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.

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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.

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – some suggestions and thoughts

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – it is a journey

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com

When I show up to give a lesson or teach a clinic, riders often ask me what my secret is too getting collection. Many times people call me and ask if I can come and help them get their horse collected better. After about 2 minutes on the phone – much of the time the person tells me they just want better collection and do not think they need to work on balance and self-carriage. There are times when I hear – well what bit do you use to get collection?

I know that I often frustrate folks when I tell them that to achieve collection…it is long hours of proper development of horse and rider … in terms of muscle and timing (and a great many other things) … to develop collection. I go on to tell them that collection comes after we learn and achieve balance and progress into self-carriage.  I also tell folks that no bit and no amount of pull by the riders hands is ever the answer to collection.

Balance is the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling and it is a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

Self-Carriage is defined as a time when the horse is balanced (has independent balance as stated by Manolo Mendez) and self-maintains his own rhythm, tempo, stride length, straightness, outline and rein and leg contact and engagement.  The horse still needs guidance from hands and legs and core and seat of the rider — but the horse is taking care of balance to them be able to work in a dynamic way.

Just a quick side note — see how self-carriage relies on balance?

Collection Collection occurs when a horse carries more weight on the hind legs than the front legs. The horse draws its body together so that it becomes like a giant spring whose stored energy can be reclaimed for fighting or running from a predator. The largest organic spring in the horse’s body, and therefore the easiest one to observe in action, is the back, including the spine and the associated musculature that draws it together in much the same way that a bow is drawn by an archer. (Collection can only come from a horse allowed and able to move freely – having learned to carry himself through training which lets him develop his own balance and rhythm. – March 24, 2014 by Caroline Larrouilh in an article written and published on the Manolo Mendez website).

So let us get to the point.  I have stated that no amount of pull of the hands, size or type of bit, or even one or two lessons will ever get you perfect collection.  It takes development of balance, which in turn leads to self-carriage that finally allows you to work on the finesse of aids and timing that will help you and your horse achieve collection.

Here are five exercises that I highly recommend you master on your journey to collection. There will be days in which you are excellent in your mastery of these activities…and other days will not be as great…but it is the dedication to the work and development of the horse that will ultimately lead you to success.

Exercise #1:  Learn the footfalls of your horse.  Quite simply, from the ground or when you are in the saddle.  Be able to call out what each foot is doing at any time in the rhythm of the movement of the horse.

Exercise #2:  Learn to direct the footfalls of the horse. Once you know where the footfall is, then you can begin to direct it to change time in flight and landing placement. This ability will help you with developing the rear engagement of your horse that you will need to achieve before we get to collection.

As you do these two above exercises, in the first you are developing yourself as a rider. In the second, you are developing yourself and your horse to work in harmony and partnership.

Exercise #3:  Learn to do the first two exercises without the use of stirrups. You need to make certain that as a rider you can feel the horse and work with the horse and not have your balance compromised by using your stirrups as a crutch.  You need to be able to  balance with your whole body on the back of the horse. You also need to be able to post without your stirrups and achieve the goals of exercise 1 and 2 above (and yes for all the western riders – posting is encouraged at times). You cannot be heavy on your seat bones…you cannot be heavy on your legs…you cannot be heavy with your thighs.  You must be balanced.  (Just the other day Mark Russell said the rider needed to be like a champagne bubble riding on the back of the horse – yes that would be a nice picture of a balanced champagne bubble that did not have the rider leaning on seat or legs or feet or thighs…but rather, the rider would be in a perfect state of harmony and balance on the back of the horse).

Exercise #4: Do the above three exercises with the lightest amount of contact…and occasionally, release any of your contact and determine if your horse maintains the rhythm and tempo.  This exercise begins to tie in a measure of how much self-carriage you are achieving…and remember that self-carriage comes when you have balance.

Exercise #5:  Learn to do the first four exercises while working over ground poles and cavaletti’s. This simply adds a degree of difficulty that requires the rider to focus on balance, movement of the horse and changes in terrain (poles or cavaletti’s) that put the horse and rider into thinking mode.

Most importantly in all of the above – you must remember to breathe through all that work.

Once you have mastered those five activities … then you and your horse are ready to begin work on the exercises that will ultimately lead to collection.

Please feel free to share this blog.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in DR 4 Balance – to help horse and rider acheive goals.  Dr. Mike works with riders to enhance their performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding and welfare and rehabilitation of the horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program for competitors.

Equine Welfare – Making a Difference in the Horse World

Equine Welfare – Making a Difference in the Horse World

by Dr. Mike Guerini, www.dunmovinranch.com

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed video sharing, rule change recommendations and conversations about Equine Welfare – all of which have brought forth heated discussions at times. Certainly Equine Welfare is of the HIGHEST importance for all of us equestrians….but resorting to arguments is not the way to get help to the horse.

I do believe that passion about Equine Welfare is great. Enthusiasm about promoting Equine Welfare is great. So a few hours ago I read a note from a person who asked – what can we do when we see bad things happening to horses. This question had me thinking for a few hours and I wanted to share a few of my thoughts.

