Lee Smith Clinic

~By Ima Mary Dennis

August 2000

Before I start with the actual notes, I want to ask everyone something……when Lee kept saying all throughout the clinic that "we don't allow the horse to do his job…we keep doing 'it' for him"……did you take it to mean that we were doing the horse's job by 'making' him rather than 'allowing' him? That is how I took it……then when I was going through my notes more carefully something else came to mind. At the end of the notes, I will share with you what it might mean (to me, anyway!!) ……would like to know what y'all think!!!!

Some of this will be direct quotes, some will be what I thought she was trying to get across…I can only hope that how I saw it was how she wanted it to be seen! If anyone notes any real discrepancy, please let me know… I would appreciate other slants to what was being taught.

So with that, HERE WE GO~

I. Demos and Lecture

"What's inside of us, we put inside the horse."

I can show people *how* to do what I do, but I can't teach them *when* to do it. You have it in you to know both the how and when.

There is no right or wrong ways of doing something……there are effective and ineffective ways.

How many of you like unpleasant surprises? How do you usually react to an unpleasant surprise? The way we react is a reflection of what we are inside. Same with the horse.

The horse isn't being disrespectful…he is just reacting to what we presented in the way he knows how. So, we need to look at our presentation and also ask if we have prepared him properly.

How do you want the horse to be? Then you need to be that way, too.

FEEL: Ever shake hands with someone that just grabbed at your hand rather than offer their hand with a feel toward you (consideration of you)?

Feel starts intuitively. If you go out and spend $500 shopping, don't you wait till the 'right' time to tell your spouse? What tells you when the time is right? You intuitively feel it.

NATURAL: responding appropriately to whatever is 'naturally' happening at any given moment.

TEACHING THE HORSE: Ever been in a superficial relationship with someone? You don't particularly like their behavior, so you don't get involved with them at any depth…but you still kinda like some things about them. Is that how you feel about your horse? Is that how your horse feels about you?

What matters to you? Decide that and then get them united with you mentally, emotionally, and physically.

First seek to understand the horse, then seek to be understood by them.

You go to new job. Supervisor shows you how to do it. You don't completely understand it yet, but he leaves and you are on your own. You can't figure it out, so you go to him. He grumbles and shows you again…but still too quickly and not realizing that you don't get it. You mess up again and have to go back to him. Now he's really bugged and he lets you know it's your fault (couldn't possibly be his 'teaching'!), but he shows you again. For the 3rd time, you can't figure it out…you know how mad he's gonna be…do you go to him again? No Way! So you really screw it up this time and you HAVE to go to him. He is furious, yells at you and then does the job himself. You haven't learned the job nor at this point do you even want to!

Parallel: the horse isn't taught in such a manner that he can understand and when he can't do it according to expectations, the human gets mad, but not clearer. The horse finally loses all confidence in himself and the human. The human pushes through and does the job (and the thinking) for the horse. The horse goes through the motions, but hasn't learned his job.

2nd scenario:
Supervisor takes the time to show you how to do it properly, and when you come back, he is patient and HE works harder at making it clearer to you. He encourages you by staying with you and noting each time you do a bit better. How do you feel about him? How do you feel about learning new things? How do you feel about yourself?

Don't assume the job is self-explanatory. Told story about her two boys, she told them to go out and fix fence. When she went out, there was wire going everywhere, too loose, etc. Well, she had told them what to do, but didn't specify HOW she wanted it done. If we aren't clear with our intentions, don't criticize the results.

Most do not allow their horses to do their job…they show/teach him, but at the last minute, they stop his thinking process by 'pushing him through it'…ex. Driving him into a trailer, pulling him through a rollback, pushing him in a flat spin. Basically a trust issue…don't believe the horse will be there for you and do what you've taught him. (Or could it be not trusting my teaching of him?)




Focus-the bottom line-caring for/about how it's done, how it's offered. Seeing more than the hair and the hide.

Feel following feel-we offer, he feels back-he 'looks' for us-doesn't ignore us, responds with understanding not react out of confusion or lack of confidence.

How do you feel when someone tries to MAKE you do something? Horses are usually not allowed to make a choice. It's done to him or for him…either way; he's NOT OK on the 'inside' unless it's HIS choice.

Communication - an exchange of ideas (and yes, they do have ideas of their own!)

Understanding - having a depth to that exchange

Most train the feet, not the mind.

Humans usually scare them. In a pasture, if they saw something that concerned them, they would just move away for a short distance. Then they would probably stop and take a look (the curiosity would kick in). But, if the human is riding them, they get snatched, jerked, kicked, etc., --now they are really afraid…afraid of the HUMAN!

When introducing something to the horse that is worrisome to them, the human generally wants the horse to 'just get over it'. If I put a snake around your neck, how LONG would it take for you to 'just get over it'?

