Monday, November 29, 2010

Time to Clear Up The Big K- Or “A Minion with an Opinion”

Funder said: I love Big K stories. You make him sound like such a Buddhist guru.

This is when it really hit me, I have to balance out the stories about The Big K. He was definitely my guru for many years. We had a deep and complicated relationship based completely on horses.

The kidlet told me there were rumors flying constantly about what our relationship actually was. Which is absolutely hysterical on so many levels.

All K and I thought about or talked about was the horses. Our mutual obsession was what turned us into people who could read each others minds and finish each others sentences. Of course as all you horsaii know, working through training a horse makes you work on yourself.
As I learned to control my hands, legs and emotion I became a much stronger person. As I became stronger I developed an opinion.

A minion with an opinion is a bad thing when it comes to trainer/mentor – minion relationships.
The level of training I had climbed to was awash in abuse. Abuse towards horses. Abuse towards people. The trainers I met and worked with did things to their horses I couldn’t handle. Horses in my world were investments, commodities, tools, nothing more.

The horses were worked hard and early, we started two-year-olds on January 1. Which meant they were often 18 months old or so.

Colts and fillies were kept in box stalls, isolated from each other and under lights 24 hours a day. They were never turned out. They were in their stall, tied to the rail or being worked.

There was no room or time for kindnesses. Again, towards the horses or each other.

When I first started riding with K he was just coming up in the reined cowhorse world. He had top tenned at the AQHA Worlds and won a few major Colorado events.
He was smart and thoughtful and taught me a lot about riding through issues and how to read my horses.

As he rose in the ranks the pressure of his position began to change him. It began to change me too. I developed a very strong line I wouldn’t cross. It caused a deep rift.

K can be a very hard man. He can be impossible to understand. He pushes himself, his horses and the people around him to the absolute mental and physical limit.

I’m spending a week with him next fall. It will be the first time I’ll have ridden with him as an equal, instead of someone he needs to mold. It will be interesting.

I’ve written about many of the things K and I talked about but I’ve avoided the darker side.
I still haven’t decided how much I’m willing to write about those parts.

K and I have made peace after a very bitter split.

I’m wary, but he seems to have found himself again. We have begun to talk the way we used to, which is great.
But from where I stand and from what I’ve seen, I would never, ever leave a horse of my own in training with anybody. Other than myself…

I’ll toss anybody who wants to ride up on one of my horses, but nobody trains on them except me.

I didn’t go stomping off in a fury and refuse to compete either. I love reined cowhorse, I love cutting and I love the history and technique behind developing a spade bit horse.

I love learning.

I love training my horses.

I can’t morally do to a horse what I saw being done in order to win.

I would have never become the caliber of trainer I did if I hadn’t ridden with the people I did.

See what a Mugwup I am?

I am glad The Big K and I are friends. I’m working out the latest mental knot he gave me and it’s a great problem. I’ll share it eventually. But we have a wall between us now. We’ve talked about it. I built it and I’m not of a mind to take it down. It’s a point of sadness between us.

I’ll compete again. I want to see if I can win on a horse I’ve trained with what I’ve learned and the moral code I’ve developed. I don’t know if I can, but it keeps the future interesting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Splish Splash I Was Taking A Bath

When I was a teenager I owned a big, rowdy, opinionated gelding named Mort. For the most our learning was a mutual experience. I don’t know what he knew, but I knew just about nothing, so we had to start at the beginning for everything.

Crossing water was one of the first trials we went through. I wanted to, he didn’t. It was pretty simple.

There was a narrow creek which trickled below Mark Reynor Stables in Palmer Park. I used this as my first water crossing. I would point Mort at it and kick, he would eventually jump it.

I thought this was great fun and jumped him over it again and again. Eventually Mort tired out and walked through the water. From then on I assumed he would cross, and he did.

I rode the tar out of that horse. He was my major mode of transportation and I rode him all over the place. He learned to cross sand bars and swim in reservoirs. We would run and jump into streams and ponds. I never really thought about it, it was just the way Mort and I travelled.

