I have decided blog updates are what you do when your allergies are just totally kicking your butt and you are waiting for your meds to kick in, so you can head out to the barn and do your job. In the meantime, here we go. (just read an article about how pollen counts are off the charts. man, that explains a LOT!) I've been happily reflecting on the latest Anywhere From Here foundation horsemanship clinic, and here's a recap of what went on . . .
The clinic in Lincoln was just the best time. I sent out the photo link to all those hundreds of photos and figure, since that might be daunting to wade through, plus it's hard to know exactly what you are looking at, if you have not attended a clinic of mine, what you think you see may not be what's actually occurring :-)) All things are taught with a process and an end goal of softness and fluidity under the saddle, and there are steps to take along the way or you may end up somewhere, totally else!
We had seven riders, the youngest being a 13 year old girl, the oldest, well I am not saying, LOL! The 13 year old has more miles under her belt than many adults and several of the adults were either brand new to horses or just returning to their childhood roots. The seven horses ranged from chartreuse green to the bluest of true blue, a really nice bunch of horseflesh.
I teach essentially the same things in all of my clinics and lessons. The paths we take may vary, techniques might change from horse to horse but the principles of gaining the horse's respect, the promise of instant release from pressure as the horse seeks the right answer . . . those things do not change. Gaining these skills in a friendly, controlled environment can mean all the difference to whether or not your trail rides go as planned or have mishaps, disappointments and scary events added instead. (see the May issue of Saddle Up magazine for my article on Trail Safety)
We had issues of horses who didn't really want to or understand how to freely move their feet, and ones who seemed to want to move them too much. I taught the riders how to send their horse from the ground, doing exercises that might look like lunging but are very far from mindless circles, round and round. We watched for all four corners to be reaching equally. A horse with brace in his body will travel crooked and getting the brace out of the body relaxes the mind as well. Fixing that can be a major solution to many problems a rider might think totally unrelated. Getting the horses to respond lightly on the halter was another task that involved teaching the handlers how to start soft and firm up as necessary. The release needs to come as the horse STARTS to make the change, if you wait til the change is done, it's too late. That kind of timing can only come with practice and observation. I think my students picked up very quickly on what they needed to do, and the generally easy looks on the faces of the horses tell you we were on the right track.
When we did run into some stickiness, here and there, I was able to step in and show what works for me. I do not claim my timing and feel are perfect, far from it, but I was able to get the horses past their hard places and could show one horse it was okay to give and work away from his buddies, another horse carries a lot of tightness in his body which results in chronic bucking behavior, another tends to want to sleep through her days, plopping her feet roughly into the ground, and when we were able to bring the life in the body to the feet and into the mind, we created a much prettier picture than we started with!
It was really fun working with some folks who have been to a couple of my clinics and are very dedicated to taking this stuff home. For those guys, it was mostly a matter of fine tuning, and introducing a few ideas I have just learned, myself, and they were off and running. It was equally a joy introducing these concepts as brand new ideas to some of the other folks who got to find out their horses really do appreciate it when the rider is the leader and the horse doesn't have to worry about being in charge. It's a big responsibility, you know! It's not about the struggle of "showin' 'em who's boss" but rather letting the horse be assured that when you say something, you mean it and have the ability to follow through. A boss mare who pins her ears but then does nothing to rebut a challenge will quickly lose her spot. The one that has the ability to firm up will rarely ever need to use it.
We played with obstacles, not because we think we will find mattresses on the trail and need to be able to cross them but because that particular object provided an excellent venue to erase doubt's in our horse's minds about our ability to send and ride them over things they may not think, on their own, is the absolute best idea. Every success built confidence, horse in rider, rider in horse, and prepares the way for more success, out in the world, using these same principles, pressure, release, good sends, rewarding the try, knowing when to firm up and knowing when to sit and wait. Again, the details will change and there is no way to simulate every single type of situation a person will run into on the trail, but when you have the principles in place, you and your horse will be able to smoothly handle whatever comes your way, no leaping, balking, sticking or whirling required!
Thinking about the late Tom Dorrance's poem "To Slicker Break A Bronc" we did slicker training, and all our "broncs" came around to thinking nothing of the flapping yellow thing. Might have been a different story, had we been caught in the rain, five miles from the trailer and just tried to unfold and wear one. . . .might have been a long walk home for some of us!
I taught the class the hip over, shoulder through exercise, of which there are many variations. I like it best when I don't take the arc out of the body of the horse and I ask them to rock back on their hindquarters, lifting the front and bringing the shoulder through while yielding away from me. This has really helped my horses not be heavy in front, as they all used to be, once upon a time. We did that manuever from the ground and worked on it from the saddle. We used one of my favorite exercises, the barrel game, to see how well we had those pieces. That game also provides excellent spook therapy when you use your line or the horse's stirrup to knock one down while the horse comes around it. They get pretty used to the idea that sudden, unexpected events can take place without having to have any kind of catastrophic reaction! The tight horse learned to bend and I don't think he bucked, even once, the second day all day long. Lots of good uses for these games and exercises!
The next piece after that is lateral flexion in motion. We learned the basics for that, from the ground, looking for that straightness in the arc that shows the nose tipped in, inside hind reaching into the track of outside fore. I no longer teach just bending a horse's head and neck, back and forth. I have learned, if I want the feet to be aware of signals from the reins, it doesn't make sense to detach them by doing rein exercises that do not and are not supposed to, move the feet! I have seen many a horse run through it's outside shoulder, and most of those have been bent and bent and bent, so that when you pick up the rein, sure the head and neck come around, whilst that body, detached, continues on in the direction it was going, only now without it's head! I look for lateral flexion to take place while the inside hind is reaching up under, at first, it is at that one stride that I release, and later, I can ask the horse to hold that frame, bending, and then straight down the rail for a truly lovely picture of collection and self carriage. It's one of the neatest exercises I know, and I learned it from Missy Fladland who I cannot wait to ride with again, once her show schedule slows down.
At the end of the last afternoon, we played arena games, to help build, once again rider confidence in their ability to steer their horse not only from point to point, which encourages straightness and the very desirable goal of being able get point A to B with a minimum of direction and fuss, to group games. The group games addressed defensive trail horse issues, jiggy, speedy horse issues, pokey slowly never gonna get there issues, and gave the riders yet another set of tools to take home and build into their repetoire. Not I nor any good clinician I have seen says we can fix you or your horse in a matter of days or hours. The best we can do is show you some things that work for us, give you the pieces, the confidence and the ability to pick them up and use them. Then, it's up to you, the rider, to take it home, and THAT, my friend, is where the learning truly begins.
So, from the basics of having a horse learn to lead respectfully, taking responsibility for it's place by your side, it's willingness to stop when you stop, back up when you do, spook therapy, confidence building, obstacle training, trail safety and etiquette to some of the more advanced pieces of learning control, self carriage and collection, we covered a lot of ground over the course of a weekend! My next clinic is scheduled May 15, in Sioux City. We'll cover, in a nutshell, the basics of what we did over the weekend. I work to each rider's ability to try to give the best picture and possibilities of success for whichever piece of the puzzle is the one that fills the whole for you!
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