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Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

HorseSpeakSharonFB

In November of 2016 the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE was released, becoming an instant bestseller and propelling a little-known trainer and riding teacher from Westminster, Vermont, into a whirlwind of book signings, speaking engagements, and clinics throughout North America. Now with the book soon to be released in Dutch and in German, and a follow-up DVD and book in the works, Sharon Wilsie is looking to help more people, from all equestrian backgrounds and disciplines, all over the world, learn to truly communicate with their horses—but not using our language of words and ropes. Wilsie has decoded Horse Speak for the rest of us.

TSB: How did you conceive of the different aspects of Horse Speak?

SW: As a long-time animal trainer, I am intrinsically aware of the difference between a “trained skill” and an “authentic response” from the animal’s own nature. I can train a horse, for instance, to come to the mounting block while at liberty and stand perfectly still without a halter or bridle, and I can then proceed to ride that horse without tack. Eventually, though, this was no longer satisfying, as it occurred to me that just because a horse could do this with apparent ease and obedience did not necessarily mean that he was choosing to do it of his own volition. A well trained and loved servant is still a servant.

I truly wanted to know if a horse, given freedom of choice, would choose to offer me his back. In order to answer this question, I needed to go beyond training. I had to be able to ask a question, “Would you be interested in having me on your back?” Moreover, I would have to understand his answer.

Ultimately, I had to learn to speak “Horse.” Language flows, bends, twists, and turns. It is not the straight-line reasoning of training, which pares down to a set of responses the animal learns to give to the same cues over and over again. The language of the horse belies his innate world view, which can be similar to ours, and in other cases can be almost in opposition to us.

In this work, I start teaching people with the most basic platform: I call it “Going to Zero.” This simply means you adopt the inner state of calm that horses seek to maintain at all times. If you can steady yourself by learning to be at “Zero intensity,” both outside and in, you are on your way to learning the visual language of the horse.

TSB: How does Horse Speak differ from other forms of human-animal communication?

SW: Horse Speak demystifies the subtleties of not only horses, but of the best of the best trainers that people may wish to emulate. When we see a truly stunning performance—whether dressage, circus tricks, Roman riding, or some other amazing horse-and-rider combination—we all wish to experience that level of connection and inspired horsemanship. What few people understand is that body language is a natural part of all of us. It is the level of innate brain connectivity around the interpretation of body language that varies among us. Some people can be naturally fluent in this skill, while others may struggle to interpret even basic facial cues (as is the case in autism).

Horse Speak assists people on any level of awareness to either take what is already working and make it better, or even start from scratch and learn body language basics from the ground up.

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TSB: Why do you feel others can benefit from and should learn Horse Speak?

SW: Whether a person has professional goals (showing, teaching, training) or simply enjoys a backyard horse or two, everyone generally wants to have a happy, healthy, and wholesome relationship with horses. Taking the time to really learn their language is just plain common sense.

TSB: How has Horse Speak changed your life with horses? Your career as a horse trainer and riding coach?

SW: To speak the language of the horse is to dive into a world of potential that only exists when two beings can really communicate with each other. And on a completely practical level, I know no better way to help a horse “buy in” to our ideas—whether we want to jump a bigger fence or just get through a veterinary visit without incident.

TSB: How do you see Horse Speak growing and changing other people’s lives with horses? Other people’s equine careers?

SW: In any theater of horsemanship, it is essential to have the utmost safety possible. Far too many people live with a level of mistrust, getting stepped on, run over, bucked off, and so on, while assuming this is just the way things are with horses. This is most definitely NOT the way things should be, and it is NOT ultimately the way horses wish things to be. Especially in the arena of therapeutic horsemanship (physical or emotional/psychological) the need for trust, rapport, and co-facilitation from the horse himself is paramount. One cannot simply layer on more and more obedience-based training, hoping to reach the horse’s authentic core and gain access to the depth of heart that these animals are capable of offering. This can only be reached through communication.

TSB: If there is one common message that most horses are trying to tell us that we don’t understand, what is it?

Horse Speak Final CoverSW: Live from your heart. Horses don’t mind if you cry, or are afraid, or even if you feel frustrated. But they abhor incongruity. If your insides are churning, and your outsides are trying to act like a rigid authority, this inner vs. outer conflict makes horses confused and anxious. If nothing else, learning to think and act like a horse will give any human access to a level of inner awareness and outer presence that trumps any other mechanical, rule-based roboticism that steers us to see horses as more of a biological motorcycle than the elegant gatekeepers to a richer existence in which being “one with nature” is more than a quaint expression: it is reality.

To find out more about HORSE SPEAK and to download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the George Morris clinic. Photo by Lisa Pleasance.

TSB author Karen Robertson shared her hopes and fears for her clinic date with The George in May (click here to read her first post). Now she’s back to tell us how it all went down.