Once I grew up and began training horses for a living I decided there needed to be a technique involved in training horses to cross water. So I got all “trainerly” and developed a system to get my horses in the brink.

First I would find a water source to train with. It can be hard to find water in Colorado, so sometimes I had to wait for some good sized mud puddles. But I could usually find a trickle somewhere.

I would give my young horse a good work out and then trot him to my water crossing. When he stopped I’d let him. He couldn’t leave, he had to stay facing the water, but he got to air up and relax while we stood there.

The next day I’d follow the same pattern, except this time I expected him to get closer. Usually I’d make him get close enough to the water to sniff at it and play in it a little.
I still didn’t cross, but I ended his training session at the water.

Pretty soon my little horse would cross the water and get his rest on the other side. I took as long as I needed to get this done. Usually it only took two or three tries and the colt would be crossing. If the horse was particularly spooky I would work him up to it little by little. It always worked, as long as I was patient.

Once he would cross at his spot I would meander up and down the creek, crossing back and forth.

I kept him looking forward, got him across with gentle encouragement, and let him think it was his idea to cross. I was pretty proud of myself.

There was a small problem with my method even though it looked cool and horse whispery.

When my colts went home they took something else with them. An opinion. My young horses were no longer afraid of crossing water, they knew they could do it, but they also thought if they didn’t want to cross, they could just stand and look at the water.

This problem went deeper into my training methods. It just tended to show up at water crossings. I had approached most of my desensitizing problems this way.

I would ask the horse to approach whatever was scaring him, then take him away when he relaxed. Then I would move on to the next problem. Eventually all of the problems would fade away to nothing. I figured this was the way to deal with things.

My horses were quiet and confident.

Then they would go home and start giving their owners fits. The little stinkers would hesitate when asked to do a task, and would feel perfectly free to argue about whether or not they completed it.

They didn’t do it all the time, just once in a while, and with a little work with the owners it would generally straighten itself out. But it was definitely a hole in my training.

What was I doing wrong? I started to think it was a respect issue. My colts behaved an awful lot like my daughter. Which isn’t all bad, it’s pretty good actually, but try getting her to do something she doesn’t want to. Like clean her room. Or vote Republican. I raised her to have an opinion too.

I asked the Big K for some input.

“I’ve never felt your horses don’t respect you,” he said, “but I know what you’re talking about.”

I waited while he mulled it over.

“They hesitate for a brief second before they do what you tell them. It’s almost like they ask you, ‘Are you sure you want this?’”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked him.

“Probably not, but the question that comes up to my mind is, how do your horses respond when you don’t ask them, you tell them?” he answered.

Now it was my turn to ponder.

For the next few weeks I studied every move I made with the horses. Every now and then I wouldn’t ask my colts to go, I’d tell them. The Big K was right. My little guys felt perfectly free to sull up and argue. Not bad, no rearing or bucking, just a belligerent stiffening through the shoulders and neck. Which of course turned into a couple of front legs rammed straight into the ground.

This was the hole I was looking for.

I’m sure everybody has dealt with this one. It shows up at different times on different horses, but I see it most when a horse is entering a show ring, a trailer, leaving their buddies, and of course, crossing water.

I could wiggle them back and forth and kick them out of it, but why was it there?

It was because I cared what they thought. If my horse stops and look, I do too. If they don’t want to do something I tend to acknowledge it, ask for a little try and then move on.

I was forgetting something. Sometimes we need our horses to go right now. This second. No thought, just blind trust in me, the rider. My horses needed to know they would be OK if they simply trusted me and did what I said.

All of my approach and retreat training was just fine and dandy, but I had forgotten something I had instinctively known as a teenager.

If you just make then go and they survive, the next time it will be a little easier. Your horse will not only trust you to make decisions, but begin to count on it.

So I let go of some of my trainerly notions. When I needed to cross water I was still patient. But by God, we were going to get across, that day, right now.

