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Flexibility by Diane Sullivan
Diane Sullivan

John Lyons Certified Trainer
In my work with horses and their riders I have come to realize that there is one attribute that is most important when it comes to developing a working partnership with a horse. The people who accomplish this partnership most successfully are the ones who adapt themselves and their training and riding program to each new circumstance encountered. They understand their own training limitations as well as their horse's physical and emotional needs and are always striving to improve. They understand when to push forward and when to go back to work on 'holes' in their training program.

Through all of their work they remain consistent with their cues, yet flexible in their applications.
This flexibility becomes paramount when the rider takes his or her horse out of an accustomed environment and into a new one. No matter how long I work with a class on the basic elements of horsemanship and teaching the horse unconditional responses to certain cues in the arena, everything changes as soon as we go on our fist trail ride. A rider may suddenly find that Little Miss Ho Hum in the arena becomes Little Miss TNT out on the trail. When this happens, one of two things happens; either the rider quickly tunes in to the fact that the rules of the game have changed, and changes his or her game plan accordingly (thus gradually regaining a reasonable semblance of control), or the rider fails to adapt to the new situation and the situation deteriorates. In any new situation, a horse's emotional level will escalate and it is often difficult to penetrate the emotions that they are feeling and once again engage their brain. Therefore, the rider must become more active in his or her communication with the horse. This does not mean pull harder on the reins! It means the rider must exert more energy (both mentally & physically) into staying one step ahead of the horse's emotional and or physical reactions. It means that this is where having an unconditional response to a command or cue becomes essential. It also means staying consistent with what you and your horse already know. This is not a good time to switch to a whole new agenda in your training.

It most certainly means plan your work and work your plan. (You did have a plan in case your ride didn't go according to plan, right??) That first ride may not be a lot of fun, but
I guarantee that if you stick with the program you and your horse already know (provided you didn't skip over essential parts of your training) and keep repeating the cues your horse knows, he will begin to respond and the ride will end better than it started out. Reinforce these same cues consistently each and every time you ride and you will soon find yourself aboard Little Miss Ho Hum once again.
If you find that your horse is not yet ready for the wide wonderful world outside the arena or the excitement of riding with other horses, go back and find exercises for-the two of you to work on that will establish the control and communication that you want, then try it again. You must get an unconditional response to a cue I 00% of the time in the arena before you will get even 75% of it (if you're lucky) out on the trail. This time you may want to break it down a bit. Perhaps you'll only ride twenty steps out of the arena and then right back. Maybe you'll repeat this step many times before you enlarge the riding radius. Maybe the next time you hit the trail you will ride with one 'been there, done that' type of horse instead of seventy-five wild mustangs.

IN OTHER WORDS, BE SENSIBLE AND BE FLEXABLE! Don't be afraid to 'think outside the box' and figure out what you need to do in order to maintain control and persuade your horse that you are partners and can work this out together. The main thing is to tune into your horse and don't push him where he is not ready to go or sooner or later you will have a wreck. Be an ACTIVE rider versus a REACTIVE one, and soon you will reap the rewards of a better understanding of your individual and very special horse. 

About the Author
Diane Sullivan Horse Training
My name is Diane Sullivan and I live in Chugiak, Alaska. Chugiak is located 20 miles northeast of Anchorage in the south-central portion of the state. We are nestled between Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountain Range, and so the riding here is diverse. I ride through lush mountain valleys, climb mountain ridges, cross rivers and streams, and skirt the beach at low tide, sometimes stretching rides past midnight during our long summer days. I hope you have as much fun with your horse as I do with mine. My emphasis is on teaching people to teach their horses. I hold riding clinics regularly throughout the summer as well as giving private lessons. I like to work with children and help 4-H groups as well as other groups with horse interests. (Select the photo to view more information)
Contact: Diane Sullivan
PO BOX 670272
Chugiak, Alaska 99567
Phone: 907-688-2250

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