Winter Workouts – Ride Right With Julie Goodnight

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The Trail Rider ~ January/February 2015

 

RIDE RIGHT WITH JULIE GOODNIGHT

Winter Workouts

Hone your horse’s manners and your leadership skills now for a better ride in the spring with these tips from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight ~ Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

Unless you’re in the sunbelt, winter may mean less ride time and more turnout for your horse. Until the ground thaws and is safe for riding, what can you do to keep your horse focused on you?

When horses are turned out for the winter—they may quickly revert to a herd mentality. In that mode, horses follow the herd’s cues and aren’t tuned in to your leadership. Make sure to spend quality time with your horse this winter so that you won’t have to start over in the spring.

“If, in the winter, you only see your horse at feeding time –or when you step in to rub on him and bring him treats— and he’s otherwise turned out with buddies, you may be undermining instead of boosting your leadership,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “It’s not that you’re never going to hug on your horse or love on him, but respect has to come first and you need think about how you’re interacting with your horse every time you’re near him.”

How long does it take a horse to be turned out and become part of the big herd instead of part of your horse-and-human herd of two? Goodnight says that as horses approach middle age, they may become more herd-bound, but individual horses react differently with more or less time away from work.

Groundwork done well all year long can help you keep your horse looking to you for leadership. Your horse will continue (or become) a respectful partner who is looking for your leadership and permission.

You can do groundwork in a small space—in your barnyard or even inside the barn. You only need a small area that isn’t slippery and that is fairly level. Outfit your horse in a rope halter and a long training lead with a rope-to-rope connection at the halter.

You can always do groundwork and you and your horse will never outgrow it—just progress to more challenging skills. Over the winter, do these exercises as often as possible. Once a day is ideal, but once a week or once a month is much better than not working with your horse in the cold season.

Here, Goodnight gives you three exercises to work on throughout the winter. Plus, she’ll provide a rope-halter tying tip that kids can practice inside.

 

Step 1. Body Awareness

Help your horse tune in to your body cues and sign language and begin to have more deference for your leadership—and your personal space. A horse’s spatial awareness is acute—he has a greater appreciation for sign language and body language than humans do. It’s your job to mind your position and body language and make sure that you’re aware of your posture and consistent cues.

Define your personal space every time you are near your horse. Stretch your arms out around you in all directions. That is your space and space your horse should not enter without permission.  Free yourself of the need to be in your horse’s space all the time. That’s beneficial for you but not helpful for your relationship with your horse. If you enter your horse’s space all the time—kissing and hugging—your horse will not have a clear idea about your personal boundaries. While you sometimes want to love on your horse, start with a clear boundary and only allow that closeness after you have set up a clear expectation of his space and yours.

Practice your body postures. Away from your horse and in front of a mirror, practice your submissive and more aggressive postures. If your shoulders are rounded and your toes are pointed away, you’ll appear unthreatening to your horse. If your shoulders are up, your chest is puffed and your chin is high, and you look straight at your horse, he will take that as an aggressive or admonishing posture.

Think about when you’ll use each posture with your horse. If you want your horse to have a break and not be reactive to your every move, you want your posture to be less threatening. Roll your shoulders forward and divert your eyes to take the pressure off your horse—or to help your horse know that you’re not an aggressor if you are trying to catch him in the pasture. When you get ready to move with your horse, you’ll want to appear active and confident.

No matter what posture you adopt, know when and how you are moving.

 

Step 2. Stand Still

When you ride in the spring, you want to know that your horse will stand still for mounting, you also want your horse to stand still if you need to hop off and help another rider. Standing still is beneficial for many trail applications and learning to stand still reminds your horse to focus on you.

Your horse needs to be focused on you. Your horse should get in the habit of reacting to your cues—instead of looking for something to spook at or focus attention upon. Your horse needs to look at you and think before making a move. That mindset taught now on the ground, will apply to your saddle time in the spring. If your horse knows he needs to look to you first, you’re training him to listen and obey whether you are on the ground or in the saddle. You don’t want a trail horse to look around and react to external stimuli. You want him focused on you and the trail ahead of him. Teaching him to stand still and ground tie will help him stay tuned in to you.

