Riding in Competition – 3 Keys for dealing with mistakes

Riding in Competition – 3 Keys for dealing with mistakes

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

One of the things that I encourage my students and those I coach to remember is that the class is never over until you leave the arena. All too often I see riders have something happen that they know is a deduction or a penalty and you can immediately see things further deteriorate in the ride. Sometimes it looks like the rider just gives up. In other situations the rider takes a really hard line with the horse and decides to school right there in the show pen without any thought as to how to fix the error…the rider simply begins to poke and pull and let that horse know it made a mistake.

So for all the students that allow me to be part of their coaching staff…and for those of you here who take the time to read my blogs, I would like to share my 3 keys to overcoming those mistakes.

1 – Let go of the mistake – be a resilient rider. This sounds easy but we all know it is a struggle. The mistake has happened and we cannot time travel backwards…we need to go forward. We must condition ourselves in the practice pen at home to ride through our mistakes. All too often at home or in the practice pen/arena we stop and begin analyzing. While analyzing is good, we need to learn to let go of the mistake at home and ride forward.

Another way of thinking about this is that while showing you must be resilient. Resilience is key to overcoming performance errors. When we are resilient, we keep our composure, work to be consistent, stay positive, and show confidence. Resilient riders let go of the error and get back to the next maneuver. When we are resilient, we become more consistent and in truth,…consistent riding helps us win.

2 – Practice how to correct mistakes at home – and be able to make corrections immediately in the show pen. I certainly make my share of mistakes at home when riding. So rather than stop and fuss about the mistake, I have taught myself and those I coach, to be able to feel the mistake and immediately make the correction. Maybe it is not exactly a mistake yet but you feel that the horse is slowing and going to break gait (YAY – you are feeling it about to happen), well do something before it happens. As a coach, 9 times out of 10, I can see what is going to happen before it happens and I know with practice at home…we can refine our feel and be ready to catch those issues and make a correction before it happens.

For example, if your horse picks up the wrong lead, be able to switch the horse back to the correct lead instantly. This gets easier when you build muscle memory at home by riding through the problem and getting it fixed. Another example is when your horse gets moving too fast…learn at home how you can slow your horse down without it becoming a pull fest on the reins (some suggestions include, moving the haunches a bit off the straight line, lowering your energy, relax your seat bones, etc.). Spend the time at home to have a toolbox of ideas and ways to correct the mistake.

3 – Keep Breathing – because you need your brain to be working. It has been said that “Breathing is the greatest pleasure in life” and we all know that breathing is a very powerful tool for riders. Your body needs oxygen to function properly. If you are not breathing, you are not getting oxygen to your muscles and nervous system (that which helps you feel) or other vital organs such as your brain and eyes. To overcome mistakes you need to be able to feel and see what is happening and most importantly think by using your brain. Remember all that practice work to learn to ride and feel your horse…well if you do not breathe, your brain does not think properly and if you hold your breath in frustration after a mistake…your ability to think is compromised.

Keep these three keys in mind as you practice and apply them at your next competition. I am quite certain that if you add these to your riding philosophy — you will see it pay off in the show/competition pen and arena.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I thank you for sharing this blog with your friends and family.


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 (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 (www.hydrot.com).

Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

by Dr.Mike Guerini, Ph.D


Last year about this time I published a blog sharing my thoughts on the future of Western Dressage (WD). You can read that blog posting HERE. Well another year has passed and there are some pretty exciting things still happening.


  1. Train the Trainer programs are being taught around the United States and in Canada by Western Dressage Association of America.
  2. Cowboy Dressage (CD) has huge shows, particularly in California with over 400 entries on a weekend.
  3. North American Western Dressage is a leader in Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage Virtual Shows.
  4. Judges training seminars are being held for both Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage.


We have a great deal to be excited about and the future continues to look promising for Western and Cowboy Dressage Competition….and that is what has me a bit worried.  The future looks really good for discipline specific competition — Now I am a bit worried about us all developing a One Trick Pony.  That is to say we are focused only on showing our Western Horse in CD or WD and reporting those results.


