Cross Coun­try With Jim Wof­ford

For 2018, Jim •hare• hi• thought• on mak­ing your life with your hor•e even more ben­e­fi­cial to you both.

Practical Horseman - - Special Sporthorse Health Issue -

Jim sug­gests ways to im­prove your horse­man­ship and your re­la­tion­ship with your horse in the New Year.

The last New Year’s res­o­lu­tion I ever made, I kept— I promised to never make any more res­o­lu­tions. So far, so good. Still, horse­men need to keep im­prov­ing, and it takes res­o­lu­tion to con­tinue your ed­u­ca­tion and per­for­mance. That be­ing the case, I came up with a few top­ics for you to think about in the New Year. I can’t re­ally call my sug­ges­tions “res­o­lu­tions,” be­cause I don’t make res­o­lu­tions any more. I guess these are in the form of a wish list.

Learn Your Horse’s Body Me­chan­ics

The first thing I wish you would do is to get to know your horse a lit­tle bet­ter. I don’t mean you should learn his sta­ble name as well as his show name or become able to pick him out of a group. (If he is like most of mine, he is the one with ma­nure stains on his ear.) No, I mean learn more about your horse as a horse, not just as an in­di­vid­ual, but also as an an­i­mal.

Learn how his skele­ton fits to­gether. Learn about the equine foot, how it is con­structed and the func­tion of its var­i­ous parts. Many of the sound­ness is­sues you will ever have to deal with will be in your horse’s foot. You might as well un­der­stand what the vet is talk­ing about if she says (for in­stance) that your horse is de­vel­op­ing nav­ic­u­lar dis­ease.

When work­ing on dres­sage, ev­ery­one knows their horses should not over­flex (ex­cept for most dres­sage judges—they seem to like it). What hap­pens to the ten­dons and lig­a­ments sur­round­ing the cer­vi­cal ver­te­brae when the horse is over­flexed? Is this po­si­tion in­ju­ri­ous to your horse and if so, is it repara­ble? I’m go­ing to re­turn to this in a minute in an­other part of this ar­ti­cle, so hold that thought.

… For In­stance, the ‘En­gage­ment’ Thing

What mus­cles are we talk­ing about when we talk about a horse us­ing his topline? What is the mus­cu­lar process by which a horse reaches for­ward un­der his body with his hind leg? What is ac­tu­ally go­ing on with your horse’s body when he en­gages? Rid­ers are in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated about what their horses are sup­posed to do in their dres­sage work, but many do not un­der­stand the me­chan­i­cal process in­volved.

You prob­a­bly have been told that when your horse en­gages, he lifts in front and grows taller. Is that what re­ally hap­pens? Does he sud­denly grow from 16.2 to 17 hands? Ob­vi­ously, that is not what hap­pens. I have heard dres­sage pro­fes-

sion­als talk­ing about a horse’s abil­ity to “sit” dur­ing his work, and this is an­other way of de­scrib­ing the process of en­gage­ment. Once we un­der­stand the roles that mus­cles, lig­a­ments and skele­tal parts play, we get a bet­ter all-around view of rid­ing and train­ing.

The first thing that springs to my mind when I am think­ing about get­ting a horse to en­gage is the ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial role that re­lax­ation plays in this process. Rule­books speak of the well-trained horse as be­ing “free from the par­a­lyz­ing ef­fect of re­sis­tance.” If your horse is tense in his topline, this lim­its the range of mo­tion of his hindquar­ters, which, of course, pre­vents him from an­swer­ing your leg aid cor­rectly.

