Thursday, August 10, 2017


I encounter a LOT of different opinions working with the hundreds of locals and thousands of tourists that come through my barn doors. Many of these opinions conflict with each other. As a result I am always trying to negotiate between multitudes of different people with different viewpoints. 

While your opinion is COMPLETELY your right to have, the one thing I cannot stand is denial. People need to OWN their opinions in order to have productive conversations about them. 

You can't start a sentence by saying I'm not something and then saying something that shows repugnance of an issue that defines that thing. 

It's like saying:
"I'm not judgmental, but you look ugly today."
"I'm not racist, but I would never let my daughter date a black guy."
"I support transgender rights, but they can't be in a certain bathroom."

The English language just doesn't work that way and it makes you look like you're in denial instead of trying to find where you stand in the middle on your support or lack thereof. Own your thoughts and try to figure out how they relate to the world around you.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Camp Kid Dilemma: Being a Good Citizen of the Equine Economy

It invariably happens every single year. You get a kid that comes to your riding camp that takes lessons at another stable in the area. You're relieved because at least they have horse experience and potentially even some skills; however, you're also nervous because there's a lot of 'manners' you now have to maneuver through.

Working with adults that ride at other stables is pretty simple. They are adults and they maneuver through the manners along with you. However, children don't do that. It's all up to you!

Here's my rules for maneuvering:

    It's never a good idea to insult another barn, but especially not to children who won't understand where your disagreements may be coming from. Moreover, those children may parrot what you said. Those barns are working hard to keep people interested in horseback riding and providing services to the industry. No matter how much you disagree with their training philosophies, barn management style, or business model.
    Instead, the proper answer to anything you disagree with is: "At our barn we do things like this because ________."
    It's important to explain WHY you might do things differently. Even though they are children they should understand why you choose to do the processes you do and they can make their own choices outside your barn as to what they think.
    Do NOT use your camp to steal children away from their home barns! Do you want more students? Do you love the kid and wish you could ride with them more? Well, yeah! Obviously you want to ride with those awesome kids and wish you could share your knowledge with them! That's what instructors do! But it is inappropriate to kidnap them from others in the industry.
    Even if the kids say outright "I like your barn/horses/lessons better. I'm going to quit the other barn," it is inappropriate to respond with an enthusiastic "YAY!".
    The appropriate answer is always: "You are welcome to ride here whenever you want. Talk to your parents about it and make sure you think about your goals. We are here for you when you need us." By saying that you leave the door open (because it is!) but you make the child realize they need to make choices and talk with their parents about their goals.
    Kids do enough comparing without your help. You never want to compare your barn to another barn because all barns are DIFFERENT! We have different priorities, different philosophies, different horses, different management styles, different budgets, different facilities, and maybe even use different riding styles. But everyone in the industry is doing the best that they can!
    When you get kids from other barns that are riding on their hands, leaning too far forward, have unstable legs, can't keep a posting rhythm for the life of them, or have major fear issues because of past experiences DO NOT ASSUME anything about the barn they came from. Those kids often do not necessarily have those problems because of the instruction they are receiving, often their instructors are trying to correct those problems as well! Don't blame the instructor, understand that learning is a process.
    And remember, you have students that drive you nuts too and have problems YOU are trying to correct!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Subtle Prompt, Not a Full Leg Whomp

People have a lot of problems riding slower horses.


The biggest problem is that they are USING TOO MUCH LEG! Unlike riding the feisty thoroughbreds where you need to have all leg, all the time to give them a squeeze of reassurance, these more deliberate, unhurried athletes require a lot more leg CONTROL!

That's right, control not strength!

You can't kick a leisurely horse forward - and often they will actually slow down at the audacity. They want specific cues, at specific times; a subtle prompt instead of a full leg whomp. They don't want to be nagged, they don't want to be over cued, they want a timely and purposeful communication.

What this means is that they need you to be able to hold your leg to them with a gentle contact. This means you need to have stabilize your leg holding it in AND out at the same time. You can't just death grip onto these slower horses and call it good!

You also need to be able to manipulate different parts of your legs to cue different things, understanding how to get support from your upper thigh, yields from your calf, and momentum from your heel - AND USE THEM INDEPENDENTLY! Keep in mind that often:

  • heels mean go,
  • kicks mean sass, or a mental shut down!
  • calves mean leg yields, but not go!

