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Sally Cousins

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Training Tip from Sally Cousins: Taking Risks

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as an EN guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Sally Cousins and Ideal Contini. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sally Cousins and Ideal Contini. Photo by Jenni Autry.

In 2006, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured in a motorcycle accident. There was some backlash from the Steelers organization and their fans because he was not wearing a helmet. Terry Bradshaw (the former Steelers quarterback) was openly critical of Ben riding the motorcycle at all and said he shouldn’t even be on a motorcycle until he retired. He was getting paid millions of dollars to play football and the risk of getting hurt on the bike was not worth it.

We are risk takers. Anyone who rides and works around horses assumes a certain level of risk. We cannot eliminate all the risk, but I believe it is important to ask yourself if the risk you are taking on makes sense.

Some of the riskiest behavior can be in the way we work with the horses on the ground. For instance, I don’t walk behind horses without them being aware of what I am doing. We are also extremely vulnerable loading horses, and there have been some horrific accidents related to that.

I try to pay attention to the way the horse reacts to me when I am near it. I don’t want to end my season by being kicked just because I was careless. If someone makes an arrangement for me to ride a horse I am happy to do it if I know the horse or the person. I no longer get on every horse that is brought into the ring. I rarely ride a horse that I haven’t seen ridden by someone else first.

I am also aware of the risks I take outside of my normal work day. Driving the dirt bike too fast around the field chasing my dog is probably not a good idea. I’m not that great of a driver (although I did provide everyone in the barn some amusement when I ran into the mulberry bush and got stuck!).

If I am riding a horse that is in my training program and I get hurt, that is my job. If I am riding a horse that is capable of doing what I’m asking and something goes wrong, that happens. If I am careless and in a hurry and I get hurt, that is avoidable. I ask myself if it is fair to my family, my owners, and my employees for me to get hurt doing something that was not necessary.

If I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for a living, sometimes I say that I evaluate risk. I love our sport and nothing is more thrilling than riding cross country. This risk is totally worth it.

Training Tip from Sally Cousins: When to End the Ride

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as an EN guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Sally Cousins and Abecca GS. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sally Cousins and Abecca GS. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The worst mistakes I have made as a rider and an instructor always involve trying to get too much done in one training session or doing “just one more jump.” We need to make sure that both the rider and horse have enough energy left towards the end of the ride so if it starts to go poorly there is still enough energy to be able to fix the problem.

It is also important to recognize that young horses can get mentally tired much quicker than they get physically tired. Even if you have enough energy left in the horse, if it is mentally tired you can’t accomplish much more.

If a ride is not going well and I can’t immediately figure out how to fix it, I will often try to find a positive way to end the school and come back another day with a new approach. I have heard other trainers say that you will ruin a horse if you let it walk away from a problem. That has not been my experience.

It will be a problem if you do not quickly come back with new ideas, a different or smaller jump to start with, or more support with a ground person or instructor. If the rider is mentally or physically worn out, that is also a time to stop.

Last winter, I took a dressage lesson with Kim Severson. It was later in the afternoon, and I made the mistake of riding 11 or 12 horses before I went. We worked on sitting trot for 45 minutes, and I was riding a very bouncy warmblood. The lesson was going really well, and I was happy with the way I was riding (I’m pretty sure I looked like Ingrid Klimke).

Suddenly, I got tired, all my muscles seemed to give out, and then I looked like Gumby. Kim very wisely ended the lesson. We were not going to get anything else done well.

In my teaching, I pay attention to the attitude of both the horse and rider when they come into the ring. Sometimes you can just tell that the rider has had an awful day prior to getting there. This is not a day to challenge them with new things. I watch for when the riders position starts to weaken. Like my experience with Kim, it is a sign of fatigue.

Horses have bad days too. I will adjust my lesson plan so we don’t cause a problem that could have been avoided. If I am teaching someone new, I will often ask them if the way the horse is going is normal for where it is in its training. I may be seeing it on the best or worst day it has ever had, and that needs to be considered when working with the pair.

Like the doctor’s Hippocratic oath, my goal in a lesson or a training ride is first, do no harm.

Training Tip from Sally Cousins: Making Mistakes

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as an EN guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Sally Cousins and Abecca GS. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sally Cousins and Abecca GS. Photo by Jenni Autry.

One of my favorite sayings is, “A mistake is evidence that someone is trying to do something.” I can forgive myself for making mistakes or even failing, what I can’t accept is not trying.

