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.

My Way or The Highway Horsemanship

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

 

We have all seen it — most especially on social media these days — the ever present “My Way or The Highway” Horsemanship. This philosophy is that there is only one way to train or ride a horse…there is only one clinician or instructor that can help you and your horse.  Join a group of supposedly like minded people (like minded in that they have the best interest of the horse in mind) and if you have an opinion that is different from the larger group — you are quickly put into the role of outcast.

Some of this philosophy has become prevalent because horsemanship, horse training, and coaching is a business and there is only so much market share — so those selling items or training or philosophies must yell louder or be different and in some cases — they must put other ideas down.  We see this within horse associations, horse organizations, disciplines and in many other aspects of our horse world. We even see “arguments” within disciplines as to who has the better way or better team.

There is room for everyone in the barn.  We can make space quite easily by moving a bale of hay into place and listening to what the newcomer or old timer has to offer.  We can listen to the person who speaks of training in Europe or South America.  We can quit labeling someone as “an old cowboy,” “as a charro,” “as a dressage rider,” “as a trail rider,” … I think you get the idea — labels are sure not easy to keep track of and they sure do not help our horses.

We are human and there is a good chance we are going to misunderstand, misinterpret, do something wrong (or even stupid) when it comes to our horses and riding.

I personally enjoy learning from many different people who have many different ideas.  I have developed a criteria in my mind to check when I am listening or watching something that is different from my normal way.  Change is never easy…but we must be open to change for the benefit of our horses — and for me this criteria has helped in my assessments.

I am going to share my criteria here.  This may help some of you…it may help some of your horses…and your comments about what I have written here … may just help me grow and get better…..and that is a good thing to do in 2017.  I shall admit that these criteria are all together important but for ease of reading them I have given them numbers.

#1 — Welfare and Health of the horse must be paramount. I use evidenced based evaluations to review if the welfare and health of the horse is being maintained.  With open eyes I look for signs that the horse is in fight or flight mode or in pain.

#2 — Welfare and Health of the rider is of high importance.  If a method or philosophy puts the rider or handler at risk (beyond the normal risk of working with a 1200 pound animal) — then this is something I am not so keen to follow.

#3 — The horse is never wrong.  Anything or anyone that starts by saying “the stupid/dumb horse did this to me and the horse is just wrong” … well it tells me that emotion gets in the way there and for me — negative emotions are not good for horse training and riding.

#4 — Relaxation is key.  I want the horse to be relaxed. Sure – -during learning there my be some loss of relaxation but it needs to return quickly.  Likewise — I want the rider to be relaxed.  Numerous scientific papers have documented that brains learn better when in relaxation mode.

#5 — Balance is key.  In balance we have the body functioning as it was designed and when things function within design parameters — they last longer, tend not to wear out, and do not break as easily.

#6 — Progression must be measurable (in a good and forward moving way).  One of the greatest sayings is that “the definition of insanity is to do something repeatedly and expect a different result.” A person may be an advocate of a particular method or philosophy but if there is no positive progression in the intended direction — a re-evaluation is warranted.

In all of these assessments I use an evidenced based evaluation approach.  I take the time to think about what I am seeing…rely on past knowledge .. check in with a myriad of resources and resourceful people I know and I might just borrow something and work slowly to see if I can improve it to meet my criteria.

I have been wrong in the past .. will likely be wrong in the future .. but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from many different people and ideas.

I look forward to your comments and you are welcome to share this blog if it helps you or your horses in any way.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

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

When we set off to learn to ride a horse…there is so much to learn many people are often overwhelmed. Enthusiastic beginners and those returning to riding after many years out of the saddle want to get to the riding part as quickly as possible. Instructors teach basic grooming, saddling, how to mount, how to go forward and how to stop a horse — often in just one or a few lessons. These are all critical items to learn for sure. Once in the saddle we hear about different speeds (and how to get them and control them) and we also hear a great deal about equitation (heel hip shoulder alignment).

