Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

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

Doing homework is critical for the safety and welfare of both horse and rider.

When we think of homework, many adults cringe and recall the days of elementary school, high school, and college when they had homework. For our Youth…when they hear the word homework, they often share how much other “real school” homework they have to complete and that they do not have time for the “horse homework.”

Why does such a simple word cause such a negative reaction for many folks … because homework is work and rarely do people consider it fun (but they should if it is done correctly and with a purpose that helps us with our passion).

Now if we have a favorite subject – let us say trail riding, obstacle work, working cattle, or jumping — just like a favorite subject in school…the homework associated with those activities gets done. For many people – homework is only focused on the “fun” part of the riding experience. These folks will work on specific activities that they see as fun…or as a means to their end goal of getting a win or an award.

Homework for People.

Homework is working on obstacles.

Homework is jumping.

Homework is working cattle.

Homework is riding that dressage test to help the rider memorize the “pattern.”

Homework is purchasing the new blinged bridle or pad or clothing so you look good.

For good horsewomen and good horsemen — there is so much more to homework. Homework is about gymnastic work for the mind and body of the horse and rider. This list below is the homework done by good horsewomen and horsemen – this is the list that true riders focus on.

Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be straight.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be obedient.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be fit.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse know where his/her feet are at all times.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be supple.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be responsive.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be balanced.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse bend correctly.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider balance.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider feel of the horse’s feet.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider refinement of aids.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider breathing.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider planning ahead while riding.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider connection.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider stamina.

Homework is working on transitions.

Homework is working on the Walk.

Homework is working on patience.

Now in case you missed it – I separated homework into two categories —

Homework for People & Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Of course I made this separation intentionally – because the next section is for the riders who want to do homework to develop both the horse and rider.  Here is a list of exercises that will help good riders (and their horses) continue to improve and be ready to take on anything and succeed and focus on the well-being of the horse.

  • Shallow Loop serpentines at the walk and trot
  • Walk and trot your horse from the ground. Do this from both sides … plan to work ¼ mile or more on each side of the horse and at each gait. If you cannot trot – then work the walk at multiple tempos. (This is much to do about harmony of horse and handler and rider fitness).
  • Set up one of those amazing ground pole patterns we see all over the internet … work those patterns at walk and trot while riding your horse.
  • Walk and trot transitions in the saddle – make transitions between the gaits every 13 strides.
  • Walk and trot work over ground poles with and without 4 1/2 to 5 feet spacing between the 3 ground poles.
  • Walk work without stirrups while riding and focus on Turn on Forehand, Turn on Haunches, backing, side passing, and balanced halts – all without stirrups.
  • Work on riding straight lines at walk and trot. Make sure your eyes are up and that your seat bones are even and that you are balanced. Have a spotter to make sure you are keeping your eyes up and looking ahead.
  • Ground poles work from the ground with your horse. Work at walk and trot and do this on a cavesson or halter.  With and without saddle is a great way to work the horse.  Make certain you are working to achieve straightness of your horse with the proper bend.
  • Ride staircase leg yields at the walk with your horse. Notice if your horse has the ability to move the same in each direction.
  • Count footfalls on a straight line and on circles at the walk and trot. Mark out your straight line and circles with cones (or other marker) and work on consistency of the number of footfalls from cone to cone (marker to marker) at both walk and trot.  You can do this from the saddle on this day.
  • Ride squares and practice TOH (Turn on the Haunches) at each corner going in both directions then work on TOF (Turn on Forehand) at each corner going in both directions.
  • Walk and trot in the Snowman pattern (from Jane Weatherwax – 20 m circle, then 15 m circle then 10 m circle). If your horse is not at the developmental stage to properly execute a 15 m or 10 m circle – then consider making each a 20 m circle).  For the proper snowman…if you start left, then middle circle is right, then last circle is left — switch it up and start both directions.
  • Ride S turns through a circle at walk and trot
  • Ride at walk and trot around 7 cones (use buckets or rocks if you do not have cones). Keep focused on bend and tempo
  • At the trot, practice three seat positions of rising/posting, sitting and two point….and keep tempo the same
  • Ride a 20 meter circle at walk and trot at three different tempos in both directions
  • Core day! Work on core exercises for you and for your horse.  Hillary Clayton has a great book on core exercises for your horse.  For the rider – leg lifts or sit ups might work nicely – you decide.  Once you get your plan set for this day – consider doing this 3 times a week for you and your horse.
  • Trot to halt to back for two steps and then ride forward once again at the trot. Repeat this up to 10 times.
  • Work on moving shoulders of the horse to the left and right at the walk and trot
  • Work on improving the finesse of your rider aids by tossing a ball or kicking a ball (with both hands and legs).
  • Ride the Spiraling Circle at the walk (and if you feel it is good – then also complete at the trot). For sure go both clockwise and counterclockwise. Do a 20m, then 18m, then 16m, then 14m and finally a 12m circle and then go back up at the same size change.  Really focus on stabilizing the circle and bend before you worry about going to the next size smaller or larger circle.

