Make the back up a smooth and effortless manoeuvre with Lou Roper’s guidance. As told to Annie Haresign. Photography by Obi Igbo Photography. The back through is a common obstacle found at all levels in the trail class. This is usually presented as a slot between two poles and may include a change in direction in more advanced classes.Read More
Pauline Brimson takes us back to school and asks us to consider the differences between a coach and an instructor. I’m often asked why we all have to be called ‘coaches’ now? I personally have called myself a riding instructor for years and feel I have been providing a pretty good service to my clients. Will it make any difference if I start calling myself a coach?Read More
Give your western pleasure horse a leg to stand on, says Tom Chown
In today’s western pleasure, it is a sad fact that many horses are trained and shown with little regard for natural movement. They are forced to move uncomfortably causing them to appear laboured or lame.Read More
Jeannine March introduces three important principles in the training of any western horse.
The first principle is motion. A horse must move forward freely under saddle at the walk, jog and lope. He should be able to increase and decrease speed, and stop with ease, responding to the voice, seat and/or leg aids.Read More
Despite not having ridden for 10 years, stroke victim Linda Durocher enters the show pen one last time. This remarkable story comes with some important life lessons. As I walk to the centre of the pen, friends and other reiners whistle and cheer. I pause to consume the sounds of the arena, breathe deep the smells of the recent drag and watering of the show pen and face the judges with a huge smile.Read More
It is critical to ensure that a student and coach’s philosophies are aligned when it comes to the training of horse and rider.
We act according to our beliefs every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. People may act as if their beliefs are set in stone, which will limit their range of responses. What are your beliefs?Read More
Showing and training has more to do with a rider’s mind, focus and attitude than it does having a thousand tools in your toolbox. The mind is free, malleable and easily accessible, and not one of your other tools will be effective unless you have control of it. That’s not to say that some riders seemingly have no connection with their brain; it’s there, it just hasn’t been engaged and may be a little rusty from lack of use.Read More
In this article we’re going to look at working the gate. It’s a very practical skill to have as you may need to use this while out on trail rides in the countryside. But for the show pen, the gate is an obstacle that demonstrates accuracy and control with an artificial gate - designed especially for trail class.Read More
Judge Dagmar Zenker talks us through one rider's pattern in an AQHA Horsemanship Class. Make sure to watch the accompanying video.
This class has always been one of my favourite classes. It is judged on a rider’s ability to perform harmoniously with the horse, the only other riding class that asks for this is Hunt Seat Equitation.Read More
You’ll never get your horse right until you get yourself right, writes Monty Roberts as he recounts a turning point in his life.
As a younger man I was a competition rider, worked hard, stayed fit and ate a lot. Past injuries started causing pain in my adult life so I significantly reduced my physical activity but my appetite remained in place.Read More
Before getting started in anything technical it is vitally important that you learn the art of give and take, writes Tina Kaven.
In my last article I talked about the thought processes behind training, riding, showing and further education. Now, I’d like to talk about my approach, theory and methodology.
This is simply my way, you can take what you want and leave what you don’t like! First and foremost, I work off of a ‘reward based system,’ verses a programme based upon fear. This is important because, as we discussed previously, you have to know where you are going before you can lead the way in an effective manner, and establish a relationship based upon trust. Now for the breakdown of how this works in the programme.
I am starting with the overview before we get into details. I call it the ‘take and release.’ This terminology refers to the method of utilising the reward based system. The idea is that you give the ‘take’ (or cue) and release as soon as you achieve the response you require. This way you reward the appropriate behaviour. What exactly is the release? It is simply stopping the cue at the very moment that the horse responds, thereby releasing the horse. Ultimately, what a horse wants is no different than what we humans want. We desire to do things right, stay out of trouble and learn that we are OK - no, better still, that we are good and appreciated for who we are and the efforts we make.
This is a widely misunderstood method. As a general rule riders do not release their horse at the appropriate time, which costs dearly and creates a great deal of misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration for both parties. Horses are intelligent regardless of what the public as a whole (and sometimes riders) believe. The issue is that riders do not reward/release the horse at the appropriate moments and therefore miss the opportunity for the horse to understand and grasp correct and incorrect behaviours. I use the terms ‘take’ and ‘release’ because when I am working with others my goal is to help people learn the proper timing by highlighting to them the exact moment of opportunity. When we miss that opportunity we miss the chance to reward the horse and consequently train the horse to misbehave or to respond to our cues incorrectly. In addition, when we don’t give the release, the horse learns that there is nothing that they can do right, creating the atmosphere of frustration.
Further down the line the horse will give up his desire to please the rider and, as frustration increases, it results in many, many good, high quality horses being missed or dumped. The more clarity there is in the boundaries, the more intelligent and capable the horse will be (and appear to be). This changes the entire situation and I should add that the better rider and trainer you will feel and become. In addition, the confidence of both horse and rider is boosted tenfold! In the next few months I will dissect the actual application of all of the aids (voice, seat, leg, and hand) while keeping in mind that the ‘take and release’ is a requirement of success.
