Working With Difficult Horses

Classes are moving right along with our mild Pacific Northwest weather getting warmer every day. Our students are doing great work on their class and homework horses and that makes us proud.

Equine Natural Movement
Michele Badker working on her horse’s rib cage

During each course, Joseph picks a horse as his demonstration horse. Students learn the content of the session during morning class time. In the afternoons they watch Joseph do his demo and then each student works on their individual horse. Students each get a “fresh horse” that hasn’t received bodywork prior to classes. We do this so you can readily see the effects of the work, how you actually make a difference to that horse.
For his Level One and Level Two students, Joseph chooses horses that are relatively straightforward in their issues, good-natured and pretty easy to work with. This allows the students to stay focused on learning the work.

By the time our Level Three (L3) students arrive, they’ve practiced on a good number of horses here at school and back home and understand the basics. Now they’re ready for a horse that requires a higher skill level. In L3, Joseph tries to pick a more complicated horse.

Equine Natural Movement
Students choosing horses at the barn

In the most recent Level Three module, Joseph worked on a high strung dressage horse who was what her owner called a “project horse.” This horse was in such poor shape, she’d been slated to be put down. Those plans got put aside when another mare in the same barn colicked shortly after foaling and died. The little foal was lost without his mom and this high strung mare, on her own, stepped in to care for the foal. That won her a reprieve, but she still had substantial issues.

This 16 year old mare was short on her right side, weak in her hind end. Rather than solidly pushing off, she pulled herself through her strides. She was touchy around her stiff hind end and pinned her ears even when being brushed. Her owner knew she was terribly uncomfortable and in pain. When a horse is uncomfortable in her body, it often magnifies other issues so it’s a challenge to find where the true source of the discomfort originates.

She was so nervous and sensitive it was challenging to work on her. She started each session with her head held high, watchful and concerned. She fretted a bit, but after Joseph started with her, she began settling into the work.

As the sessions progressed, she began to trust the work more, settling in sooner each time, and at her own speed, developing a pattern of partnership with Joseph. She lowered her head and sometimes she became noticeably introspective, a good sign that she was accepting the work and acknowledging the changes that were happening.

This is one of the most rewarding parts of doing this work. You take a horse who has physical issues that hold her back, emotional issues that prevent you from developing a strong relationship, or bad barn manners that make her hard to work with. Then as the work continues, you see them all fall away. The Equine Natural Movement work integrates the structure, making the horse more balanced and secure in her footing, more confident in her movement.

As she gained length through her back, she became capable of fluid movement. She started showing equal push-off from her hind end. The discomfort in her poll disappeared and she became more comfortable through her entire neck and head.

Suddenly the distractions from all the confusion in her body weren’t there. And that’s what allowed her to — for probably the first time in many years — become more present.

By the end of the series she was a different horse. Her owner told us she’s considerably freer in her stride and can now walk a straight line. Her hind end is more fluid and her derriere has a nice swing to it. For the first time ever, her owner and others at the barn have seen her playing in the field, kicking up her heels and romping like a youngster.

Upcoming Classes


Want to learn this work?

The next LEVEL ONE class is March 13 – 19, 2016.

Our farm is in southwest Washington, just north of Portland, Oregon. We take six students each class. Right now we still have room for more.

Can’t get away for a full week? We are also setting up dates in April and May for a LEVEL ONE class that’s made of two three-day classes over different weekends. If that works better for you, please be in touch and give Jacqueline a few dates that work. She’ll choose dates from your input.

Returning students nearly finished with homework?

LEVEL TWO — April 9 – 15

LEVEL THREE — May 15 – 21

ADVANCED CLASS — March 27 – 31

More dates through the year are on our class calendar page.

We’re always happy to speak with new or current students. Send us an email:


Graduate Janine Callaghan working on anAdvanced Class horsewho is thoroughly enjoying his new neck length.