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.

 

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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.

 

 

Horseback Riding and Karate – Guest Blog by Amanda Shores

We start the month of July 2015 with a guest blog by Amanda Shores, a young equestrian, author, and literary student from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Amanda also teaches lessons and volunteers at Perfect Fit Equine Rescue in Morgan Hill California. Thank you to Amanda for these great words of wisdom.

by: Amanda Shores

Horseback riding is not to be isolated from other sports. Though it may seem as though it’s a solitary sport with no connections to anything else, I can assure you it’s not. Not even close. I am both a horseback rider and black belt in karate, and I can honestly say that my karate experience has contributed greatly to my riding physically and mentally.

Riding requires great flexibility and athleticism. Riders can obtain this through karate, as it involves – first and foremost – conditioning. With conditioning, one is training his or her body, building muscle. In order to hold oneself in a steady, poised position while riding (as in not letting the core sag or the arms grow fatigued) the rider needs to have toned arms, legs, and core muscles. Karate’s strength training (running, push-ups, sit-ups, etc) is perfect for this. As for flexibility, I know what I am constantly stretching; if I did not stretch, I would likely injure myself. But it is not simply the stretching that creates this flexibility. It is apparent in my kicks (which rotate the core, the lower back, and the legs) and my punches (which, as my instructor frequently stated, “Stretch the muscles”).

As a result of my karate experience, I am more flexible than I would have been if I just jumped onto my horse and rode without any preparation or martial arts background. My muscles would lock up and restrict my movement, effectively killing all potential for muscle control and coordination in riding. I have seen riders who have trouble stretching their heels down due to tight calves. This can potentially be prevented with karate’s stretches, conditioning, and movements. 

Horseback riding also has much to do with mentality, just like karate. In both sports, breathing exercises are necessary to clear the mind and relax the tension in the body. In both sports, keeping a level head is of the utmost importance – because if a person is caught on a spooking or bolting horse or is attacked by a stranger on the street, that person needs to be able to think quickly and assess the situation in order to keep everything under control. The horse could potentially throw the rider and the stranger could potentially kill the victim, but only if there is a lack of mental preparedness.

Discipline, conditioning, and endurance can provide a rider with all the tools he or she needs in order to control all movement and coordinate both mind and body. This can make the difference between good riding and great riding. Karate can be used to help here. 

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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/).

How does your Horsemanship Measure Up?

How Does your Horsemanship Measure Up?

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

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2015 is here and it is time to start a new year of horsemanship.  How did you do last year? Did you meet all your goals? Do you recall what your goals were for 2014? How did you measure your progress throughout the year and from ride to ride?

Here are five ideas that will help you keep track of your 2015 Horsemanship successes and measurements.

1) Keep a Journal.   Keep track of your daily rides and look back each month and see where you have been and where you are going.  Here is a great resource from the team at Equine Hydro-T for tracking your horsemanship throughout the year.  Click HERE.

2) Use Video to check your progress.  Take videos at the beginning and end of each month.  Sit down and watch the videos and review your progress.  In addition to your own personal review, submit a video to Coach’s Corral www.coachscorral.com and get a coaching review of your riding.  Once you have learned how to video yourself and work on areas you want to improve upon, check in with me and I promise to share with you some of the options available for Virtual showing.

3) Measure your horse’s stride.  Are you working on extensions or rhythm, balance, timing, and cadence.  Rake off a clean area where you ride then walk, trot and lope and measure the length of stride.  Make sure you know how long a stride is normal for your horse.  Maybe your horse has not stretched out…measure and keep track and see if your current plan is helping your horse improve.

4) Time your circles. Are you working on that perfect 20m circle.  Take a stopwatch and time how long it takes you to ride each 20m circle (helps if a friend does the timing).  A consistently sized and shaped circle where the horse is moving with the same timing — will always have the same time show up on the stopwatch.

5) Chart your show progress.  If you are involved in Dressage, keep track of your scores and look for trends of improvement on certain aspects of your ride.  Pay close attention to the comments section of the tests and see if you are getting dinged for the same errors or problems.  If you are into reining, cowhorse, or trail — take the time to get your score sheets (if available) and review them after each show and each month.

Welcome to 2015 and make sure that you set yourself up for success by measuring how well you and your horse are doing.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Information!

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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/).

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.

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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 (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).

Equine Winter Sports that Need to be added to the Olympics. – Some Humor

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

The 2014 Winter Olympics kicked off and I was thinking it would be much more exciting if we added some equine winter sports.  Let’s face it — horse care in the winter is tough but if you think of it as a sport — it gets easier. Everyone who lives in snowy and muddy areas know what I am talking about. So I decided to make a list of Equine Winter Sports that need to get into the Olympics. Since Curling is a winter Olympic sport…we certainly can add some equine related sports. I hope this gives you a chuckle.

1) Skijoring. Of course this is for real and I have seen it practiced in Montana.  The person wears skis and holds tug lines attached to the horse’s harness. Think of this as ground driving on skis…but with some speed. Helmet recommended!

2) Feeding on a sheet of ice. This requires wind-blown ground (ice), and you must be carrying at least 25 pounds of hay in your arms and have a wind of at least 20 miles an hour blowing against you. The hay must be deposited in the feeder and you get penalized for every pound of hay you left between the storage shed and the feeder.

3) Repairing the frozen water trough. So the water trough has iced over and is not working. In 60 seconds or less you must be able to find the hammer and crescent wrench (bonus points if they reside in your jacket pocket), break the ice, remove the tank de-icer, put in a new tank de-icer and not even get your work clothes (those that you need to wear to the office) dirty.

4) The Mud Dance. This is completed with one mud boot sucked off into the deepest bog of mud on the planet, you are hoping along the fence to go open or close that gate. You get ten bonus points when you finally just roll up your pant leg and put your bare foot into the mud.

5) Trenching. This is a real sport for us in muddy areas.  Pooled water not draining out of the turnout pens…with shovel in hand you dig trenches all over the property.  Overhead views of this look like the gophers have gone crazy…bonus points are awarded if you try to make designs with your trenches. Bonus points are given for spelling words or getting this photographed and printed so you can enter the photo at the country fair.

6) Poop sickle removal. Can you a) break poop of the snowy frozen ground without ruining the manure fork, b) get the poop into a wheelbarrow or other transport device, c) get the poop to the manure pile, and d) return to the barn before the next pile of manure freezes to the ground.

I wish you all warm thoughts and look forward to what you add to this list.  I have lived in mud and snow…I have competed in all of these events and consider myself ready for the Olympics. Wait you ask – “did you compete in skijoring,” why yes I did but I forgot the skis and so made do with my feet until those gave out and then my knees and finally I realized it was time to let go of the lead shank.

Stay safe in this winter weather my friends.

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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 http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).