Sunday, September 30, 2012

Believe in Your Horse

     We often hear discussions about believing in ourselves as riders, as competitors.  About having confidence and faith in our abilities.  This is so important.  Without that belief we cannot accomplish our goals.
     That being said though, there is another side to this discussion that is often ignored.  Belief in your horse.  If you have partnered with a horse that is suitable for its job and likes what it is doing (very important!), a horse that is well trained and prepared physically and mentally (showing confidence) you now are ready for the rigors of competition.  The final piece is believing in your equine partner.  This is the frosting on the cake. 
     You are a team and must perform as such.  If you don't have confidence in your partner, he can not and will not perform to the best of his abilities.  When you believe in your horse as well and as much as yourself, your personal confidence will increase and everything just gets easier.
     One of the gifts of riding good horses is what they can do for us.  But firstly, we must care for them to the best of our ablities.  We must respect them for the amazing athletes they are and, of course love them.
     Lastly, we must believe in their ablilities and talents.  In their willingness to do their job well.  Believing in your horse equates with being proud of your horse.  So ride with price - you and he deserve it!   See you next week, JD.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lessons Learned Long Ago

     The Pacific Northwest has always been home to many fine and respected horsemen.  That is true in part because we have drawn talented people from all over the U.S., Canada and even England.  One of the many fine trainers was a gentleman from California, Tony Garcia.  Now Tony influenced many, many western trainers in this area.  Those of us who have been around for a long time still talk about him.
     A little background about Tony Garcia is probably in order.  He had been taught in the old vaquero tradition and could take a horse all the way into the spade bit.  An art that in those days was still admired.  He was an all around western trainer, competing in pleasure classes, reining and cutting events.
     I was not personal friends with Tony but being the generous person he was, he kindly advised me on several occassions.  He and I had many mutual friends so I had occassion to meet him many times over the years.
     There are two very important things I learned from Tony.  One is: if a horse is properly broke to the bit, you can ride him in the snaffle one handed as if he were carrying a bridle.  When in a bridle (especially a lighter schooling bit) you can and should do any excercise you have done in the snaffle.  I see too many people, especially on the Arabian circuit, who ride the snaffle and bit completely differently.  That is most definitely not in the western tradition.
     The second thing I learned, many problems some way or another go back to the bridle.  Poor back-ups, poor transitions, bad stops, head tossing, inability to "neck rein", not responding to one handed riding and more - these are just some examples.
     As I continue to write this blog, it is my hope that you, my readers, will ponder these thoughts and ideas.  Many things I may bring up may be new or just a different way of seeing a problem.  My perspective comes from many years of training and many years of observing some of the finest trainers.  Especially western trainers.  I believe the quality of training in general has never been higher and that these top trainers have all been influenced by the great trainers and horsement of the past.  See you next week.  JD

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Things I Believe

     Honesty and integrity go without saying.  Ethical behavior must be paramount.  Here are some additional things I believe.
     I believe in taking care of your old clients, those who have become dear friends, first, not last.  Not putting them on the back burner while you pursue new prospects.
     I believe the horse and its welfare must be my primary concerns.  The horse must always come first.  This is how I was raised, this is what I believe.
     In general, not having a private agenda that only or primarily benefits myself.  I believe in a path that is in everyone's best intereste and I most certainly believe this is possible.
     I believe in trying to reach everyone possible.  I don't like nor endorse exclusivity in the horse business.  It's not just about the 1% or 10%, but about everyone.  Furthermore, I hate favoritism of any kind, both of people and horses.  Yes, I have horsees that I truly loved over the years, but I don't care for them over overs.  In fact, I make a point to concentrate on the horses that are struggling.
     I believe horses are the most magnificent and versatile and beautiful athlete in the animal kingdom. I started training horses because I loved them for what they are.  I did not start out because I only wanted to win, but rather to become the best horseman I could.  It's been a very long road and I've learned so much.
     I believe that in becoming a true horseman we can become better people.  Horses do this for us just naturally.
     I believe that the best teacher is the horse himself.  You must learn to watch and listen.  The horse will teach you if you are willing to learn.  I don't believe in dumbing down horsemanship.  It's a lifelong pursuit and an art that has been developing for over 3,000 years.
     I believe in giving back to the horse community.  By this, I mean helping others in the horse business.  Amateurs as well as other professionals, especially those that are starting out.  Many wonderful trainers helped me along the way and I want to do the same for others.
     I believe in thinking things all the way through before proceeding.  I have always trained by using a thoughtful process.  It's easy to act before you understand the causes, often times you will never know but you must try to understand something through the horse's perspective.
     Most of all, I believe in conducting my personal and professional like in a manner that reflects well not only on me but also on my family, my friends, my clients and the horse business in general.  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sounds in the Barn

