The Beginning, After Graduation, Now What??

So now that we have graduated and received our official certification, now what?  It is in many ways like any post-graduate activity, what are we going to make of it?  So much material to deal with and so many great lesson plans, and actual hands on training, now we have to try to catalogue it and put it to work.  This is the purpose, using it to help horse owners be safe, better understand, and utilize the potential of their horses what ever the discipline.

In every level of education the student receives something different from what was expected.  In many cases they learn more about themselves than what was anticipated especially if they push themselves.  The experience enriches directly proportional to the sweat produced.

The reason students come to riding clinics and symposiums


Tom's wife Carrie came down from NY for graduation, great folks!


is to address two main factors, loss of control, and fear of the horse.  There are certainly others, but these stand out as 2 of the primary reasons for attendance.  So one of our main focuses this past 4 weeks has been safety and how to help horse owners understand the hazards surrounding horse activity and how to not only avoid them but to be very proactive in our thinking and frame of mind around horses.  Horse mishaps have the potential to be fatal to the handler and even to bystanders.  It is so critical that we think ahead when we handle the horse in any way either on the ground or on his back.   Another main focus is the method of control, how to do it and do it well.  How do you get your horse to load in a trailer, how do you give him the proper cues to move where you want him to move and when you want him to move.  Trailer loading for instance is not about the trailer, it is about the horse understanding the go forward cue and obeying it, NOW.

Laurie Cote from Quebec has been so helpful in making me think about what I want the horse to DO and then making it happen.  He has been a very consistent and helpful coach.  When I thought I was doing something really off the mark, he would gently coach me back on track and then was supportive as I sweated through the exercise.

We learned to give the horse the “go forward” cue and have them step up onto a pedestal.  This is something new for the horse and is another exercise which reinforces trailer loading.  Once they get the hang of it, they will get up on it with the cue and stay there until they are given the cue to back off.  By the way, horses should always be taught to back out of a trailer.  Many reasons for this, but the first is safety to the handler, the horse, and the bystanders.

You will at times have to press harder than others, but you can be firm without causing a wreck.  As I said earlier in the blog, it is fine to take your horse’s emotions up, just be sure you know how to bring them down again.   In many cases this is exactly what you need to do.  Knowing your horse and his boundaries will help you be a more effective trainer and one that is aware of a potential blow up so you can avoid it.

Like any learning process, it can become arduous, but it is never static, and it continues to build on itself throughout, so by the end of a chapter you are thinking, “…oh this is why we worked so hard on softening the nose or moving the nose to move the hips, or walking beside the fence doing groundwork so you could practice “hips in”.

The transferring of the information to knowledge is the real goal and this comes as you go over the drills over and over again.  To share this learning curve with your horse is nothing short of exhilarating.

So, what was the course like and is it for you?  It is very demanding if you are committed.  Very rewarding if you are committed, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the trainer and the horse.  It is a little like eating popcorn without a drink, it makes you thirsty.  This course makes you thirsty for learning more and solves many mysteries of training the horse.  I must say that it also teaches you about yourself, maybe more than what you bargained for, but it is all good.

Would I recommend the course?  Absolutely, if you are committed and willing to work and work hard, it is worth much more than the amount charged and you get to spend all that quality time with your horses, who by the way will be transformed by the end of the course.

So many people to thank, but let me start with Josh and Jana Lyons, wonderful hosts!  Mike, Max, Nicholas, Laurie, all exceptional trainers.  Steve was always there to help with the grounds, barn, or whatever else.  Lindsey was in the office for all the details and to keep us in line.  It was a real privilege to have these people available and on task.   Of course, also my fellow trainees:  Joyce Cowfer, Kat Linder, Tom Clair, and Chuck McClanahan who were all very hard working and determined to make the Cert process a great one.  It was an honor to work with them all, and I wish them all the very best.

I would do it again…


My buddy Ryder Lyons, what a pistol! 34#s at 11 months! His Daddy will have to find a stout horse for this one.



Chuck McClanahan and me. Chuck ran a ranch for challenging young men using horses to give the kids real work and humility...


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How Are You Riding Your Horse?

What are you thinking when you ride your horse and what should you be thinking?   Are you ahead of him, or on just for the ride?  When he does something, do you know why, and what are you doing about it?  Who is in charge?  What is involved in the training of your horse?  What should he know?  What does he know?  How do you know?  Sorry for all the questions, but they all come up and many, many more during our certification program.  We all have to be self examiners to be fair to the horse and especially if we have expectations of excellence.

