Christen Schweizer from the United States is a Scholar in the Basic ST Instructor Certification Program who graduated in the Straightness Training Academy in Grade 1 in the four unmounted pillars: groundwork, longeing, work in hand, and Straightness Training at liberty.
Congratulations Christen, keep up the good work in the Certification Program!
And thanks for taking the time to share your STory with us!
❝I struggled with my horse in general and I was looking for guidance on how to balance his high energy and obvious physical imbalances. We had made some progress but I was struck and inspired by the outcomes of others in the Straightness Training program.
I felt embarrassed, frustrated, and sometimes scared. I didn't like the usual ideas of "showing him whose boss" nor the other extreme of using treats to redirect his behavior but I didn't know what to do.
I wanted help to find a better way to interact with my horse.
I believe I found the ST website randomly while searching for horse training information, most likely dressage information.
I believed it could work because I saw the outcomes of others!
They had what I wanted - confident relationships improving their horses and the ability to ask their horses to move in a beautifully balanced manner.
I couldn't have articulated what I felt at the time when I looked at ST pictures and videos for the first time but if I could guess...
..when I looked at images of my horse during riding he had an upside down neck and hollow back, not a beautiful rounded topline, open throat, and deep steps
..when I longed my horse he braced against the longe line and rushed around the circle stiff and scared, not relaxed and rounded
..work in hand was completely over my head and I didn't understand why anyone would want to do it so I didn't think much of it
..groundwork looked cool but I thought it was because of a special cavesson, so I got the cavesson but was confused when my horse was pushy overall and very counterbent when trying to do haunches-in
..the idea of doing liberty was laughable, how could anyone get a horse to move with them like that without treats??
I believed the pillars would help balance my horse. I had no idea how much it would change me.
I started as a Mastery Entry Student in summer 2019. Part of the package was a credit for a GW Touchstone within a year. When I first read the scripts for GW1 I thought, "Oh, this will be so easy!" I had no ST schedule or habits. At the time my horse was at a boarding barn and when I went to see them my focus was on riding, not groundwork.
I had no idea how important the details were to achieving balance and straightness in my horse, physically mentally spiritually socially.
As a Mastery Student I shared some video clips of trying Haunches-In in the Mastery FB Group and the comments about COM and RRR went completely over my head! I simply had no concept of the basics. I rushed and only saw the look-alike motions, which is what I went for instead of the essences of any of the movements. And I remember reading material warning against the look-alikes but I didn't have the self awareness to know that was me.
I upgraded to a Mastery Student later and continued to flounder on my own. I joined a group that met for a few weeks with an ST Instructor and again...the other students were far more advanced in their understanding and they and the instructor were so helpful and patient with their feedback to me. I was still simply not "getting it" and I knew something was missing. Even though I was embarassed and felt alone and stupid, I kept going because I wanted that balance I saw in the ST Grade 1 Graduate announcements. I thought the prices of remote ST instruction were too high and I wasn't willing to do that for something that seemed so simple...and yet I wasn't getting it. I tried some other methods half-heartedly, just as I had been "trying" with ST ideas...I really was simply looking for a quick fix. I got some forward momentum with clicker training behavior successes but it didn't sit right with me and I continued here and there with bits of ST work.
When the ST Scholars Academy was forming (summer 2020?) I thought it was too expensive and I was scared yet intrigued by the Hot Seat concept with the video feedback. I had gone through the few TouchStone credits I had received by that point and I felt I was still getting nowhere with GW1. I decided to join Scholars in the fall of 2020 and I've been a Scholar ever since. It has been a large financial purchase for me each month but the payoffs in success with my mental and physical abilities to train my horse have been absolutely worth it.
My first Hot Seat video was over 8 minutes of me trying and failing to get my horse to do the simple Forward Down movement...forget about Stelling! I had almost no "feel" for observing the horse's try (forget even the smallest try, I didn't notice even big tries!) and then releasing properly. I was greedy and impatient with my horse. I *felt* attacked and criticized by the instructor for pointing those things out (and she used nicer words!) but on some level I must have known it was the truth for I took the feedback to heart and finally learned to attempt RRR for the smallest try. It felt like I was going so slowly and I was so suspicious it would actually work but I did it. My next cycle was better. The instructor pointed out my improvements and I remember bursting into tears of pride and relief that I had improved. I was able to pass GW1 in a few months after joining Scholars, which is a much more successful manner than when I was trying to figure it out on my own from Summer 2019-Winter 2020. The monthly cycle and habits of practicing ST more often, at the very least once a week to film a Hot Seat, Breakthrough, and TouchStone, put me in a much better routine. Watching other Scholars in their classes helped me develop my eye.
The Self-Mastery and Habit Stack classes were great and I understand why they are included as the Self Mastery of becoming a Horse Trainer is intense. Or at least it has been for me! When I take almost 100% responsibility for the outcome of my horse it can become almost unbearable if I go negative or don't have some tools to carry that weight. The STEREO map and the practice of *choosing* my desired emotion and seeking evidence that I should feel that way was a big game changer for my horse training.
I chose to do Liberty next to improve my communication and connection with my horse and spent six solid months in the liberty lab. I did not pass the LI1 TC during that time but I learned a great deal and appreciate that initial deep dive into the pillar. At one point in Liberty Firefly nipped at me and even though I was worried and embarrassed, I brought it to the ST Hot Seat and we worked through it. I was able to learn a lot from his honest communication about how what I was doing made him feel! Even if I didn't pass at that time what I learned there helped with all of my horse training.
I did one cycle of WiH just to do something totally different and shake off some lingering disappointment with myself from not passing LI1 after so many months. WiH felt easy after so much time in Liberty and the foundation from GW so it was fun. Shockingly, that first attempt with WiH1 passed! This was an immense confidence booster for my horse training. I believe around that time I finally understood and was able to feel the basic ST concepts - the FD standstill Stelling pilot check and LFS on a circle.
