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 www.mtoequestrian.com or contact mtoequestrian@gmail.com

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 www.mtoequestrian.com.  

Copyright 2014 Mary Berlauk.  All rights reserved.