A Lesson with Marcy


Today I got to sit in briefly on a lesson at NRHA Open Futurity Reserve Champion Marcy Ver Meer’s barn, Bar Double C Ranch. In Ver Meer’s program, every part of the rider’s body is analyzed for its efficiency. From the rider’s rein hand, to the elbow, to the hips, knees, and lower leg: they all have a role to play in cueing the horse.


Ver Meer explains that being an effective rider means you only use the body parts you need to cue your horse, without overemphasizing too much with your body.


Horses can be amazingly light creatures, when the rider is very conscious of how he or she is sitting, or using their hips, or picking up on the reins, or applying the lower leg to the horse’s barrel.

Scenes at Bar Double C Ranch.

“Ride deep in saddle and open up your pelvis wide through your belly, so you can sit deep. Always remember – sit deep and wide. That will enable you to ride with your hamstrings and not just your inner thighs,” she says. Ver Meer also elaborates that from the knee down, you want to concentrate on making your legs as long as possible so your heels can go down and get below the horse’s belly, keeping your spurs from hitting the horse unintentionally.

“Most of the time, I’ll cue with my achilles heel or lower calf because that’s all I need. I don’t cue with my spur unless I’m chastising or correcting the horse,” she says.

When sitting correctly, the rider should feel their butt bones or “pin” bones as they are often referred to, in constant contact with the saddle seat. And when you have to drive the horse up into the bridle, your pockets should end up rolling underneath you to make you stronger and more effective. One analogy Ver Meer uses with her students is to try and get the rider to lope around and hold their knees off of the saddle until the point at which “daylight can be seen between the legs and the saddle.” It should feel as though the rider is floating around on the horse’s back.

And just because it’s Tuesday and I feel like it, the first 3 people who send in their comments to this post will win a lovely Ver Meer hat. Adorning Marcy’s 230 score and her “Ride Like A Girl” motto, chapeaus like this are certain to turn heads.

Kindergarten

Horses are so expressive in their body language. Here, “Mercedes,” a yearling filly, is clearly unsure about the lariat in Clay’s hand, but she refuses to take her attention off of it. That’s a good sign.

Today, my husband Clay is bringing some of our long yearlings into our indoor arena, to start their training in the roundpen he has set up in one end. Along with his assistant, Danielle, Clay will begin “Kindergarten” with the young horses.

Using a safe roundpen (one in which a colt cannot get its legs stuck in between the panels up high, in the connection points), Clay’s goal today is basically to get the colt’s attention focused on him. Wherever Clay goes, he wants the young horse to be aware and focused on his actions as the handler. First in is Mercedes, a yearling filly sired by Peptoboonsmal.

Please note, entries about colt starting and horse training in my blog are essentially only “nutshell” versions of the real thing. The only true ways of learning the techniques safely are through the hands-on teaching of experienced professionals – so if you are inexperienced in this department, don’t take my notes and pictures to mean that you too, can try this at home! However, since Clay has had thousands of hours of experience and hundreds of horses ridden under his saddle, there are still many things we can share with you via a blog medium.

So let’s get back to kindergarten. Using a lariat in one hand as an aid to wave the filly away at crucial times, it can also become an extension of Clay’s arm. Clay moves Mercedes around the roundpen, being careful to maintain a safe distance from her hindquarters. Each time her attention focuses on Clay’s body in the centre of the roundpen, he backs away from the filly.


If the filly maintains her attention on Clay, he continues to back away. If however, she moves her attention to something else, Clay pushes her forward again.

Ideally at this point, Clay would like to be able to approach the filly and perhaps even touch her, but if she chooses to leave him, the consequence is that she will have to work. Clay uses the concept of “Approach and Retreat” with horses, the idea behind it being that you get into the colt’s space for just long enough that the young horse can handle it, and then get out again. If the horse starts to leave before the handler has retreated from the “comfort zone,” the handler didn’t get out fast enough and this will make it difficult to build the horse’s confidence for being touched and handled.

Clay has sent Mercedes around the roundpen again and once again, her attention focuses back on Clay. He steps back to try and keep her attention.