To tell the story about what it was like for me riding with George Morris in late May, I need to start the week before the clinic, when I showed at Sonoma’s Spring Classic Show. It’s a gorgeous place and such a wonderful show, but Carlos and I had a really rough week…. It was the kind of show where the wires get crossed and each day ends with a frustrated feeling of not being strong enough or fast enough or smart enough to ride well enough in any key moment. Seven good jumps didn’t cut it when the eighth was a stop. I got in my head. I started trying different things to end the pattern of choking… a better night’s sleep, more caffeine, or more breakfast. I walked the show grounds with my ear buds in listening to badass music to get myself fired up before I got on for the next class. But at the end of the show, I drove away from Sonoma Horse Park without ever digging myself out of the rut and laying down a solidly good trip. The familiar, consistent feel I’d had all winter with Carlos had been shaken badly; my riding was full of doubt. Needless to say, it was not the kind of show you want to have just days before your first time riding in front of George Morris.

Or, maybe it was.

The eight-hour drive north from Bend, Oregon, to the clinic location went smoothly, but I was full of restless anticipation. After a quick hack in the indoor and settling the horses in for the night, waves of nerves gave me goose bumps as I watched the farm’s crew collecting piles of cut grass from the beautiful front field in preparation for the next day.

In the morning, I was washing Carlos’s legs in the wash stall at the front of the barn when I saw George pull up. I walked out for a quick hello, gave him a kiss on the cheek when he stepped out of the car, and then scurried back in again to get ready. It had been just over a year since I’d seen him last—at the Easter Wellington book signing—and saying hello settled me. I was ready to put the previous week behind me and try my best for him.

When I rode Carlos onto the field less than an hour later, George looked up at me from his perch on the golf cart, paused and said, “Oh, Karen…I didn’t recognize you with your hat on. You look pretty good.”

I nodded with a ghost of a smile as I walked by him. After all the waiting, having registered six months before, it had begun.

As soon as that familiar cadence of George’s teaching—like the lecture of a college professor weaved with pointed instruction—began on that first morning, I found my nerves had passed. I settled into a mindset that stayed with me throughout the clinic: total concentration on following his direction exactly…with a strong dose of hustle. After watching George coach so many other riders in past years, it was absolutely surreal to have his voice speaking to me. It raised my focus to a calm but primed state of being present. I tried to absorb the big picture concepts while also being alert to react quickly.

The first day I was most concerned with riding boldly and not allowing the klutzy moments that had plagued us the week before in Sonoma. Carlos felt great—a little fresh but not wild. He ogled the ditch behind an oxer when we flatted by it, but when it came time to jump it, he didn’t hesitate. I found myself breathing barely whispered “Thank you” and “Good boy” praises to him. Flatwork set us up to feel the difference in our horses and then apply that feel in jumping exercises. George immediately zeroed in on my jumping position, telling me I needed to close my hip angle and lean forward, taking weight off Carlos’s back. This was his major critique of my riding, but throughout the clinic he acknowledged my practicing the adjusted position and encouraged my work to improve.

Looking back now at those three clinic days, I’m so proud that I met the challenges. We jumped a progressively wider water jump and rode well through some difficult exercises that tested flexibility of stride length, straightness, and tight turns. By Day 2, after flatwork and jumping without stirrups, George had me leading the group in most of the jumping exercises, which was exciting because having audited so many clinics, I knew what it meant: he thought I would bring confidence to the rest of the group.

There were definitely also some clumsy moments! Carlos and I haven’t had much practice jumping a bank, and at first we had a stop when he didn’t want to jump down over the small jump set at the bigger end of the bank. After I went to the stick hard and got him off the bank, I had a fire-breathing dragon underneath me for the rest of the day. I also halted at the wrong post in the fence line after someone had already made the same mistake ahead of me…George was very annoyed—and I heard about it. Then when he had us doing rider stretches, reaching down to touch our toes without stirrups, I knocked my helmet loose and my tucked-up ponytail started to slip out. Hair disaster!

As expected, there were the steely, scathing moments of George’s rebuke directed at various riders and auditors when they did not show proper respect or effort. Comments on the degraded state of our country, our general lack of discipline and work ethic, were weaved throughout the lectures each day. One rider had a fall when her horse caught a heel on the edge of the ditch, and George walked over, pointed down at her as she lay prone in the grass, and barked, “You have to keep your leg on at a ditch or a water! You didn’t leg him!”

He was right, of course. But what a picture that rider saw as she looked up at George Morris from the ground.

George also had soft, encouraging moments for riders who struggled. And he had so many words of reward—for everyone—when something was well ridden. “Excellent flying change!” “This girl—she is an educated rider, she is precise!” “That’s it…very good!” “Yeeeeesssss, THAT’S the way to ride that bank!” “This, people, is an excellent student—she listens!”

