Friday, August 29, 2014

Made to Order - My Horse of a Lifetime

How would you describe a Horse of a Lifetime?

Is a Horse of a Lifetime a big, beautiful Hunter with lots of chrome, a powerful show jumper, or a graceful dressage horse?  Is it the horse who won blue ribbon after blue ribbon for you?  Or, is it a more humble mount – the honest horse who gave you your confidence back after a bad fall?  Perhaps it is the kind horse whose gentle spirit got you though a tough time in your life?  Could a Horse of a Lifetime be a difficult pony who dumped you every ride, frustrating you and pushing you till you nearly quit? Could it be that same problematic pony whose challenging antics were actually teaching you more about correct riding, horsemanship, hard work, and patience than any trainer ever could?  

If you spend enough time around horses you may be blessed with knowing a Horse of a Lifetime.  You might not recognize him or her at first, because they come in all shapes, sizes, ages, disciplines, and temperaments, but if you are lucky enough to know one, you will never, ever be the same.

My Horse of a Lifetime was a bright chestnut, Thoroughbred gelding with a big blaze and two diagonal socks.  If you came across a picture of him today, you might mistake him for the starlet race horse, California Chrome (minus a couple socks, of course).  He had an intelligent expression and a wonderful presence, appearing to be taller than his modest 16hh.  I remember the first day I saw him like it was yesterday and not 1996.  He walked quietly off the trailer at Wendover Place in Oviedo, FL where I rode with Owner/Trainer Wendy Trocano.  I was dazzled by him instantly, and I took my first lesson on him the very next day.
Wendy called him Jake, and it suited his quirky, playful personality and eye-catching looks.    Jake was an off the track youngster purchased by Wendy and a friend as a Hunter prospect, but there was one problem.  Jake was spooky and not in the usual way a horse is spooky.  Typically scary things like farm equipment, loud noises, and tight spaces did not bother him.  However, trotting past a chair that had not moved in 5 years was cause for alarm!  He spooked at the mounting block, lawn chairs, jump standards, parked vehicles, shadows, and more.  Anything that a typical horse accepts as part of his/her normal world could cause Jake to give a sideways jump, a dart forward, or a hop into the air.  He’d even spook riding past a jump he’d already jumped over several times!  Some days were spookier than others, in fact, some trips around the ring during the same ride were spookier than others.  You just never knew when it would happen!  And yet, Jake would be the first one leading the trail ride down a new path with suddenly skittish lesson horses glued to his tail.  He would often be the first to bravely negotiate the new and strange looking jump or the first to hop in an unfamiliar horse trailer.  He even accompanied me down the tack room hallway once or twice!  He really was not an unreasonable horse, just.... unique.  Most of the time his fear left him as quickly and mysteriously as it came.  If as a spectator (or a horse show judge) you blinked, you might miss a spook ever happening.

Though Jake had his unpredictable moments, his heart and gentleness trumped his unusual fears.  One day a mom with her baby in a stroller came up to Jake’s stall.  Jake carefully lowered his head just close enough for the baby to reach him.  Delighted the child grabbed onto Jake’s soft nose.  My spooky horse stood perfectly still as the giggling child patted and poked him. Jake's kind spirit knew just how to act around this young, future equestrian. The only time my mom rode Jake provides another example of his careful, caring nature.  My mom, not a horseback rider, sat aboard Jake as I led them around the ring.  My mom kept saying “Don’t let him spook, Mary.  Don’t let him spook.”  But I was not worried.  I saw the expression in Jake’s eyes.  He was being perfectly attentive and cautious with his inexperienced passenger.
Jake’s spooking may seem like a problem to a lot of people reading this, but I assure you it was one of the best things about him.  Not only did it make me a better rider, it was the reason I was able to own such a nice and talented horse.  If it was not for his spooky, unpredictable moments, he would have no doubt been out of my price range.  With Jake as my partner I learned the best methods of preventing and dealing with spooking.  The best solution was a truck-load of patience and lots of stuff for him to do!  And I have to say, as a then teenager prone to impatience, having a spooky horse taught me to “Keep calm and ride on!" 

