Month of Massage - Part 2

Let me start by saying that the last thing i want to do is put your masseuse out of business!  By all means, if you can support your horse with professional massage, do so knowing that you are offering a wonderful gift to your equine partner, and providing healing therapy for your horse.  Massage is also a really good mode of preventative care.  Sadly, many of us are not able to afford the services of an equine body worker, some not so often, and some not at all, and others may be able to afford it, but not have access to it.

Putting aside the logistical aspects of finances and availability, performing massage for your horse with your own hands provides more than just relief to the equine body, it builds and strengthens the bond between you. 

Humans are always coming at their horses with demand in their hands.  The human hand is almost always saying,

"I want something from you."

"I want to take something from you."

"I want you to do this for me.”

Sometimes, but not as often, the human hand comes with a stroke, a pat, or a treat, but those moments are fleeting and few compared to the demands.  The human hand says,

“Go here.”

"Go there.”

“Do this.”

“Do that.”

The human hand pulls, pushes, and often punishes.  Offering massage to your horse, your hands can at last act in a loving way.  Massage enables your hands to say,

"”I want to help you.”

“I want you to feel good.”

“I want to show you love.”

Massage offers you an opportunity to give something to your horse without expecting anything in return.  It allows you to be close to your horse, to feel your horse, touch your horse, all without expectation.  Grooming is a wonderful bonding experience too, but even grooming has some hint of human agenda attached to it.  Massage for the horse by its own human is such a great example of something unselfish that we can do for our horses. 

Again, I am all for professional massage, but not at the exclusion of the human laying their own hands on their own horse.  The health benefits that come from a professional massage are undeniable, but the opportunity to build your bond, strengthen your relationship, and weave the threads of love and trust between you and your horse can only occur when you lay your own hands on your own horse.

I hope you enjoy the second video in our series on DIY massage!

Part 2 of the Summerwood Series on Equine Massage. Check back all month for new content!

Month of Massage! - Part 1

This month, February 2018, I finally feel ready to start to share some of my feelings and findings on the mind/body/spirit connection, and a little about what I have been learning about the different energies that exist in life.

I have purposely refrained from reading or studying this matter, so that I could take a pure journey in discovery. I did however, come into this with a bit of an understanding about the Theory of Attraction, and how we can manifest things in our life through our beliefs.  I have seen first hand how our attitudes can affect what we do.  I have also witnessed that there seems to be a relationship between our attitude and our health, and that there has been proven that a strong spirituality can lead to longevity for humans.  I have also seen that horses that have happy lives seem to be healthier, and have noticed that healthy happy horses do seem to live longer.  I firmly believe that the mind, body, spirit and soul work with each other, depend on each other, and need each other. 

I have long been a fan of massage, and I believe that getting in touch, literally, with the body, can have a profound effect on the mind and spirit.  I am not a professionally trained body worker, nor have I studied at length or depth in books, but what I have done over the course of many years is study, in a  "hands on" way, the horses in my life, each one gifting me a piece of a very fascinating puzzle of what this "complete connection" is about.   There are so many different techniques for massage and you can learn about them and study many of them online.  I enjoy the Masterson Method and TTouch, but the very best massage instructor is already in your barn!  That’s right!  Your horse will guide you and teach you in this journey as well. As long as you are safe, careful, and thoughtful, if you are comfortable and educated enough to groom your horse thoroughly, you should be able to massage your horse as well.  Of course, if your horse has soundness, lameness, or health issues you should always consult with a practitioner, but generally, a well intended, love-filled laying on of hands should not be something we should feel insecure about trying, and that’s a great starting point for you and your horse if you’ve never tried this before.  Just put your hands on your horse, gently and with a heart felt intention, and watch your horse respond.  Listen to your horse.  Let your instinct and intuition play a part in guiding you, too.  Spending time with your horse with the intention of wanting your horse to feel better, can only be time well spent, and these moments go a long way in building your relationship, trust, and your own connection with your horse. 
As always - be safe, and respect your horse’s boundaries.  Your horse will tell you if it’s not the time or place.  To help inspire you, have a look at the first video in our little DYI massage series, we will follow it up in a few days with more blog, and more video!

Part 1 of the Summerwood Series on Equine Massage. Check back all month for new content!

New Year, New Practice. New Opportunities.

