Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider

Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Centered Riding Instructor’s Course, Level 1, Part 1

June 10-12, 2009
Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Driving from Cheyenne to Laramie, and then on to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I felt like I was driving through the Old West. The scenery was beautiful. Snow capped mountains. Aspens starting to leaf. Wooden structures. Old time scenery. Old West came to life! And did I say mountains? And drop offs, with no guard rails?

I couldn’t believe the climb out of Laramie to the south. I have been in flat Nebraska too long, and have forgotten what the mountains seem like. The truck was pulling hard, and it has a BIG engine. I took the overdrive off and we got up the FIRST incline! To find that we were at the Continental Divide and was going over Rabbit Ears Pass. Rabbit Ears Pass? What did that mean? It meant 7 miles up and 7 miles down of twist and turns!!!! Just let me say that when I got to the barn, I needed about a gallon of water, since I was so dry! or a stiff drink, since I was so strained!

The views were breathtaking! Sorry no pics, as my hands were glued to the steering wheel, and my eyes were glued, most of the time, to the middle of the road! I tried really hard not to look over the edge of the mountain! I have a few pics, but when I finally pulled over on the way home to take pics, it had started to rain, but I’ll post some of those. When I go back in August, hopefully my husband will be with me so he can drive and I can shoot pictures of those mountains!

I finally made it to the stable, after a few missed roads, AND people who were so rude that they passed me to the inside as I was trying to turn! And drivers who wouldn’t let me back up to turn around! Oh, I was so glad to get to that barn!

The temps were a lot colder than what I had expected. I had packed for summer, and it was still winter here! Finny had a stall, and he was even closed in most of the day and definitely at nights! I wore winter jackets. And to think that the previous weekend I was in such heat and mugginess that I needed extra water! I froze the first day! Even when we were inside the heated meeting/lunch room. It was a good thing I still had heavy sleeping bags in my trailer. When the heat went off for the night (since I was heating with propane, I didn‘t leave the heater turned on all night), the sleeping bags went on the bed! Each night, I put one more layer on the bed, and I slept in one more layer!

I was the only person bringing a horse that needed to stay over. So the first evening was pretty quiet. After the 4 hour drive from my daughter’s place to the barn, I turned Finny into the arena. And what an arena it was! Large, at least 70 or 80 x 150-180. Mirrors down the one side, ½ ways up the wall, (the bottom half was plywood, at an angle to keep horses away from the sides of the wall!), and mirrors on each end as you come down the rail, so the rider can see themselves. Finny was fascinated with the horse that looked like him and walked or stood beside him on that rail. During turnout, I think Finny stood beside the mirrors all the time! LOL.

What a barn. Immaculate! Beautiful wooden stalls, wood everyone, beautiful tack/lounge area. I wondered if I should have taken off my boots when I went into the bathroom! Great outside turnout pens. And a very gracious hostess! Thank you so much for opening up your barn to us!

After putting a bag of bedding in Finny’s stall, I hung 2 buckets of water and a bucket with his salt block in it. I gave him a generous amount of hay. I brought him out of the arena and put him into his new home for the next 3 days! He loved it!

The Instructor’s Clinic was wonderful! Peggy Brown is so knowledgeable! I look forward to learning more from her. I will post, in separate posts, what we did each day of the 1st half of the Level 1 Instructors Course. I have already started teaching some lessons, using some of the principles that I have learned, and I will post about those too!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Please post your comments or, if you prefer, send me an email to But feel free to post on the blog. I’m sure others may have the same questions or thoughts as you!

Tell me what you would like to learn or what you have learned by using the Centered Riding Techniques. Share what you are doing with your horse and what else has helped you to develop your riding and your partnership.

I am so excited to start this “journey” and continue on! If you are interested in a chat group to talk about Centered Riding, training techniques and questions, discussion on what has worked for you or what you would like to try to see if something different works, please let me know through the email above! I am thinking about starting a group to share our knowledge, so let me know if you are interested! Otherwise, post your thoughts as a new blog comes up!

I look forward to hearing from you. Maybe one of these days, we’ll get out on a trail together! Come along on this ride with me!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Perry Lake CTR

After my Centered Riding lesson with Carol, I headed over to Perry Lake for the Competitive Trail Ride. I found where my friend, Virginia, parked and she saved me a spot next to her. After backing the trailer in, unloading Finny, and unhitching from the truck so I could level the horse trailer, I checked myself and Finny in.

It was warm! We were told to expect a lot of ticks! I put Equi-Spot down Finny’s legs and sprayed his body with Pyranha. I put a UV fly sheet on him to keep the heat and flies off his body. With the ride time at lesson, and walking and trotting him at check in, I wasn’t planning on riding him that evening.

Did I say that it was warm? But I didn’t hurry. That is one thing the Centered Riding is teaching me. Just be slow and relaxed. Don’t hurry and tense. Don’t worry about what can’t be helped.