I spent more than five wonderful years with Jake.  I accepted his quirks, and he accepted mine.  I figured out a routine for him to keep him happy and relaxed, which reduced his spooking.  We worked well as a pair, a finely matched team.  I took weekly lessons where we developed our jumping skills, and I rode as many other days of the week as I could.  I lived and breathed my horse, and he trusted and tried for me like only a Horse of Lifetime can.  Together we jumped bigger and bigger fences and negotiated more technical courses.  During our years together we showed in the First Year Green Hunter, the Equitation for my age group, the Medal, the Second Year Green Hunter, the Junior Hunter, and other divisions.  I got goose bumps every time the show announcer called our names as we entered the ring.  “Now on course, Made to Order, owned and ridden by Mary Shafer” (my maiden name).

To this day, more than fourteen years later, the best moment I have ever had on a horse was a moment I spent showing Jake.  With my show shirt and jacket soaked and plastered to my arms and the pouring rain blurring my vision (and all the pictures), we put in a perfect hunter round and cantered away with a blue ribbon.  I remember one jump of that trip in particular.  It was an oxer in first line on course set five forward strides from the in-jump.  We hit just the right distance and my amazing horse rocked back on his hocks, curled his front legs, lifted his shoulders, stretched out his neck, and launched us into a perfect, round arc.  We were completely free as we climbed higher and higher together over the oxer.  I glanced down as we crested above the center of the wide jump, amazed by the power and skill of my horse.  We landed lightly and balanced on the other side.  As we cantered into the corner, Jake swapped his lead and playfully shook his head.  He was clearly proud of his effort over the oxer and was enjoying the added fun of showing in the afternoon rain.

I will never forget this moment with Jake, that one jump of our perfect trip shared with my Horse of a Lifetime.  As the show name I gave him suggests, Jake seemed perfectly Made to Order just for me.  He was my best friend, a teacher, a dedicated partner, and a kind soul.  We shared countless great moments together over the years.  There will never be another horse like him.  And in the end, as he fought a losing battle against a neurologic disease, I knew he bravely held on to life just for me.  He never disappointed me before, and he was not going to do so then.  I made a difficult decision in September 2002 to release Jake from his illness.  But even though my Horse of a Lifetime is no longer with me in body, he will never leave my heart.  I count myself incredibly blessed to have known Jake, and even more so that he found me worthy of his trust and heart.  In August 2009 I named my new equestrian business after Jake.  The name not only embodies my philosophy of customizing lessons and training to suit each individual horse and rider, but more importantly is a tribute to and a daily reminder of the horse who shaped my riding career, my character, my love for horses, my life, and who gave me a piece of his soul.  My Horse of a Lifetime…  
Made to Order, a.k.a. Jake
My Horse of a Lifetime
Mary Berlauk is the owner and trainer at Made to Order Equestrian.  Please visit, or email to learn more and schedule a riding lesson.

Copyright Mary Berlauk and Made to Order Equestrian 2014.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Take Your next Riding Lesson to the MAX - Five Questions for Lesson Success

Use these Five Questions to get the maximum benefit out of your next riding lesson!

Lessons are an invaluable component of any riding career.  No matter how experienced or successful you are, there is always room for improvement and something else to learn!  Information, opinions, instruction, and even scientific studies are available in print, on-line, and via video to help guide you in between training sessions with your equestrian professional.  However, while advice for proper riding and training abounds, one important topic appears left untouched.  Well that ends here and now!  Today, we will explore the Five Key Questions you can use to take your Riding Lesson experience from ordinary to extraordinary!

1.  What are my goals?  As with anything you pursue the most important thing to know is where you are going.  Create a clear and defined picture of what riding and horsemanship success is to you and communicate your vision with your instructor.  She/he can help mold your dreams into attainable and well defined goals.  Be aware, a simple disconnect in destination between student and instructor can produce a frustrating lesson experience, slowed progress, even to riders and trainers to parting ways.  Communicate and develop goals with your trainer and see the energy and focus it brings to your lessons!  

