Summit Special: Bring Three, Get in Free!

We’re excited to have Best Horse Practices Summit registrants coming from all around the globe. So far, we have attendees

The Summit will be at the Strater Hotal (pictured) and the LaPlata fairgrounds

hailing from Arizona, New Mexico, Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Canada, and more!

Early Bird registration may be over, but beginning next week, we will offer 4 registrations for the price of 3. It’s an ideal opportunity to bring friends, team members, club members, colleagues, or even strangers with the same passion for horses and horse education. Save $325!

Already registered? No worries. If you contact us with three additional registrants, we’ll refund one delegated registrant (who can always share the savings with his/her fellow travelers).

Details and sign-up options coming next week.

Looking forward to seeing you in Durango!

Register here.

What?? Yes, Riders are Athletes

Editor’s Note: Ah, to be young and carefree. After a few years of ignoring what might be obvious for some, guest columnist Amy Skinner realized her diet and exercise were instrumental to a successful horsemanship career.

Read more on Rider Fitness here.

Read rider Julie Kenney’s Journey of Fitness here.

She writes:

Horse people are well known for having bad eating habits and long work hours. I’ve been no exception. For years, I skipped breakfast and started riding horses, cleaning stalls, slinging hay, fixing fences, and teaching lessons on a stomach full of nothing but black coffee.

By lunchtime, I’d be starving. But with plenty of horses left to ride and no desire to feel a bunch of food bouncing around in my stomach, I’d eat something small, like a granola bar or half of a sandwich. At day’s end, I’d be famished and sit down to a huge dinner and then go to bed.

I was always tired. And, oddly, no matter how many hundreds of bales of hay I threw or mounds of manure I shoveled, I never got any stronger.  In addition, my back hurt from riding colts and working them through their acrobatics. At night, I’d have to work at stretching out my back.

One day, I realized my job was athletic. That made me an athlete. 

Athletes eat and train for their jobs, otherwise their bodies wouldn’t be able to perform. I decided to treat myself like a athlete:

— I started waking up earlier and making breakfast, eating a midmorning snack, a good lunch, and a lighter dinner.

— I cut out sugar, upped my protein, and lowered my carbs. I added lots of fruits and vegetables.

— During my lunch breaks, I started working out by adding yoga, strength training, or running to my days.

The first two weeks were hard. I was always sore. It was really tempting to quit. The workouts seemed to make riding harder. My legs felt like heavy tree trunks.

But within a month, I felt fantastic. I was stronger and more energetic. My day doesn’t exhaust me anymore and I don’t feel stiff at the end of the day.  My metabolism is much higher and I actually feel like the food I am eating is giving me what I need for my day, not just filling my stomach and making me tired.

In another month, I noticed huge changes in my riding. I have much better awareness of my body. Little issues – unevenness in my body, collapsing a rib cage or shoulder, and slouching shoulders – started going away.  My posture is better because my core is stronger.

I can go with a horse much better when it spooks, spins around, or bucks, because I have much better core stability. That stability and strength mean I rely less on my hands or reins for balance.

The change has made me a more confident rider because I’m less intimidated by sudden movements and goofy antics from young or troubled horses.  I am much less reactive and more able to ride out a buck or squirt or bolt and take my time to deliberate what action should be taken.  My back does not hurt at the end of the day.

Another side effect of my fitness progression is that I have a better understanding of bringing a horse along in its own fitness.  In my own body, areas of stiffness and weakness have only benefited from more attention.  I work harder on weak points instead of favoring what was easy and already strong.  I also made stretching, lengthening, and symmetry a huge priority so that my strength was functional and benefited my lifestyle instead of just looking better.

The same goes for the horse:

— it takes time to build muscle

— it’s important to strengthen weak areas and work on symmetry

When training the horse, we can’t expect immediate change. It should happen slowly over time if we are to build healthy muscle and lasting improvement.

I also got a sense for when to push a little when a horse was resistant, as I would become fatigued in my own workouts but knew progress could be made if I reached a little deeper. I also gained insight on when to back off and give the horse a rest.

Sticking with the change in diet and exercise has been tough, but worthwhile. It’s so easy to get caught up in tasks and dismiss healthy eating. But once I got in the habit of eating better and more often, my tastes changed and I stopped craving what wasn’t good for me.  Yes, my grocery bill is through the roof, but I have all the energy I need to do my job. Getting stronger and more fit has made all the difference.

Riding, after all, is an athletic endeavor.

Sign up for Amy Skinner lessons in Maine, April 29-30.