Be more for your horse and be more for yourself — ride with a focus on mental and physical gymnastics so that you live your passion of riding.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.

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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.

 

Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

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

Since the early 1980’s, Natural Horsemanship (NH) has seen rapid growth in popularity – particularly among western riders. The techniques vary but are known for focusing on ground work, getting respect, developing a better relationship with the horse, and of course the rope halter has become famously associated with this way of working with horses.

Having apprenticed with a natural horsemanship trainer and having used many of the ideas in my training/coaching, I am very familiar and happy with what I have learned and still continue to use in many situations. For me, Natural Horsemanship methods are a good base for many riders/owners and enthusiasts.

In this blog, I share some thoughts on the good aspects of NH, some of the not so good aspects, and then I offer suggestions on areas needing more focus that currently are not always considered from the NH offerings.

What it has done – the good
1) Ground manners for horses have improved.
2) Many people spend more time working with their horses because they have acquired information that has helped boost confidence or skill of the handler/rider.
3) There has been an increase in rider ability to do homework directed by a trainer and this has opened up more competition and riding options for horse/rider.
4) In most situations, the welfare of the horse has improved … but there are a few “natural methods” that are not welfare-based.
5) There are a number of other good things including getting more people to talk about horse training and building more horse friendly communities — to name just a few.

What it has done – the not so good
1) Developed a quasi-scientific narrative of the ethology of horse behavior. We think we know what a horse behavior means because somebody said something about that behavior – but we really do not have concrete proof gathered by scientific observational methods for all the ideas we espouse.
2) Allowed some folks to think that if they have the “right” halter or pad or saddle or flag (on a stick – sometimes it has a string and not a flag) or “right” type of reins/bit/spurs – folks can branch out and train horses for friends and family or start colts.
3) Celebrated two and three day colt starting ideology. Yes – the colt can be started in this period of time but the key is that it is just a start. These events are a little too commercial and a little too unrealistic and a little too romanticized. I say this because I have met people along my journey who decided that after going to a few of these colt starting events, watching some DVD’s, watching YouTube videos, and attending a few clinics – they can train the excitable or flighty or troubled or green horse. Seeing the after effects of the rider with broken bones or broken confidence or the horse that has been injured is not a good thing.

We should (and MUST for the welfare and protection and development) of the horse (and rider) realize that Natural Horsemanship is one step on our journey to becoming horsewomen/men – we must continue to learn and improve and include other ideas and philosophies into our horsemanship toolkit.

