Season 2, Episode Six is a Coaches’ Corner with Amy Skinner in North Carolina.
Here, Jec and Amy visit about cross training. It ties into our last episode in which we discussed what horses and riders need to know. It comes down to the need to always expand our comfort zones. As Randy Rieman told me, if you’re not expanding your comfort zone, you are shrinking it. Dear listener and reader, think about it. I really think this idea has merit. And not just for horse work, but for life. Expanding our comfort zones, facing fears, having confidence or building confidence in yourself and your horse surely has a lot to do with cross training.
There are ways to tackle various impediments or hurdles to better horse work. Here are a few:
Ask for help
Avoid foreseeable pitfalls (as mentioned and for example, riding in big groups or riding with people who cannot support you if you need help is avoidable)
Or, if you’re a trail rider, maybe check out Jec’s books for some exercises to make arena work more engaging. Katrin Silva’s Dressage for All of Us has ideas, too.
If, in contrast, you’re hitting the trail and you find that worrisome or boring, there are tons of ways to get busy and give your horses tasks that will challenge both of you and keep you partnered up rather than checked out.
If you’re new to the trail, connect with riders who have some understanding of trail riding and the etiquette around it – for instance, ya don’t ride off when someone is stepping up into the saddle. If you are riding through gates, trade off opening and closing them.
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I always find the topics of your episodes thought provoking and relevant. This last one on cross training brought a lot of thoughts to my mind. Like Maddy I am more of a trail rider than an arena rider. To that point many times I find Jec’s perspective on the/a topic different from mine. I grew up in NYC and all my relatives and old time friends are “city” people. I now have been more on the rural side of life for 40 years. Granted my perspective of rural, we have 5 acres north of Boulder Colorado, is way different than your rural. But there are comments that Jec makes that remind me of talking to my sister in Chicago. It’s taken a very long time for my sister to understand that everyday I pick up a wheelbarrow of manure and that is not disgusting nor something that takes away from things I want to do. It’s part of the responsibility and joy of taking care of our horses. Another “city” friend has told me the importance of meditation and how it would help me. I tell him I do that everyday picking up the manure and working on my halters and leads and Rein Safes. But I digress. People will always see things from their perspective, whether it’s rural vs urban, male vs female, the USA vs any other country where someone lives. Jec, in the cross training episode, mentioned the difficulty of people having access to trails. For me it is the difficulty of having access to an arena. Jec chuckled at the thought that someone like me sees arena riding as boring. It is, because the focus of my riding is not “dancing” with my horse. My wife and I ride together with our horses well but don’t dance. She suggested riding in a clinic which can be more engaging. Whoa Nelly. I’ve told Cheryl if I ever sign up for another clinic to shoot me first. I’ve mentioned to you that I was a Natural Horsemanship groupee. Towards the end of my love affair with that I was sick and tired of paying hundreds of dollars to have a clinician tell jokes, ride a horse that he was working with and ignore me and many people in the clinic that either were not as bad as some or not as good as some. That was brought home to me again as Buck is giving a clinic this weekend at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. I thought it would be fun to hear him again and see some of my old friends. Well all it did was bring back those feelings of people not really riding. An example is way back I took a John Lyons clinic. I had a great horse at the time that I was doing endurance on. She was light, intelligent, in tune, responsive and more. But get her into an endurance race and Katie bar the door. So I signed up for the clinic hoping to get help with that. In the arena the first day John recognized my horse’s ability of lightness. He asked me to ride other people’s horses and have them ride mine. While it was an education for me to work with horses different from mine it didn’t accomplish my goal for the clinic. The next day at the beginning of the session John asks me what it is I wanted to accomplish with my horse. I mentioned how she was difficult to rate out on trail. John smiled and told the crowd what my need was and suggested we take a little ride outside the arena. NOBODY would go. John was apologetic but we didn’t go out.
As important as cross training was for us when we were competing we had and still have a mare who is “brilliant” out on the trail but just obedient and sulky in the arena. Ida is now 27 and still a crotch rocket out on trail. When we were looking for a second “backup” endurance horse in the 90’s a friend told us about a wonderful mare by the same breeder we already had a horse from back in Virginia. Cheryl knew the trainer who had started both horses and gave him a call. On his recommendation she flew back to Virginia to see Ida. When Cheryl got to Thurman Farms the owner brought Ida out and had to do some work so she told Cheryl to spend some time with Ida in the arena before they went out on trail. Cheryl rode Ida in the arena and she was just dull. Hated it! Cheryl was so disappointed that she flew all the way to Virginia to see this horse. When the owner got back she asked Cheryl if she would like to go out on the trail and Cheryl reluctantly agreed. And that’s when the light turned on and Ida’s brilliance shown. It’s still that way today. While we have taken Ida into some arena lessons and a clinic we always know she’s a different horse in that situation. I think Jec recognized the arena horse who isn’t comfortable outside the arena but here again is a different perspective of our horses being not comfortable in the arena.
As an endurance rider the best “cross training” instructor I have taken lessons from is Becky Hart. Of course she understands the connection between what you do in the arena and how it relates to being out on trail. I think that is what is missing from most “dressage” instructors teaching trail riders. I mentioned I was reading My horses, My teachers. Podhajsky seems to understand the necessity of attitude, relationship, balance and strength which are used in and out of the arena. Of course his focus is in the arena but the way he worked with his horses was basic to BOTH. His era was a different time when horses were primarily ridden out in the environment and dressage in the arena was the novelty. It seems in many areas of the US that has switched.