Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Practice Ride

     A worthwhile practice session is so valuable but, unfortunately a bad session is very counterproductive.  It really does no good to just ride around willy-nilly or practice doing bad circles etc.  If you're only in the mood for a trail ride, go on a trail ride but, if you're ready to get some work done, make sure you're practice time is well spent!  Here are some tips to help you have a productive and meaningful ride:
1) Be mentally ready before you ride.  Stop thinking about work, the kids, or your commute.  Focus on your horse! 
2) Be present and alert.  Be sure you are not reinforcing bad habits while you ride. Remember, every time you ride your horse you're either training him - or untraining him!
3) Make sure you are relaxed and not stiff.  A stiff rider is an unfeeling and unyielding rider.  Being stiff makes it nearly impossible to communicate with your horse.
4) Be self critical and constantly evaluate yourself and your ride as you practice.  Again, don't practice bad habits!  Ride with high expectations of you and your horse. 
5) Before you ride, make a mental check list of things you need to work on and plan to focus on during your ride.
6) "Practice" in your mind before your actual ride.  Think about proper techniques that you've been working on with your trainer or coach and how you're going to achieve results using those techniques.
7) When riding, always assess how your horse is going.  If things are going well, make a mental picture of what it feels like so you can repeat it (or vice versa if things aren't not so good).
8) I believe in emphasizing the positive so, when working with your trainer or coach, make a mental "stamp" of that good ride you just had.  Break it down piece by piece so you have a complete memory of it.  When you're practicing, focus on that memory.
9) If something you're practicing isn't working, go back to a simpler move or a maneuver you know you and your horse can do.  Build back both of your confidence then decide whether to try the difficult move again or perhaps even wait to try it with your trainer or coach.
10) Ask yourself how you and your horse can improve.  What could be better?  Make good use of your time and there will be rewards!
I hope this helps you during your next practice session!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Just Hanging Out

     Riding a little.... then watching others ride.... then talking about the ride..... then riding some more...... what a great experience for both older and younger horses.  Working, then just hanging out, then working again is especially good for the younger guys!
     I love to just sit on a horse when I teach because they start to really relax.  Maybe I demonstrate something here and there but the horse doesn't get a chance to wind up and worry.  And, it sure helps with those horses that get sullen when put back to work.
     Riders benefit greatly from helping each other so I also love to have my students demonstrate skills they and their horses excel at during a group lesson.  What a confidence builder!  Students can really learn from each other and it can start valuable conversations about horsemanship and training.  It makes everybody think about what they are learning.
    Now, I'm not talking about big group lessons with everybody just riding on the rail and doing the same thing.  My concept works best with 3 or 4 riders, including the trainer.  I like to have riders and horses at different levels in the group, for instance, an intermediate with an advanced and very advanced students. 
     I always work with my people one-on-one even during those group lessons so there are nice breaks for everyone in between.  This simulates shows - the "hurry-up and wait" when you have classes that are scheduled so close that there's just not time to go back to a stall or, the wait between Trail classes.  Another really good thing about this is how it removes the temptation for students to either override their horse or just get off (be done) too quickly - it's just not there because they're watching, learning and then maybe demonstrating something themselves.  It keeps everyone fresh.
     Also, horses benefit from riding and just hanging out with other ridden horses.  When they go to their first show, these guys just don't care about the line up at the end of the class.  If they get crowded a little, well it's ok it's a lot like like hanging out at home. Again, this all goes back to your horse having good social skills and being confident working and waiting around other ridden horses.  Hope this helps you!  Talk to you next week, JD.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Courage, an everyday thing!

     There's been so much written about courage - important stuff, from people like JFK to Stephen Crane - but I'm thinking about every day courage that relates to just about everything you do in the horse world.
     Here are some of my thoughts....
1) Don't be afraid to admit mistakes because if you don't make mistakes you'll never get anywhere.  Training is not a perfect process.  Neither is learning, not for you - or your horse!
2) When things aren't going well, have the fortitude to simply start all over again (no whining allowed!).
3) Be yourself.  Don't try to ride like somebody else.  Everybody rides a little differently, that's the beauty of it all (or the art of it all, I think).
4) Be courageous occasionally and think outside the box.  Be innovative - it can be liberating.  Every horse is different and you must find the appropriate way of reading and working with each of them.
5) Be honest with yourself and others.  Now this takes real courage!  You'll be a lot further ahead if you don't try to be all things to all people.  What I'm saying here is: don't lie about expertise you just don't have instead, listen and learn.
6) Do your difficult chores or ride your difficult horse first.  Ride that difficult "son of a gun" first thing - just get it out of the way.  You'll appreciate your other horses - or your work - so much more!
Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Dad

     My dad had a lot of wisdom, just really good horse sense.  Some of it came naturally (he was a gifted horseman) but most of it came from observing horses and thinking about what he'd seen, also from working with them.  I have spent my life time learning how it all comes together and it's true: your best teachers are always your horses.
     My dad was a strong believer in watching horses in a herd, which he had many opportunities to do.  But, he'd also just watched one or two horses together whenever the opportunity arose.
     For many reasons valuable show horses are often turned out in single paddocks, and often times rather small ones at that.  Because of this, many horse people don't get the opportunity to observe horses interacting with one another.  (I might add that I believe horses that have been in small, managed herds are often more confident when first being shown or when first working around other horses.)
     A good place to start observing horses is on a breeding farm.  Those good old broodmares are very wise about "horsey manners".  My advice to any serious horseman is to learn all you can about how horses behave towards one another.  Watch and observe them together any time you get a chance, like my dad did, and it will help you understand your horse better.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! I'll talk to you next week, JD