Now I will stand up and say that neither WD nor CD is a trick.  Both teach so many skills.  You may think I am using the term “One Trick Pony” a bit harshly but I sure want to get everyone’s attention and make sure we advance this conversation.


When I first heard about the Western Dressage Organization being formed in 2011 I was pretty darn excited.  The chance to have very open discussions and educational opportunities in discussing Dressage and how it applies to developing a high quality horse ridden in a Western Saddle — EXCITING. Sure, Western Dressage specific tests are a good thing but at this time there is very limited conversation on how Riders and Trainers and Coaches are using Western (and Cowboy) Dressage to build a better Western Horse that has longevity (long term soundness of body and mind).


Many of the CD and WD clinics are specific for how to prepare to ride a test.  I would say that if we work on the foundation basics necessary for developing a good working horse, apply the Training Scale and Dressage Principles from Classical Horsemanship – we can ride a CD or WD dressage test without any significant problems. Sure the memorization of the test or following the direction of the reader might be tough — but we certainly do not need to school on the test – we should be building our horses to succeed in a test by focusing on our foundation work.  What we learn in these clinics is how to navigate the dressage court (and trust me I have made my share of mistakes there both as a rider and reader so I benefit from a few of these lessons).


We want to push ourselves to be more than riding drones in a test…we want to be adaptive.  Think about issues within our educational system here in the US where many students are taught just what they need to know to pass a standardized test. Since I spent many years in school to gain my Doctorate, I can speak with some authority that the real world needs us to be able to analyze, adapt, and figure our way out of situations with our foundation skill and knowledge sets – there was never a class I took or research experiment I conducted that gave me the answers for everything.  We need to remember that learning the foundation principles are our goal and that we need to celebrate and ride with those abilities each day.


How do we continue on this pathway of success with CD and WD and make sure we are not developing just a One Trick Pony?

1. We need to discuss, share, educate, and celebrate how development of a proper bend, circle size control, collection, extension — can benefit other western disciplines.

Here is an example of how to apply this suggestion. Reining and Cowhorse competitions have a pattern that requires a circle, most often a large fast and small slow. This is a great opportunity to develop a Reiner or Cowhorse that lasts longer in the show world by guiding our training and coaching using Dressage, and more specifically how WD and CD can help make this a success.

For this I am planning on sharing each month (maybe more often) how a particular aspect of a CD or WD test is also used in other western performance disciplines or can be useful in helping us develop a better performance horse. Likely I will start sharing this on my FB page and website but if you are interested in getting notified or helping me build this resource – let me know by dropping me an email to michael@dunmovinranch.com.

2. Further develop the systems to celebrate the rider/horse combinations that are excelling in WD/CD AND other Western Performance activities.

I am quite pleased to see one of my mentors leading this charge. Charles Wilhelm has developed the Ultimate Super Horse Challenge (Click HERE for more info) and it includes Cowboy Dressage in the competitions…along with some other pretty darn nifty things necessary to develop the best horse and rider team.  I encourage people to participate int he Ultimate Super Horse Challenge either as a rider or spectator.  For the leaders of WD and CD – this is your chance to step up and reach beyond what you are already doing and develop reward systems and competitions that showcase how fabulous CD and WD are for building the ALL AROUND HORSE. Working Equitation does this to some extent…but I bet the leaders of WD and CD can do more.

3. We need people to speak up and share how the horse they took a CD/WD test on last Saturday is in competition for reining on Sunday, or on a trail ride on Tuesday, or teaching the grandkids a lesson or two about riding, or taking on a new challenge with the human partner. Share how your horse is not just a One Trick Pony.

4. We need to promote freestyle work even more. Each horse and rider is unique and Freestyle riding tests can sure demonstrate how riders and horses can be creative and showcase their teamwork.

