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With the 2020 we’re all having, the idea of escaping to a beautiful ranch to find peace, balance, and strength through riding and yoga practice sounds pretty darn appealing. Cathy Woods, author of the new book YOGA FOR RIDERS, is the founder and leader of Body, Mind, Equine™ retreats, which in typical years occur at a number of fabulous locations all over the country. We caught up with Cathy following the release of YOGA FOR RIDERS and asked for her to share what a typical first day at one of her retreats is like…so we can all close our eyes, block out the news, and pretend we are there…

24HourswithCathyWoods-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Carol Engan Borelli.

6:00 am: I’m usually rising and shining by the crack of dawn. I don’t mind this—I’m a morning person. I have the best energy and clarity first thing. Before I begin my day of retreat leading, and after a good, bold coffee, I like to spend a little personal time, getting collected. This helps me prepare for my day.  I become still and centered and take inner inventory—I check-in with myself. I move into a brief meditation, typically beginning with some deep breathing, energizing and oxygenating my system, followed by a few moments of gratitude. Then, I simply allow myself time for non-doing as a counterbalance to my day ahead, which is filled with doing. If time permits, I may proceed with a little movement, but not necessarily yoga postures per se—just intuitive movements that feel good and help move energy to my muscles, joints, and organs. I view this time as a type of groundwork for myself. As retreat leader, it is very important that I am leading from a good, clear, centered place (much like a leadership role when working with horses). Since energy is palpable, everyone in the group (as well as the horses) will consciously or subconsciously pick up on my vibe, which could alter the experience in a variety of ways. I like to be sure that I’m in the best space possible for everyone’s benefit.

After this, my assistant and I go over the logistics of the day to be sure we are on the same page.

7:00 am:  I meet the retreat guests for breakfast. I love breakfast! And at some of the luxury guest ranches, the meals are to die for! This is challenging when breakfast is before yoga class, as yoga and a super-full belly don’t mix. If the schedule allows, sometimes we just have some fruit and juice before yoga, then eat a hearty breakfast after, but each venue is different and we have to go with flow.

Many ranches do their “daily jingle” in the mornings: They bring in the herd of horses, sometimes 200 head, from the overnight pasture. This is one of the best parts of the day—for the guests and for me! We watch the wranglers gather the horses and get to stand fairly close as the herd comes by. It’s an exhilarating and amazing way to start the day—you can just feel the raw horsepower. It’s also a learning moment as we have a chance to observe energy, horse body language, and herd dynamics.

The Daily Jingle

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

8:00 am:  We convene on the yoga mat. I lead everyone in a centering meditation and set our intention for the day. It could be something like: “Drop expectations” or “Practice present-moment awareness.” After meditation, I lead a yoga class, which includes good stretches for riders, then conclude with a deep, guided relaxation. This is followed by a workshop topic, such as “The Parallels of Yoga and Horsemanship,” or “What Makes a Good Rider” or “Breathwork.”

10:00 am: Retreat guests get paired with their horses. The wranglers usually handle this, but I am always nearby, keeping a close watch on everyone and available to answer any questions. As guests lead their horses into the arena, I instruct them to maintain the same centered, relaxed energy we established in the yoga session. For the next couple of hours, I lead the arena portion of Body, Mind, Equine. This includes exercises on the ground and in the saddle to help students become more aware, mindful equestrians by applying yoga principles to their horsemanship. My program assistant is always in the arena as well so participants feel comfortable having more eyes and hands on deck.

arena

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

12:00 pm: Lunch time! We’ve all usually worked up quite an appetite.  I may be small but I love to eat—mealtimes are not only for sustenance but for enjoying each other and socializing, too.

1:30 pm: After lunch we all take a little break. I use this time to recharge. By this time, I’ve led a yoga class, workshop, and arena time, and I’ve done lots of talking and expelled lots of energy. I need a little renewal to be good to go for the rest of the day.

My break always includes silent time. I am also a big fan of power naps, so I may set an alarm and get in a 20-minute rest, or at very least, slip into Savasana (a form of deep relaxation done in yoga).

Afterward, I have another debriefing session with my assistant. We evaluate how the early part of the day went and discuss anything that needs to be addressed.

