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.

Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts

Riding Both Sides of your Horse  — 5 Thoughts

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Does your horse have a difference in response on one side as compared to the other side?

As we become better riders, we must develop the ability to ride both sides of our horse – as the horse needs.

To do this, we need to feel the different sides.  Do you know which side of your horse is stiff, which side is hollow?  The stiff side has more tension and the horse’s jaw and poll is tighter and more resistant.  The body might feel like one giant solid 4 x 4 post.  Horses often lean into the stiffer side, fall (drop shoulder) into a circle, or make tight and abrupt turns.  On the hollow side, the horse has no resistance and you might have to work to keep contact on your horse because it gives so slightly to pressure.  As you move in the direction of the hollow side, the horse may drift to the outside or overbend.

There are reasons for a horse to have a difference between sides.  A horse can be right or left handed (scientifically proven based on in-utero implantation) and this creates a difference between the sides, uneven muscle development, and rider related issues (balance, rider asymmetry, etc.).

Here are five thoughts about how you can make sure you ride both sides of your horse.

  1. Determine which side is the hollow side and which is the stiff side.  When you know this, you can make certain that through correct exercises you help the horse become more balanced/even on each side.  Work with your coach to develop a plan so that you actively exercise both sides of your horse.
  2. Do contralateral training for the rider.  Make certain you are doing the right exercises for the rider – these should include contralateral exercises (exercises that rely on movement of body parts on the opposite side of the body).  This is important so that you can effectively use (for example) inside leg to outside rein (opposite parts of your body need to work in harmony).
  3. Improve Rider balance.  Work on rider balance with Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, or other programs that help you strengthen your balance and core.  Along the way, make sure your exercise program includes some good cardio work.
  4. Learn how to apply the aids correctly and as needed.  You may need a stronger aid on one-side verses the other (early on in your training).  Know this and make certain you adjust to the needs of your horse as you bring him into balance.  This will take time and it really benefits from riding with mirrors in your arena and even more so when you have a coach or video your rides (or video rides and review with your coach…even better).
  5. Learn to feel the balance in your horse.  This takes time but it is very critical.  Have an observer help you develop the feel.  Learn how it feels when your horse bulges out on one side, drops its shoulder on another side, has its rear end fall out of the circle or square.  Feel comes with time and it really helps to have someone coaching you (eyes on the ground as we say) so that you can have them tell you what is happening and you can develop the knowledge and feel….with this and your own rider preparation – you can then ride both sides of your horse to put him into balance and achieve rider to horse harmony.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.

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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 to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We take great liberties with the English language these days when we speak, text and, write. Two, Too, and To are often texted as “2” and this is just one example of us interchanging words and letters and numbers so that we do not always have to think about the exact spelling, meaning, or detail of a simple word.

As equestrians, we find ourselves in training or instructing or learning and we get challenged to describe what we are feeling.  We often use words that we think we understand their meaning…but in truth … we heard someone else say the word and we think it sounds correct or powerful or authoritative.

Four words in particular — Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — are often used interchangeably and by that—they are used incorrectly. These words are not interchangeable. The four terms are distinct in meaning, appearance, and feel when riding. Let us begin with defining these words normally, without the equestrian perspective….and then defining with the equestrian perspective.

General Population Definitions of these words:

Frame — to construct by fitting and uniting the parts of the skeleton of (a structure)

Self-Carriage — manner of bearing the body, deportment

Roundness — having curves rather than angles

Collection — the act or process of getting things from different places and bringing them together

Even in everyday use, these words have distinct meanings. Now let us look at them through the eyes of an equestrian.

Equestrian Definitions of these words:

Frame — Horse traveling in a predetermined outline.  Frame has a particular look.  We can influence the frame with natural and artificial aids.

Self-Carriage — the horse carries himself in the best and most appropriate manner for the movement he has to execute. Self-carriage is the result of balance.  This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to be in balance and self-carriage.

Roundness — horse lifts his back so that the hind end can reach under further and the topline can become rounder. Again — This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to achieve correct roundness.

Collection — to shift his center of gravity more over his hind feet by increasing the bend in his hocks and stifles. That lowers his hindquarters, shortens his strides, and means that when he thrusts off the ground, his impulsion now becomes more “up” than “forward.”  The holy grail and top of the training scale.  An often sought after, moderately achieved activity that the horse can sustain for short periods of time (note….it is not good to announce proudly that you rode your horse in collection for over an hour….just not a good plan and likely it did not happen, nor would a good equestrian want it to happen)

Simply by reading these definitions, you can begin developing a mental picture of how they are different and of course how these concepts work together. A multitude of people have discussed these concepts in excellent detail and below I share with you some of the references I use as I continue to advance my learning (See links below).

My challenge to you as fellow equestrians is to become more exacting in the words you use to describe what your horse and you are achieving.  By being more exacting – you will improve your training, develop reasonable and progressive goals, and have more fun and success.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this blog to encourage other equestrians to learn more and to develop more exacting standards of language as horsemen and horsewomen.

From Manolo Mendez website — Balance & Rhythm in the Young Horse: Essential to Forward and Self Carriage (first independent balance)

From Karen Rolf – Dressage Naturally — Self Carriage from a Dressage, Naturally Perspective

Meredith Manor – Training Mythunderstandings: The Training Tree: Collection

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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 to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).