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Be Your Best Horsemanship

"Be Your Best" is hosted by professional horse trainer and clinician, Phil Haugen. Inspired by his “1% better everyday" training philosophy, Phil explains the methods, mindset, and performance tips that drive continuous learning and growth in horsemanship, as well as in life.  Join us each week as Phil shares his experiences over the past 30 years in the horse training industry, discussing the methods that have helped him bridge the language barrier between horse and rider to enhance understanding and performance from foundation to finish.

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How to Create Softness in Your Horse's Ribcage

If you attend one of my clinics, you’ll hear me talk a lot about keeping your horse soft in the face. While keeping your horse soft in the face is necessary in most disciplines, sometimes we forget about the other body parts that are connected to the horse’s face. Your horse has five main body parts, and all five of those body parts have to be cohesive. Think about it like a piece of machinery. If one part is stuck, it usually impacts other parts of the equipment as well. The same is true with the anatomy of a horse. If your horse is not responsive to the pressure of your leg, it will get stiff in its head, neck, face, and ribcage. If your horse tends to hang on your rein and drift down the arena when you’re loping a circle, this is a good indicator that its ribcage is stiff. Stiffness causes a wide range of issues with a horse’s performance. In barrel racing, for example, a common issue I see at many of my clinics is when horses go by or dive into a barrel. When this happens, the horses’ hind quarters get strung out behind them and their backs become hollowed out. As a result, the only thing they can do to balance back out is to lunge forward. One particular exercise that I do daily with any horse that I get on, whether it is starting a colt or riding a seasoned horse, is to soften them laterally and vertically before they ever take a step forward. When I step into the saddle, I immediately reach down on my rein and tip my horse’s nose to one side or the other. While its nose is tipped, I keep pressure against its ribcage and squeeze my horse forward so its front feet follow its nose. If I’m going to the right, I will still have some pressure with my right leg, but I will have more pressure with my left leg because that leg is what is keeping my forward motion. I’m going to keep my right leg against that horse because I want my horse to ride around my leg and to flex its ribcage around my leg. I want my horse to learn to balance on its hind inside leg, and my leg is going to become the pivot point. No matter the discipline, achieving that balance is one of the most fundamental motions a horse needs to be able to perform.


17 Dec 2019

Rank #1

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Working Through Frustrations and Challenges

All of us are on a horsemanship journey where we learn a lot about horses and a lot about life. I remember very vividly the day that my journey changed. It was the day when I stopped letting my frustrations dictate my communication with my horse. If you are experiencing a challenging time in your horsemanship journey, do an evaluation—look at yourself, look at your horse, look at what you’re trying to accomplish, and think about what transitions you are going to need to make to get there. What is the difference in where you are and where you want to be?Sometimes, all it takes is reinforcing a fundamental. But, it’s a process. You have to fix things one at a time.


24 Dec 2019

Rank #2

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Understanding The Animal You Are Training

Training your horse's mind to think, and understand, the responses you are asking for, is the first thing you have to be able to do to train a top level horse in any discipline.


19 Nov 2019

Rank #3

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Overcoming Insecurity & Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

As human beings, we all have our insecurities. In the horsemanship world, insecurities happen when we get in a streak of bad runs, when we have a bad practice before the rodeo, or when we haven’t developed the confidence we need with a certain horse. Insecurity not only affects us in every day life, but it adversely affects our horsemanship as well. When we aren’t able to devote time to our personal horses and sharpening our competitive skills, it affects our mindset and performance. Whether it be our careers or family obligations that get in the way of our normal practice routine, we tend to develop insecurities that let us fall back into bad habits. Anticipating and micro-managing your horse’s every move is an example of a bad habit caused by insecurity. Your horse is like a chamelion. It will transform based on what you ask it to do. Horses don’t learn from pressure. They learn from release. So, you have to let them have the release. Even if you know the next step may be followed by a mistake, you have to let it happen. Then, you can correct it. The fastest way to confuse your horse is to correct a problem before it happens. If you anticipate a problem and cue your horse accordingly, your horse won’t know what they are supposed to be doing. Don’t be afraid to trust your horse. It is okay to allow them to make a mistake. Over time, your horse will learn your style of communication and will understand how to avoid making mistakes. Most of the time, mistakes with our horses are caused by our own mistakes as trainers. If you want to sharpen your own skills (and, in turn, your horse’s performance), you have to be willing to get uncomfortable. Making these small changes in your performance is not going to be part of your normal routine. It is not going to feel “safe” or comfortable. But, until you let yourself get uncomfortable, the correct actions are never going to feel comfortable. Maybe, getting out of your comfort zone means dropping your hands a little bit. Maybe, it means relaxing your legs. Or, maybe, it means being more aggressive. Whatever it is, you must be willing to analyze your own performance and recognize what uncomfortable steps you might have to take to get to that next level. In doing this, you might be opening yourself up to frustration and embarrassment—but, that is okay. Anytime you feel like you have failed, embrace that, because it means you’re growing.


