Avoidance is Not an Option

The first day of a multi-day riding clinic is always the worst.  That’s the day when you find out that you’re not nearly as good a horsewoman as you thought, and your horse isn’t nearly as willing as you thought.  Day one is a humbling experience.  I spent last Friday through Sunday with clinician

Fog coming over the hills on Day One

Jerry Tindell, and my emotions were right on schedule.  And, also on schedule, by the end of the weekend I felt incredibly encouraged and eager to keep practicing everything I’d learned.The clinic was held at a beautiful working ranch in Gilroy, CA.  There were between 9 and 12 riders, depending on the day, as well as a number of auditors (people there to watch and learn, but not ride).   Jerry began by explaining his philosophy based on years of working with horses and mules, and continued with insights and practice throughout the weekend.  The highlights:

* You don’t have to learn 6000 things to be a good rider.  You only have to learn 6 things, and do them 6000 times.  These are 6 things that you need to be able to ask your horse to do, and get your horse to do them!

Angel’s view of the huge working arena at the ranch.

The 6 things are:

  • back up
  • move the shoulders over
  • move forward with flexion
  • hindquarter control
  • stop
  • stand still

If you have control over these, you have control over your horse.  We have no control over what our horse might spook at, or what we might encounter out on the trail.  But if we have good control over these things, we’re in good shape.  These 6 movements are exactly what the boss horse uses to control other horses in the herd.

* We don’t do our horses any favors by babying them.  We need to teach them that we mean what we say.

* When we don’t enforce what we ask for, we are actually lying to our horse.  What we teach them is that they can’t trust us, because we don’t mean what we say.  If you’re going to ask your horse to do something, mean it.

* The feet follow the nose.  We have to control the feet to control the horse.

 * Don’t ask them to stop until they go.  You have to get them going before you can teach them to stop.

* You never fail if you recover.  You only fail if you give up.
* When you ask for something, don’t stop until you get it.  If you’re not willing to keep at it, then don’t ask in the first place.
I came to a realization during this clinic:  Angel and I are like an old, bickering married couple.  “Do this.”  “I don’t want to.”  “Do it anyway.”  “No, you do it!”

I never realized how much Angel has been avoiding what I ask him to do;  I just didn’t recognize it.  Jerry says that horses train us very well.  They can make it seem like they’re doing what we ask when they really aren’t.  The action might be there, but their mind and attention is not with us.  Avoidance.


Avoidance became my mantra for the weekend.  Rather, “Avoidance is not an option,” became my mantra.  Refusal to go forward is avoidance.  A hollow back is avoidance.  A circle without flexion is avoidance.  Refusal to back up is avoidance. Looking at the view while I’m standing right in front of him pitching a fit is avoidance.

And why shouldn’t he?  We ask our horses to go forward and stop at the same time.  We ask them to back up by pulling forward on the lead rope.  We ask them to move forward willingly, but rather than letting them do so we drag on them with the lead rope.Like I said, Day One was humbling.  But, Jerry gave me some good skills to practice, especially for ground work.  Because as avoidance-driven as Angel was on the ground, when I was in the saddle we were actually pretty good.  He gives much more flexion in the saddle than he does on the ground.  Our exercises in the saddle went well, and on Day Three when they brought out the cattle, we had a ball.

This was an awesome clinic, and I hope to attend many more with Jerry.

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