Julie’s Training Log: November 2015

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As I write my articles for November’s newsletter, Equine Affaire is quickly approaching! Hard to believe, one of my favorite expos is so close. Equine Affaire is November 12-15, 2015 http://www.equineaffaire.com/massachusetts/ and I will be there doing presentations all four days on various subjects including behavior, bits, riding later in life, soft and clear cueing, and leads. I will also be the Emcee for the Versatile Horse & Rider Competition, a fun event you’ll enjoy watching. There will be lots of other educational presentations, along with a renowned trade show full of shopping opportunities. Please stop by my booth #3021 and say “HI.” I will have two of my Peak Performance saddles on display along with lots of other merchandise-old favs and new exciting products.

My number one horse Dually, is sure keeping me on my toes these days. Although he was fatally ill in the spring, he is fully recovered now and getting sassier by the day! Any time a horse gets that sick, just like with people, there are lingering effects, recovery can be slow and rest and a low-stress lifestyle will promote faster healing. We’ve been nursing him along for a while now, but gradually Dually has come back to full health. We have slowly increased his exercise over the past few months, but recently he has been showing me that he is ready for more. I love it that my dearest and most athletic horse is back to feeling frisky—showing off and acting cocky at times. He’s a sprinter in his heart and I just love it when I feel the incredible burst of speed that he loves to give me when I ask, but only if he’s feeling good. So now we are getting back into a more normal training routine, but I am still deciding what out winter training goals will be.

I haven’t had as much time to ride my own horses lately, having been on the road most of the month so far. But with the holidays approaching, I’ll be at home more. Fortunately, I have a trusted rider and barn manger, Mel, who works our horses and takes care of them as if they were her own, in sickness and in health. It’s very important to me that my horses stay fit and well-tuned in their training, since riding is such an important part of my job and my horses are crucial to my success. And since a passion for horses is what drove me to my career in the first place, the health and well-being of my horses is very dear to my heart, as it is to most horse owners.

As the holidays approach, I know I will have more time at home, to reconnect with my horses and to keep the ideas flowing in my head, so that I am better at what I do—helping horses, one human at a time.

Enjoy the ride,

A Smile In The Face Of Adversity

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Last week I was a presenter at Equine Affaire in Columbus OH. In case youve never been to this expo, it is huge with hundreds of vendors, every kind of junk food imaginable (and some that are unimaginablelike fried Oreos), marvelous entertainment and an educational program from some of the top trainers in the world. I love this event and always have a good time, even though it is non-stop action and long days.

This year, in addition to doing presentations every day, I also was the emcee for the Equine Affaire Versatile Horse and rider competition. I enjoy narrating as each riding negotiates the course, commenting on what the judge is looking for or educating the spectator on why the particular obstacle is a challenge and throwing in a little humor when I can. It’s not always easy to do all of that without offending or embarrassing the rider but for this years competition, the quality of the horses was so high that it made my job easy. The top 10 riders in the final round of the competition were all very impressive and represented a variety of breeds. In years past, Quarter Horses have definitely dominated this type of high-action trail obstacle contest but this year, the top 10 included a Gypsy Drum, a Lusitano/Kiger Mustang cross, a couple Paints and a spotted saddle horse.

But, as it turns out, the best horse of the weekend was a mule! He was absolutely perfect and even though he was competing against some really awesome horses, he was flawless and machine-like in his performance. Nothing beats a good saddle mule and if you have never ridden one, you don’t know what you are missing!

In addition to helping with the competition, I also did several presentations over the weekend on topics including riding better, building confidence, horse behavior, ground manners, canter leads and even one about riding challenging and difficult horses. Needless to say, it was the latter topic that got interesting. Actually, it was a good clinic, with several horses and their riders that were dealing with minor but annoying behaviors like spooking, refusing to go somewhere, being distracted or going too fast. I spent a lot of time talking about establishing authority in the beginning of your ride and how to do that, controlling your horses path and speed, how to use your arena wisely and exercises to help get your horse’s attention. The horses were just the right amount of bad enough to be interesting, but without any extreme or dangerous behavior and they all made tremendous improvement.

But there was one minor mishap in the clinic when a rider fell off. To be honest, Ive never had that happen to me in a demonstration in front of a large audience. While it occasionally happens at clinics (not very often), usually at expos, with just a few horses in the arena that are hand-picked for the job, things are pretty controlled. In this case, even though it was a clinic for challenging horses and even though the horse in question was not easy to ride, it really was not the fault of the horse nor was it stemming from any malice on his part. But with a rider down in the arena, I was a little unsure of what to do next. Frankly, I did not see what happened to initiate the problem I was clear at the opposite end of the arena from that horse and looking the other way when I heard a loud ooohhhh go through the crowd. I turned to see what the commotion was all about, just in time to see the rider hit the dirt and the horse immediately stopped and stood quietly. I have learned over the years to watch closely when a rider falls because you can get a lot of information about how badly hurt they may or may not be and what injuries may have occurred. In this case, I could see that the rider did not hit the ground very hard and although I thought the chances were good that she was unhurt, I did the prudent thing and told her to stay on the ground and not move.

