My horse asked me to not be a trainer anymore — I …. ?

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

One of the great aspects of social media is how many ideas and thoughts get shared.  We are now able to chat with people all around the globe and find how similar in thought many people are …. even if the thoughts might just be wrong.

Some of the comments I have read recently that I think are just wrong include the following:

1) I trained my horse to make a flying lead change.

2) I trained my horse to pick up its feet.

3) I trained my horse to walk, trot and canter (lope).

4) I trained my horse to back up.

These are only a few of the comments from people about how they “trained” their horse.  This actually got me thinking about how much the person actual “trained” the horse.  Three definitions I found in the dictionary for the word “training” include 1)   the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing, and 2) the process of bringing a person, etc., to an agreed standard of proficiency, and 3) The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.

Now step away from the reading for a moment and think about a horse or horses in the pasture that have never been handled.  Have you seen a horse such as this make a flying lead change all on its own in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse pick up its feet in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse back, walk, trot and lope along (I have).

So in reality we have seen a horse do all the things we claim that we train them to do.  Wow — quite arrogant of us people to claim we trained a horse to do something that its own natural talent allows it to do just as easily as it breathes. 

Well as I thought about this I realized I need to change some things in my life and my thought process.  I do not train horses.  I do not want to train horses. I do not want to be known as a horse trainer.   I want to coach myself to work with my horses to achieve success.  I want to coach others to work with their horses to achieve success.  I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. 

I shared this with a friend who asked me what the difference was between being a coach and a trainer.  Well since I am a coach — I sure need to define what that means.  A coach is 100% committed to the outcome of the student’s results.  The coach is prepared with a philosophy and a series of principles that guide the process.  With a coach you have a person who brings everything he or she has to the meeting or time together and finds solutions and enhances the communication and helps those connections grow.  The trainer is a person that works around a set schedule and current commitment to a program.  A trainer provides a service that works for the participant and brings them closer to their goals but may or may not achieve the level of success that is possible.  The trainer is often a person who brings a level of accountability to the process. Trainers set lesson times at 45 minutes and sets horse “training times” based on a wall chart.  Sure those all work — but in my opinion they limit the potential of the horse or rider.

The strongest differentiator between the two is more one of faith and desire than actual training principles.  A coach and the person or animal he/she is coaching meet on an equal level with the desire for a specific outcome.  With a trainer — the goals may be set by both participants but it is the heart of the trainer that helps push the person towards the goals.  Life situations creep into the final outcome between a trainer and a horse or rider – big project at work, family vacation, nagging injury – all legitimate reasons for taking it easy in a training program and the trainer actually helps you validate your excuse.  These excuses do not work when you have a coach.

Definitions of training have words like “Action,” “Process,” “Standard,” and “Discipline.” Coaching is like a marriage between souls – a coach will absorb every new technique and implement all tactics to make the horse or rider better.  Coaches spend hours outside of the “lesson times” to make himself better or improve what he knows.  I watch my horses in the pens.  From day 1 of life to now — wow have they improved their athletic abilities — I must come to this partnership with the same dedication to improving as my horse brings.

My horses have taught me that I should not be a trainer.  Since I get up each day that I am home and feed them, clean stalls, work with them and spend time with them — my horses are coaching me to be better in many things.  They are not training me….the horse brings what she knows and I arrive wanting to achieve success so we coach each other.

So I am a horsemanship coach and a horse coach … not a trainer.  There is nothing wrong with being a trainer and for people to want a trainer.  For some people that is what will help them achieve their goals.  For me — I want to achieve that marriage of souls so that my horse and I and people I have the privilege of coaching and their horses all do so much more than they ever thought possible.

 I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. I want to coach myself and my horses to achieve so much more.  I want to ride…I want to live….I want to listen to the horse coach with four legs who asks me to listen so that we can find this partnership that leads to magic.  It has taken years but now I understand what my horse started sharing with me years ago.

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).

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Teaching your Young Horse to Lead

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

Many times people have issue teaching a young horse to lead.  Often folks utilize the butt rope to help the horse move forward and some people use a small whip or stick to tap on the rear end of the horse.  My recommendation is to teach your young horse the “Go Forward Cue.”  I start this with the babies when they are still with their mothers.  This is one of the greatest things you can teach your horse.  If your horse will consistently go forward when you ask, then you can easily teach your horse to load into a trailer, walk into a stall, and stand on the “blue tarp.”  The Go Forward Cue will help you and your horse stay safe when you are teaching or working your horse from the ground.

