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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Musings on the Cleve Wells Clinic


Weekend before last, I had a great opportunity to ride in a very small clinic with Cleve Wells. As many of my readers know, Cleve has multiple AQHA and APHA World titles in Western Pleasure to his credit and he has also coached amateur and youth riders to pleasure titles. Seeing as how I am primarily a hunt seat rider, I came with few expectations other than to pick up some tips to make my lazy show gelding use his shoulders more consistently. But, in two days, I came home with enough homework to last for the next six months!

In addition to the specific exercises we took away, the clinic was an excellent reminder of some principles of horsemanship that are now considered by some to be old-fashioned ideas:

-Get your horse BROKE! If he's really broke, he should be able to do his job, no excuses. Cleve gave the example of people who get huffy if the reiners are warming up near them in the ready ring - show horses should be broke enough that it doesn't matter. His prescription - quit whining, get your horse broke. When discussing this point with a friend of mine who is a dressage trainer (but by no means a DQ!), she said it reminded her of the upper-level dressage folks campaigning to eliminate the walk from upper level tests because their horses were "too brilliant" to walk.

-There is no substitute for wet saddle blankets in the training and development of your horse. A tired horse is a cooperative horse. Your horse isn't cooperative at the end of the time you have available? Tie him up, come back and ride him again. Repeat until you get the desired results.

-Reverse psychology works. Your horse wants to throw his head up and run off? Canter him around that 10-acre field until he's begging to stop, then canter him some more.

-Riding your horse around in draw reins and other tiedowns will make him want to raise his head the moment you take that stuff off. Want him to put his head where you want it? Teach him to be obedient to the bridle instead.

-You can't get mad when training your horse. If you get mad, tie your horse up, cool off, come back and ride him again when you can think calmly.

-Your relationship with your horse is not democratic - he should obey your commands. Period.

-There are no real shortcuts in horsemanship. For example, you will not get clean, quiet, consistent lead changes without the absolute obedience of your horse's ribcage.

-Obedience and fear are not the same thing.

-Just like any other athletic endeavor, you must push your horse in his training for him to reach his full potential.

-The smaller the child that can ride a horse, the more marketable it is. Cleve pointed out that the most talented horse is not very marketable if only pros can ride it, because pros don't have any money, and even if they did, they wouldn't want to buy something hard to ride, considering they get PAID to ride horses like that.

-Allowing a talented horse to get away with little infractions and otherwise treating him as "special" will lead him to believe that he IS special and he'll turn into a brat with no work ethic. The best horse in the barn should have to work as hard as the least talented horse in the barn.

-Being uncomfortable may be a reason, but it is not an excuse for bad behavior.

-If you're looking for a show horse and you want to win, choose the broke, consistent one over the flashy but inconsistent one.

1 comment:

Deb Powell said...

Oh, what a hot button you've hit with this!! As a long time dressage/eventing trainer (yes, I'm older than dirt), I've been dismayed to see the changes in focus over the years from well trained, obedient, relaxed horses to "brilliant" and borderline unmanageable. The walk is a required movement in all dressage tests from Intro A (walk/trot only) through Grand Prix (the highest level). In theory, as a horse progresses through the levels they become more trained, more attentive to the rider, more focused (in other words, more BROKE). In my humble opinion, a horse that can't perform a relaxed, flat footed walk is not broke and should be working on the basics, not the "tricks" like piaffe.

A few years ago I was privileged to see an international dressage competition with the top horses from all over the world competing head to head in the Grand Prix freestyle. Before the competition started, the spectators were asked to remain silent throughout each ride, no applause, no flash pictures, nothing that could distract the horses. I was amazed to see many horses at the top level of training that could not do an immobile halt, couldn't walk, spooked at the judges stand and generally acted like babies in their first season of showing. In contrast, one American rider put in a flawless test and as she passaged down centerline for her final halt/salute the spectators were standing at their seats, clapping in time with the music which the rider encouraged. Sounds like a winning ride? Not at all, she lost to a horse with no walk and many mistakes, but was brilliant in the movements that he did perform well.

As any DQ will tell you, the translation of the French word dressage is training and while they may look down their noses at western disciplines, they might want to take a hard look at how broke their horses really are in comparison. I've seen some fantastic reining patterns after which the horse walked calmly out of the arena on a long rein. Contrast this with a top international dressage horse who bolted in the awards ceremony and was stopped by a police horse just before he left the stadium. The police horse may never perform a piaffe, but you have to ask yourself which one was really broke.

Instead of removing the walk requirement from the test, let's get our horses broke!