Tia Has Diamond in Her Eyes
The day had an ominous start. As I looked out my bedroom window, I saw the fuzzy white form of my 20 year Anglo/Arab through the thick lodge pole forest that I lived in. He would be my school horse today as I worked with a student flying in from Denver to arrive at my ranch early in the afternoon. But Lakota wasn’t moving, nor standing in the sun on that cool October morning as he usually preferred. Instead he was standing in the position to relieve himself, yet didn’t seem to be getting that done either. Something wasn’t right. Time to investigate.
I hurriedly dressed and bee-lined it out to find my horse all out of sorts. He was bloated, breathing heavily and distinctly in the position of trying to have a bowel movement. This was one uncomfortable horse.
“What timing,” I thought to myself, and then hurried back into the house to regroup and assess the situation.
I had reserved this weekend to work with a young lady from Denver who was seeking accreditation status to teach my 7 Step Safety System. Tia was flying in to work with me and Lakota for two full days and was probably driving to the airport at that very moment. I knew immediately that I’d have to find other horses to work with as well as get my horse back to his the good health which had been the trademark of his entire life.
I made a mental list of horse folks in the area as I called the local vet and received instructions for treating colic. Getting Lakota moving was of utmost importance and of course a laxative would be a good idea. So we went for a long walk, cell phone in hand.
The first person who came to mind was my barber, Tammy Kent. Tammy kind of collected horses, dogs, cats, goats and most anything that showed up at her doorstep. She was a soft touch who simply loved animals. I could easily relate. Fortunately she was home.
“Sure I’ve got some horses your student can work with Frank. In fact I’ve got one in particular that could use some work. She’s a six-year old dapple grey Anglo/Arab with one ride on her. We’ve just been out of sync as far as getting her going under saddle. She’s a real sweetheart, but a bit flighty. You know how the quantum energy of an Arabian /Thoroughbred cross, right?”
“Know all about it Tammy. That’s the same breeding as my old guy Lakota Breeze. That excessive energy that needs plenty of direction. Hey this sounds perfect. We’ll see you this afternoon.”
Tammy and I made arrangements to meet mid-afternoon. At least one immediate problem was solved as Lakota and I walked on around the loop of about a half mile that led back to my place. He moved out progressively better with every step and I felt a weight begin to lift off my shoulders as the cloudless fall day gradually warmed.
Tia Hilton arrived at just the time she predicted, 1:30. Tia was a tall dark-haired athletic gal who shook my hand with genuine enthusiasm and an engaging smile. We were immediately at ease with each other as I explained the situation. She nodded understandingly, changed her clothes, and off we headed to Tammy Kent’s ranch with implements for horse training packed for the afternoon.
Tammy and her husband Wade were just “headin down to the river to get Diamond” when we arrived.
“We’ll wait here and play with the lovely horse right here in the close paddock,” I suggested as they drove off, stock trailer in tow.
I grabbed one of my rope halters with a twelve foot lead and Tia and I walked over to an attractive light gray mare who gazed at us invitingly across the fence.
“Have at it Tia,” I suggested. “Just start working the steps and I’ll jump in with pointers as I need to. Understand that I want you to get as much out of these two days as possible, so don’t be offended if I give you a good dose of constructive criticism. This is so much about you teaching the system down the road, so I’ll try to mention the typical pitfalls that most students fall into. OK?”
“That’s why I’m here Frank. I think by now you know I can handle about anything. So have at it.”
Tia had a wonderful sense of touch and immediately found the melting zones on that very fortunate gray mare that just delighted in the attention. She was putty in Tia’s hands in seconds and I was impressed. Tia shared that same love of animals that so many of us innately possess deep in our souls; it showed loud and clear.
The clatter of the trailer and whinnying and stomping of the new horse became progressively louder as Tammy and Wade turned the corner into the yard. We left gray- mare and approached the trailer to get a glimpse of Tia’s student. Through the slats of the trailer we could see a dark gray with heavy dappling. She was stomping around nervously and whinnying loudly. This was one very agitated horse with a whole lot of white in her eyes. Tia and I glanced at each other with mutual concern.
“This looks pretty interesting Tia. You ready,” I plied?
Tia had a worried look about her, almost perplexed.
“Don’t worry. I won’t get you into anything dangerous. My promise. Really,” I assured her.
With a tremendous leap that about pulled great big Wade off his feet, Diamond came charging off the trailer, head sky-high, snorting fire and whinnying like a lost colt. Wade jerked down hard on the lead and Diamond’s head shot even higher and more white showed in those already zoned-out eyes. But the jerk did get the horse’s attention long enough to get control and move her into the small round pen.