11 Feb 2020

Rank #4

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How Your Attitude Impacts Your Horse's Performance

Early on in my training career, I realized that the success of my day is heavily dependent upon my attitude. So, before I ever went outside to catch a horse, I had to stop myself and consider what I was allowing myself to think about. And, I had to decide if my thoughts were setting me up for a successful day of training.


10 Dec 2019

Rank #5

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Enjoying the Journey

In life, challenging times are inevitable. This is especially true if you are in the horse training business. You are going to experiences challenges each and every day. These are the little road bumps that can either derail us or empower us. It is basic human nature be frustrated by a challenge. But, when you start to realize that challenges are what truly teach you the most, you start to view these struggles differently. Over the past 30 years as a horse trainer, I have come to realize that for this to be a rewarding career and for me to have the right mindset, I need to start enjoying the journey. The journey takes up the majority of your time. The destination is a brief point in time where you reach the pinnacle of success. This point in time does not last very long before you have to reset and start again. In order to continue to grow and improve, it is essential to embrace a few features of the journey.


3 Dec 2019

Rank #6

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How to Handle an Overreactive Horse

If you spend long enough in the horse training business, you will likely encounter some situations throughout your career that put you at risk. Any time a horse develops a severe reactive response—such as flipping over backwards or bucking excessively—your safety, as well as your horse’s safety, is compromised. An overreactive horse is not untrainable—training it properly will just take more time and patience. Overreactive horses need some confidence and consistency-building activities to focus on. Those horses need to learn trust and respect. A horse’s overreactive nature wasn’t made overnight, and the problem won’t be fixed overnight either. The first step is to attempt to understand why the overreactive horse behaves the way it does. What mannerisms does it exhibit? What situation did the horse come from? Why is it behaving this way? As crazy as it sounds, your horse has been conditioned to rear up. When a horse is put in a high-pressure situation, anxiety builds, resulting in an extreme reactive response. Horses learn by release, and in an overreactive horse, the release the horse is looking for happens when you, the rider, comes off of its back. Instead of finding a release on its own, you want to retrain your horse’s brain to look for the release when you provide it. As a rider who has been on a horse’s back during one of these extreme reactions, it is incredibly difficult to feel confident and secure about what is going to happen when you get on that horse. That, in turn, creates a lot of anxiety in us. When you have a frustrated horse, and then you add a frustrated rider into the equation, there is no good that will result from that scenario. If we aren’t relaxed, our horses won’t relax. One of the two bodies must constantly be using the thinking side of their brain. What you are training on any horse—especially overreactive ones—is their minds. You are training the horse to think and look for responses. This is achieved through a simple “ask, release, reward” routine. When a horse seems like it has “fallen apart” — meaning, with speed, it is not working very good anymore — what has happened is that they have gotten weak in one of their fundamentals. If you can identify the fundamental element that need work, you can almost always remedy the problem by solidifying that horse’s broken foundation. Often times, we can make more progress as a rider from the ground. The “boring stuff” you see people doing — such as making your horse soft, yielding the hindquarters, etc. — is the stuff that builds trust and respect. Building a foundation takes time. When you go to a clinic or training, it’s not all about what happens in those two days. It’s about how you use those two days to change your thinking process. When I host a clinic, I am much more concerned with your results 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 years from now as opposed to 4 hours from now. Knowledge is power. But, knowledge is only powerful if you apply it consistently.


18 Feb 2020

Rank #7

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Advancing Your Horse's Performance

When I was younger, I came from a “horse” family, but not necessarily a “rodeo” family. So, when I began practicing roping events, I was always trying to make up for lost time. In the practice pen, there was never really much discussion of horsemanship, but we were always focusing on getting more repetitions with my roping. Over the years, I began to realize that when I was in position, my catch percentage was much higher. That’s when I started to shift my mindset from roping for myself to roping for my horse. Being a better horsemen starts with understanding where you’re at right now—with your skill level and your horse’s understanding. Then, you must identify where you want to get to and come up with a plan for how to get there. For example, if you want to have a horse that is great at scoring in the roping events, you have to have a program that helps to develop that. In roping events, we tend to put our horses in a situation that naturally creates some anxiety when we back into the corner. We apply pressure in the mouth, expecting them to stand still, yet going from zero to thirty in a matter of seconds. This pressure is not necessarily what causes a lot of horses to “blow up” in the corner over time. Rather, it is our inconsistency with reinforcing correct fundamentals that causes the blow up. If you don’t correct your horse’s mistake at the time the mistake occurs, you are reinforcing a bad habit. A mistake essentially transforms into a repetition that continues to create an undesirable outcome. When you’re establishing and creating habits, the foundation and fundamentals of slow work—or putting your hand down and letting your horse get into position—is what makes all the difference. Many people fall to the assumption that once their horse is “good,” the training stops there. But, this simply isn’t true. The better you get, the more steps it takes to get even better. You can’t do too many correct repetitions. You can’t have your horse “too good.” The number one thing that separates a good roper from a great roper is a great horse. Ask yourself—are you doing something every day to help your horse get better? If you’re not getting better, you’re going backwards. Sometimes, this requires going back to some of the most basic fundamentals and reinforcing correct habits.


21 Jan 2020

Rank #8

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Investing in Yourself

If you are listening or reading along with today’s episode, you’re already making an investment toward improving your knowledge and understanding. You’ve probably heard the saying, “knowledge is power,” but this is true only if you apply that knowledge. When you begin sharing your knowledge and experiences with others, that is when you begin to make an impact. That is the point when you begin to use your knowledge to not only help yourself, but to help others, too. Investing in yourself doesn’t always mean going out and spending money to improve some aspect of your life. Investing in yourself is more about the process of gathering knowledge that you can pass along to others.


26 Nov 2019

Rank #9

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Activating the Thinking Side of Your Horse's Brain: Part II

The way your horse acts is a direct reflection of you. Even if you are working with just one horse, you are a trainer. Every time you work with your horse, you are establishing habits—good and bad. Bad habits are reactive responses. Things like pawing, kicking up, or bucking occur when your horse engages the “reactive” side of its brain rather than “thinking” side. If your horse is doing these things when you get on its back, your horse is not ready to learn. Too often, trainers who are struggling with their riding adopt the mindset of “I’ll fix it tomorrow.” But, this mindset only reinforces your horse’s reactive responses. You must be mindful of the signals you are sending your horse. For example, in barrel racing—if you have a horse that has been going by the first barrel, you begin to anticipate this exact response. When you anticipate, you are starting to correct a problem before it even happens. Horses are smart animals, and they can feel the tension in your body when you begin to anticipate a problem. Often times, this tension is enough to flip the switch from the horse’s “thinking” side of its brain to the “reacting” side. Your horse’s reactive state of mind is the number one thing that holds you back from progressing. When your horse adopts this mindset, it is controllable, but not trainable. But, there is some good news—you, as a trainer, are capable of flipping the switch back and helping your horse engage the thinking side of its brain. When you control your temperament, you soften your mind, as well as your horse’s.


7 Jan 2020

Rank #10

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Activating the Thinking Side of Your Horse's Brain: Part I

