A Foundation of Trust When It All Blows Up

How is it that by doing very little with my horses; mostly meditating, doing chores, and avoiding the rain together… when I put us in scary or high pressure situations, they respond like an old cow horse? You know, one of those horses that is totally bonded like glue from riding for weeks, camping together, being a working team…?

Let me tell you about my latest kerfluffle. My Belgian mare, Audelina, is still nursing her 9-month-old colt, Juno. But there is very little grass in their pasture, plus Juno was castrated only 4 days ago, and is nursing more than usual. So when Aude suggested yesterday that I take her out on the road (which has plenty of fresh, Spring grass down both sides) I thought that was an excellent plan.

I had also noticed lots of dandelions in bloom, so wanted to gather those for Juno to help him detox from the drugs he was administered during his surgery.

Now, if you follow this blog, you may know that Aude came to me semi-feral 18 months ago. But she was also terrified of ropes. So finding a way for her to view the halter and the lead rope as positive experiences took a while. Add that to the fact that she is only one of my four untrained horses and let’s just say she hasn’t been out on the roads too often! In fact, the last time was about 4 months ago – which was also the first time baby Juno came out on the road.

Today, I decided to just take her out on her own, without Juno – which requires some extra bravery from her to leave her herd and her baby. As I was thinking about the outing, I thought, yes, let’s try her with a neck loop, if all goes well, and see how she feels about that. I occasionally lead her around the paddock with a rope around her neck, so she does understand the signals from pressure on her neck. But she’s never been out on the road in a neck loop before.

I had taken Montaro out on the road with just a neck loop a couple weeks ago and he had let me know that if I do that with the others, I should also put a halter on them, just in case I need it. He also told me (by sending me pictures) that if I want to take him somewhere challenging – like around other horses, or in a public park, then I should put a halter on him too, just in case.

Remembering his advice, I haltered Aude and slung the neck loop and lead rope crosswise across my body for easy access, went to the gate and asked her if she wanted to leave her alfalfa and come out with me:

I’ve closed off the paddock to the other horses, so there is no pressure at departure or arrival. And if things go south, she can always run back & straight into the paddock

We started off in just the halter and lead rope and as we walked down the barn road I asked Aude to, “Whoa” and come to a complete stop several times to check how responsive she was and all went well. I have trained all my horses to hand and voice signals so I don’t have to pull on their heads. Out on the road, I continued to keep a very soft lead rope – I always make sure there’s a loop/bend in the rope with all horses so I’m not pulling on them. This teaches them to also be soft on the rope and prevents negative associations with the halter. Just think how you’d feel if someone pulled you around by your face!

Keeping a soft rope, yet holding it up to make sure she won’t step on it as she grazes

Aude was doing really well, crossing the road when I asked her to, so I switched her to a neck loop. However, for some reason I didn’t bring her real neck loop, but just looped a lead rope around her neck and ran it through the clip to make a circle – you’ll see in a bit why this was a bad idea…

Also keeping the neck loop loose and soft

Here’s a quick tip that makes using a neck loop much easier: Simply braid the mane around the loop and then it won’t slip down when they graze or drop their head. Just use your saliva to seal the hair at the end of the braid (keeps it from unraveling), yet you’ll still be able to loosen the braid quickly if you need to:

Braid the mane to keep reins or a neck loop in place while grazing

You can see how well Aude was doing out on the road – there were cars whizzing by about 200 feet away on a cross-road, but none had come down our road yet:

Feeling very secure on the road away from the herd and baby

As she grazed down the sides of the road, I led her over to a couple of dandelion patches, so I could gather the flowers and leaves for Juno

My light cotton bag that ties easily to my belt loop etc. This was made and gifted to me by Zuzanna Rajchert – a fellow Horse Listener – and she put our logo and a sketch of Aude and Juno on the front. Thanks Zuza!

As we walked and grazed along the road, people started arriving home from school or shopping. First a van came down the road towards us and then stopped right opposite Aude! They rolled down the windows and had a chat. Aude was a bit nervous, but quickly settled down as we talked. I thought it was great they had done that to give her more experience with vehicles, windows rolling up and down, people inside, etc.