Working with horses from the ground, or in-hand, is almost a lost art in our modern world of equestrianism and horse training.  This centuries old technique for training, conditioning, gentling, and gymnasticizing the horse has long taken a back seat to other methods of starting and training horses, methods which would appear to be quicker and more efficient, yet sadly, have proven in the long run to create generations of horses that are prone to be unsound in mind, body, and/or spirit - horses that are tense, nervous, stressed to the point of being unwell, plagued with ulcers, and with a short working longevity.

Any horse of any age or experience level can benefit from working in-hand.  This work can be performed with mature horses at any point in their training, and is an excellent foundation for starting young horses.  And, very importantly, let us not forget to mention the benefits for the human!  Working from the ground offers us humans an entirely different perspective of our horses:  their strengths and areas of weakness.  It gives us a deeper understanding of our horses’ balance and imbalances.

Working from the ground places horse and human at the same level, both literally and figuratively, and through this platform of equality, the bond between horse and human can flourish in ways that are not even imaginable to those who have not experienced it.  When working from the ground, horse and human build an entirely new and improved language and level of communication and can establish a trust that can only enhance any other equestrian activities one chooses to pursue, mounted or unmounted.

As when exploring any new equestrian discipline, starting the work in-hand can feel clumsy and awkward for both human and horse, but with patience and perseverance, continuity and commitment, working in-hand quickly becomes an extraordinarily satisfying and holistic workout for both horse and human.  Many find that working in-hand is so enjoyable, beneficial, and satisfying that they often will choose working in-hand over work in the saddle.  Whether you chose to use the work in-hand as a supplement to your riding, or as a discipline on its own, working from the ground offers the human a canvas to create a true work of art with their horse, shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye, heart to heart.

Please enjoy my student's testimonial below, as she talks about her in-hand journey.

Happy riding!

SHOWTIME! by Nina Heller

So often I hear bitless riders lament they can no longer show now that they are riding bitless. 

Not so!

Attention Bitless Riders!



You can do it almost anywhere, from wherever you are on this planet!  All you need is an internet connection, and some sort of device that you can film with.  Even your phone  is a great device for this purpose!

Dressage, jumping, equitation and more, with real judges, real competition, real rosettes, and even real prize money!  The only thing that is not "real" is the showgrounds.  These shows exist on the internet, and although that might sound strange, nontraditional, and maybe even daunting, I can attest it’s none of those things, and I believe its the way of the future!

I discovered online horse showing when I decided to commit to riding exclusively bitless.   Like many people who enjoy showing, it was tough to think that giving up the bit would also mean that I would have to give up such a beloved part of my equine experience.  I knew, when I transitioned to bitless riding and training,  I would no longer be welcome at the big rated.  What I didn't know, and was very disappointed to discover, was that even my local schooling show would not accept a bitless entry, not even hors concours!  Thankfully, through some offbeat chat room, I discovered the beauty of online showing, and now several years later, I am a huge fan!  In the meantime, our local schooling show manager has finally welcomed us to participate bitless at her shows.  While I have taken my students to one of these shows, I've not yet felt the desire to get back to the showgrounds.  I have learned, once you go internet, you may never want to go back!

There are so many wonderful benefits to showing online but my favorite is the freedom of timing.  With all of life’s responsibilities, it’s often difficult to carve out the time to prepare for a show and then devote an entire weekend to attend one.  With online showing, you can do your classes whenever you like, and, as often as you like, as long as you have a generous cameraperson, or one of these new automated robot cameras.

You just cant beat the convenience, the cost, and the reduction of stress for horse and rider!  In our ever changing, overcrowded world, it just makes sense to want to reduce the footprint we make through real time showing.  Equine activities like showing create thousands of hauling trips every week around the world.  Imagine the reduction in the use of gas, the emissions, the pollution, not to mention reducing the risk of equine safety issues that are created through transporting horses and stabling them in unfamiliar and often unsecured areas. 

Online showing gives so much power back to the people!  No more waiting for your ride times, only to find out that you are the first to go at the crack of dawn, or at 3pm in a heat wave.  No more rude early morning awakenings, unless you like that sort of thing, and no more showing in bad health, or bad circumstances, or bad weather!