Clay approaches Mercedes and so far, she’s keeping her feet still. Her ears are great indicators for what she is thinking and while she is unsure about the lariat, she stays put. Because she allows Clay to touch her, he rewards Mercedes by walking away from her again. The interesting part at this point is, Mercedes now takes a couple steps towards Clay.

So, Clay approaches and tries touching Mercedes again, this time with the lariat.

Mercedes moves slightly away.


Again Mercedes is doing well, so Clay back out of her space.

And that’s a perfect place to leave the lesson at for today.

Clay’s three main rules of colt starting are; 1) The horse and the handler must not get hurt; 2) Always have the colt maintain its attention on the handler in a relaxed, safe fashion throughout the colt starting experience; And 3) Ensure the colt is more relaxed and confident at the end of the session than it was in the beginning.

* Stay tuned! Clay will take this filly from the roundpen groundwork to her first time wearing a saddle and we’ll blog it all for you. However since it’s a lengthy entry, I’ll be breaking it up over the course of several days that do not run in succession. Hope to see you there!

** For more information about Clay, check out www.claywebster.com

Genesis: Starting with a plan

GENESIS

A scene in our yearling filly pasture.


I always love this time of year. These are the days when Clay starts focusing the training energy onto our 2-year-olds. The babies we foaled out in early 2008 have had almost two years to just grow and be horses. And now, it’s time to start handling them regularly. Up until now, they’ve been halter-broke and have received consistent farrier work and medical care. Other than that however, our yearlings have mainly been running and playing like little kids out in the pasture.

The fillies: aka Drama Queens.

Naturally, there is much discussion surrounding the topic of starting young horses. Every trainer or owner has an opinion on the subject and every program has valid points. I am not here to argue or validate which way is best. Clay and I just know what works best for us and the practice of starting our colts as long yearlings, has proven extremely beneficial in our experience.

All shapes and sizes.

Ideally, we like to center our breeding program around the earliest foals in the year as possible. This means, we try to aim for March babies. Of course, this goal isn’t always attainable since Mother Nature plays a large role in equine reproduction. However, we have found that earlier birth dates allow our foals more time to grow, develop and mature. And sometimes, if a mare is having difficulty getting in foal early in the year, we choose to leave her open. In today’s economy and with the instability of our market, it has become more crucial than ever to make smart breeding decisions. Since our herd consists of +/- 11 broodmares (depending on the year), we have decided that demand must exist for each and every horse we produce.

It’s all about supply equaling demand.

We don’t want to create something the world has no desire for, as often seen in the overbreeding problems and market lows the horse industry is already battling. Therefore, with careful scrutiny we make our breeding plans each year and if a mare just can’t seem to become pregnant early in the year, that’s alright with us. We don’t believe it’s absolutely necessary to bring another 11 foals into the world every year.

It’s always so amazing to me to watch dreams and goals take shape, from this tender moment forward.

That being said, each of our foals will have a better chance of thriving in today’s society if they are well-trained and have solid foundations. Broke horses have a modern purpose in today’s society and can give their owners justification of the costs of feeding and caring for them. That’s why Clay prefers to start our young horses as long yearlings, starting with approximately only ten minutes day, three times a week. Since the horse’s body continues to develop until it is about six year of age, it’s important to consider the young muscle and bone structure and never physically push the animal too far in a session.

A few minutes each day, starting earlier on in its life, allows Clay the time it takes to build a solid foundation with a colt. It is very hard on a horse to begin training later in life and have the same amount of lessons crammed into a shorter span of time. Doing so would be the equivalent of sending a child to begin school in grade six, without having the benefit of kindergarten, grade one, two, etc. The person training the horse would have to teach the horse all the same lessons, despite having only half the time.

The yearlings, just being horses.

Starting early also affords Clay the opportunity to turn our yearlings out to pasture again, if he so chooses. Sometimes a young horse comes along so nicely in the lessons that Clay might feel he needs time to go out and be a horse again. Or, perhaps his or her body just needs more time to develop. And later in January, February or March Clay might bring the colt back in and resume the training. Either way, an early starting point gives my husband a foundation to build on.