I respect the riders at events, even the ones who fell or got eliminated. They planned ahead, entered the event, trained the horse, walked the course and then left the start box. It surprises me how many so called experts stand outside the ring commenting on the people who had the nerve to try.

I used to think I had a great jump school when nothing went wrong. Well those days are nice, but I didn’t learn much about where the edges of my training were either. That doesn’t mean you want to have training days where the horse feels he is constantly failing, that can be very debilitating for the horses confidence.

Some mistakes in a school gives us an opportunity to learn how to ride our horses better or teach them something new. I am careful not to challenge the horse too much the week of an event though, that doesn’t leave much time to fix a problem.

For many years, I was successful with an unconventional approach to competing in this sport. I had some wonderful horses that were not quite good enough to win at the international level, so I competed them at the national level and won a lot of events with them. I make no apologies for this approach; I learned a ton.

It got easy and it got old, and I was bored. I decided to challenge myself to win at the international level. This was going to require building a string of a different type of horse and learning news ways to train.

With these new goals, I have had to step way outside my comfort zone. I have made a lot of mistakes. On the flip side, I am riding better and have a renewed enthusiasm for my work.

Every day I get up and try to do the right thing for my horses and for my students. I have a lot of experience and I still sometimes get it wrong. I try to be quick to recognize when I’m going down the wrong path and I’m not afraid to say I don’t know. I don’t like making mistakes but I now know they are an opportunity for improvement.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Making Mistakes

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

One of my favorite sayings is, “A mistake is evidence that someone is trying to do something.” I can forgive myself for making mistakes or even failing, what I can’t accept is not trying. I respect the riders at events, even the ones who fell or got eliminated.

They planned ahead, entered the event, trained the horse, walked the course and then left the start box. It surprises me how many so called experts stand outside the ring commenting on the people who had the nerve to try.

I used to think I had a great jump school when nothing went wrong. Well those days are nice, but I didn’t learn much about where the edges of my training were either. That doesn’t mean you want to have training days where the horse feels he is constantly failing, that can be very debilitating for the horses confidence.

Some mistakes in a school gives us an opportunity to learn how to ride our horses better or teach them something new. I am careful not to challenge the horse too much the week of an event though, that doesn’t leave much time to fix a problem.

For many years, I was successful with an unconventional approach to competing in this sport. I had some wonderful horses that were not quite good enough to win at the international level, so I competed them at the national level and won a lot of events with them. I make no apologies for this approach, I learned a ton.

It got easy and it got old, and I was bored. I decided to challenge myself to win at the international level. This was going to require building a string of a different type of horse and learning news ways to train.

With these news goals, I have had to step way outside my comfort zone. I have made a lot of mistakes. On the flip side, I am riding better and have a renewed enthusiasm for my work. 

Every day I get up and try to do the right thing for my horses and for my students. I have a lot of experience and I still sometimes get it wrong. I try to be quick to recognize when I’m going down the wrong path and I’m not afraid to say I don’t know. I don’t like making mistakes but I now know they are an opportunity for improvement.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: When To End The Ride

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

The worst mistakes I have made as a rider and an instructor always involve trying to get too much done in one training session or doing “just one more jump.” We need to make sure that both the rider and horse have enough energy left towards the end of the ride so if it starts to go poorly there is still enough energy to be able to fix the problem.

It is also important to recognize that young horses can get mentally tired much quicker than they get physically tired. Even if you have enough energy left in the horse, if it is mentally tired you can’t accomplish much more.

If a ride is not going well and I can’t immediately figure out how to fix it, I will often try to find a positive way to end the school and come back another day with a new approach. I have heard other trainers say that you will ruin a horse if you let it walk away from a problem. That has not been my experience.

It will be a problem if you do not quickly come back with new ideas, a different or smaller jump to start with, or more support with a ground person or instructor. If the rider is mentally or physically worn out, that is also a time to stop.

Last winter, I took a dressage lesson with Kim Severson. It was later in the afternoon, and I made the mistake of riding 11 or 12 horses before I went. We worked on sitting trot for 45 minutes, and I was riding a very bouncy warmblood. The lesson was going really well, and I was happy with the way I was riding. (I’m pretty sure I looked like Ingrid Klimke).

Suddenly, I got tired, all my muscles seemed to give out, and then I looked like Gumby. Kim very wisely ended the lesson. We were not going to get anything else done well.