Here are just a few areas I suggest need more attention because we do not often encounter these topics in the Natural Horsemanship circles and discussions.
1) Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness – There has been a great expansion into understanding the sidedness of a horse (left or right), where horses may have asymmetrical features, and a reminder (from classical horsemanship) that straightness is a key to longevity and proper movement. Understanding these issues can improve the performance and longevity of the horse. This is most especially important for further refining the use of the round pen that has strong ties to NH….we need to make certain that our work in the round pen (and riding) is done right for the progressive development of the horse and with a focus on improving its Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness.
2) BALANCE — Learn more about balance of the horse and balance of the rider. How the rider sits (straight or leaning) … how the rider uses her/his seat bones … all affect the balance of the horse. An imbalanced rider can put the horse out of balance and create situations that may lead to physical issues of the horse. Without balance … we have lameness, injury, and loss of longevity. There are also the ideas of mental and emotional balance that come into play especially for the rider and in some cases most certainly for the horse. We need to focus on seat and leg and understanding how the horse shifts its weight for balance and we need to discuss how the rider weight shifts can affect hose balance. We need to understand the physics of the head and neck in relation to balance of the balance parts for the horse. Additionally, the Classical Training scale speaks to relaxation as a key level of the training pyramid and most assuredly, in relaxation…the mind, body, and emotions can come into balance.
3) POSTURE — Increase our understanding and abilities to help horses (and riders) develop correct postures. First, we have to understand anatomy… bones and muscles and fascia … and then we need to understand a little more about form and function (how things look and how they work). Again back to the round pen use – we need to make sure that we are promoting good posture by the horse working in the round pen (simply running a horse continually in a counterbent form with the head up and the back hollowed out is not correct for posture). Further on about posture … we need to understand what pulling the head around by the reins while we are standing still (and then also while we are moving) may be doing to injure the neck of the horse.
4) Saddle/Tack Fit. Saddle Fit, bit shape, bit size, bit type, pad type, pad/saddle length, leg wraps … we need to stop and ask for evidenced based answers for how to select what is right for the horse. Just because a well-known NH person sells a saddle or bit or pad … does not mean it is right or the right fit for your horse. There are some really good NH people out there that do saddle fit correctly (I have seen them measure the saddle/tree to fit the horse) … and many know a great deal about bits … and in almost 95% of these situations where I have seen good happen in the area of saddle/tack fit – the horse is fitted directly for these pieces of tack (meaning that the saddle or bit is not bought at an expo or online – it is purchased with good guidance by the maker/seller).

I am not suggesting to anyone that we throw Natural Horsemanship methods away or that they are wrong….I AM suggesting that we need to take the next steps and focus on how we can further the conversation and do more (do better) for the horse.

There are a number of individuals and organizations that can help horse and rider gain more knowledge for the betterment of the horse. I know that my list here will not be complete … but I offer a number of people and organizations that I go to for further information to continue to advance my learning. Organizations – International Society for Equitation Science, riderfitness.com, Equinology, 4DimensionDressage International – to name just a few. People – Manolo Mendez, Thomas Ritter, Deb Bennett, Marijke de Jong, teachings of Sally Swift and Mark Russell — again this is a short list and there are so many more who are willing to educate for the benefit of the horse.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.
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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 http://www.dunmovinranch.com.

Lameness – Thoughts on how can you be better prepared to help your Veterinarian diagnose and treat your horse

Lameness – Thoughts on how can you be better prepared to help your Veterinarian diagnose and treat your horse

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

Lameness can be defined in many ways. One of my favorite definitions comes from a course I took that was taught by Dr. Carrie Schlachter (DVM) who defined lameness as – “a loss of balanced and fluid motion through a variety of movements, any alteration in a horse’s gait which creates asymmetrical movement, any change in performance level or pattern, any weakness that alters the normal performance level of a horse.”

In a lameness examination, the veterinarian will often proceed through these five steps:

  • Learn the history of the horse and the complaint about what is wrong with the movement.
    1. In this — it is important to be able to explain when you last felt or saw what is normal for the horse. Owners and Riders and Trainers often disagree on when normal was last seen so it is important to get input from everyone.
  • Perform a visual and physical examination – often referred to as a static exam.
    1. Touch and sight to see where the horse may have bumps, bruises, asymmetry, etc.
  • Perform a movement exam
    1. Visual and/or with diagnostic tools that are on the horse to measure the movement.
  • Further examination components to identify the diagnosis
    1. Can include nerve blocking and imaging (ultrasound, radiology, MRI, CT scan, nuclear scintigraphy)
  • Development of a treatment plan (which in some cases may also include a veterinarian recommended rehab plan)

Note: — As owners, trainers, and coaches …we can all be challenged at times with determining what leg is responsible for the lameness. One way to identify the responsible leg in the front end of the horse — is to remember, “down on the sound,” which is a way to remember that the horse’s head goes down when the sound leg is on the ground.

Those of us who see a horse each and every day can be regarded as experts on how a horse moves normally … but when things are not normal … we are often challenged to explain what the abnormality is in the movement of the horse. As we ride, we may feel something not right – again – it is the rider that understands the feel but it is sometimes difficult to explain what is off in the feeling of how the horse is moving.

