Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why Do We Do This?

     As I get home from one show today (another 400+ miles on the truck & trailer but well worth it!) and head straight to my office to get the paperwork in order for the next, I like to remember that all this is more about the horses than it is about me.  We had a wonderful show and spent a great time with old and new friends but I think that very often people get busy and forget that it's about the horse.  We do this, or should do this, for the love of horses not just the desire for a trophy.  We do it to further the
breeds and the art of horsemanship.  And, for trainers hopefully to share our knowledge with others.
     Yes, I like to win just as much as the next person.  Winning has put bread and butter on my table for many, many years, but if you forget to put the horses first and foremost things just get kind of crazy.      
     I take great pride in my personal horsemanship and training abilities and I take pride in my horses and my riders and their accomplishments.  I think demonstrating good horsemanship skills influence others to try a little harder.  It furthers the cause, so to speak.  Horses are such a privilege  to be around and to learn about.  They are great teachers as well if we're willing to listen.  Being a horseman is a lifelong journey for those of us who have chosen this path.
     I believe horses are one of the greatest gifts mankind has received over the millennia.  Horsemanship has evolved for thousands of years and I hope everyone involved with horses feels great pride in being a part of the world-wide community of horsemen.  Best of luck to those of you who are heading out to show, and warm thoughts to others who are heading down the trail - whatever you enjoy, remember it's about our love of the horse!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The "D" Word: Discipline

     This is such a difficult subject, many people would rather ignore it altogether!  I've worked with  some horses that all I had to do was just get their attention but most horses are not that easy to work with and require some amount of discipline.         
     Further complicating the issue of discipline is the fact that every horse is different and responds differently to reprimands.  Generally horses learn to accept proper discipline, in fact some come to expect it when they know they "deserve it".  By this, I certainly am not talking about a frightened horse, what I mean is a horse that knows parameters and understands what is expected of him and what is not acceptable.  This all takes time to achieve but is a necessary part of training any horse. 
     My students often hear me say:  Felonies are felonies and misdemeanors are misdemeanors.  This means, don't over-discipline your horse for a minor "offense".  I also never discipline a horse that is "trying".  It is very important that you choose the right discipline and for the right reason.
     Some horses respond well to a verbal response and a good kick (no spur), others need much more to make them amenable.  Some horses work well with a crop now and then while others work just fine with spurs.  In other words, some are hard-headed and stubborn and others are willing and want to please.  Some horses can be intimidated with a harsh sound but there are others you must put the fear of God into to get their attention.  Some really difficult horses may even need to be "spanked" from the ground while the trainer is riding (this can really help).  And, I've had horses that were so bad I just got off and bitted them up again.  Once they got their brain rearranged and re-engaged then we'd pick up where we left off, for a much-improved ride.
     Whatever the discipline, the more immediately and consistently you apply it, the more improvement you'll get from it.  The point of all this is to find out what works for your horse but never be afraid to discipline them - their mothers certainly did!  See you next week, JD.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Everyone's a Trainer

     Make no mistake about it - each and every time you handle or ride your horse you are training it!   Many people spend tons of money having their horses professionally trained only to "untrain" the horse every time they ride or handle the horse themselves.
     I realize this is difficult because riders must learn to ride their own horses but, often I see amateurs allowing their horses to do things that professionals just would not allow.  Some great examples are letting a horse swing it's rear out after a stop, or letting it move into the rider's leg when trotting or loping off, or pulling on the reins and coming out of the bridle after a stop.  There are many, many more examples of "untraining" a horse and some are very elementary things but they are very important points of training.  Also, they are easy to understand and easy for an amateur rider to correct if they remain aware and alert. 
     A rider must be alert when riding and handling their horse.  Obliviousness makes it much harder for the horse to learn to do his job.  The horse learns quickly that it is ok when his owner is riding to pull on the reins, wiggle after a stop, turn on the forehand, etc. etc.  To make matters worse, often the horse then tries it with the trainer.  This becomes a confusing and frustrating situation for the horse.
     Collectively, we - the rider, owner and trainer - have an obligation to the horse to be consistant.  This makes for a less stressed horse, a horse that is more eager to learn, and in general just a happier equine and human partnership!  See you next week, JD.

Monday, April 8, 2013


     There are many advantages to being challenged and, one of the greatest end results is improvement.  I find that challenging my students and horses helps them succeed because it increases their confidence, keeps them fresh and interested and prepares them for their upcoming shows.  Additionally, being challenged can be fun!
     Now, I do think it can be a bit tricky to get this just right so the challenge stays positive and doesn't discourage.  I always consider where the horse and rider are at in their achievement level.  I most certainly will not ask a rider to perform something I have not asked their horse to do myself (assuming the horse is in training.  When the horse and rider are coming for lessons only, I carefully watch the horse before deciding where I want to go with it).
     I also assess the horse's and rider's weaknesses and strengths before I give them something more challenging to work on.  If you challenge in a positive manner, you can increase confidence
and improve on weak areas.  It's important to be realistic in your requests.
     Another thing that I believe in strongly is the advantage of having horses and riders that are less advanced ride with others who are further along - sometimes much further along.  When I do this, I always point out things that are maybe just too hard for the less advanced horse at the moment but that the they can aspire to do.  They're able to see a guide and then visualize their ultimate goal. 
In Trail this might be translated into asking one horse and rider team to lope certain obstacles while another only jogs the same obstacles - everyone's learning and everyone's taking part in a positive challenge.  It's a very rewarding day when I see a team do something that they thought they "could never do"!
     On a personal note, in challenging my horses and riders, I must challenge myself.  I am constantly resetting the bar for my students which makes me think and try harder!  As a group, we do this together, constantly learning and improving.  When you stop improving, you start declining.  In horses as in life in general, there is no such thing as resting on your past achievements.  (Many thanks to Gina Heinricks, pictured here on her horse Montego Bay Star, for giving me the idea for this blog!)  See you all next week!  JD