Just this past year, one of my students was slated to ride in a show series that was rained out on almost every selected date, and then one date was cancelled due to an equine health quarantine!  These are things that you never have to worry about when you are showing from home, online.  Of course, weather, illness, and other complications are going to happen, but with internet showing there is always another day, provided you do not procrastinate too much and find that it’s the closing date and you have not yet filmed anything!  But in that case, there is always next month!

As far as expense goes, there is no debate.  Online showing is the clear winner with no association fees, grounds fees, stabling, hauling, drug, office or late fees.  For the cost of 2 real time shows, I can compete on the internet every month,for a year!

There are several sites that offer on-line showing but my show site of choice is  Interdressage had me at "hello bitless.”  Interdressage is the most bitless friendly show on the web.  EVERY class, EVERY month, is open to bitless riders.  Dressage, jumping, showing - there is no segregation, except every now and then they will offer a special class that is only open to the bitless.

The Interdressage show is run monthly, and it works like a well oiled machine.  The judges are rated, the experience is educational, and entering is accomplished through a simple YouTube upload.  Plus, there is continual support through their Facebook page.

As far as the competition level goes, its nothing to sneeze at!  People of all ages and skill levels, from all over the globe, compete on Interdressage and I have seen individual classes fill up to over 30 competitors!  The prizes are nothing to sneeze at either!  Beautiful rosettes to 10th place, and different every month, so your ribbon wall will not look mundane!  And cash prizes, monthly!  If you are not captivated yet - they offer year end awards for leagues and individuals, with great prizes, including money and medals!  Still need more convincing?  How about a leader board that you can check regularly during the month, to watch for scores and placings as they come in, and the ability to view the videos of your fellow competitors!  Also,  Interdressage provides an ever changing assortment of enjoyable and educational tests and classes each month, and whether you show for sport, education, or simply for the fun of it, they provide a well-rounded show experience from start to finish, consistently, each and every month.  Interdressage is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year!  Unlike some of the newer sites, they have come up with a very competitor friendly system at a very reasonable price, one which feels personal and inviting.  There is nothing to join, and with their consistent schedule, its easy to jump in at anytime.

So, come on bitless riders!  Get out there and get showing, and show the world that bitless is beautiful!  And don’t forget to register with IROBE, the International Registry of Bitless Equestrians, where all points from all shows, online or real time, will put you in the running for the 2017 BITLESS HORSE OF THE YEAR!!!

Happy 2017! by Nina Heller

Happy New Year!

2016 was a great year for the bitless movement, and we have the highest hopes that 2017 will see an even wider acceptance of bitless riding, training and showing!  

There are many ideas of what might constitute creating the ideal world for our horses; living free in a herd, barefoot, bareback, certain types of hay, therapeutic body work and much more.  All of these things are wonderful, but, sadly, not all of us have the access or the ability to provide many of these comforts.  This is where the beauty of bitless comes in!  No matter what your constraints may be; the lack of time, money, or space, making a transition to bitless riding and training is something that any of us can do to increase the comfort and happiness of our horses!

Riding bitless is not only a life-changing gift for your horse, but potentially, the best gift you will ever give yourself.  Year after year I continue to see the merits of bitless riding and training.  Recently, my own crop of young students have blossomed in to a group of sturdy teenaged riders, and now that they have honed the skills that will help to not give me so many gray hairs, it is time to let my ducklings venture out of the arena and into nature!  

We spent the winter holiday training in an open field that we have in the back of our property.  Mind you, none of the current school horses has had any recent trail experience.  This, coupled with the kids being completely green to riding out, and adding the fact that the horses have never ridden outside the arena bitless, plus cold, brisk weather, could have been a festival of gray hairs for me!  But we took it slowly, starting with hand walking out in the field, then mounted, with very slow work, keeping close together.  Carefully, each day, we added more questions, and asked the horses to separate more, and by the last day of vacation I had a handful of budding cross country stars...bitless!

They were navigating terrain, obstacles, uneven footing, and easily leaving and entering the group.  It was so exciting, and not only did I not grow one gray hair, but the entire experience made me feel 20 years younger!  It is invigorating watching the girls and the horses having so much fun, and the very best part... if someone does have a misstep, or their horse has an overly enthusiastic moment, accidental punishment from the bit is not and cannot part of the equation.  Riding in nature comes with many unexpected moments, and a nasty inadvertent yank on the bit should not be one of those, especially when learning to navigate hills and obstacles like banks, ditches, and ponds.  