In my teaching, I pay attention to the attitude of both the horse and rider when they come into the ring. Sometimes you can just tell that the rider has had an awful day prior to getting there. This is not a day to challenge them with new things. I watch for when the riders position starts to weaken. Like my experience with Kim, it is a sign of fatigue.

Horses have bad days too. I will adjust my lesson plan so we don’t cause a problem that could have been avoided. If I am teaching someone new, I will often ask them if the way the horse is going is normal for where it is in its training. I may be seeing it on the best or worst day it has ever had, and that needs to be considered when working with the pair.

Like the doctor’s hippocratic oath, my goal in a lesson or a training ride is first, do no harm.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Taking Unnecessary Risks

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as a guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

From Sally:

 In 2006, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured in a motorcycle accident. There was some backlash from the Steelers organization and their fans because he was not wearing a helmet. Terry Bradshaw (the former Steelers quarterback) was openly critical of Ben riding the motorcycle at all and said he shouldn’t even be on a motorcycle until he retired. He was getting paid millions of dollars to play football and the risk of getting hurt on the bike was not worth it.
We are risk takers. Anyone who rides and works around horses assumes a certain level of risk. We cannot eliminate all the risk, but I believe it is important to ask yourself if the risk you are taking on makes sense.
Some of the riskiest behavior can be in the way we work with the horses on the ground. For instance, I don’t walk behind horses without them being aware of what I am doing. We are also extremely vulnerable loading horses, and there have been some horrific accidents related to that. I try to pay attention to the way the horse reacts to me when I am near it. I don’t want to end my season by being kicked just because I was careless. If someone makes an arrangement for me to ride a horse I am happy to do it if I know the horse or the person. I no longer get on every horse that is brought into the ring. I rarely ride a horse that I haven’t seen ridden by someone else first.
 I am also aware of the risks I take outside of my normal work day. Driving the dirt bike too fast around the field chasing my dog is probably not a good idea. I’m not that great of a driver. (Although I did provide everyone in the barn some amusement when I ran into the mulberry bush and got stuck!)
 If I am riding a horse that is in my training program and I get hurt, that is my job. If I am riding a horse that is capable of doing what I’m asking and something goes wrong, that happens. If I am careless and in a hurry and I get hurt, that is avoidable. I ask myself if it is fair to my family, my owners, and my employees for me to get hurt doing something that was not necessary.
 If I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for a living, sometimes I say that I evaluate risk. I love our sport and nothing is more thrilling than riding cross country. This risk is totally worth it.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: When to Enlist a Professional

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Several years ago I read that there are four sentences to wisdom: I am sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help. The most successful people I know recognize when they don’t know something and are also quick to get help. They didn’t get successful because they couldn’t work through problems or gave up early. They just know their limitations.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. The timing of this can also be important before there is a training issue that may not be able to be fixed or takes a long time to correct.

I now send my babies to another professional to be broken. I used to break a lot of babies. Quite frankly, he does a better job than I did and I don’t have the time. Everything I do is on a budget, and it is a big commitment financially for me to do this.

When I first decided to send a horse to him, I asked how long I would need to leave her there. What he told me was: “If you leave her with me for 30 days, she will still give you quite a lot of hassle (not the word he used), if you leave her for 60 days she will be at a place that you can deal with her, and if you leave her for 90 days she will be really well started.” We decided to leave her for the 90 days. I decided to hire a good professional and let him tell me how long it would take to do the job I was asking him to do. 

When someone asks me to take a horse in training, I listen to their expectations and tell them right away if I think I can accomplish it in the time frame they are giving me. If it seems it will take me longer, I make sure they know that.

Some of the reasons I have been given horses to train include: a horse stopping from loss of confidence, moving a horse up a level for a less experienced rider, the rider was going to be away, the horse was for sale and the owner wanted it to compete, the horse was not going well. These are all good reasons. 

There is not much progress that can be made in a short time frame, and if we don’t give it enough time the improvements may not be established.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Sustainable Progress

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Two years ago I bought a very fancy 4-year-old. He was an amazing mover but did not yet know how to jump under saddle. I did not ride him before I bought him, but he had been broken by a very good horseman who had put 30 days into him. When I started riding him, he was perfect, quiet, willing and independent. We then made our usual trip south for the winter and he continued, for about two weeks, this perfect behavior.

