April 2010

Here are some photos of Cindy and me working away.

There have been some interesting moments. Cindy did not take kindly to be asked to move on ahead of me on the lunge. She did a great deal of posturing, pinning her ears repeatedly, swirling her head and generally try to tell me where to get off. She’ s a gas ticket and i can now see why her two young male owners had a bit of bother with her, this mare has attitude and she will test your patience and your persistence. But its nice attitude, enough to be interesting, as we say she has a bit about her!

Cindy working on the lunge, low and low, her throughness is not yet consistent but coming. The low and low posture pictured in the photos is necessary to stretch her shortened topline, and free up her shoulders allowing her to come through from behind.

Cindy lunging to the right , note the soft lateral bend in her body, her relaxed posture and her inside hind well engaded well under her body.

Cindy braces

Cindy lunging to the left which is harder for her.

work in hand

Next week ,Cindy working in hand, the objective here is to help Cindy to stop bracing into the bridle and going above the bit when she feels pressure of bit or pressure from my inside leg, either way her response is to invert and go above the bit, however once this is contained she then sucks back from the bit going behind and chomping like mad.

Horses evade pressure generally in three ways, they either go above the contact , bear down on the contact (lean), or they go behind.

Going behind of the three is probably the most challenging to fix especially with a sensitive horse like Cindy, she has to learn to trust the hand again and i have to be good enough to supply that hand.


Connected Horsemanship had a fantastic time last weekend at Diamonds Lane Equestrian in Portaferry Co Down.

Laura Domenica with Judy Braniff owner of Diamonds Lane Equestrian

The horses and participants were very varied during the weekend offering the spectators lots of different situations to watch and learn from. We had a lot of spectators over the two days from varied backgrounds, riding clubs, other branches of natural horsemanship, showjumpers and a lovely lady who was a horse sport Ireland L2 coach.

Ssaturday started with two wonderful hairy black and white cobs belonging to Jane and Martina. Both girls had experienced quite a bit of bother with their horses being scattered or bargey and invading their space and carting them around a bit. At the end of the day i was delighted that both girls had very good control of their horses on the ground and were beginning to really teach them things that would really help build and cement their connection. They could lead them, they could stop them , turn them move their hindquarters and ask them to back up and to respect their boundaries.

Laura helps jane with her cob

Martina works with Dillon, a riding school pony for many years, he is very braced but with martinas patient help he will learn to bend his body and use himself in a better way

Next came Andrew and his lovely pony Scottie, Andrew has been working with me for over a year. I am very pround of Andy , this dedication and his progress. He is already a horseman and one to watch for the future.

Andrew works with Scottie

When Andrew bought his horse Scotty he was very anxious and very inverted. I am going to ask Andy to tell Scotties story in the Students Stories section of my blogg.

Here are some photos of Andy lunging and riding his pony, look at the relaxation and softnness and the wonderful postion of Andys body that is facilitating this. The photos of Andy riding he is working on getting his balance perfect at the rising trot so that his horse can carry himself.

Scotty used to throw his head in the air even with a martingale, andrew now turns him just with his focus

Andrew perfects his balance at rising trot so he can allow Scottie to really use himself

Day one ended with me working with the second of Sarah horses. This thoroughbred had offerend up some pretty interesting behaviour when Sarah got to lunging him, rearing, striking and even coming at her with his teeth, he sounded quite aggressive. When I first started working with him he was and tried to srtike me a couple of times but the true source of his behaviour was was his herdboundness. He constantly whinned for the other horses, prancing around and paying no attention to anyone human. Once i started moving his body in a purposeful way he began to settle and changed quite quickly. At the end of our session he was quiet and settled.

At the end of the day i loaded him in the trailer, this had taken three hours the night before to get him there and Sarah loaded him herself after i did. she was i think delighted and so was her dad.