In the past, one moment of imbalance and you are certainly looking at an unintentional pull on your horse's mouth.  Not so with bitless!  Not once in our recent schooling sessions did I have to cringe at the sight of someone hanging, grasping, or balancing themselves on the bit.  No gray hairs, AND no cringing, so no wrinkles!  Just a few extra smile and laugh lines, as each pair gained more confidence, and any anxieties melted away to sheer pleasure for both the riders and the horses, and for me too, as coach and observer.  There were about half a dozen of us who went out to "play" in our back field over the vacation, riders and horses of different shapes, sizes, ages, breeds and levels of training, all making great progress each day, confirming that bitless is a safe and sane choice for anyone in any discipline.  

It also confirmed for me what a great tool the bitless bridle is for training, and not just a nice comfort for the already trained.  The more clear we are with our training, the easier and faster the process can go.  Taking the bit out of the equation makes for a much clearer communication all around.  Sometimes one of the horses would knock a leg, because they did not lift it high enough over a log, or took a clumsy step going up the hill, but these little things are the responsibilities of the horse, and every time that I did see a misstep, I saw the horse make a better effort the next time.  Now that's clear, direct, and fair training!

Unfortunately, many times in cross country schooling you will see all too many examples of unfair training.  It's natural for a green horse to make an exuberant departure from a down bank or into a water hazard, and although that is a fair reaction from an unseasoned horse, if the horse is bitted, he or she immediately gets punished for its effort when the unassuming rider, thrown off balance, inadvertently hangs on the bit.  Now I realize why it can take so long for some horses to be dependable cross country horses.  There is so much inadvertent conflicting training going on due to the bit which, in turn, perpetuates the need for so much drilling and repetition for the horse to truly understand the task at hand.  Sadly, more drilling is more unnecessary wear and tear on both horse and rider.  

I never really thought about this when I was eventing in a bit.  My horse Speedy was fairly bold and loved the cross country, but wow, I can imagine how much more fun the experience would have been for both of us if we had been bitless!  It saddens me that our relationship pre-dates my involvement in bitless riding, but, we live and hopefully we learn.  I definitely learned something in these past few weeks as I watched my ducklings swim solo in the "big pond"!  Within just a few days in the jumping field, these horses went from tentative, uncertain, cautious skeptics, to acting like a bunch of kids at Disneyland!  Actually, by vacation's end, the horses may have been having more fun than the girls!  I always remind people that training bitless can take longer, but what I have begun to realize now is, once you have laid your foundation, training bitless can actually cut down on training time!  When there is no longer a bit involved, there is a more accurate and less accidental messaging going on between horse and rider, with far less inadvertent negative reinforcement, and this leads to a much more clear and efficient training process.  When the rider is able to offer consistent reinforcement, and the horse can clearly understand what the rider wants, it's usually very happy to try to give it to the rider.

When the horse is uncertain of your desires, problems arise, and the bit can be one of the biggest components of confusion.  When the rider asks the question, and the horses answers correctly, there should always be some sort of positive reinforcement.  But  imagine if you will, the confusion of a green horse jumping off of a bank for the first time.  He is not quite sure yet that his rider means for him to hop off of this mound.  The rider seems to be insisting that he go forward, and to go forward, he has to jump off, so he hesitates, thinks for a moment, and then lurches off with some uncertainty.  In the meantime, the rider gets caught off balance as the horse hesitates, and accidentally ends up hanging on the bit, and now, although she is patting him profusely, telling him what a fabulous boy he is, he also just got punished by the bit for making this attempt, and he is wondering why.  Why did he get punished?  He must have not given the right answer, but, then why was he praised?  He is confused.

So we try again, back up to the down bank, and now the horse is a little more anxious, because what should have been an easy 1+1=2, is now appearing to him as some sort of calculus question, so he stands on the bank, trying to figure out what part of his answer was wrong last time.  He is a good boy, and he is trying his best for his rider, so he changes something about his answer, something subtle that the rider probably would never even notice, but again, it's an awkward departure, because he is green, and just learning, and the rider is not Lucinda Williams, so, once more the horse gets an accidental jab with the bit, followed by profuse praise, now he is really confused, and there you are both standing at the top of the bank, again, asking the same question, again, and now he has to think of yet some other thing to add or subtract from his answer, so next time he will only get the praise, and not the punishment. so, he changes another small part of his response, but this time you were more prepared to stay with him, and you don't catch him in the mouth, you praise him profusely, and he is very proud that he finally found the right answer.  Just to make sure he understands, you go right back to that bank, and because he is so proud of himself, he jumps right off with a bold effort, one that you did not expect at all, so you once more end up accidentally hanging on his mouth, punishing him for giving the correct answer, and then you follow it up with profuse praise, and now he is really not quite sure what to link together.