Reading the ST logical steps vs. experiencing them in the lab over time are two different understandings. It took the time it took for me to get there. :) And I know I have much to learn!
I chose to do Longeing next as I knew that was possibly my weakest pillar. My experience with longeing to that point was more about driving the horse on the circle rather than using it as a way to balance their movement. I was suspicious that I could get Firefly to stretch his topline during longing but I was willing to try and more confident that it was possible. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed learning about Longeing and I was thrilled with the changes in the horse. Initially he would kick at the longe whip and get very tense on the longe circle, moving in an extremely unbalanced hollow manner and rushing. We have been able to improve his Longeing skills immensely and we did pass LO1!
When I passed LO1 I finished up with going back and finally passing Liberty. Receiving my LI1 certificate was a huge victory. I let myself marinate in the feelings of confidence, achievement, and pride for a few days and I sent big waves of appreciation and pride to Firefly. He has been an amazing teacher for me. I believe ST is for the horse and it feels like a lovely win/win that ST has taught me so much so that I can help Firefly using ST.
We are moving on to Riding next and I am thrilled to explore mounted ST work!
After going through the four unmounted pillars I feel like I can honestly say that I am a horse trainer. I know I can willingly choose to face hard challenges and I can reward the smallest try not only in the horse, but in myself. I am proud and confident that with the knowledge I have gained in ST that I can continue to help my horse, and other horses, develop even further balance. I am relaxed in the understanding that change and improvement happens when it happens. I honestly still sometimes struggle with stories I tell myself that I am possibly the slowest ST student ever as in my mind all the other Scholars are making great leaps and bounds at a faster rate and they are better with their horses, but 1. I don't think those are the actual facts and 2. even if I am "the worst", I am still achieving what I want to achieve and I can be proud! I believe that when I am in that negative headspace I am choosing to feel and find evidence to be discouraged as a way to stop myself from taking positive action as it requires energy and persistence. So it's easier to label myself negatively and give up rather than roll up my sleeves and get in the lab. Despite being called by those stories in low moments...I have kept rolling up my sleeves and getting back in the lab and figuring out how I can do things better. In the beginning I had ugly moments of blaming the horse and blaming ST and the people involved in it, but I know I can only control myself so to blame others really got me nowhere quickly. Blaming did not change my feel, my eye, my connection...it did nothing but stop me from searching for something I could change and improve in my thoughts and actions. I also admit I still react inappropriately if I make mistakes, like missing a TC submission deadline, and I have asked for special consideration or blame the ST program for being too strict....but I do get to the truth and admit I have made mistakes and create ways to change my behavior in the future. Life is a lab of do-act-check-change too and I like having the ST framework to accept that.
The horse I have worked with, Firefly, has also changed in many ways. He is very food motivated so I was highly suspicious that simple RRR (release/reward/relax) would be motivating but using RRR with better feel has been a game changer. Not only has he learned very well with RRR, he feels more with me and in a calmer mental state. It is very freeing to know that I need no special equipment or food to train a horse. All I need is clear energy and intent, observation, and the ability to release the instant I see a small try. All of those tools come from within me and I like knowing I have developed them and can continue to strengthen my abilities.
When I realized that a journey in ST required Liberty I was intimidated and disbelieving that I could ever do that...but here we are, we have done it! Not only is Liberty simply cool it has been a great tool. I often move Firefly around our property just using Liberty concepts. If we go offsite and he is anxious, I can invoke my Liberty energy and invite him to do the Liberty prep exercises. He then connects with me and calms down with the familiar movements and connection. I often use the Liberty prep as a general pre-ride pilot check because if Firefly cannot connect with me on the ground, why would I ever take the risk on his back? I had no idea Liberty would be so helpful. Firefly can calmly longe at a walk in a circle. That was very hard to do prior to ST. He can demonstrate Haunches-In and Shoulder-Fore in Work in Hand. It does not take him 8 minutes to bring his head Forward Down to demonstrate Stelling. He has been beautifully patient and willing despite all of the mistakes I have made. His eagerness for connection and desire to please has been heartwarming and I am so glad that ST has given him more confidence and balance.
I have been introducing ST concepts to my other horse Jackie and once Firefly and I are done with Riding I will go through Grade 1 with Jackie. She is a very different horse and I am excited to learn more about horse training with her! My daughter has also expressed interest in ST concepts and I have been guiding her, and other riding students, through learning basic Liberty and ST concepts.
I have seen Firefly become more calm and confident. I have seen him relax into a more balanced horse capable of amazing connection with people. I will often invite students or friends to do basic Liberty online prep movements with him and they are so amazed by his willingness and connection...they are almost incredulous that when they step forward, he steps forward....they step back, he steps back. But they feel the connection happen! It feels like magic to them! He gets to introduce people to that connection and it opens up new possibilities for them to know they can work with horses in such an empowering and beautiful way. When I explain RRR and the smallest try they are willing to do that and I am so happy to be able to give it others.
I have become a horse trainer. And I know by continuing to observe myself, and my horse, and RRR on the smallest try that we can achieve amazing things together.
I have a greater appreciation for unmounted work and I know my horses will always have a home with me even if/when I cannot ride them, and I like knowing I can continue giving back to them by supporting them being balanced body, mind, heart, and soul with ST training.
I have learned a lot about how I can choose how I want to feel and how that is the starting point of any goal I have for myself.
Horses are of course capable of moving in balance and can perform amazing physical feats on their own. Being able to connect with them and have them thus want to perform is an astonishingly wonderful experience. I am delighted to have learned all of this in ST and I am so excited for what we can do as we continue our ST journey!❞
~ Christen Schweizer, United States
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