Thinking on Balanced Horsemanship and Equine Welfare

by Dr. Mike Guerini, www.dunmovinranch.com

Balanced Horsemanship

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

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Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts

Riding Both Sides of your Horse  — 5 Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

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

Ballroom dancing with the Cha-Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Tango, and Waltz are just a few examples of dances that we all recognize.  Many of us know how to Line Dance, Square Dance and I bet a few others are very skilled at other dance forms.  Archeological evidence for early dance includes 9,000 year old paintings in India at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dated c. 3300 BC. Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were domesticated and when they were first ridden, the best estimate is that horses first were ridden around 4500 BC.

With Horse riding and Dancing –  we are dealing with two activities that have stood the test of time.  We hear and read about people “Dancing with Horses” so the merging of these two activities is known.

Here are four reasons that a little Dancing goes a long way in helping you with your Horsemanship.

Footfalls – Dancing has much to do with footfalls.  Your feet need to work independently, taking metered steps, change with the time and the tempo, and your feet need to flow across the dance floor.

In riding horses, one of the major keys to success are knowing and working with the footfalls of your horse.  When we take the time to learn to dance, we learn how to control our footfalls and we learn the biomechanics of how our body works.  By understanding how our body works – we are better prepared for riding correctly and using our rider aids to influence the footfalls of the horse.

When we are doing ground work – having proper footfalls helps us get in time and in tune with our horse. We succeed in our ground work, when we put our feet in the correct position to aid the horse in the movement.  If we are off balance or our feet are in the way—the horse cannot move correctly.

Coordination – Riding a horse or working with your horse from the ground takes coordination.  By learning how to dance – we learn how our body moves and we build better coordination.  Our hands and legs and seat all might need to move independently in a dance routine…much like what we might need to do when riding with finesse.

Mind – When we dance, we must learn a routine or plan (sometimes in the moment) how we are going to move. If we are dancing with a partner – we certainly must plan what we are going to do or we wind up bumping into each other.  Dancing helps us use our mind to think and plan our next move.  If we are standing on our left leg and need to go left, we have to plan how to shift our weight and move our body….. and we need to have this same level of planning in our horsemanship when we ride or do ground work.

Teamwork – Many forms of dance require a partner.  Horsemanship is the ultimate dance where both partners communicate with subtle touches, changes in contact, and often times — silent communication.  With a human dance partner we work as a team with one partner leading and the other following that guidance.

Want to improve your horsemanship – grab your husband, wife, boy/girlfriend, or find a willing friend or stranger and learn to dance and practice your dancing.  You will notice improved control of your own footfalls, a better understanding of how your body moves, enhanced coordination with your body, better mental planning, and improved teamwork.  Your horse will thank you for doing your homework and you just might enjoy the time.

Thanks for reading this blog and please share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

5 Benefits of Riding Bareback

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

Last week I set a goal of riding bareback for seven days straight. I selected one horse for this learning opportunity and I myself asked the question — “What do I need to do to improve my riding?” As a Horsemanship Coach it is really important that I do what I urge others to do when riding. I tell people that they need to ride bareback to help them improve their skills. Two good friends of mine in Missouri (Thanks Keith and Lynne) always reminds me that I must share with people why something is important. So this was my opportunity to refresh my memory as to why riding bareback is important and share this with all of you.

The horse I selected is young but she is a very good teacher.  So here are the five benefits (lessons) I reminded myself about during my week of bareback riding.

1) Feel the Horse and you know when to apply your aides. When I can feel the horse, especially the footfalls, I know the right time to apply the aide or cue.  For example, if the horse is leaning to the right and I want the horse to go left, I first must ask for the adjustment of the horse so that she becomes straight then I can apply an aide asking for the horse to go left. Often times people make the comment “My horse was behind the aide, or My horse was late in the transition”. Both of these comments are wrong.  The rider did not give the aide at the proper time or the rider did not position the horse for success.  Feeling the horse beneath you helps you know when to ask or what to adjust before you ask.

2) Balance comes from my core. My legs can help me sit on the horse but they are not for balance. My hands…ESPECIALLY MY HANDS…when connected to the reins and thus the bit are NOT for balance.  My hips, stomach, chest, shoulders and head are the key parts that keep me balanced. Riding bareback reminded me of the importance of my core. The sad news is I think there is a need for a few more sit-ups in my future to strengthen my core.

3) Soft hands that I keep in front of me are another key to lightness and balance. If I am riding with my core for balance and I keep my hands down low and in front of me, I achieve lightness and soft hands. Lightness and soft hands are what we all want. Sure we want contact and connection be we really want this to be the lightest and softest. Many times we ride around pulling our hands up to our chest or chins…that is not lightness and in fact…most riders doing this are using their hands to keep them balanced (and this is bad..see point 2 above). If your hands get up past your belly button … you are getting them into a bad position.

4) My lower legs (calf area) are best for giving my leg aides. Often riders, myself included at times, rely on our heel for the aide.  We either push or poke with our heel or spur.  When we do this we sometimes mess up our balance or worse yet…have our toes start to point down.  The first aide that we should give and teach the horse to acknowledge is the calf.  Soft aides from our calf help us stay balanced.  After the calf if we need more, then we can use our heel or spur by rotating at the ankle ever so slightly.

5) I can evaluate the training of my horse. When I ride bareback I find that I get much more in tune with my horse. I find those areas where my training is not complete because I can feel the horse move, ask for my aides at the correct time, keep my hands soft and low, use proper leg aides, and stay balanced….when I am doing all these things then I have to look to my training of the horse if I am not getting the response I want. Remember — if the horse is not responding correctly…it is our fault. So first I have to make sure I am doing everything correctly then I can address if my training is correct or not.

I thank you for the opportunity to share this information with all of you.  As always, I look forward to your comments.

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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).