If you observe and listen to a group of western coaches chatting about their sport, you will notice that each one has their own favourite method of coaching particular exercises be it lope over poles, transitions or reining manoeuvres. None of them are necessarily wrong, as long as the correct technical model is achieved (and the health and welfare of horse and rider is considered) but it does highlight that we are all individuals with our own preferences. Why then should a coach assume that every rider who comes to them for instruction should prefer to learn the coach’s way?
Whether you are a coach or a rider, there will always be some people who you get along with better than others. However, as a coach it is our responsibility to ensure that we provide the same opportunity to learn for every person who asks us for instruction. If you find yourself repeating the same command more than three times, then you can be pretty sure that the message has not got through, and repeating the same thing another three times even louder is not going to have the desired effect either!
If the words themselves haven’t communicated the information to the rider, why not try a visual demonstration? Your coach loping around over poles on foot can often have the desired effect. Still not working? Well, try turning to most riders’ favourite sense of all – feel. My old dressage master used to say, ‘You can’t teach feel, but you can put a rider in the most optimum place to feel it for themselves.’ I think the key message in that statement is ‘feel it for themselves.’
Our most enduring lessons are often those where we have made our own mistakes. I remember as a child putting my finger in the cigarette lighter as I didn’t believe it could get as hot as my mum said – needless to say I didn’t do it again!
So, to all those riders out there who think they are just thick or will never get it, look for another way of understanding the exercise. Walk, jog or lope it yourself on foot, draw it on a piece of paper or beg a ride on a horse that can already do the exercise you are struggling with. And, to us coaches – remember how we have to train our horses. We cannot teach a horse to speak English, so we have to learn to speak horse. If we are this smart and adaptable with our horses, then it stands to reason we can apply the same thought and logic to our riders, and if one way doesn’t work, let’s find another one that does!
Can you keep a secret? It is the only way to guarantee crisp, correct manoeuvres, writes Linda Durocher. Okay, here’s how it goes down in my book. Nine times out of 10 a horse’s anticipation begins with a subtle signal from its rider.
Yep, I know it sucks that the one mistake that your horse does over and over again could be starting with you; but the good news is that it is much easier to fix you than it is your horse.
Remember for the most part the horse follows its riders lead and they really do want to do what the rider is asking them to do. It’s just sometimes the rider doesn’t recognise the signals they’re sending to their horse; but it is loud and clear to them and they are listening. Let’s break it down and examine some situations that are manufactured through rider anticipation. Starting with the biggest monster; anticipation of a lead change, one constant is that 90% of the time it comes from the rider. Don’t be the kid sister or brother that blames everything on their sibling. Placing the blame on the horse from the get go doesn’t make you a better rider it makes you a better liar.
The common miscues that I see with the lead change can be very subtle or blatant rider anticipations but the end results are the same; a late change, no change, early change, or presumptive change. In a reining pattern, being quiet through the centre of the pen is el numero uno. Busy hands and not trusting your horse to stay in the circle can result is over guiding. Moving your rein hand too far over opens up the opposite shoulder setting up the lead change and presto he changes. It’s a big surprise to you; in your mind you never asked for it, but you did ask.
Here’s a simple test. Ride through centre, hang on to the horn of the saddle and keep looking ahead in the circle that you are in and lightly apply your outside leg as you lope through centre. Keep your shoulders square with your horse and keep riding. If your horse stays honest that is a good indicator that you had previously not been staying honest through centre. Next time through, keep that hand still and trust your horse to do his job and for heaven’s sake keep riding and looking ahead.
The next biggest booboo I see riders making is getting tense prior to and staying tense through the centre of the pen. You’re not headed to the principal’s office; you didn’t cheat on a test or kick a kid in the playground so there is no reason to get tense. I see riders get three quarters of the way into a circle and, in anticipation of the lead change, they start to stand up in their stirrups, lean forward or grow three inches. All of these things are reflective of tension and are screaming at your horse, ‘Get ready, here it comes, it’s coming, oh my God it’s a lead change!’ The horse gets elevated, the rider gets frustrated and the lead change is u-g-l-y, if it even happens.
Fix it by breaking down to a walk prior to the point of where tension starts sneaking up on you like a thief in the night. Walk through centre, focus on relaxation and you’ll see your horse respond. Do this a few times and then go back to loping. When you get to ‘that’ spot focus on you; keep riding, relax, stay centred and your horse will follow your lead and stay in the current circle. Most importantly, maintain that frame of mind when you know a lead change is coming. Stay focused, relax, get your horse straight and ask. It will be there if you can keep a secret.
Stopping is another biggie. Riders look at where they want to stop, raise their hand, lean back or forward in the saddle, stand up in the stirrups, look down at the ground, put their feet forward or quit riding and the result is getting slammed into the saddle because the horse didn’t stop. Of course he didn’t stop. You told him to get ready, you both got tense, the stop flew out the window and you’re instantly a soprano.
