Tag Archives: horse train

“Engagement” Rings

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “Engage his hind end!” or “He’s not engaged!” or “He needs to work on his engagement” I’d have enough to retire and write a book on the subject.

For me, I get to the barn and I engage with my horse, talking to him, handing him his greeting carrot, asking about his day, running my hands down his leg, picking his stall, refilling his water, all the while caressing his forelock, giving him a pat as I walk by.

Stretching, grooming, saddling… he’s an OTTB so he has something to say about every aspect of preparation… very engaged!

And now mounted, we start by stretching his body in a long and low walk, touring the arena (quite engaged in his surroundings) and starting with some circles and bending.blog_article_engagement

As we both get our kinks out, we start a Conversation, beginning with my Mind to my leg, hand and seat (oh and my voice)… to his Mind, front end and hind end.

Our goal is that in time, my hand and leg control his body in perfect synchronicity, like dancing. I’m leading but he’s a fraction of a second behind, and I let him lead every now and then.

Elasticity in collections, extensions and power with no resistance… only a comfortable pleasant contact in my hand and a supporting, fluid leg.

A trainer once gave me the analogy that my leg should not be jabbing and not completely off. My leg acts like it is filled with water, a squeegee waterbed leg of supporting, pressing
and giving… reacting to his body, his body reacting to mine.

Engagement for us is when we are acting in partnership with another, resulting in the marriage 🙂 of my mind, body and spirit to his. 

Year End Straight Talk

During the last horse show of the season, I start  thinking about goals for next year.  I love the winter… the weather funnels us in the direction of flatwork.  Jumps are cleared out of the arena or in big piles so dragging the arena is easy.  Center lines open up and it’s like a clean canvas, like the snow-covered pastures back East and in the Midwest.  It’s a new beginning point and a fresh take from where we were last spring.

Our barn has horses ranging from unbroke to competing at A shows.  We know that everything in between the fences is flatwork and if those spaces are in a rhythm and balanced, there ‘s a greater chance the fences will be too.

I start to list my flatwork goals for the winter.  For my horse, perfect his transitions, smooth out his lead changes, introduce counter canter, continue to supple him through shoulder-in haunches-in.  For me, it’s all about posture  – correct my shoulder slump, push my heels down, become more consistent in my eye.

Most of my goals haveto do with StraightnessStraightness is the thesis word for the winter.blog_article_straightness

Straightness first requires an awareness of when my horse and I are not straight.  And then Straightness requires the discipline to work on it every ride.

Walking by the last show’s schooling ring, I can hear trainers’ comments:

“Keep him straight to the fence, not jumping left.”

“Look up and straight ahead, not down.”

“You missed the change because he bulged his shoulder in, he wasn’t straight.”

“Keep a straight line in the diagonal.”

“Ride straight toward the rail after the first jump.”

“Sit up straight.”

Straight line from hip to heel.”

“He ran out because he didn’t get straight soon enough.”

 

Straightness has a BIG impact on many of my outcomes.

As I start to focus on Straightness down the center line of the arena, I am realizing how frequent my horse is not straight, and how much my posture contributes to that.  How can he be balanced if I am not?  Or is he not straight because he is compensating for my un-straightness?  Good grief.   Keeping tabs on straightness at all times requires a whole lot of something I didn’t expect this winter… discipline.  

So that’s me out there gritting my teeth, feeling as unnatural as a pretzel in my straight and tall position, focusing on the steps my horse takes and where he has habitually become un-straight, because I allowed it.

Straightness is significant because it make my horse more symmetrical and balanced.   It makes me more balanced.  Straightness  impacts my courses, everything in between the fences, and the jumps – takeoff, arc and landing.  Only all that.

I forget who said champions are made when no one is looking but I know it was someone riding with a great posture and a straight horse.

~ kw

Pull Up the Big Girl Pants

I’m brimming with confidence. blog_article_big-girl-pants1My rides are non-eventful steps up the learning curve ladder. Remember the game Chutes and Ladders? Each leg yield like on a square in the board game progresses up the ladder to, let’s say a lovely bend in a corner. The sky is the limit, largely because of Mulligan’s wonderful attitude and enthusiasm for everything labeled Learning. I am believing I can raise his jumping level by year end. I’ve mastered our partnership and we can dance with the stars.

