Jec A. Ballou

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By Jec A. Ballou

When I rode in Germany, my instructor was almost militant about the fact that I should be able to carry a whip equally well with each hand. By well, he meant that I should not tighten my wrist, yank on the rein, or get disorganized when changing directions and switching the whip over to my other hand. And, maybe most importantly, he meant that I should USE the whip. 

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

The longer I stay in this profession, the more I value experiences that facilitate what Zen teachers call “Beginner’s Mind,” which recently took the form of an early morning listening to Corazon chew his hay.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, jec ballou, equine fitness, beyond horse massage, Jec Ballou

By Jec A. Ballou

Perhaps one of the most delightful aspects of riding is the way it steadies and focuses our human minds in those moments we sit astride. For myself, anyway, I savour the monastic contemplation of the first minutes of a ride as I consider: What does this horse need? Every session originates from how I can improve the horse’s physical well-being, and this requires a good deal of paying attention.

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Get in the habit of performing a fitness test every six to eight weeks. This will be your check-up and time to assess which cross-training exercises to utilize over the next several weeks.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage, exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

Since I advocate strongly for dressage horses to also ride trails regularly, I found myself years ago implementing a rule or mantra that applied to any time spent in either of these experiences: on-the-buckle OR on-the-bit. Essentially, this boils down to riders keeping their horses in one of these states at any given time.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

It sounded like one of those Zen riddles intended to puzzle my 13-year-old brain until it staggered upon some flicker of enlightenment. “Forward does not mean faster,” my dressage instructor annunciated, her exasperation rising. And then with the next breath she waggled her longe whip towards me to assist in creating a forward-but-not-faster movement.

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Most riders have heard about the need for a good warm-up before schooling each day. But what makes a warm-up good? Is an active one better than a slow, relaxing one? How long — or short — should it be? Many riders with good intentions hope that a period of moving their horses around either on the lunge line or under saddle prior to their workout counts as suitable preparation. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

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