When you have a weak link in your foundation, there will come a time where progress becomes incredibly difficult. There will be a point in time when getting to that next level seems nearly impossible. When I was a young trainer, I used to believe that I was only training the horse if I was on its back. This mindset severely limited me from establishing a strong foundation with the horses I worked with. This was because I failed to understand the difference between how a horse thinks and how a horse reacts. Horses have excellent memories for both good and bad situations. When they feel pressure in a situation, they have the choice to either think or react. Every horse has a “fight or flight” mechanism, and each horse is different in how they respond to this instinct. Horses that engage “fight” mode tend to push back and dominate the training session or display other negative reactions, such as pawing, rearing, kicking, or bucking. These reactions are caused by the horse’s failure to activate the thinking side of its brain. As a trainer, you can help stimulate your horse to engage the thinking side of its brain long before you ever step up into the saddle. You use a combination of pressure and release to stimulate thinking and understanding. The key to this combination is that once your horse gives the response you are asking for, you have to immediately release. If you keep asking for more without a release, your horse gets confused. You can apply pressure without ever touching the horse. Our presence in a horse’s stall can be enough to add pressure to some horses, especially young ones. Think about this — if you apply pressure on the ground and your horse doesn’t respond, how is that going to carry over when you are on its back? If your horse pushes back against pressure on the ground, what makes you think that they are going to move away from the pressure of your leg once you get on its back? Your horse has to respect the space you are trying to create. When your horse develops respect, it starts to develop trust and understanding. When your horse feels pressure, it stimulates the horse’s thinking response. You use pressure to help the horse find release. The release is what you teach. The ultimate goal is when you step in that stall, your horse immediately associates you with the thinking side of its brain. If you are working your horse on the ground and you are the one moving your feet, they are training you. The objective is to have your horse move around you. This takes time and patience, but it is essential to developing a horse’s foundation. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Activating the Thinking Side of the Horse’s Brain” series, releasing in Episode 10 of the Be Your Best Horsemanship podcast.


31 Dec 2019

Rank #11

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The Power of Repetition

Every time you repeat something, you are at the beginning stage of establishing a habit. This is true whether you are an advanced rider or just starting out. Each time you get on your horse, you are presented with the opportunity to identify your good habits and bad habits. Your bad habits are your weaknesses. A weakness is something that has been developed over time, whether we taught it that way or whether we have allowed the same mistake to happen repeatedly. Although many of us understand the importance of repetitions, I think we tend to underestimate the power that lies behind correct repetitions. Correct repetitions are an essential part of building a foundation for long-term success. Once we have achieved an end goal with our horses, we have a tendency to quit doing the things that got us there. At the end of the day, your horse is not a programmed computer. Even horses that perform at a very high level a high percentage of the time require repetition of fundamentals to continually improve their performance. When faced with a goal, we often think of time as our enemy. But when it comes to repetition, time is our ally. One of our biggest downfalls in the performance horse industry is our obsession with short term goals. We’re all focused on short-term satisfaction. But, when we break long-term goals in to short-term repetitions, that is when we achieve power over our performance. I have a personal goal to do 50 sit-ups and 50 push-ups five days each week. Honestly, I hate taking the time to work out. But, this routine takes me less than five minutes to complete, so I have made a habit of it. While my 50 reps may not seem like much, this adds up to 13,000 sit-ups and 13,000 push-ups each year. Just think if you apply the same concept to your training—if you can make a habit of dedicating a small amount of time toward performing correct repetitions with your horse, your results a year from now will be astounding. The power of repetition makes something that appears overwhelming look very achievable. The moment when it finally starts to click and you begin to see those small repetitions pay off is incredibly rewarding. When you reach that point of success, figure out the thing(s) that got you to that point. Then, make a commitment to keep doing those things, or you won’t stay there for long. One of my favorite quotes is “win the day.” This is a simple reminder to do the small steps that will propel me toward my end goal. When we break big goals down into manageable repetitions, the road to success becomes a little shorter each day.


14 Jan 2020

Rank #12

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Changing Your Standards

In our previous episodes, we have talked about activating the thinking side of your horse’s brain. But, today, we are going to talk about activating the thinking side of your brain. There was a time in my career when someone would make a suggestion, and I would take offense to it. This is when I was a young trainer, and to be honest, I was a little insecure about my abilities. I titled myself as a “horse trainer,” and I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know everything. But, when I finally accepted the fact that I have more to learn, I set myself up to make some essential changes to myself as a horseman. From that point forward, the results I achieved with my horses were always a direct result of the changes I made in myself. To change your results, you have to change your standards. Everything you do is a result of your standards. How you treat people, how you behave, how you look, how you shape your body, how you shape your mind, how you take care of your horses… your standards are what yields the results you are getting. Your daily rituals are a product of your standards. I have a favorite quote from Tony Robbins that reads: “Willpower won’t last. Rituals will.” Human beings are too emotional to rely on willpower. It’s just our nature. But, when we form a new mindset, new commitments, and new habits, our progress will unfold by leaps and bounds. If you’re listening to today’s episode, you are already taking a step toward bettering yourself as a horseman. And there’s a chance that if you’re listening, you might feel like you have hit a plateau in your performance or your training career. I am going to challenge to you to take a very realistic audit of your own program. I hear so many people fall back on the excuse “well, I’m no trainer, but…” Every time you step up on a horse, you are either creating or reinforcing a habit. I get the question of “which horse should I bring” a lot before my clinics. When I went to one of my very first clinics, I wanted to bring a green horse and start him at that clinic. I was surprised when the clinician told me to bring my most advanced horse to the clinic instead of my most inexperienced horse. This surprised me because, at the time, I was under the impression that it was my horse that needed the fixing, not myself. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again—my horses have taught me so much more than I will ever teach them. Always remember that the horse you bring to a clinic is just a vehicle for you to learn how to communicate. The more advanced horse you bring, the more you will get out of it. You’re not done yet. You’ve got a lot of things to learn and things to get better at. Make the commitment today to set a new standard for yourself.


4 Feb 2020

Rank #13

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How to Successfully Transition from Riding Colts to Finished Horses

One of the toughest situations I have encountered as a trainer is switching back and forth from riding “finished horses” to riding colts. It is easy to develop the mindset that when we have a “finished horse,” we are finished training. We think that we have a programmed computer that doesn’t need to be reminded of how to perform correctly. But, that’s just not the case. The skills that it took to develop your horse’s potential are the same skills it takes to keep a horse great. The things that keep our horses fundamentally solid are easy to do, but they are also easy not to do. It is easy to get to a point where we ignore simple fundamental principles. When you ignore them long enough, things will eventually start to fall apart—especially, when adding speed. Speed does not build foundation—it tests it. When we ride finished horses, we compete on them most of the time. Over time, this repeated demand of high performance can cause a horse’s foundation to break. If you get to the point where every time you step in your horse’s pen, you are asking for 100% effort, your horse will begin to associate you with the anxiety of anticipating a high level of performance.There is no way for a horse to give its all every time and stay buttery soft without occasional reinforcement of foundational skills. It doesn’t matter if your horse is 2 or 22, each time you step on the horse, you are working on developing trust and confidence. The more your horse trusts you, the more receptive they will be to your style of communication. Horsemanship is just presenting things in a way that a horse can understand. You have two choices when selecting your method of communication: You can have them respond through 1) fear and force or 2) patience and understanding. When we train with the fear/force method, we are exchanging short-term gain for long-term pain. When we train with the patience/understanding method, we are exchanging our time for long-term understanding and consistent performance. Your goal as a trainer should always be to help your horse find the release point. A horse’s ability to transition in speed and transition in direction is what determines their success. Practicing fundamentals at different speeds — walk, trot, canter — is what will help your horse develop the ability to make these transitions smoothly and consistently. When your horse is running as hard as it can, it has to be able to recognize the feel and change in your body position that cues them to adjust their speed and make a move. We want them to rely on our body position rather than the cues from our bridle reins to make these transitions. Our reins should be used to guide the horse in a certain direction, not to slow them down. At the end of the day, there is something inside of a horse that we can’t measure. We can develop their understanding of the tasks we are asking for, but a horse’s potential is also largely determined by their natural grit and determination. Those horses that go on to accomplish great things have something extra special, but they also have someone who gave them the opportunity to be special. They have someone who stuck with them while they were developing their understanding, even if it wasn’t a smooth process.


17 Mar 2020

Rank #14

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Good Enough Isn't Good Enough

“My horse is good enough.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this phrase over the years as a competitor, clinician, and trainer. When we adopt this mindset of being “good enough,” we are limiting our potential to become great. We need to eliminate the term “good enough” from our horsemanship vocabulary. Instead, ask yourself, “is my horse good, or is my horse great?” When you strive to get your horse to that “great” level, you automatically elevate yourself as a trainer. We have passed the time when your own athletic ability can make up for a lack of horse power. Everyone’s skill level has increased so dramatically over the years that horse power is now the differentiating factor between good and great competitors. The people who understand how important it is to simultaneously develop their own abilities as well as their horse’s are the ones who achieve truly great things in their careers.