And suddenly we land on a square that sends us spiraling down a winding chute. Mulligan and I had an argument and I feared the honeymoon was over.

Key words in that last sentence. . . I feared. Interesting how fear can change a person from an insightful horsewoman to a 50-something amateur old bitty with brittle bones, a neophyte whose horse doesn’t love her anymore. I was certain I couldn’t train a plant to grow.

My fall from grace started around lead changes, Mulligan rejected my leg after a jump and moved into it rather than away from it. I increased the pressure and he bucked. HUH? What happened to the meticulous groundwork, the sensitization exercises, the flatwork building blocks of leg yielding and turns on the forehand, the strong foundation I thought were in place?

Now my supple well-prepared thoroughbred was grinding his teeth and we weren’t best friends in La-La land anymore. Furthering the proof of my launch from the pedestal I envisioned he had me on, he started rushing his fences, defiantly throwing his shoulder inward in the corners. Like a puppy whose tail I had accidently stepped on, I wasn’t his cool mommy anymore.

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Here’s where the Voice of Reason rolls his eyes, and steps in with what I need to do:

Step One: STOP IT RIGHT NOW! Take a breath and let him take a breath. Collect your thoughts.

Step Two: OMG, GET REAL! Get your head out of your you-know-what and Pull Up the Big Girl Pants!  Making a career out of beating yourself up is utterly useless. No one got murdered, no need for a lifetime sentence of guilt. In an era where journalists are getting beheaded by terrorists, no need to cut your own off because your ride is not going as planned. Get a perspective, Sistah!

Step Three: Resume training, taking each component separately. He’s a different horse right now, and an angry, confused horse cannot learn, so bring him back slowly to the point where he can. In this case, that’s a quiet halt after a fence or a simple change at the end of the line.

Good grief, it’s one thing to have humility, listen to your horse, have a sense of justice. It’s another thing entirely to self-deprecate yourself to worthless-human-being-ness.

Horses have taught me that every challenge, problem, weakness throws a magnifying glass on what I need to work on – that could be physical – like posture and conditioning;  it could be mental – focus or knowledge; or it could be emotional – containment, praise, etc.  That’s the beauty of the process, there are no failures because each challenge leads to an Aha moment, which leads to future success. Cool huh?

The Person who makes no mistakes is unlikely to make ANYTHING.

We all hear the cowboys say “reward the try” when training horses something new.  How about rewarding your own try?

~ kw

Taking a Mulligan – Part 2

< < Part 1 

Our second horse show, Mulligan walked flat footed into the arena for his flat class. Honestly, I could have called it a day right there. I was busting the buttons off my riding coat and I tried to act nonchalant and cool. He stood in his lineup like a statue. Mr. Canon documented the experience and played it back for us a hundred times.

Mulligan was relaxing. He cantered his cross rails in the jumping class like a hunter. When he did his first immaculate lead change in the arena, Dana from the rail was so happy that Mr. Canon trembled. Mulligan handled the flowers, the fences, and the announcer with aplomb. Mulligan appropriately won second place.

To hear our celebration and the applause, the praise and the carrots, you would have thought Mulligan just won a USHJA Hunter Derby.

A trainer would have arrived on the grounds on schooling day, stabled the horse for two days, and had him ready for us and his amateur rider by Sunday. But we would have missed Mulligan’s transition from pawing at the trailer to standing quietly, from nervous wheeling around, to eating hay and drinking water. No one would have told us when his frantic neigh for help became a nicker of hello. I would not have experienced the moment his heart pounding between my legs turned to a sigh of acceptance.

Dana and I watched Mulligan process and learn. We rode every fence right there with him (from the rail and on his back), calmed him through his nervousness, prepped him, fed him, groomed him, schooled him, posted him and showed him. Mulligan made us proud and Mr. Canon was right there with us every minute.

Anyone that has had any experience bringing along a young horse, riding any horse for that matter, accomplishing any endeavor of worthiness, knows that it is rarely an uphill progression. There are pitfalls, disappointments, setbacks. Handsome (he’s Mulligan at the shows but Handsome at home) had pulled a shoe and bruised his sole so he got some time off the next weeks. We soaked him in Epsom salts, poulticed, cold hosed, massaged his muscles, pine-tarred his soft feet and let him mow the edge of the arena. When we started him back, Handsome received his first lunge lesson.

