Thanks to all for the kind words…
Last year during a routine visit with our horses, our Veterinarian recommended Lauren Gruber and Sharon Foley to us to explore hoof trimming and horse training. That very day we called the number the vet gave us. How fortunate for us and our horses because we found both Lauren and Sharon to be expert with horses and with their owners.
I had not ridden in 55 years and was having Big problems with our mare, Pamela. The minute you got on her she wanted to “GO”! (with or without Me!) Sharon is such a gifted trainer, and she has helped me so much. The expertise, kindness, respect and patience which she shows to both horse and rider is incredible. What a wonderful gift she has! Thanks to Sharon, I am now riding again with confidence—–the walk,the trot, the canter—and, I can post!! Anyone who needs help or guidence with their horses from beginner riders to dressage would benefit greatly to call on Sharon…..She is the BEST!
— Michele Williams
Sharon, here is the report on my riding vacation that I posted on the Ultimate Dressage BB. Thanks for everything…
Everyone has their own idea of a perfect vacation, but for me for the past 10 years or so it has always been about Horses! Horses! Horses!
Over the years I have vacationed in Portugal, attended the National Horse Fair in Golega, Portugal, and ridden with some very fine instructors, including one former student of the great Maestro, Nuno Oliviera. My love affair with Portugal began on my first trip, and will continue until the day I die.
But, going to Portugal every year is just not possible in my life right now, and quite frankly, due to many “life issues” (horse illnesses, my own off and on health problems and injuries, a hectic work schedule and other difficulties) my riding skills had rusted so much I wondered if I even COULD ride anymore.
Things were further complicated by a young mare that I bought in 2007, a gorgeous, sensitive, sweet Friesian cross, my dream horse. I started her under saddle lightly at 3 ½, but things went downhill suddenly after about 2 months of riding – she started to balk and rear. And, as she is a big, athletic mare, it could be quite terrifying. I sent her out for professional training, and despite the best efforts of the trainer, once the mare came home again; the same problems reappeared, only worse. After a disastrous riding session that ended with me being bucked off and my husband nearly being injured due to her rearing, I was at the end of my rope. Was I going to have to sell this darling, beloved mare that I felt so bonded with?
On the advice of a friend I contacted Sharon Foley, who I discovered lived not that far from me in Greeneville, TN. Sharon has written a book called “Getting to Yes: Clicker Training for Improved Horsemanship.” I didn’t really know anything about clicker training except that most “horsemen” that I knew looked at it only as a method of trick training, but, considering what I was up against, I was willing to try anything.
My first contact with Sharon was so positive and reassuring. I explained to her in an email that I had stood in my young mare’s stall leaning against her and weeping inconsolably after she had bucked me off and scared my husband half to death. And, she said a wonderful thing: “I have been exactly where you are and I know what you are going through. We can get through this together……….”
And so began my new journey on my horsemanship path.
Sharon and I spent much time talking about her philosophy of training. She explained to me that she uses a combination of clicker training, “natural” horsemanship methods as well as tried and true classical dressage techniques. She found clicker training to give her an edge in getting the horse to “get into the game” of working with a human without having to use a lot of physical strength to get the horses to focus. It all sounded good to me.
Sharon and I decided to start that young mare back at square one, because we both felt that something must have gone awry with the initial ground work. And, after a couple of sessions of the mare careening around in the round pen like an insane horse, it was pretty clear that some basics had been missed. Also, Sharon found the mare to be super sensitive, which complicated matters dramatically
So, under Sharon’s instruction I began painstakingly teaching the mare to relax and just let go of all the tension she had (which was extensive). Also, I began treating her for ulcers because many issues had cropped up as far as saddling, putting the leg on etc. that were totally out of the norm for this particular horse. Slowly, things began to improve. I also began changes to feed, supplements and hoof trims for all my horses at the suggestions of both Sharon and Lauren Gruber, owner of the Nexus Center for the Horse (also in Greeneville, TN). Soon, they all began showing improvement in many areas. My older mare, who I had given up as being unrideable because of her balking and complete refusal to move forward, began to be “like a normal horse.” Under Sharon’s direction, I used a combination of clicker training, “natural” horsemanship techniques as well as the classical dressage methods (which I was the most familiar). My husband and I were amazed at the results.