As Diamond ripped around the pen Tammy gave us instructions and set up a couple chairs for us. Then she hit the road for the rest of the day and allowed us free rein with her once ridden six-year old Anglo/Arab.
It took a few minutes for this to all sink in and begin to add up. A magnificently conformed horse of incredible athletic ability evidence by her rollbacks and graceful changes of direction, why had she been ridden once only at this age? I suspected that Tammy had left out a few details, and surmised she had gotten into trouble and wasn’t too excited about getting back on this super-charged, hyper horse. But that was all just fine because no one was about to get on Diamond without a clear invitation. And the invite would only come when the horse was right. Period.
My Story. 7 Steps To Safety
Sixteen years earlier I’d gotten into trouble on a very athletic horse that had catapulted me right into the side of a solid wooden round pen. The loud snap of my collarbone insured that I would not be riding for a couple months, so I had plenty of time to think things over. My solemn promise to myself was to create a safety system before mounting any horse ever again. And I did just that. In fact I did it so well that several major horse magazines wrote it up and my career was launched.
Today I travel the world teaching the 7 Steps that help riders stay safe. It is the core of my teaching and the demand continues to grow. Build it and they will come. Well, they just keep coming. And today Tia would not ride until both she and Diamond knew this sequence of exercises real well and the horse was 1000% ready. That was my promise to Tia and myself.
I had the wonderful advantage with Diamond of understanding her breeding very very well. My recovering horse, Lakota Breeze had taught me volumes in the eighteen years we’d co-habituated. As I’d said time after time, “Hot plus hot equals boiling,” when referring to this combination of two high-strung breeds. In fact only in the lasts several seasons had I returned in the spring to a horse that didn’t need “the fresh taken off” as my good friend Mike Brown referred to the first encounter in the spring. Yes I did indeed understand this exact breeding well and it had been a gift in disguise many years ago before I had any idea what boiling energy was all about.
With horses of this nature there is often just too much energy to even begin to communicate. So then it’s about trying to use that energy constructively and get the horse focused on the handler. Monty Roberts and John Lyons have made careers in the art of round penning and this is exactly what needed to take place to begin to connect with this very sketched-out Angle/Arab named Diamond.
“You’ve studied Monty, right,” I inquired of Tia.
“Yes. I think I have a pretty good understanding of what he calls join up, Frank.”
“We’ll, have at it girl. And just don’t get too close to that hind-end. I don‘t think she’s mean, just bursting with energy.
And so it was. Tia entered that round pen with determination and optimism. And she did pretty well. After a series of turns to the outside with Tia very much the director, she dipped her shoulder and invited Diamond to join her. It took several attempts to actually get her hands on the wired-up horse, but within probably ten minutes she was using her instinctual animal talents to melt Diamond in the first step of my system, the one we call bonding.
Bonding with Diamond
Most every horse person believes they have that special bonded relationship with their horses. On some level this is probably true. But the depth of this bonding and trust-building that can be reached varies dramatically.
Years earlier I’d watched Linda Tellington Jones literally melt hyped-up Arabians at the Race of Champions near Cameron, Montana. I watched in awe as these over-the-top Arabs let down in her healing hands. Their eyes began to glaze over in shear pleasure as she stoked their ears, eyes, and insides of the horses’ mouths and noses. That very day, in a mere two hours, my life changed as I began to apply and modify these techniques to fit me, my approach, and my future program. And now, having taught thousands how to melt horses through touch, I’ve realized the value of this first step. Most importantly, Tia understood the importance as well. And she was good at it because her heart was in it.
In a very short while Tia had Diamond quite relaxed and trusting and enjoying her attentions. From there she asked for the head to drop and then be guided to the side, all of which Diamond complied with happily. This is the second step in my program called take and give. And while Diamond’s tail wasn’t completely relaxed, it wasn’t clamped down tight either. This was another good sign since a tight tail usually signifies an uptight horse. But now the moment of truth was upon us as Tia prepared for movement. You see, the fourth step we call the dance begins, because this is where the movement begins.
The Dance Begins
As Tia positioned herself to drive Diamond forward, the pitch of high energy seemed to almost send an aura over that little round pen. At the slightest provocation with Tia’s driving-hand Diamond shot irrationally forward so hard, fast, and unexpectedly, that the lead pulled right through Tia’s hand. Diamond ripped around the pen out of control as that twelve foot lead chased her, in a display of completely irrational behavior.