Maybe he is being praised for enduring the yanking on the bit???  He is not certain.  He may never truly ever feel certain about this, and that uncertainty follows him up that bank every time.  It's the hesitation that stays with him for his entire career.  He is the horse who does a few steps of piaffe before he lurches off, because he needs to stall for a moment to think about this one.  This is the hard one, the confusing one.  It's so sad,  because it's really the easy one, the one that the horse would very likely find in a natural setting, and although its a bit crass, I had an old trainer who said that even a dead horse could go off a down bank, and it's true.  It's just gravity.

There will be, of course, another horse, in similar circumstances, that finally, after a few seasons, does becomes bold because over time and much trial and error, he finally understands that what  the job really boils down to is to always just go to the other side, no matter what, to keep moving forward, whether you must go up, down, through, or in, no matter how many times the rider catches him in the mouth - just keep going.  This can take years for many horses, but what I saw from my first crop of bitless future eventers was so hopeful, and so exciting, and happened so fast!  The only punishment these horses endured these last few weeks was due to their own mistakes or unbalance, not their riders, and as I mentioned, these were things the horses clearly understood, and could then improve upon.  I'm not saying the riders were perfect, they had their mistakes, but, their mistakes did not inadvertently cause sharp pain or intense discomfort to the horse.  Taking pain out of the mix enables the horse to focus on learning instead of focusing on impending pain and discomfort.  There are two old sayings I try to remind myself of often:  "Be careful what you teach your horse." and "We are at every moment either training our horses or untraining them."  It's true.  We are unwittingly sending out messages constantly to our horses, accidentally praising, mistakenly punishing, inadvertently setting and resetting boundaries.  That's a big responsibility, in and out of the saddle, and that responsibility increases dramatically when we introduce our horses to new challenges, especially in the saddle.

There is only one Lucinda Williams, and I bet even she has accidentally hung on a few bits once or twice in her career. but here is the exciting part... you can take the uncertainty out of the training equation by taking the bit out of the equation!  You can subtract that extra element of pain and confusion, by schooling and riding bitless.  And, very importantly, cross country jumping is one of the few places where bitless is actually completely legal in competition, at all levels!!!  Think about it, if bitless was not a safe and sane option, do you think combined training associations around the globe would allow bitless in one of the most challenging disciplines??

I truly believe our horses enjoy "playing" with us, but it's not fun when it hurts, and its hard to enjoy yourself when the threat of being hurt is always looming.  They say we only hurt the ones we love, but in this instance, we don't have to!

Bitless & Beautiful is always trying to think of new ways to promote bitless riding and to raise awareness throughout the equestrian community and the world at large.  In 2017, we are hoping that our introduction of a bitless organization and registry, complete with gorgeous year end awards for all disciplines and a Bitless Horse of the Year, will do just that!

We've named this organization IROBE, the International Registry of Bitless Equestrians.  IROBE is open to all bitless equestrians, and can be joined through this website.  As I have mentioned many times, I believe that riding bitless is an important piece of the puzzle that many of us are trying to assemble, one that completes a picture of a more humane and holistic horsemanship.

It's a brand new year, so open your mind, open your heart, and try something new.  Make 2017 your year to go bitless.  No matter what playtime looks like for you and your horse, it will look, feel, and be more beautiful, bitless!!!

Brooke & Ryder

Brooke & Ryder

Sophie & Molly

Sophie & Molly

Colette & Sara

Colette & Sara

Sophie & Molly

Sophie & Molly



Nina & Trav

Nina & Trav

Train With Love by Nina Heller

I began taking riding lessons when I was nine.  By the time I was 14, I had vaulted, participated in drill team and trail riding, and was jumping 3 foot courses.  I was horse crazy, and would quickly finish my "real" homework every day, and beg my sister to create horse homework for me, from the few horse books that we had collected.  I relished being tested about information that I really felt passionately about, and that was horses, not math!