Have an honest approach, be consistent and be a marionette working hands, feet and mouth simultaneously. The stop will come - just don’t announce it to your horse first. Have a friend video your ride, buy all your show videos and look closely for those subtle signals that you are sending to your horse. They have slow motion on replay for a reason; use it, it will become your best friend. Being honest in the saddle is the best tool you can have in your toolbox and should be the first tool you reach for.
Lead Change Anticipation
TOP PHOTO: This is exactly what you want going into your lead change, no anticipation. Here the rider’s hand is centred and her outside leg is on her horse leading into the change. By putting the outside leg on at the three quarter point in the circle, the leg cue along with the cue from the rider’s hand becomes black and white to the horse when he is asked to change leads.
LEFT: Almost perfect; as she asks her horse for the lead change from the right circle to the left circle. Here you can see that she has slightly rolled her hand to open up the left shoulder for the change. You can see that the rider is relaxed and back in her saddle and looking to the new direction. Because there is no anticipation you can see that her horse’s head stays level as she asks for the lead change. What you don’t see in this picture is her switch legs at the same time she is opening up the shoulder, which made for a lead change that was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
RIGHT: Here the rider stood up in her stirrups, leaned back and lifted her hand - all results of anticipating the stop. Because of her anticipation the horse hollows out his back, is stiff on the front end, braces against the bit and doesn’t get in the ground.
LEFT: Same rider, same horse, same pattern. The difference here is that she rode all the way to the stop without anticipation. She is sitting down in the saddle, her rein hand is low, and now her horse is rounded and, although this picture was caught at the very beginning of the stop, this ended up being a big one.
If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then reining trainers must be from Heaven and non pros from… well, use your imagination! By Francesca Sternberg.
In the 20 plus years that I have been showing Quarter Horses I have had the privilege to ride with many of the greatest trainers on the planet and benefit from their words of wisdom. I just wish I could have understood them all! I have come to realise that they do indeed speak a different language, and although mostly we have shared the common ground of speaking in English, that hasn’t always helped me get the point they are making. I have decided to compile a list to help trainers and non pros around the world comprehend their situation better. This should perhaps lead to a greater understanding and an easier ride all round. Please take this in the humour in which it is written and many thanks to those who contributed, you know who you are!
1 YES BUT…
Never, ever, ever say ‘Yes, but…’ to a Trainer, unless you wish to witness something akin to Krakatau erupting. This is without a doubt the most important rule in ‘non pro -ism.’ You may think ‘Yes, but…’ but do not ever say it out loud.
2 DO NOT ASK ABOUT THE OUTFIT
Do not consult your trainer about your show clothes. It is a waste of time and he is probably colour blind anyway. He, himself, will only like to show in a white or sludge brown shirt. He will immediately become annoyed with you as he thinks you have your priorities wrong and you should be thinking about your pattern. You, of course, know that the outfit is a priority, but that is where your opinions will have to differ.
When your trainer shouts at you it is because he thinks you cannot hear him. Actually, you can hear him loud and clear, you just have no idea what he is talking about.
4 AFTER THE PATTERN
When your trainer tells you how poorly you rode your spins/circles/stops he is not being mean but merely offering you some constructive criticism so that you may improve. Unfortunately this may make you feel like quitting altogether.
5 KICK HARDER, USE YOUR LEGS
When your trainer tells you that you ‘kick like a girl,’ refrain from reminding him that last time you checked you were a girl.
6 NEVER COMPLAIN ABOUT THE HORSE
He is a wonderful and well trained beast; it is you who are not wonderful and well trained. You may be a beast.
7 BODY CONTROL
This is referring to parts of the horse, not whether you need a sports bra.
Most non pros hate this part and most trainers love it. Just when you are going at what feels like breakneck speed they will yell, ‘Go faster!’ Actually, they do not wish to kill you as you pay the bills. Remember this as you are heading for a brick wall at full speed and have faith that, if for this reason only, they have taught the horse how to stop.
9WHO IS GOING TO SHOW THE HORSE?
Be careful when purchasing the horse that he is good enough to make your trainer look great when you are on top, but not too good. If that happens the trainer will take the horse away as it is too good for you and he will have to show it himself.
10 THE PATTERN
Do not ask your trainer what your pattern is or how it goes. He won’t know but he will be mad at you for you not knowing.
11 DO NOT ASK YOUR TRAINER TO ENTER YOU IN THE SHOW
Although he probably sold you the horse and has been training you for some time he will have no idea what division/class you are both eligible for.
12 SELECTIVE HEARING
I have found over the years that it is easier to agree to everything and only listen to half of it. As long as you are having a nice time at least 50% of the team will be happy.
13 LAST MINUTE ADVICE
You can tell a non pro whatever you like at the gate before they go in, but he/she will have forgotten most of it by the time they reach the middle of the arena. The only two instructions they really need to know are ‘don’t fall off,’ and ‘try to stay on pattern.’ When the trainer says ‘have fun’ what he is really thinking is ‘please don't embarrass me!’
