Sunday, March 13, 2011
Shape Up! Part II
Sunday March 13 2011
(Part I is here.)
TRAINING: IT’S ALL MENTAL
Lest the months of walking, laying the LSD conditioning foundation, may sound boring, it can be far from it if you take advantage of the time to have fun with your horse while you teach him different things.
While ten trainers may disagree on conditioning methods, they will agree on the importance of training your horse. “In most cases,” says Lynn Smothermon, “both recreational and competitive horses must be disciplined, well educated, confident horses and partners with their owners.”
Besides proper conditioning, another big advantage of the LSD training is that your horse is not rushed into speed, which may affect his mental ability to stay calm on the trail. Your horse should remain calm with several initial weeks of walking; as you progress to walking and trotting, your horse should continue to move forward calmly, and in control. If you do come to a spooky situation, it may be best to slow the horse’s pace, so he can evaluate the situation and calmly deal with it, rather than trying to force a horse past a scary object. If you know you will be encountering some scary situations on the trail, bring along another friend who has a well-seasoned horse that will not react badly to these situations. If that horse is calm, your horse will much more likely react the same way – with a non-reaction, which he will carry through to the next time he encounters it.
It may very well take the same amount of time to mentally condition your horse, young or old, on the trail as it does to physically condition him. “Re-educating an older horse out of bad habits can take months of patience and firm guidance to reestablish the horse as a partner in anyone’s training discipline,” says Smothermon.
Take advantage of the time spent going slow for conditioning to expose your horse to all kinds of situations he may one day encounter on the trail. Go out alone; go in company, and rotate positions: be the leader, be the follower, be in the middle, be on the left side and the right side, and stay relaxed in all situations. Your horse should willingly and easily move off your legs, back up (only when asked!), respond to your seat and weight, stand still when you get on and off until you ask him to move out. Yes, your horse does get bored with the same trails over and over. Take him on different trails, go different directions. Get him used to hikers, pack horses, bikers, motorbikes, dogs, different groups of horses coming or going. Practice perfecting and hastening your transitions between the start, walk, trot, walk, stop. Teach your horse to stay on the trail, and to willingly leave the trail when you ask him. Take him through as many trail obstacles you may encounter: rocks, sand; creeks.
Encourage your horse to drink at water spots. Let him graze occasionally along the trail. Teach him to walk back home calmly on a loose rein. When you get back home, or to your trailer, teach your horse to tie to a trailer, or a tree, in case you will be in a ridecamp or camping out on the trail all night. Teach your horse to accept everything he would encounter at a vet check in competition – touching his mouth, his legs, his rear end muscles, taking his heart rate, listening to his gut sounds.
If you have friends whose horses are further along in their conditioning, resist the temptation to just follow along faster than your horse is ready for, just to have company. Ride to your own horse’s training level.
When you think of all the things you can do during these months of walking and slow trotting, and you see how obedient and supple your horse is becoming, you will realize there is no limit to what you can teach him. You may find you really enjoy these training strolls with your horse and you don’t want to progress to trail competition.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
Don’t be in a rush to get your horse fit or competitive on the trail. Remember, slow is fast. The time you may have think you saved rushing your horse’s body systems into shape can come back at you through injury and a much shorter career. Throughout all of your successful efforts of conditioning and training your horse, be it for Competitive Trail Riding, Endurance, or just Trail Blazing solo or with friends for the day, you will develop a strong horse and a unique partnership and understanding with him that will last for many years.