State of Your Riding

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

With the upcoming State of The Union address by the President of the United States, it got me thinking about this process and how it compares to evaluating the State of Your Riding.  Weeks of preparation go into the State of the Union Address, the President gives his speech, the other party gives a rebuttal, the news media and other people all share opinions about what the speeches meant, and a few others jump in along the way and offer yet another speech, rebuttal, or comment. In the State of the Union, there is some reflection on the good and bad events of the past year and there is a look forward to the next year and what needs to be accomplished.

Well as equestrians, we should take some time to reflect on the good of the past year, the bad that we overcame, and where we are going in the future.  The one thing we know as horse riders is that we need to evaluate our riding and the skills of our horse on a very frequent basis.  The problem comes when we forget to evaluate honestly and get stuck in a rut.

As a way to help — I offer four ideas for evaluating your State of Riding.

1) Take a lesson with a new clinician or trainer or coach.  Step out of your comfort zone and seek the input or advice of someone else. Sometimes this can be in a video evaluation or an in-person lesson. I am not suggesting that you abandon your coach/trainer/lesson giver that spends countless hours with you; rather, I am suggesting you get an additional opinion.  Those in my lesson program are encouraged, and in some cases, required to go ride with someone else at least once a year. As a coach, I value the input of other trainers for my clients.

2) Go on rides with friends and get their honest opinion as to what you should work on in your riding or with your horse. Sure, it is nice to ride at home, or with your family, or the one friend who always says kind words to you…but this will not help push you to the next level.  Get some critical advice from other riders.  Load up your trailer and head an hour or two away to the person you met online and go riding with that person. Hear about your horse and riding from another equestrian you have connected with online. (Note: each year I do this two or three times a year)

3) Take a monthly video of your riding and then every three months play all the videos in one sitting. Do you notice changes for the better or worse? Are you riding better? Is the ride you took a video of today the exact same ride as three months ago — if that is the case you may not be progressing, pushing yourself, or you just may be at a loss for something new to try with your horse. This is a great way to perform a self-evaluation.

4) Have a non-horse person watch you ride and ask you questions. This can be very frustrating and difficult to hear.  The first thing that comes to your mind is “What does he/she know?”.  Honestly, if a non-horse person asks you a question about something you just did in your ride and you think — “I never do that” — it is likely that you are fooling yourself about your riding skills and how well your horse is doing.

These are just a few ideas that you might consider using to help you review the “State of Your Riding”.  As always, I look forward to you sharing this blog and your added comments.

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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 http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

15 Minutes of Riding to Success

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

How many times have you looked at the clock and said “I just do not have enough time to ride.”  Now add up all those days and ask yourself, how many days of riding have you lost.  We all know that it can take time to groom the horse for a ride, saddle, get warmed up, get to the arena and then ride.  Especially in the winter we tend to say there is just not enough daylight.

In 2012 I attended a horsemanship clinic with Jack Brainard (side note: — great clinic!!!) and he spoke to us about Francois Baucher.  One concept that Jack shared that he attributed to Baucher and I have since read up on is the short ride.  Some have said this can be as short as 15 minutes.

In the last few months I have had limited time…but enough that I could test this theory of the short ride.  I was starting a young horse and have always done this with the idea of getting wet saddle blankets.  So this time I challenged myself to develop a focused ride and spend no more than 20 minutes riding for as many days a week as I could possibly accomplish.  I focused my ride for success and worked to get my goals achieved rather than make wet saddle blankets.  I averaged 5 days a week with 20 minutes a ride.  I am impressed with the results.  I have a mare that moves forward, backwards (real nicely), side passes left and right, does stair-case leg yields, trots off and I am just asking her to lope a circle after 75 of these short rides.

How to succeed with a short riding time:

1) Have a plan.  Figure out what you want to accomplish and make that the goal.  It might be going forward with ease. Maybe it is working on backing.  Then go out, saddle, get on, warm up the horse for a few minutes then work on that one idea.  Maybe on Monday it is five steps backwards…amazingly by Friday you will have 15 steps backwards.  All this can be done in as little as 20 minutes.

2) Saddle and ride.  Not every day does the horse need to be perfectly groomed.  I know we all like to be beautiful when riding but sometimes function is more important than the beauty.  Clean the horse where the tack goes, tack up, and get on out and ride.

