything to simply get past and continue on. You pull the leash, walk faster, you know…

What we sometimes forget, is what a perfect training opportunity it is. Not just this one example, but any moment that you generally avoid at all costs. In this example with the dog leaping at the fence and barking, turn around and walk past him or her again and again and again. And again. Until your dog, at the very least, can walk past calmly. You’re safe, nothing can happen with the fence separating you. At most, you’re annoying the neighbors by continuously causing this dog to bark but hey, get the dog trained and he won’t bark anymore, right? It’s not your problem. Take advantage of it and teach your dog to walk past calmly.

The dog owners with misbehaved dogs in my neighborhood have grown to despise me. Why? Because I walk right towards them. That’s all. I don’t quickly turn in a different direction like the others. I walk past them, even if that means putting my own dog/s on a leash. It’s actually their loss. They could use these moments to improve the behavior of their dogs. But until they do, their dogs are perfectly horrible enough to help me train my dogs. I dream of the day when a person with a barking, lunging dog asks me, “Hey could we walk past each other one more time? I’m trying to teach him/her to behave.”

Why not ask that? In the end that’s all we want, yet most of us end up paying a dog school mountains of money just to practice walking past each other. Then avoid other dog owners in “real life”!

You see, if we always avoid these situations, our dogs will go crazy and completely misbehave when the situation arrises without you being able to avoid it.

The same applies to working with horses. If your horse spooks on a windy day, do this;

Look out your window on an especially windy day, the branches clacking against the glass, the trees swaying, the leaves fluttering, say, “What a perfect day to take my horse on a walk!”

Note: I said on a walk (like with a lead rope), not ride. Don’t face these situations without a trainer if you don’t feel safe/confident/capable!

At some point, your horse will be so used to those windy days that he or she won’t even blink when the trees make that swooshing sound. And your dog will calmly walk past all sorts of dogs because you took advantage of every training opportunity!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo


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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, Teaching Tricks

Too perfect, then not perfect enough

I apologize for the long silence on this blog. So much has been happening and I have been very busy with work, but now it is time to focus on Humanima again!

Amongst all of the stress, I have been making big plans which I am very excited to share with you! For the next two and a half months, I will be traveling around the world. First, two weeks in California and then two months in Tasmania, Australia! In Australia I will be working with multiple horses – the goal with most of them is to get them started under saddle (aka get them ridden for the first time). I will share as much of this journey with you as I can!

What I wanted to talk about today is perfectionism. Something most of us don’t have enough of when it comes to working with animals. It’s an attention to detail that can make the world of difference. Yet when we are extreme perfectionists, things almost always go downhill. Fast.

I was at a Seminar on training “problematic” dogs. Entering the room, the first thing I heard was a deep growl that echoed through the room. I had no way of knowing where it came from. The growling dog was owned by a sweet young women, but his behavior got so bad that she had to put him back in the car. We worked with almost all of the problematic dogs there that day (extremely scared and spooked, aggressive, strong hunting instincts, etc), except for this dog with the growl and aggression towards others.

When we were back in the classroom, the trainer teaching this seminar turned to the owner of the growling dog. He asked her what she was having trouble with. She explained and, without seeing her and her dog in action, the trainer simply said, “Your problem is that you’re a perfectionist.”
I was absolutely stunned that he could read that just by looking at her. She hadn’t explained much and had done nothing with her dog. The young lady had tears in her eyes and nodded. Seeming to know, to some extent, that it was true. I saw her during a break afterwards, walking with her dog off leash past all of the dogs going on walks. The growling, the aggression, the “disobedience” if we should call it that, was simply gone. From one second to the next. It was gone because she had faced the fact that she was a perfectionist and realizing she had to change and relax for her dog.

We don’t want to become this overbearing, super controlling dog owner. Yet perfectionism has its place. We don’t want to let little bad habits slide until they turn into big problems. And there’s nothing saying that we can’t expect a lot from our dogs.

But where’s the middle for you and your dog/s? Where do you think you could maybe be more picky and where could you relax a little more? Let me know in the comments. Balancing perfectionism is a real deal breaker – something that will take an entire lifetime to master, but there’s no better time to start than now.

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this Photo

Unknown Photographer
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

The Lazy Cowboy

As some of you know, in California I was a working student for David Lichman (a 5* Parelli Instructor and a fantastic horseman).

I remember one day we were sitting on the fence of the coral when we went to look at a young horse for Karen Rohlf. David got to telling me about this time he was starting (wild?) horses with another absolutely fantastic horseman – Honza Blaha. So David is walking after this horse, around and around in circles, putting pressure on him until he turns and faces him (which is when David took the pressure off).