     I can tell by just listening how a horse is being worked.  So the other day I was in my tack room and I could hear my good friend Dian Morris working with a horse.  She was teaching this horse to "square up" and what a delight it was to listen in.  Now I know this training session sounds simple and yes it was but the cool thing was the manner in which Dian worked.
     I would hear the deliberate sounds of Dian working the horse.  The sounds had a cyclical or almost ryhmic quality to them that I liked so I left my tack room and went out to watch.  Dian worked the horse with quiet and confident authority.  She manuevered the horse by a series of blocking moves, appropriate cues and discipline when needed.  Thus the horse was worked efficiently without undue fuss and bother.  Incidentally, I dislike unneccessary energy when working with horses as I think it's very distracting for them.
     Another thing I liked was the fluidity of motion and movement that Dian used.  This a mark of quality horsemanship and horses respond very well when worked in this manner.  She also made every move count all the while being completely consistent in her cues.
     Dian and her husband Mo show a lot of wonderful examples in their work, of how top horsemen can train a horse without a lot of the unneccessary commotion that I often see.  They make it easy for the horse to understand what is being asked of them, all the while reinforcing the basics the horse already knows.
     I like always to be positive in my comments about horsemanship but I feel I must point out that some of what is being touted today as good horsemanship is definitely not.  Some of the current methods are poorly thought out or based on old wisdom but being used in a manner that's misunderstood.  The thorough understanding of where and why some ideas came about is being lost or taken out of its original context.  It's a pity that some of what is being taught today is more about making it easier for the human than about teaching the horse. 
     In good horsemanship, the horse must always come first, then everything else falls into place.  Good horsemanship can help you with everything else in your life so if you get a chance to watch good a good horseman who has a solid background work a horse, do it.  Hopefully you will find it enlightening.  One last thought, every good horseman I know, including myself, love to watch other good horsemen work.  See you next week, JD.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trying out new Horses

     When looking at unfamiliar horses, whether as training prospects or to purchase for a client, I have a very specific mental check list I go through:
     First, I like to see a horse in his stall (if possible) and also observe how he reacts to people around him.  I particularly want to watch him being groomed, saddled and just handled.  I would like to see a horse that is ready for work, likes his handlers and is just A-okay with everything around him.  In other words: not worried or anxious, nervous or angry.
     Next, I like to see a horse lounged.  This gives me an idea of overall soundness as well as an insight into his personality.  Is he quiet but playful?  A big plus as I really like playful horses.  Is he well mannered, not charging around but waiting patiently until his handler is ready to start.  Does he exhibit a frenzy of energy (not a plus, but definitely okay).  I must add that I like energy and I'm not fond of lazy horses since they can become sullen.  I will question though whether the energy level of the horse matches the work the horse will be asked to perform.
     Personally, I really like to watch the horse's owner or trainer ride him.  This gives me a more accurate idea of what the horse "knows" and what he can do.  Also, I can see if I like the way the horse looks under saddle, the way he carries himself and see more of his general demeanor.
     Last, I will ride this prospect myself.  I like to just gently flex the horse around and see how he feels in my hands and how he reacts to me.  I'll move him off my legs, make him bend and turn this way and that. I'll then go through his gaits one by one, all the while observing his reactions to me.  Is he cross or unsure, or is he willing and confident?  I really like to gently prod him with my spurs and just, in general, try to find out if he's tolerant to being trained and asked to do things that may be slightly different (just slightly at this point).  I do all this slowly and in a manner that should be easy for him to accept.  See you next week, JD.