Sarah loads her horse at the end of the day

others photos from the day

An unexpected visitor gives us a giggle at lunch time!

taking shelter from a rain shower

taking shelter from a shower

participants learn how to walk and "hold" their own circle for lunging

participants practise walking circles for lunging and try to "hold" the shape of the circle as they walk

catch em young!

Particiants practise lunging position

This is my horse Winner


 Winner Six year old Trakehner gelding. Bred and started in Poland in dressage yard. You can see Winner ridden in a competition on youtube, type in “Winner trakehner 2004” 

 Winner is only just four years old in this video. You will observe that Winner is ridden quite high, is behind the vertical for much of the video and that he grinds his teeth at the end when he is brought to a halt. This level of elevation of the head and neck is not appropriate for a horse in the early stages of his training. Winner has a rather low set neck so this makes it more difficuot for him to elevate . 

Winner was then imported to Ireland by his owner a polish girl. She had owned Winner since he was one year old and had always found him to be a cheeky and mischevious colt. She was alarmed at the demeanor of her horse after a year alone in Poland. The horse she got back after his training appeared to be lazy, sullen and introverted. This girl tried to do her best by the horse but he appeared to hate being ridden. He would not go forward and grinded his teeth continuously when being ridden. She felt everything between them was a fight even although she tried not to. In the end he was ridden with spurs and these had to be applied just to do transitions from walk to trot. Sadly she decided to part with him. I saw him advertised and something drew me to him. 

winner as seen in his "for sale" add




  I went to see Winner but left without making a decision, i felt there was a lot more to the horse than i had seen that day, he  appeared introverted, disinterested in the proceedings, although not  badly behaved. His owner runs a busy stables and stud is a very competant handler and rider and would not stand for any nonsense from horses. i left undecided and in the proceeding days wondered about the horse but did nothing. i went to see lots of other horses and didnt buy any of them either. In retrospect there were horses i probably should have chosen but for whatever reason i didnt . i always think the teacher will come when the student is ready and clearly there was something i was supposed to learn and the horse to teach me it had not quite yet appeared or i was not quite ready to learn. either way the weeks went by and i remained without a horse.  

 Many weeks later i was looking again and found the  fine trakehner’s add and wondered if he had been sold. I decided if he was still unsold i would ask to take him on trial, he had remained unsold.   I brought him down to dublin, i remember when he arrived i attempted to reverse him out of the box (as i expect all horses to do) The horse refused to budge, i took me quite some time to realise that the horse had not one clue how to back up, out of a box or otherwise!! We had to open the front door to get him out.  

The trial 

Connected Horsemanship – Kids Club

The first stage of the Connected Horsemanship kids club got off to a flying start with the Cavan Pony club. They event was held 7th April on at Beach Lane Equestrian Centre just outside Cavan.

 The first group of the Cavan Pony club with Connected Horsemanship founder Laura Domenica and associate trainee Dawn ward
The first group of the Cavan Pony club with Connected Horsemanship founder Laura Domenica and associate trainee Dawn Ward

The Connected Horsemanship “Kids Club” allows children to glimpse the world through their ponies eyes and helps them better understand their ponies. We show the children how horses communicate with their bodies and help them understand his language and respond to it in an appropriate horse friendly manner. We aim to teach the children how to do the things that we see parents doing for the children, saddling, bridling, pickling out the feet and even eventually putting their horses in the trailer themselves.

Part one of the course covers theory and handling skills, part two, ground work and riding and part three, theory and riding. We would like to help the children become aware of the whys and wherefores of what they are being asked to do.

In particular we would like them to be aware how they use their hands and their “core” energy on the ground and when they ride. This we feel should be taught from the start as they handle their ponies on the ground. We want to replace the kick to go, pull to turn, pull to stop syndrome with something that is more friendly for the pony.

