On December 16, our barn hosted a clinic by Tik Maynard focused on enhancing the partnership with the performance horse. Tik, who is head trainer at Bow Brickhill Stables, has worked in almost all sport horse disciplines, is an Equine Canada certified instructor, and was long-listed for the 2012 Olympic Games in Eventing for Canada. I think Tik had as much fun as those of us participating because from the first horse to the last (almost 8 hours later) he gave his all with a smile on his face, even if that meant having the patience to teach a skittish horse to walk on a tarp or getting mauled by an exuberant yearling.
My horse, PJ, and I were his first victims of the day. I explained that my issue was that when I ride I feel that 50% of PJ’s attention is on me and the other 50% is on his environment, which I thought contributed to PJ’s lack of reactiveness to my aids (he’s a slug). Tik started out by putting PJ in a rope halter with a long lead (I hesitate to call it a lunge line) attached. He then asked PJ to walk off like he was being lunged using just a point of his finger in the direction he wanted PJ to go. Of course, PJ didn’t know what he wanted, so Tik adjusted his body position and shook the whip a little, which PJ did understand. Once PJ took a step in the right direction, Tik immediately relaxed and stopped asking anything. PJ stopped and Tik rubbed his face. Tik remarked that breaks are where the real learning takes place. Eventually he had PJ walking and trotting in both directions, as well as backing up and coming towards him with no pull on the lead – just a gesture with his hand one way or the other. Then he had me try, which didn’t go quite as smoothly but I got the idea, which was to get PJ to focus on me and to react to subtle aids just like I wanted him to under saddle. I could see how this could be very valuable at a horse show when PJ was even more distracted.
A lot was going on outside the indoor and when Tik got on PJ, he wanted to spook. Tik explained that instead of focusing on what the horse wanted to look at, the rider should just continue with whatever he/she had planned, and importantly, the rider should always have a plan. Even if the plan was as simple as a 20-meter circle, the rider shouldn’t be wishy-washy in his/her request. He had me get on next and concentrate on controlling PJ’s speed and direction; if I accomplished that, PJ would see me as his leader because I controlled his feet, and he would shift his focus from his environment to me. We ended without a single spook.
The next two people had very different horses. One was skittish and the other was too laid back. Tik explained that you can’t change a horse’s nature but you can improve him, meaning the skittish horse will never become a deadhead and the dull horse will never be flighty, but you could get the skittish horse to become calm and the dull horse to become responsive. Using the rope halter and lead with the skittish horse, Tik swung the lead rope around, which at first startled him. Once he relaxed, Tik stopped swinging the lead (giving him a break). He said that there were times to sensitize a horse and times to desensitize a horse. What he had done with PJ moving in a circle was a form of sensitizing, while what he did by swinging the lead around and not asking for anything was desensitizing.
Tik started every horse with the rope halter and lead rope from the ground. With some horses, he rode just using the rope halter and lead instead of a bridle and bit. He explained that by not having a bit, what he was asking the horse was very black and white; he just wanted the horse to go a certain speed and in a certain direction without the complication of “going on the bit”. He also pulled out a tarp, barrels, and a jump with the purpose of getting the horses to learn to learn. He used the horse’s natural curiosity to eventually allow him to put a tarp over a horse’s head or just have a horse calmly walk between two barrels.
What Tik told us was nothing revolutionary (or new, for that matter), but he was able to explain not only what we needed to do but why, and then show us with our own horses. What I liked most was that he recognized that our horses were being used in sport. The end goal was not to get our horses to allow us to stand on their backs, per se, but to trust us, to enjoy learning new things, and eventually for us to be able to ride a better dressage test or have a better cross-country run.