While paramedics attended the rider, I caught the horse and returned my attention to the audience.It was sort of weird; with the rider laying on the ground and paramedics in the ring, I wasn’t sure if I should keep going or stop the clinic, which still had about 45 minutes left.

Ultimately, after sharing my concerns with the audience, to try and divert some attention from the rider as she very publicly lived out this very private moment, I kept going. And by the way, you might wonder what led to this incident to begin with and why we were quick not to blame the horse. As I mentioned, I didn’t see the whole thing start, but the rider and audience filled me in on the details. She was riding along just fine when the horse suddenly stopped, put his head down (pulling the reins out of the riders hands) and shook his whole body (sometimes, when you have an itch, you have to scratch it). Don’t you hate it when that happens? Unfortunately, not only did she drop the reins, leaving her with no means to control the horse, but then when he shook, she slipped back behind the saddle, startling the horse and causing him to run bucking across the arena. The rider had no reins and she got way out of balance when the horse turned to bolt, so with the first little buck she was air borne.

It was a very unfortunate series of events but there was no malice or intention on the part of the horse and the rider knew that. This gal was young; but her composure and maturity were that of an old soul. I was so impressed with her attitude and that she did not blame the horse. She was an excellent role model to all of us and I just hope I can be that classy when and if it happens to me.

Enjoy the ride!

Sunny California

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I’ve just returned from southern California and a fabulous weekend at Equine Affaire. We had beautiful weather, good crowds and I met and talked to tons of really nice people. I was busy all weekend with presentations, so the weekend went by fast—just the way I like it!

When we left for the airport last Wednesday, it was 32 degrees below zero in South Park (yes, that really is a place; a really cold place) and a few hours later when we landed in Ontario CA, it was a balmy 63 degrees—a 95 degree shift in temperature in about three hours! It was a lovely warm weekend in SoCal and I managed to miss all the travel headaches that the rest of the country was experiencing, but returned home just in time for the next arctic blast. I guess there is a reason why so many people live in CA.

I did presentations all weekend long, with a few extras thrown in because a few of the presenters were unable to be there as expected. I had a great little cutting mare for myself to ride for the weekend; she belongs to a local rancher, Kelly Baker, and was an easy and reliable ride. People often think I am riding my own horse when I do expos, but that is rarely the case, because I fly most everywhere I go and I don’t take my horses on the road—it’s my career choice not theirs. Instead, I ask the expo producers to find me a well-trained, experienced Western horse, preferably a reiner or a cowhorse and surprisingly, most of the time this works. People often ask me if I’ve ever had a problem hopping up on a horse I’ve never ridden before and going straight into the arena for a presentation. Although I’ve had a couple horses that were unsuitable and had to be fired, for the most part I get some really nice horses to ride and I really enjoy the opportunity to ride different horses (although it would really be a luxury to ride my own horse). If I just had someone to carry my saddle through the airport, life would be really good.

Due to the schedule changes at the expo and making up for presenters that weren’t there, I ended up doing three demos in a row on horse behavior, one on judging temperament, one on communicative behavior and one on herd dynamics. Somehow I managed to talk for three hours and never repeat anything. Actually, I probably could talk for an entire day and not be redundant when it comes to horse behavior. It is truly my passion in this business and I’ll never grow tired of studying it and learning more. Much of what I have learned about horse behavior comes from a life-time of observation, starting at a very young age, although I did not know then that I was studying and learning. Simply watching horses in their pens as they interact with each other will teach you a lot about their hierarchy, their communicative behaviors and their motivations. If you combine with that the didactic study of horse behavior by reading veterinary textbooks on the subject and all the various research papers, you’ll be able to fill in the gaps from your observations with scientific based knowledge and have a good understanding of horses.

Have you learned anything enlightening about horse behavior and how has that shaped your interactions with them? Do you have a favorite book you’ve read or a favorite researcher that you follow? I could fill a page just on these questions. Two of my favorite books are “Horse Behaviour” by Daniel Mills and “Equine Behavior” by George Waring. The latter book is long out of print but can still be found through Amazon. Although it is somewhat outdated, it is still a often-referenced “bible” on horse behavior. Warning: both books are veterinary text books, so it is not particularly light reading, but you’ll learn a lot. I’d love to hear your favorites. Some of my favorite researcher are Dr. Katherine Houpt, Dr. Jim Heird and Dr. Temple Grandin. Now you know some of my favorite sources, what’s yours?