***Were they afraid to begin with, or was it the human's presentation that caused the fear?

TIMING - is needed to cause a change.

Lee's Cheese Sandwich Joke-3 guys had been working on a bridge for over a year. Everyday they ate a cheese sandwich for lunch. They all said if they had to eat one more cheese sandwich for lunch they would jump off the bridge!

…At the funeral, the wives of 2 of the men were crying, saying, "if I had only known, I would have fixed him any type of sandwich he wanted".

The 3rd wife crying her heart out, said, "Jack fixed his OWN lunch"!

For change to happen, one must recognize the NEED to change and have the DESIRE to change.

Just like a human, only the horse can bring about changes in himself. Ex. You can pull on the rope vs. he runs into the rope. The first requires action on your part that can become a struggle between the two of you with one a winner and one a loser. The second requires you are stationary, solid…he can only struggle with himself…a win/win situation.

Allowing what he feels (his own pressure) causes him to want to make a change. If the human keeps upping the pressure/phases/discomfort, his discouragement will cause him to wait for what he knows is coming…thus he was MADE to do the action…again, not his choice so he's not OK inside with it.

Don't drill.

He learns that comfort comes from what he does. Allow him to experiment.

Conditioned Response: if I do this, then you do that. Can be effective, however, it also keeps them for learning to THINK…from applying himself.

They are discouraged from trying when they are told they're wrong. The human corrects them, and in essence is doing "it" (the thinking and the making) for the horse. The horse never learns to learn, to think, to gain confidence in themselves by the experience of making decisions that result in an 'atta boy'! And they never learn that what the human wanted them to do in the first place was the best choice they could have made (getting our thoughts to be his thoughts).

Priority is the emotional/mental response... The physical response desired will come with it.

The horse must get good at his responsibility before the speed comes.


SIDEWAYS with human standing still. The farther he gets from us the more UNCOMFORTABLE it is for him because of all the 'shooing' that intensifies to MAKE (there's that word again!) him keep moving away. Is it any wonder he doesn't' want to go to the end of the rope?

Maybe a more effective way- 1) show him…he gives a try, bring him back and pet him. 2) Ask again, bring back, pet 3) ask again, bring back, and pet. Pretty soon, he understands to keep going because there is comfort AND rest out there (there is comfort with the human, but no rest!) If his hind end is lagging, flip the rope towards it, saying "take it with you!"---See how little it takes when flipping the rope…want to make clear what is expected, and keep him in a learning state of mind (no concern, worry or fear)

INALIENABLE RIGHTS!!! The horse a right to express himself. He is just showing how he feels about the matter. Do you truly believe a horse has a right to his opinion? How do we feel when around someone who doesn't allow us to say how we feel…especially when what is being considered involves us personally??!!

If you have his mind, his feet weigh nothing (thus the movement doesn't either)

No right or wrong…only effective or ineffective

DEMO with horse in round pen:

Objectives - 1) builds confidence in him, 2) put in him what's in her (calmness)..."women, do you LIKE being emotional? Just don't know what else to do! Same with horse...so show him something better. 4) help him read and perceive, teach him to read the person, the intent. 5) when horse is afraid, allow motion to control the emotion.

**The human's focus needs to be on what the HORSE needs, NOT on what the person wants him to do.

Natural Horsemanship is using what is naturally happening at any given moment with the horse or human.

Read the horse…what is bothering him…ex. With the flag-is it the approach, the rubbing, the moving... figure it out and adjust to help him.

The request (the task) is to help him seek comfort by doing what is being asked. If he finds comfort elsewhere (as in pretending you aren't there, etc.), then do whatever it takes (which is a lot less than the human thinks!) to get his attention back. Don't demand his attention 100%…just keep asking for it back when it leaves.

If the try is criticized, then they soon aren't in any hurry to try. Gave another story about her boys. One you can melt with a frown, and with the other, the more you yell the more he digs his heels in. Asked them to do a chore...neither one of them jumped up to do it! So she yelled and threatened. Nothing accomplished but a let down in the relationship.

The next day she tried something different. Asked them to do something that she figured at least one of them might be willing to do. The one that did the chore didn't have to do any other chores the entire rest of the day. In a few days, it was noticed by both of them so they would fight to get to do the first chore!

Human nature - if you're not going to do it NOW and do it RIGHT, then I'll do it myself!! Horse or human "OK, fine by me"…but no one feels good about the deal.

Horses are capable of doing their job more than can be imagined!

If he has been taught his job, then the person's physical position doesn't make any difference…ex..cutting, getting you in position to throw a rope, walk over a tree on a narrow trail, not step on your toes, trailer loading-does he load himself or are you loading him?

Personally, I was thrilled to note that Lee seldom used that word!! About all that was said was that to receive respect, you must first give it. And it is lost by losing their trust, and by being inconsistent.

