5 take aways from Berni Zambail Clinic

I am a part-time teacher, but a full-time student. Learning is a lifelong journey and as soon as we think that we know enough, we start to go backwards. Last week we had the pleasure to have Berni Zambail 5* Parelli Instructor and Young Horse Development Specialist here for 5 days of coaching.

5 days full of inspiration, new discoveries and Berni’s wisdom. 

Let me share my 5 highlights and discoveries with you.

1. Don’t be afraid to go to the root of the issue

2. What does it really mean to have a respectful conversation with our horse?

3. Take the time to get 100% of your horses' mental engagement

4. When a Whisper is perceived as a Scream - readjusting lightness

5. Believe in yourself and your horse


1. Don’t be afraid to go to the root of the issue

Do you ever hear the saying: Better an end with some drama than drama without end. Tip - Toeing around the real problem, avoiding trouble and putting up with compromises - do you know what I mean?

Well, I do. Berni Zambail gave me a good reminder that, if you want to be successful with horses, it is not smart to accept these compromises.

Don’t be afraid to go to the root of an issue and solve it now and forever. This might be a little uncomfortable right at the moment, but everybody will be much happier afterwards.

There is this fear within many of us to upset the horse, to lose trust and maybe to get emotional - which in return will make the timing and intensity of the phases suffer. 

When we finally decide to go to the root of an issue, it is a good idea to be prepared. Make a plan of action, be clear of how you want to deal with it and decide which strategies you will use. Know in advance what to do if things work out differently.

Prepare yourself emotionally and put yourself in a positive and confident frame of mind. And finally be prepared and use the appropriate tools. The length of rope, the kind of stick, … it matters and can make a big difference.

Be prepared - or as Pat Parelli likes to say: Prior and proper preparation prevents poor performance.

What is the compromise you have with your horse?

2. What does it really mean to have a respectful conversation with our horse?

Let’s first get clear about the definition of a respectful conversation: We express ourselves clearly, listen with attention and respond appropriately. We treat the other person with the respect he/she deserves and expect the same in return.

Every single moment when we are with our horses, we are in a conversation with them.

We, the leader, should be a good example of politeness for our horse. Just imagine your boss doesn’t treat you with politeness and is rude to you. How would you react? How would you think of him? How would you talk back to him?

We have to make sure to talk to our horse’s quiet and friendly. This gives them a chance to reply in a polite and quiet way. Only then we can insist on politeness from our horses if they aren’t.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you ask clearly and polite and without hidden emotions?
  • Did you horse listen to you with attention?
  • Did your horse respond appropriately?
  • What was the first reaction of your horse?
  • Was it a “Yes of course” or rather a “No Way!” Maybe your horse even ignored you?

Now, I know that we all put a lot of effort into being polite and light with our horses. But we often don’t dare to ask the same from our horses. We tend to blame ourselves if our horse looks out of the window, does the opposite of what we asked or is just resistant and ignores us.

We think that we have to be more interesting, structure the session differently or that we didn’t ask correctly. Sure, we have to keep asking these questions to ourselves.

But sometimes and as soon as our horses know the basic rules of communication, we can and should insist on politeness from their side. Just as a lead mare demands politeness. And on the level of un-politeness, we can adjust the intensity of our corrections.

In the end - a polite and respectful conversation goes both ways. 

3. Take the time to get 100% of your horses' mental engagement

4. When a Whisper is perceived as a Scream - readjusting lightness

Horses see everything, feel everything and observe everything. Everything means something and nothing means nothing to them. There is simply nothing that they don’t notice.

There are two kinds of horses: Those who learned that people are unaware of their body language and decided to simply not listen anymore, and those who get emotional by all the loud and imprecise communication.

It is up to us to make everything we do and communicate matter to them again or to tune down our voices.

Everybody dreams to have a sensitive and attentive horse. Berni Zambail helped me to discover a new level of lightness with my Shagya-Arabian mare Salimah. Since I bought her in September 2017, I appreciated her soft, attentive and sensitive nature.

I thought that I was talking very softly and quietly with her. Berni made me aware HOW light I can be with her, HOW closely she is paying attention. Every glance of my eyes, every movement of my hands, almost every thought means something to her.

This resulted in so much more softness, attention and connection in our communication.

In moments like this, I realize how often we are actually yelling at our horse, even though we think that we have been whispering.

How light would your horse be in your dreams?

5. Believe in yourself and your horse