Here is how to teach the Go Forward Cue.  Stand on the horse’s left side next to his shoulder.  Hold the lead rope with your left hand.  Point your left hand in the direction that you want your horse to travel.  With your right hand use pressure and release on the flank, side, or rear and say “FORWARD.”  Some horses may not move forward easily and you may need to reach back and tap the rear.  As your horse walks forward, let the lead rope in your left-hand slide so that your horse experiences no resistance and is able to walk forward.  As soon as your horse has moved far enough forward you can stop him where he stands.  Repeat this exercise on the right side of the horse by simply reversing your hands.  As you get this process working and your horse begins going forward and leading nicely you can change your aides slightly to get more response with less action/pressure on your part.

When you are now able to lead your horse normally, you can change your hand position to be open and facing upwards with the lead across the palm of your hand.  Think of the underhand toss of a softball.  That is the mechanics you want to use to encourage your horse to speed up into a faster walk or even a trot when you are leading him.  This works great for teaching your horses for halter classes. When you want your horse to slow down, you can change your hand so that your fingers close over the top of the lead and point towards the ground.  One further refinement is in your breathing.  Again, once you have your horse leading and going forward, you can control speed and stopping with your breathing.  Inhale and lift your shoulders to get your horse to move forward or exhale and slow down to get your horse to slow or come to a stop.

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

FIVE TRUTHS FOR GREAT HORSEMANSHIP

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

Five Truths for Great Horsemanship

#1 – Time spent leads to success.

If you want to improve your riding, get to the barn, ride, take lessons, go to clinics, and ask questions of people that ride better than you.

#2Your Hands controlling the Horse’s feet leads to success.

If you can ride softly and speak to your horse through the reins and have control over the front and rear legs of your horse you are on the road to success.

#3Watch yourself or someone else ride your horse.

When you can step back and see what your horse does, how she moves, how she flexes/bends, how she responds, you are on the road to better understanding of your horse.

#4Ride the horse between your legs.

Do not get on a horse and expect him/her to be exactly like another horse you have ridden.  Each horse is unique and you need to ride the one that is between your legs.  Another way of saying this is do not expect one horse to be like another – make goals and plans for that specific horse.

#5Cross-training for you and your horse develops leadership, confidence, and skill.

Teach your horse something different and you will connect with his/her mind.  When you connect with the mind, you teach new skills, gain confidence and the horse realizes you can lead.

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

5 People in your Circle of Horsemanship

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

We all have some people in our life who we count on to help us along the journey.  We sometimes call these people our “posse”, “BFF’s”, “Village”, “inner circle”, “confidants”, or “our team”.  Well in Horsemanship it is really no different.  We flourish and excel when we have people who help us, engage us, support us, and keep us in line.  So the other day I was reflecting on the people I consider to be part of my Circle of Horsemanship and I identified 5 who are critical to me.

1)  Veterinarian.  In this category I actually have a few veterinarians I rely on.  They all know each other and some specialize in legs, others in reproduction and some in holistic health of the horse.  I am fortunate to be friends with a veterinarian who has mentored me for over 20 years.  For me it is important to have a good veterinarian (or in my case a few) that I rely on and receive good medical advice from when it comes to the health of my horses.

2)  Farrier.  For over 20 years I had the same farrier.  He was always on time, explained what he was doing, and kept my horse’s feet in top shape.  When my old farrier passed away I was lucky enough to find my new farrier and he is always on time, works with me and the horses and once again does a great job.  I feel fortunate and blessed to have found two great farriers in my life.  Almost nothing is more important that my horse having balanced and well taken care of hooves.

3)  Coach/Trainer.  Without a coach or trainer to watch me ride, work on new ideas with me, and to be my second set of eyes I know I would not have made it this far in my riding career.  My coach is not always a professional horseman or horsewoman, but most of the time I do have a coach who is a professional.  My coach helps me better myself, offers advice on training issues, and those who I select to be my coach/trainer are always looking out for the best interest of my horses.

4)  The Friend Who Helps you No matter What.  I think the country singer Tracy Lawrence was thinking of my friend when he sang the song — Find Out Who Your Friends Are.  This is the person who you can call in the middle of the night to come rescue you and your horse from the side of the road when your truck breaks down.  This person drops everything to help you build fence, haul hay, go check out a new horse, or do anything you need…without expecting anything in return.  Let us face it — owning horses can be a tough job some days and we all need a little extra help.