5. We need to make a challenge test that is set up day of show. Be creative and set it up to challenge horse and rider to be a team that has skills they can draw upon to adapt and succeed. There are many smart people in CD and WD who can take parts of different tests and bring them together into a challenge that you do not get time to practice before the actual test. In my opinion this is the goal of developing an All Around horse and rider.  This is where success in CD and WD, the competition part, will show the success of horse and rider as a team.


Like I said a year ago — Western Dressage, like Classical Dressage, IS about GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. This year I will add that with Good Horsemanship we develop and nurture horses that can do many different things.


In full disclosure I am a Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the WDAA, Professional member of NAWD, and friend to Cowboy Dressage.  I like what these organizations are doing and look forward to them doing even more.  Each organization has said they have a role in education of the western rider – more education is needed for all of us to become the All Around Rider and develop our All Around Horse.

Push yourself as a rider and lead/ride/train your horse safely compassionately while you develop a great Horse partner.


Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!


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 (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 (www.hydrot.com).

Ground Work Benefits for Horsemanship — Demystified

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

We have all seen people working their horses doing “ground work”. Many have sticks, dressage whips, or other implements in their hands. Along with this tool comes a halter and special leadshank in some cases. Often, “doing ground work” is synonymous with natural horsemanship practices and has been called “that fancy stuff.” Well I will step forward and say — I firmly believe in ground work and know it can help you no matter your riding style or ability….because most importantly it can help the horse.

Sometimes folks think Ground work is not useful…or just not right for them…or their horse does not need this work because it is broke…or it takes to long to do…or it takes planning…or it is confusing…you get the idea.

For the purpose of this blog I will place ground work into two categories: 1) Lunge line work and 2) In-Hand/Haltered Ground Work. Certainly driving horses with long lines from the ground is a form of ground work that I have practiced and think is an excellent addition to training programs for riding and driving but I will just speak to Lunge work and In-Hand/Haltered work in this write up.

Lunge work can be done at the end of a long line or in a round pen (with freedom). In any case, this has been a long practiced activity when starting horses. Here we are seeking walk, trot, canter from the horse, a halt/whoa, and turns either towards or away from the handler. Certainly more can be done and additions include backing on the rail, stopping on the rail…etc.

In-Hand/Haltered Ground work involves having the horse either haltered or with a bridle (very loose term used her for bridle to include bitless, snaffle, curb, bosal, etc) and the handler working with the horse in close proximity. The key elements to accomplish here are walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip (Turn on Forehand), and a haunch turn (Turn on the Haunches). We can add in Haunches left and right, Shoulders left and right and quite a few other elements…but suffice it to say these Big 6 (walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip and a haunch turn) are the keys to successful use of In-Hand/Haltered Ground Work. As an important note to add- when doing ground work or lunge line work…make sure you work both sides of the horse equally.

In each of the below examples, I present in parenthesis, how much of this type of work I do either on the Lunge Line or In-Hand/Haltered.

Here are Eight ways that Ground Work can Help the Horse and Rider/Handler:

1) Early life lessons for the colt to learn to lead and give respect. This is accomplished with haltered ground work and for the most part we want to have that young colt walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip and do a haunch turn. This type of ground work is one that we all do if we are ever involved with a young horse. This is especially important for safety of horse and handler and much needed for the veterinarian/farrier visits. Some of you right now might be saying to me — Mike…say it isn’t so…I have been telling people I do not practice ground work but you have just defined working with baby horses as involving Ground Work…sorry my friends, it is so.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 100%)

2) Colt Starting/Re-training for Riding. This includes in-hand/haltered ground work and Lunge work.  Here we are working the horse to achieve respect, stamina (walk, trot, canter), and to begin to develop athletic skills that are coordinated with rider aides. Lunge work gets us stamina and respect and in-hand/haltered ground work gets us a strong foundation for success in the saddle by teaching the horse aides we will use in the saddle while we are still on the ground and achieving respect. This helps the rider get an idea of how the horse will respond before we get in that saddle…and as I get older I like to have a bit of early information on what I might anticipate. (In-Hand/Haltered – 60%; Lunge Line – 40%)