He then spent the next year running sideways back to the barn, in some form or another. In that time I taught him to jump, and he was powerful and brave. The winter of his 5-year-old year was not much better, but I did enter him in a Beginner Novice level event at a very friendly venue. I missed the closing date to scratch and get my money back, so I decided to take him to do just the dressage and hoped that if he was naughty he would not disrupt anyone else’s test.
But even the week before the event I did not think I could get it done. To my surprise, he was pretty good in the dressage. Feeling very brave, I decided to do the show jumping and again it was easy. I hadn’t even walked the cross country, it never occurred to me I would get that far. Someone had to run and find a map. He marched right around the course. He has not put a foot wrong since and confidently went from that event to Training level in six months. This is the fancy youngster I bought 18 months earlier.
However, this rate of progress is not sustainable. At that event, I had a breakthrough. A breakthrough should not be taken as a rate of progress that can be continued. I have given him no reason to start that bad behavior again, and I have been careful not to over face him or force him to do something he doesn’t understand. I would expect to spend much of this year at Training level to make sure he stays on my side. Slow, methodical training is what makes progress sustainable. Sometimes, though, it can feel like the improvements are taking forever.
With my horses, I let them tell me when they are ready to do more since all horses progress at different rates. In my experience, making set plans with horses rarely works out on schedule.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: When to Move On

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

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I am really bad at this. If I’m struggling with a horse, I’m sure that the next thing I try will be the solution or at least be pointing me in the right direction. This process can take years, and occasionally I have found something that works that it keeps me hoping I will figure it out.

Over time I have gotten a bit better recognizing when my horse is not appropriate for what I am asking it do. It seems obvious to say to move on from a horse that is behaving dangerously. If the horse has been previously good, I will work with a vet to see if I can find reason.

Ulcers, a poorly fitting saddle or a broken tooth are just some of the things that have caused bad behavior that can be fixed relatively easily. I have yet to know a horse with no physical issues, so it is important to have your vet help you evaluate if what they found could be causing extreme behavior.

If the horse is struggling in its work and the training has been methodical and thorough, it may mean that the work has gotten beyond its physical ability. Sometimes we can have a horse move up a level and seem to handle it well only to find it cannot sustain the work at that level.

As an example, I have helped students move a horse up to Preliminary and explained to them that the horse will be OK for one or two events at Prelim, but probably won’t be comfortable there for an extended period of time. Then it will be time to let the horse move back down to a level it can comfortably compete and to give experience to another rider.

Physical issues can make us face the decision to move on. We need to recognize when the job is too much for the horse. This can be from age, injury or illness. If the rider has a bigger commitment to the horse than to meeting goals that they have set, the expectations just need to be adjusted. Some horses are not mentally able to handle the stress of more work.

This can be frustrating if the job seems easy for them. Our horses need to be able to think, focus and make decisions under stress, and some are not able to work well under the pressure.

Some horses need more consistent work than others. Because of jobs, family or other commitments, we may not have the time to spend training the horse in the way that will produce good results. It is important then to evaluate if this horse can handle the time that we have to ride it.

Horses are wonderfully generous creatures; when I have dealt with one that is bad, the problem has often been “manmade.” This doesn’t necessarily mean we can fix it. There are some horses that are just not willing to work with us at all. I have been fortunate not to have run into many of them.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Horse Confidence

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Last week I wrote about rider confidence, and this week I’m turning to the confidence of the horse. Our horse’s confidence is directly related to how confident we feel and vice versa. They are very closely related. Depending on the horse, it can take years to build up confidence, but only one or two bad experiences to undo it.

We need to carefully build our horse’s confidence. If the horse is not having a good day, don’t introduce something new. Usually going slower in your training will end up being more successful in the end because you will not have to go back and fix problems. The more good experiences your horse has, the bigger the “bank” you have to draw on.

Horses learn at different rates. One horse might be able to quickly learn and seems very brave initially. With this type of horse, we need to be very aware that their confidence may be beyond their education, and they may not have the depth of training to overcome a bad experience. Some horses learn a bit slower, but this doesn’t mean they will not learn to be brave. We need to take more time and teach them to trust that they are capable of doing what we are asking of them.

The age of a horse does not necessarily influence how fast it learns. We need to take each horse as an individual and tailor their training to them. As a guideline, I think of doing a level a year. This gives the horse a great base. There are horses that are very talented that moving a bit quicker will work, but at some point, the horse will need to stay at a level for an extended period of time to solidify their confidence in their work.