3:00 pm: We all meet up and get ready to ride out on the trails for a couple of hours. Before we gather our horses, I lead a short meditation to collect us again as a group and continue to help maintain our yogic energy for the ride.

Even though the trail ride is fun for me, I’m still working. The wranglers lead the ride, and I am mounted and in the line-up, but I continue to interweave the teachings for mindful riding into our trail time. Along the way, I point out things like symmetry in the saddle and horse body language, and provide reminders to breathe fully. Sometimes, if we take a break, I encourage some dialogue or lead a few stretches to keep the retreat vibe going and keep everyone connected.

Trail ride

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

5:00 pm: Time to clean up, put on some cowgirl duds and meet up for happy hour! At home I live in either yoga or barn clothes, so I really enjoy breaking out a pretty skirt and boots and spiffing up a bit. The guests seem to like this opportunity, too. Light libations are enjoyed as we relax after a full day of retreat and ranch activities. It’s nice to see everyone kick back.

6:00 pm: Dinner time! I think it’s safe to say that food is a big part of the retreat experience, not only for me but for the guests, as well. However, I’m still on as retreat leader. While we await our entrees, I usually facilitate a, “What was the highlight of your day?” discussion. We go around the table and everyone gets a turn to speak. Sharing is a big part of being on a retreat with a group. I just love hearing about everyone’s day: Some might have had some sort of breakthrough; others may have had a meaningful moment with their horses. This casual conversation keeps me plugged into how everyone is doing. I make mental note if someone seems to be struggling with an aspect of the program or needs extra attention. Although I am chilling and having a good time, I am always present and making sure that the experience stays positive for attendees.

7:30 pm: Depending on the venue, we might gather around a campfire or listen to live music in the evening. Again, this is a sweet time, and from my perspective, it’s very fulfilling to see everybody connecting, letting their hair down, and forming friendships.

Evening campfire

Photo courtesy of Cathy Woods at C Lazy U Ranch, CO.

9:00 pm: Before bed, I have yet another pow-wow with my assistant about how the day went. Sometimes we have projects to work on, from creating slideshows to other special surprises we have lined up for the guests. Though I’m not much of a night person, this is usually the only time we have to work on these little extras.

10:00 pm: At the latest, this is when I’m heading to bed. I’ve never been one for late nights and cherish a good night’s sleep. When possible, I’ve been known to duck out by nine o’clock. I feel it’s my job to be restored and at my best for the whole of the program.

One of my biggest joys at a Body, Mind, Equine retreat is to see the vast improvements in everyone’s overall horsemanship: the boosted confidence levels, the application of new skills, and the participants really honing the practice of mindfulness. When the retreat is complete, I am usually exhausted (in a good way), yet exhilarated. I leave with many great memories and feeling fulfilled. I could not imagine having a better “job”—there’s a lot to be said for loving the life you live!

 

Yoga for RidersLearn more about how yoga principles can benefit your horsemanship in YOGA FOR RIDERS by Cathy Woods, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order. 

For more information about Cathy Woods and her Body, Mind, Equine Retreats, CLICK HERE.

 

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

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BalanceinMovementFB-horseandriderbooks

Good mobility of the shoulders and arms is necessary for good riding. In her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze says, “One of the ailments of our civilized society, poor posture, especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax…. There are a few very beneficial stretching exercises for the shoulder girdle, in particular, which you can do within the context of your everyday activities.” Von Dietze explains that by incorporating certain movements into your everyday barn tasks, it is possible to be both fit and efficient.

One of the easiest stretches to add to your regular routine is stretching the shoulders while you groom your horse. 

“When grooming your horses’s neck, pause for a moment with your hand high up on the neck. Stand close in to the horse’s shoulder and position your hand with the brush on the horse’s neck. have the opposite leg positioned in front as if you are about to walk forward.

BalanceinMovement1-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Balance in Movement

“Before actually starting to groom with the brush, apply gentle pressure and hold the brush against your horse’s neck. Yo will feel the stretch at the side of the shoulder. Vary the pressure on the hand on the brush: sometimes put more on the little-finger side, sometimes more on the ball of your thumb. Different groups of muscles are activated when you do this and the stretch is intensified.

“Remember the old grooming rule: ‘long strokes and short breaks.’ The stroke should be as long as possible and applied with even pressure. Your whole body can follow the movement.

