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The right direction: always seeking improvement

By SHERYL LYNDE - Horsetrader columnist - January 15th, 2015 - Trainer Tips

SherylLynde_170pxOne aspect of horse training that I appreciate is the never-ending opportunity to grow and strengthen one’s abilities. As a trainer, I continue to seek out professionals who help me expand my own knowledge and skills in disciplines and areas that are of interest to me. My motivation is simple: I want to provide my best effort to the horses that my clients have entrusted to me. There are numerous disciplines that have evolved and specialized over the years, such as cutting, reined cow horse, Western dressage and ranch pleasure to name a few. They all share a common thread– developing a higher level of horsemanship.

Learning new skills can feel awkward and intimidating. Your improvement depends on the amount of hours in the saddle that you are willing to commit. Just like training a horse, you must exercise patience, acknowledge the slightest improvement or flash of insight, and do not expect perfection. Above all else, do not compare your progress to others around you. Everyone thinks that they should be mastering their new skill overnight, which is the biggest set up for a letdown. There are no shortcuts, it takes hard work and dedication, it isn’t easy, but you must also understand that there is no growth when riding in your comfort zone.

If I’m starting a colt or working a problem horse that is sour to training — one who doesn’t want to move forward, resents leg pressure or is fearful — it’s time to change up the routine and think outside the box. For instance, one way we keep it fresh is by introducing them to cows. Allowing a horse to track a cow takes their focus off of the rider, gives them incentive to move, a reason to accept the training, and builds their confidence. In the same context, setting a goal for yourself such as competing for the first time will motivate you to improve your abilities. The goal needs to be realistic and achievable. Just like training a horse, if you try and introduce technical maneuvers they aren’t ready to handle, you will undermine their confidence and set your training back.

Pay attention to your internal dialogue. I have witnessed a client hit the dirt and before they can dust themselves off remark, “I knew that was going to happen.” Energy flows where your attention goes. Knowledge replaces fear — you need to be open to changing how you ride as well as how you think. I can tell you it is impossible to help someone perform a task that is within the scope of their ability when they are telling themselves that they cannot. Your trainer and your peers are all there for your success, and you need to be there, too. Focus and improve one thing at a time and stay in the moment. I watched an interview of an Olympic track and field medalist who competed in the running broad jump 20 years ago. The athlete was asked whether he remembered his run or if it was all a blur, and he said he remembers every step he took like it were yesterday. He was in the moment for each step of the run.

If you are working on transitions from a trot to a lope, think about every step in the trot. Is he moving his hindquarters off your leg with light pressure when you ask? Does he maintain his speed? Is he steering straight? Is he light in your hands? If the answer is “yes” to each component, then move on to your request for the specific lead. Be in the moment for each component of the maneuver, and take your time until each component feels right. If he doesn’t take the lead you asked for, stop him and try again without your emotions getting involved. Training takes time and repetition.

If you are working with a trainer, don’t take direction personally. There isn’t any need to make excuses or defend why you do something a certain way. If it isn’t working, let it go. You are not defined by your level of experience or lack of knowledge. Everyone rider is — or has been — right where you are. You are defined by your attitude and desire to challenge yourself and improve. Whether something went right or something went wrong, it was still a successful lesson.

In the beginning, you will have moments that go really well. If you are focused on each component, then you will feel everything that went right and you will be able to expand those moments. But equally important are the unsuccessful attempts. They are great opportunities to learn as well, as we learn what not to do by making mistakes. And always remember, this should be fun.


Horsetrader columnist Sheryl Lynde is a John Lyons Certified Trainer who specializes in foundation training, colt starting and problem solving. She is based in Temecula.

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