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Don’t we all like to feel like we’re in control of our actions and reactions? Especially when it comes to working with and riding horses—it is in our best interests (in terms of living to see another day, that is) to maintain some semblance of calm, cool, rational control in stance and movement, and to generally avoid screaming, flailing, lurching, vomiting, fainting, or in other ways baffling or scaring the 1200-pound creature beside or beneath us.

The thing is, any number of years can go by, any number of instructors can point us in the a positive direction, and any number of experiences can go right…but we’ll still be thrown out of whack psychologically at the very thought of them potentially going wrong. And it is this that inspires the sudden and ill-advised lack of control that can end with us bottoms up in a puddle.

“The amygdala, which sits very near the brain stem, is the part of the brain responsible for these basic emotions: happy, sad, mad, and scared,” explains formerly practicing psychotherapist and certified riding instructor Andrea Waldo in her new book BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS. “The area that includes the brain stem and the amygdala is often referred to as the ‘Lizard Brain’ or the ‘Reptile Brain,’ because reptiles seem to have been the first animals to possess this area.

“Much, much later, we evolved our prefrontal cortex,” she goes on, “a very large section located just behind the forehead. This is your ‘Rational Brain,’ the part of the brain that controls logical thought: it allows you to plan
that after you read this chapter, you need to pick up your son from soccer, buy grain, and remind your spouse that tomorrow is recycling day. It also allows you to do cool things like think in the abstract and come up with great inventions like saddles and Velcro and duct tape. We tend to rely on the prefrontal cortex to get us through the day.”

But guess what? Despite all that evolving that has occurred, the Lizard Brain likes to take the reins in our brains, determining how we act and react—and the reptile is neither reasoned nor logical.

“As much as we know that an apple is better than a cookie and that paying the electric bill is more important than the tack shop’s clearance sale, our Lizard Brain couldn’t care less about ‘long term health’ or ‘financial stability,’” says Waldo. “It thinks only about the immediate moment, and it cares about only one thing in this moment: survival. This is why you can’t think straight when you’re extremely nervous: your amygdala has hijacked your Rational Brain. You’re not stupid or inept; you’ve just allowed your Lizard Brain to run the show. It thinks you’re being attacked by a tiger, so it tries to get you to safety.

“The Lizard Brain can’t distinguish between a psychological threat and a physical one; it uses the same response for both. This is why a dressage judge can send your heart pounding and wipe your brain clean of everything you knew five minutes ago…. To the Lizard Brain, a threat is a threat, and you either need to kill it or run away from it as fast as possible.”

Your Lizard Brain is why a dressage judge can send your heart pounding and wipe your brain clean of everything you know!

Your Lizard Brain is why a dressage judge can send your heart pounding and wipe your brain clean of everything you know!

The good news is we don’t have to be brought down by a mental Godzilla! Waldo has lots of ways to tame the Lizard Brain, keeping us the cool, rational, controlled riders who are not only safer in the saddle, but happier and more successful in all our dealings with horses.

Here’s an easy exercise to get you started as you head out for a weekend of riding: List 10 of your riding skills.

Can you do it? Every single one, even the most basic, counts. If you can’t recognize your abilities, you can’t have confidence in them. But when you can look at yourself and identify all the ways you are a knowledgeable and capable horse person, then you can take one step in keeping that Lizard Brain out of the driver’s seat.

For more about our reptilian side and the ways we can learn to unlock our riding potential, check out BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS by Andrea Waldo, 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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fit2ridebackside

It’s the point that comes in contact with the horse and the saddle (and sometimes the ground)…the part of our bodies we eye with disgust in the tack shop mirror when trying on breeches…the area we want the fringe on our chaps to accentuate when we’re young and camouflage when we’re…not-so-young. Our bottoms, our backsides, our glutes—the butt can’t be an afterthought, as much as it might trail behind us. Its shape and its state of “flab or fab” matters—to our riding and to our horses.

In her new book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! certified fitness trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom explains that the rider’s “backline” includes the gluteals, hamstring, and calf muscles, and all of these are necessary to a balanced, straight, and supple equestrian who can communicate clearly and efficiently with her horse.