Remember to keep things really simple for the non pros. They do not understand even the most basic commands and quite often stare vacantly at you after they have been given an instruction. It is not that they are totally stupid, just that they don’t process information too well when their feet are not on the ground.
2 LEFT AND RIGHT
Even the most highly qualified and intelligent person, prominent in a professional field or career, might not be able to tell his left from his right when sitting on a horse. Many will also struggle to count to four.
Even though you do the same exercises over and over again with your students, and give them the same instructions, by nightfall they will have forgotten them all. In the morning you will have to start all over again.
Most non pros cannot coordinate very well. If you give them exercises that include direction and speed, along with hand and leg movements, they will become very confused. That is why reining is so difficult for them.
Always carry a few tissues with you because at some point there will be tears. You have to hope they are not yours.
Never only have one non pro at the show at a time. There will always be one who can’t get their chaps on, so you will need another one to help him/her.
7 TOO MUCH PRACTICE
Allow your non pro to know his horse just well enough that he can pick it out of a line up, but not so much that he ruins all your good training.
It is difficult to get non pros to understand that the horse show is not a social event, a place to meet up with friends and go shopping. Non pros have real difficulty staying focused in environments like the fair grounds. For some reason they seem to think they are there to enjoy themselves.
9THE TRUTH HURTS
When a non pro asks, ‘How did that look?’ it often pays to lie. A comment such as ‘Well, you look like a monkey playing with a football’ is not acceptable. You can say something like ‘You ride a little bit like Shawn Flarida’ instead.
Non pros have very little memory, and last minute instructions will be forgotten the moment the gate closes (see non pro list number 13 above).
11 LOOKING DOWN
What is the fatal fascination with the saddle horn and why do non pros have to stare at it all the time? Does it do something special, or have directions written on it? Would it not be so much better for them to look where they are going?!
If you truly can’t help the way you teach get a job in a foreign country. That way some of the really rude bits will hopefully get lost in translation.
13 FINALLY,REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING
When the non pro wins, it is because he/she is trained by a great trainer. When the non pro fails it is because he/she is a non pro twit.
When the trainer wins it is because he/she is a great trainer. When the trainer fails it is because the horse is useless. The non pro needs to understand that they have to buy a better one.
Non Pros, you are not alone. Trainers, you are not alone either. Enjoy the show!
Forward motion is one of the most fundamental tenets of classical horsemanship. Anyone who has ever started colts knows this - you cannot teach them anything (stop, go, turn) until they are moving freely forward. As with all training problems if your horse is refusing to move forward you must first and foremost consider a physical cause. This could be an ill-fitting saddle, a painful bit, a sore joint or even a rib out of place that only hurts when you ask for a canter (right before you get bucked off!). With a horse that is not moving willingly forward, it could be any of these and dozens of other physical causes. Before you start it is best to have your horse assessed by a vet to rule out any issues.
Once a physical problem is ruled out then you can look to the horse’s training. First off, does he have any clue of what you are asking him to do? You’d be surprised how many horses are being ridden regularly but have very little actual training. When it comes to responding to the bit and cues, it has to be taught by someone. Often I see horses that are just simply untrained even though they are packing a rider down the trail with no problems.
The next thing to consider is whether a reluctance to move forward is a learned behaviour. In other words does the horse know to move off your leg but is ignoring your aid because it has worked so well for him in the past? It doesn’t take much of a perceived gain for a horse to learn that his refusal gets him what he wants - many insensitive horses will gladly endure the kicking and spurring from a rider if it means not having to lope circles or do any real work.
In some cases the problem is that the rider is giving the horse conflicting signals by pulling back on the reins when they want to go forward. If you are riding a lazy horse or one that is reluctant to move in certain situations (like when approaching a giant mud puddle!) and you pull back on the reins, the horse will choose to take that as permission to stop. Any backward pull on the reins inhibits forward motion; that is a fundamental truth that you should always remember. In some cases we do want to inhibit forward motion, like when asking the horse to stop or collect his frame, but he has to be moving freely forward first. In many cases riders are simply pulling on the reins, inhibiting forward motion when they don’t really mean to, like when the horse spooks, balks, backs or is just plain being lazy.
Remember that forward motion precedes all other training concerns and when you need the horse to move forward more you must reach forward with your hands. If you pull back on the reins when the horse is not moving freely forward or even just keep your hands in a neutral position, the horse is unlikely to move. Actively pulling back on the reins of a lazy horse or one that is not moving forward for any other reason will always make the problem worse.