Every time George gave a compliment to any one of us, it lifted all of us up like we had climbed another step in showing him we, as a generation of riders, were worthy of the opportunity to learn from him. There was a silent, invisible vibration among the riders in my group. Although the rules of the road require that the riders not talk to one another during the clinic or even visibly laugh at George’s jokes (I’ve seen that go badly more than once), we were in it together and rooting for one another. I could feel it.

GEORGE-FRAMED

Speaking of clumsy moments, I had one while serving as jump crew during the 1.20 meter session on Day 1. I raised the top rail two holes on the water jump and stepping back from it, tripped backward over the wing box right in front of the audience and sprawled on hands and heels in the grass. I jumped up trying to recover and blushed hard, incredibly embarrassed. George looked over and said gravely, “Oh Karen, be careful,” and then addressing the crowd, “Karen wrote my book! That’s why she’s blushing…she knows alllll my stories! She knows more about me than my own mother. She even knows the stories that didn’t make the book.”

And just like that, he had taken my flustered moment and made me into a momentary celebrity out of pure sweetness.

George did not disappoint. He never does, does he? I was freaking out about being good enough to be in his clinic and wanting so badly to keep up with the group and belong out there. Now, looking back, I think to myself, “Don’t be silly—of course I belonged out there.” But maybe that’s just the post-George Karen talking. Maybe he instilled a level of certainty in those three days that makes the pre-George Karen a little bit of a stranger.

One thing that solidified that theory was the horse show I had the week following the clinic at the Rose City Opener back down in Bend. Just three days after getting home from the clinic, we were back in the show ring…and it was the best show Carlos and I have had together. We were consistently solid over all five days. We didn’t have a moment of doubt at a single jump. We got great ribbons all week, won the Ariat Medal class, and were Reserve Champion of our Hunter Division. But it was the Derby that felt like a true application of what I had taken with me from riding with George. I had never made it to the second round of a National Hunter Derby in four tries. At Rose City, we not only made it to the second round, but in the end, we were fifth, besting some excellent professional riders.

In my pre-clinic blog post, I wrote that I had hoped for one moment during the clinic when George Morris’s voice would make me feel invincible. Instead of a single moment to take with me, his voice, carrying me through those three clinic days, created a subtle, stream-of-consciousness-George-presence in the background whenever I ride. He is just there with me. In the Derby he was telling me, “Karen, first and foremost: Get it done.”

 

Karen Robertson worked with George Morris on his bestselling autobiography UNRELENTING, which is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order. 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the Rose City Opener National Hunter Derby, Bend, Oregon (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

TSB author Karen Robertson mulls over her upcoming date with The One and Only.

I started considered riding in a George Morris clinic in recent years. I know, I know… most of you are probably wondering why on earth I’d throw myself into the fire like that. And you’re right – I’m kind of freaking out about it. I’ve been freaking out for months! I haven’t ridden without stirrups enough and I’m not someone who rides five horses a day with a perfect position. George is sure to tell me my stirrup isn’t the correct angle on the ball of my foot, my leg isn’t strong enough, my hand isn’t educated enough, and that I sit “like a soup sandwich.” If I’m really lucky, he might even run behind me with a longe whip while I struggle to jump the water.

All that makes my heart race. Over the past five months I haven’t gone a day without thinking about the clinic. It truly scares me to put myself on a horse in front of George. He has laid eyes on every great hunter or jumper rider in the world for over six decades…and now he’s going to lay eyes on me.

Gulp.

I’m doing this for two reasons: My riding has in the last decade or so (I’m 39) begun resembling correct fundamentals to the extent that I think I can hold my own in this particular clinic that has a 1.00 meter group. And secondly, I helped George pen UNRELENTING, his no-holds-barred autobiography published last year. Working on UNRELENTING with George was like getting a whole new education on my best-loved sport. Just by being in George’s orbit, my ambition caught fire to work harder, be bolder, and take more risks. I’ve watched a dozen clinics first-hand over the past five years, and I know what he expects from riders. Now it’s my turn. And in one week, my friend and I will drive seven hours north with our horses to Potcreek Meadow Farm in Washington to ride with George.

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Karen and George working on UNRELENTING in September 2015 (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

Hang on, I had to put my head between my knees and breath deeply for a second there. Whew. Okay. I’m back.

What will it be like for me to ride with George? To feel those eyes that have an unmatched ability to instantly size up a rider and horse and then, in every pair’s case, fit a specific but well-worn key of wisdom into the right lock to help them reach their potential? What will it feel like to hear his deep, satisfied cry of “Thaaaaat’s it!” if I deliver what he commands?

I can only imagine how it will feel, but I hope that I have enough calm in my mind that I can absorb and enjoy the experience. No matter how well I ride each clinic day or what mistakes I ride through, the bottom line is that I will be riding with him: the timid boy too afraid to be off the lead line who became The Godfather of Hunt Seat Equitation and Chef d’Equipe of the Olympic Show Jumping Team; the reproach-impervious master who walks the fiery line between motivator and intimidator; the same coach who fifty years ago inspired a wily crew of American women to reach beyond their wildest dreams on the international show jumping stage and end the decades-long reign of European men.

