Jack and Paula Curtis

"Helping People Understand Horses"

Most people will agree that nothing beats working around and riding a steady, confident, well mannered horse. A horse that knows his job and wants to do it. To take a horse to this point requires a correct foundation and correct handling all of the time.  It does not matter if the horse will go on to be trail ridden, shown competitively, work cattle, etc... Either way the foundation paves the way for future success.  The horse must have a clear understanding of what is expected of him while he is being ridden. 

Jack on the beach riding a 2yr old colt. (Photo by: Sally Moskol)

Starting Under Saddle

The teaching process has been well under way at this point.  The horse has learned what is expected of him on the ground as discussed in the ground school pages.  By working with the horse on the ground we have learned quite a bit about his personality and temperament. By this point he has learned to carry a saddle in a relaxed and confident manner. We want the transition to carrying the rider to be as smooth as silk.  We make the transition smooth by picking the perfect moment in which the horse is ready to be mounted. Because of our previous preparation, this transition is a easy one.

The Beginning

During the first few rides we basically let the horse become comfortable with us on his back.  We rub on the horse a lot.  Rubbing on his neck, his haunches, his forehead etc... We direct his focus left and right to achieve lateral flexion. (we should note that we stress a clear difference to the horse between simply flexing, and turning, which involves the feet.) We then direct his attention to various destinations, asking him to liven up and ride there; once there, allowing him to let down and stand and think. This gives him the confidence to be with us and go somewhere with a purpose.  Many times our first rides occur on the trails where we can use his natural curiosity to guide him.  Horses become very relaxed and interested.

Paula during her 3rd ride on a young colt.

Continuing the Education

No matter what the horses future purpose, our aim at this point is; relaxation, interest, awareness, attention to the rider, correct balance, free forward movement, and suppleness.

We achieve this through presenting the horse with a correct feel.  Correct feel has a clear intent.  That is, how we plan to present our idea in a way the horse can understand. The feel we give comes back to us from the horse, letting us know if it is necessary to adjust our feel. This feel will be in time with their movements so when we ask for a particular movement, i.e. a turn on the fore hand, it will be easy and natural for them.  This way is flows in a way that is easy, comfortable and natural.

We vary our activities each day using natural obstacles such as hills, ditches, trees, or manmade obstacles such as poles, barrels, and cavalletti.  These obstacles will pose the horse with various questions in which he will have to come up with the correct answer.  We make the correct answer as obvious as possible of course, but we allow the horse to work it out himself.  Through the exercises he learns how to shift his weight to the hindquarters, and carry the rider in a effective, efficient manner. This encourages the horse to gather and collect himself naturally.  He becomes confident in his ability to please the rider and continues to find himself a friend in his human partner.

The basic foundation (as described above) leads the way to movements such as spins, leg-yield, shoulder-in, travers, renvers, half-pass, pirouettes, and flying changes. Mind you, these are movements that the horse has been able to do since he was a little colt. We are now just asking him to recall them and perform them with a rider on his back.  It is important that the horse has an understanding about how to stay with his rider and perform these movements for him to be successful in a career, whether it is jumping, dressage, gymkhana, western events or combined training.

Many of the horses we train go on to have successful careers in dressage, jumpers, combined training, gymkhana and hunters.  They have the confidence and the skills necessary to take their riders to the next level.

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