Jec A. Ballou

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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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Somewhere along the path of their learning journeys, many riders including myself became conditioned to constantly observe and correct the horse’s head and neck position. We were taught that if the horse’s head/neck was in a desirable frame, it meant everything about our ride was going well. This led to over-prioritizing the front end of the horse, often at the expense of addressing all the other critical components of a horse’s body mechanics. Without realizing it, we spent the ride fidgeting with the bit above all else.

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For years, the sage advice of classical dressage master Nuno Oliveira guided my daily rides. I had read a quote by him deriding the use of a watch or any kind of timepiece when schooling a horse. His philosophy was that riders needed to school by feeling and responding to the horse rather than by any kind of external measurements or parameters. I adopted this idea wholeheartedly for many years, modulating the duration of my training exercises and sessions based on how I felt the horse was, or was not, making gains from them.

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I call it the lameness that is not really lameness. Sometimes, a horse develops an unexplainable hitch in his movement that leads to much head scratching from vets who, after an array of diagnostics, find no clear answers. The horse is described as being “not quite right,” but beyond that, there is no reason or treatment

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

Cross-training used to be something I casually promoted. Nowadays, I support it like a zealot. In fact, I might even argue that one cannot call herself a horse trainer unless she follows a cross-training program. My increasing commitment has risen in equal parts from exercise physiology research and my hands-on training results.



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