Monday, June 22, 2009

Horse Expo cont'd - John Lyons "Facing Fear"

The next clinic we attended was by John Lyons. John is one of my favorite clinicians to watch. He's always so entertaining and he does a beautiful job of making it all look (and seem) so simple. It's easy to see why he has been so popular for such a long time. Just a wonderful man that you want to spend more time watching and listening to.

John's topic was on facing our fears, "Fear in the Horse, Fear in the Rider, & Yikes! It's Gonna Eat Me!" He made some really wonderful points. Things that I think many of us lose track and focus of. #1 most important point was to HAVE FUN WHILE RIDING. That we have horses to have fun, and we need to always focus on that first and foremost. If we can't or don't want to ride our horses, then we still need to focus on what it is about having horses that makes us happy. Even if that's just watching them eat grass and petting their noses. He made the point to *D what you CAN, not what you CAN'T*. Some of the thoughts for that:
  • Don't ride (or work) your horse when/where you don't have control. If your horse is very barn sour and you can only ride at the barn, then ride at the barn. By working the horse in it's comfort zone and gently pushing the borders (shades of Ryan Gingerich's Green, Yellow, Red here) that zone will eventually begin to expand.
  • Work on what you and your horse already know. Don't make every session a training session (or conditioning session - as us Endurance riders at apt to do). Take some time to just go over your basics. Be proud of what you have accomplished so far. Reinforce and strengthen your horse's known cues.
  • Practice what you want to learn. You need to be 90+% perfect in your practice, otherwise you are teaching the mistake. If your horse isn't getting what you're trying to teach, you need to go back and look for a missing or weak step in the process. Go back to working on what you know.
  • Don't work on the problem, instead focus on what works - what it is you want.

The main point was to CHANGE OUR FOCUS WHILE RIDING from the negative to the positive. John got on a Fresian mare that had earlier that day bucked off her rider while in that same arena, spooking at some balloons. The mare was very hot and anxious. You could see how nervous she was. John commented on how if he was thinking "I want this mare to be calm, to stand still, to walk near these grandstands, etc" those were all things the mare was not currently capable of. What *could* she do? Well, she would turn on the forehand, she could flex her head, she could yield her hindquarters, etc. By just constantly circling her back and forth, letting her walk until she would be come tense or try to speed up, then circling her again, back and forth, back and forth while talking with us - pretty soon you could see the mare start to relax and gain confidence. By the end of the clinic, he had everyone in the grandstand make as much noise as possible and the mare stood still in one spot and watched us, about 10 ft from the rail, less than 20 ft from the beginning of the bleachers.

His point on this was "you can't force respect, it has to come to you." You can't MAKE the horse respect you, you have to earn it. One of the best ways to earn respect is to choose a simple exercise and achieve the correct response every time. For this mare, it was a turn on the forehand, yielding her hindquarters. This will help to build rider confidence as well, in that you will begin to recognize that you have control. "Don't try to do what you can't, do what you can."

John told us to focus on the physical parts you can touch. The rider of the Fresian mare said she had an "attitude". John asked her to put her finger on the horse's attitude. Or put your finger on your horse's fear, or spook, or trust. It can't be done - instead focus on what you can touch, what you can control - make it simple. For example, he would start the mare walking and say "I'm going to focus on her tail, nothing else, just her tail. By picking up my rein, I turn her and move her tail. That's all, that's all I want to do, just move the tail. We're not worried about her head, or her shoulders, or her legs, just her tail." To do this best, there are 4 steps:

  1. Pick the physical spot you want to control
  2. Pick the direction you want that spot to move (i.e. tail to the right, left eye down - BE SPECIFIC)
  3. Use constant, consistent even pressure on the reins to move that spot (he wasn't doing much with his legs at this point - the focus was more on problem horses, just ONE cue).
  4. Release the pressure when achieved

These type of exercises will make your horse lighter and more responsive to the bridle. This will help to further build your relationship by building control. Focus on the control, the response to the exercise. It will help both the horse and the rider begin to relax and build confidence.

For spooky objects:

  • Don't focus on the spooky object - look past it. Acknowledge it's there but then channel your focus to something else.
  • Pick an exercise your horse knows (circling, sidepass, shoulders-in, etc). Concentrate on that exercise instead. "We're going to work on circling here. Oh, there happens to be a horse-eating log over there? Well nevermind, we're over here doing circles instead."
  • Work where you CAN on the exercise, not where the horse is tense and worried, where it is comfortable and just somewhat unfocused.
  • Stay focused on the exercise. Gradually work your way closer to the spooky object.
  • DON'T STOP. Once the horse is stopped, it can too easily bolt, rear, spin, teleport, buck, etc. Keep the feet moving. Don't let your horse walk over and sniff the scary object until it's already not worried about it. Stop is more likely to equal explosion, controlled movement is much better.

John concluded by saying that most all riders/people will experience fear at some point, that's just our common sense working. Being brave isn't having ANY fear, being brave is being fearful but being able to face and address those fears. To being working through the problems and issues. "When there is no reason for the fear, the fear will go away."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Green, Yellow, Red Behavior Zone Training

The first clinic I attended at the Horse Expo ( was Ryan Gingerich ( For those that have RFD-TV, Ryan is "The Behaviorist" and during his show, he travels around the country and works with various owners and their horses on issues and problems they are having. I had seen one or two episodes of his show before, but didn't really know much about him or his methods. The topic of his seminar was "Red, Yellow, Green: Behavior Zone Training for Your Problem Horse" which I thought was appropriate for what I was looking for. =)

During his clinic Ryan talked about how there are three "zones" for the horses in regards to their behavior. The green zone is the first zone, where the horse is responsive, attentive, and controlled. This is the zone you want to be in all the time ideally. This is the zone where learning can take place. The yellow zone is the second zone. This is where the horse is unfocused, worried, and nervous. Like a yellow light, this zone is the warning zone. The goal is venture into and achieve a positive response in yellow, to enlarge and return to the green zone. The red zone is where you don't ever want to be. That's where negative actions such as bucking and/or bolting occur - where the horse is not paying attention to the rider or is trying to get rid of the rider. If you push a horse too hard or too fast in the yellow zone, you can get the red zone.