George is also my dear friend. When I first met him in 2013, it took only hours for us to form a kinship that transcended the book and the horse world. With a kind of glee, we recognized in each other the same kind of professional ambition flanked by a sometimes reckless need for letting ourselves go and being wild. We grew close over the three years, and he listened kindly and gave me advice when I had hardship in my life. George shared his thoughts and feelings with me unreservedly, and I had the honor to hear hundreds of hours of stories from his life…only some of which made the book but which all fit together to help me understand how he wanted to tell his story. I was struck with awe and amusement in the moments I looked in at myself – sitting across from him at lunch or next to him as he drove the car or by his bedside interviewing him – when I wondered, “How did I get here? How is this my life? This is absolutely unbelievable that I get to be here.” It made me want to cry and laugh and collapse in wonder.

Riding with George will be a whole new relationship paradigm for us, and I will ride onto that grass field with no expectations for special treatment. I know he will measure me in a new way: as a rider and horsewoman rather than a writer and a friend. I’m a little afraid that he might lose respect for me if I’m not a sharp enough rider, but I hope so completely that this experience will bring us even closer.

This is scary, to take this risk. But sometimes you say yes to scary and the rewards are better than any ordinary day ever could be.

When I asked my childhood show jumping heroes during interviews for UNRELENTING what it was like to have George take them to the ring when the stakes were high, they all said that their trust in George and his belief that they could win made them feel like they could jump anything – A house! The moon! Besides the incredible learning opportunities, and taking to heart the critical comments (of which there are bound to be many), what I really want to feel in the clinic is just one moment where his voice lifts me up and I feel invincible.

 

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Karen and Carlos at HITS Coachella Desert Circuit, January 2016 (photo by Jose Ruiz).

Read Karen Robertson’s follow-up post, written after her clinic with George Morris, here.

 

UNRELENTING by George Morris with Karen Robertson, is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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“A common problem with lateral flexion is that even when done correctly…it is simply practiced too much,” writes renowned horseman Mark Rashid in his new book FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES. “Now I realize there are folks that teach who say that lateral flexion can never be done too much. Others will tell us to practice lateral flexion for hours at a time, and still others will tell us that we should never even think about riding our horse without first making sure the horse flexes laterally at least 25 or 30 times in each direction.

“Even though there are some who will tell us that flexion can never be done too much, the truth is, horses often say something different. Over the years, I have run into hundreds, if not thousands of horses that show obvious signs of being overflexed,” says Rashid.

The signs he highlights in FINDING THE MISSED PATH include:

  • the inability of a horse to walk a straight line while being ridden.
  • the inability to follow his own nose in a turn.
  • the inability to stop when asked.
  • and even being unable to stand quietly with a rider on his back without feeling like he needs to mindlessly turn his head from side to side, even though he isn’t being asked to do so.

“Many overflexed horses will simply stand with their head turned and their nose all the way around to the rider’s boot,” Rashid goes on. “When the rider asks the horse to straighten his head, he often just turns and puts his nose on the other boot. In cases like these, lateral flexion has been done to the point where the action itself has become little more than a default movement for the horse. In other words, the horse will laterally flex himself regardless of the situation or circumstances, and whether or not he is even being asked.

“Another thing that happens when the horse is overflexed like this is the joint at C1 actually becomes what we might refer to as ‘hyper-mobile,'” he adds. “When this happens, the horse literally loses the connection between his head and the rest of his body while being ridden. There are a number of serious issues with a horse losing this connection—for both rider and horse—not the least of which is a total loss of overall control. But even more concerning is that losing this control can, and usually is, quite difficult and very time consuming to correct.”

 

 

So should we no longer practice lateral flexion in the way that so many trainers have advocated over the last decade or so? Rashid says not to be hasty—there are still benefits to be had from conscientious use of the exercise.

“Understanding proper lateral flexion is an important part of a horse’s education, whether we’re talking about a young horse that’s just starting out, or an older horse whose education has somehow gotten off track,” Rashid explains. “I prefer to practice things like this with a sort of ‘as we go’ attitude or mentality: Rather than getting on my horse and saying to myself, ‘Okay, now we’re going to do some lateral flexion,’ I’m more likely to spend time on it while I’m going about whatever business I’m doing with my horse on that particular day. If I’m doing clinics, for instance, I might ask him to flex laterally while I’m turning him as we get ready to move from one place to another. If I’m on the ground and we go through a gate, I might send my horse past me through the gate then ask him to flex when I bring him back to me as I close the gate. For me, putting a purpose behind the exercise eliminates the drilling aspect of it, which, in turn, allows the horse to stay mentally and emotionally engaged in the process.

