Along for the Ride – 3 keys to success with your horse (and a Dale Update)

by Robyn Schiller

Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.

So, after contemplating what to do with Dale, we made the decision to sell him.  We would make sure that the home met our criteria.  What we didn’t want for him was to be in full time training nor live in a box stall.  Hopefully we could find someone with a horse crazy teenager – that would be perfect.  We thought we had a buyer who fit all of this but it fell through – as sometimes happens. My backup plan was to donate him to a college equestrian team – something we did with Cooper last year.  It’s a win/win. We are donating to a worthwhile cause, the horse is needed and appreciated and the horse gets all of the above, plus you know they are well looked after on all accounts (vet, shoeing, cleaning, etc.). 

California State University, Fresno is about 2 hours away and their equestrian reining team competes throughout the United States on a pretty high level.  Their facility is good – horses aren’t kept in box stalls – they have a mare motel setup with larger pens – they can interact with the horses on either side of them.  They get to come in contact with many people daily – most of whom are horse crazy young women. There is even a garbage bin full of treats near the cross ties (bonus!). 

We’d had good luck with Cooper going there so we thought this was also a good choice for Dale. This is a recent pic of Cooper getting ooodles of attention When I went to drop him off there, I did see something that triggered the writing of this blog. I saw them lunging horses.

Let me just say, that I am fine with people lunging horses.  I used to do it, my mom still does it, and there are some very good reasons to do so.  But, I really think that a lot of people who lunge think that by getting their horse physically tired before they work with them or get on them, the horse will reach the mental state necessary to perform the way the person wants them to. 

This used to be my reason for lunging.  I thought if I tired my horse out physically that he would also mentally comply with my requests.  Did it work? I don’t know, maybe. If I’m honest, it probably worked for my mental state more than the horses.  But what I have come to find through Warwick is what I really will call a better way.  A better way for the horse to arrive at and maintain the mental space that allows them to perform/learn at their best (not to mention a great way for us to practice mindfulness). Warwick has distilled it down into 3 simple steps, which all build on each other and work together in concert: 

  1. Teach your horse how to find true Relaxation, then building on that: 
  2. Develop connection with your horse. While keeping #1 & #2 in tact…
  3. Commence with “training”. 

Anytime you lose #1 or #2 re-establish before resuming #3.  This works on the ground or under saddle. Warwick says that by having the first 2, training is sped up and much easier. 

Recently, Dr. Steve Peters gave a talk at the Best Horse Practices Summit and our friend Amy Skinner took notes, here is something she jotted down in her notes from his session:

“The three most important elements of training a confident, relaxed horse are: emotional regulation, safety, and focus. The horse must first learn to relax when worried, feel confident that it is safe, and learn to engage and try. Without any of the three in equal parts, progress is pretty hard to make.”

I think this is the exact recipe that Warwick has formulated and it feels good to hear it from Evidence Based Horsemanship co-author Dr. Steve Peters as well.  

If you haven’t read that book – trot on over and get it (or the DVD).  We highly recommend them! 

Back to Dale – we made sure to send over the Youtube Videos that Warwick made of him – making sure they understand what it is he is wanting if and when he starts being mouthy.  It is simply his way of telling them he’s anxious and he needs some support.  The way we did that was to remain present, pay attention and to engage with him. Maybe watching that video and having Dale there will help plant a seed in the Fresno State University arena – I’m sure Dale will be a favorite of the team and help the girls grow there for years to come.  

I do admit to shedding some tears when I drove away – I will miss him.

Thanks for reading.