For instance, one rider may have her eyes on the next blue ribbon, wanting to learn everything she can about how to ride her seasoned horse to a winning hunter trip, while another student may be more interested in mastering the “how’s” and “why’s” and “when’s” of training her green horse to jump with scope and style.  The same trainer can successfully guide these very different students to reach their goals, providing she/he knows each student’s priorities.  

Keep in mind, goals, horses, students, and circumstances all may change over time, revisit the conversation with your trainer every few months.  Ask how you are improving toward your goals and what, if anything, is holding you back.  Have you gotten sidetracked by the latest riding tricks and trends in the barn? Has an injury to you or your horse kept you sitting out for a while?  Setbacks happen, and they can be discouraging; remembering where you started and having a clear goal in mind will help alleviate the frustration which comes from the inevitable delays you encounter.  Use these conversations with your instructor as an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the progress you and your mount have made along your goal-bound journey.  It will keep you on-track, enthusiastic, and encouraged for each and every lesson! 

2.  Is my goal still my goal, and am I still enjoying the journey?  Remember, reevaluating your goals can be a great time to make changes.  Did you once dream of riding perfect pirouettes and wowing crowds with your trot extension, only to realize jumping is really fun!  Or maybe you envisioned winning a Grand Prix at HITS when your troublesome back means your jumping days are over.  Perhaps your goal change is more subtle?  Did you realize the show ring goals you set are not really your style? Would you prefer to trade-in the horse show stress for riding consistent rounds at home and spending your extra money participating in clinics with the Equestrian Greats you admire?  It is just fine to modify your goals or change them completely!  Remember this is what you do for fun!  If you have a goal change in mind, keep your instructor in the loop, so she/he can advise you and gear your lessons toward your desired destination.  If your goal change is more on the dramatic side, you may be in need of a new trainer.  Instead of quietly “trainer shopping” while slowly slipping away from your current trainer, discuss your new goals with your trainer!  I see it all the time, people change trainers thinking their current trainer wouldn’t want to teach them X discipline instead of Y discipline, when in reality that trainer is incredibly knowledgeable and capable in BOTH disciplines!  Now, sometimes a new discipline does require a new instructor, but a good trainer knows her/his strengths and weaknesses, and is happy to refer you on if your equestrian dreams exist outside her/his expertise.  Communicating in this way with your trainer will create a pleasant conclusion to your relationship, and it will also leave you with a good lead for selecting your next instructor.

3.  How was that?  This is the most important and my favorite riding lesson question.  It is the critical question your trainer should be asking you!  Though it comes in a variety of forms, this is probably the version I ask the most.  At the end of an exercise, after a practice round of jumps, upon exiting the show ring, or even as I am bringing your rider-less horse to you while you dust off your breeches, “How was that?” is my go to question!  Before you start to wonder, No, I’m not asking because I don’t know what happened during your ride.  Chances are I could give you a thorough dissertation on your ride, your horse’s effort, and your performance’s probable placement in your division at the horse show.  I don’t ask for my benefit; I ask for my student’s.  The most important responsibility of a Teacher is NOT to instill a litany of facts or to create a class of clones, it is to equip students with a foundation of knowledge and a comprehensive set of critical thinking skills.  A good instructor not only teaches a student what to do, but also empowers and educates each student to assess, evaluate, and problem solve for her/himself.   I am not in the business of creating the Super Student, a near robot who vacuously follows commands, nor am I interested in developing a Mirror Image of my own riding.  I am a riding teacher, and as such I am instructing my students in correct equitation and riding/training techniques, as well as developing their ability to analyze, critique, and improve their own riding.  It is my goal to take each client from being a student to being a mature horseman and a consummate rider, perhaps even a future trainer.  

If your trainer isn't asking you "How was that?" or a similar question, ask her/him to let you evaluate your next round of fences, dressage test, or other exercise.  In your evaluation identify the good components of your ride (for both you and your horse) as well as describing the parts that need work.  Suggest improvements and ask your trainer how your critique differs from her/his.  Ask if she/he is comfortable incorporating a few mini-evaluations like this into each of your lessons.  Also, see if your trainer has any suggestions as to how you can develop your riding assessment skills.  