“I understand there are folks that feel differently about this, people who feel that the road to perfection is through lengthy, nearly non-stop repetition of exercises like lateral flexion. And for them, perhaps that is the key to perfect behavior and flawless responses from a horse. After all, there is no question that many horses, when given no other option, will most certainly repeat behavior that has been relentlessly drilled into them. But there is always a cost for a quest of perfection through mechanical repetition. Usually, the cost is that we end up losing the essence and personality of the horse. And, at least for me, that is a cost that seems a bit too high to pay.”

FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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So many of us know Fergus the Horse, the world’s most popular cartoon horse and a bonafide social media celebrity with over 315,000 followers on Facebook and two books about his adventures. But did you know that his creator, the wit behind the Fergus comics that bounce around the globe, isn’t a full-time artist? Every summer Jean Abernethy packs her saddle bags, loads her half-Arabian Willow, and heads to South Algonquin Trails in Harcourt, Ontario, Canada, where she spends several months leading guided trail rides into the Algonquin Provincial Park, 2,955 astoundingly beautiful square miles of Crown Land.

Here Jean shares with us her typical day “on the trail,” with lots of fly spray, ponies who defy grazing muzzles, and plenty to be thankful for.

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4:30 am  An empty log truck hits its engine brakes out on the paved road less than 300 yards from my cabin. It’s slowing for the turn up Kingscote Road.  They’re logging up there this summer… drift back to asleep…

6:00 am (and a couple of trucks later)  Alarm sounds. Hit two buttons: ”snooze,” and coffee maker.

6:10 am  Dawn is my favorite time. Up, dressed, coffee in hand, I grab my pony’s breakfast bucket from the pump house, and check one water trough on my way to the kitchen house where the cream and sugar is. Loons are calling overhead. I sip my coffee in the quiet dawn while Willow eats. Start breakfast in my skillet on the stove, and start a load of saddle cloths in the washer behind the kitchen house.

Dawn is Jean's favorite time. Here the South Algonquin Trail horses have breakfast in the morning fog.

Dawn is Jean’s favorite time. Here the South Algonquin Trail horses have breakfast in the morning fog.

7:00 am  Juggling chores, filling two water tanks, running the washer, hanging clean saddle cloths on the fence. Open the office, sweep, check the book for today’s trail rides and camp kids.  Check and top up the mineral buckets in the paddocks.  Check big bales in the paddocks and remove strings for safety. Open the tackroom, check the dry erase board (which should match the book), to see which horses are needed for the day. …walking…walking…

7:45 am  Slip a halter on Willow, groom and tack her up. Tie her in the trees to wait until she is needed. I tell her I’m proud of her. She finds validity in the routine here and does this work well. Once tied, she cocks a leg and dozes off. I open the road gate.

Willow, being a good pony, waiting to go to work.

Willow, being a good pony, waiting to go to work.

8:00 am  My friend and employer Tammy arrives with her daughter Jocelyn and an assortment of other help: Jesse, a high school senior and brilliant young equestrian, and there might be others who jump out of the truck…siblings or young teens volunteering for the summer. We gather horses from the paddocks into the yard, grooming and saddling to prepare for the “Camp Kids” and scheduled rides on the trails. Tacked-up horses are tied in the trees until needed.

Rodney & Dwayne arrive.  These young men help out here when they can.  There might be a tree down across the trails out there somewhere. We’ll send them out into the bush on the 4-wheeler with a chainsaw. Or, we might need them to sink a new tie-post in the yard or guide a ride with us.

9:00 am  The “Camp Kids” show up.  There might be 3, or 6, or more…we share up the tasks of getting them started with their grooming tools, instructions, and assigned horses. They will have a riding lesson and trail ride before noon. This also means supervising our young volunteers. Safety and savvy are the biggest lessons. So is stamina. I hand it to Tammy.  She creates opportunity here at SAT, for a lot of kids to learn real stuff!

The "Camp Kids," learning real horse stuff!

The “Camp Kids,” learning real horse stuff!

10:00 am  It’s getting hot. Flies are buzzing, horses stomping.

Guests arrive for the first scheduled trail ride. As they check in with Tammy in the office…payments, waivers, helmets…we, the crew in the yard, prepare the horses. Put their bits into their mouths and tighten girths. And apply fly repellent. Lots of fly repellent. We put our guests on, give them some instruction, and head out. Willow and I go in front, and another guide is in back. For 6 or more riders, it’s nice to have a guide in the middle, too. A ride could be 30 minutes to 4 hours. This one is 2 hours.

11:00 am  The shade of the bush protects us from the sun. First horse gets the worst of the flies. I’ve cut a 5-foot leafy Maple branch to sweep flies off my horse, Willow, ears to tail. After the first hour, I feel “welded” into my saddle. Bliss. I chat with our guests, telling them a little history of our Provincial Park, or just let them enjoy the sights and sounds of the woods.  I watch for tracks and point them out whenever possible. It’s exciting to see fresh moose tracks, but I watch Willow’s ears, and silently pray there will be no moose, only tracks. (I don’t like putting people back on!)