“Well I guess we’re getting a feel for her irrational side, huh Tia,” I remarked?
“I bet she’s been whipped-on Frank.”
“Sure looks like it to me. Believe me, the rough cowboy attitude is alive and well in these parts. You’ll have to do everything very slowly. I’m guessing your body language will get the job done. You push too hard with your driving hand and she’ll go right over the top. So eeeeeeasy now girl- I mean you Tia,” I suggested with a warm smile. “This is going to be quite a challenge for you. About perfect I’d say,” I said to myself and to Tia with a very good feel of this challenging situation.
In reality this was exactly the horse we needed for Tia to learn and for me to teach. What a blessing the morning illness of Lakota had suddenly become.
“Frank I’m getting light-headed. I’ve got to eat something,” Tia informed me after several too-fast go-arounds the round pen.
“No problem. Let’s head into town and get you something. Gotta have fuel to work, especially with this horse.
We put a bucket of water into the pen for Diamond and took a half hour break. It was a good chance to talk things over, debrief the last hour, and form a plan of action. A few nuts and some hydration brought Tia right back and she was ready and eager by the time we pulled back into Tammy’s.
Tia Becomes Graceful
Tia entered the round pen prepared to work with this high-strung horse at a level of subtlety she’d most likely never had to employ. But still at the very slightest provocation Diamond went right over the top. Even I hadn’t seen such a hot horse in some time. This horse would whirl on two legs and just fly out the opposite direction when Tia so much as lifted her hand just a hair too fast. This was a hot hot horse that had already been worked a good hour and a half and was still just way over the top.
“Tia, just try to use your body language to drive the horse. Don’t twirl the lead at all. It’s just too much for Diamond to handle. Get into the driving position and set it all up so there is only one simple option, to go forward quietly,” I directed.
Tia pulled back for a few moments and just kind of thought about what I’d said. She was obviously used to having to push horses to get real impulsion. This was a horse of a different color for her. Then she moved into position with Diamond against the side of the round pen and positioned herself just off the horse’s shoulder on the near side. With her left palm open and held up toward the horse’s eye, she gave a soft cluck and patted her leg too hard. Again Diamond shot forward irrationally, hit the end of the lead and pulled Tia forward abruptly, which only heightened the horse’s spirit even more and he pulled the lead right out of her hand yet again.
“Lemme show you what I mean. I’ve dealt with so many horses that I can offer the slightest level of go, and hopefully get rational movement. She might be about at the end of her rope for the day as well. And we sure want to leave it in a good place, you know?”
Tia nodded and backed out of the pen as I took the lead. I set the horse up just as I had instructed her to do, with the slightest kiss Diamond moved forward at a jumpy walk that verged on the edge of the trot. I allowed her to walk right out around me a good half dozen circles before snailing her down to a stop. With her head into the girth-area I loved her up and worked my index finger into her mouth. She suddenly exhaled deeply, dropped her head, and licked her lips with gusto.
“Ok come on in and do the same. Then we’ll call it a day. She’s had enough and it’s getting cold.” The sun was now behind clouds to the west and the temperature was dipping fast.
Tia emulated my subtle go-forward cue with her body and a slight kiss and Diamond performed like a champ. He walked around her quietly until she asked him to wind down to the stop. And there he found that wonderful place yet again, back to the womb, safety, love, and comfort. She loved her up and gently removed the halter. Diamond had no interest in leaving Tia. They had both found this safe place to regroup and neither wanted it to end.
We turned Diamond out into the big paddock with a couple of minis and then drove home, discussing the day’s progress the entire ten miles back to Windrider Ranch. We both felt good about the day and were eager to return the next morning.
“I really like that horse Frank. She’s really a sweetheart, has great athletic ability, and is simply a beautiful creature. I might just buy her as a project horse, you know,” quipped Tia.
“Tomorrow will tell the whole story. If she’s still bonkers and hasn’t digested much of today, then I’d walk away. But if we do see some good changes and is a more accepting and relaxed horse, well then I think she’d be a fabulous project for you.”
Tia rested as I took Lakota for a good long walk before dinner. He was improving and I found fresh manure in his paddock, so the panic button wasn’t bright red anymore.
Sunday morning, late October, eastern Idaho spells out cold temperatures. Tia and I started the day by reviewing the video she’d sent several weeks earlier. She was able to see her progress very clearly and we discussed in depth aspects of her presentation. She soaked it all up like a sponge and just couldn’t wait to get her hands back on Diamond. But I insisted on working a few remedial exercises with Tia to improve her timing, positioning, and body-language for the day. We then grabbed some munchies, drinks, and my saddle and then drove over to Tammy’s place late in the morning.