A training barn’s groom would have done all that. Would he have told me how Handsome loves the attention? I would have missed how Handsome stoically stood for poulticing, blog_article_mulligan2_smilesand the dexterity with which he pulls carrots out of my back pocket while I painted his hooves.
It is a joy to be Handsome’s teacher, his part-time nurse and his friend. Hearing his whinny lifts my spirits. Handsome is getting more confident at the same time he is building mine.

Once Handsome/Mulligan is healed, and if the stars collide, schedules coincide and we feel he is ready, he will be added to the show calendar amidst the other horses’ schedules. Our adrenalin will get us through our regular work days, evening rides and a tireless summer. We trust our program but remain flexible for the unexpected. Plan B is right around the corner with C waiting in the wings. Mulligans don’t care about plans.

In a world where two country “dumb asses” win the Kentucky Derby, I bet they would say that the deepest rewards come not despite their background but because of it. The “wins” are embedded in the process. Few horses become champions but taking a mulligan can bring out the champion in all of us.

~ kw

< < Part 1 

Taking a Mulligan – Part 1

“Take a mulligan,” instructed my golf teacher after I topped a drive off the tee. Immersing myself in golf lessons seemed like the right distraction after the passing of my 23-year old thoroughbred. And once I turned 50, I was reluctant to go the green horse route again.

But golf wasn’t horses.

Enter Handsome, an appropriately named gray OTTB gelding owned by Dana whom I met through a horse ad online. She had allowed him months of rest after his racing, starting him in his hunter career slowly, with light hacks and cross rails at a schooling show or two.
Through Dana’s generosity, now I ride Handsome as often as possible. Handsome lives on Dana’s ranch along with two other horses that Dana shows, and several more retired horses and ponies, dogs and cats.

We do not have the deep pockets to show the A circuit, the cash flow to pay trainers, the time-off-work to stable all week at horse shows, the extra twenties lying around to tip grooms. We do have our years of expert advice from good trainers, and our own experiences of horse care, training, vetting, shoeing (Dana shoes her own), hauling, braiding, schooling and showing.

At the shows we are known as an “Independent.” Be kind to us Independents, we were up at 4 a.m. While I am not an advocate of riding trainer-less, it just works for us right now. A bevy of good hunter-jumper instructors reside in our area, available to assist at a moment’s notice. Because we are Independents, we appreciate even more the many hats trainers wear.

Our days are marathons. Both of us work full time, have family commitments and juggle our schedules to accommodate the horses.

But the rewards run deep and the lessons are profound.

I soon discovered that Handsome has a forgiving attitude when his amateur (that’s me) misses a distance or makes a mistake. Maybe it has to do with the carrots I bring him, the scratches behind the ears and the conversations we have while grooming. After a few months of trotting over grids and cantering simple lines, Handsome and I were ready for our first horse show together.

Handsome’s second career as a hunter compelled us to come up with the show name Mulligan.

To help us assess our progress, Mr. Canon travels with us to horse shows. blog_article_mulligan1_canonHe is there for every round including the flat classes. He communicates our mistakes so they are obvious and he never dwells on the negative. Only sometimes does Mr. Canon lose his focus, but the big picture is always there. He is accurate, handy, and affordable. We observe our performances against the professional hunter rides that we watch carefully with Mr. Canon at our side.

Mr. Canon mirrors our mistakes and we have instant replays when we need reminders.

So at our first local show together, Handsome now Mulligan asked questions all day long. Why are horses everywhere? Why are horses tied to trailers? Why are we riding then resting, then riding then resting? Why are we not going the same direction? Why is that horse jumping in the arena next door when we are just standing? Why are we lined up but those three horses are leaving, can’t we leave too?

We answered his questions patiently, through continual exposure and quiet rides, words of praise, lots of petting and boatloads of carrots. Mulligan settled down in his cross rails class, jumping every fence the first time. He had a flashback from the race track when he heard the announcer on the loudspeaker but he came through the experience no worse for wear.

Dana and I were exhausted.