The first group of the Cavan Pony club with Connected Horsemanship founder Laura Domenica

Laura Domenica shows a participant how to ask for her pony to bring her head around

The pony responds by bringing her head around to her young handler

Being prey animals, horses dislike invasive energy aimed at their head area. This happens when we pull on the head of a horse with rope or reins to ask the horse forward or to stop them or simply when we send energy directly to the head area. We encourage the children to stay by the shoulder and if they need the head (as in haltering or bridling ) to teach the horse to turn its head to them rather than grabbing the head. Also in leading we want to teach the children not to be up by the head, pull the head and walk off, but to be by the shoulder and initiate the horses movement from behind.

Our first Kids Club in Cavan was attended by two groups of participants ageing from 10 to 16. The session started with an interactive talk exploring the world as seen through the eyes of their ponies and horses. Participants learned how the evolution of horse has shaped his behaviour today. By looking at the social organization of horses living in a herd in the wild, the children were able to gain a better understanding of their own horses behaviour. The children looked at the characteristics that have helped the horse survive throughout millions of years of evolution. They looked at the importance of social organization within the herd and how horses use their body language to communicate and maintain harmony within the herd. The children were taught to understand how the horse uses the different parts of his body to communicate his feelings and his emotions. Even the way the horse holds his tail can mean six different things!

They then looked at the behaviour of our own species and they discovered how the way we use our energy, our bodies and our emotions can lead to miscommunication with the horse.

A participant learns to use focus and energy to back her pony when he invades her personal space

On a practical level, the children learnt to deal with the things the pony did that were a little troublesome. One participants horse would walk off and drag her around, while another would barge in to her space. Another pony constantly tried to bite when being girthed or brushed, while another tried to kick when his back legs were lifted. These things are very challenging for small people to deal with and very often their parents are not horsey people and therefore not able to help.

Once they learned to deal with the initial problems the children were taught how to get their ponies attention back when it was diverted to other things, they taught their ponies to lead up correctly, turn and give their heads, move their hindquarters and to back up.

All the children made great progress and said they wanted to come back for the next installment.

Here is a the testamonial from one of the children.

Hello Laura + Dawn..!
Its Katie Otoole here.. I Was At The 10.00 Workshop On Tuesday In Beechlane.. 😛
I Really Enjoyed The Day.. I Learnt Loads And Now My pony Leah Doesnt Bite AnyThing When Your Putting On The Girth or Even Jus Grooming Her..!! Its Soo Cool.. Shes Way More Relaxed Now.. That Day Helped Alot With Me And My Mam.. Now Shes Out With The In- Your face Pony Called Nelson.. 😀 Hes So Funny..! Im Definately Going To Do The Next Lesson With Yous..!! Thank You Both so Much.. Cant Wait to See Youz Again..! What Is Your Name On Facebook ..? I Cant Seem To Find You… 🙂
Katie O’Toole And Leah xoox

why not book your session of the Connected Horsemanship kids club by calling Laura on 086 823 9679 or dawn on 086 822 3872

Helping Your Horse go Forward

This participants horse was not going forward well. There can be several reasons for this but one of the most common occurs when the riders hips are not moving in unison with the horses hips, if the riders hips are braced and not moving they will block the motion of the horse. Very often horses that are not forward lure us into the habit of continually stimulating them with our legs and our seat. In this case both was occurring . I urged the rider Andrea to use her legs when the horse slowed down and be quick to do so when he did, secondly i asked her to stop pushing the horse on with her seat as this was having the opposite effect to making her horse go. Learning to do nothing with your seat in this situation can be challenging so i gave her a couple of exercises that i knew would help.

andrea lifts her legs over the flaps , this stops her gripping with her legs and allows her to "feel" the movement of the horse under her

Exercise 1

The first exercise entailed bringing her legs up over the flaps of the saddle (she felt safe enough to do this) . This stopped her gripping with her legs and the fact that she only had her butt in connection with the saddle enabled her to feel her seatbones. I asked her to half close her eyes and feel her seat bones being moved by the horses hind legs. After a short time doing this she could feel the side to side movement of the hind legs and she gradually relaxed and let the horse move her, not he other way around, we call this the following seat. It is easy to detect a good following seat; there should be a slight delay between the lifting of the hind leg and the movement of the riders seat on the same side.