How? Ask little things that can be done, then test it by asking bigger things. Trust their willingness to comply. If they have the understanding, they will do their best.

How do you get someone to want to do something for you? Ask when it is easy for them. EX.- if they had already gotten up from the chair for their own reason, then is the time to ask if they would get you a glass of water. After they were in bed, wouldn't be the best time! By constantly asking for something when it is difficult, uncomfortable or requires a lot of extra effort, the desire to accommodate is killed.

Illustration on preparation. If asked to get up out of the chair, do you just rise with no effort? (that is called levitation …eek!!!) Obviously, you prepare your body to then lift itself out of the chair. [Another instructor used this with me one time…she went in to great detail about what goes on in preparation. The thought, then the mind communication via the parasympathetic (I think) nerve, then the fibers in the muscles…anyway, it was incredible what we take for granted when we want to do something as simple as get up from a chair. Made an eye opening point about the preparation I give the horse!]

If the preparation is right, the transition (to the requested action) will take care of itself.

Feel the thought.

Not overdoing or underdoing. If there is a resistance or brace, they don't know or understand that they could do differently…they have been taught to wait for the human to do it (force them).

He should be able to find comfort wherever the human wants him to be (but ya can't find something that's not there!)

Know what you are asking for and do only what it takes to get a response...i.e. what is desired is for him to move quietly and calmly and he spurts off...well...maybe. that was a tad to much pressure or not enough preparation or...? Whatever the cause, the horse became uncomfortable.

On the other hand, was there a response or try? No...then do a bit more.

Effective: Comfort = calm = learning state of mind

Ineffective: Comfort = tuning human out = no learning state of mind

Effective: Discomfort = searching = learning state of mind

Ineffective: Discomfort = fear or worry = self-preservation = losing the learning state of mind

Firmness isn't to MAKE them do what you want, it's to get them to try to do something and then to figure out what you are asking.

When firmness is used in this manner, it is a prompter, not a criticism…and the horse understands the difference!

Horses are defensive because of the past way they have been handled, approached, etc. They are telling you something…so there is a relationship/understanding problem. FIRMNESS WON'T FIX IT!!

Firmness will be effective if they already know what to do. However, it still isn't about punishment! It's about getting their attention to be then able to direct them.

Herd bound- pony the herd bound one using the one he wants to be near…but not just lead around. Ask him to circle, disengage, back, change directions…work when he's by his buddy, rest when away from him.

Circling/lunging- if looking away, speed him up. When get the slightest recognition of you, bring him in and pet him.


RHYTHM: watch reins/head. Should be swinging laterally, not vertically. Rib cage swings R, L, R, L, R, L feel it with the calves of legs.

Watch front shoulder…when its back, the foot is leaving. When it's forward, the foot is striking the ground.

Counting cadence…harmonize with him by doing what he does.

Stay in harmony but extend the stride (not speed it up)


If the horse kicks and then the person gets after him, he will get worse because a horse coming close to him means he are gonna get in trouble, so he gets to where he doesn't want a horse anywhere around him.

If the horse kicks, it's the PERSON'S responsibility to move him away from the approaching horse. That is what the kicking horse would do if he were loose. If he were uncomfortable with another horse approaching, then he would just leave.


Teach with one rein at a time and do it with forward motion (walk)

Walk a small circle, keep straight line - wrist, elbow, rein. Ask nose to tip a bit down and to the inside. Release when thinking about giving. Walking circle, they need to lift back and move rib cage out of the way.

Human can see this by getting on the floor on hands and knees.

Rhythm of legs against the sides helps back to rise…popping on butt makes them go faster, but not raise the back.

Ride to the stop - moving with rhythm, pick up a soft feel, then stop the riding rhythm…they come down to the halt…don't use the reins to stop them.

Soft feel at the trot - get the trot, ask for a soft feel, get a few steps, release. If horse stops, too much was picked up in the soft feel (i.e. the feel wasn't soft enough!)

*** The slightest effort is the greatest try***

Take advantage of what the horse is prepared to do. It's the person's responsibility to help him be prepared where he isn't. He's doing what is being asked, even if it's not what person wanted!

Don't just say "don't"-give a replacement behavior.

ARC: This will help with riding into corners, which will help with canter departs.

See nose and tail in peripheral vision. If you have the nose, use seat bones to adjust the front end or hind end. Pelvis forward for the back end to move in to the circle. Pelvis back for the front end to move in to the circle

Get on all 4's to get a good feeling of how body movements affect the horse. Everything done on horse, do on someone else and have him or her do to you.

BULLSEYE TARGET - spiral in and out. Helps learn about direct and supporting reins.

DIAGONALS: Lift strike, lift strike. Shoulder back; foot getting ready to lift. Feel for left hind under belly - this is taking off point for left lead.