Many riders say to me, “I don’t want to ruin my horse.” I respect riders who say this and think this can be our goal. We will make mistakes, but horses are wonderfully forgiving creatures, and if our horse trusts us and has a solid base of training, they will continue to improve.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Rider Confidence

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

At some point in our riding careers, all of us will face a loss of confidence, whether you are an amateur or professional; this happens to everyone at some time and to some degree. It is much easier to try to preserve your confidence than to try to rebuild it. It is important for us to get direction and instruction from someone we trust, because it is a fine line between pushing ourselves past our comfort level so that we can improve and pressing too far too fast, causing us to lose confidence.

One of the things I do to preserve my confidence is to not to look at any pictures or videos of myself or anyone else falling, even if it is a minor fall. If I need feedback about a fall, I try to get an educated person who has seen it live. I don’t want those images in my head. I’m also careful about what I say and think, and I associate with people who have an upbeat and supportive attitude. Positive comments and thoughts are very powerful.

On Eventing Nation, there was a great interview with William Fox-Pitt where he discusses loss of confidence and how hard it is to build it back up. It was refreshing to hear him speak so frankly on this topic. If you have had a loss of confidence due to a fall, you need to give yourself plenty of time and not expect too much too soon. If your fall involved jumping, you need to jump small fences until they seem almost boring to you and then build that up over time.

Throughout this process, you will have to push yourself a bit and expect to feel nervous. I have a huge amount of respect for a rider who has had a bad fall on a horse and comes back to ride the same horse confidently. This process isn’t easy, but with hard work, it is possible.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Dealing With Disappointment

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

All of us at some point during the year have an event where we get eliminated, do poorly or find a hole in our training we didn’t know was there. This can be hugely depressing and discouraging, but over the years I’ve developed some ways to mentally handle these disappointments.

The first thing I ask myself is, how big of a deal is this, really? If you or your horse are injured, clearly that’s a much bigger problem than if the horse was tense in the dressage, had two rails down in the show jumping or stopped at the water.  A technical elimination is hugely frustrating but obviously not a big training issue.

One of the things I do to keep myself from getting too depressed over a bad performance is to have the poor person driving home with me in the rig type into my phone all of the things that I learned at the event (even if it’s what didn’t work!). The next thing I do is write down all of the things I can think of to do to improve the performance or prevent the problem from happening again. This might include additional dressage lessons, planning a cross country school or setting up an appointment with the vet.

If it was a technical elimination, I consider the possibility that I was too tired, not focused enough or that I needed to walk the course an additional time. I refer to the list of solutions in the next week, and that helps me stay positive.

It works well for me to come up with a solution pretty quickly rather then dwell on the problem. This is part of the mental strength that is so important to develop as a rider. Lastly, I always remind myself that I am privileged to have the opportunity to ride at all and that this is still only a sport.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Degree and Timing of the Aids

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

When a mistake happens when we are jumping or doing dressage, it is not necessarily that we used the wrong aid, but sometimes the degree or the timing of the aid was off. If we jump into a line that is short, and we get down the line too quickly, we may have used the correct aid to make the horse wait, but we may have been too late to ask or didn’t ask strongly enough.

In a line that we know is riding long, if we wait too long to move down the line, the horse may add an extra stride. This means the timing of our aid was late. We may also make the mistake of using too much aid to get down the line and push the horse past the distance to the fence. This means the degree of aid we used was too much.
It is very important when we have lessons to learn new aids. It is just as important to get feedback from our instructors about how much and when to use the aids. Once we get to a certain point in our riding, we still learn new aids, but the majority of our time spent in lessons is working on improving the degree and timing of our aids.
The challenge of riding is that for each horse the amount of aid we need and when to use the aid is different. The aids we need to use on a horse can vary even day to day. On my horses, when it is windy and cold, I often need a lot less leg aid than when it is really hot. It is why when we warm a horse up for any phase we need to do transitions into and out of the gaits and within the gaits themselves to get feedback about the responses we can expect that day.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Trying New Things

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

For most of us the fall season has tapered off; however, we still have some good riding weather. This is a good time of year to try clinics with new people, take a lesson from a jumper trainer or try out a new dressage instructor. This does not mean that you will not continue to work with your regular people, but it’s always good to have a new perspective and try new things even if what you learn is what you won’t do.