5) The Cheerleader.  In my Circle of Horsemanship I have a friend who roots me on, encourages me, and listens.  This friend does not ride, might actually be a bit afraid of horses but as soon as I start talking horse, this friend sits down and listens.  I wondered if I was the only one to have this type of friend until a few weeks ago when a lady stopped by for a riding lesson.  She brought along a friend who just wanted to see the world of horse lessons and cheer her friend on to success.

You might have more than 5 in your Circle of Horsemanship.  We could add people like Hay person, Chiropractor, Equine Massage Therapist, Parents, Spouses, Significant others, Fellow Horse people, or Hauling/Show buddy.

Who else might you add to your Circle of Horsemanship?  Is it more than 5?  Take a few minutes to thank those people who are in your Circle of Horsemanship.

Right now I give a big shout out to all of you who are in my Circle of Horsemanship.  Thanks friends.

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

Preparing for a Horsemanship Clinic – what to do before and what to pack (works for horse shows also)

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

No matter if you have been to one or 50 Horsemanship clinics, there is always a check list of items we need to take, some we want to take, and sadly a few we forget to take.  Over the years I have worked to compile lists of what I need at horsemanship clinics and by extension, horse shows.  Some of these are well thought out lists and some come from experience…you know the been there had that happen and won’t be without again (hint — a clean set of clothes).

This year I have had a few people ask how to prepare and so I want to share with you my thoughts and as always, I look forward to your additions.

First let us discuss the early preparation of what to do before a Horsemanship clinic

1) Sign up for the clinic

2) Check out some of the information about the clinician and how he/she structures the clinic.  This is the gathering of information so you know what to expect at the clinic.  Read one of the clinicians books or blogs or website articles.

3) Get your horse prepared for the clinic by making sure he/she is vaccinated, coggins paperwork is in order (if necessary), health certificate is in order (if necessary), farrier is on the right schedule for the horse to have great feet at the clinic, ride or ground work your horse so that he/she is physically prepared,

4) Get yourself physically ready (riding might be enough or you may want to add a few more exercise or stretching routines leading up to the clinic).

5) If you need a hotel or place to stay … make those arrangements early.

6) Call the facility hosting the clinic if you need overnighting of your horse and arrange for accommodations (find out if you need to bring bedding, buckets, etc).  I always recommend that you bring your own hay and feed from home for a clinic.

7) A few days before the clinic, make sure your truck (vehicle you pull your trailer with) is in proper working order.  Oil is in good shape, tires are good, windshield wipers work, vehicle is clean and has room for all your stuff.

8) A few days before the clinic, make sure your trailer is in proper working order.  Check the tires (wear and inflation), make sure the back of the trailer is cleaned out of left over manure, make sure your tack room is organized and ready for more items and make sure the doors all work and the trailer lights are fully functional when hooked to your vehicle.  (Note — nothing worse than driving down the road with no trailer lights.  A few years back I came upon a trailer being pulled down the road with no trailer lights.  People had a hard time seeing the trailer and so the poor guy was on the receiving end of rude gestures, much honking, and one person made the guy stamp on his brakes by trying to cut him off.  Once I was able to get up to him, I tucked in behind him and followed him for many miles.  After 25 minutes or so he waved me on up alongside him and yelled a big thanks and took the next free way exit.)

Now let us get into what we need to pack — I break this into three categories including what I need for the horse, what I need for me, and what I need for emergencies.

For the horse I need to pack — Tack (saddle, bridles, etc), leg protection, a blanket or fly sheet (and one extra) if you normally use these on your horse, hay, grain (normal ration with maybe some extra salt to promote drinking), water buckets, brushes, curry combs, hoof pick, water (in some cases it is best to pack water from home), fly mask, extra cinch, extra saddle pad, extra reins, extra halters, insect repellant (fly or mosquito spray), manure fork/rake, and of course his/her favorite treats.

For the person I pack — clothes (boots, jeans, long sleeve shirts), snacks, food, water (and other liquid non-adult beverages), sunscreen, hat/helmet, CASH (you never know when you want to purchase something at the clinic and they do not take checks), toiletries, medications, comfortable shoes and riding shoes, cell phone charger/extra battery, camera, pen and paper (for writing down notes on things you learn), lip gloss (for those windy/dry days), a chair, extra socks (for when yours get wet from sweating), and a list of where you are staying, directions on how to get to the clinic and all other registration details.

