Sunday, August 17, 2014

Friendship and Horses

     I have a friend who has loads of ability, plus works hard, is willing to learn and really likes horses.  In short, this person is just about everything you could ask for in a successful trainer.
     Slowly, we became friends just riding together, warming up horses and talking mostly about our work.  We discuss training techniques, management issues, equine personalities and so on.  In the process, a friendship developed, a friendship based on mutual respect.  And just as older trainers helped me, I've been passing along some of my knowledge and experience to my friend.
     Over time, I've been able to give this person some input on things that I've learned and I've watched this trainer come to have a much better understanding of the whole process, watched their skills improve and their techniques change when needed.  I've enjoyed watching them achieve a whole new, much higher, level of training.
     This is more important to me than money or winning.  This is passing the baton on to a new generation, a generation that will ultimately improve the whole art of horsemanship just as every past generation has done.  And what a priviledge this has been - friendship and horses make everything worthwhile!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Sunday, August 10, 2014

More on Left and Right.....

     A horse with a very hollow side - for instance on the right - will often lope a little faster that direction because the horse overbends and is not in balance.  Often they will drop their shoulder which, in turn, will cause their left hip (in this example) to go to the outside. 
     On the opposite side, the horse often travels in a less cadenced manner and will often have trouble reaching up deep with his inside hind leg causing his body to appear stiff and straight.  Most horses look their best with a slight arc to the inside (very slight, I tell my riders they should only barely see the in-side of their horse's eye) so this stiffness, caused by the hollow side, makes the lope less pleasing to ride and to look at.  Every horse is different and some do need to be a bit straighter than others so good judgement is also part of this exercise.
     Now, when the horse becomes properly supple and balanced, the quality of the lope will definitely improve and so will his speed.   The horse will round up, lift his back and slow down.  But remember that they cannot do this if they're too stiff or too "hollow" because then they cannot balance.
     So.... I teach that balance is not only back to front but also (and this is so important!) from side to side.  If for instance, a horse is leaning on your leg or your rein, he is not balanced.  Some work that can help you with your horse's balance include a series of spiralled circles (first large, then with your outer leg, pushing the horse into a small circle, than back out again into a large circle - careful to keep the spirals circles - no ovals or stop signs!).  Also, leg-yields and counter canters and reverse arcs can help to lift the shoulder and build balance.  I always work both sides but I like to start with the stiff side, then the good side, then back to the stiff side again. 
     As I said a few weeks ago though, none of these exercises are "one hit wonders" - you have to stick with a program to see results.  Think about which warm-up exercises will help your horse the most and work them in every time you ride.  I hope this quick tip helps with your next ride!  Talk to you next week.  JD

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cookie's First (Real) Trail Show!

     We recently took Joanne's mare Cookie (CHF I Double Dare Ya) to her first real show as part of our show team.  Cookie has alot of experience going to shows but not performing as a Trail horse.  In Trail, she's still quite the novice.
      So, the goal was to get to know her in a yet another different setting.  I don't think you ever know a horse thoroughly until you show them.  Our other goal was to continue to school her on different Trail obstacles, different bridges and gates etc.  Though she truly did need schooling - or, as I think of it, ongoing exposure to different things - she did really well with the new challenges and we were very pleased with her progress.
     Earlier this year the Open and Amateur Trail courses would have been very difficult for her and I very much believe in NOT over-challenging a Trail horse too soon in their career (I expect all my horses to have very long careers!).  I believe in building confidence, not sucking it right out of them.  So, earlier this year we took her to another show but only put her in one class - a non-rated walk/trot class with Joanne (a "ten and way-over" walk trot class!) - where she did very well for her level of training.  She was able to warm up on all the obstacles and even school on some lope poles in the warm-up arena.  In the main arena though, she did only walk-trot and while even some of the trot obstacles were a push for her, she was able to maintain her confidence and wasn't overchallenged.
     Between that early show and now, I've worked to build Cookie's abilities, teach her how to lengthen and shorten, bend in the ribcage and pay attention over obstacles.  As she showed ability and confidence with one lope pole, I added another, then three and I'll keep adding various other challenges as time goes on, but always with an eye to maintaining her confidence and form.
     So, Cookie continues to learn and become a confidence Trail horse.  She still has a ways to go and I will continue to look for maiden and novice classes for her if I can find them just as I have all the other horses I have started in this demanding discipline.  But our patient building blocks are paying off.
     Does she still have some issues?  Yes, but as she gains confidence and learns how to negotiate a course and, importantly, learns to trust her rider, everything will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle!   Talk to you next week.  JD