Sunday, May 27, 2012


     I recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C.  The city is full of monuments, museums (all free!), statues, parks and all kinds of public art.  It is also teaming with Greek-revival architecture which constantly reminds one of our debt to the Greeks and the Republican Romans.  The city holds many, many things to make me think and ruminate on. One thought that keeps coming back to me is the value of leadership and what true leadership means.  Of course, I'm interested in how that applies to professional horsemen like myself. 

     I believe that we must set an example in all horse-related activities, and not just by our words but by our actions as well.  To lead by example sounds easy but it can be very hard.  We must always be aware of the consequences of our behavior.  We must set a high standard of conduct, one that encourages the public to trust us.  What better way to bring new people into the sport of horses and interest them in our areas of expertise? 
     I believe the public is crying out for examples of good ethics from caring and responsible professionals.  When people put their trust in us, they must be confident in our honesty, integrity, knowledge and skills.  To be comfortable in the trainer/client relationship there must be trust and respect.  Respect for our skills but also for our honesty and ethics as well.  We as professionals set the standard not only for oursleves but for the entire horse community as well!  See you next week, JD

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Long vs Short

     One of my personal favorite classes has always been Western Pleasure so I'm delighted when I'm asked for help with this event.  Since we do mostly Arabians, I was helping someone with a half-Arabian recently and the discussion got around to length-of-rein.
     People seem to be overly concerned with length of rein.  There are currently two thoughts on the matter:  drape vs light contact.  I believe that framing the discussion around rein length is misleading, what makes a good Western Pleasure horse is self carriage.  Self carriage is taught through collection,  riding the horse up into the bridle.  When a horse can truly carry his frame, the cues can become very subtle.  The horse does not touch the bridle nor does the rider, which allows the frame to remain unchanged during transitions.  The horse can then go around the ring in an easy, consistent and effortless manner.
     The reins are a line of communication.  A shorter rein means a shorter communication.  That's why Trail horses and Reining horses are usually on a shorter rein.  The classes are much quicker with shorter amounts of time and distance to make transitions that are also more difficult than Western Pleasure.  But a longer rein that's appropriate for Western Pleasure allows a horse to listen attentively to other cues (all well trained horses learn to do this) but it's about degree or amount in Western Pleasure.  That's why Joanne Salisbury's horse VP Midnitestranger +// ("Wes") carried a longer rein in Western Pleasure than in Trail and Western Riding.  Incidentally, he also carried a different bit in Western Pleasure. 
     The longer rein in Western Pleasure means the horse needs little help from his rider and that is what makes Western Pleasure so special.
     I don't think the quetsion is soft contact vs long rein but rather how much drape a horse can handle and still carry himself well.  And remember that confirmation is a very big factor in this as well as a horse's overall confidence in himself.  Western Pleasure horses should not be "hand ridden" but should carry themselves in an easy manner, exhibiting beauty and quality of movement.  The best horse in the ring is not necessarily the horse with the longest rein, but the one going along in a collected and soft manner with little help from his rider.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Preparing for a Snaffle or Hackamore

     Today I'll talk about working with young horses.  It will be easier for you to make progress if you remember that your ultimate goal is to make a riding horse.  Most people understand that a trained horse moves away from pressure, but I find that many people forget that this applies to the bridle as well as the body.  You can go a long way in helping your young horse accept the bit if you teach him correctly from the ground.
     Before you ever put a snaffle in a horse's mouth, you are handling and working him with a halter.  Now let me explain, a halter is not just for containing your horse, if it is fitted correctly, it applies pressure points to the nose and the poll.  When using these points, one can teach a horse to stop, back up, stand still, turn and pivot, come forward, even help with sidepassing from the ground.
     The point is to use the pressure points so that the horse has a basic understanding and acceptance (big point!) of yielding to pressure before you put a snaffle or "side pull" on.  Now you've not only taught the horse a maneuver but helped him to understand the basic bump and release of the snaffle.
     When foals are born, their first instinct is to nurse.  To accomplish this they must use their nose to bump to bring the milk down so a horse is "hard wired" to move his nose into pressure.  Our job is to teach him to give to the pressure of the bit.  This is especially important if you are planning on eventually riding your junior horse in the hackamore.
     Make sure when you are working your horse that you are preparing him for the lessons he needs to learn later on!  See you next week, JD

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Keep on Showing

     When helping a client learn the ropes of getting a horse shown, one important lesson I emphasize is: no matter what happens, just keep on showing.  If something goes wrong in a class just get your horse back together and continue to ride, keep calm and keep showing in a dignified manner, as if nothing has occurred.  Continue to exhibit confidence and coolness, showing off your horse in the best possible way.  Don't tell the judge through your actions that they just missed seeing something - because for all you know, maybe they don't know!
     This is important for several reasons.  First, you don't know what the judge has actually seen.  Even if the judge appears to be looking right at you, he or she may really be looking elsewhere.  You also never know what else is going to happen during the class or maybe has already happened.  You may not be the only one having trouble.  And, lastly, if a judge likes your horse, they may really want to use it somewhere in the placings.  Maybe your 1st becomes a 3rd but you must keep showing your horse to the best of your ability.

     Another word of advice:  try not to get emotional, because "stuff" happens to everyone.  Just keep riding and don't give up.  Judges are judging horses, not a riders' feelings.  If you are disappointed or upset, try not to let it show but just keep on riding.  Remember, you'll have more classes to come so make the best out of any not-so-good situation.  Many times things can really turn around and a poor start can have a great ending.  You also never know when you may show under that particular judge again so make his or her memory of you as good as possible.  Be pleasant and enjoy the horse show.  Win or lose, it's all a great learning experience!  Talk to you next week.  JD