The use of spurs is not a good choice on a lazy horse. Spurs are not an aid to make a slow horse faster; they are an advanced-level aid for riders to use on horses to motivate them to a higher level of performance and do more difficult manoeuvres. If the problem with your horse not moving forward is simply because he is lazy and has learned to ignore a polite request from your legs then he needs to be reminded to respond to a light leg. I prefer the use of the crop to reinforce your leg aid, rather than the spur, in the instance of the horse not moving forward off a light leg cue. A spur will often make the lazy horse even duller to your leg and make him sull up and balk even more. Kicking harder on a lazy horse also does not work well because the lazy horse will tolerate the pressure and just wait for you to quit kicking from exhaustion, which doesn’t take long!
In a horse that is trained but not responding, ask once lightly for forward movement with a shift of your weight forward and a gentle bump with your calves remembering to give with your hands. If he ignores your polite initial request immediately reinforce your leg cue with a sharp spank with the crop right where your leg cued him (make sure you keep reaching forward with your hands). If done right, this will undoubtedly send him expeditiously forward but do not contradict yourself as most riders do by then pulling back on the reins. Let him move and only stop him when he is voluntarily going forward without any ‘pedalling’ from you.
Ask your horse lightly to move off your legs again. Be prepared to reinforce with the crop if needed but always giving him the opportunity to respond to your light aids first. If your timing was good the first time, and you used adequate pressure to motivate the horse, the second time you ask with your legs he should step right off. You may need more than one spanking before the horse begins to take your leg cues seriously again but with good timing and the right skill level of the rider the horse will be moving freely forward in minutes. Again, this is a tip for refreshing a trained horse that has become unresponsive - you would train a young horse that didn’t know better a little differently.
We are excited to introduce this new series for trail competitors. US National Champion Lou Roper will be taking us through the fundamental elements required in a trail pattern starting with the lope over.
Lope overs are found in elementary classes usually with two to four poles. In the advanced classes they may have four plus poles; in a fan shape, spokes of a wheel or even an X. It is very important prior to attempting a lope over to have a good, collected, rhythmical lope. Why? Well it’s necessary to have your horse in balance, with an even tempo so you can negotiate the obstacle with ease. In my experience the lope over is probably the most difficult for people to learn especially if they don’t have a horse that has a good, natural lope. There are horses that aren’t blessed with that great gait so we have to develop a system to get that that back and go ‘soft.’
The lope needs to be practised on both leads. If your horse great on one lead make small circles to and from a straight line. Physically challenge your horse so he builds up the necessary muscles and strength to carry himself and a rider. Keep in mind that if your jog isn’t great your lope is unlikely to be spectacular at first either. In walk and jog overs a horse can enter with either foot so he can make small adjustments but in a lope over there’s only one way in with one Place it in the arena where you don’t have to make sharp turns to approach it, perhaps on the path of your regular lope track. Start any new obstacle in the simplest form first. Once you’ve mastered it and your horse is confident, then you can make it more difficult.
As you’re loping over a single pole, the first few times your horse may leap a little bit. That’s ok, he is just coordinating himself and learning to take the power from his forward motion and pass it over the pole. As the horse performs the lope over, he will need to keep his back relaxed. One of the most common problems is a horse that isn’t relaxed enough to be able to flex his back or coordinate his legs over the pole.
Problems with rushing at the obstacle are also common; sometimes practising poles will alert a rider to what type of lope they have, but if they’re having difficulty loping, attempting a lope over is not going to help! Get the basic training done first, then trail can be a lot more fun for horse and rider If you start to have a problem where your horse rushes or gets confused go back to just the basic lope or take away a pole or two to make it more simple, not only for the horse but for yourself.
When you first start practising your lope overs it’s important to pretend that the pole is not there. Often a rider will interfere with the horse unintentionally because they are looking at the poles. It really makes a difference. After you’ve mastered one pole you can start adding multiple poles. It’s very important that you keep the distance correct. A six foot space is good for the average horse.
It’s normal for a rider to over-ride this obstacle; that means a little too much bridle or hand and/or a little too much leg. You must be aware of your body position and have a soft hand so as not to stifle the horse’s front end with your reins. Give enough encouragement with your leg to keep impulsion but don’t overdrive your horse.
If you’re still not sure if your lope is good enough, you keep knocking the poles or your horse is getting distressed and confused with this trail obstacle, get someone to watch you or film you so you can see or understand what’s happening.
One way to test yourself and your horse’s lope and collection is to move your multiple poles to a spacing of seven feet. If your horse tackles the obstacle better you know you have to improve your basic lope. There are lots of ways to do this but in essence you should try to get your horse to rock back and collect more. Try some short striding exercises where you lengthen the stride for a number of paces and then aim for a few short strides - the shorter the better. Remember to slowly increase the number of short strides in a set distance in your arena - don’t expect too much from your horse at first. He will have to coordinate his feet, understand what you want and build up the muscles and flexibility to do as you ask. Don’t forget to reward your horse with a release in pressure or short pause in training if he makes an effort for you as a good lope takes a lot of power and energy for the horse to perform.
WHAT THE JUDGE WANTS
When you are in the show pen the judge will be looking for an even tempo and a lope that looks relaxed and collected enough to effortlessly negotiate the obstacle. In a trail class a rider that is well positioned will give an overall appearance of a better horse so again get a friend to watch or film you ride so you can analyse your own riding and position.
