I was recently asked in an email to explain how Gail had benefited my horsemanship experience. What followed, was "off-the-cuff" --barely scraping the surface-- about some of the incredibly insightful lessons I had with Gail Ivey while she was our trainer.
...Without Gail, I would have probably given up on my horse dream. I have her to thank for helping me to cling to any dream at all...and as I realize the dream a bit at a time, I have her to thank.Gail taught me what it means to learn from the horse. Gail taught me that Horse would be the best teacher possible if I would learn to listen. There is an old proverb that says if you give a man a fish he may eat for the day, but teach him to fish, and he will never hunger again. Gail didn't train my horses... she trained *me*.
She taught me things that I will use with any horse in my lifetime...in fact, any type of relationship at all can benefit from the things that Gail imparted to me.When working with horse and human, Gail leaves her emotions elsewhere. If she gets "big" with a horse it is only for the purposes of safety--the horse's and possibly the human's--and it is never personal...
Gail reads horses so well, that even before she had a chance to "get to know" my four, she would sometimes dialog with me about what the horses would do next. Her ability to predict what they would do next was uncanny! She seemed to know what they were thinking. I have wished many times that I could be in her head and know what she knows!Gail is all about softness...asking the horse, *not* telling. She aspires each and every session to help the horse to find a safe place that he can dwell in the company of humans--I don't mean something like gain confidence from the human in the typical "alpha" way. Gail doesn't espouse the philosophy that you must "move the horse's feet or else he thinks *he* is boss..." She never worried about that. Instead, by being consistent and calm and waiting on the horse for the horse to gain confidence...to be able to find the wherewithal within himself to do something, the horse learned life could be ok and that it typically was when Gail was near. This was seen the most often, perhaps, with my least confident horse, Dodger, our mustang. Gail spent hours with Dodger and hours with me with Dodger! She worked with him at first....and then coached me, helping me to read his body language and to adjust my approach accordingly. The most obvious example of this was in taking something that he was terrified about--loading into a horse trailer--and turning it into something where he now has some measure of self-confidence.
While he is a long ways from self-confidence as a general rule, now, when we go near our open trailer, Dodger *wants* to go inside of it. Gail taught me to wait for Dodger to *choose* to learn this, to be ready and most able to learn. As we waited for Dodger to find that calm place, he could then learn something new. If he startled himself silly in that safe place as he gained the courage to take a new step forward, we would release by taking any pressure off that we had placed on him (in proximity, perhaps). We would then wait again for his calm and confidence to return...Gail could tell Dodger wanted to learn this by reading him...She knew that if we waited for him, Dodger would make the choices for learning what he needed to and be in the best place to do so.
The day he first got in the trailer without falling apart he stepped out again a different horse. A new confidence came with him as he stepped out...he had added a bit to his ability to be confident amongst his herd mates...it was fascinating to see.Gail knows mechanics, true... But what she knows and does is so much more. One of my first lessons was with Breezy...the oldest and most aloof of my horses. She taught me that day what "braced" was as that was the way Breezy offered most of what he had to give. On that day, Gail demonstrated that a rein or lead attached to Breezy's head resulted in a brace--he had so long been without soft *requests* from humans.
On that particular day we used invisible driving reins to play with Breezy. I was floored at the responsiveness of this horse to subtle movements of Gail's body... and then my own body! I thought Gail worked magic...she DID work magic! She taught me so much in that lesson...The same day we removed all tack from Breezy's neck and placed a string around his neck. I sat on him bareback and Breezy moved in sync with my body. He seemed relieved that a human had gotten off of his face. I learned at that point that I could make my requests with a lead rope and halter in a much gentler way. With Breezy, less IS more.
At least two of my four horses have uniquely shaped backs. Gail was the expert who worked with me unendingly on saddle fit. She taught me some of the basics to helping a horse become comfortable and how to do that. We saddle shopped and we created shims for my saddles when needed.
Gail taught me to think outside the box. One particular days the horses were more reticent about playing with us. We played the "kill the mean hat" game....On another day, Gail walked through the pasture with a garbage bag over her and making strange noises...getting the horses to wonder what we were up to...to draw them. Gail taught me that "join up" isn't about running a horse ragged around a round pen. With my mustang a flick of a sand grain on his behind can result in him locking on. Softness...lightness...tenderness, gentleness, Gail taught me all of these things and more, always with the underlying focus being "Listen to Horse."One day Gail taught me how to free longe our four in our corral. I saw the amazing things that go on between the horses when they move in synchronicity...and how to mesh with their movement in unison. It seemed like a party trick at the time, but it was so much more than that! I learned so many things about the way horses interact with one another, how I could interact with them in that...and what even the most subtle changes in my body mean! One time Gail mounted Breezy and gave him a most astounding gift as well...in just twenty minutes Gail took him from braced and miserable to soft-as-butter! What was more, even when I got on him, he was that way for me, too! She then showed me what softness was.
While Gail challenged me to reach beyond my comfort zone, she was always great for letting my boundaries and questions guide and direct our time.I MISS HER! Without all the time I spent with Gail doing these things and more, I would NEVER have the ability I do now that I rely upon to read horses and to adjust what I do accordingly. I still have a hugely long long way to go....but I know the path. Gail pointed me to it. The path is set by Horse that walks ahead of me, leading the way. As he shows me how, I can walk alongside him....as I gain confidence, I am able to make more confident decisions myself...and be more reliable in their eyes. I know that no matter what the challenge, the goal, the dream, that Gail will have an idea for tackling it, for making it manageable, reachable, doable. Some want fancy techniques and fast results. That isn't the way she works. She works with softness, subtleties and on the horse's time schedule. If a person wants it done fast, while Gail is capable of doing anything...getting a horse to do anything (or I believe she is), she *won't* at the expense of the horse. I hope I have represented her accurately. Truly, words can't say it...pictures wouldn't even show it, as so much of it was subtle and internal--inside both the horses and me. I would love to have her back here in Cool. (To contact Gail, visit her website.)