“Due to our seated lifestyle,” says Heather, “these muscles are often undeveloped, causing them to be short and tight, which has a negative impact on the rider’s position and her ability to have tension-free, full body usage.”

So does this mean we have to ramp up our rump work? Heather says it isn’t just about conditioning this area of the body, it’s about doing it the right way for riding.

“The large muscle on your seat, the gluteus maximus, is a primary muscle responsible for powering human movement,” she explains. “It needs to be strong and powerful for nearly all sports because you cannot run or transfer energy or motion up through your body without strong glutes. It is common for exercise trainers who are not riders to think that posting is just the same as performing squats, lunges, or pliés, and that the engine of the motion is in the rider’s leg and seat as it would be for all other similar looking movements where the rider is springing from her feet. In actuality, the energy from posting only partially comes from the rider’s leg and hip. The rest comes from the momentum of the horse transferred to the rider through the inner leg contact.

Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom shows us how fitness can improve our abilities in the saddle, enabling our horses to perform their best.

Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom shows us how fitness can improve our abilities in the saddle, enabling our horses to perform their best.

“For a rider, gluteal strength is important, but not for the reasons often supposed (such as above). The strength in the gluteals is not for powering motion so much as it is for first, supporting rising-seat postures, and second, anchoring back positioning muscles as well as controlling leg-aid strength. Unfortunately, most riders spend a great deal of their day sitting, which causes this large and important muscle to atrophy. Also, since riding itself is a more or less seated activity, riding does not condition the muscle sufficiently.

“Many riders have weak ‘glutes’ accompanied by tight and short hip flexors. The combined problem creates a chair-seat leg, and when the rider tries to correct the chair seat by force, it creates a locked-down hip due to muscle tension. It also makes it difficult for the rider to hold her spine neutral when the hip flexors (psoas and iliacus muscle), pulling on the lower back, and weak glutes provide no counter-support. The gluteus maximus is included as a core muscle because without tone in this area, the rider’s hips cannot be supple and straight, and the torso has no base of support.

“Many exercises that train the gluteus maximus also often train the hamstring muscle. I like riders to use bodyweight exercises such as lunges because they train proper folding at the hips, and use of the hamstrings along their length (as well as gluteals). Although popular in fitness gyms, exercises using machines or equipment to target the hamstrings alone are often not as useful for riders or others training for application to movement (functional training), because they do not train the hamstrings functionally. In some cases, they train just one small segment of the muscle, which creates a ‘bunchy’ muscle that is not useful for riders.

“Generally, I don’t recommend exercises for riders that create ‘bunchy’ muscles since these can cause issue with proper seat and leg position, as well as with proper body usage in riding. A rider can be quite strong, and should be if she also does farm work since strength training protects joints from strain. But bulky or unevenly developed muscles get in the way of the rider and also don’t engage efficiently.

“I do not recommend that most riders do exercises like leg presses (lying backward on a machine and pushing great amounts of weight with your feet), for example, because the weight loading can far exceed the rider’s bodyweight. Besides creating a risk of hip injury, this type of exercise creates bulk which, again, is not functionally useful, and may even impede a nice leg position.”

To find out the simple ways you can get fit to ride for your horse in 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 9 weeks, check out FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! by Heather Sansom, 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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GHM-magic

As we watch the Olympic Team Jumping Qualification and the jubilation in the Brazilian camp as members rack up clear rounds in search of a place on the podium in front of their home crowd, we are no doubt a little sad to acknowledge that in Rio, George Morris is focused on the success of someone other than our own American riders. It is, of course, the way of the equestrian world for the most talented coaches to cross international borders on a regular basis, and so we cannot be surprised that George was eventually tempted to help the country he admits is one of his “absolute favorite places” go for gold.

But if the Brazilians do keep it up and George is, in fact, making magic in Rio, one can’t help but wonder if he’s had to apply the same kind of tough love that has not only been his clinic calling card for decades, but also helped guide the US to their success in countless World Equestrian Games, World Championships, and Olympics of years past.