Being prepared to explain what is normal for your horse:

This can be a challenge because not all of us use the same words to explain what we see or feel. Also, when anxiety creeps in when we have a lame horse … it can be difficult to remember everything we have felt or seen with this horse in the past days or weeks.

So how do we overcome this challenge of explaining normal – video can save the day. You can record (high quality video camera or your cell phone) and easily show your veterinarian what is normal. Many veterinarians are willing to look at a quick video (please have these videos easy to find and share) to help him/her see what your horse looks like normally.

With a focused protocol (such as this one recommended here) we can have a library (on our phone) of how our horse(s) moves normally. In all of these guidelines — make sure that you keep the entire horse in the view screen

  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a straight line filmed from behind (coming and going).
    1. 1 walk line of about 100 feet coming and going.
    2. 3 Trot lines of about 100 feet coming and going.
  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a straight line filmed from the side.
    1. 1 walk line of about 100 feet.
    2. 3 Trot lines of about 100 feet.
  • Video horse at Walk and Trot in a circle (film from inside or from outside the circle … just be consistent on position from where you film and make sure to capture the whole horse). These circles can be 10 to 30 feet in diameter.
    1. 1 circle at walk to the left.
    2. 3 Trot circles to the left.
    3. 1 circle at walk to the right.
    4. 3 trot circles to the right.
  • Capture the above straight lines and circles on both hard ground (packed dirt is okay) and on soft ground.
  • The above can be done in-hand (on the halter) and it is also a great idea to do these same videos with the normal rider on the back.
    1. When lameness is seen with the rider and not (or not as easily) with the horse moving in hand … there can be rider/tack related issues that are creating or enhancing the lameness.
      1. Some of these rider/tack issues can include saddle fit, rider balance, rein contact (rein lameness) …and maybe a few other issues that also need to be corrected while the horse is treated/in rehab.

The above protocol for capturing video is really helpful to use when you want to explain normal. You can capture video yearly, semi-annually, or quarterly (or more often if you wish).

For the suggestion of recording this video with the rider – this focused protocol is better than capturing video of a horse in a class/test at a show because at the show you do not have total control of the distance traveled, number of circles ridden or the aspect from which to video.

Other benefits of these videos include:  being able to see rider changes in position or balance, see rider changes in rein contact, and evaluate the progressive development of your horse in hand verses under saddle.

I know this blog gives you some guidance on how to be better prepared for a possible lameness in your horse.  You are welcome to share this blog post and thank you for reading.

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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.

 

 

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.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

by Dr. Mike Guerini

Say the words “lunge a horse” to a group of horse people and then ask what that means to each person and you will likely receive a wide variety of responses. Cherry Hill Horsemanship books define lunge work as “generally thought of as a means to either train a young horse or warm up an experienced horse before a ride, the benefits of and uses for longeing (lungeing) are so varied that it should be a part of the training and exercise program of all horses.” (LINK HERE). The responses vary based on the experience of the horseman/woman and his/her goals.

 

For example, an acquaintance of mine who shows AQHA halter horses sees lunge work as exercise for muscle building and developing tone and to keep her horse in condition. She practices her lunge work with a timer and works eight minutes each direction. This is what she knows and she bases the success of her lunge work on her ability to achieve her goals in halter competition.

 

Another friend of mine sees lunge work as a way to gain respect and submission of the horse. This person continues to develop more finesse with his body position and subtle aids while doing the round pen version of the lunge work. This friend is very interested in liberty training and sees the round pen as a tool to help develop the necessary connection for liberty work.

 

Another person I know shares the idea that lunge work is to get the horse to settle down and pay attention to the handler/rider. The lunge work can be used to take off some excess energy.

 

By these three examples – you can see each person has a different purpose in mind for lunge work. For the 10 or so years I have known each of these folks … there have been no significant changes in the way they lunge.

 

Over the course of the last 5 years, my understanding AND use of lunge work has evolved. This review will briefly explore three types of lunge work. There is the round pen lunge work favored by many of the Natural Horsemanship (NH) practitioners, lunge line work on a halter, and in-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson.