I loved horses with my entire being, down to the deepest part of my heart and soul, and this is what led me toward a life with them.  I can only imagine that most people begin their relationship with horses out of a love like this, an innocent, awe-struck sort of love.  What i find so confusing is, how does this type of a love transition to an alleged love that allows one to engage in so many practices that are so hurtful to the horse?  I have thought a lot about this.  When I was 14, a girl at school said that if I really loved horses I would not ride them.  Something rang true for me in her words, and soon, I was no longer riding.  Several years later, I was drawn back to horses.  The love was too great, but now, so was the internal conflict.  I have wrestled with this conflict for decades.  Love, pain, and the concept that we only hurt the ones we love.

My trainers were of no use to ease my distress.  Most of them adopting and selling the idea that the human pays the feed bill, and the horse only has to do a few hours of work a day to earn his keep so it’s a sweet deal.  I bought right in to it.  It made sense, and allowed me to continue to follow my equestrian aspirations.  But the seed had been planted when I was 14, and no matter how many times I tried to cut the little sapling down by thinking about what a great deal my horse was getting, a little tree began to grow, one with strong roots, planted firmly in my love for the horse.  Over the years that tree began to block my view of the landscape I once knew, where

 the use of a crop, a whip, spurs, martingales, draw reins, and the most incredible array of bits was acceptable, respectable, and professional.  The guy doing liberty work in the far reaches of the equestrian facility - he was weird.  The lady riding without a bit – crazy.  The person who refused to carry a crop – some sort of a hippie animal activist.  Not real equestrians, just some sort of granola eating fringe.

Why were they viewed this way? How did this happen?  How did it happen that those who were training in a loving way, became the outliers, and those who subscribed to force and brutality the mainstream?

In the defense of the average equestrian, we are not taught or encouraged to be empathetic toward the horse.  We are taught that the horse is there to comply with our demands. We are not taught how to properly build a relationship of trust and love with the horse.  We are not encouraged to build a relationship rooted in love and respect.  Doing so takes time, patience and being that the journey is so individual, does not fit into the corporate template of most big training stables.  Simultaneously, taking the time to develop this relationship does not fit in with the plans of the average equestrians and their plans for the show ring.  If we all brought our horses along the "correct" way,  those ridiculous dressage tests for the 5 and 6 year olds would not even exist. The introductory walk/trot classes would be the test for a 5 or 6 year old horse.  Each discipline is guilty of demanding too much too soon from the young horse, and each discipline therefore must continue to support all of the hurtful tactics that assist in creating only the appearance a horse that was trained with love.

The system is broken.  It reminds me of our political system, illogical, corrupt, sad.  We need to start over.  We need to remember that most people are drawn to horses because they feel that immense love for them.  We need to encourage that love, not try to corrupt it.  We need to build a new system, an equestrian system that teaches people how to teach horses with respect, and then allows the horses to be our teachers, as they are the ones with the most to teach.  This can’t happen when we are rushing, forcing, and pushing for outcomes, fueled by our egotistical ulterior motives.  We need to stop idolizing, rewarding, and accepting riders and riding systems that do not hold the highest respect for the well-being of the horse. We need to allow our true love for the horse to be our compass, and  to find our way out of this dark forest of veiled abuse.  This transformation starts with each one of us, cutting down the tangled ivy, and overgrown weeds that block our access to that tree that we all have inside, the one that inevitably grew from that little seed of child-like innocent love for a such a noble, awe-inspiring creature.  We need to climb these trees, and see clear to a future that prioritizes the horse and its welfare, and a system that inspires and even rewards those that train with love.

Olympic Summer by Nina Heller

It is an Olympic summer for equestrians.  Once upon a time, this would have been the focal point of the summer for me, watching the equestrian events, relishing every moment of the excitement.  In just the last 4 years though, something has drastically shifted for me and I am not alone!

For the last few days i have read hundreds of comments from all over the world regarding the games, on all sorts of different pages.  People are using words like "disgusted,” "appalled,” "horrified" when describing the equestrian events.  Those that are using terms like "beautiful,” "amazing,” and "wonderful" are beginning to seem either completely undereducated, totally brainwashed, or steeped in denial.  From the excessive use of force, punishment methods like Rollkur, all of the spur blood and the whip welts, this is not equestrian sport, this is blood sport!

