Bridle Paths offers authentic connections, in partnership with horses. Adaptive Riding
Equine Assisted Learning
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Please join us in welcoming this handsome gentleman to the farm! Caz is a teenage Hanoverian gelding with vast experience ranging from show hunting and fox hunting to 4-H and parades. Many thanks to Nichole Jones for sharing this lovely horse with us.
Horses have evolved to be exquisitely aware of their environments in the present moment. As is the case with humans, however, they can experience anxiety and anticipation based on past experiences and triggers. It is our challenge to engage with empathy and curiosity to answer questions, assuage fears, and build authentic connections.
HORSES ARE IN THE MOMENT, ALWAYS
Something I used to say, but now no longer believe.
Horses can be anxious to the point that they are 'not here and present' with you. I know how that feels, to be so frightened about your performance or your place in the world around you that your body goes numb, you cannot feel your legs and feet, and you feel as though you might float away into outer space.
Horses can respond to you not authentically based on what you're truly offering them, but respond to you based on their memories. More than a reinforcement history of conditioned responses, certain smells, visual triggers and symbols, even time of day, the light and spatial location can interfere with the purity of your communicated signals to them.
You can quietly ask the horse simply to walk, and they respond like you have spurred them in the ribs and asked them to backflip over hot coals singing happy birthday in Japanese... an exaggerated response. Has nothing to do with the trainer in front of them. The trainer may have afforded a trigger, but they are not the cause of the exaggerated response. That horse is not 'in the moment'. They are in their memories. Getting the horse to be present, come home to their body and truly listen to you is what we explore in emotional horsemanship.
A horse can anticipate what they expect is about to happen. Classic simple examples; a horse who starts moving as soon as you mounted or even before you finished mounting. A horse who starts lunging themselves before asked, a horse who doesn't wait for communication but snaps to attention and begins offering mechanical behaviours. This horse is not in the moment. They are in the future, informed by their past. Animal neuroscience now sheds light on this, all mammals have the necessary brain structure to predict future occurrences at least in a direct fashion. Horses for example have been shown to develop and create the use of tools for future gains, just like primates. We have vastly underestimated their intelligence and neurological capacity.
Horses are really good at having the humans in their life fit the molds that the horse expects of the human. For example: a horse who was used to being ridden behind the vertical, will offer this to a new rider, even before the rider asks for anything on the reins. That rider can effectively understand how that horse was trained in the past, based on the things a horse offers to them especially when the horse wasn't listening and communicating, but performing mechanically what they expect they would be asked to do.
Beyond just conditioned response, the horse is also working off of how their memories of training makes their body feel. The limbic system is one of the oldest and strongest parts of all mammalian brains, and the horse has a better developed limbic system compared to a human. The limbic system processes conscious movement, memory and emotion.
A horse who is accustomed to carrying an unbalanced, behind the movement rider, might initially struggle with a well balanced rider who sits in time with their movement. Ask me how I know this! For years I worked with trail or school horses who seldom got a balanced rider, and my job was to 'clean them up' by offering them a balanced and harmonious ride. Yet initially, the horse put me into an unbalanced posture and coordination the moment I hit the saddle, and was rather confused when I kept adjusting myself into balance with them. Sometimes, the horse panicked when I got into balance with them because it was so anathema to what they were used to, they had no experience of it, no point of reference for it and so they became untrained. It revealed their innate lack of foundational training, history of problematic exploitation on the trails or in lessons and anxiety. That these horses knew how to be ridden poorly, but not well. We mustn't assume that balanced training and riding feels immediately good to horses. What feels good is what you already know. New things often feel awkward.
After a couple of hours on trail, the horse would take a deep breath, release their longissimus and trapezius muscles, find their hocks and carry me balanced. They were predicting the out of balance rider, even on a rider who offered them something else, the horse offered what they knew from the past and expected. That horse is not in the moment, but in their body memories.
A horse can be in the moment, but let us not assume that the horse is always there.
Probably this is the goal of all empathetic training, to bring the horse to the moment. To label horses as an In The Moment Only Animal, as I have done in the past, is an insult to their intelligence, brain complexity and their ability to comprehend the world around them at a highly nuanced level.
Happy Thanksgiving, from our herd to yours! 🦃 🐴
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The lunch bunch
We’re rolling into Thanksgiving week like…
Miss Katie, the blue period, with credit to the young artist, Layla.
Put me in, coach!
Our 2023 calendar, featuring the incredible work of Erin Gilmore Photography, has arrived. Calendars are available for purchase at the barn, contact us to reserve yours today!
Looks great, I’ll take it!
Morning barn crew 💪🏻 🐈⬛
REM sleep 💤
It is our privilege to serve those who have served in our nation’s armed forces. On Veterans Day - and every day - we salute our veterans’ valor, authenticity, and dedication to service.
That feeling when you’re slurping up spaghetti 🍝…
It was a late night staying up watching the election returns 🗳 💤
“Safety is not the absence of threat. It is the presence of connection.”
This is why horses in a herd feel safer. And humans in a group, in most cases....
"Safety is not the absence of threat. It is the presence of connection."
~ Gabor Maté
photo (c) KAW
Huge gratitude to for this incredibly generous gift!
A special THANK YOU to @bridlepathsva (Bridle Paths Therapeutic riding), where Reece does her equine therapy!! This past weekend, Reece was able to give back and donate $2,500 to Bridle Paths! #equinetherapy #giveback #equinetherapyhorse
Turnout has been somewhat low, but the voters have spoken 🗳. We present to you the results of the Bridle Paths election, with President Guinness and Vice President Thunder. Cookies for everyone! 🍪
If he is elected president of Bridle Paths, Admiral promises a chicken in every pot for his supporters. 🗳 🐴 🐔
Kitty night shift
Allowing moments of confusion, of questioning, can pave the way for deeper understanding and authentic connections, for both horses and humans.