To own a horse is a huge responsibility and one that has been made more and more clear to me in this training.  How we address the training of the horse and his well-being is a reflection of ourselves.  So, how we understand the horse is vital and during this course I have been asked some very probing questions by Josh Lyons and by Laurie Cote (from Quebec).   This training has been an incredible experience, it has been what we made of it.  The instructors are very accomplished but they are not baby sitters, you have to work and work hard to get out of the course what you expect, and that is as it should be.  The repository of information and experience is almost intimidating, but it is up to you to do the digging.

Lead changes:  keep hips to inside, with outside leg pressure which helps horse go on the proper lead.  Exercise: ride to corner of paddock, arena, turn and ask for lead change, with hips in, if horse does not do it, repeat, repeat, repeat…Preparation is very important, so that your horse always is able to anticipate and that he is prepared for what is coming.  For instance, don’t just canter figure 8’s and think that it is enough to pop him from one lead to another, give him a lead in, a set up area.  Lope him in a circle, as you are approaching the lead change, swing him out wide, make a 90 degree turn, hips in, and change leads to the other lead.  The horse has a very hard time changing leads unless his hips are “in”.  It changes the symmetry of the horse so that he is better able to lead off with the proper lead.

Where is your seat, and what is that communicating to the horse?  Leaning forward, leaning back, being soft and just riding in neutral.   Leaning forward, speed up, leaning back, slow down, neutral, continue at present speed.  What is the slow down cue?  Speed up cue?   Leaning back, humming from the diaphragm, pulling on the reins?

Today was a review of any questions we had over the 4 weeks of the certification program and a demonstrations by Max Moran, Mike Lyons, Austin Lyons, Johnny Lyons.

We graduated this afternoon and received certificates, belt buckles, signs for our trucks, and many very kind and encouraging words from Josh Lyons.  Total support from his side and unlimited access.  I have been through a lot of training in my career as a manufacturing executive over the last 25 years, but none as inclusive as this and no instructors as approachable and knowledgable and on task as Josh Lyons and his associates, Laurie Cote (Canada), Max Moran (France), Mike Lyons.   Many thanks from all of us (5 Students).

Tomorrow we go for one half day.


Sawyer, trying to learn the pedestal step up, learning can be painful...



Sawyer, he made it!!!!



Chandler, the 1450 lb. wonder horse...great learner!! And Chuck, the trainer of the day!!



Johnny Lyons, the acrobat...



Our very gracious hosts, Josh and Jana Lyons



The Cert Graduates: Joyce Cowfer, Chuck McClanahan, Tom Clair, Philip Elder, Kat Linder, with Josh Lyons



Jana Lyons with Ryder Lyons, just waiting for a horse...


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Moving Forward-Day 18


Joyce Working the Move Forward Cue


Practicing the move forward cue.   This is the most important cue we can give in many situations, but one that comes to mind is trailer loading.  Trailer loading training has nothing to do with the trailer and everything to do with “go forward”.  If loading your horse, do not be concerned if he is not perfectly straight, you want him to move forward until he loads in the trailer.  If he backs up, give him the “go forward” cue until he does in fact move forward.  You are tapping on the rump of the horse with a dressage whip as the cue.  It is not advisable to tap on the back of his front legs as the cue, because this may cause him to strike out.  Always teach them to back off the trailer for safety reasons and so that you will not be concerned what the trailer configuration is, you always know your horse will back off with confidence.  If after loading the horse is quiet, you can hesitate before backing him out, just make sure it is your cue he is responding to and not coming out on his own.

Practicing on a pedestal (18″ high, and about 4′ x 6′ long) is one drill that can be very useful in getting the horse to move forward and to step up into a trailer.   When teaching this your horse should have boots on all 4 legs for protection.  Push from the hip forward with the cue mentioned before.  He will learn that you want him to move forward on cue and he will do it.  Be careful not to push too hard on this exercise, just push with consistent pressure until he understands what his response should be.


Teaching the move forward cue using the pedestal



Graduate Student



Good Feet



Balance and Confidence, Important Training Ingredients


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Trying to Put it All Together-Day 17

Exercises: Trot or lope, stop and push the shoulder over using both reins, then lope off…

Stopping exercise: using, 1) Reins, 2) Seat and Reins, 3) Voice, 4) Fence, push them against the fence until they back, encourage that and repeat.

Counter canter, going clockwise on Left lead, stretches horse out and pushes hips out…

Circle counter clockwise, left lead, full revolution, stop in middle of what will be a figure 8, do a side pass to left, then lope off clockwise, on right lead.