As a bonus, adding in the command to “whoa,” will teach your horse to stop and focus on you—no matter where you are. When you’re on the trail next season, you’ll solidify your horse’s ability to focus on you. If he does spook when you’re riding, you will have a horse that knows that whoa means stop now. You’ll program in a command that may keep him from running off on the trail—and instead he’ll focus on you.

If your horse has been cooped up and confined, you might start with an exercise that allows the horse to move around, but if your horse has been turned out for the day and has moved a bit on his own, this is a great place to start.

This is an exercise you can do most anywhere. You’ll ask your horse to stand still like a statue and not move a hoof. Place your horse where you’d like him to stand then turn and face him—make sure you’re not standing too close. You don’t want to hold your horse still, you want him to know that he must listen and choose to stand still. Stand about 6 feet away and point your toes toward his left shoulder. Make sure you’re not standing directly in front of him, but just off to the left side of his body.

If he moves a hoof or turns his head so that his nose passes his shoulders, issue an immediate correction by sending a wave through the lead line so that it puts pressure on the rope halter. Use the amount of pressure needed to get his attention. Some horses need only a small movement of the rope to remind him to listen.

Your horse will quickly learn that every time he moves a foot without your authorization, he’ll get in trouble. That lesson happens quickly, in the very first session.

When your horse obeys, heighten the challenge. Step farther away and eventually lay the middle of the rope on the ground while you hold the end. When your horse is listening well, you can lay the rope down and teach your horse to ground tie. That’s an invaluable skill on the trail and something that will easily apply to your summer rides when your horse is saddled up.

Want more of a challenge? Ask your horse to stand still when he doesn’t want to—before it’s time for turnout or when other horses are moving into the barn to eat. Your horse needs to listen to you no matter what the horse herd is doing around him. Once your horse knows the lesson, it doesn’t matter how much energy he has-he should stand still when asked.

Even if you only ask him to stand for 30 seconds, you’ll strengthen your relationship as your horse looks to you to know what to do and how to act. Work up to 10-15 minutes of practice a day and you’ll have a horse who can successfully ground tie before spring.

 

Step 3. Leading Manners

Ground manners are paramount on the trail. You might be riding in an uncontrollable environment. If you one day need to pony a horse, lead line lessons will translate to being able to ride next to another horse. There are also many times when it may be safer to get off and lead your horse across difficult terrain. If your horse knows how to follow you well when you’re leading, it may help you both stay safe on a narrow or cliff-lined trail.

Sequence your cues so that you always do the same thing in the same order. Break down your cues into step 1, step 2, step 3. First you’ll look up and lean your shoulders forward then you’ll move your feet, then he’ll get a pull on the lead if he doesn’t move.

This is an important lesson for you as the handler to practice. If you can understand how to break down your cues and sequence every cue you give your horse, you can apply that skill to any lesson you’d like to teach your horse. When you learn to sequence your aids, your horse will learn and respond very quickly. You’ll build your relationship with your horse over the winter so that you’re ready to teach your horse anything new when you’re back in the saddle. Let’s apply that sequencing to teaching your horse how to maintain a respectful position as you lead him.

Get your horse to focus on your movements and maintain a position by your side—no matter how fast or slow you move and no matter what direction you turn. This is similar to teaching a dog to heal—there is a correct position where he should be and a line that he shouldn’t cross. You don’t want your horse to move into your space or move ahead of you.

Move deliberately and be consistent with your body language. When you start to walk, lean your shoulders forward and use a verbal cue to tell him to walk on. That movement comes before you pull on the lead. Don’t hold constant pressure on the lead, but hold the lead loosely so that your horse learns to follow your body language without expecting a pull. You want to teach him to move with you—not depend on a tight lead line.

Your horse’s nose shouldn’t move past your lead hand and his shoulder definitely shouldn’t move past yours. If your horse crosses the boundary, snap back hard on the rope, turn around and face him, stomp your feet and cause him to back up; admonish with your voice.

