Be deliberate!

We’ve all heard the statement “practice makes perfect”. This is of course a silly statement because no one is ever going to achieve perfection no matter how hard they practice. But it is also incorrect because it doesn’t take into account the effectiveness of your practice. Practicing for hours on end does not necessarily mean you are going to get better if the work you are doing is not correct or is half-hearted. Here is an example I read recently that may help you understand a little better what I am trying to say:

Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?
—Aubrey Daniels

Both players are practicing, but one player is being far more effective than the other. This player is going to achieve much better results than the other.

I prefer the statement “practice makes predictable”. When the pressure is on (during a game, for example), you are going to fall back on your practice to get you through. If you have been half-hearted and inconsistent in your practice, you will not be able to stand up to the pressure. However if you have been dedicated and deliberate in your practice, your conditioning will kick in and you will be successful.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. ~ Romans 12:11

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.          Romans 12:11

This can be applied to horses as well. When you ride, do you have precise goals and are you deliberate about how you achieve them? Do you work hard and take the time to do it right or do you take short cuts and settle for less than your absolute best? Do you make the most of your time? Do you have a clear plan and work hard the entire time you are riding? Or do you wander around aimlessly and take lots of breaks? Do you stand around chatting or do you actually get to work and ride your horse? Do you try new things? Do you challenge yourself and push your limits? It’s easy to talk about wanting to improve, but when it comes down to it what are you actually doing to improve?

Now I’m not saying that every time you ride you need to be working. Of course it is good to take time to just enjoy being with your horse and have fun. But if you want your riding to improve, you need to be willing to put some real effort into it. You need to be deliberate in your work with your horse. Set clear goals. Push yourself to achieve them. Even better, find someone to work with you. Together you can push each other to reach new goals and keep each other honest in your work. Too many people settle for where they are in life because they are not willing to put in the effort it takes to become better. My challenge for you is to push your limits each and every day. Continue to learn and to grow and don’t ever settle for where you are because you can always improve on something! Nobody is perfect, but everybody can do the best that they can.

Be deliberate in your riding and deliberate in life. You might be surprised at the difference it makes. No one will ever be perfect, but everyone can achieve excellence.

Not sure how to start? Contact me! I’d love to help you get started on the path to becoming the best rider you can be!

To learn more about how to achieve a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

 

 

This entry was posted on August 29, 2016, in Training.

Quit while you’re ahead

Knowing when to quit is an important part of being a successful horse trainer (remember every time you work with a horse you are training it). In order for the horse to understand when he’s done the right thing, it is important to stop asking and reward him at the right time. Timing is everything. Wait to long to reward and the horse won’t be able to make the connection between the desired behavior and the reward. Continue asking without reward and you’ll only cause confusion. There was a Facebook post going around that demonstrated this principle well. It goes something like this:

Teacher: What day is it?

Student: Monday

Teacher: What day is it?

Student: The 24th of June

Teacher: What day is it?

Student: ????

You see the teacher continued to ask the same question without ever rewarding the correct answer. This led to confusion and frustration on the part of the student. The same thing happens with our horses when we fail to reward them. The horse becomes confused and frustrated and eventually this leads to resistance and bigger problems. Horses become labeled as stubborn, lazy, or even aggressive when really the poor horse just doesn’t understand what is expected of it.

Reward for the horse can be as simple as stopping the work. Continueing to drill the horse in something he has already done well can lead to frustration and loss of interest from the horse because he doesn’t understand why you are continuing to ask him to do something he has already done. Repetition is necessary to training a horse but short sessions are better than a long amount of time spent drilling the same thing. Horses have fairly short attention spans and once they move past this time frame it becomes much more difficult for them to understand and retain what you are trying to teach them.

It’s important to keep training interesting for the horse. Don’t spend too much time working on one thing. Give the horse a few minutes to relax and process what you were trying to teach him. If you sense that you are losing his attention or he is getting frustrated, try working on something else for a while and then come back to what you were originally working on. And if he does something particularly well, that’s a great time to stop working him all together and reward him for what he has done.

When you make training fun for the horse, rather than work, you will have a horse that looks forward to learning new things and tries his best for you.