“In 2005, George Morris took over the role of Chef d’Equipe of the U.S. Show Jumping Team,” writes Olympic silver and gold medalist Chris Kappler in his foreword to UNRELENTING, George’s bestselling autobiography, which was released earlier this year. “Shortly after, I received a call from a member of one of his first Nations Cup teams. ‘How did you do this?’ the rider asked. ‘Chris, how did you work for George for twenty years?’ As the new Chef, George was pushing limits…Commanding specific attitudes, turnout, and professionalism, he expected an extraordinary commitment…I have experienced first-hand the zealous pursuit of excellence for which George is famous. ‘If you can take my pressure cooker,’ George would always say, ‘the Olympics will seem like nothing.’”

“I always had childhood dreams of going to the Olympics someday,” adds five-time Olympian Anne Kursinksi in UNRELENTING. “With George’s encouragement…I made it…Horsemanship and what it took to have an Olympic level horse was George’s passion, and it was contagious! George had vision and made it all happen; he took us all with him. It was an amazing time. George helped you figure out how to be your absolute best. For him, there is no other way to be in life.”

Excellence. Passion. Vision. Absolute best. This is where the magic begins, and I can’t begrudge another from wanting to sample from the fountain of success. Ultimately, George’s willingness to share his wealth of knowledge helps improve the level of horsemanship and elevate the level of competition, worldwide. I, for one, can’t wait to see the results.

TSB wishes all riders and horses in the Olympic Equestrian Jumping Competition the best of luck. Have fun, ride safe, and enjoy the remarkable partnership that helped you reach the pinnacle of the sport!

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

ORDER NOW and SAVE with our OLYMPIC FEVER SALE! Click here.

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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FergusSigningFB

Over the last 20 years I have ridden a number of OTTBs (off-the-track Thoroughbreds), but most recently I have been riding an absolutely stunning and incredibly earnest gelding named “Rocky,” owned by Gayle Davis—a friend and fellow event rider. This enormous chestnut won his Advanced division at Millbrook Horse Trials with US Olympian and TSB author Phillip Dutton in the irons in 2012, right before Gayle purchased him.

Most spectators are surprised when they hear Rocky came off the track, as he floats across the ground like a Warmblood and his conformation wouldn’t lead you to believe he’s all Thoroughbred. Riding Rocky has truly been a treat—I am incredibly grateful to be able to ride such a naturally gifted athlete. He might be the most powerful horse I have ever sat on, and when you combine that sheer strength with his sincere attitude and wealth of knowledge, you can’t help but smile as you glide across the ground!

TSB Publications Assistant Lila Gendal on the OTTB Rocky.

TSB Publications Assistant Lila Gendal on the OTTB Rocky.

My positive experience with Rocky and with the other OTTBs I’ve ridden means that I find the mission of the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) all the more valuable. RRP is a non-profit organization that kick-started in 2010 when a small group of devoted Thoroughbred enthusiasts came together with a clear vision in mind: To promote ex-racehorses by offering them a second chance at succeeding in life beyond the track. This was made possible by increasing demand for them in a wide range of equestrian sports, and supporting those farms, trainers, and organizations that helped transition them.

Shortly after RRP began, the Thoroughbred Makeover Project debuted in 2013 and grew exponentially within the next two years attracting crowds, thoroughbred advocates, equestrians and all sorts of individuals from across the country, as they all gathered at the Kentucky Horse Park. The 2015 event was a huge success with its $100,000 in prize money for close to 200 horses that competed in ten disciplines with less than ten months of training. The 2016 Makeover continues to evolve, adding more educational opportunities to its program, as well as building in more time for potential OTTB buyers to evaluate the horses that are being showcased.

At Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com), we wholeheartedly support the retraining and rehoming of OTTBs, and we are proud to sponsor the Thoroughbred Makeover but to have a number of authors who are actively involved with RRP and the Makeover as well.

BETHTRIn 2008, TSB worked with Anna Morgan Ford, Program Director for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and winner of the 2015 Equus Foundation/USEF Humanitarian Award, to create the book BEYOND THE TRACK. Ford’s book (written with Amber Heintzberger) has become a trusted resource of those entering into partnership with OTTBs. New Vocations was founded at Ford’s family farm in 1992 and now has five locations in Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. The organization rehabilitates and rehomes over 400 ex-racehorses each year. (Read an excerpt about choosing the right OTTB from Beyond the Track that appeared in Practical Horseman Magazine by clicking HERE.)