In regards to cues, Ryan mentioned that many time people worry too much about how they are cuing their horse's. He demonstrated how he asks for forward with his legs, one side at a time, specifically requesting a certain leg to step forward and begin the walk (or increase the speed). The main point was that for any sort of cues, you need to be CLEAR, CONCISE, and CONSISTENT. Don't change the "code" on the horse. Teach them that 1 cue = 1 response, every time. For instance, teach your horse that leg forward near the girth means to go forward, always. Then, if you want to teach sidepassing - you need to either add or modify you leg cue. You can't just use leg at the girth, you need to use something else. He compared this to our teaching our horses a language. We can't change our "words" and expect them to still understand what we want.

Working with our horses, we need to establish the basic controls: forward, back, left, right, stop, and stand still. Everything else that we ask stems from these basics. These must be solid before we ask the horse to progress on to other maneuvers (including speeding up). He uses three different leg cues, using only ONE leg at a time: 1) Go forward - ask at the girthline, 2) Go faster - where your legs hang in a neutral position, bump side to side with hind leg, 3) Hip/Hindquarter control - near the back cinch.

For a starting basic exercise, we should ask our horse to carry us in a straight line down the rail (or down a road). We ask for forward with our inside leg, the horse should step forward with that front foot as its first step. If not, you need to "delete the response" by stopping and backing up a few steps. Stand still and try again. You need to correct the wrong response immediately, and the backing helps to "delete" that response, the standing puts the horse back in "neutral" and you can proceed again from there. This should be repeated for any exercise where you receive the wrong response. So back to the rail, we ask for forward with our inside leg, the horse moves forward at a walk, the stop, back and stand still.

You need to repeat the correct response **5 to 7 times**. Ryan mentioned that this is where many people get into trouble, they'll get the correct response once or twice, and then stop the exercise, or move onto the other side. Horses learn by repetition, so we as riders need to repeat the process, and ensure the horse understands what we are asking for by repetition of success, with praise and a release of pressure for the correct response. I can see myself not always repeating the exercise I'm working on enough (i.e. trot to walk transitions on the lunge), I often get the correct response two or three times, and then have Diego change direction and start to work his other side - according to Ryan's theories, I need to repeat more before I change. 5 to 7 times successfully on each side before you transition to something else.

Our training should progress through four stages: 1) impulsion and lightness, 2) rhythm - gait and transitions, 3) line - straightness and bend, and 4) connection - hip and shoulder control. So the first thing we need to establish is impulsion (go forward) and then lightness (give to the reins). Ryan had an interesting technique that he used for a drop/vertical flexion. He said that as he was playing around with establishing a new cue, he realized that everytime he set is outside rein (hold with light connection) and then went up and across the neck/withers with his inside rein, his horse would drop his nose. So he used this as his "head down" cue for vertical flexion. The other tools for lightness are circles and serpentines, bump, bump, bump on the inside rein in connection with the inside foreleg to cue the horse through the turn. Again, "delete" the incorrect response immediately by stopping and backing up. Then proceed with the exercise again.

My thoughts: As mentioned above, I can see the value of the repetition of correct response, and I don't think I follow through with ENOUGH asking before I move onto doing something else. I like the idea of the green/yellow/red behavior zone and only focusing on training/teaching something new in the green zone. When you are in the yellow zone, your focus needs to be getting back to green. My issue is what happens when you're in the green zone and then suddenly catapulted (sometimes literally) into the red zone, and yellow was skipped entirely. I did purchase his DVD on Bucking horses - which I'll review later. Overall I liked a lot of things about his approach. He was more willing to back off the horse and take a step down than to continue the pressure to "work the horse through" approach that some other trainers use.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sacramento CA Horse Expo

This is the third time that my mom and I have gotten together and attended the big Horse Expo in Sacramento, California. I had submitted Diego to be considered for a Demo horse this year, but alas he was not selected by any of the trainers. Still, I went with high hopes to expand upon my current knowledge and possibly discover some further tips and techniques that I could use in my training.

Diego is the most difficult horse I have had to work with to date. My Quarter Horse filly, Angel, that I purchased as a non-halter broke weanling ended up being extremely easy to get going under saddle, possibly because I did EVERYTHING with her when she was very young, so adding a saddle and a rider where just one more little thing and she already had a very strong trust bond with me. My last two horses, Sugar and Sinatra, had come to me either with problems (Sugar) or just very, very green (Sinatra). Both of them I was able to successfully work though and again, establish a very strong bond. When I first got Sugar, I spent nearly a month just trying to get her to WALK on a loose rein. I eventually did parades and the Reno Rodeo Flag Team on that mare, something I would have considered impossible when I first got her. Sinatra just needed to get exposed to the big wide world, and learn it wasn't going to eat him, but that was quite a process as well.

But in considering my relationship with Diego, I realized that I was lacking in two very key elements: control and trust. So these were my focus going into the horse expo, to gain more control, and thus increase his trust in me. I'll do some follow-up individual posts on the clinics I attended, several of which I took notes at. =)
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