Sunday, April 3, 2011

Theories and Specifics

I am notoriously conflicted about different ways to approach our relationships with horses.

When I call myself a mugwump there is a reason for it.

I see the value and enjoy the ride of a highly trained cowhorse. I am disturbed by many of the training methods used to get there. I want to have a relationship with my horse. I don't think 7 games, or 20 games for that matter, are necessary to attain it.

If you're a regular reader you all know you don't want to get me started on clinicians. But then you'll read me another day and I'll be telling you a clinic is where you should be. I think anything a horse owner does to better their understanding of their horse and how to ride it is a good thing.

I can't even knock the guy with the orange stick, well, yeah I can, but I'm fine with it if it gets people out in the barn with their horse. But clinicians irk me for some reason.

I have not been able to quite put my finger on my problem with clinicians. Jealousy? Oh yeah, as I’m envious of anyone who figures out how to make a buck in the horse biz. I almost ate my arm when I read that Stacy Westfall got to be on Ellen. C’mon! I’ve wanted to have lunch with Ellen my whole life! It’s so wrong…. So I jab and tease and fuss, hoping I can eventually come close to what my problem is.

I hit on it big time this past week. I was perusing a well- known horse magazine which regularly gets advice from a major name in the clinic world. The question was about correctly setting a horse up to spin. There was a photo of said clinician spinning his horse. A nice little explanation went along with the photo. On the next page there happened to be a photo of a major player in the reining world. He too was spinning. Same shot same position. Whoever laid out those two pages in the magazine will most likely get a big WHUP on the side of their pointy little head from the editor once they get an angry phone call or two from the famous clinician.

BECAUSE… He has his weight dumped over, he is looking down at the horse, his shoulders are tipped, he has the incorrect hand lifted higher than the other and his horse is over bent (parelli flop anyone?). He is very effectively blocking the horse’s shoulder, which stops his forward motion. I can't be the only one to have seen this.

When you look over at the famous reiner, it becomes glaringly obvious.

His horse is a spinning motion machine. The rider is looking where he wants the horse to go, his weight, hands and posture are perfect. The horse has plenty of elevation through his turn and is settled securely over his hocks.

I am aware the clinician is on a green horse. How do I know? Because the horse is wearing parachute cord mecate reins. The fact the horse is dumped on his front end, over bent through his neck and has his rib poked out is all rider error. Correct weight, legs and hands don’t change between green and finished.

I was looking at these two photos wondering who decided clinician boy should have all the answers when it hit me. Out of the blue. I don’t have a problem with what most clinicians teach. I have a problem with the notion a clinician knows the correct way to everything. Sometimes it's not about being partners with your horse, sometimes it's mechanics.

Clinicians are selling concepts, some good, some bad. Trainers are selling specifics. A reiner will sell slides and spins, a cow horse trainer will sell his turn on the fence.

The two are very much apples and oranges.

If I’m with a clinician, I’m going to go after theory, philosophy and basic approaches first, then see if I need any of their specifics. With a trainer I’m going to look at specifics and then keep an eye on their theory.

With both of them I’m going to ride my own horse and make my decisions I think will work for me and my horse. I can’t believe it took me that long to sort that out.

I still want to have lunch with Ellen.


Whywudyabreedit said...

In my limited experience with clinics, there is usually too much emphasis put on what is being done with the horse and too little on the rider. Is it that a good balanced seat takes so many hours to develop that they don't even try, or do they really not feel that it is an issue? Many clinicians rarely if ever have their own seat judged, people are mostly interested in what they can get their horses to DO. Maybe that is how they get so overly focused on the horses.

Oh and by the way, Ellen would be lucky to have you on her show. That would be awesome!!

Barbara said...

Some clinicians are selling equipment, DVDs and THEIR way of doing things.
Other clinicians are trying to make you a better rider on your horse.
I always audit a clinic before I attend one.
I have been lucky enough to have worked with Olympic riders who love horses and love riding and want the people in their clinics to love riding too.
After a clinic like that you don't attend the marketers anymore.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

My one and only clinic (so far) was with one of the last old masters of classical dressage.

It was a mind blowingly positive experience. I had owned my horse for all of two days at the time.

All we worked on was mechanics, my seat and position. His philosophy was, that it is completely the riders responsibility for the horse to go right... to create harmony with the horse, and not to interfere with the horses natural gaits.

His breed is dying out. I hope I can make a few more clinics with him before he retires. Luckily my trainer is a student of his as well.

TBDancer said...

