The Geometry of Riding

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

Recently I was giving a riding lesson and I asked the young lady to walk then trot then lope a circle with her horse.  Well she started out and I noticed her walk circle was not very uniform, her trot circle was even less so and finally when she reached the lope circle, it looked more like a “D.”  So I stopped and I asked her how she planned her circle.  She told me that she set out to “kinda go around a cone or dirt clod and try to make the horse work around that in a circle.”

I smiled and asked her why she thought it was necessary to use the words “kinda” and “try.”  She responded that it did not seem important to ride the shape perfectly.  So I logged that in my brain for a few minutes and asked her to ride a square and then ride in a triangle.  All three of her primary figures were not crisp, not even sided, not even close to what we all learned back when we played with blocks and shapes.

Just as a refresher for our discussion here — circle is represented by blue, green is our triangle and red is our square.


This next panel shows us all some of the circles I have seen ridden over the course of my career.


The lesson continued with the pursuit of getting a nice circle (and we succeeded).  I reminded this student that circles must be circles and they are not squares, not octagons, not ovals or any other shape.  So we put out some cones and I drug my feet and made a nice circular line with the student holding a rope at a fixed point and I kept the rope tight  and made the “impression to follow.”

Now when this student and I worked on the perfect circle some really cool things happened.  Her consistent circle (shape and size being the same) helped her get the horse into a nice bend, and achieve rhythm and relaxation.  The horse started to pay attention to the rider because she was giving good aides and had set the horse up for success by asking for consistency and taking the guesswork out of the riding.

This client told me one issue she was having with the horse was that the horse liked to drop its shoulder, charge through the center of the reining pattern, and anticipate lead changes, sometimes changing leads when it was not the correct time.  So I asked the rider to keep her circle consistent and change to a trot….and we did this for a few minutes — then I asked her to lope and she did so.

Some great things happened:

1) Horse quit dropping its shoulder

2) Horse quit rushing/charging through the center

3) Horse quit trying to make lead changes without the rider aide

I then asked the rider to go back to her old ways of riding a “D” type circle and immediately the horse charged, dropped its shoulder and made a guess as to when to change leads.   Good circles and success verses “D” circles and failure all happened in the span of 5 minutes.  The rider stopped and asked me — “Why were we good just a few minutes ago and all of a sudden we got so awful again?”

I gave her two answers —   1) When she reverted to her old “circle,” she also picked up her old habits of not being consistent with the aides, not looking ahead of where she was riding, not planning and talking (“connecting”) with the horse through the reins and she quit using her seat and leg aides; and 2) the horse had learned some really bad habits when the rider did not actively ride and as soon as the rider “reverted” the horse went back to her old ways.

Success in riding can come from practicing good geometry so next time you ride, keep your circles as circles, squares as squares and triangles as triangles and notice how your horse begins to listen to you and respond to your aides rather than trying to guess what you want.  So the moral of this story is that consistency can help you achieve a better connection with your horse and that by having that connection, the horse learns to wait on your aides and listen for and to your guidance.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

Heat Stroke and Cooling your horse

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

This past weekend I was at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento California.  On Saturday I was working with a team of excellent horsewomen (Sher, Alison, Linda, and Karen) demonstrating Western Dressage.  The temperature reached 108 F and of course we kept our demonstration short since we were focused on keeping the horse from being overheated.

As we unsaddled and worked on cooling the horses out we discussed some of the important lessons around cooling and bathing horses as well as dealing with the heat.

1) Never leave the water sitting on the skin as you are bathing or cooling your horse.  We saw a few people dousing their horses with water and then not slicking that water off.  Sure water can help cool but if it is left on the skin, it serves as an insulator and keeps that heat on the horse.  You can actually overheat a horse who is soaking in water when the temperatures outside are hot to extremely hot.  Water is a pretty good insulator and has the capacity to retain heat so get the water off and that thin layer left on the horse will evaporate and help in the cooling.

Spray your horse with cool water — beginning with his legs first — to help lower his body temperature. Scrape excess water off quickly because it soon rises to the temperature of the over-heated horse.

2) Make sure stalls are well ventilated with cross breezes (air can move in and out of the stall) or make sure your horse can move out of the stall on his/her own free will.

3) Keep your horse from standing in the direct sunlight on these extremely hot days.

4) Another reminder is that if you use cool/cold water, do not apply this directly to large muscles that have just finished a rigorous workout.  Lukewarm water is better.  A sudden burst of cold water on large muscles can shock those muscles and cause the horse either stress, pain or injury.

5) If you suspect heat stress with your horse — call your veterinarian immediately.  Always consult your veterinarian for any medical emergencies.

Some signs of Heat Stroke include

  • Temperature above 104 degrees F. (A normal temperature is 99-100.8 degrees F.)
  • Rapid heart and pulse rates that do not recover within 10 or 15 minutes after exercise.
  • Rapid breathing that does not slow down after exercise.
  • Less sweat than expected.
  • Hot skin (might progress to cold if skin circulation shuts down).
  • Signs of dehydration, including loss of skin elasticity, sunken eyes, tacky membranes and cessation of urination.

You can learn more about some of the professionals Dr. Mike worked with this past weekend by clicking on the name here — Sher Bell Boatman

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (

Teaching your Young Horse to Lead

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

Many times people have issue teaching a young horse to lead.  Often folks utilize the butt rope to help the horse move forward and some people use a small whip or stick to tap on the rear end of the horse.  My recommendation is to teach your young horse the “Go Forward Cue.”  I start this with the babies when they are still with their mothers.  This is one of the greatest things you can teach your horse.  If your horse will consistently go forward when you ask, then you can easily teach your horse to load into a trailer, walk into a stall, and stand on the “blue tarp.”  The Go Forward Cue will help you and your horse stay safe when you are teaching or working your horse from the ground.

Here is how to teach the Go Forward Cue.  Stand on the horse’s left side next to his shoulder.  Hold the lead rope with your left hand.  Point your left hand in the direction that you want your horse to travel.  With your right hand use pressure and release on the flank, side, or rear and say “FORWARD.”  Some horses may not move forward easily and you may need to reach back and tap the rear.  As your horse walks forward, let the lead rope in your left-hand slide so that your horse experiences no resistance and is able to walk forward.  As soon as your horse has moved far enough forward you can stop him where he stands.  Repeat this exercise on the right side of the horse by simply reversing your hands.  As you get this process working and your horse begins going forward and leading nicely you can change your aides slightly to get more response with less action/pressure on your part.

When you are now able to lead your horse normally, you can change your hand position to be open and facing upwards with the lead across the palm of your hand.  Think of the underhand toss of a softball.  That is the mechanics you want to use to encourage your horse to speed up into a faster walk or even a trot when you are leading him.  This works great for teaching your horses for halter classes. When you want your horse to slow down, you can change your hand so that your fingers close over the top of the lead and point towards the ground.  One further refinement is in your breathing.  Again, once you have your horse leading and going forward, you can control speed and stopping with your breathing.  Inhale and lift your shoulders to get your horse to move forward or exhale and slow down to get your horse to slow or come to a stop.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (