Inspiration – The Mane Event Chilliwack

This past weekend we attended The Mane Event in Chilliwack, BC. This expo always provides great educational clinics, as well as impressive presentations and promotions. We discovered some great new products this year, and learned a lot from some very knowledgeable clinicians.

Ruben Villasenor was one of the clinicians that stood out to me. He is a calm, collected, and effective horseman who puts on a spectacular western dressage performance. He performed one of these routines in the Equine Experience show we attended on Friday night. The western dressage is a fun deviation of classic dressage; Ruben came into the ring with his Arabian stallion, “dancing” to new country music. The whole performance looked like loads of fun, for both horse and rider.

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We also attended a couple of Ruben’s informational clinics, where he demonstrated how his custom bosal works on a horse. I’m definitely adding this hackamore to my wish list – I’m already a believer in hackamores (we use natural hackamores), but I like the way Ruben’s hackamores fit the horse. He explained why the noseband on his bosals sits so low on the horse’s nose (with one that sits higher, nerve damage can occur and cause your horse to become heavy on the reins). Ruben also demonstrated how much calmer a horse is when you take the snaffle bit out of his mouth. The horse is able to concentrate more on what you are asking him to do, and less on the uncomfortable, or sometimes painful, piece of iron in his mouth. I completely agree with starting horses on the bosal, until the rider is able to refine his cues and not have to use the reins much at all.

We also watched Doug Mills work with horses and riders of a few different levels. One of the mares he worked with had a similar personality to one of our older mares – calm and fairly unresponsive, until you ask her to do something unfamiliar. The mare’s owner didn’t seem confident enough to ride through the “panic attacks” the mare had (possibly from being thrown or scared from previous episodes – from the mares performance that I’m about to describe, I don’t blame her), so the mare seemed to be calm and a bit lazy. When Doug’s son, Kyle, mounted up and asked the horse to trot along the rail, she got very upset and started to speed up and come off the rail. Each time she did this, Kyle would turn her into the rail and head the other way. At first, the horse was an absolute basket case, and started into flight mode. She ran and ran, until she finally figured out that if she maintained gait and stayed on the rail, he would leave her alone. Slowly, her energy level started to come down as she figured things out. It was a great visual of how pushing a horse through her emotional phase actually allows her to work it out in less time than it would take if the rider were to hold her back and slap a bigger bit on.

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My favourite clinician of the weekend was Steve Rother. Apart from being a very entertaining speaker and performer, Steve had some very informative things to say. I really liked how he described giving your horse a choice – he said, “you can do this, or you can do that.” This quote really hit home for me, because although I had been sort of doing that in my training already, I feel like my method was more “if you do this right, you can rest.” Sort of the same thing, but different packaging. Starting out with new things, I think that giving rest is good – the horse is rewarded for doing the proper thing, and he knows he’s right and doesn’t have to search for the right thing to do. Eventually, though, once the horse knows what he should be doing, I would switch to Steve’s method – he explained it as, once the horse is comfortable with something, it is expected behavior, NOT something that needs reward. So, if my horse knows he should trot on a circle, and he leaves the circle, I would help him leave and push him. When he decides that he should come back to his circle, I will bring him back – but he doesn’t need the reward to know he’s doing the right thing. When I leave him alone, he knows he’s doing the right thing. It’s expected behavior and he doesn’t need the rest reward. Leaving him alone is reward enough for expected behavior.

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Steve also participated in the Equine Experience show, putting on a hilarious “all-breed all-discipline” show – all with the same horse! He took his horse, Professor, through all the moves, making a parody of all the different disciplines out there. Way to go Professor for keeping the “try” going!

Finally, Steve did a fantastic “doma vaquera” performance, western style. Doma vaquera is a beautiful horse and rider routine that is derived originally from daily duties on cattle ranches. Steve had a long pole which he dragged one end of on the ground, and did a variety of maneuvers, including spins! He had to rhythmically lift the pole over his own head, and then over his horse’s head. This looked pretty good when the spins sped up! You can see a similar performance in this video, from the Washington State Horse Expo in 2012.

Of course, we can’t forget about Francesca and her minis – they did a fabulous liberty demo, and had this Jack Russell ride out with them! Absolutely adorable and fantastic routine.

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All in all, The Mane Event this year was a very informative and fun event to attend. We will definitely be back next year – hopefully with our own horses!

Did you attend this year? Who was your favourite clinician?

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Why I ditched my snaffle bit for a bosal hackamore

I used to ride with a snaffle bit in my horse’s mouth. I used it because it was the only way I knew how to turn her, to stop her, and in general, control her. I used virtually no leg aids, and relied on my reins completely in order to communicate with my horse.

I also had a horse that had no grasp of slowing down – she would race home faster than the speed of light any chance she got, and if she didn’t get the chance, she would proceed to prance the entire way home, making my ride much less than enjoyable. Any time my Dad would come for rides with me, wanting to take in the gorgeous view of the lake we got from the bluffs, my horse would try to kill me by dancing, rearing, circling, and doing basically anything else she could think of in order to force me to let her run. The bit did essentially nothing – her mouth would be gaping as I tried to slow her to a manageable speed.

The last year I rode that same horse, it was without anything on her head at all. She went anywhere with just a rope hackamore on, and in the arena she did anything you asked by just using your legs, seat, and occasionally a stick to guide her in the right direction. Of course, she still liked to go fast, but there were no more fights with her out on the trail to get her to stand still.

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Why the drastic change? Well, there are certainly a few factors.

One definite reason is changing from the snaffle bit to a bosal style hackamore. (This switch might be opposite of what you might think – if you have a horse that won’t stop, wouldn’t you put a stronger, harsher bit in their mouth? I’ll explain my logic here in a minute.)

An even more important factor for the change in my horse was the change in my attitude and methodology towards her. Instead of forcing her to stop, turn, etc. with the bit, I put a hackamore on (keep in mind I started doing this in an enclosed area – start small and work your way up!). I would ask her to flex her neck, and at first, she wouldn’t. But with a little consistency and even more persistency, she eventually figured out that she wasn’t being forced to do anything – which made her less reluctant to actually do the things I was asking her to do.

So you see – that is why I didn’t put a stronger, harsher bit in her mouth. She wasn’t misbehaving because I didn’t have enough control of her physically – it was because I didn’t have enough control of her mentally. I also developed techniques that helped me ask her, rather than tell (for example, if she starts getting too fast, I’d tip her nose to one side to get her attention instead of pulling straight back on both reins).

Dixie is now my retired pet. She suffered from a hernia a couple of years ago, and I haven’t ridden her since. However, she still enjoys her pets and treats, and I’m sure she appreciates that she now gets to accept what happens to her, and not submit to what happens to her.

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Have you ridden with a bosal? What were your results?