Use a cone or some small object you can move around.  Face object while pushing horse hips and shoulders around it.  Both directions…

Pick a point ride towards it, then turn and point tail towards object, pick another object and do it again, again,…if he goes off track and not straight, change objects and start over.

Tarp exercise:  Put tarp down on the ground, weigh down corners.  Work horse in serpentine pattern within 20 feet of the tarp, then 10 feet, keep getting closer.  At intervals take him up to tarp and gently push him closer.  When he is facing the tarp, stop, and give him a rest.  It is the only place he may rest.  Pretty soon he will figure out the the tarp vicinity is not so bad after all and there are not near as many teeth in it as he thought.  Finally you will be able to walk him right across the tarp, no big deal…A reminder, don’t get impatient with his fear of the tarp, just hang in there if it takes 10 minutes or 4 hours, he will finally conquer his fear with your help and you can both rejoice!!


Trashadeous foal, A surprise present from Max to Josh



Joyce demonstrating the cone exercise



You want me to walk across WHAT???






Teaching Sawyer to lay down



Sawyer, a lesson well learned, more confidence


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Hip, Shoulder, Shoulder, Stops, Rollback Exercise-Day 16

Today was full of hard working exercises.  We started with moving the hips one direction, then the shoulders in the opposite direction, backing up using the control on the shoulders to control the direction of the hips.  Then moving shoulders both directions using the reins to help guide, and the legs to apply pressure so the the horse will move away from the pressure and in the desired direction.  Think of a clock face, yoiu are headed in the 12:00 position, now use rein pressure to collect the neck and push to 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, both sides.  Horse is getting softer by the minute…correct response is so rewarding!

Next riding the reverse arc.  Drive forward with legs, nose positioned to outside point of shoulder, when nose softens, bring him around using inside rein to bring him around and push with legs.  You want the nose to move the shoulder.  Nose is to the outside of the arc, thense, “Reverse Arc”.  We tried to get 2-3 steps in the correct direction, then release…Remember, the horse works from front to rear.  The nose is the rudder.

Box exercise: ride horse in a square pattern, stopping at each corner and turning 90 degrees, drive him out of the turn which makes him hunt for it and excellerate out of turns.

Trot, lope circle, stop at irregular intervals, push him outside circle with reins and legs, reverse.  This also helps to soften shoulders and canter departure.

Rollback exercise:  Lope down a fence line (8′ from fence) and then go at a 45 degree angle before turn back, slow, then turn using reins and legs so that the horse will get the feel of rolling back and reversing directions.  Important to accelerate in turn into a lope so horse gets used to getting back down the fence line quickly and turning with the correct amount of energy.

More exercises will be listed in tomorrow night’s blog.  At the end of the day we all

The Horses are all OK, just practicing laying down.

Sawyer, taking a nap


practice laying our horse down, pretty cool…


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Trailer Loading-Every Horseman’s Nemesis/Day 15

Max moves horse toward the trailer

Today we road first to try to educate our 2nd horse in the discipline of the beginning of the Rollback.  Hold pressure on the neck/nose, flex the neck, and put pressure on the opposite rein to encourage the horse to step out to the side.  Same exercise as yesterday.

I rode Somme and he caught on more quickly than I expected.  He was not only giving me his head, he was shifting weight to his hind quarters as he moved his shoulders around in almost a pirouette type movement…such a distinctive movement and so well-defined if done correctly.

Next was the trailer loading exercise.  A trailer was backed up to the roundpen, a panel removed, back door opened and then the fun began.  We were to put both our horses through this exercise to the point that they would load on command…oh brother was I doubtful of my guys loading at all…

The method is to divide the round pen in halves, with the trailer being in the middle of one half.  We then were to work our horses in the opposite half of the pen back and forth demanding outside turns ( so they would be in the best position to look at the trailer eventually).  We all took our horses in the ring for our turn.  I was a little apprehensive to say the least, but I took Somme out first.  Back and forth we went, until I worked him over to the trailer, stopped him in front of it in the middle of a turn and backed off with his nose in the trailer allowing him to see that this “boogie man” did not bite.  Back and forth, closer and closer until, WOW, there he goes, right into the trailer!!!  Again, again, again, again, until he will load on his own on command from the other side of the round pen.  When they get in the trailer they get to rest so it becomes their safe haven, unbelievable.

I then did Sawyer, and was fortunate enough to have him do it as easily as Somme.  [Foot note here: neither horse was interested in getting in the trailer 3 weeks ago to come here, as a matter of fact I needed to enlist my son George to help me get them in the trailer.]  Next Josh asks me if my horses (who look lime twins) got along.  Yes, very well.  Josh went to the barn and brought back Somme.  I led them both away from the trailer, turned and said “load up”, they almost raced each other to the trailer and jumped in together!!  Wow, was that cool.  I have it on video and will post it as soon as we can figure out how to do it…

Later we taught Sawyer and one of Joyce’s horses to lay down.  Sawyer was a little tough, but finally succumbed, but Joyce’s horse was a dream, and she even did it herself!!