Quite often when I meet riders on their journey I note four major deficiencies in what I call basic understanding and needs before riding. While those of us who instruct and love horses want to see people in the saddle and enjoying our sport — it is important that these four basics are learned or understood before any rider ever legs up onto the back of the horse.

#1 — Balance — this is critical for success in the saddle. Riders need to understand that balance is tied to the rider seat and that the rider must have balanced seat bones in order to ride successfully. Along with balance…riders need to know how breathing helps their balance. Riders should be able to sit and practice changing their balance through their seat and to learn how their position related to shoulders and hips and legs all contribute to balance.  So before we ever get on a horse — we need to focus on balance and this will truly make the equitation part easier.  Suggestions — work on balance on a trampoline or shifting weight from foot to foot, jumping rope, Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi….any number of exercises focused on balance are critical for your success as a rider.

#2 — Independent Use of Aids (legs and hands and seat) — The welfare of the horse is protected when riders learn to use their legs and seat and hands independently (and this should be learned before we ever leg up on a horse).  New and returning riders often pull and kick at the same time…this is confusing for the horse and depending on the level of simultaneous pull and kick — it may be downright abusive. Suggestions — work on ball toss and ball kicks or swimming with an independent scissors kick …. work on exercises that have you use a hand and leg independently for two tasks.  Successful riders work on these exercises before and after rides and new learners should have a degree of mastery of the use of independent aids before getting on the horse.

#3 — Understanding Rhythm — We need to know that the horse walk has a 4 beat rhythm, trot is a two beat rhythm, canter/lope is a 3 beat rhythm and gallop is once again a 4 beat rhythm.  We can discuss this  — but we also need to diagram what happens in each of these rhythms.  We need to take lunge lessons (rider on horse being lunged) to help develop an understanding of rhythm.  We need to watch the horses in pasture/pen/paddock and see how they move and think about how that feels for your body. …there are also some great videos out there on the dynamics of movement.   Suggestions — Take time for lunge lessons and observation of your horse in movement without a rider. Watch a video on the dynamics of movement.

#4 — Ground Work — All riders need to spend time working with a horse from the ground up.  Learn how the horse body bends, moves, how the feet move and what type of reach the horse has in leg extension.  Understand how we can influence movement through our aids, through pressure and release….and understand this movement so that you know when you execute a Turn on the Forehand (for example) — you know that the hind end will travel in a larger circle around the front end that is traveling in a small circle (and let me remind you there is a great deal more detail to the Turn on the Forehand beyond what I have shared here). Suggestions — watch videos, take lessons focused only on ground work, draw out how a horse moves in each of the movements from the ground that you will want to do in a saddle.

We most likely can identify other areas of deficiency in riding … but these are most often overlooked by the enthusiastic new rider.  Do your horse a favor .. for the welfare of the horse make certain that you take time to include these four items in your learning and ride preparation.

Thank you for reading this blog and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

Conditioned Response Training — “Pressure and Release”

Conditioned Response Training — “Pressure and Release”

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

Recently I was asked this question by a lady at one of my clinics. “What is “Pressure and Release” and is it something that will make my horse better?” When horse people talk about “Pressure and Release” they are talking about touching a horse in a certain spot then getting a specific response. This is called a conditioned response.

The basic idea behind a conditioned response is that when step A happens, if properly trained, step B will happen next. Horses are sensitive animals. A slight bit of pressure (either in the form of a touch, a yell, a wave of the hand) can be enough to get the horse to move away. We can use this to our advantage by using “Pressure and Release” training. In “Pressure and Release” training I work with my horse so he understands that when I apply pressure to a specific part of his body he responds by moving away from that pressure. As long as the rider uses the smallest amount of pressure and the horse responds correctly this as a good thing. For example, touching a horse on the left shoulder means the horse needs to move his shoulders to the right.