This sport was my sport, and I feel ashamed and saddened that while we call ourselves horse lovers, we allow the pinnacle of our sport, the Olympic games - something the entire planet can view - that this is what we want to represent to the world?  Cruelty, inhumanity, and the overly obvious exploitation of the horse.  If its one thing this Olympics has made abundantly clear, is that these games, and equestrian sport in general, are in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

For almost 40 years I was a typical rider, living in denial of my actions, one that was easily led by those "more knowledgeable" to use force, and sometimes even what I now recognize as brutality in the training of my horses.  But, something has happened to me.  I am waking up from the great slumber of denial that was limiting my growth and evolution.  If I, a card carrying, show-addicted, points and awards crazed equestrian can see the reality, and start over with my ways, if I can put my self gratification and ego driven desires in perspective with the needs of my horses, then I believe that anyone can at least try.

My life has only been enhanced by this evolution.  Oh, but you

Say, “You are a trainer, and you might lose your livelihood.”  Well, I have been running my school for over 20 years, and for any student who I may have lost to the "transition to humanity,” two new ones appeared.  And, I am sorry, but I will say it, better students, more caring and empathetic.  My business has changed, but has not suffered, and the horses are happy and healthy.

What is there to fear?  The loss of a national title? Is this what it comes down to?  Is that what floats this massive ship of trickle down barbarism?  To be able to be granted an award in exchange for losing sight of why we involve ourselves with horses in the first place - for the love of the horse???

I have a few national titles, and all they brought with them was a fleeting joy.  Nothing in comparison to the joy I feel now, each day, just working with the horses and humans in a more humane approach, one that has no place for bits or spurs, oppressive nose bands or draw reins.  No Rollkur.  No beatings.  Just that same love that drives us here in the first place.  Using that love along with a deep respect for our equine friends should be a solid road map to assist any rider to make the correct turns on this journey.

Below is a picture of me with Joe, AKA Platinum Plus.  He is 22 now, and after a successful racing career, and over a decade of successful competition, he is finally bitless, barefoot, and ridden without a saddle, spurs, or a whip.  I post our 2008 victory photo to show you who I was, and where I came from, that I am probably someone just like you.  Going bitless was a gift i thought i was giving to my horses, but the gift turned out to be one of the greatest gifts that i personally have ever received.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.  Please, consider change, even baby steps, take out your bit, loosen your noseband, forget your spurs, or just help in keeping the conversation alive.  We must keep trying to make people aware of the positive change they can make for their horses and for themselves when they seek a more humane approach to training and riding.  In an Olympic year, with so many eyes and ears on the equine community, is a great forum to do so!


Nina & Joe

Nina & Joe

Spud by Nina Heller

A few months ago Spud got what we call "Speedy privileges,” where our senior equine friends get to roam free on our property. He LOVED that so much! and I am so happy that he got to spend his final days at Summerwood free, and full of choice, to do whatever he liked.  He could break in to a lesson, stand in the sprinklers with the kids, visit the hay shed but, he mostly liked standing with his mares, Ryder and Starla, up on the top of our hill, where he used to live so many years ago, with his best friend Blue, who departed well over a decade ago.  It was interesting to see that left to his own devices that this is where he would choose to go.   He must have had fond memories of living up there, maybe, even after being moved in to the barn, to swankier accommodations, I guess he must have still considered the old pipe corrals home.

Letting Spud go tonight was hard, and I am very grateful for Jen, who was with me.  Strangely, we were at the barn much later than we normally would be, which was so lucky, otherwise Spud could have suffered all night and into the morning.  The loss of a loved one is never easy, but I feel some comfort that Spud is now free.  Really free, no more soreness in his feet to hold him back, nothing to hold him back.  Last night was really tough, I was wishing that Spud could tell me what he wanted, and then i realized that he already had!  Last year he told Lydia Hiby, the animal communicator, that when his time came, that we were to please let him go, that he loved his life with us, and loved everyone who loved him, and that he felt very lucky to have had his life with us.  Well, spud, we were the lucky ones.  I love you boy, and I thank you, with all of my heart.  You will be greatly missed.



Lucie & Spud

Lucie & Spud