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Preparation Concepts


Eric Hought

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Can You Hear Him Now?

The trip to the AERC National Championship at Red Rock, Nevada, afforded me the pleasure once again of passing through the Lassen National Forest. I always look forward to the trip because I can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Once above 5,000 feet elevation there are many straight stretches of highway in excess of a mile. The fall colors and fast moving waters of the world famous Hat Creek pass by. Golden leaves of Aspen shimmer in the breeze awaiting the first rains and the spring melt of winter snows. Fall is always great because it is as though spring and summer have done their work and the forest is waiting for winter to do its work.
I am always amused by the yellow road signs with their black silhouette of a milk cow supposedly grazing the spring and summer range. I have never seen a milk cow on this road, just beef cattle. I guess the makers of the signs don’t know the difference. (Grin) Oh well, this drive brings me to my point.

“Let the horse take you for a ride.” Training a horse is so easy that it is difficult. As riders, we miss many of the simple signals sent by the horse not to mention the subtle ones we send unknowingly. “Let the horse take you” means—sitting still, centered, balanced, thigh and seat contact only, slack reins and no guiding. It’s a simple test and exercise to determine how well your horse is prepared. So, where is the challenge? Simply put, it’s a test to determine who has the responsibility for rate and steering. If the rider guides or rates the horse, the rider is being used as a crutch. So, unless the rider has prepared the horse properly to rate and guide, we have “pilot error.”
Riders often say, “But he covers so much ground, wants to go and is such a bold mover.” Speed, lack of rate, no guide and no stops cause problems. From the beginning, if he won’t rate himself, never “let” him go.

How many times have we heard, “I just let him go at the start until he slows himself down,” or “My arms get so tired from him pulling on me that I think they are going to fall off.” Here’s a classic. “He goes out strong for a while then he slows down on his own…Well, yes, sometimes he has a metabolic problem and ‘I’ get pulled.” The problem with the last statement is the word “I.” The rider is worried about his accomplishments and the horse just happens to be there.

So, how do we prepare our horse to rate himself in the trot and canter? Simple, the rider is always the leader and has control. The rider never allows the horse to choose the speed. Good mental preparation will result in physical conditioning, and the natural speed of the horse will show over time; therefore training for speed is never an issure.
What is the technique? Simple. “Let the horse take you for a ride.” Trust him, he will tell you what’s what. “But he speeds up and goes off course.” Simple correction. Bridle him in the face (cue him with the reins) and ask with “feel” to give his body to you. This has been the goal of all our suppling and body control. If he doesn’t supple at gait, stop, supple and try again and again. Don’t hold him as he only learns from His mistakes. Remember— as speed increases, resistance increases.

The horse who is thinking about going someplace is in control. He should be thinking, “Where are we going now, how fast, what’s next?” Those are the thoughts a well prepared horse should be thinking. My quarter horse mare, Plenty, tested me at the Cuyama Multi-day ride in March. It took us three hours to travel two miles. She was pushing, trying to break and walking on eggs the whole time. I decided I was going to wait her out which really tested my patience and skills. It would have been many times worse next time. I am the leader. There were many times where she only took 2-3 steps on a slack rein followed by a single rein stop. I had to disengage her hind quarters, wait for her feet to stop, get soft in the face, then, the release, not before. Finally she came to me and the rest of the day was easy. I could then ask her to trot and she would come back to me at anytime. The next day there was never a problem.
Sit back, feel yourself and the horse beneath you. How balanced are you? What is your body language saying? What signals are coming from the horse? It’s not easy because we too are creatures of habit and are not aware of signals we send and receive.

Let the horse take you for a ride and he will tell you what needs to be done. “Can you hear him now?”

Keep It Simple

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