What I need for emergencies — Horse first aid kit (whatever you would normally have at your barn for treating your horse until the veterinarian can get there), human first aid kit (some small band aids, wound cream, pain reliever, brace, etc), an extra pair of clothes in your trailer (I have literally ridden and worked so hard I was soaked to the skin and a dry pair of clothes felt great), spare tires (for truck and trailer), small pieces of leather (great for putting tack back together, duct tape, bailing twine (or wire), and any medicines that you might use only occasionally for yourself (allergy meds/prescriptions, insulin, pain killers, etc).

Share what else you would add to these lists — and thank you for taking a few minutes to read what I have shared with you here.

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

Riding Aids — Four or are there Five Natural Aids?

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

Riding aids come in two categories — Natural and Artificial.

Let us first take a look at what are considered to be the Artificial aids.  These are bits, hackamores, spurs, crops, whips, bats, ropes…and I am sure you can come up with quite a few more.  We classify these as artificial aids because they are pieces of equipment that the rider has to back up the natural aids.  These Artificial aids are important and can be useful…so long as they are used only when necessary and with skilled hands and thoughts.

Natural Aids are on my mind today.  These aids are really important and should be used for the majority of the cues to the horse.  Classically, Natural aids have been defined to include:

  • Leg
  • Hand
  • Seat
  • Voice

Some might say that the leg and seat are the two most important aids because from those you can guide your horse very easily.  The hand connects to the bit which in turn connects to the feet and some will consider hands to be the most important aid because of the connection through the bit to the feet and controlling footfalls leads to success.  Still others working with young horses or trying to establish a relationship with a troubled horse will tell you that the voice (inflection, tone, volume) is the most important.

It is important to remember that the aids are used in a spectrum, from very light to very powerful, depending on the response desired. In all cases, good training aims for the horse to be responsive at the smallest/lightest aid.  The aids we individually choose to rely on to guide our horse might very well depend on our own training or the training that the horse received.  In all of this, we need to make sure we balance the use of our Natural and Artificial aids.

I will add one more Natural aids to this list. Some might argue that this is not a Natural aid but In my opinion, the human brain is the most important natural aid.  When a rider thinks (with the brain), he/she can decide what other Natural aid should be used, how much of the natural aid is needed to achieve the desired result, and the person can also decide if an Artificial aid is necessary or how much to use.

So Dr. Mike’s list of Natural aids stands at five—

  • Leg
  • Hand
  • Seat (includes upper body because movement of shoulders, torso, and head alter your seat
  • Voice
  • Brain

I welcome your comments on this subject.  Do you agree that the brain is a natural aid? Do you think it is the “Super aid”.  Share your thoughts my friends.

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

Riding and Training success with Ground Poles.

Riding and Training success with Ground Poles.

A few months ago I posted one of my ground pole pattern configurations on the North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) Facebook page soliciting comments and thoughts.  Here is the resulting article and information we put together and I wrote up for sharing. 

Recently, this diagram of ground poles (shown below) was posted for discussion on the NAWD open group and NAWD Professional group.  The question asked “How many different exercises, movements, or patterns can you think of with this configuration of ground poles.  Looking forward to hearing from TD, WD, WP, HUS and everyone else here.  Look forward to hearing your ideas.

In both the open and Professional groups, great ideas where shared among the horsemen/women.  Jen Collman, Cynthia Stotler Koscinch, Patrick King, Bethe Mounce, and Michael Guerini took part in this discussion.  These Professionals come from a variety of backgrounds with experience in Traditional Dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, young horse starting, Dressage/Hunter Jumper, Western Horsemanship, Western Pleasure, cowhorse/cutting/reining, and Natural Horsemanship Together we covered four important discussion points including: 1) how many ways we can work the horse with these ground poles, 2) the importance of pre-planning the ride, 3) the importance of walk work, and 4) footfalls. 

How many exercises can you do with these ground poles?

Shapes

This list includes the following: Walk through it, Sidepass to turn on forehand, Sidepass to turn on haunches, Walk through and sidepass out, Sidepass in and back out, Trot over the poles, Back through it, Get your horse to roll one of the poles with his nose, Use outside of the L for pirouettes, inside of the L for turn on the forehand, come at them from a 45 degree angle (like this — >>) to help the young horse go over without feeling overwhelmed.