The next car that passed a few minutes later was a small hatchback with a man in his 20’s who went by fairly quickly – again, Aude was nervous, but listened to my “Whoa” and then dropped her head to eat as soon as he’d passed.

Not a minute after that car, came another small white car – this one approaching more slowly. And whether it was the color, or too many cars in a row, or something else… Aude kinda blew up. Now here’s where the makeshift neck loop was a bad idea: As I pulled on the neck loop, while saying, “Whoa” (but she was past listening), the lead rope (passed through the clip) was tightening like a noose. It’s possible that the noose effect was the main contributor to her blowing up! Regardless, when a 2000 lb Belgian pulls on the rope, there ain’t no way pulling back is going to control or stop that horse!

I know this about Aude, and her past pattern when she gets afraid is to take off – you can hold on and get dragged, or lose the skin off your hand – your choice. But in the heat of the moment, reflex caused me to hold onto the rope to try and calm her down as she was pulling to get away from the car, and by the time I remembered to just let go of the rope, it tore a flap of skin off the side of my finger as she bolted away.

But here’s where the foundation of trust we have built kicks in. Even under dual pressure – from both the car and the dreaded rope tightening like a noose around her neck, she did not bolt for home, or even down the length of the road. No, she ran a grand total of about 5 feet and then waited for me as I walked over, picked up the neck rope and immediately loosened it. Then I passed my other rope through the loop on her halter, undid the neck loop/rope and then motioned for the car to pass.

As the car drove slowly past – she too stopped for a moment to say, Hi! – I kept the lead rope on the halter loose and tapped on Aude’s bum to get her to swing her hind in a circle. We both agreed to head for home after that, but on the way home I asked her numerous times to “Whoa” and she stopped just from my voice command. Then I tapped on her bum and she swung round in a circle – without me pulling on the lead rope at all. We repeated this about 4 times during the walk home and she was perfectly stellar and responsive every time – what a star!

I apologized for the ‘neck noose’ disaster and we were both pleased to practice “Whoa” and swinging into a circle, to discharge movement, rather than running in a straight line. We both felt it was good to cement that into our body memory more fully, so we can access it quicker in an emergency.

And Juno was very pleased to receive his bag of grass and dandelions and ate all but 2 small ones:

Dandelions are very good for the liver and cleansing the blood

What makes my heart soar during experiences like this is that we can come through trials or disasters with no loss of trust or bond. In fact, our bond is strengthened as we fix problems, apologize and figure out a better way, and thus build resilience. In life, and in horses, seeking resilience is far better than seeking safety. Because life happens, and shit happens, and we will never be able to control all the variables.

But if our goal – rather than safety – is to roll with the punches, figure out where we can improve, take responsibility and apologize for our mistakes, try something different next time, keep the love flowing –> this all builds resilience in ourselves and in our relationships.

I find my horses never hold my slip-ups against me. In fact, they simply trust me MORE with each sideways-slide we get through together. I think they like the fact that I own my oops’ and apologize and I’m always willing to try again and get better.

I’m not too big on safety, but I’m all over resilience!

Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Freedomite. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
A Foundation of Trust When It All Blows Up

21 thoughts on “A Foundation of Trust When It All Blows Up

  • April 22, 2017 at 5:37 am
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    I appreciate your honesty and openness Jini. So many people only show their victories as if they didn’t have to go through struggles to get there… Raising horses this way is no easy task because we’re pretty much “on our own” with our way of thinking (no one to refer to), it takes courage and a lot of trust in our beleifs.

    I have done the same mistake (looped the lead rope around my horse’s neck) but I figured it just before the burst happened (I suddenly got an image in my head of my horse getting scared and running ON the rope!) needless to say, I removed it right away. But I have also experienced the warm feeling of knowing that your horse will stick to you by choice, freely. This feeling is undescribable and overpowers any super well “trained” horse (puppet) because it comes from 100% mutual trust.