A broke horse on the other side and the end of my romel did the job. If I needed to get through a series of gates or open an arena door I started to do it from horseback. We got it done. I would periodically hop on and take off at a high trot or brisk lope, straight from the tie rail. No warm-up, just straight to it.

As soon as they began to automatically respond, the better they behaved in general.

The biggest lesson I learned? Sometimes I had to forget the “right” way to do things and simply “getterdone.” My horses will still flick an ear in question, but for the most time, when I say,” NOW!”, I get it.

During a recent ride my yellow mare crossed a major piece of water she had never seen before. She went first, without a fuss. Every time we cross it’s just getting easier. Our trust is becoming a mutual thing. It's coming from a combination of what I’ve learned and how I rode as a kid.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Help Is All Around You

This is my column from last week. But I have to add a little here. You guys are going to say HA! And I deserve it. When I brought my yellow mare in from pasture my pattern with her changed. I will get her out and groom her sometimes, just to take a break from work. There are days when I just let her graze. It's a completely new phase in our relationship.

The first time I got out my favorite rubber curry and began giving her a good rub down she almost came undone. Not in a bad way, mind you, I swear she was almost orgasmic.

Madonna groaned and worked her mouth and stretched out. She kept looking at me in complete amazement.

It suddenly hit me. I had never really groomed her before. She is 7 years old, I've owned her for the last 5 1/2 years and she's never been just brushed down.

Madonna grew up as part of my line up while I was training. My grooming was extremely functional. I took off their blankets, threw on a saddle and rode. Afterwards they were bathed, blanketed and put in their stall.

I felt like a total schmuck.

So now my horse is enjoying her full share of spa days. And she nickers when she sees me. She nuzzles my face and gently sniffs my hands. It's great. You guys tried to tell me.

Here's my article.....

I was grooming my mare yesterday and had the chance to observe a fellow boarder work his young colt. The sorrel gelding was moving comfortably around the pen at a jog. His owner was doing some bending and flexing exercises, his light hands and subtle sense of timing were what drew my eye.

The colt was relaxed under saddle and perfectly willing to bend and give where his owner wanted him to.

I was thinking how nice it is to watch a colt being given a good start in life. He was happy in his work, his tail swung in an easy rhythm and his eyes were bright and cheerful. The horse was being ridden exactly the way I like to see a young horse go, exactly the way I strive to start my horses. I can only hope mine look as congenial and forward as this one did.

His nose followed the riders hands, his ribs lined up as the riders legs asked, and his hip stayed lively and mobile.

The rider took the colt out in our big arena and loped him out. There was no panic, no skittering, no nonsense. Just an even, relaxed cadence on a loose rein.

What drew my eye was the quality of riding. This guy can handle a colt. I would let him start one of mine, which is not something I say very often.

Here’s the kicker. This guy is a roper. His real job is horse shoing.

He rides completely different than I do, from the length of his stirrups to where he sits in the saddle. His sport is completely different than mine. The propulsion, balance points and way of going are completely different than the ones I’ve learned.

But when it comes to how he starts his colt on life’s path, it’s all the same.

This tells me two things.

I can find quality riders in every aspect of horsemanship.

I know what I want and can recognize it when I see it.

The first point is one I’ve brought up before and probably will again. I have found I can learn something from everyone I meet. This is especially true in the horse world.

I learned a lot about forward and how to grow a tail on a horse from a Morgan trainer I barn shared with. I’m talking about the kind of Morgans that have their heads cranked high in the air, their feet are kept so long you can’t figure out how they move, and they spend their lives in box stalls wearing neck sweats and cruppers.

This is not a discipline I understand, or, I’m afraid, approve of. I hated the way the horses were kept. I hate the bitting rigs, the feet and their life of imprisonment.

I had a problem with the spoiled brat owners, the snotty little girls in their really expensive riding togs, and the concept of money winning everything.

Because I had to barn share with the guy I kept my mouth shut. He was equally wary of me, I can’t imagine what kinds of crazy heathen he thought I was.