Use the amount of pressure that causes the horse to think “what did I do and what can I do so that doesn’t happen again?” Some horses may only need you to turn and look at him with a stern look, other horses may need more pressure and need you to stop, turn and back him up a few steps with authority. If you’re using enough pressure and good timing, your horse will learn the precise place he should be very quickly. If you find yourself constantly pulling or initiating a correction multiple times, check to make sure your corrections are consistent and escalate the pressure slightly and add a verbal admonishment.

Note: Make sure you aren’t pulling back on the lead line to hold the horse back. If you pull on the lead all the time, the horse will forever rely on that pressure to tell him where to be. You’ll constantly have to hold him back. You need to give him the responsibility to keep himself in the proper place.

If your horse doesn’t want to move forward enough and lags behind, you’ll also need to change your body language. When you move your shoulders forward (telling the horse that you’re about to move) then move your feet, your horse should step with you. If you have to also pull on the rope, bring your arms in close to your body and lean forward hard on the rope. Make sure your are not too close to your horse. If you lean forward quickly as a correction (and not as a constant pull) you’ll teach your horse to pay attention to the body language that came first instead of waiting for the pull.

Some people turn and swat the horse with the end of a lead if they don’t move forward. This can be confusing for the horse because you’re actually turning around and changing your direction. If your horse doesn’t move forward, spend more time asking your horse to move forward (especially into the trot) and make sure to lean your shoulders first, start to move, then lean forward into the rope to make the correction. Praise the horse when he moves into the trot then ask him again. Soon he’ll learn that when you first lean forward, he better move or he’ll soon feel much more pressure on the halter.

Escalate the challenge by changing speeds, turning (always moving the horse away from you and out of your space instead of pulling him toward you), then turning at different speeds and degrees. To turn, simply walk toward the direction you want to go. If your horse doesn’t move, pick up your hands and defend your space—waving your hands just behind your horse’s eye without touching him will help him know to move away from you.

Soon you’ll be able to walk in all directions with little to no pressure on the rope and only with your body language. You may even choose to work with a neck rope instead of a halter and lead to test your horse’s obedience while maintaining a way to correct him if needed.

The more you work with your horse over the winter, the more he’ll be focused on you when it’s time for more saddle time in the spring. Plus, you’ll keep up your own horsemanship skills and learn to be aware of how your body position and sequencing of cues helps your horse to learn quickly and easily. With that lesson learned, you’ll be able to teach your horse most anything you’d like to for great trail rides.

For more training tips from Julie Goodnight and to access her free online library, go to www.juliegoodnight.com.

For more information on equine behavior, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from HorseBooksEtc.com.

Tying a rope halter can be a challenge. Goodnight says she often sees rope halters tied with an incorrect knot and the excess “tail” aimed toward the horse’s eye instead of his tail. It’s time to practice tying so that you’ll always tie the rope halter correctly.

Take your horse’s rope halter inside and practice haltering a stuffed horse or have your parents hold the halter as if it were on a horse’s head.

Tie the halter knot by bringing the crown piece down through the halter’s loop. Then tie around the bottom part of the loop, making a figure eight appearance and ensuring that the excess strap is pointed toward the horse’s tail.

Need more help? Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPYy-3A8s8k

My Top 3 Lessons From The Julie Goodnight Women’s Riding Clinic

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I’m going to be brutally honest here: I was a fan of clinician Julie Goodnight before attending her ”Women’s Riding and Yoga Retreats and Ranch Riding Weekend at C Lazy U Ranch” in Granby, Colorado.

But after four days of riding with Julie, that’s changed.

Now I’m a groupie

http://myhorse.com/blogs/horse-trainers/julie-goodnight/my-top-3-lessons-from-the-julie-goodnight-womens-riding-clinic/?utm_source=pinterest&utm_medium=pin&utm_campaign=Web-Traffic

Shut Down

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Dear Julie,
I’ve been thinking a lot about this problem, since I didn’t find that our instructor found the right thing to do. Instead of finding an answer, he did what a program told him to do.