Over the winter months I went to Greeneville whenever I could to work with Sharon, and she also came to our farm. I also did several video lessons which were quite helpful. My husband suggested that I take my vacation time and haul my young mare over to the Nexus Center so that I could have some intensive time working with Sharon.
I spent about 5 days not only working with Sharon, but also going with her to lessons with other students to watch. For me, we did longe lessons where we worked on POSITION! POSITION! POSITION!, groundwork exercises with my young mare, “regular” under saddle lessons on Sharon’s school horse, as well as a relaxing trail ride one afternoon. We divided up our time into what I considered to be “labs” and “lectures.” During the lecture portion I asked many questions, usually regarding horsey type challenges, and discussed ways in which I could have handled a difficult situation differently. We also watched a Philippe Karl video on lateral movement, and the next day I suddenly found I STILL remembered how to ride shoulder-in, renvers and leg yields – which was a real triumph for me.
Sharon was very patient with my questions, as well as the tendency for my mind to wander off sometimes when I was contemplating the beautiful scenery there in Greeneville. Every day was the most phenomenal learning experience I have had in my many years of riding, and when I came home my confidence as far as my ability to ride and deal with my own horses (which had been at a very low point) had increased dramatically.
And, the last day, I rode my young mare and it was a GOOD RIDE. Nothing fancy, but relaxed, calm and everyone left happy!
When we sat down to review what I had learned during my time with her this is what I wound up taking away:
1) Relaxation – not just from the horse, but from the rider. Relaxation and softness in the shoulders and hip area is critical. Frequently I should “waggle” my shoulders to make sure I’m not carrying tension and “froggy leg” my legs out from the saddle to make sure I am not carrying tension in my hips.
2) Persistence. Don’t give up on a difficult training issue. Sometimes it just needs a different approach and time.
3) Commitment and visualization. Have a very clear idea of what it is you are asking of the horse (something I struggle with) and persist in your progress towards that goal
4) The horse is a mirror of the rider
5) Reward behavior you want, and ignore behavior you don’t want (there are caveats for the second part of this, of course)
I can’t wait to go again!
Sharon – I really enjoyed the lesson and feel it has really helped Motown and I. I have been trying to work on all that stuff. Next time I need to bring a notebook and take a few notes. The one rein stops are going great. He is so light now that I am not so braced. I’ve been concentrating on my seat and legs ad arms etc. and it is soooo much better. Even in the field when he gets startled and jumps sideways and circles around it is no big deal for me.. Before I would lock up and hold on and probably pull on his face and Lord knows what else. Now it is really awesome. He is wonderful. The circling is so fun too. Anyway, I look forward to coming back maybe next month. I will continue to work on all this stuff in the meantime. You are a great teacher. I appreciate your time and the opportunity to learn from such a skilled person. You make it all so understandable…
I was fortunate to meet Sharon Foley in the summer of 2002. She was offering a clinic in Tampa Florida and I attended it at the recommendation of Lauren Gruber. Sharon is a gifted instructor and trainer. She is quick to recognize the core issues of both horse and rider and can offer positive feedback in a concise and easy to understand format. If you have trouble grasping a particular concept she will find an analogy that works for you regardless of what type of learner you are, (visual, auditory, etc).
Sharon takes the best of positive reinforcement training, natural horsemanship and classical dressage and combines then into her own unique training style. She is not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to helping the horse or rider. Sharon believes in teaching the basics for any discipline and will inspire you to become firmly grounded in what works for the horse.
If you have found that traditional training has some how failed you or you, feel there is something missing; I heartedly recommend working with Sharon. Either one on one lessons or training your horse, she will provide the missing pieces!
Follow Your Bliss Farm