Like many of you, I am simply a continuing student trying to learn and understand how to become a better horseman, or in other words, trying to become a better human for my horse! One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of a routine, or somehow developing a program that works for my horse and me.
Many years ago I had the great privilege of riding in Arizona with a very talented reining trainer named Abby Cosenza. At the time she was one of Arizona’s top reiners and president of the Arizona Reining Association. Riding with horsemen of that caliber does not mean we will ever get to their level but it DOES maybe give us some little insights on how THEY got there!
While riding with Abby we worked on some warm up drills each morning; move the hips, move the shoulders, back up, counter-bend, back in circles, lope in circles, etc…. On our third day Abby asked me to “Okay.. Go do our warm up routine…” I did some flexing, backed a circle, loped a circle, did a counter bend, etc…. No specific order.
Abby then handed me a 3×5 index card and a pen and said “Write this down..” She then showed me a beat up and tattered index card that she, as a world class horseman, carried in HER pocket! She then explained to me the importance of having a pilots check list! Once she began to explain the sequence of drills it all began to make sense. There was a rationale for doing things in a very specific order; get control of hips, the power source; then shoulders for steering; then neck for guidance; then the body for leg cue.. all through specific little drills but in a very specific rational order.
Over the years I have developed my own little “Pilots Checklist”, a card I carry in my pocket and I pass out to students or people who come to ride with me. It starts out with a series of 12 basic Ground Drills I like to do in a specific sequence of what I think is important. Then I go to 12 basic Saddle Drills I like to do, again in a specific sequence of what I think is important. After all of the warm up drills are done, THEN I go ride my horse! I will sure never say MY WAY is THE WAY, but maybe something to think about and try.
Pilot’s Check List: Make sure the engine, brakes, landing gear, up and down speeds, back up, going sideways and your “Barrel-Roll-Equipment” is in order before you go for a flight! THEN go for your ride!
And if it doesn’t feel good to you? Don’t do it! But the point of this article is to consider that maybe we should have a routine so our horse can learn in some kind of sequence, so we are setting him up for success, knowing what we are going to do BEFORE we do it! Knowing what comes next; Steps 1, 2, 3 and THEN 4! Trying to get him to do #4 before he understands #1, 2 & 3, may be asking too much too soon without setting him up for success!
If I don’t spend the time to teach him to move his hip I cannot teach him a good lead departure, which requires I place his hip to the inside. I cannot teach him to roll-back if I have not taught him how to lift and move his shoulders. I cannot teach him to stop unless I have taught him how to soften his neck and back-up. So I need to take the time to teach him each little ‘part’ of each maneuver I have in mind. If I have a routine, a pilots checklist, it will ensure I cover most of the necessary bases to achieve those goals.
Most of us will never become world-class horsemen; heck we may never even become GOOD horsemen! So what!? Most of us just want to have a good relationship with the horse we are riding, go for a trail ride, and feel confident we can convince our horse to go where we ask him to carry us. Doing little exercises and warm-ups and specific functions and drills will help you and your horse become more in tuned to each other.
So my advice is develop a checklist of the things you think are important, or find a friend or instructor who can help you develop a program that you can implement every time you go catch and work with your horse, BEFORE you go out for a ride!
And always be Clean, Clear, Concise, Consistent and Committed in ALL Communications, Cues and Corrections! Happy trails, be safe!
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