Along with all the cultural events I have been attending recently, a few have been horse related. In the fall, I audited Mark Rashid's clinic for a day. Last weekend, besides going to see Hadyn's Creation with the Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night and the Alice in Wonderland Ballet on Sunday, I went to a horse clinic on Saturday.
A few weeks ago I received a brochure in the mail inviting me to attend a Dennis Reis clinic for FREE! I had attended a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his "cowboy dressage" methods of training and riding. How could I pass up such a great deal? AND, the pass was good for two people on both days. So, I asked my neighbor, Lisa, of LaughingOrcaRanch to come along. She agreed, so the three of us went. Her daughter came along too. Dennis doesn't charge for anyone under 17 to attend his clinics. What a deal! There's lots of horsie girls that can attend for free. After paying $35 a day just to watch Mark Rashid work with his riders, I'm wondering how Dennis can make money?
Anyway, when we arrived at the horse arena, there was already a crowd of people milling around inside a portioned off part of the arena, sitting on plastic chairs placed all around a round pen, watching one of Dennis' films on any of the several large screens positioned around. When the film ended, Dennis introduced himself and went into the round pen to begin where a lone horse was wandering around, halterless.
The horse was a big bay quarter horse mare, twelve years old with issues, lots of them. She wouldn't trailer load and had a sored up nose to prove it. The owner said they had finally chased her into the trailer with a broom and using gates to get her to the clinic but not before she got her battle scars. There was a nasty flap of skin hanging from the top of her nose. Boy, I can relate. When I bought Annie as a four year old, it took everyone around to force her into our trailer. She reared up several times, hitting her head on the trailer and even breaking the lead rope, causing her to fall over backwards. She was such a wreck when we got her home that I actually wondered if she was going to die on us. She bled from her nose for several days and I'm sure she was concussed.
Ooops, this isn't a post about Annie so I'll just continue on. Sorry!
The horse also tended to crowd her owner on the ground and was hard to ride because she wouldn't go, or she would buck, so the owner said. She obviously had respect issues along with other (as yet) undisclosed problems. Usually, clinicians like to work with three and four year olds, with no bad memories "baggage". He answered my question that he didn't consider any horse to old to work with and train up. I was curious what approach Dennis would use. As he stood in the round pen with the horse she stood right up next to him, seeking his protection.
Here she's yawning, bored with his talking.
Like a pilot getting ready to fly his plane, Dennis believes you should do a preflight checklist before riding your horse. He noted that this horse had a problem with forward movement. He said a horse that won't budge is most dangerous because they can blow up and do unexpected things. It's more important to get a horse moving than to teach standing still. That can come later, as a reward for moving.
Dennis began schooling the mare by sending her off in a circle around him. At first, the mare trotted fearfully around him and he showed how to control her position using two of his fancy sticks and forming a triangle. He said his hip should be at her hindquarters and his toes pointed forward. I think every clinician uses some kind of trademark carrot stick-pokey thing nowadays. He showed how to form a triangle . At first, she was reluctant to change direction, crowding into him and/or stopping. He showed how to breath out, exhaling, to slow her speeds. Mark Rashid said the same thing. Think sloooooow, and whhheeeeeeeeew down. He said to always position yourself properly. His key phrase is to Prepare to Postion for a Transition. He also said that you should push at the eye to turn back. I'm sure this is more a figure of speech than actual action.
The key problem with this mare was that she was a Code 5150 (California penal code for a crazy person). She respected no boundaries. Dennis emphasized boundaries, "I can touch you but you can't touch me". When she walked into his space she met with his stick. Then he rubbed out the reprimand. Soon, she began to understand more and more of what he wanted. He said you always need to ASK (be subtle), SUGGEST (give aids) and ENCOURAGE (make) when working with horses.
When he haltered her, he had to begin again, working both sides, transitioning and reversing directions. A curious thing, when he had her free, she wanted to be right up next to him. When he had the halter in hand, she turned and walked away from him. He sent her off again and again until she realized it was no big deal. He said the goal in training is to fix, reinforce and refine until there are almost no aids needed.Just like the haute ecole of dressage where you can't see any evidence of aids being used.
Anyway, to make a long post shorter, he worked the typical magic and the horse began changing her behavior. Being that she was an older horse and more set in her ways than some of the younger horses most clinicians use, it took a long time and the progress was barely visible at times.
To conquer the trailer loading issues he first taught her to cross a bridge using panels set up next to the bridge. BINGO! I have two extra panels and now I know what to use them for!
Amazingly, when he took her over to the trailer and worked her outside of it for a while doing transitions (figure eights on a lead rope) the actual attempt to load was anti-climatic. She just jumped right in.
What I really liked about Dennis' clinic is that he used their stock trailer (just like mine!) to load her up in. He also told me later that if a horse isn't very well halter broke (read: can tie without pulling back) then it's okay to just let them loose in the stock trailer. I have been worrying about how to trailer my horses for ages (tie or not?) He says it's like a traveling stall, they will find their feet and get themselves in the right position. Now, I'm ready to work on Scout again. I will just let him ride loose. The last time I tried to trailer him, I tied him with a bungee tie. He sat back until the tie broke and then he sort of fell out of the trailer. Not good. I've worked on loading him since but not for several months now. It's time for a refresher course. I really want to start trail riding him this year.
As with all clinicians, there were the usual trade items for sale: knotted rope halters, whip/sticks, reins, bridles, dvds, lesson packages, etc. He also offered a few items up for free as prizes to questions. Lisa and I reviewed my notes and, as he asked one of his questions, she raised her hand. He chose her and she answered correctly, winning his dvd. (I always say she's lucky!)
Overall, I was thrilled with the session. I always need more groundwork knowledge and trailer loading is still challenging for me. Unfortunately, because of my other social committments, we had to leave too soon and I couldn't go back on Sunday. I offered Lisa the pass for Sunday but I don't think she went. Too bad, because Sunday would have been more about riding. I don't think she has a high opinion of Dennis after she's seen other big name guys, but for free, who should complain? For myself, I can completely relate to Dennis' style of working with horses. He's my kind of cowboy.
more to come...