Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Neck reining as a 2nd language.

Steering a horse with one hand is like adding another language to your horse’s education. Initially trained to speak “direct rein”, as the horse advances in his education you’ll begin to communicate with a curb bit and introduce pressure from the neck.

As an english rider, entering the western world, I felt awkward riding with one hand. So, like many riders, I’d train at home with two hands and hope that I’d be able to pull it off with one hand in the show ring! Very bad plan…

French immersion students rise above their French-class-only friends by operating in the language every day, in every class.

Similarly, discipline yourself to ride only with one hand every time you choose a curb bit. Before long you and your horse will become fluent.

Horse Stress

Yep, there’s an official tool to identify if that horse is really stressed. Last year, researchers developed The Horse Grimace Scale,  grading 6 facial action units (FAU) to determine horse pain, including ear position, muscle tension around the eyes and nostril shape. Good horse-people read horses well, don’t they?  Just helps to have a scientific tool to confirm we’re not just making this stuff up! Now…is there a comparable Human Grimace Scale to gauge the Christmas shopper stress I saw in last week’s Black Friday cashier line -up??

Wednesday, 4 November 2015


I did  a double- take as I walked by this camel in Israel – he wasn’t tied and he wasn’t fenced…
Though I’m no camel training expert, I guess he’d earned the “privilege” of freedom because he’d learned the boundaries by trial and error.
Same way horses do. They learn by bumping into pressure and finding release. And they choose to stay where there’s freedom. That’s self-carriage – when a horse between the aids without being held there.
But what about you and me? What makes us stay within our own boundaries? Play by the rulebook? I wonder if it’s part of the human condition to think the grass is greener on the other side,  look for loopholes, and  push the limits J
For me, I’m inclined to test the fences too.  Only an inner conviction –a belief that the best way to avoid life regrets is between some life guardrails  !

Show ring presentation…yep, it matters…

My coaching colleagues and I are often in the “image- advisory role” in regards to horse show turnout. While you gotta love those folks who are blissfully unaware of their personal appearance, in the show ring, presentation matters! Like a job interview…

Reprinted from the AQHA journal’s Five Ways Showing Preps You for Job Interviews

Using Non-Verbal Communication
When you walk into an interview, you want to
exude confidence: stand straight, make eye
contact and connect with a firm handshake.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Exhibitors in
classes like showmanship, horsemanship
and hunt seat equitation especially have
mastered poise and personality.
Dress the Part
Despite casual dress codes at most
workplaces, dressing “down” is not OK for a
job interview. But you already know that from
the show pen. While you’re not required to dress to the nines at horse shows (haven’t you seen
how popular plain, fitted button-down shirts are these days?), you always make a positive
impression with the judges when your horse and
tack are clean, your clothing fitted, plus your hat
hair tidy.
Listening Is Key
From the very beginning of the interview, your interviewer gives you information, either directly or
indirectly. You’d be remiss if you didn’t feed that information back to your interviewer,
demonstrating good communication and listening skills. Your horse is the same way, like when
he gives you tell-tale signs that the trash can on the other side of the fence is going to morph into
the boogeyman this time around, or when he is not a fan of the saucy red roan creeping up
behind him. Just like you’d reassure your horse by
understanding his behavior, you demonstrate
to the interviewer that you comprehend what he or she is saying.
Answer the Questions
In an interview, you need to focus on exactly what you are being asked. Get right to the point in
your answer and steer clear of vague responses. The same thing goes in the show pen. You
never want the judge to wonder “Was that a large slow or a small slow circle?” during your reining
pattern or “Is that a jog or a lope?”
in western pleasure.
Stay Humble
Horse showing can be a humbling sport (
cattle-event competitors know that better than anyone!)
But whether it’s at horse shows or in a job interview, there is a fine balance between confidence,
professionalism and modesty. Even if you're putting on a performance to demonstrate your
ability, overconfidence is as bad, if not worse, as being too reserved.
Interview advice in this article was inspired by Monster.com, a global leader for connecting
people to jobs. To read five more tips for acing job interviews, visit

Thursday, 30 April 2015

AQHA’s lip chain rule

Glad to see AQHA committee members consulted with animal welfare, vet, and professionals in their decision to eliminate lip chains. So this is how the evidence weighs in to me…
  1.  Artificial aids work “humanely” when they provide a pressure and release system, logical to the horse.
  2. To be effective, that pressure must be enough to motivate that horse in that environment. Prey animals, despite training, can do things we don’t expect in an unfamiliar territory – especially stallions, so driven by their hormones. When you don’t have your tools available in the moment, you miss a training opportunity or worse. However…
  3. The timing of the handler must be sophisticated enough to deliver the right intensity and timing of that pressure. While many handlers are highly skilled, others are…not. Too much pressure or constant pressure – I’ve got to admit, I was uneasy with the idea of lip chains allowed for mares, geldings, youth or amateurs.
  4. The general public evaluates the industry on what they see from the bleachers. As exhibitors, we’re ambassadors for our industry. Perception is everything.  

So every discipline has its gut level criticism – maybe throwing the baby out with the bathwater (I hate that expression) in eliminating practices on the basis or potential abuse or perception versus their intrinsic cruelty. A measured response, based on evidence – let cooler heads prevail!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Let the record show…and Easter.

It’s easier to check up on claims of “success stories” these days. Show records are readily available and information abounds through a simple web search. AQHA, for instance, provides detailed records of the show ring performance of horses and riders. It’s now easier to “look before you leap” into that horse purchase or new coach alliance.

Skeptical by nature, that’s the way I came to stand upon the Christian faith – compelling evidence. The Easter story is one of a Jewish teacher who made startling claims and then backed it with miracles, predictions which came true and coming to life from death.

“If a man can predict his own death and resurrection, and pull it off, I just go with whatever that man says.” Author, pastor Andy Stanley

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. C.S.Lewis

For me, it was not really a leap of faith at all – but rather, walking the ramp of reason before I took took the final step of faith.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Bit evasions and Good Friday.

This week I saw a horse who’d had enough. He just took the bit between his teeth, locked his jaw and trotted off on a tangent out of the circle, toward the gate. The rider tugged away but the horse’s neck and determination were set like stone. This riding lesson was over, as far as he was concerned!

 A horse will evade the bit itself or the bit operator. In either case, he’s tried a few options to find relief from the pressure and none seem to shut it off. My job as the bit operator is to precisely time my release to the behaviour I’m after – a shortened stride, lateral flexion or lowered neck. And I need to select a bit that will provide relief when the horse responds – no pressure felt by my horse when no pressure is applied.

 Bit evasions take various forms: raising the head above the bit or curling behind it. Chomping on the bit, rolling the tongue. Research on bit position, bit, and tongue movement has opened my eyes in recent years, to make me a wiser bit consumer and bit operator.

Funny how “clenching the bit” or “stiff necked” are idioms we use for steely determination.

So what’s this got to do with Good Friday? I’m glad for Christ’s steely determination – He had a life purpose, one that involved unimaginable suffering, and He didn’t turn back.

I’ve been reading the historical accounts as we approach Easter. What floors me is that Christ’s determination wasn’t to evade pressure, but to take it in my place.
  • Jesus took the twelve disciples aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. Luke 18:3
  • As the time drew near… Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
And this, written 600 years before Christ, foretelling His sacrifice: 
  •  I offered my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
    I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting… 
         Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do the Lord’s will. Isaiah 50