 

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

This entry was posted on June 9, 2016, in Training.

Frederic Pignon & Magali Delgado Clinic

Last weekend we had the incredible opportunity to attend a clinic in Aiken, SC with the stars of the equestrian theatrical show, Cavalia. Frederic Pignon is famous for his liberty training, working several stallions at once, all at complete freedom. Magali Delgado is known for her success at the highest levels of dressage all while maintaining a harmonious relationship with her horses. She combined the beauty of theatrical performance with the precision of competitive dressage.

Magali worked with horses and riders of all different levels but her main focus throughout the clinic was showing the horse how to achieve a relaxed state of mind during all of the work whether it was simply walking around the arena or performing a passage or canter pirouette. She discussed how horses often carry tension in their jaws, neck, and withers which translates to a tight back and stiff movement. She emphasized the importance of stretching the horse before, during, and after a workout. She gave each rider different stretching exercises to help their individual horses based on the need of the horse. She always started by stretching the horse before moving on to the more difficult collected work. She also emphasized the importance of going slow and not pushing the horse past what he is comfortable with both physically and mentally. It takes longer to train a horse this way but as Magali said, “if you take your time, you will not waste your time.” If you give the horse the time it needs to develop, you will always have a horse that is happy and willing to do what you ask of it.

Frederic emphasized precision and clarity in your work with the horse. Problems often develop because of confusion. You need to make sure the horse understands what you want. Confusion causes the horse to doubt and doubt causes the horse to want to get away and not want to work with you. Frederic worked several horses at liberty and it was easy to see how every movement of his body or cue from the whip was very precise in order to show the horse exactly what he wanted. Frederic moved fluidly around the horses, like a dancer, and soon the horses were drawn to him and began to dance with him. Frederic spoke of the importance of the horse’s state of mind and how we want our horses to be relaxed and comfortable yet also focused, attentive, and ready to respond to what we ask of them.

I had the incredible privilege of riding Maia with Magali. Maia is a highly sensitive, nervous horse and this clinic what a lot for her to handle. A 16 hour trailer ride to a strange barn, strange arena, people all around watching, sound system, other horses being worked nearby, and dogs wandering around were just some of the things she had to deal with. As expected she started out very tense and jumpy. Magali had us start by walking on straight lines rather than circles, explaining that Maia needed to be straight in her body in order to relax. We worked on teaching her to stretch her neck down on a loose rein. Magali emphasized the importance of sitting deep in the saddle and being confident about our purpose and direction, allowing Maia to build her confidence in me. It took some time but by the end of the lesson she was able to walk and trot with her neck stretched down on a loose rein. She was completely focused and relaxed which for this usually distracted, worried mare was a big accomplishment. The second day we worked on more of the same however we also had torrential rain to deal with. Maia took it in stride and was even more relaxed than the previous day. Magali also spoke of the importance of believing in yourself and believing in your horse. Your attitude toward your horse and the ride is so important. If you have a negative attitude you will most likely encounter problems and have a bad experience. If you have a positive attitude you will encounter much fewer problems and the ones that you do have you will be able to work through in a positive way. This was a fantastic experience for Maia and I know that her confidence has increased because of it.
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The whole weekend educational and inspiring. It was also confirmation that we are doing things the right way as we continue to approach our training with the horse’s best interest in mind.

Click HERE to see some photos from the clinic.

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

This entry was posted on April 4, 2016, in Maia, Training.

Nothing Natural

The term “Natural Horsemanship” has become very popular in horse training lately as people seek new and more humane ways of working with their horses. Within this category there is a broad spectrum of training methods ranging from classical schooling to clicker training to domination techniques. Some of these methods are quite humane but others are down right abusive. And yet they all fall under the label of “natural horsemanship”.

Labels can be deceiving and are often used to mislead people. So today we are going to pick apart the label of ” natural horsemanship”.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there is nothing natural about working with or riding a horse. To understand this we need to take a look at basic horse psychology.