I have a friend whose horse is a 16-year-old QH gelding and a former roping horse. He still has some trust issues in my opinion and he’s very brace-y when he gets upset. He will lope with her riding him, but he tends to have this “I’m running away from you” lope. He has a hard time in the corners and on a circle, but he will lope. I noticed that she tends to brace in her knees and ankles and that she has her ankles to far forward which of course doesn’t help the horse to lope confidently…

Now, when she tries to lope him on the ground with the 22-foot line, he starts his race trot and carries his head as high as he can and he simply will NOT lope. They were working with him the other day (together with the instructor) for about 40 minutes and all they got was maybe a quarter circle at best at a lope. Her horse was soaking wet and I really didn’t see any real success.

Here’s what they tried: Trot the horse towards the fence and then put pressure on when he leaves the fence. Did NOT work at all! He just ran at a faster trot. Then they tried to bring the horse closer, “reel” him in, lift line, step out, swing and touch hard on his shoulder if he didn’t leave. The horse would make a few jumps and then would race around at a trot, so immediately bring him in again and start the whole thing over etc.

WHAT I SAW:
The horse obviously “shut down” and did not respond anymore besides “running at a trot for his life” (in his opinion anyway). I think his previous owner/s literally beat the crap out of him. It looks to me as if he was abused mentally and probably physically and he somehow learned to live with it by shutting down. I believe that in this state he’s absolutely UNABLE to learn. He braces and tightens up and it makes it even harder for him to get into a lope. I have to add that I’ve been watching the owner for a few months now. I don’t want to say that she easily gives up; she rather thinks she has to live with his antics and makes excuses for him. This of course doesn’t help to turn her horse around. I find that the horse is a mix out of fear and bully, which seems to me especially difficult.

I would really appreciate your input. The owner was heart broken, the horse looked like it’s going to have a heart attack any minute and I really don’t think anything got accomplished! I tried to put myself in her situation and I’m sure I would have told the instructor to stop. At one point he actually got a decent lope off with a few additional steps but he missed the release and felt that he had to “stop on a good note”.

Looking for the Answer

Dear Looking,
You have made some very astute observations with this horse. When a horse shuts-down mentally, he is no longer thinking about his situation and looking for the right answer that will get him the release. Some horses shut down more easily than others. There are many team-roping horses out there with trust issues and a lot of baggage from the high-stress work that they do and the sometimes harsh and heavy pressure put on them. These horses respond well to slow, quiet and clear handling and do not do well with pushing them beyond the boiling point. A team roping horse that has not been trained and worked in a balanced fashion (schooling on fundamentals of bending, turning, collection) and is only blown out of the box, running hell-bent for leather, only taking the left lead and only turning left when it reaches the steer, doesn’t really know how to do anything else. In some instances, the horse has had so much physical pressure put on his mouth and sides and so much mental stress on him waiting in the box and blowing out after the steer, that he has a total melt down when asked to perform. These horses can have a lot of baggage. But it doesn’t have to be that way; there are many excellent rope horse trainers that school their horses more holistically.

When the rider braces any part of her body, especially the knees and ankles, the horse will always become stiffer, hollowed out in the back and more anxious. The reason why is that the rider is no longer absorbing the motion of the horse’s movement and instead is opposing the motion and bouncing on the horse’s back and bracing on his mouth. Bracing or stiffening joints causes the riders legs and hands to become jerky. The increased pressure causes the horse to tense; at the same time the rider is sending a message of tension through her body to the horse (you have to tense muscles and lock joints to brace). Horses will learn that when the rider tenses and braces, that pain in the mouth and back will follow. A horse’s natural response to discomfort is to run away from it, so these horses will generally speed up in a effort to run away from the discomfort. Unfortunately, that will generally cause the rider to brace even more and the downward spiral spins out of control.

In clinics when I am teaching groundwork, I am constantly telling people to move slowly and progressively and never give the horse the sense that you are chasing him. You always want him to be thinking for a way out of his problem, the problem being the mental or physical pressure that you put on him when you ask him to do something. If the pressure (either mental or physical) becomes too much for the horse, his mind shuts down and he kicks into his survival/flight (or fight) mode. From this point, you have very little to gain and much to lose.

In the situation you are describing, it sounds to me like damage was done to this horse and certainly there was no positive benefit from the training session. Perhaps there would have been if the person had capitalized on the horse finally doing the right thing by removing all pressure and leaving the horse alone for a while.