In he goes!! Great work Max!!

Joyce's horse jumps in! Great work Joyce!!

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Moving Feet by Moving Hip-Day 14

We were trying to put energy into the hip until we increased speed and controlled the turn in both directions.   By holding the head position with the left rein, and putting pressure on the right rein to facilitate the right turn, we were trying to push the fight front foot in a step to the right, straight out from the shoulder.  This is in a sense an approach pattern for a rollback.  When it works you can feel the center of gravity of the horse change right there under you as he moves his shoulders laterally as he steps out.

Sawyer was having some difficulty with the turn to the right, so we were placed in the arena (indoor) in the corner to do the tight right turns using the walls to reinforce the turn.  It worked in the corner, but out in the open, he reverted to moving the hips around the shoulder.  Through some coaching we improved and finished the day ok.  Going through all these moves with the horses is so very rewarding, but demanding and we are all beat at the end of the day.

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Moving 1000 #’s of Muscle-Day 13

When we are given our marching orders first thing in the morning to “…fix the neck, soften the nose, move the hips and shoulder”, it may sound easy, but the object is of course a 1000# horse.   Have you ever been in the classroom when the teacher says, “Alright students, it is now time for you to demonstrate what you have learned this year”, gag, choke, sweat, panic.   Yow, you mean we are going to have to actually DO this stuff?  Well, yes and now at a trot and lope (canter) and with control, meaning, resolve, the poop is meeting the scoop…sorry…

It was a busy morning and afternoon with Joyce pushing her gaited horse into a canter as his hind end keep reverting to the gait, Chuck trying to over power Chandler, his 1500# muscle horse who I think has such a cool personality, but is a lot of horse to push into a faster gait, especially when he is not thrilled about the whole exercise.  Then there is Kat, with the broken ribs, almost broken leg, and chipped tooth pushing her wonderful horse who mangled her…every time she passes me…its the grimace…beyond words.  Tom the cool fireman from NY, is trying to gently work his horse who “tied up” Monday, but looks great today.  I am on Somme and pushing him into a “controlled” canter while controlling the head, pressure, release, again, again, again…   There are moments when he thinks about his old buddies back at the race track and I think he has thoughts of trying to catch them.  I try to stay poised, but remember that I do not hit and roll like I used to…Aren’t we a group??

Great day!!







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“Frame Work”

Initially we went over bits and I will try to include some pictures later.  Most bits are divided into 3 categories: Snaffle, Straight Ports or Straight Bar Shank, and Correction Bits.  The conversation included the question, “When should I use different bits or should I?”  Josh’s response was that it was a good idea to alter bits especially when using them as a tool to correct a specific tendency the horse may have.  They are tools and should be used as such, not abused or over used.  What are we trying to address in the horse and how can the bit help?

We then worked on our horses to keep them “in Frame” and worked on it all day.  We tried to get them in the correct position and keep them there, collected with their heads behind vertical both at a walk and at a trot.

I rode Sawyer all day.  The morning was grueling because he was difficult to move forward, but I added spurs in the afternoon and very carefully applied them.  I did not want to be the first astronaut on the Moon without a rocket so I was using them sparingly, but it meant all the difference in the world.  We were at a trot or lope most of the afternoon.  Brother, am I sore…

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Day 11: If You Could Only Teach One Thing, What Would It Be?

Somehow my post for yesterday was lost…sorry.  My re-construction follows…

The one thing Josh said he would teach, the most important, was, …”keep the nose soft”….   From here we go to all other aspects of teaching the horse.  Nose first, movement second.

Our exercises today had to do with preventing the horse from pulling opposite to our pressure on the bit…Pressure and release, give when the horse gives, repeat, repeat, repeat…

We then did serpentine movements turning both directions, releasing pressure when the horse gives you his nose.  You continue to ask for more than vertical bringing the line of the forehead  back towards the point of the shoulder (with the position of the nose).

Today I rode Somme all day.  I continued to ask for more than vertical, and he continued to understand more what I was asking for and responded well.  I pushed him into a canter (lope) and asked for each lead and he did well.  A little fast so I started turning his nose more to the inside as suggested by Josh, and it helped to slow him.  He was improving on collection all the time.

A good day overall, all of us worn out by 5:00.

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