~ kw

Part 2 >> 

Tides of March

It’s SPRING and that’s what I have in my step.  The Tides of March come rolling in a like a lion and so do I, a young equine athlete.  March rides are raucous events so bundle up and hang on for some roller coaster riding!

blog_article_winter

My mom is out of shape, the air is crisp and I am fresh as daisies!  Out of my Mom’s closet comes the jeans with the leather sewn in the inside, some days full chaps, in the hopes that they help her stick into the saddle leather more snugly.  I love to trot slowly the first few times around, gingerly almost, as she doubles up the reins, sitting taller than normal, waiting for the explosion.  None comes so she relaxes at the exact moment the horse in the pasture finishes his roll, leaps up and gallops bucking to the far end.  My chance, YAHOO and I hear a muffled, whoa, WHOA…

I am careful to scare her into respecting me but not so much to dislodge her, there are carrots involved in the equation.   I am smiling in my bridle.  Ah, such mischief.

I mentioned in a previous post that I heard George Morris say at a clinic in Florida this winter that if your horse isn’t fresh, call the vet!  He was serious.  It might be an exaggeration but the point is, that we are all feeling our alfalfa in the wintertime so just expect it.

Winter also is sometimes accompanied by body-clipping.  I got a trace clip this year which make me much less sweaty after our ride, and boy that arctic air inspires me.  I was bought a new red winter blanket that is high-withered and so snuggly I get drowsy as soon as it is on.

When the rains come, it’s a bummer.  We have to go inside, otherwise my feet will get mushy.  I love the smell but hate being inside.  I can’t be kept inside too long – it reminds me of my days in the racetrack boot camp, and dysfunctional behaviors appear while my sanity goes out the window.

We still need to go out and move around, you probably will not be executing the fine maneuvers we did last fall.  Just get us out and survive.  Let my mane grow out  and hang on, woman!  We’ll have a hoot of a time. Don’t take it too seriously, we have months of warmer weather ahead where we can do the drill.  It’s the off season so come be a bit of a wild child with me!

~ kw

Winter Ed. 101

It’s THAT time of year. Winter is in full swing and I’m a wonderful snuggly hairy beast, nestled in my blanket, my tummy well fed. The first show isn’t for months and I’m a critter without a care in the world. AND THEN…those enticing notices come in the mail, are pinned up on tack room bulletin boards, in house show offices… CLINIC TIME! Get a head start on the show season, they say. Use your Christmas bonus! Ride with an Olympian!  Uh oh. . .

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Clinics make us better…they build confidence, open up our minds – horses and riders – to new perspectives, a different way of saying something, enlightening metaphors. Heels down day and day out can make one wince. Ride like there’s anchors attached to your heels… well now why didn’t you say so?

Oh and by the way, it’s cold outside. Well it’s WINTER, people! I heard George Morris say at a clinic in Florida this winter that if your horse isn’t fresh, call the vet! Expect it and plan accordingly.

From my perspective (and that would be the horse’s) clinics can be fun like jumping new grids, or they can be boring, jumping the same line over and over makes me cranky. Sometimes I get fidgety.

Clinics more likely can be confidence boosters, facilitating us to jump in balance and rhythm with the best form we can. But a clinician also has the power to crush our confidence; it can be very scary if we are overfaced.

Clinics are great venues for low-budget riders like my mom to get instruction and advice from a different perspective of a knowledgeable trainer. Web sites like Equestrian CoachHorse Channel, EventionTV and  Ask The Horse Show Judge  are very helpful for training, riding and showing. But learning takes place experientially – and one has to do it to get it.

Commonly asked questions:

What if the clinician sets up something you know your horse isn’t ready for?
Human: Calmly walk over to the clinician and explain your reservations due to the level of your horse.
Horse: If an adjustment is not made, calmly take the course and fart in the clinician’s face as you trot by and try your best.

What if you can’t hear or don’t understand what the clinician is saying?
Human: Calmly walk over and ask clarifying questions of the clinician. You are paying good money for his/her advice and if you leave the clinic not understanding a point that was made, you’ll be grumpy.
Horse: Exactly as above, because if YOU’RE grumpy, I think you’re mad at me and I’m just a horse trying think up ways to keep you smiling.

Auditors:
Quiet please… not clucking, no side quips. Dress warm, zip it up, write notes, but keep it down to a whisper. And down in front.

Above all, Mom:
Before you sign on the dotted line, research the clinician. Ask people who have attended before or audit one yourself. Make sure you place us in the correct session for our experience and training level.

~ kw