28 Jan 2020

Rank #15

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Advice for the Young Horse Trainer

Horse training is an unpredictable business. There is no telling how many horses you will have in training in a given month. There is no guarantee or stability in your monthly income. But, over the past 30+ years, my wife and I have managed to raise a family one ride at a time. At some point, you decide what is important to you and follow it with everything you’ve got. There are easier roads to go down to get through this life. But if you are up for a bit of a challenge, have the courage to pursue your passions. You can approach your dreams with faith or fear. Starve your fears and feed your faith. You don’t have to have it all figured out to start, but you have to have the courage to start in order to grow. Have faith that you have the resources you need to succeed. And if you don’t already have the tools, believe that you are capable of learning and finding the answers. Believe in yourself, and always believe that good things are going to happen. Training horses is a lot like life, and I believe that God put horses on this earth to help me learn more about myself. There is no perfect manual to go by. No two horses will ever be exactly alike as no two people are exactly alike. If your program works really well with one horse and not so well with another horse, don’t give up on yourself. You are only as capable as your mind leads you to believe. Never let the fear of failure steal your fire.


3 Mar 2020

Rank #16

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Renewed Perspective During the Pandemic

This period of time that we’re going through right now is tough. Life has caught us taking things for granted, going through the motions, and assuming that things are going to be just like they were yesterday. Now, we are thinking about things we have never had to think about before. We are considering realities that we have never had to face before. We are learning to live without conveniences that we never dreamed would be taken away from us. But, I have a hard time believing that this isn’t the wake up call that we all desperately needed. Prior to this pandemic, did we ever stop to think what life would be like without these things? Did we ever express gratitude for the simple fact that a rodeo was being held? Or, were we too busy complaining about the stock, complaining about the ground, or wishing our run would have been better? To the kids that unknowingly attended their last high school or college rodeo, my heart hurts for you. To the kids who will miss out on the memories of prom and graduation, I’m so sorry. To the couples who had to postpone their weddings, it’s not fair. Although it might not seem like it now, there is a lot of good that will come from this struggle. There will be unity. There will be appreciation. There will be growth. And, there will be a renewed perspective that we have all needed for quite some time. Embrace the struggle, for it will only make you stronger.


24 Mar 2020

Rank #17

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Get Out of Your Own Way

When someone comes to my facility to pick up their horse after it has been training, I see a common fear: “will I screw it up?” While your horse is not returned to you as a programmed computer, it is also not going to flip a switch and go right back to where you started. The purpose of having a horse in a training program that develops fundamentals is to get that horse in the habit of using the thinking side of it’s brain. When a horse switches riders, it goes through a transition period where it has to learn and recognize your unique style of communication. If the horse has a solid foundation, eventually, it will find the right answer. Foundation is extremely important, especially in performance events that require speed. Speed is a reactive characteristic. When you ask a horse for more speed, you are essentially asking for a reactive response. Horses with a strong foundation will have enough confidence in themselves to switch back and forth from the thinking/reacting sides of their brain to perform correctly. As with a horse’s foundation, your foundation as a trainer is equally important. The biggest challenge in your training career comes from your own thought process. You have to have strong foundational philosophies before you can make a positive change in your training program. One of the biggest mindset shifts you must make is changing the way you look at failure. Everyone will go through a phase where they are afraid to mess something up. Once you reach a pinnacle in your performance, you might be afraid to continue pushing boundaries in fear of going backwards or falling off the cliff. But, if you want to continue to perform at that high level, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. You cannot start each day with the fear of messing up. The fear of failure has a paralyzing effect on us. If you dwell on it long enough, you will miss the opportunities that are right in front of you. Sometimes, you have to flip the switch in your brain so that you can get out of your own way. It’s like taking a test in school. You are better off to take a guess and write something down—even if you’re not sure it’s the right answer—than to leave the question blank. If you leave it blank and do nothing, you guarantee that it will be counted wrong. But, if you take your best guess, you give yourself the opportunity to figure out what the right answer is and learn from it. A wrong answer is better than no answer because you have successfully eliminated one way that doesn’t work. You have to approach training with the mindset that challenges are learning opportunities, not failures. And, trust me, there will be some intense learning moments along the way. But, you are better off to try and fail than to not try at all. Getting the wrong answer is not a failure, it’s an accomplishment. Don’t let the fear of messing up keep you from moving forward. Any bad habit you create is fixable. Always keep moving forward. If you don’t know what to do, the first thing you need to do is do something. Action creates clarity.


