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

Connected Horsemanship Clinics


Chris Irwin works horse in clinic organised by  Laura Domenica from Connected Horsemanship in Kildare

Laura Domenica double silver Chris Irwin trainer will host Chris Irwin again

this year in Ireland.

Chris will hold two demos and a 2 day clinic

Thurs 27th May- DEMO (7pm -10 pm)

Hop Island Equestrian Centre


Friday 28th may- DEMO (7pm -10pm)

Laurel View Equestrian Centre, Templepartick, Co Antrim

Chris Irwin Talks to spectators at Clinic organised by laura Domenica of Connected Horsemanship
Sat 29th and Sun 30th May -Clinic (9.3oam-5.30pm)

Laurel View Equestrian Centre


Co Antrim

There will be limited places in this clinic so please book early

Connected Horsemanship teaches ground work skills to students At Connected Horsemanship we recently went to help an owner whose horse was biting. He bit constantly. Twice he had bitten her so badly that she had been scared, once on the chest and then on the leg.

People were advising the owner to get rid of the horse, saying that he was bad. The owner knew this was not the case as she had bred and reared this horse. As a youngster he had never shown any signs of aggression. He had never been a particularly pushy foal and he had been taught basic manners early on in his life.

The owner had three other horses who were well mannered, she was a competent rider and had lots of experience handing horses.

The problems with this horse began when he came back from being started. She said “It’s like he’s had a personality change”. The horse that had stood with his head over he gate, ears pricked, waiting to greet her had become sullen, ears back and unfriendly.

The owner couldn’t really understand what had happened to the horse but over time things started to get worse. At first the problems were isolated to the ground but gradually they crept in to their ridden work and the owner was at a loss as to how to fix things.

The owner was upset that her horse had returned like this. As a result she was super nice to him to make up for his experience. This is very understandable but this was not what he needed either. What he needed was fair and equitable leadership to redress the balance and make him feel secure once again.

I introduced myself to him and immediately the horse proceeded to bring his body into my personal space. I immediately disallowed this. I explained to the owner that horses give each other a clear idea of where they can and cannot go, largely set by boundaries of space. To ignore these boundaries is to risk a penalty, to enforce these boundaries confirms the horses superior ability to dictate boundaries and movement to another horse and convinces the other horse of that horses ability to assert himself over the other. She as the handler had to begin to be a lot more aware of own her “personal space” This in terms of the horse and his language defined his idea of her in terms of the leadership she was able to offer him. i wanted her to be able to control where he was able to go but also to be able to invite him into her space when appropriate.

I worked with the horse in the stable and in the arena. I set consistant boundaries especially for his head which was the most invasive part of him, he continually messed with the reins tryed to bite them and me.

I ask him to move around the stable in a specific manner. Initially he messed, then he tried being downright aggressive but when he saw that I could not be dissuaded from my objective of moving him quietly around he changed quite quickly (it is often quick with this type) becoming calmer, the biting lessened and eventually he was able to stand still, calm, head low. I don’t think I have ever seen a horse yawn as much. I gave him two breaks in the session and each time I went to him he was better than before.

I then worked with the owner so that she would be able to maintain the relationship and hopefully go on improving it so that they once again could become a partnership.

I am pleased to report that she phoned me three days later to tell me things were going well. She really felt there was hope once again.

Guidance Notes for the owner


You need to think of your horse as a winner and both of you as the perfect partnership.

Adopt a mental image of you both running around with rosettes pinned on him.

Hold this image close to your heart.

You need the power of positive thinking to take you through.

Simply remove yourself from people who give you negative vibes!!

Hold on to those feelings when the going gets tough.


You have a sensitive horse with which it is crucial to be polite. By polite I do not mean wishy washy.. I mean firm but always asking for things in a polite manner, with softness in your heart. Doing things with this thought uppermost in your mind will help you give him the right kind of leadership.

Other things to remember to help you offer him good leadership:


His opinion of you as leader starts from the minute he sets eyes on you. When you approach and he turns and looks at you, acknowledge this, pause for a second before continuing. If he turns away it generally means you have come in to his space too quickly and he is letting you know. Go to him as if you were entering a friend’s bedroom…you would ask permission or knock.

When you get to his box, put out a hand and wait for him to sniff it. When he was away training he probably had all manner of people barging into his space as if he was an inanimate object.