When Andrea was happy and feeling the movement of the horses back i asked her to take her legs back down and try to continue to hold the same feeling in her seat as the horse walked, this was aided by the fact that the horse was now walking freer. The next exercise would help her move her hips even more.

Exercise 2

I asked the rider to start an up and down movement of her feet in the stirrups especially emphasising pulling her heels up, (I hear you gasp but aren’t heels supposed to be down) they are but its really down and back towards the horses hind legs .Sadly when most folk are told to put their heels down they scoot the leg forward and brace in their stirrups and this locks their hips. This is what was happening to Andrea. As she continued to push her heels up and down in time with the horses rhythm, Andrea said she could really begin to feel her hips moving in time with the horses hind legs.

AAs Andrea's pulls her heels up and down, and her hips become freer, her horse becomes freer in his movement and more forward. she no longer needs to kick or push him.

Exercise three

The last piece of the puzzle was to ask Andrea if she could identify when the horses inside hind leg was moving her inside hip, this would help her identify when to use her inside leg to aid the horse. Now with her hips moving freely she identified the inside leg movement very quickly.

next lesson

Andrea improves her rise at the trot.

Participants at the connected horsemanship workshop in Ennis in Clare

Participants at the connected horsemanship workshop in Ennis in Clare

Laura would like to thank all the participants and spectators who attended the second Connected Horsemanship in Clare this weekend. 5 participants took part in the 2 day ground work and riding clinic.

On the first day after the theory session each participant was asked if there was any specific problem they might like to be able to help their horse with. One participant said she wanted to stop her horse making repeated efforts to bite her while girthing and brushing. Another particpant had considerable trouble trying to bridle her horse, a third one was being walked all over, while a fourth horse wouldn’t stand still at all. I am pleased to report that all these problems were solved by the end of the first day and the participants felt very proud to have made this change by themselves with the help of my instruction.

On the first day the participants also taught their horses how to move their head and necks independantly of their shoulders, to back up, move their shoulders and lead up correctly. They then went on to learn how to lunge their horses and their previous tales of lunging which included “my horse wont go to the right”, or “he keeps turning and facing me” , “he rears up when i ask him to go” were replaced by oohs and aahs as they realised how a change in the angle and position of their bodies relative to the horse made such a dramatic difference in their horses responses.

On the second day ridden lessons focused on helping riders to find their balance, especially a the rising trot. Many people are unaware of the importance of a correct “rise” and its ability to help the horses gait and tempo. Students also learned the importance of staying aligned with the horses spine and how this can affect bend and balance. We taught riders how to stop and to turn their horses by using their core rather than resorting to pulling with the reins. Ground work exercises from day one, flexion, moving the hindquarters and backing up, were transferred to the saddle.

At the end of day two i worked with a young girl who had a lot of trouble boxing her horse. The horse was not scared of the box but needed a lot of leadership. At the end of the two hour session she successfully loaded her pony herself.

ciara loads her pony by herself

I had a very pleasurable two days in Ennis and look forward to going there again soon.

Testamonial received two days after the clinic

Hello there Laura,
I wanted to thank you again for last weekend, We have been progressing nicely together and I think you would be proud of the results. Her lateral bends are quite lovely, both with her neck (without her legs moving) and with her whole body. She is still unsure of me changing sides when grooming, however I persevere and she eventually gives up the fight. Grooming has become a pleasure… hurrah!
Yesterday she stood perfectly still while I walked to the end of the yard (without me looking back at her) to collect the lunge line! I only had to put her back twice before she understood what I was asking of her… I was so happy!
Today I asked her to walk toward me one step at a time, very slowly and deliberately (me facing her without looking at her head, just at her feet) ….. you could see her anticipating my every move. It was harder to get her to go backwards tho’, so I moved her with the end of the rope as you showed me and on the third go she actually moved back on two step worths. I stopped on that good note and took her out for a well deserved munch of grass!
If I hadn’t have been there I wouldn’tve believed it!!!
Thank you so much, it really has been a wonderful experience.
We hope to see you again in the near future,
Steph and Sheika.nnis testamonial