Allow them to be confused.
Allow yourself that same kindness too.
Confusion is cognition. It is the momentary detachment of neurons before they make new attachments. Confusion, is a stepping stone of learning.
Many training approaches spoon feed the horse desired actions in such a manner that they never need to think for themselves.
The result might be mechanical
It’s like learning to say a poem in another language, based on the mechanics of the sounds only, but not understanding what those sounds meant.
Chronic confusion- bad training, because there’s no learning.
Regular, momentary confusion? Essential to learning
My tip to begin exploring this in a simple way with your horse:
1. Provide them a mildly ambiguous cue
2. Give them lots of time to think (ie, be confused for a moment)
3. Reward their first answer. Whatever their answer is, is their understanding of your cue. Now you know what that cue means to them.
It takes horse training and flips it on its head. And makes for a much more mentally and emotionally engaged horse. As their primary skill set pivots from…
- performing specific actions for the trainer based on a series of pressed buttons
- thinking through puzzles with their partner and offering authentic solutions.
And then thoroughly understanding what it meant to THEM. Rather than, what YOU wanted. It’s a subtle nuance but makes a big difference in the horses level of enjoyment of their time with us.
Serving our wants- a pathway to servitude
Understanding how to talk with us- a pathway to connection and joy
A much easier way to be with smart horses.
By the way, what do you categorize as “smart”?
Chicken Little 🐔 🐴 😆
Happy Halloween 🎃 from Betty the barn cat 🐈⬛ If this black cat crosses your path, you’ve probably forgotten to feed her 😆
Erin Gilmore Photography is masterful at capturing the unique beauty of each of our herd members.
Clowning around to start the Halloween weekend 🤡 🐴 🎃
First world problems - door open or closed? 🧐
The work of Dr. Katie Lipresti from Wellness Ambulatory Veterinary Services is critical to the health and wellness of our healing herd.
Horses provide us with real-time examples of how to live in an embodied state of peace, calm, and presence.
It’s OKAY to Feel OKAY
It’s okay to feel calm and balanced and to have found your centre after all these years.
It’s okay to have no more drama in your life; to have ended all those dysfunctional relationships and situations that your nervous system used to feed-on.
It’s okay to stop stoking the fires of worry and adrenaline 24/7.
It’s okay not to have massive, ambitious plans, deadlines and pressures; whether self-induced or from those in your life who previously pressured you to be who you weren’t.
It’s okay to reach a place of calmness where you feel quiet inside and in your daily life. Where your system finally settles into a beautiful equanimity and where health is finally restored, after years and sometimes decades of living on the edge, barely coping as you were tossed around in the turbulence of survival, struggle and stress.
It’s okay not to feel stressed. And in our culture it’s almost a revolutionary act to live a non-stressful life! To find the way of living at long last that keeps you stable, centred and calm inside.
Like the natural cycles of life itself, such as when we reach an equinox point in the seasons, so too does our life run in cycles, where there are calm periods that CAN become the norm if we make the best choices for our well-being, sanity and contentment.
Life isn’t meant to be all high drama, busy-busy, full of stress and pressure. That’s a modern-day myth that we’ve all been sold and unconsciously bought into. But our bodies convey otherwise. They DON’T thrive under stress and pressure. And if our body has held decades of too much stress in the form of trauma then we will reach a point where we can’t take it anymore and making these life changes becomes imperative. We simply have to go forwards in a very different way now, with our well-being and peace of mind/body becoming our number one priority.
And that is OKAY!
Remember the horses, who live in a peaceful relaxed state the majority of the time, only increasing their energy and activity levels when essential, and then returning to revel in the peace and calmness that their incredibly intelligent systems have determined works best for their optimal health and thriving.
And we can embody this state too. But it does require patience and time to settle into and get familiar with, as it can feel incredibly uncomfortable initially, so it takes time for our mind and body to get used to living from a different state altogether and again, especially for those with a trauma history.
This is where our mind can help us out by reassuring us that it is OKAY to feel okay, safe, good and calm, if we can change our inner scripts and be patient with our bodies as they settle and let go at long last…
The Horse’s Truth
You can find more articles by me here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/angeladunning
Image by Noemie SimaGon, Shutterstock.
The breakfast club
Good night farm. 🌅 🐴
Today we said goodbye to a faithful friend and a gentle soul. Run fast and free, sweet Phillip. You will be missed more than we can say. Many thanks to Larry Kupperberg and MaryAnne C Shvodian for allowing us all to share in this beautiful boy’s journey.
Rentree (“Phillip”) April 20, 1998 - October 17, 2022
And that’s a wrap on the Leesburg, VA: Masterson Method Equine Specialist Training. Thank you to the horses and humans who made the weekend so special!
Another great day at the Leesburg, VA: Masterson Method Equine Specialist Training, wrapping up with a full bodywork session for Chance.
The Masterson Effect 😉🥱🐴Leesburg, VA: Masterson Method Equine Specialist Training
Day one of the Leesburg, VA: Masterson Method Equine Specialist Training is a wrap. We’re off to a great start!
Mud bath, expert level
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
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|Tuesday||9am - 5pm|
|Wednesday||9am - 5pm|
|Thursday||9am - 5pm|
|Friday||9am - 5pm|
|Saturday||8am - 6pm|
|Sunday||8am - 6pm|
Restaurant and Bar with Bowling Alley
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