 

Round Pen Lunge work:

This is often used in early colt starting or working with a problem horse that is unable to be caught (they can be moved into a round pen) or a horse that is unsafe. There are many goals with this type of lunge work and I list some of them here:

  • “turn and face” or yield the hindquarters and teach respect
  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope)
  • Teaching horse to pay attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Stamina development, exercise, take off excess energy

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work at times when needed. When using this method, we look for body language or signs from the horse that help us know he/she is paying attention and ready to accept our leadership. There is a benefit for this work so long as the handler understands the purpose, has a goal, and does not use this as a form of punishment.

 

Scientific investigations of Round Pen work:

For a more detailed analysis of this work, I recommend you read work by Henshall and McGreevy (Click HERE) to begin your studies and if you are interested, contact me and I shall direct you to other resources.

 

Cautions for Round Pen work:

If our body language is not correct, we can confuse the horse. We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. Pressure and Release works — pressure motivates and the release is what trains the horse. We must be cautious when using flags and other such devices that we do not overdo the pressure or push to far that the release does not allow “training” to occur. There is a great deal of science on this topic of pressure and release/fear based training – and this will be discussed on another day.

 

Benefits for Round Pen work:

  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope) and aids
  • Teaching horse to give attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Establishing leadership by the human and the requisite obedience by the horse
  • Development of stamina (if done with interval training and not overwork of one side of the horse)

 

Lunge line work on a halter:

This is often used for a sending exercise and go forward work (possibly over/through a trail obstacle or near a “scary” object). This can also be used to “burn off excess energy,” and it is necessary for lunge line classes. Lunge work on a halter can also be used with an unruly horse to establish human leadership or to keep a horse moving its feet when you do not have a round pen in the local vicinity.

 

Much of what we do and think about lunge work on a halter is very similar to our lunge work in a round pen.

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work for teaching horses to go through/over a trail obstacle, load in a trailer, learn to lead…and many other applications. When using this method, we must be certain to keep our horse and ourselves safe.

 

Scientific investigations of Lunge line work on a halter:

From my review, it does not appear that a detailed scientific analysis has been conducted for this type of work on a lunge line.

 

Cautions for Lunge line work on a halter:

We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. We can also pull from the underside of the horse’s head and cause incorrect rotation of the cervical vertebrae if we pull to hard, to often, or with constant pressure. We can have a snap on the halter that some use to get the attention of the horse and that can be out of alignment with equine welfare standards if the snap hits the horse.

 

Benefits for Lunge line work on a halter:

  • Go forward over/through trail work
  • Proper training for lunge line classes
  • Trailer loading
  • Stamina development
  • Gain attention

 

In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

As a relative newcomer to the use of a cavesson or serrata…only discovering it in the past 2 years as I have learned from the works of Manolo Mendez, Jillian Kreinbring, Gerd Heuschmann, DVM, Klaus Schoneich … to name but a few….and I promise my journey of learning shall continue along this path.

 

This is a must read article (HERE) and this DVD (HERE) is a must for all who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of biomechanics of the horse.

 

Here are some online resources to read with respect to the lunge cavesson/serrata use and biomechanics (HERE) (HERE) (HERE) — these are but a few resources.

 

Personally, for me, the cavesson or serrata are tools to be used when the handler wants to focus on developing proper biomechanics. We can and should use the cavesson or serrata when we are interested in helping repair, rehabilitate, or develop the posture and shape of the horse so that we promote proper biomechanics for the health and welfare of the horse. The cavesson or serrata can enable the handler to give more focused guidance to the horse. This is also an excellent tool to use with long line work.

 

Scientific investigations of In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Peer reviewed articles were not found for this area of work although I can say that experts such as Dr. Kerry Ridgeway supported the use of the cavesson/serrata…but there needs to be scientific study of this in the future.