When you open the door, do not go immediately into his space but be aware of defending YOUR space and YOUR boundaries. If he crowds you, move him back out of your space politely and if he moves back let him be there for a moment so he knows he made the right move. This way you are respectful of his space but you also gain respect from being aware of your own space.

He may turn his head away from you at his point, just wait till he turns his attention to you again, then approach his SHOULDER, remember to alternate sides. You are less of a target for his mouth there and you are not crowding his head area which he finds invasive.

Halter him as we did together by asking him to bring his head around to you. Never pull his head, ask with your hand at the girth and wait.

If he tries to invade your space with his mouth BLOCK, don’t go into his head area, just defend yours.

The best way to keep his teeth at bay is to keep him busy doing things.


Make sure everyone who comes into contact with him is knowledgeable and adheres to the way you would like him to be treated. Always be consistent yourself in dealing with him. Set a standard for behaviour and adhere to it. Right now this is particularly important when it comes to boundary issues. Never get annoyed by his attempts to mess. See it as a game.


Always get his attention before you ask something. Do this by touching him gently in the girth area. If he is looking away to the right, bring his head and attention back to you by touching him on the left flank and vice versa.


Work with your hand or a small crop if you are at a greater distance to do this, just a tap is all that it takes. You may have to do this many times as his attention wanders to something that he THINKS he should be paying attention too…for his safety. You have to become his “safety lookout” as if saying: “no need to look over there, I am here and I will attend to the things in the distance and tell you if there is cause to worry”. In effect you are saying,,,let me do the worrying, I am the leader.

Try to avoid pulling him by the head to get his attention, go in to his body to get his head. This is the way another horse would do it.


Always start with the lightest of pressure whether this is when you put your hand on him directly of whether you are at the end of a rope. The only way he will ever respond to lightness is if he is asked in lightness.

When you ask him to do something you can use steady pressure or rhythmic pressure or even a combination of both but it must always be brought on gradually.

Rhythmic pressure should be just his, in a rhythm, always start small. If you have to get bigger in terms of pressure that’s ok too but at your next request start small again.

Don’t poke your horse to get his attention simply use increasing and steady pressure. Using the thumb in the girth area works well.


He needs to know when he gets it right. Do not be too critical and look for perfection. At this stage you especially want to be rewarding his slightest try. Spend time doing nothing when he gets it right (if he is head down, calm, not fidgeting.) You want him to fall in love with the endorphin state. It is in the doing nothing that the horse learns. You know what this calmness looks like now. Remember there are many ways to offer your horse the release he needs.

Stop doing what you are doing, walk away, take your core off, turn away, bend down, breathe out and many others.

This release is crucial for your horse.


If he’s blinking, chewing, eyes and lips twitching and especially if he’s yawning, let him have this and wait. The amount of yawning he did in our session was massive. It is a sign that he is coming off adrenalin and chilling out.


The constant nibbling, even if he grabs the lead rope or your scarf in his mouth ignore it and just get on with your plan.

He will soon capitulate, drop the rope and go with your idea, IF he feels it is better than his.

Don’t get after him about it, that’s what everyone else did, just give him something to do.

Have A Plan

Have plan before you start but be ready to change it up if he has difficulty.

He will feel whether you have purpose of not.

Set Him Up for Success

Try to use his ideas and shape them. Give him enough to do that stops him having ideas of his own but don’t make it something either of you are having too much difficulty with.

He needs, quickly, to feel he is right.

This will give him the motivation to “connect” with you mentally and emotionally.


Give your ideas purpose; don’t merely do things for the sake of it. Remember we played “put a certain foot on something.” Your focus on this exacting task requires his focus on you and on the task. You are then engaging his brain.


Getting things done is not as important as how they are done. Never repeat things unnecessarily, this will bore him and he won’t see the point. A horse like yours will quickly develop his own ideas. Collect lots of objects that you can do things with, be creative.

Work On Your Focus

Two factors:

a) Your ability to focus on WHERE you are going.

b) Your ability to focus mentally on the task in hand.

The second is especially important and means you have to block out all extraneous happenings that you may formerly have thought might distract your horse. They have to no longer exist. There is only you and him doing what you are doing.

The “Life” In Your Body

You should work on this on the ground so that when you get in the saddle your horse will already be attuned to it.

When you have an expectation, i.e. please trot, the life in your body should reflect this request.

When you want your horse to stop, your “life” should reflect this.

Life down is not just a physical state but a state of Zero expectation for the horse

It is one of the ways we offer the horse “release”.