Monday, June 27, 2016

I Miss Those Big Classes!

We see many issues facing the horse industry today, not the least of which is the shrinking size of our shows.  This phenomenon seems to be crossing all breeds.  There is a strong trend among show management to add more classes, breaking down each class into much smaller, mini-classes if you will.

It no longer seems good enough to have Select or Limit Rider classes to encourage amateurs and there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to fill out the general ATR and AOTR classes.  We no longer break down age groups into broad ranges like 18-35, 40-and-over etc.   So often now shows are breaking classes down to their lowest common denominator where it seems each rider can have a class of their own!

Now I ask: is this the answer to encouraging amateurs?  Does this foster competition?  And I respond with a resounding “no!”  The excitement of winning a big competitive class has gone away for many riders.  The experience of riding the rail with twenty or more other competitors is being lost at most shows.  Instead, the aim of many shows seems to be “how many ribbons can we hand out today so everyone “wins””.  Are the competitors really happy getting a ribbon in a one or two horse class?  Are they happy receiving a Regional Top 5 for a class that didn’t even fill?

We’re not developing our amateurs into the best horsemen they can be because it’s no longer necessary and I think this is short-sighted indeed.  The future of this industry depends on instilling respect for horsemanship and the traditions it rests upon.  Good horsemen, amateurs and professionals alike are carrying centuries of knowledge and wisdom – competition gives them the opportunity to test and grow that knowledge.  Good horsemen are and should be pushing the standards even higher.  Learning and teaching better techniques, developing even better equipment; breeding even better horses (but always with the betterment of whatever breed in mind) and good competition fosters that urge to improve. 

Whatever your discipline, it takes years to hone your skills as a horseman and takes years to garner a deep understanding of horses.  The future of this business rests on people who are dedicated to making and taking the time to improve.  Those riders deserve the excitement of competition and of winning a big class filled with accomplished horsemen like themselves who are riding beautifully trained horses and who have worked hard to earn their place in the ring.

I loved the excitement of winning and watching those big classes and I hope you have that opportunity too!  Talk to you soon, JD

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Little Gem!

Here’s some advice that I was taught long ago and that has worked for me for years.  I don’t see it being taught much anymore though, which is a shame so I thought I’d take a minute to pass it along to you myself.  And best of all, it’s really very simple – one of those “little gems” that can make such a difference:  When a horse softens to your aids, you must immediately also soften. 

This doesn’t mean you have to “throw the horse away” but when the horse gives, so must you.  It is entirely possible to make a stiff horse even stiffer if you don’t soften when the horse softens to your hand or to your leg.   If you don’t ease up on your “aids” when the horse softens often a battle ensues and it’s not only unfortunate but it’s counterproductive.  If this battle happens often enough the horse will become confused and then resentful and some will even become downright angry. 

This advice applies to all of your aids:  your hands, your legs and your seat.  When you don’t follow the horse’s softening with your own, you become rigid and less able to “feel” your horse.  The beautiful rapport and balance between horse and rider is lost.

Riding is all about balance, rhythm and feel and there is no feel without balance and no rhythm without balance.  I really like to teach all of my riders to ride without their hands on a longe line.  This is an old-fashioned but tried and true way to teach balance.  (My best riders were always able to advance this exercise to include riding bareback on the longe line.)   

Riding without hands on a longe line is a great way to develop or improve your seat, and from there you can improve your hands and other "aids" and your overall "feel".  With an improved feel comes the ability to soften when your horse softens.   I hope this little gem from the past helps you improve your rapport with your horse.  Talk to you later!  JD