    A horse is a horse, we can’t expect them not to react when faced with what they perceive as danger, especially if they are placed in a new situation. I too, find this hard to work around because my horses would like me to trust them more (and not halter them when we go out) but I know I can’t expect them to make all the right decisions (by human standards, meaning not going in my neighbours gardens or getting spooked on the street and getting hit by a car). If it wasn’t for “others” out there, I would leave them loose and I know they would stay close to me, I have experienced it when I opened a new part of paddock in the wooded area on my property; I let them loose and they were running next to me, crazy happy, they would run past me back and forth, being careful not to trip me over and staying relatively close to me still. I feel so validated in my ways in these moments, it is proof of a strong bond, I am sure very few horse people experience bonding to this extent with their horses.

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    • April 22, 2017 at 11:19 am
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      LOVE this Capucine – this is exactly what I mean. And I was having the same conversation with Aude about her needing to “just do what I say” in certain situations where we hit human constraints and laws that horses don’t know or understand – and in many cases seem/are illogical or ridiculous. This is the fine line I find myself walking between wanting to avoid all dominance, but – in certain situations, I myself am dominated by human laws that force me to dominate my horses and my dogs. I think my horses, like my kids, are well able to cope with ‘rules’ being completely different in different spaces, or from person to person, as long as I continue to advocate for their sovereignty to the best of my ability.

      And YES everything you wrote about the difference between a horse that is BONDED versus one that is well trained. And sometimes when we first start out on this different way of being, we look for the same results (instant desired response) as ‘proof’ that our horse is bonded to us. But a horse that is truly free – and chooses to be bonded to you – is not an automaton. And is also free to say, “No.” or “Not right now” etc. And I think that’s the other piece that so many people don’t realize, or are not ready to accept.

      We see all of these videos on YouTube or Facebook of people who have an “amazing bond” with their horse – but it is yet another version of look what I can make my horse do. When I see a video that shows the horse saying, ‘No’ or ‘Let’s do this instead’ and the human embraces that and rolls with it – THEN I will make the same pronouncement 🙂

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  • April 22, 2017 at 10:28 am
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    Jini …everything you said so spot on….just wow!!!!
    The whole reason I feel I have become a better person is to own my shit. We will all horse, human, species make mistakes until the day we no longer can, but just acknowledging them and hopefully learning from them and then growing from them is what they are all about. I walked with Bullet out the other day off my property for the first time with just a cordeo/neck rope, but carried a rope halter in my sweatshirt. Bullet has deep scars on his face and has always disliked halters. He was amazing and never faltered. I definitely think I could take a cue from you and add a more consistent verbal cue I can see where I should focus on that a bit more. Bullet is however the complete opposite to Aude…he is so crazy calm/brave with machines or vehicles or almost any type of loud fast machinery. He even approaches and is curious about power tools…it’s really kind of paculiar? I feel it almost takes that kind of strong energy to interest him? Not sure if that’s why he is so bomb proof/shut down at times or if it’s the awful treatment I know by all his body and face scars he has endured in his life? Who knows what horses we know nothing about have had to go through, it haunts me to even go there.
    Your blogs continue to capture me and in most ways are so familiar to my own adventures and discovery with going at things with our own style/authenticity/ideas and just relishing in the moment. Bullet & I have had a interesting bumpy loving journey so far from riding him on great adventures, to not listening to him when there was a screw stuck in his frog for almost two miles, knowing the whole time something was wrong and still kept convincing myself he was just being lazy and not wanting to go. When after so many attempts to mount him and him not letting me get on my inner voice finally slapped me across the face and said what the f’s wrong with you stop and listen to him. He had a screw in his frog the whole time that I walked him down on blacktop to the orchards down the road. I started crying when I found it and called my husband to come get it out…luckily he was home. I cry ever time I think of this complete betrayal to him. He of course has mostly said no to riding ever since. I wish I could say this is the only major f up I have made with him but it’s not. There have been a few other awful things too. My absolute hope is now that I’m listening better the awful ones are behind us, but like you said bad shit happens and we just don’t know? I mostly work with him at Liberty now and he has become so connected to me & somehow found a way to trust me again https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aBnfgR3yS8U this is a link to one of our sessions .His forgiveness is something I have a hard time giving myself. Horses blow us out of the water when it comes to forgiveness. I do keep becoming a better listener, I’m so thankful for that.I also have become better at slowing down and pausing so I can check myself before I wreck myself or others. I have always gone to fast and can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie and horses continue to show me slow is fast. They are the most amazing teachers. As always thanks for sharing and letting me share.
    ✌🏼️❤️🐴