One afternoon I was watching him work a horse on the rail in our indoor arena. His assistant was shooting off a cap gun as the horse would pass. The young gelding would drive even harder, his legs would snap higher and he would get even more air between strides. His eyes were rolling in terror and he was soaked in hot, foamy sweat.

I tried to figure out what the hell they were doing to the poor horse.

When he had finished and handed off the colt to his assistant I went over to talk to him.

“Could you explain what you were doing to me?” I asked.

The Morgan trainer was immediately on the defensive. “What are you talking about?”

“I was watching how much forward your horse has,” I hurried to explain,” and even when he knew you were going to shoot off the cap gun he just pushed harder into the bridle instead of shying away.”

The trainer relaxed and explained the idea behind it. The cap guns were to get a higher level of animation out of the horse. The horses were taught from day one they would get a release from pressure by driving themselves straight and forward. As their hind legs drove forward they met the bit and went higher, driving themselves as if they were climbing a hill. It created the flashy look the Morgan show ring required.

Don’t get me wrong here. I hate, hate, hate the unnatural way these horses were treated. I can’t condone it. I am well aware there are many who can’t condone the way I do things either. So instead of screaming from the roof tops how right I am, I try to glean something useful from everybody I come across. I had all kinds of thinking to do about drive and how to get it from my conversations with the Morgan trainer.

I learned that the snooty little girls were just as anxious about winning, losing, looking stupid or making a mistake as my students were. I also saw the horses showered with love and affection and realized Morgan’s were pretty athletic, kind, and social. Spoiled brat owners? Well, they come at all levels, what can I say. The Morgan guy taught me how to grow out a tail with a minimum of fuss.

My second point revolves around being able to recognize good training. I developed my point of view over a lot of years. From the people who helped or hindered when I was kid, to the trainers I rubbed elbows with as I progressed through the professional world, I learned to recognize what was effective handling and what wasn’t.

I’m one of those people who will watch an entire horse show. After I’ve ridden an my horse is put up I still go to the stands and watch until the end.

I watch my fellow competitors from the warm-up to their go in the arena. I watch the interaction between trainers and their clients. I watch the horses, study their build, their legs, their headset. At the breed shows I watch at least part of the other classes, from halter to western riding. I do a lot of deliberate thinking about what I would like to be able to do and how I would go about doing it.

Again, my obsessive nature is probably showing, but I can’t help it. I study the cowboys on their horses in the old Westerns the same way. How do they ride, how does the horse go, what kind of gear are they using?

So now, I’m retired, my horses are pretty much as good as they’re going to get and I’m still watching and learning. Like the roper on his colt. He got me thinking. Is my colt wrapping around my leg as light as the little sorrel colt? Is he moving out as free and easy? I can’t wait to go check myself and my little colt out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Riding It Forward

This was last weeks column...with a plea for input from you guys at the bottom.

Thanks, Mugs

Riding It Forward, The FRRC Steps Up

By Janet Huntington

In September I wrote an article ,”When Do We Step In?” I wondered when was the best time to step in and offer help to a fellow horseman who was obviously in need of some advice about riding or caring for his horse.

Horse people as a rule tend to be proud and stiff necked and they don’t want to feel the fool. It becomes a delicate balance to offer unasked advice to someone who desperately needs it, but not sound like a know-it-all, butting in where we don’t belong.

Other folks would be more than willing to ask but just don’t know where to get help which is actually, well helpful.

The Fountain Riding and Roping Club have taken my question and run with it. The club is planning a series of clinics offered to riders of all levels. The clinics will be free or low cost to anyone who owns a horse or would like to own one someday.

FRRC treasurer, Ardith Bruce, said, “Sometimes people need help and are afraid to ask, in a clinic environment they won’t feel singled out.”

The clinics are currently in the planning stages, but they will begin with some very basic and vital information.

Ideas under consideration are:
Want To Buy A Horse? What You Need To Know
Feed, Feet and Shelter
Adjusting and Fitting Tack.
Horse Safety
Parents of Kids with Horses, What You Need To Know
Manners, Manners, Manners!
Trailer Loading

The FRRC has several members who are working or retired professionals in several equine fields. They have volunteered to lead these clinics and are open to teaching more advanced levels of riding; from horsemanship skills, improving balance and hands, to cattle work, reining and roping.