It is an old-school of thought but one in which I believe very strongly: whenever you have trouble with a horse getting something (which probably means you are not a very effective teacher to your horse) always return to something more fundamental so that your horse can find some success and be in a better frame of mind.

There is a dilemma because once you have asked a horse to do something, if you don’t reinforce your request and follow-through; you have trained the horse to ignore you. However, if you are not as effective in teaching your horse or communicating with him and you keep asking something incomprehensible to him over and over again, and putting more and more pressure on him until his mind shuts down, you have taught the horse to be frightened and reactive to you, but he hasn’t learned the skill you were hoping for. Knowing when to push and when to back off a horse is a pre-requisite for being a good horse trainer.

There is no one system that could ever account for all the variances and intricacies of horses. The judgment and horse sense you need to train horses comes from the experience and wisdom gained from working with many, many different horses.

Timing is another essential skill needed to train a horse effortlessly. Although you hear a lot about repetition in training horses, if your timing is good you’ll need little, if any repetitions to train a horse a new skill. It is hard enough to teach people the physical skills they need to work horses from the ground or from the saddle, but to teach them timing is really difficult. Getting people to understand that to the horse, it is all about the release- of both mental and physical pressure. I’ll bet that with this exact scenario, if they had just stopped the horse and let him chill out for a few minutes here and there during the session when the horse made some kind of effort in the right direction, he may have made some progress toward the goal.

Of all the training systems, programs and techniques in the world, the one thing that they all have in common is that ability to give a timely and significant release to the horse and the judgment to know when to press your horse and when to back off. You only have 3 seconds with a horse to reward, release or correct, in order for him to make an association between his actions and the release/correction. It is a well-documented fact that the sooner within those three seconds the release/correction comes, the more meaningful it is to the horse. So by the time you have to think about what the horse did or what you should do to correct or reward, you are well past the optimal time period for training your horse.

Unfortunately, there are lots of horses out there like you describe, with baggage from bad handling. These horses will turn around dramatically, in the right hands with a trainer that is competent, clear, consistent and kind.

One final thought has to do with asking the horse to canter on a 22′ line. This is an awfully small circle for a horse to execute at a slow and balanced canter; it would be less than a 15-meter circle. There are some articles in the Training Library on my website that detail my opinion of cantering a horse (unmounted) in a round pen, which is closer to a 20 meter circle. For most young horses and for all un-athletic horses, this is very difficult, even when they are at liberty. A much smaller circle and the interference from the human on the other end of the rope make it hard for the most athletic of horses to canter, especially if they are untrained. In my experience, you are more likely to cause balance problems with the horse or problems with its purity of gait by working at the lope on a line or in the round pen.

I hate to pass judgment on a person when I have not personally witnessed the event, however, since I have known you for some time and know that you are an astute student of horsemanship, I am taking your descriptions of the event at face value, and it does not seem like the horse left the training session a better trained horse.
–Julie Goodnight

Rearing To Go

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Dear Julie,
I have a 15-year-old quarter horse that has decided he must be in the lead on the trail. I ride alone most of the time but do enjoy the company of others. When he feels any competition from another horse, he arches his neck and sets his head as if he’s ready to attack. Then he’ll hop and rear. It all happens so fast, I don’t see it coming. He’s rearing more and more often. I have been working on the behavior by allowing another horse to lead off on the trail and having my horse follow. As soon as my horse gets excited, I ask him to move away from the lead horse. I’ve also thought about outfitting him with a tie down. What would you do?
Trail Woes