Enjoy the ride!


An Incredible Weekend

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Here I sit, 32,000 feet above sea level on a jumbo jet, on my way home from a really fantastic weekend. As I may have mentioned, I was in Springfield MA for Equine Affaireone of the premier horse expos in the country. Although I did not know it until this weekend, this was the 19th Equine Affaire I have attended as a clinician. I am not sure what year was my first, probably 98-99, or somewhere in that vicinity, but I was surprised to find out that I had been a presenter at that many showsspread out between their Massachusetts, Ohio and California events.

When I first started, I was thrilled to just have seminar time and be able to give a lecture of some sort to the humongous crowds that attended. I vowed to do the absolute best job that I could in the hopes that one day Id actually get some arena time and be able to work with live horses. One thing led to another and eventually I was in the demo ring, then the smaller arenas with mounted riders and ultimately giving full 90 minute clinics in the big venues. You really have to be able to pull your weight at Equine Affairethey set the standard for horse expos and that standard is VERY high. They rely heavily on the input from their attendeeswhich they go to great lengths to collect, and it shows in the quality of the shows they produce, year after year.

I have done the MA show for many years and it has become one of my favoriteswhich may explain why the Northeast is one of my strongest regions in the country. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to be there again because of the many people that I have come to know. I actually recognize many many people and remember them and their horse stories from year to year. And I have developed some meaningful and lasting friendships from some of the people that I have met there.

This years event started out in a predictable and familiar patternarrive early evening the day before the show, go to the hotel and pick up all the boxes, drive to the expo center and set up the booth, and after a late dinner, crawl in bed way too late. Then its up early to get to the expo before the crowds, make last minute adjustments to the booth and then buckle down for the first  of four 12 hour days. Its a long day but it goes fast because you hardly have time to pause for thought between presentations, meetings, talking with attendees and friends; then at the end of the day its time for dinner with friends and colleagues and youre lucky to be in bed by 11:30.

Besides the excellent educational program and the fabulous trade show (with everything equine you could possibly want to buy), there is also an outstanding evening entertainment program called Pfizer Fantasiamade up of some of the best equine entertainment acts out there. Although I know the show is always goodhence the sold out crowd every nightrarely do I have enough energy at the end of the day to attend.

So I found it a little weird that Brenda and Heidimy right and left hands, with whom I would not be able to carry onwere very insistent that we go to the show Friday night. Normally, they are very protective of memaking sure I am not overloaded,rescuing me from people that want too much from me, making sure I have some down time to get ready for my next presentation, picking up the load wherever they canbut this night they were all about themselves. Insisting that they really wanted to see the show and couldnt I just put my agenda on hold long enough to sit for an hour and watch?

On top of that, one of my premier sponsors, Nutramax had invited us out to dinner that night and Tara and Jeannie had tickets to the evening performance and insisted that we go to dinner AFTER the show. Clearly the deck was not staked in my favor and not being one to put up much of a fight, I decided the show might not be so bad after all. At least I would be able to sit down and chill a little before dinner. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the best nights of my life.

The show opened with the expo producers standing in the spotlights in the middle of the arena around a beautiful sculpture. As the show began, the announcer talked about the Equine Affaire Exceptional Equestrian Educator Award and they were obviously going to present this award to some deserving soul. As he went on and on about the depth of meaning of this award, it never occurred to me that I would be the recipient until the spotlight suddenly hit my faceway up in the stands– and they called my name.

Clearly there had been a conspiracy hereto keep this secretand I had very mixed emotions as I walked down the grandstands, trying to hide my tears in front of a crowd of thousands, not sure which emotion was dominant between pride, humility, embarrassment, excitement, honor and humor. But without question, a sense of pride and humility prevailed. It was such an honor to receive this award in front of my peers, colleagues and friends and the thousands of people who have been eager students that have helped shape my career.

The rest of the weekend was just a blur to me. I got to ride a really cool horse in my presentations, Reeboks Kid, and I had fun as emcee of the Versatile Horse & Rider competition (which Reeboks Kid ended up winning) and I talked and met with a lot of great people, but the award was surely the highlight of the weekend. Although they offered to ship the beautiful sculpture to me, I was reluctant to part with it so it is stuffed in my suitcase in the baggage hold below me, so that I can show it to Rich as soon as I get home. I am humbled and appreciative of this award and I will do my best to live up to its meaning. I have great pride but also great appreciation to Equine Affaire for giving me the platform to share what I know.

With all sincerity,