ModEventwPhilDut-300Leading US event rider Phillip Dutton is the author of the TSB bestselling MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON (written with Amber Heintzberger) and is known for his ability to rehabilitate ex-racehorses and turn them into successful event horses. (He details the stories of a couple of his well-known OTTBs in a special section in his book.) Currently Dutton—who was just named to his sixth Olympic team, representing the US in Rio de Janeiro this year—has several OTTBs in his barn, one of which is “Icabad Crane,” the horse that won the $10,000 America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover in 2014. (Watch a free “How to Be a Successful Eventer at Any Level” webinar with Dutton HERE.)

GoodRiders-web-300This year two TSB authors are retraining OTTBs with the Makeover specifically in mind: USEA Hall-of-Fame eventer Denny Emerson, author of HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD has two OTTB mares, “Frosty” and “Raven,” that he is working with in preparation for the Thoroughbred Makeover this fall. Emerson keeps his large Facebook audience up to date on what’s happening with these two exciting young mares—you can follow along HERE.

DrHorseManifesto300Yvonne Barteau, author of THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, is participating in this year’s Thoroughbred Makeover Project on her horse “Indy,” a 15.3-hand Thoroughbred gelding. Barteau has trained over 10 horses to the Grand Prix level and has won numerous USDF Horse of the Year titles, but before she was a Grand Prix dressage rider, she got her start on the track. Beginning in high school, she worked—first as a groom and then as a trainer—at harness-and flat-racing tracks up and down the East Coast. You can keep up with Indy’s progress by watching the wonderful video journals Barteau regularly posts HERE.

Stay tuned over the next few months as we touch base with our TSB authors who are participating in RRP’s Thoroughbred Makeover Project, bringing you highlights and an inside look at their experiences!

-Lila Gendal, Publications Assistant

 

 

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

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Many horses prefer loosening up at the canter.

Many horses prefer loosening up at the canter.

The Third Edition of the international bestseller BASIC TRAINING OF THE YOUNG HORSE has just been released. This classic work by the late Dr. Reiner Klimke and his daughter, German Olympian Ingrid Klimke, provides the foundation for a basic education for the English sport horse, from foalhood to first competition.

One of the elements emphasized in the book is the importance of “loosening up” not just before, but after a training session:

“We like to begin by loosening the horse up over cavalletti,” they state [note: CAVALLETTI, another book coauthored by the Klimkes, is also available], “and going for a short hack after the training session, or else going for a hack before riding some dressage exercises in the school. Sometimes we loosen the horse up by cantering in a light seat on straight lines around the exterior of the school before going into the school itself. This preparatory work must be fun for both horse and rider, in fact, it goes without saying that it must be a good experience for the horse so that he is calm and prepared for training.

“Every session is made up of three parts: loosening up, working, and walking to end with. For the young horse, this means loosening up, working, and further loosening. Loosening up in walk, trot, and canter to get rid of tension is essential before the rider can drive the horse forward. With older horses (more than five years old) loosening up should last about 15 to 20 minutes.”

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Get more great guidance in BASIC TRAINING OF THE YOUNG HORSE, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE to order.

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In her acclaimed book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, the five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic silver-medalist provides step-by-step descriptions of 20 exercises to improve your position and your feel. We can all—whatever discipline we favor or breed of horse we ride—put the following lesson in lengthening and shortening the horse’s stride into practice:

Once you have the basic tools for controlling speed and straightness, the next step to master is basic lengthening and shortening of your horse’s stride length. I’m not talking about extension and collection here, but simply about developing your ability to get (and to know you’re getting) a longer stride and a shorter stride—covering more ground or less ground with each of his footfalls. For this work, you may find it useful to have a helper on the ground to confirm and correct your impressions about how you’re affecting the horse’s stride.