Best Core Practices

We welcome Kerry O’Brien as a new guest columnist and Rider Fitness contributor.

Read more on Core Fitness here.

O’Brien is a therapist certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and long-standing member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She blends hands on bodywork with biomechanical re-education. She owned Inspiring Motion, a bodywork and movement studio in Sherman Oaks, California, for a decade and recently moved to Cortez, Colorado with her adopted mustang. Her post here is part of our Special Section on Riding & Lady Bits.

Read more on her mustang advocacy work here.

She writes:

Since the pelvis is our major means of communication with our horse, one can’t underestimate the importance of good pelvic biomechanics, including well-functioning hip and sacro-illiac joints.

Fluid movement and high function are what make an “independent seat.” It’s also what makes for beautiful riding, a horse-and-rider team melded together without any extraneous movement.

There are many overlooked muscles in the pelvic area

Success in this area is not just about that most popular of exercise terms, “core strength.” Nor is it about Kegel exercises (especially considering the fact that Kegels are very often performed incorrectly). Many pelvic floors are actually too tight and most people mistakenly rely on their extrinsic, prime movers (think big, outer muscles) rather than their intrinsic (small, inner) stabilizers.

Tight muscles are weak muscles. And clenching doesn’t help.

What does help:

  • Releasing those too tight muscles.
  • Retraining correct sequencing of the subtle, deep, stabilizing muscles. These are the pelvic floor, deep spinal stabilizers like multifidus and erector spinae, as well as the deep abdominals, transversus.

Other areas of concern for riders are the psoas (a hip flexor and lower back stabilizer) and the adductors, or inner thigh muscles, which are contiguous with the pelvic floor. Generally speaking, tight adductors equal a tight pelvic floor.

So, the rehabilitative goal is first to release, secondly to increase awareness (what we might call neuromuscular intelligence, learning proper sequencing of this whole family of deep stabilizing muscles), and lastly, to strengthen.

There should be no gripping. Gripping is working from the outside in. The proper action comes the inside and if done correctly then riding can actually strengthen the pelvic floor and reduce incontinence.

It’s challenging to teach but it can be accomplished in most cases. Several years ago a study assessed the effectiveness of teaching pelvic floor exercises. Even after instruction from a physical therapist, eighty-five percent of patients did the exercises incorrectly. Considering that most often one is simply given a handout, the odds of correctly activating your innards are pretty slim.

I once had a male cyclist client who was very depressed because in spite of performing his pelvic exercises religiously, he was still incontinent months after prostate surgery. I suggested he return to his physical therapist to check if he was doing them correctly. Sure enough, he had been doing the exact opposite of what was required. Once the PT was able to clarify and correct, he was able to alleviate his incontinence almost immediately.

Good pelvic biomechanics can be learned and trained and best to do it off the horse. But riders can experience the benefits once horseback. I will say that my own years of training and learning to sequence independent movement from the inside out has made me a better as a 60-something rider than I had been decades earlier.

Work smarter, not harder!

Horse Head Coming Soon!

Next week, we’ll debut an exciting new website for horse owners and riders.

Horse Head will provide features on equine brain science and how it relates to our horsemanship and horse-human interactions.

The new site is a collaboration between Dr. Steve Peters, a clinical neuropsychologist and co-author of Evidence-Based Horsemanship, and Maddy Butcher, founder of BestHorsePractices and director of the Best Horse Practices Summit.

Peters and Butcher met years ago over a horse brain. Really. Peters was visiting coastal Maine to present a lecture on horse brain function as part of a Martin Black clinic. Butcher was reporting on the topic for her website, NickerNews.

In 2011, Peters and Black published the book, Evidence-Based Horsemanship.

“With Horse Head, we want to promote the application of horse brain science, consider and support the horses’ best interests, and optimize the horse-human interaction. We can apply what we know in order to get the best outcomes possible for the horses and for the humans,” said Peters, who specializes in dementia, is board certified, and runs the Memory Clinic at Intermountain Health in American Fork, Utah.

Added Butcher: “We would like Horse Head to be a resource for those owners and riders who crave great, science-oriented articles. These pieces will take complicated topics – brain function, neurochemistry, etc. – and relate them in readily applicable manner. We love that more and more riders recognize that licking and chewing is a manifestation of a change in the horse’s nervous system. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to talk about.”

Horse Head is the sixth website established by Butcher, whose Cayuse Communications includes NickerNews, NickerNewsBlog, BestHorsePractices, ColoradoOutsider, and UtahOutsider. She also contributes to Eclectic Horseman and High Country News.

