My Way or The Highway Horsemanship

By: Mike Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

 

We have all seen it — most especially on social media these days — the ever present “My Way or The Highway” Horsemanship. This philosophy is that there is only one way to train or ride a horse…there is only one clinician or instructor that can help you and your horse.  Join a group of supposedly like minded people (like minded in that they have the best interest of the horse in mind) and if you have an opinion that is different from the larger group — you are quickly put into the role of outcast.

Some of this philosophy has become prevalent because horsemanship, horse training, and coaching is a business and there is only so much market share — so those selling items or training or philosophies must yell louder or be different and in some cases — they must put other ideas down.  We see this within horse associations, horse organizations, disciplines and in many other aspects of our horse world. We even see “arguments” within disciplines as to who has the better way or better team.

There is room for everyone in the barn.  We can make space quite easily by moving a bale of hay into place and listening to what the newcomer or old timer has to offer.  We can listen to the person who speaks of training in Europe or South America.  We can quit labeling someone as “an old cowboy,” “as a charro,” “as a dressage rider,” “as a trail rider,” … I think you get the idea — labels are sure not easy to keep track of and they sure do not help our horses.

We are human and there is a good chance we are going to misunderstand, misinterpret, do something wrong (or even stupid) when it comes to our horses and riding.

I personally enjoy learning from many different people who have many different ideas.  I have developed a criteria in my mind to check when I am listening or watching something that is different from my normal way.  Change is never easy…but we must be open to change for the benefit of our horses — and for me this criteria has helped in my assessments.

I am going to share my criteria here.  This may help some of you…it may help some of your horses…and your comments about what I have written here … may just help me grow and get better…..and that is a good thing to do in 2017.  I shall admit that these criteria are all together important but for ease of reading them I have given them numbers.

#1 — Welfare and Health of the horse must be paramount. I use evidenced based evaluations to review if the welfare and health of the horse is being maintained.  With open eyes I look for signs that the horse is in fight or flight mode or in pain.

#2 — Welfare and Health of the rider is of high importance.  If a method or philosophy puts the rider or handler at risk (beyond the normal risk of working with a 1200 pound animal) — then this is something I am not so keen to follow.

#3 — The horse is never wrong.  Anything or anyone that starts by saying “the stupid/dumb horse did this to me and the horse is just wrong” … well it tells me that emotion gets in the way there and for me — negative emotions are not good for horse training and riding.

#4 — Relaxation is key.  I want the horse to be relaxed. Sure – -during learning there my be some loss of relaxation but it needs to return quickly.  Likewise — I want the rider to be relaxed.  Numerous scientific papers have documented that brains learn better when in relaxation mode.

#5 — Balance is key.  In balance we have the body functioning as it was designed and when things function within design parameters — they last longer, tend not to wear out, and do not break as easily.

#6 — Progression must be measurable (in a good and forward moving way).  One of the greatest sayings is that “the definition of insanity is to do something repeatedly and expect a different result.” A person may be an advocate of a particular method or philosophy but if there is no positive progression in the intended direction — a re-evaluation is warranted.

In all of these assessments I use an evidenced based evaluation approach.  I take the time to think about what I am seeing…rely on past knowledge .. check in with a myriad of resources and resourceful people I know and I might just borrow something and work slowly to see if I can improve it to meet my criteria.

I have been wrong in the past .. will likely be wrong in the future .. but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from many different people and ideas.

I look forward to your comments and you are welcome to share this blog if it helps you or your horses in any way.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

By: Mike Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

When we set off to learn to ride a horse…there is so much to learn many people are often overwhelmed. Enthusiastic beginners and those returning to riding after many years out of the saddle want to get to the riding part as quickly as possible. Instructors teach basic grooming, saddling, how to mount, how to go forward and how to stop a horse — often in just one or a few lessons. These are all critical items to learn for sure. Once in the saddle we hear about different speeds (and how to get them and control them) and we also hear a great deal about equitation (heel hip shoulder alignment).

Quite often when I meet riders on their journey I note four major deficiencies in what I call basic understanding and needs before riding. While those of us who instruct and love horses want to see people in the saddle and enjoying our sport — it is important that these four basics are learned or understood before any rider ever legs up onto the back of the horse.

#1 — Balance — this is critical for success in the saddle. Riders need to understand that balance is tied to the rider seat and that the rider must have balanced seat bones in order to ride successfully. Along with balance…riders need to know how breathing helps their balance. Riders should be able to sit and practice changing their balance through their seat and to learn how their position related to shoulders and hips and legs all contribute to balance.  So before we ever get on a horse — we need to focus on balance and this will truly make the equitation part easier.  Suggestions — work on balance on a trampoline or shifting weight from foot to foot, jumping rope, Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi….any number of exercises focused on balance are critical for your success as a rider.

#2 — Independent Use of Aids (legs and hands and seat) — The welfare of the horse is protected when riders learn to use their legs and seat and hands independently (and this should be learned before we ever leg up on a horse).  New and returning riders often pull and kick at the same time…this is confusing for the horse and depending on the level of simultaneous pull and kick — it may be downright abusive. Suggestions — work on ball toss and ball kicks or swimming with an independent scissors kick …. work on exercises that have you use a hand and leg independently for two tasks.  Successful riders work on these exercises before and after rides and new learners should have a degree of mastery of the use of independent aids before getting on the horse.

#3 — Understanding Rhythm — We need to know that the horse walk has a 4 beat rhythm, trot is a two beat rhythm, canter/lope is a 3 beat rhythm and gallop is once again a 4 beat rhythm.  We can discuss this  — but we also need to diagram what happens in each of these rhythms.  We need to take lunge lessons (rider on horse being lunged) to help develop an understanding of rhythm.  We need to watch the horses in pasture/pen/paddock and see how they move and think about how that feels for your body. …there are also some great videos out there on the dynamics of movement.   Suggestions — Take time for lunge lessons and observation of your horse in movement without a rider. Watch a video on the dynamics of movement.

#4 — Ground Work — All riders need to spend time working with a horse from the ground up.  Learn how the horse body bends, moves, how the feet move and what type of reach the horse has in leg extension.  Understand how we can influence movement through our aids, through pressure and release….and understand this movement so that you know when you execute a Turn on the Forehand (for example) — you know that the hind end will travel in a larger circle around the front end that is traveling in a small circle (and let me remind you there is a great deal more detail to the Turn on the Forehand beyond what I have shared here). Suggestions — watch videos, take lessons focused only on ground work, draw out how a horse moves in each of the movements from the ground that you will want to do in a saddle.

We most likely can identify other areas of deficiency in riding … but these are most often overlooked by the enthusiastic new rider.  Do your horse a favor .. for the welfare of the horse make certain that you take time to include these four items in your learning and ride preparation.

Thank you for reading this blog and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.