I was going to ride with Kate, who I met at the Centered Riding Clinic. This was her 2nd CTR, with the first one being only a 1 day ride. Up at 5 Saturday morning, for a 7 am start! The first morning usually takes longer, with getting the pommel bag on and adjusted, and filled with food and water! And with the looks of rain and mugginess, I took the cantle bag and carried 2 more waters. The 2nd morning, it was cooler and it really looked like rain, so I removed the cantle bag and tied on a raincoat and a long sleeve shirt. It didn’t rain on us either day, but when the sun came out the 2nd day, I wished I had more water! The P&R check had water at the 2nd stop, so we filled our water bottles. The horses had just come up a long, steep, rocky incline and that were huffing. At the P&R, we watered down their necks. Some riders pulled saddles off to help cool their horse off. My rider suggested bringing the horse’s neck down, as this could lower the heart rate. I also used the Centered Riding breathing techniques to slow my horse’s breathing. I took deep breaths, exhaling slowing so my horse could hear me exhale. Breathing deep and slow can relax your horse. Some riders sing softly or hum to their horses.

The ride was shorter in distance, but more difficult with the hilly, and sometimes rocky, inclines and some wet areas that turned into boggy areas on Sunday after Saturday night’s rain. This ride also had a very thorough vet judge, which is good, but she took longer. She checked metabolics throughout the day, not just at daily check-in and check-out. She checked backs for soreness and legs for swelling. She carefully checked for lameness issues. She also had some obstacles!!! One that Finny and I did not do so good on was the back UP a hill! Finny started backing, felt the ground go UP, and looked for a different route. I straightened him, and started again, but he refused, and I was asked to move on! Oh well… Next time. This taught me to work on slowing down, look at what I am going to do, apply SPECIFIC leg cues, and keep legs on him and keep asking! I will also practice a lot of backing at home. Backing around obstacles, and definitely backing up!!!

This obstacle reminded me to slow down and “breathe”! Through Centered Riding, you are taught to “ground yourself” and “center”. With “soft eyes”, see the whole area, not just the area you are working on or obstacle you are attempting. With your correct “building blocks”, sit tall on your seat bones, relax, and feel what your horse is giving you. Have “clear intent” to what you want to do at the maneuvers.

Our 2nd back was much better. We had to walk up to a person, settle for directions, turn 90 degrees so we were facing away from the path, and back up into the path, going slightly downhill.

We had 2 judged dismounts and remounts, both on the off side! For the first one, we were to come up against a concrete ledge. We did not need to side pass up to it, and there was room to walk up level with it. My horse settled fine for this dismount, as he was turned to face the horses who were in line. At the 2nd mount, we had to walk up to a stepstool after the horses had rested 10 minutes at a P&R,, treat it as a log that could not be moved, and position the horse next to the “log” to mount on the off side. We were to settle before moving off.

We had an obstacle where we had to leave our buddies. One obstacle had us loping to the judge, and stopping at the judge, settle, and lope off and out of sight of our buddy.

Another obstacle that we had to do was to turn into brush, then perform a 90 degree pivot and walk up to and touch a ribbon tied to a tree branch. At another time, the vet judge was on the trail, and we had to dismount, walk between 2 ribbons over a large log, and stand beside her as she performed a metabolic check. At the end of the ride, the horsemanship judge met us and she had us walk to her as she checked tack.

This ride, Finny didn’t eat and drink as much at the first day lunch break. I should have put out a fresh hay bag. I think he would have eaten more, than he would have drank. We only rode for 3 hours, and I left him eat some grass during the morning. He checked out, after an hour lunch break, with a 2 for diminished jugular refill and hydration check. The morning was cool and we had a short ride. He wasn’t sweating or seemed stressed, so it seems odd that we had such a poor score. I will make sure that he always eats when he can! When we checked out after lunch, and the judge thought he was still dehydrated, we went back to the trailer for a dose of electrolytes from a syringe. He seemed better after that and h e checked out better. I did put some granular electrolytes in his feed which he didn’t like! I even watered his feed but he must have smelled or taste the electrolytes. I will work at home on adding some slower to his feed.

The ride was a little boggy, but with some places that were hilly and rocky. The horses had to work hard to pick their way up the paths. This was a beautiful ride in trees, and in some places, could see the water. I look forward to riding here when it is dry!

I will practice more of the Centered Riding techniques. At one point on the trail, I worked on going downhill with “walking knees”. This should help with the upper body sway, as the knees are moving with the horse so that the upper body doesn’t. I had a friend watch me, and she said that helped! I only had a little sway at the end when I quit concentrating on myself and my horse and the trail. I will start to apply more exercises as I ride the trails and perform at more obstacles. Come along on a CTR ride sometime!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Centered Riding Lesson

I was so excited after the Centered Riding Introductory Clinic at my barn in March, that I knew that I wanted to learn more about Centered Riding! I had bought Sally Swift’s book a long time ago and had read it, but had forgotten about it. I dug the book back out to re-read. Now I need to get Centered Riding 2!