3) Assessing & Improving Biomechanics.  Here we can learn how the horse moves its legs and feet. How the joints are flexed. The assessment can take less than 60 seconds and can find issues.  Recently I had a friend show up with her reining horse. I watched him move on the ground and commented about how he flexed his rear leg. My friend told me he was always sticky that way and that it had been there for as long as she could recall and that her National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) trainer had not commented much about this.  In 15 minutes, we had the horse improving its ability to move the hind leg and even more exciting — the horse ran some better patterns the following week during practice and the NRHA trainer was glad to see the improvement and asked what happened. Ground work happened and it helped improve the horse and this will likely keep the rider and horse safer because when the horse moves fluidly, there is less risk for injury or stumbles.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

4) Warm-up.  For the older horse (and older rider), a bit of movement on the ground before getting in the saddle can help limber up the legs and get the circulation moving better. This does not need to take a long time, 2 to 10 minutes is all you might need.  This can either benefit from in-hand/haltered or lunge line ground work.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 70%; Lunge Line – 30%)

5) Halter Horse Muscle/Tone Building.  Un-ridden horse being shown in halter needs good muscle development. Lunge work is great for building up those muscles. Add in a little in-hand/haltered ground work for those necessary pivots and the benefit of having a respectful horse and ground work is helping you here. (In-Hand/Haltered – 15%; Lunge Line – 85%)

6) Teaching Adults and Youth.  Starting people can take as much time as starting a young horse. People need to learn how to move a horse and how the horse responds. As a kid I jumped in the saddle or rode bareback without ever thinking of ground work. I had no fear and went with the horse for the thrill of riding. But today I am finding more people aged 50+ who are excited to come into the world of horses for the first time in their lives. They are stepping forward to acheive a life-long goal. Many want to take things slowly and learn from the ground up so here, in-hand/haltered as well as lunge work are great for helping them build confidence, gain experience, and most importantly learn safety.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 80%; Lunge Line – 20%)

I would like to stress that anyone who considers him or herself a horse trainer, coach, educator, or mentor about horses and likes to share should make sure they have some ground work tools to use since sometimes it is safer for a horse when people begin their education on the ground.

I am especially pleased to be able to direct you to the Cowboy Dressage Youth: Amateur Partnership On the Ground program (Click HERE) as a great example of youth education starting including work with horses from the Ground Up. Thanks to the Cowboy Dressage team for including this in their program.

7) Rehabilitation from Injury.  Many of us have had a horse get a leg injury that required stall rest.  As that horse comes back from injury it needs to get range of motion, circulation, flexibility and muscle tone to build back up.  This is almost always done with hand walking and needs in-hand ground work.  I have worked for a few veterinarians and been involved in rehab work and I can say with 100% certainty, a horse that responds to ground work and has a strong foundation in ground work generally has an easier time during the rehabilitation process…because the horse is better prepared to be worked with on the ground.(In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

8) Pre-Ride Check.  Sixty (60) seconds is all this takes.  Check the horse range of mobility of joints, listen to and watch the footfalls, and know if you have an issue before you get on. Many of the old timers I have ridden with do this simply by being quiet as they walk the horse to the saddling location and listen to the horse and feel it move behind/beside them.  They know by the skip of a hoof if there might be an issue or if the horse needs more riding work on one side or another.  Some of the barns of old timers I have been in have a great rule … no radio and no cell phone. They require…no strike that…demand that you put your attention on that horse and not be distracted. The old timers did this without lunge work…simple walking along and making a turn or two and stopping is all they needed but sometimes they would do just a bit more.  This pre-ride check lets you measure up the physical, mental, and emotional state of the horse. (In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

Thanks to everyone for reading and I look forward to your thoughts on what I have shared with you regarding my ideas and philosophy on the use and benefits of Ground Work in Horsemanship.

Special Thanks to Lauren Michele Mcgarry for speaking with me about this Blog.


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 (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 (www.hydrot.com).

Muscle Memory and Horse Riding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).