The clinics will be held at the FRRC arena. Times and dates are still being ironed out.

Many of these clinics will not require a horse in order to participate.

This is a generous community service, it will be interesting to see how it goes.

I received incredible help over my years with horses. As a young girl, Mark Reyner taught me it’s not what horse you ride, it’s how you ride the horse you’re given. Bob Clark taught me how many pounds of hay my horse needed every day. Mike Craig opened the doors to Monte Foreman and training a horse with timing, feel and kindness. Donna Brock showed me what to look for in a quality saddle and the Kit Carson Riding Club acted as a village. As a group they tamed my wildness and pointed me towards responsible horsemanship. They never did get me to comb my hair though.

I learned from my friends too. Karen showed me how to ride a pleasure horse and which side of the hill to dismount on during a NATRC trail ride. Linda made me bold. Lauren let me know what determination was all about and the Jenson sisters created an ache for perfection.

I learned from the darker side of the horse world too. I was sold bad hay, cheap saddles and given terrible advice. I learned to be cautious and to pay attention. I learned to sniff out the least hint of mold. I learned to research.

All of these lessons prepared me for the day I waded into the world of professional horse training . Because of the help I received I was more than ready to begin absorbing the wealth of information in front of me.

I’m can’t begin to cover all of the help and practical knowledge I received as a young rider. The idea of playing it forward in the safe environment of a solid riding club with great credentials is pretty appealing. I’m looking forward to meeting some new members of the horse world. Yip!


Now I have a question for the mugwump bloggers. If you were brand spanking new in the horse world, what would you want to know? I’d love some fresh ideas for these clinics. I’m going to be running many of them and would love some fresh ideas. What solid, practical advice would you like to receive or wish you had gotten when you first started with horses?
We are hoping these free clinics will spread between the area riding clubs. Any ideas you have to add would be appreciated.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Questions and Answers

I know I have been negligent when it comes to answering questions lately. But I'm going to cover the last few I've gotten today.
Keep asking, if I never answered ask again, I'll try to cover these better....

Question #1 came from Anonymous...'Where was her "safe spot"? How did you decide where to put it? She had to keep moving until...? Just the so we/I can see how this was working."
This was about Tally. When I was working her I was just sorting things out. Part of what took me so long with her was she was way more horse than I had ever dealt with. It wasn't just her past history, she was wild as could be.

The most important thing for me during groundwork is to get the horse's attention. I want her to know she has to do what I want. I also teach the horse to trust me to give her her an out..always.

Once the horse understands I want her to move forward, stop, turn and honor my space I start to focus on getting her ridden.

By the time I retired, the average was about three days on groundwork, even with the tough ones.

The sessions lasted from 20 to 40 minutes.

But I didn't have that kind of experience with Tally and she was a tough nut to crack.

I was still shiny eyed in my belief that any horse can be fixed with enough patience and part of me still believes that.

Anyway, I create a safe spot for a horse I'm working with. It carries through the initial arena work when go on to ride them too.

When I've got my horse moving nicely around me I pick a spot away from all of the places the horse would stop at if they got to choose.

So their spot won't be by the gate, close to where they can whinny to their friends , or next to a horse tied on the rail.

I give my first release there. Where I cease all motion, back away and lower my whip, or rope or hand, whatever I'm guiding the horse with. I also quit looking at the horse. I'll talk to whoever is around or study the sky, whatever.

The horse will stop where he feels comfortable within five feet or so of the release.

From then on I release there every time.

So it quickly becomes a neutral territory for us both. If things are going down the can I can release the horse at his spot and we can both regroup.

The horse then begins to hunt the spot to stop. Which is what I, as a cow horse person, wants. I want my horse to hunt the stop.

This is where I first touch a horse I'm working with, in the safe spot...but I can't tell you anymore because that's the next Tally chapter.