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    • April 22, 2017 at 12:36 pm
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      Yes, I know! Those of us whose default setting is ‘go hard or go home’ have an extra special challenge with horses – and all animals really. I’m so careful to avoid dominance with my horses and then I find myself manhandling my dogs because they’re taking too long, or not ‘doing what I say’. So yeah, lots of f-ups here too sister – across all species!

      Actually Montaro is just like Bullet in that curiosity for power tools, excavators, tractors – I have yet to find ANYTHING that scares him, he just wants to explore it all. And he too needs adventures, challenges, new stuff to keep him in a positive mindset. He is always SO much more bonded to me, affectionate and calm after we’ve had an adventure that stretched us, or where we risked something. Even 10 minutes out on the road in just a neck loop was enough to change him for the next week or so. Going back to that post about a Pushy, Dominant Horse ( http://www.listentoyourhorse.com/the-challenge-of-a-pushy-dominant-horse/ ) – and one of the comments underneath from a 30-yrs trainer who said that there are certain types of horses that NEED to be challenged and have adventures – it’s just in their core. And if you understand that, and give that to them, they are the most amazing horses – like Alexander the Great’s Bucephalus. But if you don’t… then you get a pushy, dominant horse. Because other people describe Montaro as being very dominant and even that he ‘competes’ with me for top dog position. Which I find fascinating, since I don’t perceive him that way at all! I simply see him as a being of great presence and strength – like a Kung Fu monk. And I need to RISE to be in unity with him. He is one of my greatest teachers. So yes, sometimes he challenges me – and makes me use my Ki in ways he has taught me, or be run/knocked over! But all’s fair as he has already taught me what I need to withstand the challenge. Maybe Bullet is your Sensei (in every sense of that word) too 🙂 And yes, that scarring across his nose. Ai-yi… let’s not go there. Let’s just focus on his great beauty and presence instead.

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  • April 23, 2017 at 8:12 am
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    Hi Jini …just wanted to ask you a question in regards to your response to Capucine. You said like all the people on utube/Facebook who think they have a strong bond with there horse but it’s just another ” look at what I can make my horse do”. I just wanted to say that I hope that’s not how my videos come across? I dont feel like I have put the links in your blog to be reconised for showing what I can “make my horse do” but I can see where it could come across that way? I just wanted to share my relationship/connection and my journey with you and anyone else interested in seeing my version of Liberty. It is not my intention to dominate my horse. It is just another way of having a conversation and hopefully learning from each other and stretching ourselves together, on a road to deeper understanding and connection. Since I have the privilege/honor to live with my guys we have many interactions during the day including hang out time just me reading and them napping next to me & all kind of stuff in between and of course days where there just out doing there own thing all day. I guess I took your comment a bit personally and just want to make sure my videos don’t come across like some ego hungry jerk, because in my eyes they are not that extrodinary just very simple interactions. I feel I’m coming across a bit defensive & I am not overly sensitive but I absolutely love this blog and don’t want to over step my place. Horses are my pretty much my everything. 💖
    One more lighter note…… I also forgot to mention and add how much I appreciated your tip on braiding the cordeo/neck loop into the mane …I was wanting a way to keep it from slipping down the neck when they graze and it’s perfect.✌🏼️❤️🐴