Oh, amen, amen, AMEN!!! I have your kind of epiphany every time I open a magazine, watch a DVD or go to something like Equine Affaire and sit in on some trainer or other's session. Mostly what I see is a lot of "common sense" with a pretty (and VERY pricey) bit of packaging, ready to sell the whole shebang to clueless who think there's magic in them thar discs to take the place of what REALLY works for both horse and rider, which is lots of wet saddle pads.

Obviously the gimmicks sell because these yahoos come back year after year.

I bought my first horse in the early 70s--had the idea for the manure fork with tines closer together after I cleaned my first stall but did nothing about it so today I'm paying someone else when I buy what was really MY idea ;o)

I used common sense to help me with my horse because there few high-money clinicians back then--no DVDs or even VIDEO. You had to buy a BOOK to learn anything, and most of the instructors and trainers just wanted to teach kids--because that was where the money was. More than once I heard that adult "were too set in their ways" or "too afraid" to learn to ride correctly.

I've had Barbara's experiences more often these days, auditing or riding with people who love what they do and feel that everyone should love it as well. I like those people the best and certainly don't mind riding with them at all.

EvenSong said...

One thing I look for in a clinician is a *successful* record doing what I want to learn from them (reining, jumping, trail, pleasure). It's one thing to tell someone what to do, it's quite another to actually be able to do it yourself. If you haven't, you better have a pretty good reason.

Tansy said...

I went to my first ever clinic two days ago. Just to audit, as I knew nothing about the guy.
He had some really interesting exercises and variations on things I already use but I guess the two most interesting things for me were first, watching how everyone else worked with their horse, especially on the ground- one woman who's clyde X walked over the top of her constantly, and another who was trying so hard but who's body language said "ignore me, I'm only little and not worth listening to." Secondly, seeing the clinician actually get after those horses showed me just how much more firm you can be with a horse. He wasn't afraid to pop the Clyde X with the lead rope and demand he got OUT of the way. What I found particularly interesting was that for both of the horses that really demanded you got after them before they'd begin listening, they got calmer the more he worked with them.
When he comes down my way next I will bring my horse along, but as it is I have a bunch of new ideas and a new set of eyes for seeing when my horse is pushing the boundries... they can be so damn subtle about it...

AKPonyGirl said...

Even Song summed up what I was going to say perfectly. Also, there are people who are excellent at what they do but cannot communicate to students how they do it.

Where I live there are few options for either trainers or clinicians. Lots of wanna bes who couldn't hack it in America so they come North. I am fortunate that I ride with a group that has lots of experience in many fields and are willing to share their knowledge.

I don't watch Ellen but I would if you were on the show.

mugwump said...

I don't want to be on the show. I just want to go out to lunch.

Bif said...

Awesome post!

Learning to ride correctly is such an important part of being a good horseman (well, mounted horseman) and the biggest issue I have with so many clinicians is they sell the black stallion syndrome; forge a relationship (I'll sell you how!) with your horse and everything else falls into place. Uh, where do you buy your crack, because that must be some pretty good stuff!

Spend the money to learn to ride correctly. When shopping for a teacher, ask to watch a lesson or two, and see if the riders that have been riding with the trainer for awhile show the level of improvement or ability you think they should before spending your money. A few periodic lessons with a good instructor beats 3 rides a week with someone who doesn't really make you any more effective. And try to have a steady Eddie horse to ride other times, so you can get your mechanics and skills down before you ride something you need to be correct on to survive the trip ;)
Study and handle as many horses as you can, giving you the ability to read the horse and know what is too much for some horses, not enough for others.
Then, when you go to a clinician, you can winnow out what's worthwhile and helpful, what is just hype and salesmanship, and what is just plain crap.

rachel said...

I wish you were close to me. Even though I ride a TWH, I still wish you could teach me what you know up to the gaits my horse has. :) I'd take you over any clinician!

burdfour said...

Thank you! The people at my barn think I am a snob for not being interested in going to any of those general horse handling clinics (for free), while I was VERY excited to go to a international judge/trainer/instructor's clinic, for $$ last weekend. I also, could not really understand the reason for that, but you are exactly right, I wanted specifics on how to show my chosen venue (APHA/AQHA breed shows) to a higher level, not how to generally communicate with my horse.

You hit the nail on the head!

mugwump said...

I think I should clarify- when I say clinician I am talking about the folks who instruct horses and riders on the relationship between them While this can be very helpful, and a talanted communicator is what it takes to get that message across, it doen't mean they have a clue about taking a horse through a hunt course or coming out of the herd.
I would have done triple back flips to go to a clinic like the one described by Calm, forward and straight.
To be able to watch and learn from someone like that in any discipline would be amazing.

Muriel said...