12:00 pm  We ride back into the yard as the “Camp Kids” are finishing up.  Most of our guests have very little riding experience, so we joke with them as they dismount: “You’ll only walk funny for 3 days.” They drive out of the yard happy, with a recommendation for the nearest ice-cream vendor, hiking, or fishing spot.  They’re summer people on holidays, and we do all we can to add to their fun.

12:30 pm  I check with Tammy about the rental cabin. Some folk haul their own horses up here, stay in the cabin on SAT property, and ride the trails out in the Crown Land just beyond SAT’s back fence. The cabin beds need to be fresh, campfire pit tidy and inviting, stalls and turnout pens clean. I’ll do what needs to be done.

Grab my laptop from my cabin for a moment to check emails, and check up on Fergus’s progress on social media.

1:00 pm  Babysitting the horses tied in the yard, making sure that no one is stepping on dangling reins, or chewing his neighbor’s saddle. We’re re-applying fly repellent, offering them drinks at the trough. The guests for the next ride check in. In fact, it’s two families, so we’ll take them out together…bits in, girths tightened, and off to the mounting platform. Oh my goodness! I lead Black Horse (name changed to protect the innocent) to the platform. Guest is wondering which foot to put in the stirrup to mount. So I advise: “Well, do you want to face forward?”

1:20 pm  We ride out. Red Horse, with child aboard, is right behind Willow and me in the line-up. Right beyond the first bridge, Red Horse puts her head into the weeds to eat, despite the muzzle on her face. Rider is helpless. I, and the other guides speak instructions to Rider.  Rider is still helpless. Red Horse eats. Pinto Horse, further back in the line, begins to pee. Rider behind Pinto Horse giggles, then his horse begins to pee, and there is much giggling amid the guests. All 10 horses, given the pause, begin to eat at the edge of the trail. Guest riders do not know how to influence this, nor do they understand how precarious this all is! (Large Mare has a tendency to turn around and go home!)

I sidepass over to Red Horse (thank you, Willow) and hook onto to the halter with a lead line, pony her for a bit , while instructing Rider…who is still helpless. The guides further back speak instructions to all, the horses follow up, and we get the whole procession moving again. Deep sigh. Jocelyn (always smiling) tells a little girl that she must not whine because it upsets her pony. The girl stops whining. The pony is indifferent. Jocelyn is a star!!

Willow and Jean leading a guided trail ride.

Willow and Jean leading a guided trail ride.

2:20 pm  We ride back in. All hands on deck to get these folks safely dismounted and horses made comfortable until the next ride.

2:30 pm  A family drives in, unscheduled, wanting pony rides. We oblige. Quick tack change to swap out for a pony saddle…skee-daddle to the paddock for the wee pony who wasn’t  brought in earlier, and we hand-walk two ponies on the pony trail at the edge of the woods.  One child is utterly charming, parents following and cooing…the other child cries. Ten minutes later there is no crying, photos are taken, memories made, children lifted off…ponies’ girths loosened…

3:00 pm  It’s hot. We’re tired and hungry. As the next holiday folks pull into the yard in expensive cars, we are all on the office porch sucking popsicles, swatting flies, and eating Doritos. Good God! Three people want 3 hours of trail ride, no riding experience, and they’ve showed up in shorts and flip-flops! Is there a Patron Saint of Trail Riders I can pray to?

Tammy’s brilliant! She has various chaps & boots on hand…waivers…helmets…we put them on, and ride out. I like the 3-hour ride. Haven’t been up to Gut Rapids for 3 days. I love this trail! Folk like this seem to be expecting a ride at the fair—you know, where you get in, clasp your hands on something solid, and wait for the whole experience to happen. We make some effort to express to them that they can communicate cues to their mount. Penny does not drop. The horses are stars. They tote these folks out, relying on each other, nose-to-tail, and we even make it through the water crossing without anyone balking or turning around!

At the Gut Rapids tie-up, we dismount them, tie the horses to trees, and take the folks for a 5-minute hike to the rapids. They admire the scenery, take a photo, eat a snack…then we walk them back and put them on, using “mounting rocks.”  Of course all of the horses become 10 years younger when walking home! This is when the guests ask, “Are we going to gallop?”

Dear God…

4:00 pm  Halfway back…folks are quiet, absorbing the magic of the woods…the sun is warm on my face, flies not so bad on this shady trail… an earthy scent drifts past my nose…Willow walks patiently…raven calls…I am reminded how lucky I am do be doing this…zap back to the moment, and turn around to check that everyone is safe.

Willow and Jean both enjoy the beautiful trails at SAT.

Willow and Jean both enjoy the beautiful trails at SAT.

