|HORSELOGS.COM - Feature Article from Lindsay Grice...|
|Feature Article from Lindsay Grice, February 2006|
Q. As a novice amateur competitor, I often ask the advice of trainers and fellow competitors. Most seem to agree that my horse has the movement and talent to make it at the amateur level, but she isn't "finished"," polished" or "seasoned" enough. I'm not exactly sure what this means, in practical terms.
A. One advantage of competing with your horse over simply riding for pleasure is the opportunity it gives you to measure the skills you are working on at home against the standard of other competitors. Many times I have returned home with a horse after a show having discovered we weren't steady enough, forward enough, slow enough, or brilliant enough, and determined to get back to the drawing board! The standard is always being raised a little higher and we need to do our homework to keep up.
When people describe a horse that's "broke" or "finished" they're referring to one that is totally submissive and obedient to his rider's cues, skillful, dependable and content. Here are some ideas that may help as you endeavor to rise to the next level.
DEFINE YOUR EXPECTATIONS - When we go to a show, thinking that what we have is pretty good, we often have our eyes opened to what is actually possible and realise we can expect more from our horses. We take home a new mental image on the computer screen of our minds and set out to match it. Just make sure that the goal is reasonable according to the talent and maturity of your horse. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so decide what you expect from your horse in all aspects of your daily routine. An attentive horse on the ground is more likely to be attentive under saddle. Do you expect him to stand completely still while mounting or will you allow him to take some steps without being asked? Do you want him to travel deep into that corner, or choose his own path across it? Do you really want a six foot loping stride or will a nine foot length do? Push yourself to make these decisions. Horses expect their herd leaders to make decisions - let's go for water, time to hit the shade, everybody run! Your horse is wired to follow the leader or be the leader.
STEP, DON'T LEAP TOWARD YOUR GOAL - A three percent improvement with most training sessions really adds up in a few months. For instance, if you're trying to match that slow rhythmic stride of last week's western pleasure winner, be content with shaving a little at a time off of your horse's stride, slowing the count bit by bit until he becomes comfortable. Next, you can work on lowering and steadying his frame. Finally, polish these skills right beside another horse, or some other distraction. If you try to do everything at once, you'll cause fear and confusion, and horses can't learn anything effectively when they're afraid.
EXPECT IT CONSISTENTLY- Nothing messes up a horse's mind more than boundaries that move. Horses learn by repetition and they like routine. Once a goal is reached, expect the same standard all the time, and in every environment. For instance, if your trail horse learns he is not to touch the tree decorations on the course yet is permitted to nibble at the bushes when you're out riding, nuzzle your pockets for treats or hand graze, you may be sending him mixed signals. Is he allowed to play with your fingers in the barn aisle but not in a showmanship class?
It takes a well thought out game plan in order to make a "polished" horse. It takes a hundred little things that work together for that winning performance. Take the lead, have consistent boundaries for your horse, and raise your expectations - you'll be amazed at what your horse can do!
Q. We are from Northern Ontario and there are no coaches in the area who specialize in my daughter's discipline of riding. Any suggestions to help her succeed in her riding?
A. Although living away from the hub of equine activity can be a challenge, it is possible to map out a plan to suit your needs. The inconvenience and cost of travel to shows and training help is, no doubt, discouraging. Here are some suggestions that have worked for long distance customers of mine, and ideas from fellow competitors hailing from remote locations.
BOARDING SCHOOL - Some people opt to send their horse to the trainer of their choice no matter what the distance. If this is an option for you and you don't mind being apart from your horse for several months, keep the lines of communication open with the trainer. Ask him what would be a convenient time to call and telephone for an update each week. I often send customers videotapes of training sessions. Travel to the trainer for lessons if you can and ask to see your horse worked. Take notes so that you can carry on with the same program when you bring your horse home.
VISIT A TRAINER - Ask to spend a few days at the farm of a trainer you admire - with or without your horse. Take some lessons on her horses. Watch her while she trains. Ask alot of questions and offer to help in the barn.
MEET IN THE MIDDLE - Some coaches will agree to let you pay a coaching fee and join their students for help at the horseshows. You may not receive the individual attention of a private lesson, but you also have the opportunity to watch him coach other students and to observe other professionals showing in various classes.
ATTEND CLINICS -This is another good opportunity to ask questions and learn from others. Take good notes so that you can practise the things you learn at home.
HOME STUDY - Stock up on the most current books, magazines and videos. I have learned so much just by experimenting and seeing what works. Ask someone to videotape you.
It will take some initiative and perseverance for your daughter to excel without a local coach, but those are qualities that any parent would be happy to see developing in their child - it might be a blessing in disguise!
Lindsay Grice is a member of the American Quarter Horse Association's Professional Horseman Association and an Equine Canada Certified Level 2 Coach. She teaches horsemanship clinics in the United States and Canada and writes articles for several equine publications. She has made appearances on television and radio, speaking about horse related issues.
Lindsay has often been Ontario's top ranked Jr. Hunter Under Saddle rider, and in recent years has ridden several horses to AQHA's national high point year end status.
Lindsay has a reputation for successfully training clients horses for new events - including Western Riding, Horsemanship, Equitation and classes over fences. She strives to create thinking horseman of her students by clearly communicating the how's and why's of riding.