S trail to slow down - hands alternate …low and back between waist and hips. Want faster? Start with same position but push rather than bring back


Purpose of the demo was to show the horse could make decisions/choices without coercion from the human. However, the prerequisite is that the horse understands what is expected of him. So this is the first objective. The timing involved is precise-to be where to be and when.

Find comfort in the human and in the job the human is asking her to do. Then she will check in with the human to see what it is the human wants. Don't MAKE them come in to you. When horse is paying attention, then is the time to ask for the job.

Lee began by entering the round pen and standing quietly in the center. Noche, on the other hand, was going at a fast trot, looking to the horses in the pens, sidestepping the barrels when she came close to them and totally ignoring Lee! Lee spent quite a bit of time giving Noche every opportunity to take notice of her and slow down. It was evident that Noche would have trotted around there forever. She was somewhere else in her mind.

Lee commented this was a good example of what happens when we just stand in the middle not supporting the horse with our energy and why she now moves with the horse. So that when she does stand quietly, the horse notices the ceasing of the energy and will let down his own. Noche was just doing what she thought was her job, trot endlessly around while the human relaxed in the middle of the pen!

So, Lee had to help her out by getting her attention in an easy manner. No abrupt stops and reversals. Lee said she didn't care what direction Noche went ..just that there was a change. When Noche looked at Lee, Lee would invite her in. didn't take long for Noche to realize that the comfort was with Lee. This had to be accomplished before the ultimate goal of Noche going over the barrels.

Once the relationship was established, Lee began to show Noche what she wanted her to do. She commented that Noche knew those barrels were in there for a reason and that the reason involved her somehow!

From across the round pen, Lee would pop her bullwhip when Noche *chose* not to go over the barrels. just as Noche's tail was at the end of the barrel.. Impeccable timing. The purpose was to make going past (as opposed to going over, which was the job) the barrels uncomfortable-not scary, not criticized, not punishing-just a bit unpleasant.

This only took a couple of times and Noche stopped at the barrels and looked at Lee. Lee invited her in, pet her, sent her out again. Seemed like this happened a couple of times and then Noche realized that while there was comfort with Lee, there was no rest.. She would get sent out again, so there MUST BE SOMETHING SHE'S MISSING that Lee wants.

This became real obvious when Noche stopped at the barrels and looked at Lee as if to say "you want me to go OVER these?" Lee said "yep, you got it!!"

Noche said "I don't think you REALLY mean that" and she turned away from them. Lee quietly stepped to block Noche. Noche rolled back off the fence and that put the barrels right in front of her again. "You REALLY REALLY want me to go over these?" "YEP"

Noche pawed one of the barrels one time, gave Lee quick glance (and I swear she took a deep breath and said "ohhhh shoot!!") and then hopped over them from a stand still!!!

Remember, Lee had not moved from the other side of the pen. It was totally Noche's decision---she could have chosen to turn the other way again, she could have run past them again. Of course, had she chosen to do so, Lee would have helped her to see that those weren't good choices!! But the bottom line-when Noche went over them, it was on her own, no ropes swinging, whips cracking, no crowding her to where she had no where else to go.

I really appreciated two things that occurred after the jump over:

1) Noche immediately came over to Lee and then stayed with her for the next 20-30 minutes that Lee talked to all of us. She moved closer and closer til she was as close to Lee as she could get without 'crowding' Lee. Then she just went to sleep!!!! This was the same horse, who just a few minutes previously, had in mind only to get to the other horses and ignore the human in the pen with her.

2) Lee didn't ask her to jump them again. There was no reason, no purpose to have her do it again. She now KNEW what her job had been and she had done it. To me, Lee was showing respect for the horse and allowing her dignity. To have done it again would have been solely for our 'entertainment'!

Soooo...what is the 'it' that Lee kept saying we do for the horse? Well...Lee would use the word 'it' interchangeably with the word 'job'. So I assumed it meant that the human would step in and do the job for the horse. Kinda like an impatient parent steps in and does the job for the kid. In my pea-brain, I kept asking "what does the word 'job' mean at any given time? Can the person LITERALLY, PHYSICALLY DO some of the things that we ask our horses to do? Usually not.

I guess to me, it was two fold. First, maybe I didn't really realize he is capable of THINKING something thru, so I do " IT", his thinking, for him. I don't allow his thought process to occur.

Second, maybe I didn't really trust that he would willingly do what I asked...so, I would step in and do " IT " ..take his choice away.. by not releasing when he was on his way to doing it. For example, pulling him on thru a turn, keeping the leg cue on cause I figured he would stop .the ways are endless.

You guys might be reading this and thinking 'Ima Mary, you big dummy. of course that is what Lee meant'!! or maybe because I'm not the most articulate person when putting things in print, I haven't been able to explain what I'm thinking. I still wanted to throw this out there and see what ya'll thought about it!!!

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