BalanceinMovement2-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Balance in Movement

“When grooming the horse’s back and belly try other positions and stretches. By varying the body position and pressure you can very easily feel where any muscles are tight and what is best for your body.

“When grooming the other side of the horse, the brush should be held in your other hand as you repeat the stretches and strokes on that side.”

For more innovative exercises to help you improve your seat on the horse and better your riding position and performance, check out BALANCE IN MOVEMENT by Susanne von Dietze, available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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

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StaffPickRidingDoctor-horseandriderbooks

Let’s do something positive with all the time we suddenly have at home! We can improve as riders, trainers, and horse caregivers in little ways–and big ones, too!–even when we can’t go to the barn or when lessons and clinics have been canceled. TSB has published so many books full of tips, techniques, and exercises to make us better on the ground and in the saddle, it is sometimes difficult to recommend just one. So over the next couple weeks, we’re going to share a bunch of our favorites, giving you a few ideas to try and lots of things to learn.

Today TSB Managing Director is recommending the book THE RIDING DOCTOR by Dr. Beth Glosten (a real medical doctor, as well as a dressage rider and Pilates instructor). Dr. Glosten’s book offers incredible insight in terms of rider biomechanics as well as a series of exercises intended to improve specific riding skills as well as troubleshoot bad habits and imbalances you may have on horseback.

“I’m the first to admit I’m not an exerciser for the sake of exercising,” says Martha. “Take me out and I’ll clear trail all day. Put me in a gym and say, ‘Do these exercises,’ and I balk like a herd-bound horse going down the driveway. So, it’s a pretty big deal that I do many of the exercises in THE RIDING DOCTOR. I find they are not complicated, nor are they too tedious, and author Dr. Beth Glosten gives options to start out easy and add difficulty, which combats my temptation to quit! I especially like her physio-ball routines. And, yes, I have been bucked off the ball for lack of seat bone equality!”

Here’s one easy exercise from THE RIDING DOCTOR to try:

TheRidingDoctor-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Audrey Guidi from The Riding Doctor.

Bounce in Rhythm: Toe Tapping

Bouncing on an exercise ball to a metronome is a great warm-up exercise and hones your ability to keep a steady tempo. Add arm and leg movements to develop balance and coordination, as well, so you can ride with feel at any gait.
 
1 Set a metronome to about 96 beats per minute, sit on an exercise ball in an upright posture, and bounce to the beat of the metronome. (There are metronome apps available for your phone.)

2 Keeping your arms still, lift one leg a bit, and tap the foot in rhythm with the metronome.

3 Try to keep your balance on the ball using your core muscles, so that moving one leg does not disrupt your alignment (like on the horse).

4 Once you gain steady balance tapping one foot, change to tapping the other (you’ll probably find it easier to tap one foot compared to the other).

5 When this is straightforward, try tapping one foot for a set number of beats, then switch and tap with the other foot.

6 End by alternating foot taps, like marching.

 

Riding DoctorFor more exercises, check out THE RIDING DOCTOR, available from the TSB online bookstore. Everything is 20% off (plus free shipping) until April 1. Amazon is de-prioritizing book shipments during the pandemic crisis (they need to focus on household and health-related items), so please consider supporting a small business and buying from us direct.

And watch our blog in the coming days for more recommendations, tips, and exercises!

Take care of each other,

The TSB Staff

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

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DressageCowboyWay-horseandriderbooks

Are you always resetting ground poles for different gaits and stride lengths? Maybe you can stay in the saddle next time! Here’s a quick tip from Eitan Beth-Halachmy, founder of Cowboy Dressage™, and co-author of the new book DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY with Dr. Jenni Grimmett:

Working the horse over ground poles can aid in teaching the horse to lengthen and shorten his stride. Note that in Cowboy Dressage, the distance between the ground poles never changes. The poles are always 3 feet apart, whether the horse is walking or jogging through the poles. For some horses to properly step evenly through these poles at the walk, they will have to lengthen their stride, while others will have to shorten it. The same applies to the jog. The horse (with support from the rider) then learns to adjust his stride accordingly to navigate the ground poles.