6:15 pm  We arrive back in the yard, get these folks safely off, and send them cheerily on their way.  They’re laughing, walking funny, and have a whole new respect for horse riding, and for our vast forest. Dwayne, Rodney, and volunteers have gone home. Water tanks need topping up. Horses untacked and turned out.  Sweaty saddle cloths have piled up again…fold and stack the clean ones that have been drying on the fence all day… sweep the porch…pick up in the yard…there’s sand in my boots…

7:00 pm  Tammy’s still in the office working, the girls and I are doing chores. We pause to watch two little red foxes playing about the manure pile. I give Willow her evening meal.

7:30 pm  Tammy’s on the tractor, hefting big squares from the hay barn to the paddocks. We look sharp to work the gates and cut strings off bales.

8:30 pm  Tammy and folks drive out. I smile and wave, shut the gate behind them. I don’t remember what I ate today, make some kind of supper in the kitchen, start Willow’s breakfast soaking for morning, and walk to my cabin. Catch up on my journal. The twilight sky over the treetops is breathtaking! A loon calls.

9:00 pm  I walk down to the yard where Willow is munching hay with her friends. I put my arm over her back and thank her for another day’s work. She chews. There are so many stars overhead that the Milky Way is actually “milky.” Here, we are beyond the city’s light pollution. I might see a falling star or satellite. I wish I could watch it all night, but I am exhausted. I hear a wolf howl, far away…walk back to my cabin, fill my coffee maker, and flop into bed.

 

Jean Abernethy’s new book FERGUS: A HORSE TO BE RECKONED WITH, is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Click below to watch the trailer:

 

For more information about the South Algonquin Trails, CLICK HERE.

 

Be sure to read the other installments in the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:

YVONNE BARTEAU

JONATHAN FIELD

EMMA FORD

JOCHEN SCHLEESE

HEATHER SMITH THOMAS

LYNN PALM

DANIEL STEWART

DOUG PAYNE

JANET FOY

CLINTON ANDERSON

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Photo by Erika N. Walsh

Photo by Erika N. Walsh

We’re counting down the days to the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, organized by the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), a nonprofit dedicated to the placement of ex-racehorses in second careers, and sponsored by Thoroughbred Charities of America.

You can join thousands of others who believe that every Thoroughbred deserves a chance to win at life at the beautiful Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, October 27-30, as top trainers engage in the process of transitioning ex-racehorses to second careers. The Thoroughbred Makeover serves as the only national gathering of the organizations, trainers, and farms dedicated to serving OTTBs and features educational clinics and demonstrations, as well as the Makeover Horse Sale and the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover competition.

The 2016 Makeover features over 300 Thoroughbreds that began working with trainers from across the country after the first of the year and who will compete in up to two of ten equestrian disciplines to showcase their talents and trainability.

“The Thoroughbred Makeover is a unique opportunity on so many levels,” says one of the event’s judges, TSB author and president of EquestrianCoach.com Bernie Traurig. “First, it’s a wonderful way to see firsthand the great qualities the Thoroughbred has to offer for so many disciplines. There are over 300 OTTBs competing and demonstrating their versatility in a wide array of sports. Second, for those interested in purchasing an OTTB, many, perhaps half, are available to be tried and purchased. David Hopper and I are judging the jumpers, and we are both really excited to see some of these great Thoroughbreds.”

As supporters of the Retired Racehorse Project, TSB is proud to have a number of authors joining Bernie Traurig (creator of DEVELOPING PERFECT POSITION and other DVDs) in this year’s Makeover. BEYOND THE TRACK author Anna Morgan Ford’s OTTB adoption organization New Vocations always has a significant presence at the event, and both Denny Emerson (HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD) and Yvonne Barteau (THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO) worked with OTTBs with the competition in mind.

 

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“I did not know of the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover challenge until my friend Lisa Diersen of the Equus Film Festival mentioned it to me,” recounts Barteau. “Since I spent seven years on racetracks, working with Standardbred and Thoroughbred racehorses, and also a few years training ex-racehorses, it seemed like a good thing for me to do.

“I started working with SeventyTwo (‘Indy’) in February,” she says. “I found him a bit aloof at first and also somewhat challenging. He likes a good argument and will try to drag you into one if you are not careful. He is also funny, charming, and extremely clever. He learns things, (good or bad), super fast, so I have had to stay ahead of him in the training game.

“I am having such fun with Indy, I plan on keeping him and continuing to train him up the levels in dressage as well as making an exhibition horse out of him. I don’t know how he will be when I take him to a new environment (the Makeover), so however he acts there will be just part of our journey together. I’m looking forward to it either way!”

Don’t missing seeing Indy and all the other winning ex-racehorses as they show off what they’ve learned over the last few months and compete to be named America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred! Tickets for the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover are on sale now (CLICK HERE).

