Thursday, June 7, 2012

Champion - Success in the Jumper Ring

Champion - Success in the Jumper Ring

This past Sunday I went with a student to the Bronze level Blue Star Hunter Jumper show. My student was competing in the jumper division with her pony. Horse shows are always a pretty long day, but it can be really rewarding to challenge your partnership with your horse.

Being at competitions really tests yourself and tests your horse. There are some things you can do to help make it less stressful and more fun:
- Make a list, check it twice: Make a list of all the things you need for the show day. Make a list for your horse and yourself. Remember both you and your horse will need water and food, as well as your tack and riding equipment.
- Get a good nights sleep: our bodies function much better when well rested, so make sure you leave time for yourself to get some good snooze time.
- Arrive early: it's no fun rushing around to find things or get ready, it only adds to tension. Your horse might need time to settle too, so arrive 30 - 60 minutes early before you think you need to be there. That way if something goes a miss you've got extra time.
- Be calm and relaxed around your horse: it's quite normal to be nervous at a show, but try to be calm and relaxed around your horse. Horses can feel our energy and mood - if you are nervous and anxious it could make your horse nervous and anxious.
- Practice only what you need to: horses often need a warm up before they go in a competition ring, but its important not to over due it. If you practice too many warm up jumps for example, you could make sure horse tired or muscle sore. You can also make your horse sour to the idea of competitions if it means being over exerted.
- Remember your a natural horsemen: you will be surrounded by a variety of people at horse shows. Some will hit their horses with crops or kick them with spurs. Others might use really harsh bits. It is important to remember what training methods you believe in and stick to them. Give yourself time in the practice ring to work through any challenges with your horse the way you want to.
- Be organized: It is important to know what is happening at the horse show - where to warm up, what the course is, when to enter, the rules, etc. Giving yourself enough time to learn everything you need will help, or bring someone that knows what they are doing.

My student, Alexandra, arrived early with her pony, Cody. We had enough time allow Cody to relax before doing a warm up in the practice ring. We did the warm up very relaxed and did just enough jumps to make sure both rider and horse were ready. It was a muddy day with rain threatening overhead, but we memorized and walked the courses, and they rode their courses with no refusals or knock downs! It all worked out nicely because Alexandra and Cody were champion!

Key Learning this Week: Horse shows can be a fun challenge for you and your horse, but remember to think it through and be prepared so you can both have fun.

Prophet's First Session - Learning to Want to Be with Me

Prophet's First Session - Learning to Want to Be with Me

Yesterday I worked with Prophet - a very sensitive and anxious quarter horse gelding. Deep down he is a sweet and loveable horse, but he is very timid and lacks a lot of confidence. He arrived 2 days ago to be started walk, trot, canter. In his past his owner did a lot of work with him and was progressing fairly well to riding him at the walk, but after getting thrown a couple times they decided to consult me for training. Prophet only ever reacted in fear - he is not a mean horse, just very timid. He is actually incredibly kind to people and animals, and not dominant at all in the paddock with other horses. His reaction is purely out of anxiety and tenseness from being scared and claustrophobic.

When I began to start Prophet last year, I realized he had a lot of confidence and anxiety issues related to the saddle and riding. Without the saddle he was a complete dream and responded to cues relaxed and confidently. With the saddle he was a lot more anxious and tense - like a bomb ready to explode. I did a lot of work desensitizing him to the saddle so that he would stand quietly while I tacked him without him being tied. I also did a lot of work to help him with his claustrophobia - this including sending him in between tight spaces like between barrels, and bumping his sides. We also spent a lot of time developing our communication and trust with a lot of ground games. By the end of summer he was doing amazing things on the ground with a saddle on like sideways over a barrel and responding to cues so softly that it was like magic.

I then progressed to mounting and dismounting from both sides, and eventually to riding him at the walk. The process was extremely slow because I know that Prophet has previous experience of tossing his rider to get rid of the tension - so my approach was to advance his training to the point where he was starting to feel anxiety, but not so far that he would have a melt down and try to get rid of me. The idea is to teach him emotional control - to push him out of his comfort zone slightly, to show him he can handle it, and then go back to things he finds comfortable. This process is time consuming, but it teaches the horse to be a thinker, and not turn into a crazy, explosive, ready to take off type of horse.

I was successful in that the times that I did ride him, he never tried to buck, rear, or run away - he stayed my thinking and willing partner. This is very important because once a horse learns they can toss you off, it is very hard to stop them from doing that unless they become a willing partner.

Over the fall and winter Prophet spent his time at his owner's place not doing a whole lot. Then at the start of June he is back with me to finish his training. I did his first session of the year yesterday. I had the plan to saddle him up and do some ground work to refresh his memory.

Instead Prophet decided to be very anxious and wary of me - and didn't want to be caught. I had to change my plans and instead use my understanding of horse psychology to try and get Prophet to want to be with me.

I followed him around the ring and if he looked like he wanted to come visit, I would invite him in. If he turned away from me I would send him away causing him to canter. I was trying to tell him the message of 'being with me is easy and inviting, turning from me is hard work because you have to canter'.

After about 20 min or so he got the message and finally came over to me. I spent some time just rubbing him all over - I didn't clip him to a lead rope. I didn't want Prophet to think that if he visits me he will get trapped. Instead I rubbed him all over and then allowed Prophet to follow me at liberty (no rope attached). He followed me at walk, halt, back up, and through sharp turns around the ring. I then clipped him up, rubbed him all over, and unclipped him again.

I wanted Prophet to think that being caught isn't a bad thing - I wanted Prophet to want to be with me. This is because if he is already trying to get away from me with just the idea of being caught, then it will be much worse if I try to add a saddle. I had to adjust my plan to suit the horse.