If the horse is “splitting” his stride over the ground poles rather than shortening and lengthening, it will interfere with his natural cadence and rhythm, causing him to strike the poles with his feet. Through repetition, the horse can learn to adjust his stride to cleanly carry himself over the poles at the free walk, for example. You can assist him by guiding him down the middle of the poles rather than drifting across the poles at random places. This assures that the strides must remain consistent through each pass. You can also help the horse to place his feet so that his steps completely pass over the poles rather than landing on top of them, which causes the horse to either jump the poles or trip.

As the horse approaches the ground poles, guide him directly to the center of the first pole. Make slight contact through the reins to tell the horse to place the front foot just in front of the first pole. Then release the horse to ride forward over the remaining poles, lengthening the stride. If the horse doesn’t lengthen the stride to carry himself over the poles, he will take two steps between the poles and the cadence of the gait will be altered.

 

 

Dressage the Cowboy WayDRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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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EquineLamenessfortheLayman-horseandriderbooks

Lameness is the most common cause of poor performance in the horse. This makes management of his soundness over the long term integral to both his general well-being and his ability to participate in recreational and competitive activities.

Unfortunately, most equine caretakers are unable to perceive abnormal movement in the horse, extending the period between the onset of a problem and its eventual treatment, and the longer an issue is allowed to persist, the greater the chance that it will progress. Many equine veterinarians also find it difficult to visually decipher lameness, which leads to lengthy, expensive, and often inaccurate diagnostic work-ups.

It is with these two key audiences in mind that Dr. Bob Grisel has teamed up with TSB to create a new book unlike any other. EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN features hundreds of illustrations and dozens of charts as readers are given a complete course in observing, identifying, and decoding equine lameness. Links to online videos of explanatory case studies narrated by Dr. Grisel are available with a quick scan of your Smartphone throughout, helping you interpret what is seen, plain and simple (no need for medical knowledge of equine anatomy and pathology). Whether you’re a first-time horse owner or seasoned professional, you are guaranteed to come away with a detailed, systematic, and comprehensive method for a happier, healthier equine partner.

 

“Veterinary examinations are not performed on horses that are considered to be sound by their owners,” writes Dr. Grisel in his book. “It is the horse owner, not the veterinarian, who is best situated to initiate the processes of lameness diagnosis and treatment. Accordingly, observant horse owners make better horse owners.

“Unfortunately, most horse owners and trainers are not proficient at lameness recognition. Consequently only problems that are obvious, chronic, or advanced tend to receive medical attention.

“The utilization of basic visual assessment techniques can help horse owners detect lameness more quickly, thereby starting the diagnostic process sooner and improving the horse’s prognosis for future soundness. Local trainers, farriers, and friends can also assist the owner in prompt lameness recognition. Remember, a veterinary degree is not required to formulate an opinion as to the  existence, location, and possible cause(s) of a horse’s lameness.

“Horse owners who adopt a proactive approach to detecting lameness in their own horse tend to be more successful in whatever equine discipline they undertake. Those that can recognize subtle gait deficits will recognize small problems before they become big problems. The more timely problems are recognized and addressed, the less likelihood they have of becoming long-term or permanent issues. There is also less opportunity for other primary or secondary problems to develop. With fewer areas of the horse being affected, our visual depiction of asymmetry becomes appreciably less complicated.

“Your ability to detect lameness will help you to: Keep your horse in consistent work; save you money by staying ahead of problems that would otherwise incur increased diagnostic and treatment costs; and improve your horse’s chances of performing better for longer.

“The ability to localize the potential source of lameness is also very useful to the horse owner. The recognition of gait deficits consistent with a shoulder problem, for instance, tells the owner that the horse is not suffering from yet another foot bruise. With this knowledge, appropriate measures for further diagnostics and treatment can be initiated swiftly. Competence at differentiating problems that pose performance-limiting risk from those that do not is extremely valuable to equestrians at all levels.”

To view a sample video from Dr. Grisel’s book, scan the QR code below with the QR-code reader on your Smartphone (free to download in the App store):

VL 3b

 

EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Equine Lameness for the Layman

DID YOU KNOW…

TSB has ONLINE STREAMING options and a generous LOYALTY PROGRAM? Check them out!

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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ThatsValegro

They all say this is no secret. They claim it isn’t news. And yet somehow, it seems right to put it out there—again, if that is indeed the case—with the good of the horse in mind.