Diamond was out grazing and cavorting with the minis when we arrived. Tia called out to her and you’d of thought they were long lost friends. Diamond couldn’t get over to greet us fast enough.
“I think you’re going to be taking this one home Tia,” I chided as the two melted into each other. “You two have really connected.”
Tia was speechless, as she felt the same emotion for this wonderful mare. At this point her heart had now entered into the equation.
“Listen, today get right into it. I mean it should only take a few minutes to get right back to where we were yesterday. Look what you’ve already got working,” I suggested?
The two of them were dancing around in no time. Tia’s subtlety and Diamond’s understanding of what she was asking were really working. It was truly beautiful to watch the two of them as the day warmed up.
When it came time to up the ante a bit with the fifth step, desensitizing, Diamond became noticeably more animated, but at a reasonable level. Within a half hour Tia was tossing the lead all over the horse, then using a plastic bag on the end of an extendable wand all over Diamond’s body as she tolerated it quite well.
Time for Ballet on the Ground
The final step in my sequence is a driving exercise that culminates in a change of direction as the horse performs first a turn on the forehand, facing up to the handler, and then is asked to rock back onto the haunches and head out in the opposite direction. It is amazingly effective to connect brain and feet as energy is used constructively. This is relatively easy for the horse, but not so easy for humans to really master.
Tia asked the horse to move out and then, reaching up the lead, for the face-up. Everything went well until she asked Diamond to head out the opposite direction, and then all hell broke loose. Diamond’s head shot into the air and her eyes whitened noticeably as she darted off to Tia’s right.
“Wow. That was a very big deal for her. Try the other side,” I suggested.
The other side was a whole lot smoother. Not perfect, but much better and clearly a more relaxed horse going from the right to the left.
“Okay, now make the change again Tia,” I instructed, pushing her a bit.
Again Diamond resisted going out to the right and tried by keeping Tia out on the left.
“Yep. I think I’ve got it figured out Tia. She’s got an eye changing problem,” I announced with almost a sigh of relief that I’d uncovered her major phobia that had been hidden behind her impulsive, irrational behavior. “You see she really is fearful of going from the left to the right side. There’s a blind spot in there that really has her bothered. We get that one fixed and I do believe she’ll calm right down.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about Frank. Never heard of such a problem. Explain”
“Well some horses just have a real hard time changing eyes. You see they focus on one side with their eyes and brain. Then suddenly we ask for them to make the change to the other side. There is a moment when they lose sight of us completely, called the blind-spot. Until they learn to handle this comfortably, it can be quite traumatic, even flip out stuff. This very phobia gets a lot of riders unknowingly into trouble. But I believe we can help her through this. Let me take over and watch very closely as Diamond works through this,” I explained to Tia.
Helping a Troubled Horse Through Eye-Changing Issues
I walked into the round pen and loved Diamond up to bring back that trust and relaxation. She enjoyed my attention and seemed to settle down a bit. Then I positioned her to face the side of the round pen head-on, perpendicular. From there it was a matter of pushing her with my open hand extended up toward her left eye and clucking. She resisted and tried to come back into me, but I persisted and she finally bolted off to the right impulsively, clearly bothered. I backed up and slapped my hand against my own leg to try to catch her right eye and pull her toward me, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with me on that right side and immediately turned back to the left.
“You see what’s going on here Tia? She is blocking me out on the right. It’s real scary for her. But I’ve got to persist until she can make that change and turn and face me and pick me up with both eyes. This is pretty complicated stuff that slips by most trainers. And it’s relatively easy to accomplish out here in the open air. The real test is inside a stall with four solid walls. Unfortunately we don’t have a set-up like that here at Tammy’s.”
Time after time I pushed her from one side to the other, driving her with outside turns until she was finally able to come through and pick me up with both eyes and actually walk toward me after that change. It was traumatic for her and she was very impulsive at first. But after about a dozen changes, she finally settled in and accepted this initially disturbing exercise.
“Okay Tia, now you jump in and do the same. We want her to come through the turn and actually walk toward you, so you may have to position yourself to make it easy for her by moving into her field of vision,” I explained.
Tia seemed to catch onto this and within ten minutes Diamond was completely relaxed and was changing eyes comfortably from both sides.
“I think she’s ready to ride, don’t you Frank,” Tia inquired?
