Ground Work & Handling

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This is the first of a two-part article about a special horse of mine named Bellagio (barn name Geo), a nine-year-old Warmblood gelding I’ve had for about three years. He is super sensitive and doesn’t have a lot of natural confidence. When he came to me he was very explosive, would react at the slightest thing, and was becoming very dangerous to ride. Over the past few years, I have done a lot of different exercises to help build his confidence with anything that is “out of the norm” for him.

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Helping a Worried Horse - I do a wide variety of exercises with my horses to help them become calmer and braver in various situations. My goal is to have them trust what I ask of them, and be okay with it because I am asking. In other words, for me it’s not about the tarp but about Geo’s trust in me to put the tarp on his body. If he trusts me at the heart of it, then tarps, garbage cans, or stumps on a trail won’t bother him.

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There are some legitimate reasons why horses do not like horse trailers. To a horse, even the most open, spacious trailer is still a small, confined space. Being a flight animal, nature has wired horses to be claustrophobic in order to protect them from predators. Because trailers are off the ground on wheels, climbing inside is a bit unnerving to a horse as the trailer moves around. Once inside the trailer, horses are further confined with the closing of the divider, and the shutting of the door. Finally, after being locked inside, the trailer starts to move. It bumps along the road, eventually stops, and then the doors are opened, and by this time the horse is thinking “Get me out of here!”

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When it comes to asking your horse to ride in a trailer, there are many things that can go wrong. Most of these situations present themselves due to the confined space of the trailer. When you think of it from the horse’s perspective, it is no wonder that he might hesitate to climb inside, and therefore not surprising that he might want to fly out backwards like a rocket when the door opens.

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As we welcome the transition from winter to spring, we are eager to get back in the saddle and start riding regularly again. Canadian winters are not sympathetic to outdoor riding, and without access to indoor facilities many horse owners have not been able to ride or exercise their horses as much as they would like during the winter months. Bringing horses back into work after their winter vacation must be done gradually by starting at a lower level and increasing the duration and intensity of workouts. At the same time, the horse’s feed should be adjusted to address his present body condition (too thin or too fat) as well as nutrient requirements for the increased workload.

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Spins with Little: The Flower Petal Exercise - In Part 1 of this series (Footwork to Free Up the Shoulders) I wrote about remembering what it is like to be a student, and shared some of my personal trials from joining a boxing club this past winter when I stepped into a completely unknown field. These lessons illustrate that horses benefit when their riders are more patient, just as students benefit when coaches are patient.

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Footwork to free up the shoulders - During the past few months I’ve been teaching and developing my young horses and my program. Each year I take time to gain new skills and insights, mainly because I’m an avid student and always benefit as a clinician if I take time to become a student myself. I believe that leaders and mentors of others must never lose sight of what it feels like to be a student.

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