Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Conversation

     I was talking to a client the other day, we were just chatting about a variety of topics and, somewhere along the way she related to me that someone had commented that I made my students think and that I was a thoughtful trainer.  Now I think that is a very high compliment indeed!
     I believe strongly in teaching about the "whys" and not just the dos and don'ts.  So often, this business functions on "monkey see - monkey do" principles and that's just not good enough in my opinion.  Firstly, all horses are different, different in personalities, background and abilities.  One size does not fit all.  Second, a rider must be given the opportunity to understand why things work and why, sometimes, they do not.  Unfortunately, many trainers train by the cookie cutter method - leaving behind many good and talented horses that just didn't quite fit.
     I see people - amateurs and pros alike - who attempt methods and maneuvers and techniques they really don't understand. I think it's so unfortunate because it hinders rather than helps.   We must know and understand the principles of horsemanship to work to the best of our abilities.
     We do our students an injustice if we don't fully teach them.  I want my students to be excellent horsemen - not just pretty riders.  Teaching them to think for themselves is a key component to that end.  See you next week!  JD

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Where do they come from?

     Ideas that is - where on earth do they come from?  For me, they come from my everyday experiences.  Often I think and write about occurences at the barn, things I see at shows, conversations I have with other professionals, amateurs and friends.  Many times, it's the horses I work that get me thinking.  And sometimes, I just go down memory lane.
     Often times, people struggle to find solutions to their horse problems, but too often they are looking for answers that won't fit into their horse's make-up.  In other words, just because you "get it" doesn't mean your horse will.  People need to be open to ideas - both old and new - as they work with their horses.
     The past often informs the present.  Because I've been in this business so many years and I've had the pleasure of dealing with a large variety of horses and people, I can see a bigger picture than people who are less experienced.  Many times I also see issues that are not very apparent to others and I can come up with solutions - or ideas about solutions - that are not so apparent either.  My thoughts and ideas are as influenced by my mistakes as they are my successes.  I believe you learn by making mistakes and I've never been ashamed to admit mine.
     As I continue to write this blog into the new year I'll be watching and thinking.  I'll keep remembering the ideas that come from the old horsemen who started teaching me many years ago  but, I'll also be watching the current horsemen I admire, of all ages and disciplines (and trust me, there are alot of them!) to keep my ideas fresh.  See you next week!  JD   

Sunday, January 13, 2013


     Why are transitions so important?  Second question: why aren't transitions stressed more in so many rider's practice?   Let me start with the answer to the second question.  I don't believe most riders and even some trainers understand the value of transitions so they are not stressed.  In all the disciplines I've trained and coached, I've found that an emphasis on (good) transitions helped greatly in each and every one.
     So, back to the first question:  why are they so important?  Well, the most obvious thing is that judges are looking for a "finished horse" and good transitions are part of what is meant by that term.  Transitions can also be a tie breaker.  All other things being equal, the horse with the best transitions is the most impressive.  Also, a good transition sets a horse up for its next gait or maneuver.  They allow a horse to "know what's coming next" so they will not be suprised.  Everything will flow together, this helps them to be comfortable and relaxed which is always a plus for Western Pleasure horses and Hunters.  Good transitions are an aid in helping your horse "collect up" and for pleasure horses, it helps them achieve a slow but true gait (and you know how I like good gaits!).
     Often, as I've trained horses on the rail I've used transitions to help them achieve a quality lope or jog.  What I recommend is that you do nice transition (take your time, don't rush) up to a lope or jog and when the gait starts to lose quality, bring your horse softly down to a stop or even a walk-then-stop.  Let him settle and then carefully transition back into the previous gait.  It's important to keep the horse relaxed, don't rattle him!  This use of transitions helps many horses learn to hold a steady pace all the way around the arena.
     On a side note, another added advantage is that transition work also gives a horse a (very) short break which allows the muscles to rest.  Remember, going slowly, correctly, is difficult because it takes strength - something I'll talk about in a future blog - anyway, see you next week!  JD

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mental Discipline

     I am talking about the rider, not the horse, when I discuss mental discipline.  So often, riders are thinking about everything else in their lives but not their ride or their horse.  When we get lazy mentally and tune out or get distracted, our riding becomes sloppy and training suffers.  Remember, I really believe that you either train, or un-train a horse every time you ride - whether you intend to or not.
     When you ride, you must always be "present", thinking about what you are feeling, where the horse's body is, how he's responding or not responding to your cues.  You must be aware of the little things that are going on, not just the major things that are easy to figure out. 
     When I ride, I am thinking about things such as my horse's rib cage, where the inside leg is tracking, the horse's shoulders and hips.  I am thinking about the poll, the jaw, the neck placement, about the whole spine.  Really - remember that everything is connected!  I am always concerned about the quality of my gaits as well. 
     I also am always assessing my own riding.  Was I soft enough?  Quick enough in noticing a horse's reaction or failure to react?  I could go on and on with this topic but I guess what I'm trying to convey is that you must be one with your horse at all times and to do that means you need to concentrate and be aware of your horse and yourself, you must be a mentally disciplined rider!   See you next week, JD.