Monday, September 10, 2012

Is it you? How riders affect training and progress

In today's modern world it is easy to loose perspective on what it takes to train a horse.  Just pull up youtube, turn on RFD-TV, or open a magazine and you can see 1,000's of awesomely trained horses who we would all love to ride.  Regularly we see Bob Avila and Tom McCutcheon doing perfect reining patterns in the NRHA, and we just finished watching Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro win gold in London.  And who could forget Stacy Westfall and Roxy at the 2006 Congress as seen here.

We hear about and see the results of hard work on a regular basis, and yet we rarely talk about what it takes to actually achieve it.  So today I am going to talk about some rider factors that affect training and the speed progress.

1.  Time spent-  It is a proven fact that the more time you spend working with your horse the faster you will achieve what you want.  So if the professionals ride 6-7 days a week while you only ride twice a week logically you would have to ride 3-4 weeks to achieve the same amount of riding/training that the professional did in one week.  So if Stacy Westfall had Roxy in training for 3 years before their 2006 congress run (, it would have taken her close to 12 years riding twice a week to achieve the same results.
2.  Knowledge/Experience-  The more experienced you are the faster you will be able to realize your riding goals.  When you have little to no hands on training experience teaching a behavior it will logically take you longer to achieve the same results as someone with more experienced.  Considering that Bob Avila has been in the business nearly 40 years and started 1000's of horses it would be illogical for the average rider to expect to be able to achieve the same results in the same timely manner.  This does not mean you will never become experienced and knowledgeable at what you are training; it just means that you should allow extra time when you are not well versed in what you are doing.  On average it can take 2-3 times longer to achieve the same results when you are not experienced in what you are training.  Just remember that everyone had to start somewhere.
3. Timing-  Timing is the key to successful horse training.  With a understanding of timing you can often make up for a lack of experience and or greatly speed a long the process.  When you release/reward your horse learns, and the better you are at rewarding your horse the moment he does the right thing the faster you can train.  Unfortunately timing is not something that can be learned from a book but it is a skill that must be learned through trial and error and perfected over time.

At the end of the day you can have a ride like Stacy Westfall but you must be willing to work for it.  The average rider must realize that it is possible to achieve your goals but that the road to completion may be longer than expected given your own personal circumstances.  Besides isn't life is about the journey and not the destination anyway.       

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I love clinics and why you should too

  Since the age of 7 I have in ridden and attended clinics.  Growing up we as a family spent our vacations hot, dusty, and horseback.  In our little white Bruton Easy Pull we logged hundreds of miles attending Aggie 4-h clinics, and riding with wonderful horsemen like Brian Summerall, and Bob Allen just to name a few.  My Dad would take care of us and the horses and my Mom always rode in the clinic with us.  I was picked up from school in a loaded horse trailer more than once.  Growing up clinics were almost magical, not only did we get to stall our horses and ride in a arena (super special when you do not have them) but we also had the chance to learn something new from someone besides Mom.  Years later as a adult I still love a clinic and here are some reasons why.

1. You get to ride in a group.-  Many of us ride alone or with just a few friends and family.  Attending a clinic allows you a largely unknown group horses to ride and interact with.  Because it is a training/learning environment it is a great place to socialize a horse.  

2. You have to haul.-  Attending a clinic forces you to confront your loading fears and problems.  Every horse and owner should be comfortable loading and hauling and most of us rarely have the chance to practice.  Going to a clinic is a great way to get you both out and about in a understanding training friendly environment.  At our clinics we always help when some is needed. 

3.  You can't beat a little distraction.-  Between the new surroundings and new horses there are a lot of distractions possible for your horse at a clinic that you can not get riding at home.  Attending clinics is one of the best ways to teach your horse to perform reliably in stressful and distracting situations.  Again being a learning environment you are able to do what your horse needs without issue.  

4.  Another Perspective.-  Many of us spend so much time working alone that we do not notice small changes in our horsemanship and riding.  A clinic allows for a fresh perspective on your riding and horsemanship from the clinician, and a chance to evaluate for yourself where you stand among your fellow riding peers.

5.  You can't beat the time horseback.-  Most riders average 20-90 minutes on a normal ride.  At a clinic you often spend 7-8 hours each day with your horse (not all of it actively riding).  Just as you really do not know someone until you have traveled with them, you really do not know your horse until you spend two 8 hour days with him.

6.  Practice makes perfect.-  I have probably attended at least 12 Aggie clinics in my lifetime, and while each clinic was taught by different students they all presented the same exact information year after year.  Why attend so many of the same clinic you are probably wondering?  Because each time I had the chance to re-enforce what I learned before and pick up/remember something new.  Because each time I got better, and each time my horse got better.  Eventually I had a different horses who each time got better.  Our horses have participated in on average 8 clinics each year for the last 4 years, not to mention those by others, and yet each time we find something new or something else to work on.  

7.  The bang for your buck.- Between the long hours, personalized and general instruction, the unique training opportunities, and one of a kind atmosphere you would be hard pressed to find more value for your time and money.