Now Honza was doing the same thing, but with slightly different approach. He pulled up a chair into the middle of the arena, took a seat and, to put pressure on the horse, would simply lift his stick, toss a pebble, or stand up. It was a hot day and David was sweating. Looking over at Honza sitting comfortably, he wasn’t sure what to make of it! But in the end they got the same results, one of them was simply more tired than the other…

It’s a funny story that I think of quite a lot when working with animals. It’s not so much about how much pressure you put on an animal. They are aware of any kind of pressure or suggestion. Besides that, it’s the release that counts. We can learn quite a lot from this story and it becomes more and more interesting to me the more I think about it… thanks for sharing, David!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo.

Unknown Photographer
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Inspiration and Idols, mustangs

Hold On For A Second



Give yourself time, and your animal a moment to understand what you are trying to communicate to them.

This is a constant journey – learning not to expect immediate results or perfection. Our whole world is built around speed. Phones have become fast, fastest and faster. We have everything we need with the tap of a touch screen.

In other words, we have forgotten how to wait – hovering in a moment before we get a result. Often times, that one minute of  “hesitation” can make a huge difference when training animals.

Let them figure it out without pushing them!

You might ask your horse to walk by giving a light squeeze. Before going to your next phase, just wait a second! We don’t want to do all of the work for them – give them a chance to use their brains. So just wait and see if your horse offers a walk before you ask again. Then reward them! It might have taken a second longer than you wanted but… so what? At least they responded to a light suggestion from you.

This makes your overall training softer, lighter, and more effective with better results.

Not rushing things can help us in every aspect of life, right? So let’s make it part of our program!

Photo from I own no rights to this photo

Photo from
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Handling Emotions, Horses, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans, Teaching Tricks

Follow Your Gut!… And When Not To

Our gut feeling about a situation can keep us safe if we know when to listen.

Quite often peer pressure can lead us to do things we actually know we shouldn’t be doing! Like that one day where everyone was riding in the arena and started going over huge jumps. They told you to not be such a scaredy-cat and take the jump, and you did… but you were sweating and deep down you knew you weren’t ready.

Perhaps your horse is unconfident about jumping and by taking that big jump you ruined the trust and relationship between you two. Or you were unconfident and ended up falling off or getting more frightened!

Dog owners are the same way. You can be on a walk with a group of people and everyone has their dog off the leash. Yours is leashed because he or she is not yet trained, but everyone tells you to loosen up and let the “poor dog have fun”. So, with a deep feeling of regret, you take the leash off and something bad happens – the dog runs off, chases something, doesn’t come when called… and you can’t reinforce your training! Bummer!

These are moments where you need to listen to yourself and know when something’s not a good idea. Put your foot down and ignore peer pressure for your, and your animal’s, sake.

But sometimes this gut feeling can be mistaken for a general fear. Maybe we really are ready to take that jump with our horse but we wait our whole lives, because we’re too scared to try… That’s when it’s time to take baby steps forward. Start by going over a pole, then a raised pole, a small jump, and so on. Just do something to get over your fear.

We need to listen to our gut and instinct, but there comes a time when we need to move forward! Stay safe!

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dog-Horse Similarities, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans

Enough Stress For Everyone!

I took part in a Seminar from a well-known dog trainer here in Germany. It was two days working with “problem dogs” and, as always, problem humans…

Amongst the bunch there were dogs with deep, loud growls – some wanted to chase rabbits more than breathe air – and some were afraid of anything that existed. It was such a mixed group. The whole seminar planted many little seeds in my mind that will slowly start to grow in understanding over the years.

We were wrapping up the Seminar and asking some last questions when a woman asked, “I have a dog who pants heavily and drools on longer car rides (multiple hours) and can’t seem to calm down. How do I help him with that?”

So I sat there, as usual, trying to anticipate the answer. Thinking of the many things I might do in that situation. I had a whole plan in my mind that would’ve worked, surely! To my surprise, the trainer asked her in return,

“And how often do you go on these long car rides?”

“A few times a year at the most…”

Then he smiled and said, “I am under stress every day, often with very little, to no, relaxing time. Why can’t your dog handle a few hours of stress a year?” It was a very common-sense-approach. I was stumped because I was sure he would’ve come up with some sort of solution for her or something… anything! He continued, “It would be silly for your time, and even more stressful for the dog, to drive around and around for hours trying to get him used to being in a car. Maybe some day he will realize driving for a longer time in a car is not so bad. Then again, he might have car sickness (because you say it only comes up on long car rides) and trying to train even a person with car sickness brings us nowhere.”
The seminar had quite a few of these moments. Moments where I though I knew what he would say, only to think, “Hmm… okay, common-sense strikes again!”

But it’s true; sometimes people are under the impression that animals should never experience stress, but it’s perfectly fine for us to be stressed 24/7. That’s not to say that your animal should be stressed, but don’t become unrealistic in your acts to protect them from it. Sometimes your animal will have to endure something that is stressful – we all do. Depending on how you deal with that, he or she will either improve from the experience, and learn that it was not so bad, or feed off of your worry and become even more stressed in the future.

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo

Unknown Photographer
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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Handling Emotions, Human & Animal Interactions, Humans