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.

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.

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – some suggestions and thoughts

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – it is a journey

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com

When I show up to give a lesson or teach a clinic, riders often ask me what my secret is too getting collection. Many times people call me and ask if I can come and help them get their horse collected better. After about 2 minutes on the phone – much of the time the person tells me they just want better collection and do not think they need to work on balance and self-carriage. There are times when I hear – well what bit do you use to get collection?

I know that I often frustrate folks when I tell them that to achieve collection…it is long hours of proper development of horse and rider … in terms of muscle and timing (and a great many other things) … to develop collection. I go on to tell them that collection comes after we learn and achieve balance and progress into self-carriage.  I also tell folks that no bit and no amount of pull by the riders hands is ever the answer to collection.

Balance is the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling and it is a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

Self-Carriage is defined as a time when the horse is balanced (has independent balance as stated by Manolo Mendez) and self-maintains his own rhythm, tempo, stride length, straightness, outline and rein and leg contact and engagement.  The horse still needs guidance from hands and legs and core and seat of the rider — but the horse is taking care of balance to them be able to work in a dynamic way.

Just a quick side note — see how self-carriage relies on balance?

Collection Collection occurs when a horse carries more weight on the hind legs than the front legs. The horse draws its body together so that it becomes like a giant spring whose stored energy can be reclaimed for fighting or running from a predator. The largest organic spring in the horse’s body, and therefore the easiest one to observe in action, is the back, including the spine and the associated musculature that draws it together in much the same way that a bow is drawn by an archer. (Collection can only come from a horse allowed and able to move freely – having learned to carry himself through training which lets him develop his own balance and rhythm. – March 24, 2014 by Caroline Larrouilh in an article written and published on the Manolo Mendez website).

So let us get to the point.  I have stated that no amount of pull of the hands, size or type of bit, or even one or two lessons will ever get you perfect collection.  It takes development of balance, which in turn leads to self-carriage that finally allows you to work on the finesse of aids and timing that will help you and your horse achieve collection.

Here are five exercises that I highly recommend you master on your journey to collection. There will be days in which you are excellent in your mastery of these activities…and other days will not be as great…but it is the dedication to the work and development of the horse that will ultimately lead you to success.

Exercise #1:  Learn the footfalls of your horse.  Quite simply, from the ground or when you are in the saddle.  Be able to call out what each foot is doing at any time in the rhythm of the movement of the horse.

Exercise #2:  Learn to direct the footfalls of the horse. Once you know where the footfall is, then you can begin to direct it to change time in flight and landing placement. This ability will help you with developing the rear engagement of your horse that you will need to achieve before we get to collection.

As you do these two above exercises, in the first you are developing yourself as a rider. In the second, you are developing yourself and your horse to work in harmony and partnership.

Exercise #3:  Learn to do the first two exercises without the use of stirrups. You need to make certain that as a rider you can feel the horse and work with the horse and not have your balance compromised by using your stirrups as a crutch.  You need to be able to  balance with your whole body on the back of the horse. You also need to be able to post without your stirrups and achieve the goals of exercise 1 and 2 above (and yes for all the western riders – posting is encouraged at times). You cannot be heavy on your seat bones…you cannot be heavy on your legs…you cannot be heavy with your thighs.  You must be balanced.  (Just the other day Mark Russell said the rider needed to be like a champagne bubble riding on the back of the horse – yes that would be a nice picture of a balanced champagne bubble that did not have the rider leaning on seat or legs or feet or thighs…but rather, the rider would be in a perfect state of harmony and balance on the back of the horse).

Exercise #4: Do the above three exercises with the lightest amount of contact…and occasionally, release any of your contact and determine if your horse maintains the rhythm and tempo.  This exercise begins to tie in a measure of how much self-carriage you are achieving…and remember that self-carriage comes when you have balance.

Exercise #5:  Learn to do the first four exercises while working over ground poles and cavaletti’s. This simply adds a degree of difficulty that requires the rider to focus on balance, movement of the horse and changes in terrain (poles or cavaletti’s) that put the horse and rider into thinking mode.

Most importantly in all of the above – you must remember to breathe through all that work.

Once you have mastered those five activities … then you and your horse are ready to begin work on the exercises that will ultimately lead to collection.

Please feel free to share this blog.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in DR 4 Balance – to help horse and rider acheive goals.  Dr. Mike works with riders to enhance their performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding and welfare and rehabilitation of the 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 for competitors.

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.

 

Ranch Riding (Pleasure) Classes – 5 Keys to Success

Ranch Riding (Pleasure) Classes – 5 Keys to Success   

by Dr. Mike Guerini, www.dunmovinranch.com

Ranch Riding classes are continuing to grow in popularity. This class showcases the versatility and movement of the ranch style horses. In Ranch Riding (formerly called Ranch Pleasure), a horse and rider show in a pattern that has walk, trot, extended trot, lope and extended lope. This is very different from the movement being looked for in Western Pleasure. The horse and rider must also perform some ranch style movements. These movements can include side passing, 360 degree turns, lead changes, walk or trot or lope over poles to name just a few of the options. This year in California a similar class, Ranch Riding – Flat Class was showcased at Gold N’ Grand at Rancho Murieta in August and the judges focused on the horse gaits without needing to have any maneuvers. The horse and rider are scored on the rhythm and cadence of the gaits. Smoothness and flow of the performance matter as well.

So how does a horse and rider do well in this class – Here are my 5 Keys to Success in Ranch Riding.

  1. Transitions. Be able to make smooth and balanced transitions between gaits with your horses. No tail swishing or horse inversion/hollowing out the back or lifting the head. Ride and make the transition as if nothing really happened…make this look like an everyday occurrence as you ride out to get a job done. Use your seat and legs and a little bit of rein on your downward transitions…not just your reins.
  2. Balance. I know I mentioned balanced transitions above but in Ranch Riding you want your horse to be in balance all the time. No working off the forehand, no leaning or falling on a shoulder. Present your horse as if at any moment you will need to make a change (as in go off an get a calf, move a herd of horses, etc.). Make sure your horse is balanced and the footwork/footfalls will be correct and rewarded.
  3. Know your gaits. Extending your gaits at the trot and lope are not about going faster….they are about covering ground. An extended stride comes from the horse using its rear end and making the stride cover more ground. Keep the rhythm correct as you lengthen the stride.
  4. Rider Preparation. This has multiple components.  The rider needs to have good stamina and flexibility. Your core needs to be working to help you succeed in Ranch Riding. The key here is to be a flexible and agile rider able to guide your horse with the least amount of effort and by using soft aids.
  5. Know your pattern. This goes beyond memorizing all the parts of the pattern. Really know the pattern by planning where you will execute the movement in the arena, know where you will give your aids, know the details of the pattern so well that it comes second nature to you and your riding.

This is an exciting class and one that offers a great test to horse and rider.

Share this blog with a friend who might be interested in Ranch Riding…I am sure it will help horse and rider on the road to success in Ranch Riding.

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Dr. Mike coaches riders in Ranch Riding and offers clinics throughout the U.S. His students have won at local and State level AQHA shows and one qualified for the 2015 AQHA world in Ranch Riding. 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 of the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

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/).