Watch Yvonne and Indy working together in this short video:

 

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Photo by Erika N. Walsh

Photo by Erika N. Walsh

 

Yvonne Barteau, author of THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, is a career horsewoman. And while perhaps that doesn’t make her unusual or particularly different from the other authors we have featured in TSB’s “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series, her varied experiences certainly do. She began as a groom, and later, a trainer, at racetracks along the East Coast, before becoming a horsewoman who specialized in restarting “problem horses.” Eventually, she entered the equine theater business, spending over five years as the Director of Entertainment Operations, Principle Trainer, and Feature Performer at the Arabian Nights Dinner Theater in Orlando, Florida. Since then she has devoted herself to dressage and teaching students, training more than ten horses to the Grand Prix level and coaching many riders to year-end and Regional Championships. And she and her husband Kim continue to entertain audiences around the globe with stunning liberty work and theater shows featuring a variety of breeds and disciplines.

So what is the typical day in Yvonne’s life like?

“My life takes on different shapes throughout the year, depending on either the competition or exhibition dates we have on the calendar,” she says. “I have quite a few things I am preparing for now that occupy my hours.”

Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain at what it’s like to walk 24 hours in Yvonne Barteau’s boots.

Yvonne Barteau and her 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover horse, Indy.

Yvonne Barteau and her 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover horse, Indy.

5:00 a.m.  I’m usually up between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. The good old days of the racetrack have stuck with me a long time. I’ll have one cup of coffee and a couple of cookies for breakfast and let my two dogs, Gimme and Weezer (one a Jack Russell and the other a Jack-Corgi mix) out in the yard to play. If my horse training abilities were judged on how well those two rascals are trained, I would likely go hungry. They kind of do what they want for most of their day and demand something from me every time they see me.

Early morning is my writing and business time, and I try to get done with it by sixish. I then get ready and head down to the barn before my crew gets there. I always visit my good buddy Ray first. He is the Holsteiner stallion I trained to Grand Prix and would let live in the house with me if I could! Sergio our barn manager is usually feeding at this time. Right now I am preparing Indy, my little Thoroughbred, for the Retired Racehorse Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge, so I often get him out and let him have his breakfast “picnic style,” lying down in the arena or the field.

7:00 a.m.  My crew arrives and we talk about the day’s schedules, lessons, and horses to work, deciding who will work what. This is also “meeting time” if we have an upcoming exhibition we are preparing for. Next on our schedule is the Denver Stock Show in January, and we are deciding how we will bring The Sound of Music and Chicago, to life, on horseback. I often put a first ride on Indy about this time so he can then go out for turnout before lunch.

 

Yvonne and her students put on fabulous equine theater productions at major events across the country throughout the year.

Yvonne and her students put on fabulous equine theater productions at major events across the country throughout the year.

8:00 a.m.  Usually Papi, the big 17-hand, 11-year-old Andalusion stallion who is converting from theater work to the dressage arena just this season and starting at the PSG level, gets a ride around now. We have many connection issues and lots of walk work to address, so I may spend over an hour on him, with over half of it at the walk.

9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.  I may ride sale horses or teach my daughter Hudi during this time. I also have one regular Adult Amateur at 11:30 who is intent (and succeeding) in moving her horse up the levels with me only helping from the ground. She is fun and motivating to work with.

12:15 p.m.  I usually eat something while I catch up on computer work, which right now is movie editing. Our documentary on the making of an Equine Theater horse, called Into the Spotlight, is going to be in the Equus Film Festival in NYC and a few others this fall. It seems there is always “just one more edit” to do.

 

Yvonne made a name for herself as a horsewoman who can determine a horse's personality type and customize his training to suit.

Yvonne made a name for herself as a horsewoman who can determine a horse’s personality type and customize his training to suit.

1:00- 3:00 p.m. I have regular lessons to give here during this time, as well, and horses I ride or teach on that are in my five-day-a-week program.

3:00-5:00 p.m.  This is when the working students and apprentice trainers get their lessons, unless I have people who have shipped in for help. Right now, I usually get Indy out one more time to work on some Liberty or trick work before calling it a day with him. Project and sale horses are videoed if needed at this time and often it is more toward 7:00 p.m. before we all straggle up to the house.

8:00 p.m.  It is time for dinner, and I am the luckiest person in the world to have Kim, my husband, decide each day to make all of us a fabulous meal. We eat amazing and inventive meals each evening and many who have worked for us say the food and the home-cooked meals, are as much, or more, of an incentive, than the riding and training help they get!

Unless we have other guests over, after dinner we often watch a movie—or for me, part of one!

9-9:30 p.m. I am in bed because I love a good night’s sleep.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

You can read more about Yvonne Barteau and her dressage training philosophy in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO (which, by the way, is written from the horse’s point of view!), available at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Be sure to read the other installments in the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:

JONATHAN FIELD

EMMA FORD

JOCHEN SCHLEESE

HEATHER SMITH THOMAS

LYNN PALM

DANIEL STEWART

DOUG PAYNE

JANET FOY

CLINTON ANDERSON

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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