Horses are prey animals. As such they have strong instincts and highly tuned senses to alert them to potential danger. Humans are predators. Humans look like predators, move like predators, and smell like predators. Everything about us tells the horse that we are a predator. Horses can learn that humans will not harm them, but this is something that they have to LEARN not something that comes naturally. Most horses learn this at birth or shortly after but some must learn this later on in life.

Horses doing what is most natural to them- eating!

Horses doing what is most natural to them- eating!

It doesn’t matter how we change our movements or how we interact with the horse or if we make eye contact or turn our backs to them a certain way. We are still predators and the horse knows that we are still a predator. And there’s nothing natural about a horse interacting with a predator.

But we don’t just want to interact with the horse. We want to sit on his back. Note that when a large predator such as a mountain lion wants to attack a horse, what does it do? It jumps on the horse’s back and wraps it’s claws around the horse’s body. Every instinct of the horse tells it not to let a predator on its back. Now, yes,  a horse can learn to allow a human on it’s back but this is something that it must LEARN to accept. Through consistent, repetitive training a horse can learn to trust a human enough to allow them on it’s back. However, the human is still a predator and there’s nothing natural about a horse allowing a predator on it’s back.

Let’s take this a step father. Once we begin riding the horse we need to teach him how to balance and carry himself with a rider on his back. Horses naturally carry about 60% of their weight on their front legs. This is just fine and dandy when they are on their own spending most of the day grazing. But put a rider on their back and having too much weight on the forehand puts a tremendous amount of strain on the horse’s back, neck, and legs. The horse must learn to carry more of his weight with his hind legs and to round his back which allows him to support the weight of the rider without the strain on his joints but it is something that he must LEARN how to do. It does not come naturally, and though some breeds have been developed to have an easier time of it, it is still something they must learn.

Now there’s also the fact that we have completely taken the horse out of his natural environment so we must adapt the way we care for him. We keep him in a stall so we must provide exercise for him, we’ve changed his diet so we must ensure his teeth are cared for, we’ve changed the terrain he lives in so we must ensure that his feet are cared for. None of these things are bad, and they are all necessary, but they are not natural.

Now, I’d like to pause here and note that I am not saying that we should never ride our horses because it is not natural. When treated with kindness and respect, most horses will develop deep bonds with their humans and will enjoy the work that they do. Just because it’s not natural doesn’t mean it’s bad. I’m also not criticizing all “natural horsemanship” methods. Many are very good but there are also many more that use fear and aggression to “persuade” the horse to behave. And many people get hoodwinked by supposed miracle methods simply because they fall for the label.

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A horse that has learned to trust his rider and allows himself to be guided through gymnastic exercises to strengthen his muscles so he is better able to support the weight of the rider.

So what does this all mean? It means that we need to understand that there is nothing natural about riding or working with horses. Horses are horses and humans are humans. Horses can learn how to trust and follow a human’s leadership but it not something that comes naturally to them. When we change our thinking it changes the way we interact with our horses. Instead of assuming that a horse is misbehaving because he’s being stubborn or lazy we can try to understand that learning to work with humans is a process that the horse must go through and it takes time for him to learn how to respond to us so we need to be patient with him.

It means when we are looking for a training methods or a trainer we need to do our research and look at more than just the label. We need to look at the actual method and ensure that it is based on systematically teaching the horse new skills without force or fear to gradually increase his skills both physically and mentally with the health and well being of the horse as the first priority. This is not something that can be accomplished in a few days or even a few months. It takes years of consistent work to develop a horse that is willing and able to do anything you ask of it. There are no quick fixes or miracle methods. There is only time and patience and a true love for the animal.

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

No-stirrup November

The month of November is here. Days are getting shorter, trees are losing their leaves, and equestrians everywhere are riding without stirrups as part of the N0-stirrup November challenge.

The benefits to riding without stirrups are numerous. As you ride without stirrups your strength and balanced will improve. You will develop a more secure position in the saddle. Your posture will improve. You will learn to develop a correct leg position without relying on the stirrup to hold your leg in place. You will learn how to more effectively communicate with your horse using your seat and leg aids. Your confidence in the saddle will improve as you learn to trust in your balance. You will develop an independent seat which will make it easier for you to communicate with your horse and make it easier for him to do what you are asking. The more balanced you become, the easier it is for the horse to carry you and the less strain it puts on his body. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and suddenly things that once seemed so difficult will become easier.