“Well let’s get her saddled and do a little more desensitizing. I want to see her moving out reeeeeeal rationally as she handles you slapping the lead on the saddle assertively, with real gusto. Then I’ll feel that she’s ready.”
Diamond handled the saddling better than I thought she would have. Good sign. But when Tia started driving her and slapping the saddle, it all fell apart again. This sent her right over the top as she moved off in a herky-jerky, impulsive manner.
“Do you see how impulsive she is? That is what I call irrational behavior. Irrational gets us hurt. Rational keeps us safe. She must handle this calmly before she’s ridden.”
It was a difficult situation for Tia to perform and for me to explain. Her experience with handling the lead as the horse moved was just rusty enough to cause the horse discomfort. Sensing that it would be best for me to take over, I deftly made the suggestion and entered the round pen. Again I settled Diamond with deep kneading into her withers and broke her tongue loose with my index finger in the corner of her mouth. She settled noticeably and let out a long sigh.
“Good sign. When they get too bothered, they can’t think, but only react out of fear. So then we have to bring them back to home-base, bonding. Now watch how I’ll stay in here very close, even touching my shoulder to her side in support. I’ll begin by just tapping the saddle lightly with my right hand while supporting her with my left on her neck,” I explained.
Diamond was upset enough that even the slightest tapping was bothersome, so I retreated, rubbed the saddle, and stroked her neck all at the same time. And this she did handle. Then I slipped the index finger of my left hand into the corner of her mouth and began feathering her tongue as I lightly tapped the saddle. She raised her head, but didn’t move forward. I quit and rewarded her heartily. She enjoyed my enthusiastic praise.
“Lavish praise will speed up the learning process by 60%. 60%,” I reiterated! “I like those odds.”
I allowed Diamond to revel in our tiny success and then started anew. This time I was able to actually tap the saddle with the last eight inches of the lead in an overhand manner before she had to move off. Again I praised her with gusto. It took about another fifteen minutes to help her accept the slapping of the lead on the saddle as just part of life. Only when she could finally walk around me quietly as I slapped the saddle hard, real hard, did I feel like she was ready to ride. And that was and is my final litmus test with every single horse before I mount up.
“Do you see how she has settled and is completely accepting this,” I asked Tia?
“It’s so much about your timing Frank. You’re able to do it all so gracefully that she isn’t scared or threatened one bit. Heck when I do it I’m so jerky and inaccurate that it frightens her, doesn’t it,” Tia answered her own question?
“Just takes time and practice. I guess after a few thousand horses a guy starts to get smooth at some of this. The only way you’ll get handy with the rope is to just do it. And do it away from horses. Torture the fence-post and rail before you do it with the real thing. That way you’ll be reasonably accurate when you do it with a horse, ya know?”
“Got it Frank. Time to mount up?”
I was still just a hair nervous about Tia riding the horse, and I wasn’t about to get on Diamond. I’d had some back spasms plaguing me for sometime and couldn’t risk getting jousted around. This was one catty horse that could move out from under a rider in a millisecond.
“We’ll just ease into this slowly and make sure she’s just fine. We’ll get you half way into the saddle a couple times on each side, with me supporting her on the ground. Then I’ll lead her with you half way on lying over the saddle. I don’t want you swinging a leg on until she can handle the part-way stuff and stay completely calm,” I explained.
And it worked exactly as I’d hoped it would. Diamond stayed relaxed as I led Tia around in each direction, culminating with several one rein stops to each side. Then Tia mounted up and found the stirrup on the off side as I reassured Diamond from the ground. I stayed in close for several rotations in the pen, and then let Tia take the reins. I stood back and watched with a wonderful sense of satisfaction. In another ten minutes Tia and Diamond were gliding around that pen like a seasoned couple who’d danced for years.
Three parties, all new to each other merely a day earlier had worked together to accomplish this very happy ending.
Frank Bell and his accredited instructors have been helping horses with their people problems for several decades. Frank writes interesting stories about these horses and their challenges. He also helps people better understand how to communicate with these magnificent creatures by answering their challenging questions on his website. Frank has designed a logical sequence of exercises that immediately places both parties on higher ground . . . without the need for a round pen. Suddenly both parties are riding in confidence instead of fear. Frank Bell’s 7-Step Safety System has been featured in horse magazines and ezines throughout the world including a three-part series in Western Horseman magazine. Frank’s foundation video “Discover the Horse You Never Knew” fully outlines “the system” and is available in the audio/video library that includes twelve works. Join Frank Bell’s Gentle Solution Revolution and breakthrough your training barriers now!