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    • April 23, 2017 at 8:36 pm
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      ohmygosh no Michelle! I was thinking of all those videos that show the person lying on top of the horse, or making it “dance” across an arena or field – but the ears are back the whole time and there is no spontaneity, no relationship, just trained monkeys and the horse either being super tolerant, or exhibiting learned helplessness. The person is also not lighthearted or having any fun – they are serious and focused on getting the result they want. And the telltale sign – you never see the horse say “no” or suggest something else – or the person follow the horse’s creativity or inspiration. Relationship is a two-way street. Training is one-way only. That’s what I was trying to distinguish between – hope I’ve explained it better now! In your video with Big Acea, he runs away from you (and then comes back as you simply wait for him), he stops and has a roll – these show that he is not a trained automaton, but is allowed to express his ideas and his body’s needs. And none of your horses appear tightly-coiled or shut down. They are expressive with lots of life. 🙂

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    • April 23, 2017 at 9:54 pm
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      I enjoyed watching your video. Thanks for sharing. It appears to me that you ask, not tell, your horse. If I had more battery I would have watched another of your videos. Good looking horse, BTW. My own horse has the same kind of nose scar. I do know his history and how he got it. I wish you were able to get a history on Bullet but his future with you is more important. Every horse we encounter is a teacher if we allow them to be. Impossible not to feel guilt when we let them down but try not to be so hard on yourself. We are all students of the horse if we let ourselves be. You do and that impresses me in a person. We all make mistakes. Learn from them and forgive yourself.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 8:24 am
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    What a relief…I so appreciate your feedback. thanks for clarifying …I actually love hearing my horses say no, because it’s a form of communication & as you said free will….. I’m trying to relay this to Bullet the most..as you could see in our video he will obediently/robotically come to the mounting block but then shows he how does not want me on his back, I am trying to show him he has a choice and can say no to the mounting block toooooooo.
    ✌🏼️❤️🐴

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    • April 24, 2017 at 12:03 pm
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      Yes, exactly. Andrea Datz is working on an article for us right now and it’s going to be FABULOUS when she’s finished – it’s all about this topic of saying No and real relationship and communication. I think you’d love her stuff: https://integrativehorsemanship.wordpress.com/

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  • April 24, 2017 at 1:14 pm
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    Jini…I do like her stuff and follow her blog…she’s also done a podcast w Linda Salinas who is part of Carolyn Resnicks Water hole rituals approach. Her blog & especially her podcasts have some good interactions with different horse people ..I’m sure you know a lot of them.
    To Lee… Thanks for the comment …Bullet has & I’m positive will continue to be an amazing teacher..his scars are so awful !!….but I just look at them as one more thing that makes him who he is. I have always seem him as such handsome horse & he is quite a character. Such a fun guy.
    All the horses I have met are in some way here to teach us what we are open to learn from them. It’s just so cool knowing there is so many more people then I ever thought ….that want to learn from the horse. ✌🏼️❤️🐴

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  • April 24, 2017 at 10:30 pm
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    god Jini, I love to hear and feel into yours and everyone’s words and experiences! it’s such a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional experience, occupying this human-flesh suit! what i begin to ‘sensate” , while reading you all here,, is: “what if, I, (as a humie -human I mean) landed on a planet,, occupied by beings/life-forms i know nothing of, not their customs, language, capabilities, etc etc, nothing…and just let myself be shown stuff by them, everything these beings do, think, speak, feel, transmit, emanate…..all of it, whatever of it, what if I was so curious, that i could see into their other-dimensionalities? omg what a sense-ation-al experience that would be. or what if I landed on that planet, and began imposing my ways and language and not listening, not hearing, not caring, not asking. I wish I could clean my clock, and re-start with fresh senses, choosing option number one. Your coeur-ageous ways of be-ing with the horses you care for, and the beauty full heart -full words of the other humans speaking here are so inspiring. The world really is an ever-flowing fountain of beauty. I will continue to choose option number one: Dear horse, dear tree, dear green-ness and bird-song: (even dear human!) show me, open me, play with me, talk to me, kick my butt, kiss my cheek, anything at all, I want to know you, I want to know me, I want to be so burst open that only sparkles of star dust dancing on sunbeams remain. Thank you for being shimmering sunbeams, dear Jini and Friends. with love, from Sheila xoxoxoox

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    • April 25, 2017 at 5:54 pm
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      Sheila you ARE a big sparkle of star dust! That was the first thing I thought when I met you, “Wow, she’s really sparkly!” Can’t wait for you to come meet the herd for yourself – when I get back from the Symposium for sure. Gonna be some interesting stuff going down there… I can feel it coming… 🙂

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      • April 26, 2017 at 11:40 am
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        YYYYYYYYYUUUUUUMMMMMMMMM!!!! bring it on home SiStah!! xxoxo sheila .

