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Training by Feel….or by Time?

For years, the sage advice of classical dressage master Nuno Oliveira guided my daily rides. I had read a quote by him deriding the use of a watch or any kind of timepiece when schooling a horse. His philosophy was that riders needed to school by feeling and responding to the horse rather than by any kind of external measurements or parameters. I adopted this idea wholeheartedly for many years, modulating the duration of my training exercises and sessions based on how I felt the horse was, or was not, making gains from them. Over time, however, two realities altered this approach for Read the full article…

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Cross-Training 2.0

Cross-training used to be something I casually promoted. Nowadays, I support it like a zealot. In fact, I might even argue that one cannot call herself a horse trainer unless she follows a cross-training program. My increasing commitment has risen in equal parts from exercise physiology research and my hands-on training results. Unquestionably, the most efficient way to improve a body’s mechanics and movement is through varied training stimulus. The fact that more riders do not cross-train weekly puzzles me. And yet I recognize that maintaining this routine might seem time-consuming, daunting, or possibly even frivolous. It needs not be Read the full article…

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Focus and Fitness in Horses

What Does Focus Have to do with Fitness? It is a conundrum that many riders have faced in the midst of consistent, focused effort: despite hours of invested time and exercises, the horse’s fitness and athleticism show no improvement. Even the most wisely chosen exercises do not seem to be working. One explanation for this might be due to the precision with which they are executed. Research from the past few years, though, has revealed an alternative—and surprisingly non-physical—explanation for some of these cases. What we have learned recently about horses’ brain function shows us that curiosity, or mental engagement, Read the full article…

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Conditioning Horses: Stability before Strength

For most horses, it is in the area of strength that they can—and need to—make the most gains. Evolution has given horses remarkable aerobic adaptations. Generally speaking, they make rapid gains from cardiovascular exercise and their bodies handle aerobic demands efficiently. Their musculoskeletal system, however, lacks the same adaptability. Most often when a horse cannot perform a particular task, it is due to insufficient muscular strength, coordination, or motor/sensory nerve recruitment. So does this mean you should spend a lot of time trying to increase your horse’s strength? Yes, but with a caveat. You cannot build strength until you have Read the full article…

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The Not-So-Scientific Training Challenge

If you have spent any time trying to train horses to accomplish physical goals, like moving more athletically, chances are good you have discovered that some individuals are more willing than others. Much as I would like to offer science-based explanations for this, I believe a lot of it owes to a less scientific trait that we’ll call ‘personal space.’ During recent clinic observations, I heard author and trainer Mary Wanless use this term to refer to a horse that was tickly in his back muscles. This made it difficult for his rider to help him travel with his back Read the full article…

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