Once you de­velop a more so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of your horse, your rid­ing and train­ing will im­prove. For ex­am­ple, turns on the fore­hand and hindquar­ters, half-cir­cles, half-cir­cles in re­verse, leg-yield­ing and shoul­der-in are all valu­able sup­pling ex­er­cises. How­ever, their value is greatly in­creased when you un­der­stand the spe­cific ef­fects of each. (I will get back to the in­ter­ac­tion of the­ory and prac­tice in a minute, but I am on a roll here.) Turn on the fore­hand, or work around the shoul­ders, tends to lower the horse’s fore­hand, while turn on the hindquar­ters, or work around the quar­ters, tends to lower his hindquar­ters, thus en­gag­ing them. Both ex­er­cises are valu­able, but they are even more valu­able when you choose a par­tic­u­lar ex­er­cise based on its abil­ity to specif­i­cally ad­dress your horse’s prob­lem. It seems to me that the more you learn about your horse, the more you will be able to teach him.

… And How You En­gage With Your Horse

An­other wish I have for you is to think deeply about the role your horse fills in your life. Do you ride for phys­i­cal ex-

er­cise? Rid­ing for phys­i­cal ex­er­cise is a won­der­ful way to main­tain your health, but the bet­ter you ride, the less ac­tual ex­er­cise you will get. As your rid­ing be­comes more ef­fi­cient and you become able to not just un­der­stand the con­cept of in­vis­i­ble aids, but to ap­ply it to your daily rid­ing, you will work less to ob­tain the same re­sult.

What about rid­ing as men­tal ther­apy, a re­lief from the stresses and strains of mod­ern life? It is cer­tainly true that the out­side of your horse is good for your in­side, but if your in­ter­ac­tion with him is to be truly ther­a­peu­tic, you must be present in the mo­ment. Cell phones and ear buds are hugely dis­tract­ing at a time when you should be re­lax­ing and in­ter­act­ing with a fel­low denizen of the nat­u­ral world. Horses do not per­ceive the nat­u­ral world in the same way that we do, and we should at­tempt to un­der­stand them and re­late to them. It is ironic that in or­der to sup­port their horse ad­dic­tion, many peo­ple work all day in a gray, fea­ture­less work cu­bi­cle, star­ing at a flick­er­ing com­puter mon­i­tor while dream­ing of es­cap­ing to the sta­bles to ride their horse. Yet too of­ten they clam­ber aboard and walk away aim­lessly with a fixed hand while talk­ing to their pal in the next arena about the cutest horse photo they just saw on social me­dia. Your time spent rid­ing your horse is price­less—don’t waste it by shut­ting your­self off from him.

Base Your Prac­tice On The­ory

I men­tioned ear­lier that I wanted to talk a lit­tle more about think­ing deeply in re­gard to rid­ing and train­ing. This process will be greatly en­hanced when you learn more about the the­ory of rid­ing and train­ing. Hu­mans have in­ter­acted with horses for much of our his­tory and have recorded their ob­ser­va­tions about rid­ing and train­ing since early times. One of the ear­li­est is prob­a­bly Xenophon’s On Horse­man­ship, pub­lished about 350 B.C. If you want some good ad­vice, read it. Some of the many things I took from it are: a hu­mane and en­light­ened ap­proach to the train­ing of horses; to pa­tiently teach any task to a horse by small, sim­ple steps; and (my per­sonal favorite) that break­ing horses was a dan­ger­ous process and one that was bet­ter left to others. I re­ally took that one to heart.

Lat­eral work is the key to sup­ple­ness and en­gage­ment, so we should study its de­vel­op­ment and cor­rect us­age. A good place to start is the Duke of New­cas­tle’s A Gen­eral Sys­tem of Horse­man­ship, pub­lished in 1658. You will find an ex­cel­lent dis­cus­sion of the the­ory and prac­tice of lat­eral work here. I will leave it to the in­ven­tor of the shoul­der-in and counter-can­ter, François Ro­bi­chon de la Guérinière, to have the last word on this. In his ex­cel­lent work École de Caval-

pub­lished in 1730, he said, “The opin­ion of those who feel that there is no need for the­ory in the art of rid­ing will not pre­vent me, in any way, from sup­port­ing it as one of the most im­por­tant ne­ces­si­ties for the at­tain­ment of per­fec­tion. With­out the­ory, the prac­tice will al­ways be un­cer­tain.”