That is: You don’t need custom boots and expensive tack; it doesn’t take a fancy indoor and an underwater treadmill. Instead, it’s about putting the horse first, even when striving for competitive success.

Here are 6 surprisingly simple tips from some of the world’s best and most successful riders, as they have shared in the book SPORT HORSE SOUNDNESS AND PERFORMANCE by Dr. Cecilia Lönnell:

SportHorseSoundnessFinal

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

1  “Good hay is the basis of our feeding regime…. Before you spend a lot of money on supplements it is important to first be sure that you have done everything right for the horse regarding the fundamentals: roughage feed and hard feed.” —Beezie Madden

2  “When buying a horse, always try to take into account that the horse’s strengths compensate for your weaknesses, and the other way around.” —Kyra Kyrklund

3  “When you have planned your competitions, make a point of still listening to the horse and skip one or more shows if the horse feels tired and weary. If you push on in spite of the horse not being 100 percent, the big problem injuries occur.” —Jan Brink

4  “Ration your jumping. Don’t compete too much…. Some riders jump and jump and jump.” —John Whitaker

5  “Vary the riding and use different surfaces, so that the horse does not work on the same surface day after day.” —Carl Hester

6  “A horse is like a book, and you must start on the first page. Many riders start in the middle, and then they get problems. They do not understand the horse.” —Nelson Pessoa

And did you know…

In Sweden a horse, by law, must be allowed out several hours a day and be able to move at walk, trot, and canter.  

Food for thought, don’t you think?

SPORT HORSE SOUNDNESS AND PERFORMANCE is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

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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PRINOFRIDING

THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING by the German Equestrian Federation (FN) was first published more than 50 years ago and now has 28 editions to date. Over 400,000 have been sold, translated into 11 languages.

The ideas expressed in THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING are based on “classical riding,” which is defined by the FN as:

“A vital and modern training system that builds on the basic principles of the ‘Old Masters,’ supplemented by new insights that serve the welfare of the horse and are purposeful for its training.”

In addition, classical riding:

  • Is oriented toward the nature of the horse–the horse’s needs and each horse’s natural, individual abilities.
  • Considers the physical precondition of the horse and the natural behavior of the horse.
  • Supports the horse’s welfare.
  • Aims toward a balanced gymnasticizing and strengthening of the horse.
  • Is diverse and versatile.
  • Develops and maintains a horse that performs willingly and confidently.
  • Demands from the rider an elastic, balanced seat, a sensitive, fine use of the aids, as well as an understanding of the nature of the horse and its correlation to training, thus leading to inner and outer balance of horse and rider.

So as horse people, why do we need to read the new edition of THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING? Because it provides a baseline foundation of understanding for ALL areas of equestrian sport and horse management. Because it provides practical guidance to all who want to learn how to ride and train a horse appropriately, as well as comprehend why certain methods have proved correct and indispensable over the years. And because this newest revised edition emphasizes the importance of harmony between horse and rider.

THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING are an important addition to any aspiring rider or trainer’s equestrian library, and are available now 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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Dare we ask whether the concept of equine hierarchy is indeed the primary means of understanding horses and the foundation upon which all training should be built?

In their new book EQUUS LOST? Francesco De Giorgio and Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl question the role of hierarchy within equine herds and suggest that our dependence upon perceived hierarchies in order to determine our interactions with horses is flawed.

introducing-equus-lost_04

Photo courtesy of Francesco De Giorgio & Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl

“Due to the vicious circle of hierarchical focus and our anthropocentric views, there are many elements and details of equine behavior that we fail to see,” they write. “In fact, we still miss the essential part of the horse—that is, the horse as he is, a sentient and cognitive being, with his own social preferences.

“The first question horse people asks themselves when they go to see a new herd is likely to be, ‘Who is the dominant horse?’ Yet, by focusing on this aspect, we immediately create a filter and make it impossible to observe the more subtle social behaviors, all the small gestures, and less visible behaviors that nevertheless have an important cohesive function within the herd. These gestures can include: observing each other and being aware of the herd’s dynamics, looking from a distance while foraging, standing in proximity to each other, separating horses that tend to enter into conflict, smelling each other’s noses or flanks to understand certain situations better, and coming to stand close by. Further, horses softly nicker when there is tension between herd members. They are dedicated to all these interactions, which serve to demonstrate understanding and reassurance while reinforcing the role of dialogue within the group.