Winter is a great time to go back to the basics and reinforce your foundation.

Riding without stirrup or reins increases the benefits even more and is the best way to develop an independent seat.

Riders in the Spanish Riding School ride without stirrups for three years to develop a deep, secure seat and proper alignment in the saddle. I encourage all of my students to spend regular time riding without stirrups. However, there are some things to consider before deciding to undertake this challenge.

The first is safety. If you are a beginner who has not yet developed the strength and coordination to stay balanced and secure in the saddle with stirrups then you are not yet ready to ride without them. Learning to ride is a skill that takes a long time to develop and there is no shame in keeping your stirrups until you are a stronger rider.  Also if you are going to be riding a horse that is green or has behavioral issues, or if you are going trail riding or trailering to a new arena or trying a new skill for the first time then it is probably best to keep your stirrups.

Riding bareback is a great way to test your balance and develop a feel for the horse's movement however it should be done in moderation as it does put additional strain on the horse's back.

Riding bareback is a great way to test your balance and develop a feel for the horse’s movement however it should be done in moderation as it does put additional strain on the horse’s back.

The next thing to consider is the well being of your horse. When you first take away your stirrups you are likely to have moments where you lose your balance and move around excessively in the saddle. This is a normal part of the learning process but it can make some horses nervous so use caution when introducing no-stirrup work.  This extra bouncing can be particularly hard on horses that have a weak back and can even be painful for them. Do not attempt to ride without stirrups until your horse has learned to carry himself in a balanced, relaxed position with his haunches engaged, his back round, and his head down. A rounded back is able to absorb the pressure from the rider. When the horse’s back is hollow that pressure goes straight to the horse’s spine and causes pain.

Don’t be afraid to ease into it and set realistic goals and restrictions for yourself. If you are new to riding without stirrups you may want to take some lessons to get you started. Lunge lessons are a particularly great way to become comfortable riding without stirrups. A steady, reliable school horse can provide a wonderful learning experience.  There is more to riding without stirrups than simply removing the stirrups. You must ensure that you are maintaining a correct position in the saddle, without tensing up or having a death grip with your legs. When done incorrectly you risk developing bad habits that can be difficult to correct. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Whatever you decide to do this November, make sure that you have fun and enjoy the time that you have with your horse!

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

This entry was posted on November 3, 2015, in Training.

Information Overload

We have recently been offering a series of classes entitled Horse Ownership 101. These classes were designed to give people who know little to nothing about horses an introduction to what is involved in owning one. Topics covered in the classes included Horse Breeds, Conformation, Costs of Owning, Purchasing Your First Horse, Tack and Equipment, Training and Behavior, and Health Care and First Aid.

Preparing the materials for and teaching this class has reminded me of just how much there is to learn about horses. Many people get thrown into the world of horses without any formal education and get overwhelmed by the amount of information that is out there, especially when it seems like everyone has there own opinion and no one seems to be able to agree on anything.

So how do you handle all this information? Here are some basic tips:

Find a network of professionals you can trust

Taking lessons is a vital part of becoming a good horse person.

Taking lessons is a vital part of becoming a good horse person.

Finding the right professionals can be difficult but these people will be your biggest asset in learning to care for your horse. These professionals include your barn manager, veterinarian, farrier, and trainer. Good professionals will work with each other to help find the best solution to any problems that may arise with your horse. These professionals have experience working with a variety of different horses and have the training and knowledge to give you the guidance you will need.

Stay off Social Media
Social Media is the worst place to get information. Ask one simple question and you will get at least 27 different answers many of which will have nothing to do with your original question. While most of these people mean well, it is difficult if not impossible to give correct advice over the internet without having seen the situation first hand. Horses are individuals and each situation is unique. Just because something worked for one horse in one situation does not mean that it is the best course of action for you and your horse.

 

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Attend clinics and demonstrations to get hands on experience learning about horses and horse care.