4.  What does that mean?  Ask clarifying questions of your trainer and consider her/his answers in depth.  Remember every trainer communicates differently.  So for instance, your new instructor may sound very different from your former instructor, even though they are giving you the same direction.  As a very simple example, one instructor may say “lift your toes to the sky” and another may say “heels down toward the ground.”  Two very different ways of saying the same thing.  Variations in our "trainer vernacular" can confuse and frustrate students.   So if your instructor seems to be giving you confusing or contradictory advice, Speak UP and ask for clarification.  I once told a student for many lessons to release her horse’s mouth in order to slow him down.  Though she wasn't really getting it done, I thought she was doing her best to execute the instruction.  Then one day she says to me, “I know you keep saying to half-halt and release him when he is too quick, but you can’t really mean that, right?”  Well, “YES I most certainly do mean for you to release him!”  I had given the same direction for many, many lessons, never realizing she did not understand the why’s and how’s of the instruction.  Once I explained in more detail she was able to give the crucial release to her horse, allowing him to carry himself and to rock back on his hind end, slowing his run-away canter to a more balanced gait.  Thank goodness she ASKED!   

Trainers need to ask clarifying questions too.  Recently I taught a capable riding student in a clinic who just could not get her hands in the right position.  I asked her if she knew where her hands should be and why.  I could tell she was frustrated when she answered, “Every trainer I've ridden with has commented on my hands, and they have all told me to place them somewhere different.”  Bingo!  I thought, if I had simply said “pick our hands up,”  I would have been just another trainer who didn't like her hands.  But since I asked the question, we could address the Real issue.  This rider was perfectly capable of holding her hands wherever instructed.  The problem was not her hands; it was her understanding of their orientation in relation to her mount.  This rider regularly rode different horses in her lessons, and since every horse is built differently her hand position changed with each horse.  Since her trainers had only instructed her to “lift your hands” or “hands near the martingale” or “hands just in front of the saddle pad” she had become frustrated and nearly given up getting her hand placement correct.  But, when I asked the right question, I revealed the actual obstacle.  I explained how the conformation of horse and rider affects the correct orientation of the hands, and I showed her how to create a straight line from bit to elbow.  Now, she can find the correct hand placement on any horse she rides!  Questions again were the crucial key to moving beyond months of frustrating lessons!  

5.  What’s my homework?  Since most riders take one to two lessons per week but may ride their horse four or five times per week, there are several days of schooling available for a little homework assignment.  Of course not every riding session should be 45 minutes of intense work but the old adage that you are always teaching your horse something is very, very true.  So ask your trainer what you can do to keep you and your horse sharp in between lessons.  Neither you, your horse, nor your trainer want to work on the same things every lesson.  To avoid this, make sure you are making improvements in between your training sessions.  Homework can be simple such as incorporate backing up into each ride, doing transitions, or practicing lengthenings and shortenings.  It could also be geared toward strength training.  Often the thing that holds you and your horse back from reaching your goals is fitness.  Does your horse have trouble with lead changes, does he not have the hind-end push to get you through a course of jumps at your goal height, does he get cranky toward the end of your ride?  Is fitness what you are missing?  Fitness is vital.  Riding a fit horse will not only make training easier, but will also make your rides safer, as your horse will be strong enough to get you and he out of a sticky spot.  If strength and fitness is your weakness, ask your trainer if trotting hills, brisk trail rides, trot poles, laterals, or isometrics (like belly lifts) will give your horse the boost he needs.  And don’t forget about yourself!  Be sure to ask what you can do in and out of the saddle to better your riding.  I've often suggested swimming, riding without stirrups, riding in two-point, and even Pilates or Yoga as great between lesson fitness homework.  Ask your trainer what she/he thinks will help you, and give it a try!

Now that you are armed with a few questions, it’s time to call your trainer, head to the barn, and tack up your horse!  And remember, in equestrian sports there are Passengers, who can sit attractively on a horse, and there are Riders, who can get the best out of a horse.  I’m educating perceptive, reasoned, and capable Riders!  Is your trainer?  Happy riding everyone!