The key here is the horse doesn't get to pick when he stops there. He stops on his spot when I say he can.

Once I have my stop established I'll ask him to stop other places, but his safe spot is where he gets to rest.

Once I'm up and riding we'll head to the safe spot when I think we need it. It can be just to quietly stand with me on his back.

The only rule is, the horse must be completely quiet. No pawing, no fussing. If I have to touch a rein I figure little Junior doesn't need a safe spot and off we go.

In return I have my own rules. I don't touch the reins. I don't sit crooked and cock my leg over the horn. I don't fidget. If I do I'm not ready for the safe spot and off we go.

Having a safe spot in the arena has saved my bacon more than once. I've had colts seriously thinking of doing me harm and then relax and let it all go because we stopped at the safe spot.

As time goes on I stop and rest my horse in different places. My cues are the same and it just kind of transfers. Now I'm the safe spot. So my horse looks to me to get his rest. And to feel safe.

I work my horses until they focus on me. So I'll work them around until they are waiting for the next cue. The horse will be watching me, eyes and ears.

Dee Dee asked - Please share your balancing exercises with us. I was never a teenage rider (i was a city kid who took the bus every Saturday downtown to the Art Institute) I never had bareback balance. And have wanted it for years.

My bareback exercises for balance are the same as I teach in the saddle, so start saddled.
You can do these in a round pen, with a partner on a longe line, in an arena or down the trail. If you are in the arena or on the trail go one hand at a time so you keep your reins.

As far as being afraid, everybody gets to hang on when they are afraid or even mildly concerned. I don't care. the horse doesn't either. But success only comes with letting go.


Make sure your posture is correct. I should be able to draw a straight line from your ear, to your hip, to your heel.

Get your seat bones square.

Now slouch and get comfortable, just keep your alignment.

Ride your horse against the wall (we're in an indoor).

Look ahead and expect him to go straight along the wall. If he wanders to the middle guide him back with a single rein.

Drop your reins, look straight ahead and stretch your arms out to the side.

Now make little circles with your arms both forward and back.

Now swing an imaginary lariat over your head, first one side than the other.

Put your arms in front of you and bend them at the elbow. Now pump them up and down like you're pulling a train whistle one arm at a time.

Next you'll move your arms like a runner. Pump fast and slow.

While you do all of these let your body move with your arms. Feel your seat bones. What are they doing? Where are the pressure points?

Do all of these at a walk and trot.

Now we get to the legs. You can hang on to the horn, mane or reins for this. No pulling on the reins!

Take one foot out of the stirrup. Put it back. Now the other foot. Now both. Back and forth. Foot in the stirrup, foot out. Do this until you're good at it at the walk and trot.

Now take both feet out of the stirrups.

Get comfortable with no stirrups at a walk and trot.

Stop the horse. Lift your thighs off the saddle and count to three. Relax, repeat 10 times. Warning...this hurts.

Now do the same thing at a walk and trot w/o stirrups.

Next, scissor kick your legs while at the walk and trot. Try to keep a rhythm going. Keep it up until you're comfortable.

Then go back to the arm exercises. Combine all of them with going around at a walk and trot w/o stirrups.

Find your rhythm.

Side to side with the train, back and forth with the running motion and in the middle with the lariat swing.

Now go do these bareback.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Being the mugwumpI am, I can't write an article about working with trainers without going back to why we should use clinicians. It shouldn't be a surprise. I have said more than once Ray Hunt changed my whole world. And I don't think it's much of a secret why I dropped out of the race to the top in the horse training world.

Buying Local Has It’s Limits

By Janet Huntington

When I first starting taking lessons as an adult I rode with well known APHA trainer Devin Warren.

I was training out of a color breeding barn and needed to update my sadly behind the times show skills. Devin was training my boss’s stud, River, and the boss wanted me to maintain him when he was home.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? OMG. I didn’t have a clue how to ride using the new and improved performance horse. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or legs, my concepts of drive were completely off kilter and the show world was a blur of confusion for me.

Devin was patient, funny and had no problem yelling at me when I needed it.