“We can see the impact of the dominance filter when looking at some of the methods used in groundwork, where a horse is in a round pen and a human is standing in the middle with, or without, a longe line, forcing a horse into movement by gesturing with his arms, believing he is using them as symbols of the leading mare and the pushing stallion. Not only is this not ethical because it doesn’t reflect the complex and sophisticated social herd dynamics, but it also brings people to believe that this is actually how horses create dialogue, causing a huge element for miscommunication in the horse-human relationship.

“Horses do not like conflict. They want to understand social dynamics, watch nuances, and support each other in order to have and preserve a calm environment. They do not busy themselves with ranking but with observing social relationships. In the horse-human relationship, tricks and treats cannot be used to smooth out and reduce tense behavior. They cannot make it disappear or create in its place an emotionally balanced animal. Our desire for obedience, surrender, and specific reactions makes us cover up behavior and doesn’t allow the horse to use his own social skills and inner intentions. Training methods focus on surrender, ignoring the essence of the horse and his social abilities.”

 

 

If you’re ready to consider that there might be better ways to coexist and work with horses, read EQUUS LOST? 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 company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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mp1

“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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We all crave that special connection with our horses.

We all crave that special connection with our horses.

 

We all crave “connection” with our horses—you know, that special “something” that made The Black follow Alec Ramsay off the island and swim out to the ship that would “rescue” them both from the lonely beach that had borne their friendship. Perhaps you spend hours trailing your horse around his pasture. Maybe at night you fluff up the shavings in the back of the stall and make a pillow for your head (you figure you need to be up early to feed anyway).

Our best horsemen give us some rather more practical tools that really can help us attain this dream. And how do you know when you’ve done it? Here are 5 ways TSB authors say you can tell you’ve truly connected with your horse.

 

1  It takes the slightest shift of your weight in the saddle, or the most subtle variation of thought to get your horse to move his hind feet wherever you want them. 

In the DVD series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN we see the very best example of this, demonstrated by Buck in front of a group of clinic attendees. “It’s not about training a horse,” says Buck. “It’s about getting a horse with you. It’s about becoming one mind and one body.”

 

2  You can ride “by the tips of your fingers.”

In THE ALCHEMY OF LIGHTNESS, authors Dominique Barbier and Dr. Maria Katsamanis say that when true “lightness” is achieved, the horse moves as if on his own, without the rider interfering. “I use the idea of holding the reins only with the ‘tips of the fingers’ because it makes it impossible for the rider to be strong, to pull, or to force,” they write. “Holding the reins, like they are ‘dirty,’ like something we do not want to touch…The reins should be something we don’t want to touch unless we have to….If we ride the horse lightly, he will be light with us—as light as we want him.”

 

3  You can just “be still” around each other.

In her new book 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP, author Vanessa Bee says,”Horses seek quiet thoughtful people…Most of us are so busy planning the future we don’t give the horse our undivided attention…Just ‘being’ with a horse can be very relaxing and enjoyable.”

 

4  When you walk away, your horse follows you.

In the wonderful introduction to natural horsemanship for kids HOW TO SPEAK HORSE, authors Andrea and Markus Eschbach explain that through basic groundwork, you can teach your horse to understand that when your back turns toward him, it means you want him to follow you. “When the horse chooses to come to you at your invitation,” they say,”he has accepted you as his leader…You will realize how much fun it is to play with and train your horse as the invisible connection of your partnership becomes stronger and stronger.”

 

5  You sense how your horse is feeling—you just “know” what he needs or wants.

In BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER—YOU AND YOUR HORSE, Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado talk about how in the company of horses, we learn to listen to our intuition because our intellect and human experience do not always supply the answers. “When Templado [the famous white stallion, seen by millions of people in the hit show Cavalia] was near the end of his life, Magali and I both had the strongest feeling on the same evening that we should bring him home,” says Frederic. “As soon as he got into his stall, he began to recover his energy and his love of life. I know we were right in what we did.”

 

Find books and DVDs with the best ways to find the connection you want with your horse at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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