Most of us ride with some fu­ture goal of com­pe­ti­tion in mind, but prac­tice with­out the­o­ret­i­cal un­der­pin­ning and plan­ning is not re­ally prac­tice, it is just ex­er­cise.

… And Com­pete to Test Your­self

Well then, what about rid­ing to com­pete? I saw an in­ter­est­ing bumper sticker the other day. It said some­thing to the ef­fect that you go to school, are taught lessons and then tested, but in life we are faced with tests, which teach us lessons. Un­for­tu­nately, many rid­ers these days view com­pe­ti­tion as a life­style rather than an ex­am­i­na­tion of their state of train­ing. Many of our suc­cess­ful coaches have de­vel­oped busi­ness mod­els that en­cour­age this view­point, and in this I think they are wrong. Com­pe­ti­tion should pro­vide us with an ac­cu­rate eval­u­a­tion of our state of train­ing, not a rib­bon. Cer­tainly, we should take plea­sure in social in­ter­ac­tion with fel­low horse lovers. We should sup­port or­ga­niz­ers who pro­vide good fa­cil­i­ties, ex­cel­lent foot­ing and in­tel­li­gent course de­sign. How­ever, our goal should not be to get a bet­ter plac­ing or an­other qual­i­fi­ca­tion, but rather to test our­selves and our horses against our de­sire to en­ter into a per­fect part­ner­ship with our horse. When we get close to this, we are in bal­ance with our horse, con­nected and in bal­ance with na­ture and—for those rare few mo­ments— truly at peace with the world.

I hope you find peace in your world and that you ap­proach the New Year with in­creased res­o­lu­tion.

There is no such thing as a “lit­tle prob­lem” when you are train­ing horses for com­pe­ti­tion. The best way to avoid prob­lems is to get to know as much as you can about your horse. Even blind­folded, the late Hall of Fame event trainer Jack Le Goff could tell which horse was which by run­ning his hand down the lower leg. You should be able to de­tect slight changes in the soft tis­sue of your horse’s lower legs. These changes are Mother Na­ture’s warn­ing signs. If you stop train­ing im­me­di­ately and get your vet to di­ag­nose the cause, you can pre­vent in­jury and the long lay-up nec­es­sary to re­ha­bil­i­tate the in­jury. When you walk your horse in-hand on pave­ment, lis­ten to his foot­falls. Do you hear a sin­gle “clop” each time a foot hits the ground or do you hear “ka-lop,” mean­ing the foot is out of bal­ance? When you hear your horse’s foot­fall go “clink,” it means the shoe’s clinches are work­ing loose. If you fix it now, it is not a prob­lem. Oth­er­wise, you will lose a shoe, and pos­si­bly some of your horse’s foot, in com­pe­ti­tion. Show this photo to your far­rier and ask him about what he sees. He will ex­plain how this horse was shod in­cor­rectly in the past and what the cur­rent far­rier is do­ing to put this horse’s feet back into align­ment.

Based at Fox Covert Farm, in Up­perville, Vir­ginia, Jim Wof­ford com­peted in three Olympics and two World Cham­pi­onships and won the U.S. Na­tional Cham­pi­onship five times. He is also a highly respected coach. For more on Jim, go to www. jim­wof­ford.

Your com­pe­ti­tion re­sults will im­prove when you gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of your horse’s skele­tal and mus­cu­lar com­po­si­tion. For ex­am­ple, your horse can more eas­ily en­gage his hindquar­ters if the mus­cles in his topline are re­laxed. In this photo, Will Fau­dree and Quin­tes­sen­tial show the re­sults of cor­rect train­ing, where the el­e­va­tion of Quin­tes­sen­tial’s neck is pro­duced by Will’s leg, not by his hand. The rid­ers you watch and ad­mire at up­per-level com­pe­ti­tions are usu­ally ex­pert horse­men and horse­women, not just good rid­ers.

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