It is extremely important for the rider to recognise the correct distances on horseback as well as when walking the course. Recognising the distances will help you identify exactly where to cross the obstacle and, after all, trail is all about accuracy!
You’ll see and hear me say this next word a lot, -‘Practise.’ Yes it sounds simple and it is! I’ve won so many titles and competitions because I was prepared to practise and train my horses more than anyone else. Of course you have to practise the correct techniques but when you know what you have to do, do them, over and over again, hundreds – even a thousand times! Practising your basic ground and pole work, your transitions and correction position and aids will always result in you taking home the ribbons. So go on, haul out those trail obstacles and get practising!
- Make sure you have a good collected rhythmical lope.
- As you approach the poles, pretend they are not there.
- If the horse gets confused with multiple poles, its okay to go back to single poles.
- Remember your position during the lope, go easy on the hand and leg aids so that the judge sees an effortless ride.
- It's difficult when the judges eyes are on your but do try to remain relaxed so your horse doesn't pick up any tension.
- I keep saying it, but schooling, repetition of obstacles and practising the correct techniques will result in higher marks in the show pen. Good Luck!
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The road to winning isn’t what we thought, writes AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Tina Kaven As I write this article, I am communicating (via text message) with a young lady in Iowa. I'm coaching her from Texas in my living room. How can I possibly help her when I am thousands of miles away? I’m not on horseback, I can’t even see her, so how can I help? The power of coaching is all in the mind.
All of our actions begin in our brain as a thought. Deep within us is the beginning and the end of what our ride, training, and show classes look like. We can't control how our horses will respond, the ability of a horse or how the judge will place us. That said, what we can control is much more than any of us realise.
How many of us simply go to the barn and get riding? We don’t think through what we need to do to be successful; what issues need addressing that day or how we should tackle recurring problems. We don’t think about what adjustments we need to make in our riding or how we can communicate better with our horse. We simply go and take action and the returns are often as random as our tactics.
When we take a thoughtful and mindful attitude with our riding, we are more aware of what we are communicating to our horse and what they are communicating to us. That then enables us to make conscious decisions about what is the best approach and ask ourselves if we have the answers to all our training questions or whether we need to look for some guidance.
Do you listen to what your horse is communicating to you? Do you recognise his methods of communication? Do you listen or is your approach simply, ‘Do what I tell you to and do it now!’ One of the most amazing things to witness is when a horse and rider have the ability to communicate properly with each other.
If we don’t know the answers to our training questions we must be willing to seek them out for our own sake and for the sake of this animal that works so very hard to please us. It makes sense - we have to have direction before we can give direction and that requires honesty, open mindedness and willingness to evaluate the situation. If we decide we know the direction to go, we then have to think about the equipment (saddles, spurs, bits etc.) that we need and if we know how to use it. I’ve done countless clinics all over the world and it never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know how a bridle should hang in a horse’s mouth or how to select the right bit for what the they're trying to accomplish.
If we're honest enough to ask for help, then need to know where to get it. Do we look to the winners circle or do we care what goes on out in the warm up pen? Is proximity important or are we comfortable using the internet for remote coaching sessions?
We need to take a good look at our riding, our training and our showing and ask if we are truly doing the best we can to ensure the best result. In this age we want things ‘now’ but some things require more research. Maybe that ‘head tosser’ has an underlying problem? As I’ve frequently seen, the bit is either the wrong type for what the rider wants to accomplish or it isn’t fitted properly.
Last but not least, work out your continuing education programme. If you don’t have a plan, I recommend you educate yourself before trying to educate your horse. With proper forethought and direction, anything is possible.
Oh yes, and by the way, the little girl in Iowa that I’m coaching via text message, videos and email - yesterday she was bucked off of her horse in the show ring and couldn’t bring herself to ride the rest of the show. Today, with some serious virtual coaching, she was second in her trail class out of nine! As I said, success works very differently than we thought; especially when we really start to think about it.
Tina Kaven is a is an AQHA Professional Horseman and judge, and has won numerous Congress and World Championship titles. She is also a member of the NSBA Hall of Fame. Visit her website here.
Linda Durocher shares her philosophy on ‘sucking it up’ in the show pen. At the end of day it probably isn’t that bad! When the show season is upon us, I know it plays on my clients’ minds. Their nerves get more on edge as the first show of the season gets closer. Their concerns are common and you may also be someone who gets anxious or are new to the show pen. Some worry about being watched, the act of being judged and how they look in the saddle; no one wants to look inept.
Well you can quit worrying. I’ve learned that unless you have a mind blowing run, fall off your horse, jump a fence or God forbid crash through a fence, nobody remembers a run. The judges see so many it’s impossible for them to remember who did what. That’s it, that’s how it is - no one will remember. What’s the worst thing that can happen? A zero?