For those of you wondering why I don't just saddle him up and ride the buck out of him... well, first off, that is dangerous, second even if I can ride the buck and push him through it he's likely to try bucking again with a different rider eventually to see if he can ditch them so I'd be putting future riders at risk, and thirdly it'll definitely make the horse harder to catch!

I am going to play with Prophet more this week. My plan will be to 'hang out' with Prophet this week and do only simple tasks. I want to get him to catch me (want to be with me), and then just spend time with me while I teach some lessons or read a book (right now I'm reading the Hunger Games series and I love it!) - this way Prophet can start to change his mind about being with me... something that is apprehensive right now into something positive.

I do have some tricks up my sleeve for new strategies to try with Prophet this summer for training (largely in part to lessons from Don Halladay at the Young Horse Start Clinic run by the Owens last year), but first I need his trust and willingness to be with me. Stay tuned for updates!

Key Learning this Week: Have a goal, but being willing to change it if the horse that shows up in the moment isn't ready for what you want. A good horseman won't let his own personal agenda or goals ruin the partnership.


  1. "Remember your a natural horsemen: you will be surrounded by a variety of people at horse shows. Some will hit their horses with crops or kick them with spurs."

    LOL LIke that time you whipped Mission in the face with a riding crop because he was grinding his teeth?

    1. I don't remember doing that to Mission... but it wouldn't surprise me. I was raised 'traditional' training and used to use a harsh kimberwick bit with a chain - I used to yank on Mission's mouth to get him to put his head down, and I had no idea about natural horsemanship. I remember times when Mission would do certain behaviours that I had no idea what he was saying - and now I look back and feel so badly that he had to put up with me... but at least eventually I learnt about natural horsemanship.

      It wasn't until my last year or two with Mission that I started natural horsemanship - and I've never looked back since. It makes me feel awful how I used to be with horses - but I am proof that people can change and learn new ways with horses.... and I definitely know from experience that natural horsemanship is much safer and more effective.

      I'm not sure who wrote this... but Mission was about 15 years ago... This June I am celebrating 10 years of LFEquestrian and Natural Horsemanship. We're having a clinic this weekend at the farm Saturday and Sunday June 23-24 from 9am - 4pm... everyone is welcome to watch. It'd probably be quite an eye opener to see what I teach now if those are the memories you have of me :)

      My message would be that it's never too late to learn natural horsemanship - anyone can - and you won't regret it!


  2. I will say this, I am impressed with your honesty.

    I do find it sad to think that "traditional" training is what that behavior stemmed from. I also come from the old school, and ride with somebody who is very classically trained and seriously a lot of it is very similar to the NH methods. The only thing is, we don't call it NH, or the porcupine game, or hide the hiney or what have you. It's just plain old Horsemanship-and it works. It's straight forward and logical and I have a wonderful relationship with both of my horses. I will give you this-NH sure is marketable, and if it at least teaches people to be kind then that is a good thing. I do have to say most of the riders I have met who practice any kind of "PNH" were not really riders or HORSEMEN at all. And their horses had terrible manners.

    I will apologize for my previous comment, knee jerk reaction(maybe I was just feeling defensive for the old boy) You probably don't remember me anyway- I worked at Belleview a bit, and have a dun horse named Duke (he's retired now!)and I agree, that was a very long time ago. (are we getting so old that over a decade is actually possible?)

    If the old Mission man is still around, give him a pat-if not, he was a wonderful boy.


    1. I replied.... just as a new comment by accident, so my response is below.

  3. Hi,
    Yes I remember you - you had Diamond. Belleview would have been when I first started to realize there might be a better way with horses. Wow time flies!

    I describe in my book (in the About Me section) of a time when I thought a trailer was Hell on wheels - this would be from memories at Belleview where I would try to load Mission into the trailer and he would stop like 50 ft away from the trailer. It was awful.

    It was Melanie Thompson who taught me at Belleview in dressage the first steps to being more 'natural' with my horse - she had me take the Kimberwick bit out of my horse's mouth and use a regular snaffle.

    When I moved from Belleview to The Meadows is where my real natural horsemanship journey began because I started to work next door at Pleasure Valley and was then mentored by the late Gary Convary.

    I agree it isn't fair to say 'traditional' when referring to my past experience... it seems to be the most common way of teaching/training (or at least in the hunter/jumper circles I travel in), but I suppose the 'intimidation' method would be more accurate.

    I agree that 'good horsemanship' is good horsemanship. Natural horsemanship just means learning to understand horses and using that understanding to work with horses - through leadership and communication not intimidation and fear.

    I agree that some people use natural horsemanship methods but don't call themselves natural horsemen - likewise there are people who say they are natural and they are not.

    To me, natural horsemanship is about working with horses in a way that naturally makes sense to them because we mimic principles and ideas they understand from being in a herd (for example the idea of the leader's space takes priority, or that the reward is in the release)... these things we don't really teach to horses... we just show them that we understand them too.

    In regards to Parelli. I learn from some Parelli Professionals and have dabbled in some of their content, but I am not a Parelli Professional. I wouldn't discredit Parelli because of some students with bad mannered horses.

    The Parelli program teaches how to get horses to respect you and your leadership role - it is a good program.... but like with any program you have good students, okay students, and learners. I would look at the Parelli professionals to judge if you like what they do or not.

    Don Halladay and Maureen/Todd Owens are Parelli Professionals in the area and I definitely can't see them accepting 'bad manners'... because thats not what the program is about.

    Anyway - it was nice to catch up with you. I am glad you are doing well.