  1. Use evidence based knowledge/information in your discussions. Do not simply tell someone that something looks bad therefore it must be wrong.  Have reasons why something you are seeing is wrong. Explain how the issue is affecting the welfare of the horse.  But when you explain…stay calm and focused…when you are calm and focused then people listen. As soon as you yell or call names…people quit listening.
  2. Promote equine welfare education. Get involved in groups and organizations that promote equine welfare.  If the organization you are associated with is simply critical – ask them to develop plans to help improve the welfare of the equine.  The International Society of Equitation Science (http://www.equitationscience.com) is one such organization that promotes equine welfare.
  3. Ask someone to explain why he/she is doing something and how it works to “help” the horse. Sometimes when a person has to explain how something is a good thing … when they are asked politely … they may be at a loss for an answer and hours later, they will still think on what you asked and begin to realize that if they cannot explain the concept clearly….then maybe it is not something they should be doing (This is particularly true of training equipment).  Those voices inside our heads can and do help people redirect moral and ethical compasses.  Cause people to think and you will affect how they act.
  4. Show that there is a better way. Get out and demonstrate and explain how your way….is the correct way to do things and betters the welfare of the horse.  Win with class and with horse welfare as your Battle Cry … and people will begin to follow what you are doing.  Rules and laws are not always the way to affect change…sometimes you have to show people the correct way to bring about change.
  5. Report issues to stewards, barn owners, barn managers, and Association representatives. When I say report…I am encouraging you to make a written/formal complaint.  Walking up to someone and telling them what you saw … well it works for about 30 seconds .. but in the end Give the person in charge specifics and information they can use to go and make the change or to help the horse that is in a bad situation.
  6. Speak to the person directly. Talking behind someone’s back is not a way to influence them or to help the horse.  Look the person in the eye and tell them what you think (see #1 and #3 above).

These are just a few thoughts. I encourage you to promote equine welfare. I encourage all of you to work for the horse and to be his/her advocate.

For my part I am a member of the International Association of Equitation Science because I believe in what the organization is doing to promote evidenced based equine welfare.

Share this blog if you think it might help a horse. Thank you.

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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 www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home of the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Ranch Riding (Pleasure) Classes – 5 Keys to Success

Ranch Riding (Pleasure) Classes – 5 Keys to Success   

by Dr. Mike Guerini, www.dunmovinranch.com

Ranch Riding classes are continuing to grow in popularity. This class showcases the versatility and movement of the ranch style horses. In Ranch Riding (formerly called Ranch Pleasure), a horse and rider show in a pattern that has walk, trot, extended trot, lope and extended lope. This is very different from the movement being looked for in Western Pleasure. The horse and rider must also perform some ranch style movements. These movements can include side passing, 360 degree turns, lead changes, walk or trot or lope over poles to name just a few of the options. This year in California a similar class, Ranch Riding – Flat Class was showcased at Gold N’ Grand at Rancho Murieta in August and the judges focused on the horse gaits without needing to have any maneuvers. The horse and rider are scored on the rhythm and cadence of the gaits. Smoothness and flow of the performance matter as well.

So how does a horse and rider do well in this class – Here are my 5 Keys to Success in Ranch Riding.

  1. Transitions. Be able to make smooth and balanced transitions between gaits with your horses. No tail swishing or horse inversion/hollowing out the back or lifting the head. Ride and make the transition as if nothing really happened…make this look like an everyday occurrence as you ride out to get a job done. Use your seat and legs and a little bit of rein on your downward transitions…not just your reins.
  2. Balance. I know I mentioned balanced transitions above but in Ranch Riding you want your horse to be in balance all the time. No working off the forehand, no leaning or falling on a shoulder. Present your horse as if at any moment you will need to make a change (as in go off an get a calf, move a herd of horses, etc.). Make sure your horse is balanced and the footwork/footfalls will be correct and rewarded.
  3. Know your gaits. Extending your gaits at the trot and lope are not about going faster….they are about covering ground. An extended stride comes from the horse using its rear end and making the stride cover more ground. Keep the rhythm correct as you lengthen the stride.
  4. Rider Preparation. This has multiple components.  The rider needs to have good stamina and flexibility. Your core needs to be working to help you succeed in Ranch Riding. The key here is to be a flexible and agile rider able to guide your horse with the least amount of effort and by using soft aids.
  5. Know your pattern. This goes beyond memorizing all the parts of the pattern. Really know the pattern by planning where you will execute the movement in the arena, know where you will give your aids, know the details of the pattern so well that it comes second nature to you and your riding.

This is an exciting class and one that offers a great test to horse and rider.

Share this blog with a friend who might be interested in Ranch Riding…I am sure it will help horse and rider on the road to success in Ranch Riding.

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Dr. Mike coaches riders in Ranch Riding and offers clinics throughout the U.S. His students have won at local and State level AQHA shows and one qualified for the 2015 AQHA world in Ranch Riding. 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 www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home of the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Thinking on Balanced Horsemanship and Equine Welfare

by Dr. Mike Guerini, www.dunmovinranch.com

Balanced Horsemanship

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 www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).