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.

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/).

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/).

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

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

A few weeks back I wrote a blog on Western Dressage (WD) called “Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony.”  In that blog I commented on the need for Western Dressage to reach beyond the normal WD test and educate/reward/encourage/empower/celebrate how people can use WD to build a better horse that is able to excel in many different areas.

This blog begins the journey of sharing with you all how I think WD can help us build better horses that can compete in multiple events.  There are many key elements in WD, many of them come from lessons learned from Classical Horsemanship, and used in Classical and Competitive Dressage.

The first topic of discussion is the Circle. The circle comes in 20m, 15m, and 10m sizes.  There are also half circles that can be included in this category for now.  Okay, first lesson – the sizes in a measurement we use in our daily life.

20m = 65.62 feet diameter circle

15m = 49.21 feet diameter circle

10m = 32.81 feet diameter circle

Second lesson — The key to learning how to ride a perfectly sized and shaped circle is to look TWO POINTS AHEAD and “connect the dots.”

We need to realize that riding the perfectly shaped and sized circle helps the horse’s physical development (circles help develop lateral flexibility and engagement of the inside hind leg). On the mental side of things, riding accurate circles helps develop obedience.

What does the Circle in WD teach us as a rider and horse team that we can use in other horse show classes?

ARENA LOCATION/PRESENCE – This is all about knowing where you are in the horse show class. Are you near the rail, in the center, how far to the end of the arena – all this comes because you know where you are located with your horse at any time.

When you ride the 20m circle, and do it with the correct size and geometry, you learn to view the surrounding area where you are riding with much more clarity.  Centered Riding by Sally Swift has taught us to have soft eyes. With soft eyes, we are aware of our horse and the rest of the riding area with greater ease.  When we focus on a point, and our eyes are not soft, we get fixated and lose the ability to plan our ride and prepare for the next maneuver. When we do not know where we are in the arena and how to navigate the area, we are forced to make big changes that disrupt our horse and our rhythm.  Guess who always looks when we make those big changes – that is the exact moment in time the judge looks at us.

In which Horse show classes is arena location/presence important?  ALL OF THEM!  I need to know where I am so that I prepare for the next trail obstacle, I need to know where the other riders are located, I need to know where center is for reining, I need to know where the end (or side) of the arena is when I want to turn a cow.  We need to have nicely controlled circles for running barrels as well. For those who ride equitation – this is critical for you to know where you are in the arena — presentation matters.

Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed.

BALANCE – This is about having your horse able to work out in space and not lean on the rail.  When we ride a 20m circle (or 15m or 10m), there is at least some part of the circle that does not have a rail to hold up our horse.  Horses and riders get to leaning on a rail and they rely on that for balance. An un-balanced horse and rider that depends on the arena fence/wall for success is one that is not as athletic as possible. With a well-balanced horse, the circle geometry is perfectly round.

In which Horse show classes is balance important?  ALL OF THEM!  Again – each class benefits when we ride a balanced horse that can show his/her athleticism. Ride the perfect 20m, 15m, or 10m circle without an arena fence and you will learn how to ride softly and with more feel. Reining (and reined cowhorse) especially benefit from balanced and well-rounded circles.

Once again — Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed. When we ride these perfectly shaped and sized circles, we have our horse mentally and physically balanced and ready for whatever comes next. A horse that is balanced is responsive to the aids – it is NOT leaning on one leg or one rein.

FLEXIBILITY (Bending and Straightness) – One of the goals of riding a round 20m circle is to create flexibility. Flexibility refers to your ability to bend laterally through his side. The bend through your horse’s side should be equal from the poll to the tail. With a flexible horse you are developing one that is ambidextrous (that is he/she can bend just as easily on the right as on the left). Correctly ridden circles also teach the basic/beginning elements of engagement (bending of the joints of the hind legs) and circles also develop straightness. By definition, a straight horse is straight on lines and bent along the arc of a circle.

In which Horse show classes is Flexibility (Bending and Straightness) important?  ALL OF THEM!  A flexible horse is an athletic horse.  In my time I have had some horses come in for training that the rider described to me in these words “My horse is great.  She goes really straight but we are having trouble getting around the corner.”  I mentioned that likely half the time in any horse show class the horse was needing to be bent (turns, arena corners, etc). A few of these riders have looked at me and said they had never thought about that.

For every horse show class we will ever compete in we will need a horse that is flexible and can answer our call for action. Riding a perfect 20m circle will help you develop a horse that is ready to answer your request and help the two of you look good in the show arena.

RHYTHM – Rhythm of the gait of the horse is so important in WD circles. We want to establish a rhythm, timing, cadence to the gait and hold that the same throughout the circle.

In which Horse show classes is rhythm (timing & cadence) important?  ALL OF THEM!  IF we are in western pleasure, ranch versatility, reining, or trail, we need to maintain an even rhythm of the gait. We want our horse traveling at a gait that has consistency because when the horse is consistent, the presentation looks better, but more importantly, the horse is ready/prepared for the pre-signal and aid you will apply to make those changes necessary to show smoothness.  In Equitation classes, we want to have a nice rhythm because that is pleasing to the eye and accentuates your rider form and smoothness with the horse.

So far I have mostly concentrated on the benefit to the horse.  HOW ABOUT THE RIDER AND THE BENEFIT FROM RIDING THESE CIRCLES? Well the rider benefits greatly from learning those perfect circles. The rider improves his/her arena location knowledge as I said earlier.  But the rider also improves the use of his/her seat and legs, and balance and softness of the hands when riding these circles. By riding these perfect circles, he/she learns how to make small changes and it is these small changes that tell the horse you are competent and trusting.  Any time we make abrupt and physically reactive changes we tell the horse that we are not very trustworthy.  Soft and small changes keep that trust and harmony in your ride.

There are also a few life lessons in learning how to ride the perfect circle.  I still work each ride to make that perfect circle.  Some days I succeed and other days I  break a few circles….but each time I get better and the life lesson is that with patience, planning, calmness, and time – I  can be a better rider…better person…better equestrian and along the way I get the benefit of learning these lessons with a horse!

Hopefully this has expanded your awareness of why and how these circles in WD can help you build your all around horse and develop a better foundation of training. You do not need to ever take a WD test, although there is a great benefit and feedback that comes from taking one of these tests (you get a score and written remarks), but if you ride in a western saddle and you do not take the time to see how well you can ride that perfect circle – you are missing out on a learning opportunity for you and your horse and you might be keeping yourself out of the winners place in your western show events.

The circles we learn and ride in Western Dressage (tests, clinics, lessons, etc.) – or in the Cowboy Dressage world – help us to build a better western horse.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!

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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/).