I always truly enjoy your posts about trainers and clinicians, because it always illustrates what is happening at my yard. Our in-house Natural Horsemanship clinician has just clashed with the in-house reining trainer over a Lady and her 4 yrs old arabian ...
The clinician tried "to developp the relationship" between the lady and her cheekily dominant 4 yrs old arabian...with very pricey lessons. The result was a very confused 4 yrs old horse becoming dangerous by his erratic behaviour and an even more frustrated and confused lady. The reining trainer picked the pieces and gave non non-sense techniques to the Lady and her cheeky arabian for NOTHING. I think he did it for the horse, he could not bear anymore to watch the horse being whacked by the orange stick or the wiggling of the rope.

The NH clinician gave the right theory to the Lady, (TBH you browse the net and you find it all for FREE.) But he did not understand the level of the horse and the lady. The lady was learning a new technique on untrained/unfinished horse.
The reining trainer taught her how to teach her horse with techniques she ALREADY knew.

I do not like the concept of clinic, because there is NO following. People go there do 3 days, that is it, they are TRAINERS, capable of solving any horse-problems. I DO NOT THINK SO.

IMO a clinic is nice add-on when one is already working with a trainer, but it should not be the only source of education.

Minus Pride said...

well said! I always enjoy your blogs and I too would love to have lunch with Ellen...she's hilarious!!!

Heidi the Hick said...

You me Ellen pizza. Yeah?

Anyways this is one reason why I decided to train riders instead of horses. And, why I don't just teach kids but adult beginners as well. Oh heck I'll teach anybody who knows less than I do!

Theories and specifics... This will provoke some thinking! And that really was the perfect ending for that blog post.

DeeDee said...

Mugs, every blog of yours is a 'clinic' / 'lesson' in horsemanship and good writing. Mark Rashid has nothing on you. I learned so much reading his early stories. I have learned so much, reading your blog.

Your blog followers can get you that lunch date. It would be easier if you would publish a book of your selected blogs/stories and columns (hehehe). Ellen loves to discover emerging stars.

Gang, lets do this. Get on the Google and find emails and addresses for Ellen's media people and send emails AND snail mails recommending Mugs to Ellen.

This is a perfect match! What say you?

DeeDee said...

Me? I want a lunch date with Mugs!

mugwump said...

You guys crack me up. Thank you.

mommyrides said...

I attended an Equine Expo last spring and they had different workshops and demonstrations going on all day. I attended one led by a young handsome cowboy type, who was of course in the round pen talking about human/horse relationships. I was having trouble catching my new gelding at the time so I asked him about this and he responded with "well, now if he doesn't want to be caught then I guess he doesn't want to be with you. And you need to figure out how to change that."

Well, now how the heck I'm I supposed to do that when I can't get near him in the first place?

The next day I thought I'd sit in on his demonstration again, cause it was sunny and his was the only one outside. And as he is talking his gelding is in the round pen with him saddled up but no bridle and he is just grazing away as the introductions are given. As our young handsome cowboy turns bridle his horse off the gelding sprints and now it's around and around we go!!! The presenter is changing the horses direction but there is no way this horse is stopping for nothing!!! So I just HAVE TO ASK "so what exactly is your horse telling you if he doesn't want to be caught, because yesterday you told me that means he doesn't want to be with you?" HA! I didn't catch his mumbled and out of breath answer, but that's okay because it was a G rated presentation and I'm thinking that his answer was more R rated, hee hee!!!! His gelding did eventually give in but it sure was an interesting presentation....

mugwump said...

mommyrides-and people say horses don't have a sense of humor

Crowguys said...

Love this topic. I haven't been riding long (5 years), but I've never been a fan of the fancy clinicians. Most of the ones I've seen dole out one-size-fits all advice, without taking the history of the horse and rider into account.

It's the rare trainer who takes the time (and has the skill) to read both human and equine in a short period of time and offer appropriate solutions for their individual needs.

Fear and equines go hand in hand. It saddens me when folks leave a clinic feeling fearless, then go home and increase their fear factor by trying the tricks they learned during the clinic.

Working with a good trainer has allowed me to slowly build my skills at a pace that's right for me. My favorite days are when I get to apply things that I never even realized I learned.

A few years ago, we rode in a parade. As started the route, the organizers waived a pack of revving cars into line behind us. My mule HATED it. I didn't get to wave to the crowd because I spent the whole parade using the tools I'd learned during lessons to keep Maxine focused and calm.

On the ride home, I thanked my trainer for teaching us the safety techniques we often take for granted. Techniques I would never have learned if Max and I were just "playing games."

Jenny (and Maxine)

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