To emphasize the importance of “forward,” begin with lengthening:

1.     In the working walk, increase the feel in your legs with a “squeeze-soften-squeeze” sequence that almost asks for a trot, then softens, and squeezes again, in rhythm with your horse’s steps.

2.     Let your hips swing forward to follow the walk, as they should naturally do, while you close your legs and feel your horse gaining more ground by taking longer strides.

3.     And yet, your hands don’t allow him to trot, nor do your legs push quite that hard. As he stretches and nods his neck, watch this motion and allow your elbows to open and close, so that you follow with your arms but don’t drop the contact. Don’t smother him so that he can’t lengthen, but don’t let him trot. (Think of him as an accordion, expanding and contracting.)

Now that you’ve pushed your horse into a longer stride (make sure your helper on the ground confirms that you have), teach him to shorten his stride by using your retarding aids more than your driving aids.

4.     With both hands, take more contact in rhythm with the stride, as if you’re going to stop …

5.     … but keep your legs squeezing and softening to tell him, “No, don’t stop. Stay active—take a shorter step but don’t stop, a shorter step but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop.” Keep the movement rhythmic, so you get regular short steps, not choppy ones.

6.     Keep alternating the length of steps you ask for—short, short, short, then working (regular), working, then long, long, long, and back again, in the walk and then in the trot and canter so that you feel the different lengths and rhythms and develop your horse’s understanding of your aids.

7.     As you squeeze your legs, especially in the trot and canter, be sure your contact with the horse’s mouth is elastic, so that he can stretch into the longer stride. Remember that he can only lengthen his stride as far as his nose is poking out. If he’s overflexed or very short in the neck, he may throw his front leg forward, but his stride will still be short because he has to touch the ground at a point beneath where his nose is.

Listen to your horse’s strides. In each pace, try to make them as consistent as a metronome. With practice, as you get to know how his lengthened and shortened gaits feel and what balance of leg and hand aids produce them, you’ll be able to choose and then maintain whatever rhythm you want.

 

Get more great lessons on the flat and over fences in ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

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Varying the "tone" of your calf muscles results in better leg aids.

Varying the “tone” of your calf muscles results in better leg aids.

A few of us might picture a buff blonde in a bathing suit when we see the words “toned calves”…but don’t worry, this particular post is about riding better—not about muscle development! You can “give greater strength or firmness” to any muscle, momentarily, to change the way it feels, works, and impacts your movement (or lack of it), and when it comes to your legs and your horse, how your leg muscles “feel” can affect his response to your aids, as well as his overall way of going.

In her book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, instructor and creator of the Sure Foot Equine Stability Program Wendy Murdoch says the rider can increase the strength of the lower leg (when needed) by “toning” the calf muscles. This firming of the calf muscles is achieved by varying the depth of the heels.

“But, when the heel is always pressed down as far as it will go all the time, this valuable aid is lost,” explains Wendy. “A constantly hard calf can makes the horse tense or dull to the lower leg aid because it is at maximum hardness (“volume”) without letup.

“From the basic position—that is, when the rider’s heel (not the boot’s heel but the foot inside) is level with the stirrup—the calf can give a soft leg aid. Pressing the heel down strongly makes the calf hard, which you can do when a stronger aid is required.”

 

To improve your ability to control the “tone” of your calf muscles, try this exercise from 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES:

1  Feel this while sitting on the floor. “Stand” one foot flat on the ground with the knee bent, and relax your calf.

2  Place your hand around the calf about midway between knee and ankle. Feel how the muscles are soft and pliable.

3  Lift the front of your foot off the floor, and feel muscle tone changes. It is somewhat firmer but still pliable. This position simulates your heel lower than your toes in the stirrup. The calf muscles can lengthen to allow the heel to sink without the muscles hardening.

4  Now, press your heel against the floor. What happens to the calf? Feel how it hardens due to the increase in muscle tone. This will create a stronger leg aid against your horse’s side. But you want to go back to the softer position for this subtle aid to be effective. If you keep your calf toned as firmly as possible all the time, the more subtle leg aid is lost.

 

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Learn more great 5-minute exercises for improving your riding in Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, as well as her other bestselling book and DVDs, 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 horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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