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  • April 25, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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    Hi!
    Just wanted to share a little Dutch with you (I am from the Netherlands, Europe).
    Dandelions are called ‘paardenbloemen’ in Dutch. ‘Paarden’ means ‘horses’ and ‘bloemen’ means ‘flowers’. (and it is the same in Belgian language) 🙂

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    • April 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm
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      oh very cool – I’ll let the Belgians know! 🙂 I think I’ll switch to calling them that anyway – I like the sound better than ‘dandelion’!

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    • April 26, 2017 at 11:38 am
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      ooooohhhhhh that is sooo beauty full,,,, Horse-Flowers! I love this. xoxoxo sheila

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  • May 4, 2017 at 1:55 pm
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    I’ve been reading your articles for the last few months (or maybe year or so, time goes by so quickly, now) and really appreciate your approach to being with, teaching and learning from horses. I’ve loved horses all of my life, but it wasn’t until I was 60 that I was able to say “yes” to guardianship (can’t own a living creature) of first Asha and then her colt, Cody. That was almost six years ago. With Asha & Cody letting me know in no uncertain terms that a lot of what is taught under the general heading of “natural horsemanship” was not to their liking (and sometimes seemed boring, pointless and/or just plain mean to me), it’s been quite the journey figuring how to have the relationship that we all want. Finding your articles, Chuck Mintzlaff’s website & Facebook page, and the Chair Challenge have been the most recent aides to helping me understand what Asha & Cody want/need from me. So, a big, big THANK YOU!!!

    I like to use a neck rope, and now will be braiding it in place—very clever. A friend of mine and I were recently discussing what a problem the slipping was, but hadn’t come up with a solution, so I’ll be passing your idea on the her. This same friend is who taught me a simple way to use a lead rope as a neck rope that won’t strangle the horse. First, clip the rope around the horse’s neck. Only tighten it as much as is the tightest you would want it to ever get. Put your hand around the rope just inside the clip, then unclip the rope with your other hand. The hand still holding the rope is “marking” the place that you’re going to tie a simple overhand knot (you may have to take the rope off of the horse’s neck). Put the rope back around the horse’s neck and clip it so that the knot is on the neck side of the clip. The knot will prevent the rope from ever getting too tight. And, as long as the neck rope isn’t snug, the knot shouldn’t rub or irritate the horse’s neck.

    Again, thanks for all of your interesting, honest and well thought out articles.

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    • May 4, 2017 at 4:13 pm
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      Thanks for the tip Pamela – that will come in useful if I’m ever out and want to switch to a neck loop but don’t have one handy! And glad you’re enjoying our stories. Your two are lucky to have you!

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  • May 4, 2017 at 5:27 pm
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    Jini…I just wanted to tell you that I got to try the braid in the mane to help with the neck rope/cordeo from slipping when they put there head down to graze and it’s so awesome. What a simple yet so affective idea. I was so excited to try it and it just worked perfectly. Bullet thanks you tooooo…cause he loves the neck loop and now we have a way to keep it in place. It really is the simple things in life that make your day and get you all excited and happy….thanks again for sharing ✌🏼️❤️🐴

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    • May 4, 2017 at 5:42 pm
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      Hah you’re just like me when I find some simple thing that is just brilliant! The same glee and delight 🙂 I actually discovered this when I was riding Zorra and we stopped so she could have a nice long graze before heading home. So I had lots of time to sit there and contemplate a solution whereby I didn’t have to hold the reins! I’ll upload a pic and you can see I did a little french braid on this one 🙂

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    • May 4, 2017 at 5:43 pm
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      Works with reins too!

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