Mary Berlauk is the owner and trainer of Made to Order Equestrian.  Please visit,, or email to learn more and schedule a riding lesson.

Copyright Mary Berlauk and Made to Order Equestrian 2014.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Amateur Friendly Horse: Eleven Essential Attributes - Part Two

Yesterday we explored the first five of our Eleven Essential Attributes of the Amateur Friendly Horse.  To recap, we define the amateur rider as a person of any skill level who pursues his/her riding goals as a hobby.  We identified and described five of the characteristics and competencies that are the hallmark of a quality amateur friendly horse.  These are five attributes are:  Forgiving of rider and self; Responsive yet tolerant; Helpful; Rideable; and Predictable.  See Part 1 for details on these traits, as well as the designation for each trait as Trainable or Intrinsic.  

Now, without further ado, Amateur Friendly Attributes Part Two...

6.  Try:  An amateur friendly horse has plenty of “try.”  He may not be have an advanced education, but when asked a question or faced with a scary, new challenge, he gives it the “old college try!”  We LOVE him for this!!  He does not panic or fuss when he does not understand.  He confidently uses his brain and does his best.  Make no mistake, our amateur’s horse is not simply blindly bold or foolishly fearless either, because these traits could get his rider into trouble.  Our horse tries for his rider, to the very best of his physical abilities and knowledge.  The rider of an amateur friendly horse is rarely disappointed; because he/she knows this horse did ALL he could.  (Trainable.  Because this is one of the more difficult characteristics to train, many horses with this trait have the Intrinsic form.  “Try” is cultivated with the right kind of training.  It is quality not quantity.  We do not develop “Try” by training the horse to perform specific tasks or particular movements nor by putting “miles” on him.  “Try” is developed through how he is taught.  More on this in a later post.)

7.   Body awareness:   The amateur friendly horse knows where his body and feet are and he knows where yours are too.  He may not follow you like a well-trained, placid pup, but when trouble arises, he manages to spook while in acrobatic style (if necessary) also avoid knocking into or stepping on you.  He also manages not to injure your non-horsey family and friends, even when their non-horsey-ness makes bodily harm seem inevitable.  Once, my high-strung, Thoroughbred show horse from my teenage years was presented by a passerby with a baby in a stroller.  I held my breath, but he gently and quietly lowered his nose for the youngster to grab while giggling with delight.  :)  He knew when to be careful. :)  (Priceless, Essential, Trainable!)

8.   Suited to his job and fit for it:  This horse needs to have the conformation, aptitude, and mental fortitude for his discipline.  He also must be appropriately fit, sound, and capable of what he is being asked of him.  This one is simple.  The amateur friendly horse is the right horse in body and mind for the job he is to do.  (Equal parts - Intrinsic and Trainable) 

9.  Dabbles in other disciplines:  The amateur friendly horse should be reasonable on a simple trail ride or a brief foray into a different discipline.  Why?  Most amateurs own or lease one or two horses, maximum.  So, while our amateur rider's dreams may lie in a certain show ring, he/she may also want to take an occasional lesson outside his/her comfort zone or to participate in a Saturday afternoon trail ride with friends.  While we will not expect our amateur’s horse to gallop through a water complex or trail ride alone during quail season, he should be a pleasant and steady enough mount to get the job done.  Our amateur rider must be able to enjoy the occasional adventure without his/her horse losing his mind or his manners.  (Trainable)  

10.  Approachable and catchable The amateur friendly horse cannot be stall, food, or person-with-a-halter aggressive.  He may decide his dinner is more interesting than you, but he should allow you to approach and halter him no matter what he is doing.  And, give him a gold, amateur-friendly star if he spots you and respectfully approaches you, ready for aride!  Of course, we understand the occasional day he may enjoy watching you chase him around the paddock, but overall he is an amicable partner who looks forward to your visit.  (Trainable)