 

Cautions for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Not all cavesson/serrata are created equal. Some are clunky and heavy and some are ill fitting. In truth, work of this type must include scholarship/study of learned professionals. Manolo Mendez is one such professional that I urge everyone to listen to with respect to the cavesson/serrata. Personally, the Micklem Multibridle with a single center ring is my favored cavesson at this time for lunge work and one I travel with to every clinic and lesson. I also encourage all folks who use a cavesson to connect it to the lunge line through the use of a leather tie/buckle or cowboy snap….a metal clip can be

 

Benefits for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

  • Develop engagement
  • Work with horse to develop proper bend (through shoulder-in)
  • Work to develop proper tracking up and straightness/carriage
  • Work to develop forward/down/open stretch of the horse across its topline
  • Shoulder-In on the ground
  • Everything you can do with a normal halter/lunge line as well

 

Summary of best application for each when used properly:

Round Pen –  developing leadership and obedience early on in training, some use for stamina

Lunge line – go forward, work through obstacles or help with habituation, stamina

In-hand cavesson – biomechanics and refinement of posture development and rehabilitation of the horse and all other activities assigned to lunge on the halter.

 

This small write up here is meant to give you more “food for thought” so that you can choose the most appropriate tool(s) for working with your horse(s) that promote welfare and proper development. I have included multiple links for you to watch/read and encourage you to open dialogues with other equestrians as to the benefits of the lunge work you are using. If you cannot answer how the lunge work you are using benefits the welfare, safety, and learning of the horse — it may be time to rethink and refine your practices.

 

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, equestrian, and coach from California. Dr. Mike teaches in the Gilroy/San Jose California area, Stockton California area, and teaches private clinics in a few locations across the United States. www.dunmovinranch.com is the home website for Dr. Mike.

PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) 

Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM, PSSM, EPSSM) is an inheritable glycogen storage disease of horses that causes exertional rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood). It is most commonly associated with heavy horse breeds and the American Quarter Horse. PSSM can be managed with appropriate diet and exercise.

Horses with PSSM show fewer clinical signs if their exercise is slowly increased over time (i.e. they are slowly conditioned). The University of Minnesota Equine Center shares the following information —–

“For chronic cases, prolonged rest after an episode appears to be counterproductive and predisposes PSSM horses to further episodes of muscle pain. With PSSM it is NOT advisable to only resume exercise when serum Creatine Kinase activity is normal. Rather, horses should begin small paddock turn out as soon as reluctance to move has abated. Providing daily turn out with compatible companions can be very beneficial as it enhances energy metabolism in PSSM horses.” The University continues with more generalized information on some possible exercise programs.

All of us equine trainers and coaches and enthusiasts will agree that there is not one fix-all, cure-all, best system to use when we are working with a horse. Add muscle issues into the mix and it further complicates the planning of our work sessions.

We need to approach exercises with horses that exhibit PSSM with an wide spectrum of activities. When I say spectrum, I mean something that has quite a bit of variability in between the two extremes. In this case we can think of the spectrum of exercise from zero exercise (horse left to its own in a stall or paddock) to working a horse for let us say 4 hours at a time. These would be considered as extremes (zero to 4 hours of work).

As I have spent some time reading on PSSM, reviewing veterinary research articles and reading work from exercise physiology people, I have put together some ideas on how people who have horses affected by PSSM might begin to structure the best possible exercise experience for the horse.

While each horse is unique — these exercises and ideas below are provided as thinking points to expand where you and your horse might be. In all things….do what is right for the horse. Also – it is important to do these correctly.

I will break down my suggestions for the exercise process into these categories:

Observations of the Horse:

Hands on touching of the Horse:

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Working through stretching and strength building:

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

 

Observations of the Horse:

One of the skills that all horse owners and trainers need to develop is the ability through visual observation to notice changes in the horse. We start with looking for big changes and then we move towards looking for small changes. This takes time … but it is critical that we can assess on any given day how the horse is feeling. Movement is dynamic….when a horse is not moving….it is not able to keep proper circulation working and this leads to multiple other complications.

Many people who deal with PSSM horses or other horses with injury find that it is difficult to see the improvements or changes for the better. I recommend that people use video and photography to document changes in the horse. Sometimes when we look for changes each day we might miss them…but if we compare the look on days 1, 14 and 24….we are more likely to see the changes. When we can see what is happening…it helps us to know that we are making progress.

Observation is also critical when working the horse. The handler/rider needs to be able to easily monitor heart rate and respiration. Chart the heart rate and respiration for the horse and work so that the increase in a week is no more than 10% to 15% of the maximal output from the week before.