Educate yourself
Learn as much as you can about the care and training of horses. Read books, take lessons, attend clinics, watch dvds, whatever you can to learn more. There are many different opinions out there and learning about each of them will help you determine the route you want to take with your horse. It is important to note that reading something or watching a dvd is very different from actually being able to do it so it is always best to work with someone experienced when trying something new.

There is always more to learn about horses. A while ago I attended a clinic held by Marius Schreiner, a trainer from the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. At 34 years old, Marius had already been with the SRS for 19 years (wow!) but even he willingly admitted that there was still more for him to learn. If this 19 year veteran of one of the most prestigious riding schools in the world still has more to learn, how much more do the rest of us need to make sure we continue to learn so that we can provide the best possible care for our horses.

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

 

This entry was posted on October 5, 2015, in Training.

Using food in your training

There is much controversy over the use of food in the training of horses. Some people use food for everything. Others refuse to ever use food.

I have found that like most things involving horses, there are no hard and fast rules.  It really depends on the horse and the situation. Food works well in some cases for some horses, not so well for other horses. Some horses are highly food motivated. However caution must be used to ensure that the horse does not become pushy or disrespectful. This can lead to a loss of control and can quickly become dangerous. Some horses simply are more picky eaters and aren’t as motivated by food. These horses may prefer a good scratch or a kind word rather than food as a reward.

There are some cases where food can be useful.

Bonding

Horses spending a large amount of their time eating. This is a great time to bond with your horse because an eating horse is generally a content horse. By spending time with your horse when he is most relaxed, he will begin to associate you with these good feelings and he will learn to trust you and enjoy being around you. It is important to spend time with your horse other than when you are riding him. It is during this time, when you have no particular goal in mind other than to simply enjoy the presence of your horse, that a true relationship is built. I will often stand with my horses while they are grazing or eating their hay. Horses often do this with each other as a way of bonding. Think of it like going out to dinner with a friend or loved one. You get to spend time with that person while sharing in a good meal and the relationship gets strengthened.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a method of training a horse to perform specific movements using positive reinforcement. The horse is given a cue and when he performs the desired behavior the handler makes a noise with a clicker and then gives the horse a treat. The sound of the clicker helps the horse to quickly identify what the correct behavior was. When done correctly, clicker training can be highly effective in trick training and target training. However caution must be used. When done incorrectly it can lead to horses that are pushy, difficult to handle, disrespectful, and even dangerous. If you are unfamiliar with clicker training, it is important to work with a knowledgeable trainer to help you get started.

To re-direct the horse’s attention

In certain cases food can be used to refocus a horses attention on the handler. I have recently been working with my horse, Maia, who is extremely fearful of any kind of noise when she is in the arena. She will become so fearful that she will switch into instinctive, “run away” mode. When this happens her brain turns off and her instincts take over and it can be very difficult to get her to calm down again. However this horse is also very food motivated. By giving her food during times when she is fearful, I can redirect her attention back to me and keep her from going into panic mode. When a horse is panicking, they are unable to learn anything. By keeping her thinking about what is going on, I have slowly been able to show her that things really aren’t as scary as she once thought.

I have another horse in training with me who is extremely girthy due to previous rough handling and will bite and kick while being saddled. One thing that has greatly helped this horse is to allow him to eat his hay while I am saddling him. This takes his mind off of the saddling process and his fear that he is going to be handled roughly. Having food available makes saddling a more pleasant experience for him and he now tolerates girthing without a problem.

Food, especially when given from the hand, should always be used with a specific purpose in mind. When treats are given indiscriminately it creates spoiled, disrespectful horses. The horse should never be allowed to beg or push you with his nose or body to get you to give him a treat. A horse that invades your space does not respect you as his leader. It is also important to note that you must be careful to ensure that your horse does not become dependent on food. If the only way you can get your horse to behave is to give him treats then you need to reassess your training.  Food should always be used in moderation and with care.  If you decide to use food in your training, take the time to learn how to do it properly. This will save you from having trouble in the future. When in doubt, get help from a knowledgeable trainer who can work with you and your horse.

To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!

 

This entry was posted on March 16, 2015, in Maia, Training.