You'll also find that people who "toe out" in their riding tend to be better at riding slower horses. This is because their heels are the point of contact and they don't have the full leg contact that can feel nagging to horses.

 Am I saying to ride with your knees out like a frog and your toes pointed out like a ballerina? NO! I'm saying that you need more control of your leg so you know if you're putting pressure on the calf (leg yield, support) or on your heels (go button!).

It is no surprise that often these steady horses are more fond of being ridden with spurs - and I mean properly with spurs not prodding them with them! Leg flexibility of riders is just one of the reasons these horses tend to do better being ridden with spurs (even just bumper spurs) because they are heel extenders for when you just can't get your leg to bend quite around that way. But more specifically, spurs can localize cues more specifically than an entire blunt foot.

PROBLEM #2: MISREPRESENTATION OF SLOWER HORSES The main obstacle to get over with slower moving horses is changing vocabulary.

Descriptive but not accurate vocabulary: Slow, Lazy, Plodding, Sluggish these words are more appropriate for describing day to day changes in a horse's behavior, not the overall speed of a horse.

More accurate vocabulary for non-forward horses: unhurried, deliberate, leisurely, unrushed, steady, measured, relaxed, cool-headed

Once you change your vocabulary you realize that you can more easily appreciate the horse's personality and understand how to work with them! I mean, who doesn't want to work with a relaxed and deliberate companion?!


Often these more deliberate companions are also more in tune with a rider's balance and seat. They make the best bridle-less companions as a result because they will respond to the slightest adjustment of your weight.

Thinking that speed comes only from legs is a huge problem for many of these horses. If you're kicking with all your might but your seat is dead and heavy, they will more likely listen to the breaks in your bottom than the momentum in your heels!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Horse Blaming and Shaming

Time to review the horse blaming and shaming lesson! The best horse in the world is the horse between our legs.
Riders always tend to put shift blame towards horses. Please do not blame horses but instead remark on the failure to communicate - a two way channel. None of us would ever blame our peers, our co-workers, our teammates in sports, our spouses and boyfriends the way I hear people casually blaming horses.
Horses do not fail. Humans fail horse. 

Failure from a horse is almost always the riders fault for not setting the horse up for success. With chunked goals and good communication any horse is a winner. But with selfish expectations or badly timed cues, lack of finesse or brazenness a frustrated horse can become a scapegoat. Horses need to tell when riders are doing it wrong, their honesty is a teaching tool.
Even when it is not the rider's fault it is still human error for not preparing the horse previously through schooling and conditioning, therefore causing the horse stress and frustration. Through less blame and more focus on physical and mental development (even within one session) a horse will relax and be a better teammate.
We need to take ownership of our horses that we ride on. Syntax, sentence structure and spin can make or break a horse's reputation FOREVER.
If anyone in our community has repeated problems with a particular horse please post it in our private group for discussion or alert me or Jennifer Marosek VanDusen. We look forward to remedying the relationships through lessons (or therapy!) and schooling.

Spooking: Is it the horse's fault?

Did the horse spook, or were you already making the horse nervous placing it on edge and making it susceptible to surprises?

Something important to think about is the cause and root of a horse's behavior. Often it seems that people put the blame on the horse by defining it as the horse's weaknesses instead of realizing that it is in fact their own weaknesses causing the problem. 
A team is only as good as its weakest link. Be careful how you think of horse's behavior. 

I've even seen the most beginner-level and consistent horses spook when someone is overly neurotic, passive, continually wavering, indecisive, meek or otherwise not very good at human-ing.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Set Up a Practice

There are many jobs that recognize the need for continual updates to your skill sets in an ever improving quest for personal development. 
For instance you PRACTICE medicine and you PRACTICE law. You definitely want your doctor to be on top of the latest drugs and methods, and I would hope my lawyer knows of new updates to laws. 
What would it be like if we approached every career like this? With the linguistic use of "practice?"
And more so, what if we recognized that we also must "practice" happiness. And love. And kindness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dentist Day: Merlin's Mouth

Merlin's mouth was a hot mess with sharp points and ulcers in the cheeks, not to mention ramps and accentuated transverse ridges. And this photo doesn't even show how needle sharp his canines were or the diagonal bite of his incisors!!

This was probably Merlin's first proper appointment EVER. We purchased him early last fall and at 7 years of age we think the only attention that he ever received previously was to have his wolf teeth removed.

Merlin and Nym tied for worst teeth of the day with Panda coming in a close second.