I have a new horse. she is a five year old Irsh Draft / tb mare called Cinderella

Follow Cindys progress here over the coming weeks, months and hopefully years

Cindys story

Cindy has a lovely temperament. She’s sweet, sensitive but has a “bit about her” as we’d say, her own lady. As a learner Cindy is sensitive, can worry easily, partly her background perhaps

I got Cindy because she had been misbehaving for her owners. She had been showjumped and evented.

Cindys past

Most of Cindy’s problems stemmed from her not being ridden “through” her back. (hereafter termed “through”) She was ridden in a “headset” . This is a situation where we see the neck curved and the head pulled in but the back is still hollow or “inverted” and the horse is not “through” its back.

In this inverted position Cindys head, when ridden, in reality would have been have been high. In Cindys case instead of solving the route of the problem ( ie the inversion), her head was just pulled in on tight restrictive reins. This caused Cindy a lot of pressure in her mouth and she became anxious of the bit. As a result she would go behind the contact tucking her head in towards her chest. When the flash noseband was removed it became apparent just how anxious she was. She chomped the bit manically every time contact of any description was taken and would practically roll her eyes. It was quite distressing to watch and horrible to listen too.

As a consequence of being ridden in this manner Cindy could never be relaxed or “through” Her spine remained inverted and adrenalin flowed through her nervous system. Adrenalin is the hormone of anxiety and flight in animals and humans. Inverted horses are unable to stretch laterally through their bodies but it is this lateral stretching that facilitates the hind legs and the forelegs to become aligned on one track (like a train on a track.). Without this alignment there can be no throughness and therefore no real balance and therefore no relaxation.

When horses are not in balance and are ridden inverted they can react in different ways, some rush like crazy, while others can appear to be sluggish and dont go forward at all well. All are symptoms of lack of balance due to lack of aligment and the resulting lack of throughness.

How did this affect Cindy physically?

As well as chomping the bit Cindy developed very strong muscles underneath her neck, she had no muscle on the top side of her neck or back. She also had a flattish section to her neck just behind the poll that should be arched (in correct work) also stemming from the head being pulled in. She had a hard mass of muscle between her jaw bone and her neck from bracing against the rein. Her throat latch area was tightly held in a v shape rather than in an open u shape.

Wont go forward.

When i first rode Cindy i couldnt believe how much leg she was used to. I want my horse to be reading my energy, to go when i suggest go. Using my energy and intent had no effect, engaging my seat had no effect, closing my leg had a slight effect, clap of the leg produced forward movement for a few yards only for her to stop after a few yards.It was like riding a horse with the brakes on

When i took up a contact even on the ground she would initially try to brace and go above the bit and when this wasn’t possible she would suck back behind the contact tuck her little chin into her chest and chomp the bit like she was going mad. It really was very sad to behold. If you look at the picture of Cindy below you can see the very over developed muscle underneath her neck. Her head was held in this high inverted position almost all the time. This is a sign of a horse who is not relaxed .

Beginning work.

Normally i start with in hand work in the bridle, working the horse in circles and into halts and then into back up to create lateral bend, create relaxation and cure the inversion Cindys relationship with the bit however made this made problematic. I decided to tackle her inversion by using the lunge instead. i would teach her first to move her individual body parts, her neck and head , her shoulders and her hindquarters. Once i was able to influence cindys body parts i would be able to align her in a way that would allow her to come “through” her back. This would give her the relaxation she so badly needed.

next week photos- cindy aligned and through on the lunge

and work begins with her re education to the bridle

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