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.

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.

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/).

Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts

Riding Both Sides of your Horse  — 5 Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.

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

Four Ways that Driving (or sitting) may be affecting your Horsemanship

Four Ways that Driving (or sitting) may be affecting your Horsemanship

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

We all know that driving and sitting normally in a chair seat put us into that “chair seat position” we all want to avoid while riding horses.  But what other things do we do while driving or sitting in a chair for long periods of time affect our riding posture?  Any of these things listed below might just build posture habits

1) Leaning on the center console while we drive.  Sometimes I take trips to clinics or shows that are 3 or 4 hours long (or longer) and I find myself leaning on the center console for a good portion of the trip.  This collapses my rib cage (right rib cage) — something I most certainly want to avoid while riding.

2) Leaning to far forward towards the steering wheel.  This leads us to have a hunched back — something we want to avoid in our riding.

3) Leaning back away from the steering wheel.  This gets us accustomed to sitting on our seat pockets and not our seatbones… and sitting on our seat pockets is bad for our riding position.

4) Sitting in the car for long trips with our wallet (or papers or cell phone) in our back pocket (this one is especially a problem for men). This leads us to have imbalanced seatbones and this certainly messes with us being able to ride and use our seatbones correctly.

Have I got you thinking now?  What other things do you do while driving or working at your computer/desk that might be affecting your riding posture and success with your aids.  Take a few minutes and add to this list — share here on this blog and let us all begin to work on changing our habits to better prepare us for success in the saddle.

Once you have read (and added to) this list, take the time to adjust your car seat or desk chair to optimize your sitting position so that you do not compromise your riding posture.

Thanks for reading this blog and please share.

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

Spice up your Horsemanship Ground Work

Spice up your Horsemanship Ground Work

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

Ground work is the foundation to successful horsemanship.  At this time of year many of us are getting back to riding and we all to often skip the good review of ground work we all need. I hear things like “It is boring,” “It takes to long,” “My horse is dead broke and does not need ground work.”

In truth, every horse can benefit from ground work.  Every rider can benefit from preparing the horse with ground work. IN doing our ground work correctly, we develop correct footfalls and habits for our horse when moving, we learn how our horse moves (so we can improve this or know when something is wrong), we develop responsiveness, relaxation and respect of our horse, and we further the connection.

We have all heard that we need to make sure our horses move forward, halt, step back, move their haunches, move their shoulders, and go sideways each way.  Well there are so many movements we can add to our ground work to develop better footfalls, better communication and responsiveness, and a better connection.  Here is a short list of 30 things to work on next time you run out of ideas (or get bored) doing ground work.

  1. Walk normal speed
  2. Walk slow speed
  3. Walk fast speed
  4. Walk in circle
  5. Go forward cue
  6. Lunge in circle with reverse to inside
  7. Walk in figure 8’s
  8. Walk in squares (move shoulders or haunches at each corner)
  9. Walk in triangles (move shoulders or haunches at each corner)
  10. Walk in serpentines/cigars
  11. Walk — Ground pole step over where we choose which front foot steps over — Standing still
  12. Walk — Ground pole step over where we choose which front foot steps over — While in motion
  13. Back straight
  14. Back in circles
  15. Back in figure 8’s
  16. Turn on forehand (Small circle with forehand, no pivot foot)
  17. Turn on haunches (Small circle with rear legs, no pivot foot)
  18. Staircase diagonal walk
  19. Shoulder forward (it pushes to the right when you are on the left side of the horse or pushes left when you are on the right side of the horse)
  20. Haunch left and Haunch right  (next two are more exacting movements of this one, so I use this to warm up first)
  21. Three track right and left (horse legs in three tracks, RF track 1, LF and RH track 2, LH track 3)
  22. Four track at walk right and left
  23. Side pass
  24. Trot
  25. Trot fast (extended)
  26. Trot in circle
  27. Trot in figure 8’s
  28. Trot in serpentines/cigars
  29. Trot over ground poles/cavaletti’s
  30. Staircase diagonal Trot

After these 30, there is an entire series of obstacle courses that can be set up for ground work that include some of these along with obstacles. I am sure you could build many many obstacle courses with combinations of these and obstacles.

Please share this blog and let me know how you and your horse are doing with these movements.

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

Overcoming Shaken Confidence about your riding – 5 Steps

Overcoming Shaken Confidence about your riding – 5 Steps

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

It has happened to each of us at one time in our riding career.  Sometimes a well-meaning friend offers advice about our riding and we lose confidence.  Sometimes it is an instructor or clinician or horse trainer that says something and we feel all alone and confused and upset about our present skill level.  I think back many years ago to the first horsemanship clinic I attended… the clinician told me that I was not a good rider, my horse was not good, and my saddle was awful — and I was banished to a corner of the arena for the rest of the day. Needless to say, I was crushed and messed up in the head as I thought about what he said.  I called home and shared the news with my folks and they asked me what my plan was for the following day.  I told them — “I came to learn and that is what I will do.”

I am sharing this with you all to let you know that ALL of us have times when our riding confidence has been shaken or absolutely crushed. I look back on that clinic and clinician and I am thankful for the experience…because of what he said, I sought to improve and get better.

Here are the five steps I suggest to help you overcome times when your confidence is shaken.

1) Write down the comments and advice that you received — especially those key points that shook your confidence.  Put the list away and then come back and read it a few days later.  In the moment we are not always able to look at the criticism or comment and find where it may help us….a few days later we can look it over once again and set up our homework.

2) Go for a ride on your horse.  Sometimes the best way to regroup is to get back in the saddle and go for a ride.  Do not worry about all the advice, just spend some time reconnecting with your horse and the love you have of riding and learning with your horse.

3) Share the experience and your notes with a trusted friend. Ask them to listen to what you are thinking and feeling.  Sometimes just talking things through makes all the difference in you getting past the mental issue that has your confidence at rock bottom.

4) Go for a ride on your horse. This bears repeating.  Get back in the saddle and get back to riding.

5) Schedule your next riding lesson or clinic.  Continue to learn and seek improvement. The clinician who told me I was not good was right (on most aspects).  I needed a better saddle, I needed to ride better, I needed to plan my riding better.  The clinician was wrong in one aspect — my horse was good (she still is good) — I just needed to get better.

The big take away message for you is that you are not alone.  We all have days when our confidence is shaken or seriously damaged.  You have the power to move forward and get your confidence back — I believe in each of YOU.

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