10 Mar 2020

Rank #18

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How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Clinic Experience

Between high-performing genetics and the advancement of horsemanship knowledge, the horse industry has come a long way over the past five decades. Despite the undeniable growth, there are certain foundational principles that have not changed. One such principle is the learning experience that a trainer must go through in order to help their horse(s) reach their full potential. One thing to remember about the horsemanship journey is this: Bad experiences are learning experiences. Those times when you are being challenged and tested are the times when you have a chance to grow. When you look at each experience from a growth perspective, all experiences become good experiences when you have the opportunity to learn something. One of the biggest changes in the horse industry is how accessible horsemanship knowledge has become. These days, there are tons of free resources, online videos, and outstanding clinics, seminars, and expos that are available to spread the wealth of knowledge. At my clinics, I always say that your biggest goal at a clinic should be to leave with a new perspective. Sometimes, the slightest change in your mindset toward a particular situation can be the missing piece that bridges the gap between struggle and success. You may train 10 horses, and 9 out of 10 times, your method of communication with your horse works—but that tenth time, your horse may not respond the way the others did. In situations like this, it is easy to become frustrated. If you want to continue moving the needle forward in your training career, you have two choices: 1) be patient and continue to ask for the response, or 2) change your communication slightly to help your horse understand better. No two horses are exactly alike. They each have different personalities, tendencies, and abilities. Therefore, each horse is going to require a slightly different pattern of communication from you. Until you open yourself up to new points of view and new ways of solving a problem, you will likely struggle to improve your horse’s performance and understanding. Once you embrace this mindset, your training program will escalate rapidly. Anytime you are working with a horse, remember to be less concerned with perfection and more concerned with your application and execution of a concept. Progress will come with consistent, correct repetitions.


25 Feb 2020

Rank #19

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Developing Feel, Timing & Balance with Your Horse

We often underestimate how much our horses rely on our feel, timing, and balance. I’ve touched on this topic in previous episodes, but this week, I want to dive into some of the reasons why it is so important to understand how a horse’s anatomy impacts its responses. In terms of vision, our horses’ eyes work a little bit differently than ours do. Horses are blessed with some skills in their vision that we don’t have, such as better nighttime vision. However, there are some key differences between human vision and equine vision that pose challenges when it comes to training. Horses do not see things the same way that we do. This is why it is absolutely essential for us to develop consistent feel, timing, and balance so that our horses can rely on our cues rather than their own sight. We, as humans, have binocular vision—meaning, both eyes work together to form images in our brains. Horses, on the other hand, primarily have monocular vision—meaning, each eye works independently of the other. A horse can see roughly 350-degrees around its body, but there are approximately 5 degrees directly in front of and behind a horse that are blind spots. This is because the placement of horses’ eyes are designed to support three main abilities: 1) spotting predators 2) looking for footing 3) identifying food. A horse’s line of vision acts somewhat like a bifocal lens. The bottom part of horses’ eyes are used primarily for identifying things that are close to them, such as their footing and food. The top part of horses’ eyes, on the other hand, are used to identify objects further away, such as movement from a person or another animal. When horses see the world from a different perspective than we do, they will occasionally perceive a situation to be more dangerous than it really is. This fear is driven by the blind spots in their vision. Any time an object enters the blind spots in a horse’s field of vision, there is a moment in time when the horse is unsure of where that object is. This uncertainty almost always causes a reactive response, especially in younger horses. So, why are some horses scared of things that other horses are not? It is because they have become comfortable with situations that other horses have not. This level of comfort comes from a strong foundation of trust. If you have ever tried to get a horse to cross water for the first time, you know how “scary” of a situation it can be for a horse. This is because the horse likely can’t see the water, but it can sense it in other ways by sound or smell. The only way that horse builds enough confidence to cross the water is by giving into our encouragement. But, the key is, our horse has to trust us enough to take that step.


5 May 2020

Rank #20