3) Set the time aside – make an appointment for your horse.  This is important and the most difficult part. It is amazing how we can have appointment television, appointments for our hair and nails, appointments for coffee or lunch…but we “run out of time to ride”.  Set your calendar and make an appointment each day to ride.

4) Do not be a wimp.  Lately we have had some really cold weather in the US.  I do not advocate riding in extreme or harsh weather but all to many times I see wind, cold, fog, dampness, too much sun, not enough sun be the excuse to not ride. A bit of a nose cold, a toe that hurts, a finger that feels funny — another great set of excuses for not riding.  Really think about your riding goals and make them happen — do not be a wimp … be a strong leader for your horse. (Note–I lived in Nebraska and my friends there ride in bad weather — they are tough and so whenever I think about the weather not being right — well I borrow a bit of inspiration from them and get in the saddle and ride)

Of course I advocate being safe.  Never ride if you feel that you are not well enough or that you are going to hurry and might get yourself or the horse hurt.  What I do ask you to consider — make your horse riding important and part of your life. If you put in the time you will build a better horse and have a better relationship with your horse.

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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 http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Muscle Memory and Horse Riding

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Muscle memory has been used to describe motor learning, a type of procedural memory.  This involves developing a specific motor task and committing the sequence of events and actions to memory through practiced repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that activity, eventually allowing it to be performed without thought. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.

Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard, dialing a phone, playing a musical instrument, or even for some people…driving.

One of the concepts I have long studied and thought about is muscle memory and horse riding.  Richard Shrake introduced me to this topic and thought process about 10 or 12 years ago.  Richard used to have us practice riding or even ground work with multiple repetitions.  Richard Shrake and others such as Malcolm Gladwell (in his 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success) have all proposed that is takes over 10,000 hours of practice in any task to become exceptionally good.

This entire thought process of muscle memory is very relevant to riding horses.  There are things we do to maintain balance, small muscle actions that help us with our aides or cues and the rhythm of riding the horse by putting our body into time (and sway) with the movement of the horse and footfalls.  The more days we ride, the easier it often gets (so long as we make efforts to do things correctly). We all can look back and think to the past and think — my horse and I will never do that movement.  Then with practice, preparation and some good coaching and mentoring along the way — we succeed.  Likely we can all accept the idea that constant repetition helps us learn.  The important point, as my mother would often say, only perfect practice makes memories.  Part of the success of developing muscle memory is doing things correctly, and often with a coach or trainer or mentor giving you practical advice and tips to help you better understand how you should be moving your body (using your aides) to develop those “muscle memories.” All of this success comes from building our minds and muscles to work together in unison and without us having to spend five minutes thinking about how to make our horse do something.

How does muscle memory apply to your every day practice and riding?  By using foundation building horsemanship methods, we create a strong base of learning that we can then build upon.  With this base, we develop muscle memory. Muscle memory helps us to unconsciously put our leg in the right place and time that the horse needs the aide, it allows us to adjust our seat bone, move our shoulders, reposition our eyes and head, and move our hands that connect to the feet through the bit.

Some people will cringe when they see it can take 10,000 hours to get a perfect muscle memory. This may seem like a great deal of effort but I can promise you it pays off in the long run.  Others may say to me — how do I ride my horse for 10,000 hours.  There are only so many hours in a day, year or lifetime of a horse.  We must remember that becoming that perfect rider is a lifetime journey.  Building muscle memory is a lifetime journey as well.  In my over 35 years of riding, a quick calculation says I have exceeded 10,000 hours in the saddle. Some of my muscle memories are great, others still need work.

Here are some suggestions to add a few minutes or hours to that muscle memory building.

1) Ride as often as you can and think about building that muscle memory.  In fact, riding with a focused effort for 30 minutes is much better for developing muscle memory than if a person just rides hours without thinking about how to build those muscle memories.

2) Ride as many horses as you can. Each will help you fine tune your learning and muscle memory.

3) Build muscle memory at your desk, in the office, in the car, in front of the television.  You might chuckle about some of these suggestions but many of us have likely clucked to our car going up hill — why not work on our upper body muscle memory when driving (you know — look where you are turning instead of just veering into traffic). I sit in some meetings at time and work on leg aides (My legs are hidden under the table and I can work on my softness of the aides).

4) When you want to learn a new movement with your horse.  Get a good coach, trainer, or mentor to help you the first time or two so that you learn the correct way to build those muscle memories.

I hope this will help you all start thinking about muscle memory when you are riding.  Please feel free to share and I look forward to your comments.

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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 http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).