I don’t think its a good idea during the season or in front of competitions to have lessons with people that you don’t regularly work with. If your horse is going poorly and you’ve got nothing to lose, you might have to change trainers mid-season. The risk with this is that they don’t know you or your horse, and often when starting in a new program, things get worse before they get better.
If your clinic or lesson doesn’t go well and you or your horse leave a little rattled, you still have time to get back to where you would like to be instead of having to go right to an event off of that experience. I still think it is important to do your research before riding with someone new. To make sure it is likely to be a good match, ask someone who currently rides with them or try auditing a lesson.
Ask your current trainer if trying a clinic with another person is a good idea. Sometimes the new clinician is not a good match for your learning style, or it may be an inappropriate situation for your horse in its current level of training. Lastly, consider your budget. If taking the weekend clinic will limit your ability to take lessons with your regular trainer, this may not be a good use of your money.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Building New Partnerships

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as an expert guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

This has been a frustrating year for me. I have worked hard to develop new and younger horses. Because these horses are new to me or very green, I don’t yet know what equipment works best or how to train and manage them. For many years I rode upper-level horses that I had partnered with for six or seven years.

They weren’t always easy, but I knew exactly what they would do. I knew what equipment worked best, and I had all of the adjustments down to a science. I was reminiscing about how much I missed the “reliable old campaigners” when a friend reminded me how long it took me to turn them into “reliable old campaigners.”

For example one of my favorite horses, Joule, was very hot and had a bad tendency to run out to the right early in his career. I drove him to the other side of Chicago trying to get a qualifying ride, but couldn’t even get over the third fence. It took months to get that sorted out.

He was hot by nature, but there were certain times I could hardly do even light work in my own ring without him rearing and plunging. After many months of this, we finally figured out he couldn’t tolerate the sugar in the grass in the spring and fall. One tiny bite of alfalfa and I could not ride him for two days.

I had another horse that was intolerable until we finally figured out he needed glue-on shoes because he was uncomfortable with the nails of regular shoes. Another horse went best in a double bridle in dressage with a very large port. One horse only jumped three fences before going into the show jumping; any more than that and he would not jump clean.
All of these horses won a ton of events. It took two years in some cases to turn them into horses that were so good. It helps me to remember how hard I struggled and how long it took to build these relationships. When reminiscing about the “reliable old campaigners,” I was clearly looking back through rose-colored glasses.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: How to Discipline

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

At some point in our training, there will be a need to discipline the horse. This needs to be carefully thought out, because the level of discipline always needs to match the horse’s mistake. Over doing it for a minor thing will cause the horse not to trust us or like his work; however, if we are too lenient, we can have an ongoing problem that can escalate. Any discipline done in anger or frustration is unproductive.

Most of the corrections we make are minor ones — the horse being slow off our leg or ignoring a half halt. We start getting into a more aggressive correction for horses that are stopping at a jump. Where we need to be really careful is when horses are being nappy, starting to seriously buck or are rearing.
I always make sure that I think that I can follow through and handle the results of my discipline. If the discipline I use causes the horse to react in a way that puts me in a place I may get hurt, I will try to find another solution. Don’t be a hero; it isn’t worth it.
When I am teaching, I am very careful to only ask the rider to make the corrections that I think the horse will respond to without overreacting. Sometimes we have to strategically find a way out of the problem and then address it another day. I have not run into a horse that is permanently ruined if the problem cannot be worked through in that moment. Occasionally, having a professional get on and help sort out the problem is the best way to go.

Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Stick With What Works

We are delighted to host Sally Cousins as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Photo by Kasey Mueller

Photo by Kasey Mueller

It can take a long time to figure out the training program, the proper equipment and the right barn management to make a successful partnership with a horse. Once I have found a successful formula, I try not to change it. All my tack is marked so it is on the exact holes on the nosebands or links on the curb chains.

We feed the same type hay and grain year round and get it from the same suppliers. I am very careful about the turnout and will not move any horses into new fields before a big event. I also work with the same vet and farrier to have consistency in the care, and I ride with the same trainers so that I can have some continuity in my lessons.

I only make changes when the horse is starting to train poorly. I will think about what they are eating. I work with the vet and farrier to make sure they are not sore somewhere. I will also think about the equipment: Is the bit to strong or not enough? Would a different noseband work better? Have they changed shape and need an adjustment to the saddle? Am I asking too much of them in their work?

Sometimes I hear riders say, “My horse has been going so well; I don’t think I need this bit any longer,” or “My horse was really good at his last event; I think I’ll skip jumping him this week.” If your horse is going well, stick with the program that is producing the good results! I understand that things happen, horses go lame, we have to travel for work or life gets in the way, but keeping the variables to a minimum makes the art of training horses easier.