The problem was I just didn’t get it. I felt awkward and foolish, hated much of what I was being told to do and simply didn’t understand a lot of the information being thrown at me. Devin was busy and had only so much time. I realized I needed to accept responsibility for my horse education.

I was in desperate need of a clinician. I needed somebody who trained to show. I was completely capable of getting a horse down the trail, but I needed some concepts I could absorb and apply to the show world.

I found an introductory offer of a training tape for $10 in a horse magazine. Not quite my clinician, but some sorely needed information for not much dough. It seemed well worth the risk.
When my tape arrived I got to meet Larry Trocha, a cutting horse trainer from California. His method of training made complete sense to me, it reminded me of the training philosophy of Monte Foreman, the trainer I had followed since my youth.

I called and ordered more. I talked to Mr. Trocha and he helped me put together a tape package which would compliment the program I was on with Devin.

It worked out great. Because I could watch my tapes as needed and practice technique on my own. Even though I was listening to a cutting horse trainer and riding all around with Devin, I began to understand drive, balance, frame and leg control.

This opened my eyes to looking at clinicians. I began to go to as many as I could. I rode when I could afford it and observed the rest of the time.

I also began to read. Mainly books about dressage because the theories seemed to come into play no matter what I was riding or who I was riding with.

I also had a great secret weapon when I rode with the trainers who had knowledge so beyond mine. Common sense. Strong convictions about what worked and what didn’t. I had a personal opinion about what was fair or not fair to my horses and I had enough education behind me to back up my thoughts.

If I thought something was wrong it took some honest conversation to convince me otherwise.
If I didn’t agree I didn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I did things during my training years I wouldn’t do now, but I am willing to bet we all have. I developed this conviction through the clinicians I observed and rode with.

My absolute favorite thing about clinicians is they don’t ride my horse. I do.

When I work with a clinician I am learning his opinion by training my horse myself. This is all I’ve ever wanted. To learn how to be the best horseman I could be, so I don’t have to let anybody else ride my horse.

Local trainers can be hard to understand, demanding, short on time, patience and sometimes, just plain wrong. They can be dishonest or cruel. They are jealous of their clients and unwilling to share them.

When you ride with a local trainer you represent him/ her. So he wants you to win. He wants you to be horsed the way he thinks will make you succeed.

This is not a bad thing, but something every horse owner who seeks out a local trainer needs to be aware of. You very well may be pressured to “change up” on your horse. You may be encouraged to put your horse in training and feel it’s the only way to get there.

In a clinic it’s about what you and your horse can do together. The only time I’ve seen a clinician (well, a good one anyway) tell someone they needed a new horse, the horse was in obvious pain.

Clinics can give you a lot of knowledge for not a bunch of money. If a clinician wants thousands of dollars to ride with him I’ll go watch him work instead.

Clinicians prepare you for trainers.

I think a good horseman is a person who spends his life learning. When you first start with horses it’s your primary responsibility to learn how to care for them safely. This includes feet, feed, medical care and proper riding technique. Then you get to learn about how a horse moves, how you can direct them, in other words, begin to advance your knowledge.

It should never stop. The better you get, the better off your horse is. If you ride with a clinician you will come away with knowledge, if you ride with a trainer you will too. It doesn’t matter which route you take, you’ll always be riding with yourself and your own moral compass.

Going to clinics and watching tapes taught me to think. Going to trainers taught me to really ride. Becoming a trainer helped me really delve into what makes a horse and ultimately, myself tick. I don’t regret any of it.

Knowing what I was willing to do and how far I’d go while training my horses came from myself. I rode with people who I admired and hated. I picked up what worked for me and dropped what didn’t.

If I saw a spectacular result from a method I couldn’t condone I would figure my way around it. I do it to this day.

Clinicians and their videos can reach everybody, no matter how far out in the wilderness they are. Help is available for everyone. Videos can arm a rider with enough knowledge and ability to think on their own.

Clinician, video or trainer, none of them are worth a thing if we don’t learn to think.