After thinking about the difference that I felt that this style of riding would make in my life, I signed up for another Centered Riding Clinic, this time in Kansas! I know that something has clicked in me to make me realize that this style of riding is going to make me a better rider and a better instructor. Realizing this, I decided to sign up for the Centered Riding Instructors Course in June and August in Colorado!

With just an introductory course, an open clinic, and now a private lesson under my belt, I already feel more relaxed. I feel like a light bulb has gone on in my life. I feel like what I am searching for, I have found. At least I have found the beginning, as from what I have already learned of Centered Riding, it is an ongoing journey! A journey of knowledge, of continuing education, of lessons and clinics, both participating in and giving, and of helping people!!!

I loved my private lesson. I could focus on what Finny and I needed, not only to compete at our CTR the very same weekend, but to become a better team. I want each of us to be willing partners. Each of us needs to learn to relax in our own way. Soft eyes and breathing deep within the body is a start. Understanding how the body responds when we think or move a certain way is a start. Having my body consciously make an effort to change what I am doing to have Finny react in a positive, relaxing way is a start, and to accomplish this is the ultimate goal!

When the lesson first starts, I walk the arena, allowing relaxation to come to my body and to Finny, while Carol observes. We work on what is needed at the moment. One or two things at a time, not 20. As we work on one area, other areas just fall into place.

“Walk in the Following Seat” is an exercise to feel the seat bones. You should feel the backward peddling of the seat bones. First at the walk, and then at the trot. Smaller circles and larger circles, depending on how fast you want the horse to go. You can slow the movement of the horse by peddling your seat bones, and your center, backwards.

I have a hard time with upper body sway going downhill at the CTRs. Carol had me on the mini trampoline at the clinic, walking in place. This is the same sensation as what my feet would be doing as I walked downhill on the trail. At this lesson, we worked on “Dancing Knees”. As we walk and trot, I focused on the movement of my knees. I felt my knees rise and fall in time with each foot fall.

I worked on the “3 Seats at the Trot”, the 2 point, sitting and posting the trot. From 2 point for a few strides, to sitting for a few strides, to rising into the post for a few strides, then repeating the transitions. If your feet are grounded, this should be easy transitions. I will work on getting the transitions every 2 strides.

I have a lot of log obstacles at the CTR’s. I worked on using my “Center” for leg yields. I did a few arena exercises, moving to and from the wall, using leg yields in both directions. I would first ask with my center and my seat bones, then add my leg cues. As I became more in rhythm with my horse, the yields became easier and effortless. As I moved up to a log to work on the side pass, I stayed focused on the end result - where I was going to - with soft eyes! As I took the focus away from the log directly beneath my leg, and looked at the log at the end, and stayed aware of the whole area with soft eyes, Finny moved across the log at ease in a very pretty side pass!

We are getting it! I want him to be relaxed when he is asked to work an obstacle. I want him not to be so worried, or anxious about what lays ahead. It will be all right! But how do you translate that feeling to the horse? I started breathing deeper, and blowing out on the exhale, to let me horse feel the movement of the breath.

I find that it is the understanding and realization of what my body is doing as I work on the exercises that I fully want to comprehend. How does my hips move, what are my knees doing, are my shoulders up and back, where are my feet? Is my horse responding? What is my center telling me? I want to know what my soul is telling me also. Is this right for me? Do I feel centered? Do I feel at peace?

Come along on this journey with me! I am excited and I know you would be, too!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Using Centered Riding with my Lesson kids!

After my weekend of the Centered Riding Clinic, I was able to put my newly learned knowledge to work the following Monday. Three of my teenage lesson kids came for their morning long lesson. They are a great group, and will be my guinea pigs all summer!

I started the morning lesson with teaching about “soft eyes”. The girls found that it was amazing how much they could “see”. One of the girls knew that the arena was tree lined, but she said she never realized that the trees were as tall as they were! Another girl, who has only had 3 lessons with me, said she was much more relaxed. The 3rd girl said that she was more aware of her horse.

We practiced the deep breathing to relax. We rode with “hard eyes” and then “soft eyes” to feel the difference in our breathing, in our focus, and to see how our horses relaxed or tensed. Once the girls rode with more soft eyes, the horses began lowering their necks.

The girls had fun “riding in their bubble”. They each took a turn practicing going over the poles. Then I had 2 girls ride over the poles in their bubble. Then the 3rd girl joined them. As they were comfortable at the walk, they rode the arena, still in their bubble, at the trot. They rode much more confidently.

We rode for an 1 1/2 hours and the time flew by! I asked the girls to keep a journal this summer. I asked them to write about what they did each lesson, how they felt, what was new, and if they had any “ah ha” moments. Moments when the light bulb went on. We will call these “LB” moments!

I asked the girls to share any thoughts that they had. They all agreed that they were much more aware of everything. They felt that they could relax the horses easier. They felt like they were much more relaxed when they rode.

It is amazing how much more aware, of everything, that you are once you start seeing with soft eyes! I think the girls had fun! And I am excited to show them more! Come along on the ride with us!


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