Ballou, Jec Articles

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Without access to multiple riding surfaces, many horses plateau in their fitness or get stuck in a state of physical discomfort. In fact, different footings can play such a big role in any horse’s conditioning that there is an industry adage for it: there are no poor surfaces; only poor use of surfaces.

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Source: Best Horse Practices with Jec Ballou | On The Fence: Adult Learning

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Most of us intend for our daily rides to improve our horse at some level, either by adding to his physical conditioning or progressing his training skills. But whether or not your horse actually makes these gains often comes down to the amount of time you spend on each phase of the ride. The format of your ride determines the outcome of physical improvement.

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According to folks out there who do risk assessment, riding is risky -- about as risky as riding is fun, safe, rewarding, and something we feel deeply passionate about. Rider fear for many of us might be one element that’s part of a greater calculus. We hope it’s down there with the paper clips, you know, tiny bits in the big cluttered drawer that is how we feel about horses. For some folks, though, we know it can be all-consuming.

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One of the simplest ways to improve athletic output is to ride your horse at different speeds within every gait throughout each week. Moving through a range of gears stimulates the neuromuscular system to create fuller metabolic function within muscles.

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Should young horses be left in pasture to grow up or brought in to begin their training? While arguments can be made in favour of each plan, the ideal approach is actually somewhere in the middle. In order to enjoy athletic lives later on, youngsters do need regular exercise, but the structure of their training should differ from that of a mature horse. Primarily, it should be shorter, slower, and avoid concussive skeletal forces.

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In this episode, Jec talks with Robin Foster, a certified applied animal behaviorist and a professor at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State. Foster cites an interesting study on grooming by Lea Lansade, a researcher in France.

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When it comes to cantering, riders seem to divide in two camps. In one camp are those who favour it above all else, while the other camp includes those who find it scary or unpleasant. I would like to add a third camp: riders who understand the unparalleled physiological benefits of cantering their horses. Beyond the obvious cardiovascular conditioning, cantering can improve muscle tone, symmetry, and flexibility more than other gaits. Let me explain this further, in addition to offering some tips and guidelines.

Source: Best Horse Practices | Season 2, Episode 21 

In this episode, Ann Firestone of Save Your Ass Long Eared Rescue joins Jec in California-to-New Hampshire phone conversation. Ann has been ardently devoted to this mule and donkey non profit for years.

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Purpose and performance of a foundational exercise - Certain exercises in a horse’s athletic development serve as a foundational skill set and a remedial tool later on. Leg-yield is exactly this kind of exercise. It offers valuable physiological benefits that improve a novice horse’s balance while also resolving specific impediments to an advanced horse’s quality of movement. It is the kind of tool that tunes up a number of shortcomings in how a horse is carrying himself.

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Develop an exercise therapy program that gives your horse the best chance of recovery - Subtle lameness or signs of pain that do not lead to a clear veterinary diagnosis can be extremely frustrating, costly, and time-consuming. Unfortunately, they are also quite common, leaving many owners feeling helpless to plot a path forward. In this article I will offer guiding principles for tackling these scenarios along with specific examples of how I implemented them with Remy, a mare that came to me with bucking behaviours and signs of back pain but with no clear diagnosis.

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Rider fear can be all-consuming, and riding is as risky as it is fun and rewarding. In this episode, Jec Ballou, Amy Skinner, and Maddy Butcher share their thoughts and experiences on rider fear.

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Source: Best Horse Practices | Season 2, Episode 4 

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Many classical dressage masters from the past often praised the merits of long schooling sessions at only the walk. This kind of training refines muscle recruitment, releases tension stored in poor postural habits, and stimulates the slow-twitch fibers used for stabilizing the skeleton. In other words, there is big value in workouts at the walk. And note how I have used the term workouts, since that is how you should think of them. These are purposeful sessions, not strolls.

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Moving Well by Breathing Well - At some point, most riders aboard a horse that is breathing heavily will draw a conclusion about its fitness. Respiration, though, can be a fickle fitness marker. And it might sometimes tell you more about a horse’s mental state, physical tension, or plain old natural aptitude than his current fitness. Respiratory rates are always telling us something important. The key is figuring out what the message is.

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In the episode, Jec and Amy Skinner meet in the Coaches' Corner to discuss the nuances of mounting. It's simple. Sure. But a challenging-to-mount horse might mean backing up to make sure you have all the pieces in place for a safe, fun ride.

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In this segment, we kind of continue - tangentially anyway - with our Gender Gyrations project to talk about mare/gelding bias in the horse world.

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This milestone episode is a Coaches' Corner with Jec Ballou (host), Amy Skinner, and Katrin Silva. They have a lot to say about the state of horse shows.

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The disappointing news of fitness is that we cannot keep repeating the same thing to get results. After a while, we need to modify exercises in order to keep gaining conditioning adaptations from them. Otherwise, the body becomes so efficient and habituated at performing movements that it recruits fewer muscle fibres to do them and operates with less involvement from the nervous system. Movements become robotic, a state in which no conditioning gains occur.

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