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Give Your Horse a Mind Expanding Experience
by Mary D. Midkiff

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The Women & Horses Newsletter - June 2007

After watching the Preakness Stakes on May the 19th, my husband replied, “The Derby obviously was a mind expanding experience for Curlin.” Curlin won the race by making a tremendous come-back move to defeat Derby winner Street Sense by a nose.

When I heard my husband's comment it took me back to many experiences I have had with horses over the years, where a light bulb went on and they seemed to “get” what was being asked of them and simultaneously enjoying it.

My horse, Redge, had a mind expanding experience two weeks ago when I entered him in his first horse show and horse trial. Two weeks prior to the show I had noticed when I was practicing dressage around the jump arena and out around the cross country fences that he was telling me he wanted to jump. His confidence seemed high and he wanted to give it a try. So I decided to take a jumping lesson and find out.

I had bought Redge as a young dressage prospect but knew he had some jumping ability. Throughout our first year together, he was scared to death of jumps and wouldn’t even go near them without a panic attack. The second year, he accepted trotting poles and now, this the third year of our partnership, he is telling me he wants to give it a try.

I set up a lesson with a jumping teacher at our barn and told her about his past. She set up a few cross rails with some trotting poles and told me to go warm up. I trotted and cantered a bit, sitting deeply in my dressage saddle and balanced him as we approached the first jump. He took it without so much as a thought. The teacher and I II both had to laugh. We took away the trotting poles and did the cross rail again and he stayed in quiet rhythm and jumped it with class.

Next we added a small vertical and got the same results. We kept facing him into a variety of 2’ jumps and he was a real superstar. He did “sky” over the brush jump but the next time he took it easily. I even did a 9 jump course with him that day. The teacher and I agreed to meet next out on the cross country course and see if we could duplicate our first jumping success.

Two days later I met her on the course and we went over fallen trees, logs, brush jumps, tires, fences and he did all of it beautifully. Mind you, we still were only jumping 2’ so it was like a trotting pole to him and he quickly became bored.

After that lesson I signed up for the Starter Novice Mini-Event at our barn and decided to give it a try. I rode all three phases in my dressage saddle using a Myler Comfort Snaffle on him. None of this would have been possible even last Fall. But Redge was beginning to feel confident, comfortable, trusting and very happy in what he could do.

He warmed up for the dressage test like an old pro and gave me lots of beautiful 7s and 8s. I brought my stirrups up two holes and we tackled the stadium course. He stopped at two jumps but then cleared them nicely the second try at each. He was very green around the course, however, he tried and listened and made me laugh at how inquisitive he was about all these flags and flowers and people everywhere.

I took my jacket off and put my safety vest and penny on and we went out to cross country. All of the jumps at this level are 18 inches. We stood at the fence and watched many others go before us and Redge seemed unimpressed. Finally it was our turn and we went out there and enjoyed ourselves. We had one stop at the tire jump, where everyone was stopping, but then negotiated it just fine the second attempt. The rest of the course he jumped clean. We ended up 4th in our class but that was not important to me at all. I was so proud of my recovered project horse of three years to step up and show me he was ready to play the big games.

After two days off I rode Redge again. This is when I knew that the experience he had at that event had changed his life. When I rode him that day he was not a young, green searching horse. He was a horse that collected, pranced and danced and did whatever I asked. I did not have to teach or remind him of anything, it was as if all of the movements in dressage were “built-in” and he knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

I thought maybe this was just a really good day for him. But the next day I got the same results. I have since taken him out into the wide open fields and done our dressage work there and he remains the same talented, listening horse as in the arena. I am blown away. He is now ready to take the next step. He is also eager to do another event. Whenever I take him near the cross country jumps he almost pulls me toward them and says okay let’s go!

When I receive the custom jumping saddle that I ordered from Synergist Saddles we will start jumping again and planning our next horse trials.

If you give a horse the time he or she needs to become trusting, comfortable, pain-free and confident they will tell you they are ready to be challenged. Once you have your horse really listening at home, on the ground and under saddle, take him or her out and do something new and exciting. Even if it is a walk in the forest or a jog in a park. Or just go hang out at a horse show. They will come home with new information and generally feel really good about themselves. You will reinforce all of these good feelings with loads of praise and treats in his feed tub when you are done. Then give them a couple of days to think about it and rest. Work with them and notice where they are in their maturity and understanding of their lessons.

Next time offer a different challenge and notice the differences when you get home. Some horses are late bloomers like mine and need the time and patience to bring them along to the point where they are really ready to perform.

As you know, I use aromatherapy, massage and acupressure techniques all the time in training my horse and his nervous system is very balanced and “sane”, able to absorb and process education as a result. Mixing these techniques with building confidence and trust between you as partners, building the abdominal core muscles and other supportive muscles to carry you both in balance, and always reinforcing positively your horse will rise to the occasions put in front of him and gain a great deal from those mind expanding experiences.

Redge’s next big adventure is The Tennessean dressage show in late June. It is a huge dressage show held in a coliseum. It will be very interesting to see what he gains from our experience there.

Curlin’s next challenge will probably be the Belmont Stakes on June the 9th. We’ll see what he took home from the Preakness to help him out in this longer distance race.

I hope all of you will use these Summer months to take a few steps forward with your horses and give them the mind expanding experiences they will appreciate.

I have placed a few photos of me and Redge at our first horse show on the website.

Tip: Here’s a good find. I am using Bates’ stirrup leathers for the first time and really enjoying the support they are offering. They do not stretch or change shape in any way, they are evenly anchored at the stirrup bar and provide a flat surface under your thigh where they meet the stirrup bar. I noticed a big difference in the stability of my leg under my seat. Give them a try!

Happy Riding!!!

Mary D. Midkiff


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