11.  Loads and unloads from a trailer:  Okay, don’t worry, our amateur friendly horse does not need to trailer load like an advertisement for a TV horse trainer, but he cannot be a dangerous loader.  I am fine with a horse who gets a little nervous and needs to take his time.  If I were a giant animal and someone wanted to put me in a small metal box and go flying down the highway at 70 mph, I would not be in a hurry to jump on-board either!  Personally, I like to load and unload my horses a few times before I shut the door on them and hit the road.  I find it helps calm their nerves among other benefits.  So, if your horse loads and unloads rationally and in a reasonable amount of time, if his behavior is predictable, and if he can load and unload without being a danger to himself and those around him, then Congrats!  I give him amateur approval!  (Trainable)

Looking back over our list, you may think I left out a few things.  Where is “quiet,” “kick-ride,” "lazy," “bomb-proof,” “child/husband-safe,” “tons of show miles,” or “well-schooled?”  Well, while our amateur friendly horse may also have these traits, they are not the attributes that make him a suitable amateur mount.  Why?  Several reasons.  The amateur rider (depending on skill level) may appreciate, enjoy, and find great success with horses who are green, forward/hot, or as previously mentioned, quirky.  And just as many amateur riders enjoy and find success with their "kick ride" horses, many amateurs excel with horses whose energy and enthusiasm for their discipline knows no bounds!  Quiet is great, and I appreciate all the "Steady Eddies" out there who parade around the ring teaching lessons and safely carrying our beginner riders up through the levels.  Just remember, miles does NOT mean trained and lazy does NOT mean safe!  (Much more on this another time.)  Though the amateur's horse may be the quiet, school master type, he does not have to be to fit the bill as your perfect partner.  

So our take home message for today...

The amateur friendly horse is a product of quality, thorough Foundational Training paired with a teachable and kind soul.  He is an amiable and reasonable partner that will bring countless smiles to his owner's face.  Developing Amateur Friendly horses is my specialty.  The journey toward “amateur friendly” status can begin almost anywhere, with a wild Mustang, an unruly youngster, a defiant pony, or an older horse that never got a real foundation.  Some horses are naturally geared toward being amateur partners, while others have a longer training journey ahead of them.  With the right trainer and a dedicated owner, the overwhelming majority of horses can become faithful, practical, “amateur friendly”  equine partners, capable of bringing years of enjoyment and achievement to their riders. 

For more information on training and lesson with Mary Berlauk, please visit or contact

Copyright Mary Berlauk 2014.  All rights reserved.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Amateur Friendly Horse: Eleven Essential Attributes - Part One

Which Characteristics and Competencies are the Hallmarks of an Amateur Friendly Horse?

First, let's meet our amateur rider.  For our purposes we will not use the show ring definition.  For us, an amateur rider is a person of any skill level who pursues his/her riding goals as a hobby-- devoting his/her “free time” to riding, and not engaging in it as a full-time occupation.  We must also recognize the skill level of our amateur rider will fall along a continuum from the newest of beginners to the highly-skilled expert.  

Now that we know our amateur rider, let’s consider a horse, keeping this rider and his or her needs in mind….

Similar to our amateur rider, the experience level of our amateur friendly horse falls along a continuum from green to school master.  Here, we will set aside the component of experience/skill level, because this element is resolved by appropriately matching horse and rider. (For example:  a green horse with a skilled rider or a school master with a beginner rider.)  

A few final clarifications before we dive in….

For ease, I will use the pronouns “he” and “his” for our horse, though I fully recognize mares can make wonderful, amateur friendly mounts as well.  Along with each characteristic’s description, I will note in parenthesis if the trait is Trainable or Intrinsic. Understand that Intrinsic qualities of the horse can make any desired attribute more easily taught to the horse, but if the trait CAN be taught or MUST be taught in order for the horse to perform it reliably, then we will designate it as Trainable.  If we are all in agreement, then Let Us Begin!!!!