Hands on touching of the Horse:

We need to be familiar with how the horse feels at any point in time. This includes how the horse feels before, during, and after exercise. My number one recommendation for horses that have muscle issues is for the handler to become familiar with the muscle or muscles that are affected. Become familiar by having your hands on these muscles and feel for tightness, looseness, heat, and changes in ability to stretch. Hands on compliments the observations.

Masterson Method and TTouch methods immediately come to mind for me as ways in which horse owners can learn how muscles feel and how to assess their current state.

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Warm up may be 3 to 5 minutes and it very much depends on the capability of the horse. For those that are not being ridden, this will be ground work. For those being ridden, it may include ground work and/or saddle time.

Let us begin with some ground work exercises and where this can help. I strongly advocate for mixing and matching groundwork over the days of the week.

Lunge work: For this we do not want speed. Walk and trot is just fine, canter can happen if the horse feels it is right and gives you signs (such as the horse decides to canter). With Walk and Trot we want to focus on consistent tempo…we do not want to be varying the beats per minute…we want consistent beats per minute. We do not want to work the same direction for any long period of time. Switch directions after every 60 seconds. Be very observant as to signs of stress and signs of muscle fluidity and motion. Work to keep the horse balanced and upright on the lunge.

In-hand (halter or bridle) groundwork:

This can include walk and whoa work. In hand trotting may be appropriate if the handler and horse have a similar tempo. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. In hand stretch work to include walking in stretchy circles or lines is appropriate.

Riding Warm-up:

This can include walk and whoa work and some trotting. The key here is to have consistent tempo to the gait. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work much like I suggested for the Ground work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. Lateral work can be added as the horse advances.

Working through stretching and strength building:

One of the keys in the work plan is to take a properly warmed up horse and focus on exercises that can help gymnasticize the horse.

Here are a series of movements and some guidance as to why you do them. Some of these may be appropriate…but I must urge you to remember that each horse is different and by your observation and touch and re-evaluation through the warm-up period you (and possibly your trainer/coach) will know what is best for the horse.

Stretch work exercises:

Leg yield

Shoulder-in

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines

Balance exercises:

Transitions (from walk to trot – doing so every 10 strides (or a count of ten))

Shoulder In

Circles

Figures of 8

Adjustability of the horse range of motion: (this is for horses that are freely moving)

Lengthen and extend the gaits. Slow walk, normal walk, fast walk (speed is tempo = beats per minute)

Engagement and Strengthening of the hind end:

Walking pirouette

Walk over ground poles

Trot over ground poles

Turn on the forehand

Slow spirals

Increasing mobility and Strengthening of the shoulders:

Walk pirouette

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines (15 to 16’ difference between top and bottom of serpentine)

 

These are only examples and may not be right for you and your horse….

but hopefully they give you some food for thought.

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse not being ridden

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Walk and Whoa and Trot Work over trot poles & change from walk to trot Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Tuesday Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk and trot with horse over ground poles & Lunge 3 to 5 minutes Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on haunches & Slow spirals Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Friday Walk and Whoa and Trot in straight lines Go for a long walk down a straight road for 10 minutes. Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Saturday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on forehand & Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down

 

 

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse being ridden – low to moderate issues

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Ground work Lunge Walk pirouette & 10 stride transitions

 

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines
Tuesday Shallow loop serpentines Lengthen and extend the gaits &

Turn on the forehand

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Walk to trot transitions Slow spirals &

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines at walk
Friday Ground work walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk pirouette & Walk and trot over ground poles

 

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Saturday Figures of 8 at walk and trot Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines &

10 stride trot to walk transitions

Shallow loop serpentines at walk

 

 

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

The cool down is very key. We need to take horses with PSSM and muscle issues through a process of cooling down that includes making sure all the muscles are loose and that the horse has a range of motion for all major muscle groups. Cool down and recovery time still needs (as you see from above) bending and turning and working to a full range of motion at the walk.

 

The above are just some examples and thoughts that I have put together after reading a great many sources of information.

 

The keys to this article: 1) Keep your work to a reasonable amount of time 15 to 45 minutes … and this depends on the needs and welfare and ability of your horse.

2) Change things up and use a variety of exercises so that you work multiple muscle groups.

3) Observe and touch your horse to better understand how he/she is feeling and where there might be tightness.

 

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, supporting member of the International Society of Equitation Science (www.equitationscience.com), author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in Performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding your 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.