Every time you step into the show pen it’s not going to be perfect. You’ll have bad runs along with good runs, and when it all goes wrong you need to find your sense of humour, take it on the chin and if all else fails suck it up! There will be more runs and it’s not the end of the world.
One story of show pen survival I tell my clients begins in Lexington, Virginia. I was riding a reining mare that I had just purchased. She arrived in Michigan the same day I left for the show and I had only ridden her twice before buying her. The first day I showed her, I felt her out and I knew we would make a good team. The next day I was on deck visualising the mares’ turnarounds, when a friend noticed the back strap on my chaps was crooked and offered to straighten it for me. ‘Sure,’ I said. I walked through the gate and started heading for the centre of the pen thinking I’m cool, got my new horse and I’m ready.
Turnarounds were first and her biggest hole but we managed to eek out 0’s each way. Next up were left circles. I loped off and asked her for some speed at the quarter circle. As she kicked it in gear the concho on my chaps fell off and I felt my chaps come apart. I was thinking, ‘Crap, this can’t be good.’ Then it happened, the one thing that can make every rider cringe; a hushed ‘Oh’ from the crowd followed by a trickle of laughter that quickly manifested into a large roar. I was locked into that large fast circle and my saddle was eating me up, literally. The chap strap was now under my saddle and sucking me under. The faster I went the more I got sucked back onto the cantle. Eventually I was lying so far back, that the cantle was slamming into me as I lifted my head to catch a glimpse of where I was going. Just about the time self preservation kicked in and I considered stopping, I felt a pop in the front of my chaps. The buckle broke and instantly I was flying around the pen with my chaps down around my knees.
Just when I thought I was home and heading to my last stop, my hat flew off. Halting to a miraculous finish, the crowd was laughing and applauding as I dismounted to pick up my hat. I rescued my hat and headed for the end gate with chaps a dragging, laughing as I saw friends standing by, eager to hand out a little ribbing and a pat on the back. I knew then, this would always be a hard one to live down. The bit judge was laughing so hard he could barely check my equipment. All he could manage to say was, ‘Nice run.’
These days, I can’t remember who the judge was or who the bit judge was. That year I showed in both Intermediate Non-Pro and Novice Horse Non-Pro and couldn’t tell you which class it was or who won it, but I remember the run.
You’ll survive and if everything goes wrong, in the very least you’ll have a good story to tell for years to come. If everything goes well, you’ll still have a good story to tell. It’s a win, win!
Linda Durocher competed in reining events throughout the USA before she suffered a series of strokes. Her remarkable character and strong will saw her return to the horse world as a coach and trainer, operating out of Michigan. Linda is renowned for her insight into horse / rider relationships and has many successful students in all fields of western riding. Visit her website here.
I recently experienced one of the most memorable moments in my life. It was an almost indescribable mixture of sheer joy, thankfulness, relief, and surprise when my horse and I finally marked a 70 in a reining run. I’d be a wealthy woman indeed if I could bottle that feeling; one lightning rod capturing five years of training in a series of reining runs gradually building to that single achievement. And no, I’m not talking about doing this on a Futurity horse or an expensively bred reiner but on a 17 year old family pet that came into reining training as an 11 year old. And here’s where is all started.
It was all a bit of a long shot as Ché was an 11 year old, and I wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth, but never say never!
I’ve been captivated by horses ever since seeing one as an infant. This is my very first conscious memory and I’ve been lucky enough to have long and loving relationships with two grey ponies, one of which is American Quarter Horse, Snippers Soul Rebel (aka Ché). I bought him as a five year old in October 2000 almost by chance as I was actually about to give up riding because of early-onset arthritis. But it was love at first sight and the rest is almost history. He was a huge challenge to ride for the first two years, being very forward going and quick thinking. But I persevered as his previous owners had made me promise to learn western, and to compete him.
It took me ages to pluck up the courage to enter our first Western Equestrian Society (WES) show at Hideaway Farm in 2002. I nearly die of embarrassment when I think of it now as I had no western attire and had been very misdirected in how to ride him, but we got placed (in western pleasure if you can believe it). We then started attending WES clinics with Bob Mayhew and getting our act together. A couple of years later we got placed first in Horsemanship by judge Adam Heaton at the WES Hartpury Show, where it wasn’t unusual for us to do four or five classes a day. I was over the moon and Ché went on to do well as a WES all around horse, enjoying success in western riding, pleasure, reining and trail.
As Ché improved so did I, and weirdly my arthritis became more bearable the more I rode and got fit. The knee operation I was supposed to have never happened and as I became stronger so did the relationship between us. In 2006 I decided to concentrate on reining as it was so exciting to watch. We commenced on a fairly ill defined programme of training which mainly consisted of attending clinics with various trainers, each one adding a distinct piece to our jigsaw puzzle of knowledge. It was all a bit of a long shot as Ché was an 11 year old, and I wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth, but never say never! Along the way we met some fantastic people, many of whom have shared with me the highs and lows of getting to grips with an incredibly complex discipline including the usual stuff such as time after time forgetting the pattern, being so nervous you can’t think straight, or the frustration of getting a particular manoeuvre right and then another going belly up.