Dear Trail Woes,
This is not a matter of your horse rearing or whether or not you can ride with others. It’s a serious indication that your horse is dominant (over you and the other horses), aggressive and in need of further training (and/or disobedient.) It’s certainly not an issue that a tie down could resolve, since these behavior problems are related to herd behavior, not raising his head (head raising and rearing are symptoms not the cause of the problem).
I choose not to use tie downs to resolve training problems. When it comes to rearing, a tie down simply masks the symptoms and can get in the way of a horse’s natural carriage and balance. If your horse were to rear with a tie down in place, it’s possible he could lose his balance and turn over.
Your horse needs to learn, right here, right now, in no uncertain terms, that his aggressive, herding and dominant behavior is absolutely intolerable when he is under saddle. Any transgression should be met with a firm, direct correction. Aggression and rearing are potentially life-threatening behaviors. Young horses should be taught this rule from an early age and this fundamental expectation should be strictly enforced at all times when you’re riding alone or in the company of others. Saddle horses must be taught not to fraternize or interact with other horses at any time that they are being ridden or handled by humans. Horses are good at obeying rules when the rules are clearly explained and enforced.
Your horse’s behaviors—arching his neck and rearing— are all natural herd behaviors. Your horse wishes to be in front because that is where the alpha horse should be. He is intolerant of any subordinate who dares to get in front. He is arching his neck in a display of might in a prideful manner. It’s a warning to “his” subordinates that he is about to become aggressive, should they persist in their insubordination.
Horses have three weapons in their personal arsenal when they choose to become aggressive or combative: bite, strike, and kick. Your horse is displaying threatening gestures with all three weapons. The rear is the threat to strike and the arch and whirl is the threat to kick; horses make biting gestures with their head and mouth making snaking or herding gestures.
Clearly your horse thinks he’s dominant and does not think of you as the herd leader, or he would never act this way. There’s no quick fix to repair this relationship between you and your horse. You’ll have to work at it by doing ground work and changing your impression to the horse both on the ground and in the saddle. For an more in depth review of ground work, check out Round Pen Reasoning and Lead Line Leadership (www.JulieGoodnight.com or 800- 225-8827).
Your horse must learn that certain behavior is simply not tolerated while under saddle—specifically displays of aggression and herding behaviors. My expectations of any horse I ride would be even greater: no fraternization at all with other horses and its nose must remain right in front and it must not deviate from the path and speed that I have dictated. There should only be one conversation between you and the horse, “Horse, this is your Captain speaking.”
Any deviance to the expected rules of behavior should be met with immediate correction (within less than three seconds, preferably less than one second), since this behavior is dangerous for both the horses and the humans. The best way to correct a horse is to “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.”
Remember, the pressure you put on the horse should be no more and no less than the pressure required to motivate him to change. If it’s not enough pressure, he will continue the unwanted behavior (all the while learning to ignore and disobey your commands). If it’s enough pressure to motivate him to change, he will then immediately look for a way out of the pressure. As soon as he finds the right answer, he gets an immediate and welcomed release and life gets easier.
Comfort and security are the two greatest motivating factors for horses. It’s always best when the motivating factors are something that come naturally to the horse. One of the greatest motivating stimuli for horses doing something you perceive as wrong is to make them work hard and remove companionship. The release (reward) is letting the horse rest and be with the herd. Thus the hard thing is work and isolation, the easy thing is rest and companionship (comfort and security).
While you’re out on the trail, anytime your horse even hints that he is concerned about another horse in the group, at the very first flick of an ear, you should immediately take him away from the herd and put him to hard work (turn, circle, change speeds, lope circles, go-stop-go). When he becomes obedient and responsive to you, let him rest and come back to the herd. When and if he becomes aggressive again, immediately take him away and put him to work again. Repeat this process until the horse makes an association between his behavior and the negative stimuli. Depending on how effective your timing is (both with the correction and the reward), he may make the association the first time or it may take dozens of times.
Remember, there’s an old axiom about horse training that says, “It always gets worse before it gets better.” Since your horse has been displaying dominant and aggressive behavior, chances are he will not easily be dissuaded from his bad behavior and he may challenge your authority and control to an even greater degree. Therefore, be very careful and make sure you’re up to the task. If you have any doubt about your ability to get the job done without a greater risk of getting hurt, consider enlisting a professional to help retrain your horse and teach him some manners. From the sounds of it, this horse might be a tough customer. But in the right hands, he can learn these fundamental manners in short order.
Until next time,

Julie Goodnight

Learn To Ride At Julie’s Clinic’s

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The Questions You Ask Most
This Issue: Will I be too afraid to learn at a clinic? I’m afraid of being judged…

Ride and Learn
Horsemanship clinics are a way of life for me. I’ve taught hundreds of them and I like to take them whenever I can. I enjoy taking clinics and it helps keep my teaching and riding fresh, rejuvenates my spirit and I always learn something about my horse. Knowing I have a clinic coming up where I’ll take my horse—whether I am teaching or participant, helps motivate me to ride more. I like having a goal to work toward with my horse—whether it’s personal, competitive or physical; it helps me stay focused and productive in our training sessions. Does that work for you? What are your current riding goals?