Some list we developed, and rather quickly.  We are certain there are even more things that people can do with these ground poles in this configuration.  The key point we would all like to share is that the rider is only limited by his/her imagination.  Work with your horse and turn this into a learning opportunity and a way to make sure your backing, walking, turn on forehand, turn on haunches and side passing works everywhere and at any time.

The Importance of Pre-Planning the Ride.

One of the things we all discussed was that something like this can help the rider start thinking and pre-planning the ride.  Many times people “warm-up” their horses with walk, trot, canter (until the horse is sweating) and then figure the warm up is complete.

By going beyond the traditional walk, trot and canter warm-ups, you begin to ride your horse and engage his/her mind.  You also begin to pre-plan what you are doing, how you are giving your aides, when to give your aides and how to help your horse.  As the rider — you are active and guiding and this leads to success.

Take for example a drive on the highway.  If you’re driving on the highway, you do not wait until the last min to whip over four lanes of traffic to take the right exit because if you do so you are setting yourself up for a possible accident.  Same thing with a horse…think ahead, be pro-active instead of reactive.  😉

The Importance of Walk Work.

Simply walking your horse through the different exercises we just mentioned above can help you in getting your horse to use the correct muscles.  We all agreed that 30 to 45 minutes of walk work and using as many of the horse’s muscles as possible can lead to a rather warmed up (even sweaty) horse because we are achieving suppleness.  Walk work reveals so much about riders’ knowledge and the preparation of the horse.  😉 When youngsters are struggling, a “session” of walk work brings success because the horse answers a simple question of whether he/she understands what you are asking at the slowest of speeds.  If you do not have success at the walk, it will not come at the trot or canter.

Once you have used the correct muscles at the walk, the horse is then warmed up and ready for trot work that helps develop the push needed for canter and the canter helps warm the back up because both sides of the back are being used at the same time.

Footfalls.

Regulation of size and placement of the step/foot is so critical in training your horse and learning to ride and is integral to the classical methods of horsemanship.  There are three key points in the stride of a leg that we must acknowledge.  Foot in mid air, foot forward and touching the ground, and foot backward just at the point in which it lifts off the ground.  All three are important in understanding where your horse is and what aides are appropriate to use at that moment in time.

It has been said by many that the moment in time where the horse is just starting to lift the foot to bring it forward is when the aide must be applied, any later or any earlier and the response is not clean.

So just as a reminder — think of your horse at the walk, then at the trot and the canter.  How fast are the feet rotating through the footfalls?  Each progressive speed increase makes your timing even more critical — hence why we had a good discussion on walk work.  Get your aides and footfalls together at the walk and you will be doing a favor for your horse.  You need to develop your feel of the horse’s hooves WITHOUT looking down.  With lateral work (sidepass, turn on haunches etc) and the poles, horses tend to move more slowly and rider can almost count the footfalls at the walk. 

On the horse training aspect, a young horse who is finding his balance with rider on board during those first few rides can help both rider and horse know where the feet are by using these poles.  This is a simplest of exercise but needs the rider to be active and it keeps the horse from rubbernecking because the horse begins to look to the rider for guidance to navigate these poles.

All agrees that is you have control of the feet, you have control of the horse…not his mind necessarily, but placement of those feet are crucial to rider being an effective rider and not a passenger.  This can become as detailed as the rider chooses or as detailed as the rider knowledge.

This exercise and Training Scale

So let us take a few moments and see how what we have discussed so far fits within the Training Scale. 

In a layout such as this one proposed, the horse and rider need to develop a Rhythm that comes with energy and tempo resulting from an active rider pre-planning and guiding the horse.  As the rider guides the horse and uses many muscle groups to work over these ground poles, Relaxation with elasticity and suppleness can be achieved.  It is often said that the hands connect to the bit with the weight of a fly and the bit in turn connects to the spine which in turn connects to the feet and this Connection results in accepting the guidance through the bit and guidance of the aides — all of which rely on controlling the footfalls.  As you advance the horse and rider skill and continue these maneuvers at the walk and trot, Impulsion is essential to get that increased energy and trust of the horse to the rider because the rider has established the placement and proper timing of aides through feel of the footfalls.  Straightness is on demand and display with the simple walk through or haunch turn or side pass because without straightness there is a lack of balance of horse and rider.  To work over ground poles and not stumble or fall over them requires a lightness of the front end that comes from engagement of the rear as presented in Collection.  Although we just went through the Training Scale list one at a time, the use of ground poles for exercises, with focus on walk work, pre-planning and footfalls can better help you as the team of horse and rider work within the principles of the Training Scale.

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