The Amateur Friendly Horse 

  1. Forgiving of rider and self:  An amateur friendly horse can make a mistake and be corrected without getting anxious, angry, or frustrated.  He also does not mind a rider error and continues on with his job as best he can despite the occasional missed lead, wrong distance, or misplaced pull on the reins. (Trainable) 
  2. Responsive yet tolerant:  In similar fashion to our first criteria, the amateur friendly horse is not dull and over drilled.  He responds to leg and hand and is clever enough to filter out “white noise” such as bouncing hands or a wobbly seat.  He knows the difference between a cue and commotion. (Trainable) 
  3. Helpful: This horse is there for you.  He may not always save you from a fall, but he does his best to keep you aboard.  If you are unseated he slows down, if you fall off, he is likely standing nearby waiting for you.  A fall doesn’t rattle him, and neither does realizing you are now riding from his neck rather than from the saddle.  If you miss your distance to a jump or throw the reins at him two strides before the fence, he does his best to fill in the gaps for you.  I am not saying this horse is a saint that will jump your course despite your constant bad decisions. He is, however, capable of damage control, able to make a bad situation safer for both of you. For example:  Consider the consummate hunter horse who unseats his rider with his beautiful and lofty effort over a fence.  With his rider in peril, he rhythmically marches down the line to the second jump, where his perfect arc sends her awkwardly flying into the dirt as he canters quietly away, rider-less.  That horse may be the perfect/made hunter, and he certainly can teach you a lot and win you plenty of ribbons, but he is not an amateur friendly horse.  In this situation our amateur friendly horse recognizes trouble as soon as he lands from the first fence and slows down or stops, avoiding the second fence in order to spare his rider from harm.  Our amateur’s horse chooses his rider over his task.  (Trainable) 
  4. Rideability:  Our amateur horse should be rideable, not necessarily “push button” or “made” but rideable, which means if you cue him correctly, he should perform as asked.  His gaits may be anywhere on the spectrum of quality, providing they are not jarring, irregular, or unsound.  Transitions should be done without drama, and flying lead changes (if he can do them) should not involve bucking or twisting of the body.  He should be sure footed.  This is very important.  We can forgive tripping in the hind legs, but routine tripping of the front limbs is not acceptable in our amateur friendly horse, as it could cause a fall of horse and rider.  (Intrinsic with some aspects, such as proper transitions and lead changes, usually being Trainable.) 
  5. Predictable:  I’m a fan of quirky horses… Well, predictably quirky, I don’t want to ride a machine.  I expect an amateur’s horse to take a moment to look at the balloons tied to a mail box or the tent that overturned at a windy horse show.  It is fine if he spooks… a little, but he should be predictable.  Believe it or not, a spook can keep you safe.  A great example of this is my current horse, Simon.  Simon is very predictable, but he is not a robot.  For instance, I know what types of new things he will need to look at, and I help him through discovering these new things and overcoming fears.  I know that if he spooks, he will jump in place and not run off.  I don’t punish him for a little spook, because I understand he is just doing his job.  To Simon the most important part of his job is keeping both of us safe.  He is the horse who didn’t bat an eye as we rode down a deserted dirt road with a herd of deer running through the woods, shaking the nearby trees like a scene from Jurassic Park.  He is also the same horse who alerted me when he heard a dangerous rattle snake in the path just ahead….and yes this did happened!  Realize spooking can protect you, but the spook should be predictable and practical, never dangerous or erratic.  In other words if something is generally scary for a horse, then our amateur friendly horse is probably scared of it too.  He sets himself apart because his reaction is manageable, and he recovers quickly.  Remember, it is our responsibility as riders to expose our horses to new and different things and to teach them they can trust our judgment.  In turn we must learn to trust their judgment too.  (Trainable)  (Also note, predictability is much more than what we have discussed here, but I'm saving the rest of this discussion for a future article!)
For the rest of The Amateur Friendly Horse:  Eleven Essential Attributes, check back here tomorrow!!!!   For more information on Made to Order Equestrian and Mary Berlauk, please visit  

Copyright 2014 Mary Berlauk.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Welcome to the NEW Made to Order Equestrian Monologue!  A place to find Equestrian Excellence, Beyond the Saddle.  

Are you looking for ways to improve your riding techniques, training methods, and understanding of your equine partner, even when you cannot spend every minute of the day in the saddle?  Well, CONGRATS, because you have found it!!  Stay tuned here for information and advice that will increase your equestrian know-how and inspire you toward Equestrian Excellence!

See you soon, but until then, find out more about Made to Order Equestrian.