I’ve been very focused lately on planning my 2011 Clinic Tour. Along with my focus on clinics, I’ve been reviewing and updating all our information on clinics, what to expect, what to bring and how to get the most from the experience. I know from what people tell me—either before or after the clinic—that they were very nervous to ride with me. This always bothers me– although I’ve heard it enough to know it is a common theme—not just in my clinics but for everyone. It bothers me because I know how hard I work to make sure all the riders are safe, comfortable and satisfied during one of my clinics and I think that most people who have ridden with me would agree that there’s no point in being apprehensive about riding with me.

I always tell the riders at the beginning of my clinics that nervousness is a wasted emotion, because I’m here to make sure they have fun and learn something and no one is under any pressure to perform; do as much or as little as you want. But still, I know people are reticent and I know there are some that will never sign up to begin with because of it and I wish I knew how to alleviate those fears. So what is it about taking a horsemanship clinic that is so frightening? Is it fear of the unknown? Fear of riding around other people? Fear you’ll lose control of your horse? Fear of riding in an unknown place? Based on a previous bad experience? Horror stories heard from others?

When I teach a clinic, my main goal and focus is to keep the rider safe, both physically and emotionally, and make sure they have fun and leave the clinic feeling good about themselves and having learned something. I’ll pretty much do whatever it takes to make sure that happens for each individual and for everyone that is something different. I think the first part of being a good instructor is being able to analyze the horse/tack, the rider errors, the personality and confidence level of the rider and the temperament and training of the horse. Then you have to be able to put all that together to discern what the most important thing to work on first is. And that’s the tricky part—because a person can really only work on one thing at a time. The next step, and the one that some trainers don’t do so well, is to be able to effectively communicate to the rider what he/she needs to work on, the why and the how. This must be done in a kind and supportive way that makes the rider want to try harder.

Too much of any emotion–be it fear, humiliation, anger, etc.–blocks us from a state of mind to learn anything, let alone mull over complicated concepts. Therefore, taking care of a rider emotionally always comes first. I believe that although you have to point out people’s mistakes as an instructor (that’s why they are there) it has to be done in a tactful and supportive way, in safeguard of the individual’s emotional well-being. I believe strongly that you also have to make an effort to find someone doing something right and then give them copious praise. That praising others, inspires all riders to work harder (“Amber, good job using your eyes as you went around that turn” can only lead to every rider in the arena looking up and where they are going). I also feel a strong responsibility to the well-being of the horse and sometimes this can be touchy—pointing out that the horse’s “problem” is actually caused by the person.

In this instance, I find that although it sometimes takes a little more work on my part, I can almost always address the situation and still take care of both the horse and the rider’s emotional well-being. I consider myself very fortunate that the type of riders that come to my clinics are almost always fun, interesting, open-minded and keen to learn. This makes them pretty easy to teach. I can count on one hand, and still have fingers left over, how many caustic or toxic people I have encountered in the thousands of people I have taught at clinics. I am so thankful that my clinics tend to draw great people. Although I have heard the occasional horror story from other clinics, I think most people learn and grow at clinics and I know they will at mine.

On one level, I totally get it—riding in front of a group with a bunch of strangers can be nerve wracking. Riding horses requires such a voluminous amount of information to master that it can be overwhelming at times. The unknown quantity of how your horse will respond in an unknown situation is a little intimidating. On the other hand, the opportunity to learn, grow, explore new concepts and master new skills is quite compelling.

What about you? Do you like to ride in clinics? What do you get out of it? Does it make you nervous? Why? I’ll be interested to hear. Come share your thoughts on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv
Until next time,

–Julie Goodnight