It’s no secret that Ché lacks fashionable reining genes but he has inherited two vital ingredients, a great mind and a fast athletic constitution. Together, we’ve proved that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks and at the same time have an amazing amount of fun. Ché’s particular claim to fame is his speed control and the correctness of his circle work. In the show pen or just out on a hack, he’s always a hair trigger away from laying down some awesome speed – and it’s not just because of my ‘hot bottom.’ His great, great, great grandsire was the legendary grey Native Dancer, who featured on the front of Time Magazine in May 1954, and was arguably one of the greatest US racehorses of all time.
Remember, success isn’t always measured by where you end up, but by the distance travelled from where you started out. Ché has helped me achieve the almost impossible and we are now enjoying hacking out in the New Forest. However we may still have a go at some ‘prime time’ classes in future as he’s a horse who loves to show in front of a crowd of whistling, stamping, shouting supporters. The louder the better as far as he’s concerned, and who am I to argue with that!
Some Thank You’s
Two things in particular kept me going on my really difficult journey to a 70 score. First, the sheer fun and delight of riding a horse like Ché. He’s intelligent, forgiving, forward going, sometimes very cheeky, but most of all just loves working. And secondly, all the great supporters and trainers I’ve met on the way to whom I owe enormous thanks.
So, thank you to Bob Mayhew, for getting us started in all the western disciplines (and WES Area 13 run by Anne Batley). David Gray, for sorting out our lead changes when we were completely stuck. David Deptford, both for breeding Ché in the first place and starting our sliding stops. Shane Borland, for getting us running our large fast circles, really fast so that Ché can plus this difficult manoeuvre with confidence and consistency. Jane Muir, for recognising our ambition and creating the Garden of England Winter Series Clinics and Shows that took us to another level. Francesca Sternberg, for getting us looking better in the show pen. European clinicians Jan Boogaerts and Alain Kronshagen for their overall support at the Winter Clinics, for finessing us and sharing a judge’s perspective. Erwin van Looy and Nikki Peters for their tremendous support and encouragement.
And finally, the most important person for us both, Doug Allen for helping us bring it all together, for having patience and for being an inspiration. Even if I faltered in my self belief, Doug never once lost faith in us getting our 70 score. Ché now thinks the Sterling Quarter Horses barn in Bodiam is his second home and always loves the huge amount of attention he gets from the staff.
Kiki’s Success Tips
In case you’re wondering what has worked for me, here are some tips that may work for you:
- Build a relationship with your horse - this can take time. Some people can ‘click’ with a horse really fast, but however you do it, making a genuine and positive connection comes in handy when you want the horse to give you 110%.
- Take responsibility for your own learning – take notes after each clinic or lesson, focus on what works, have a flexible approach to your training needs and don’t be scared to train with a variety of trainers. Each one will challenge you in different ways.
- Focus on your self-belief - have a goal no matter how small, build your confidence but above all, find a trainer who really believes in you and will give you quiet, sensible support at shows.
- Train your brain - I work full-time, don’t live where I keep Ché, and the arena we borrow is someplace else entirely. Training can be difficult but I can access my notes and play reining runs in my mind whenever I choose. The brain can hardly differentiate between reality and vividly imagined states so use your imagination to practise your manoeuvres.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself - I sometimes see folks beating up on themselves (or worse, their trainer) when then come out of a run. Instead try keep a sense of proportion and focus on what went well first, and then focus on what you can immediately improve on. Recognise that mistakes are mostly rider error and sometimes caused by lapses in concentration, so make sure you stay focused and hydrated.
- Find your inner core - I make a point of not being phased by who else I’m competing against but instead I compete against myself, i.e. ‘Can I do better this time? Can I correct my errors from the last run?’ I rarely know who I’m competing against and I never watch others before my run. I run the pattern through in my mind in slow motion, preparing to correct any manoeuvres if we mess up.
- Find your mojo - you and your horse may excel in a particular manoeuvre, use it wisely and it can get you out of a whole lot of problems if things go pear shaped.
- Put stuff into the ‘Phucket Bucket’ - if things go wrong in the show pen, it’s already history so learn to move on instantly. Focus instead on the opportunities you still have left to shine in front of the judges.
- Give thanks - never take your horse or the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful sport for granted.
Dressage and western may seem poles apart, but the disciplines have much in common and are moving together on a global scale, writes Jane Carley. Olympic gold medal winning Anky is the most high profile of a growing band of dressage riders who have been captivated by western riding, although this should come as no surprise. Both are rooted in classical riding, with the skills of the educated horse trainer used to good effect in battle before being showcased by elite riders, such as those from the Spanish Riding School, on one continent and deployed to help build a nation by allowing herdsmen to control and direct livestock across a vast and wild terrain on another...