One of the important things to remember while using “Pressure and Release” is that our entire body and the way we ride effects how good of a response we get from our horse. We need to actively guide the horse with our body movements. In the example above where I am moving the shoulders to the right I also need to be looking to the right and using my hands to help guide my horse to the right. I place pressure where I want the horse to move away from and I make sure to guide him with my eyes, upper body and gently with my hands towards the opening (non pressure place). “Pressure and Release” requires that I immediately take away the pressure once my horse begins to respond. Only by riding with my hands, legs and body does the horse understand that a touch on the left shoulder means move shoulders to the right. So you see, “Pressure and Release” is about actively riding and communicating with your horse.

One part of this process that is very important to remember is that we need to give the horse an opening to move towards. The opening is the place where there is no pressure. The horse will recognize this as the place we want him to go because there is nothing blocking his way to get there. Without this opening the horse has nowhere to go and will become frustrated or confused. We as the rider need to make sure that when we ask the horse to do something, we give him clear directions (Pressure), the place to go (Opening), and the reward ( Release).

Lets also remember that “Pressure and Release” works on the Ground as well. We use the same ideas of touch and body language to get the horse to move in a direction we choose when we are doing our ground work. So if we train with the idea of being an active rider and using our hands and legs and body we will succeed with “Pressure and Release”. We can be confident that we can move our horse away from danger because he responds to “Pressure and Release”.

Hopefully you can see the benefit to training with “Pressure and Release” and how using this will make your horse more responsive to you as a rider.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.   Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T at www.hydrot.com.

The 6 C’s of Horsemanship — from dunmovinranch.com

The 6 C’s of Horsemanship:

Building Blocks for Success in Relationship Training

By Dr. Mike Guerini

Many of us benefit from Natural Horsemanship and Foundation Training methods.  We dive into books, watch videos, attend seminars and go to clinics to learn all we can to develop a strong emotional, mental and physical foundation in all of our horses.  These methods use a “building block” approach to help us focus on assembling a good horse that is willing and able to perform. In this approach to training each lesson needs to be learned and firmly in place before we can teach the next lesson.

I believe very few people are born great horsemen and women, the majority of us work all our lives to become better horsemen and women.  As I work to become a better horseman I have had to step back and take a look at my own “building blocks”.  The 6 C’s of Horsemanship are the Building Blocks for Success that I teach at my clinics and use in my own barn.

The 6 C’s of Horsemanship are “building blocks” for having Confidence, keeping Control, maintaining Consistency, riding with Collection, having Compassion and keeping an attitude of Calmness.  Together these ideas help us build a lasting relationship with our horse.

So how do we use the 6 C’s of Horsemanship to gain success in the saddle?

When we ride we want to be confident in our riding skills and our horse.  To gain confidence—we practice, learn from others, go to clinics and we take small steps.  If I wanted to ride on a 5-day trail ride I would first build up my confidence and my horse’s confidence by taking a 1-day ride.  In order for us to gain confidence we need to learn to control our horse and the space around our horse.  To build confidence and establish control we need to practice with —- consistency.  As a rider it is our obligation to be consistent in our training and riding methods.  When we are consistent and have a plan and follow our plan we build confidence in our horse and our abilities. To maintain control we need to keep our bodies and our horse’s body —- collected.  We cannot expect control when our arms are waving all around and our horses are racing through open fields.  Maintaining collection of our body, our speed and the horse’s flexibility helps us to be confident and in control.  As we teach our horse we need to remember to have —- compassion. When I go out on a trail ride I want to enjoy time with my horse and I want to enjoy the scenery and most of all I want this to be full of —-calmness.  As we embark on the day and each time we go to the barn remember—our horse should be just as calm at the end of our ride as he was when he was standing in his stall.

I am certain that the 6 C’s of Horsemanship will be a valuable tool for building knowledge and in turn realizing results as you work with your horses.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician from California and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T at www.hydrot.com We teach you the KEYS for success with horses.