Peters, Butcher, and friends

New Research to Measure Range Handling Stress

Over a generation ago, pioneers Bud Williams and Dr. Temple Grandin helped reshape livestock handling and management attitudes. They revolutionized the industry by adopting more humane, less stressful handling. Williams (who died in 2012) and Grandin (age 69 and a professor at Colorado State University) showed that by working with livestock’s natural behaviors, one can reduce animal stress and increase positive outcomes, ie, less sickness, fewer injuries, and better weight gains.

Over the years, ranchers have learned that if you keep cattle stress low, you will have better outcomes. Williams’ and Grandins’ work affected everything from facility, paddock, and pasture design to employee behavior (often slower, quieter movement, recognition of horseback versus pedestrian workers, less use of electric prods, etc.). Pressure is key, of course, but it matters how you apply it.

The days of Yahoo! and Yeehaw! are over.

But what happens as you trace the handling back to these cattles’ early interactions with humans?

Now, a four-man group at Oregon State University and Treasure Valley Community College is designing a research project to quantify which methods are ideal for handling cattle on the range. The project results will undoubtedly interest scores of ranchers who, until now, have had no quantification of how their range treatment leads to outcomes further down the production line.

Chris Schachtschneider, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, OSU Extension Service of Umatilla and Morrow County, is the lead investigator for the new multi-year project that will follow stress on cattle from their first months until they are processed at slaughter.

“There are a lot of claims out there as to what’s more stressful or less stressful, but there is not a lot of research,” said Schachtschneider. “If we can show that handling them a certain way on the range can ultimately put extra pounds on them, then that would be exciting.”

In his proposal to the Agricultural Research Foundation, Schachtschneider identifies distinct livestock handling methods. Citing Whit Hibbard’s book on early cattle handling in this country, Schachtschneider writes that three traditions persist:

— The vaqueros of California were well known for their horsemanship and roping…but cattle were only valued for their hide and tallow and often handled brutally.

— The Texan cowboys are known for the long cattle drives with large herds…cattle were sold by the head and volume was the priority…cattle were ramrodded and driven based on fear and pain to hurry them to the sale yard.

— The Midwestern manner in handling livestock originated in England and mainland Europe where herd size was small and each animal had great value. Methods such as penning animals at night, selective breeding, castration, and feeding stock in the winter were common practice.

Whit Hibbard

In the Great Basin (the Oregon-Nevada-Idaho area where the research will be conducted), stockmen have acquired and blended these methods and generally exhibit, said Schachtschneider, “vaquero horsemanship and roping skills, the cutting horse abilities from the Texans, and the husbandry traits of the mid-westerners.”

Schachtschneider noted that even the title of the research project has challenged them, given some possible prejudices and preconceived notions. “The term ‘low-stress livestock handling’ is similar to ‘natural horsemanship.’.  Many people use this term to market their training program, but has become less meaningful nowadays.  I want to be careful not to label this project in a way that it is instantly dismissed based on the name.  Yes, I do use the term “low-stress,” i, but we realize this may not be the best term.  Something like ‘Williams’ style Stockmanship’ might be better until we can figure out what to call it,” he said.

This year, the group (which includes fellow OSU academic Sergio Arispe, along with Treasure Valley Community College instructors Wade Black and Jared Higby) will focus on bringing ranchers on board and making sure handling is uniform. Ranchers will train in low-stress handling (from teachings of Bud Williams and Steve Cote) to ensure consistency. Animals will be randomly sorted into four groups:

— Traditional handling in the corral

— Traditional handling holding rodear

— Low-stress trained handlers in the corral

— Low-stress handlers holding rodear.

When measuring for handling impact on each individual animal, the group will administer four tests:

Salivary cortisol will be collected.

Heart and respiratory rate will be measured

Aversion tests (evaluating cattle’s willingness to move in the desired direction, the speed at which they move, speed of handlers, and the number of animals, and amount of physical intervention (pats on rump, shouting, flapping of flag/paddle/lariat, or use of electric prod) needed to achieve desired action.

Efficiency of method will assess how long it takes to complete the desired task for one animal and for the herd, as well as how many people are required for each treatment.

Required reading for research participants: Steve Cote’s book on Stockmanship

It’s taken months of planning and a joining of talents to build the project, said Schachtschneider, who previously studied how cattle grazing in certain settings can help deter wild fires. Dr. Arispe excels at the physiological aspects of the study and will focus on test administration. Black (son of Martin Black) and Higby have impressive ranch experience.

“All four of us have joined forces and we want to make sure the findings are rock solid when we put it all together.”

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