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The Art of Listening Trainer Tips

by sheryl lynde | horsetrader columnist T

rue horsemanship is a seamless marriage between timing and feel, and at the root of these skills is the

ability to genuinely listen. It can be discouraging when you at empt

to have a conversation with someone who obviously is distracted or not engaged in the conversation. They may already be thinking of their reply while you are still talking, per- haps drawing from an experience in their past that presents either similar or contrast- ing details to yours. Having a simple discus- sion can feel like a bat le to be heard. If you are feeling a lack of connection

between you and your horse, you might help bridge the gap with an acute focus on listening to your horse’s responses to your cues. Every time I am riding and working on a specifi c issue, if I am not able to get the response I am looking for, the fi rst thing I do is assess the manner in which I presented my cue. For example, if I’m working a horse that

braces on the bit and pulls the reins out of my hands, instead of get ing into a tug-of- war between my hands and his mouth, I use my legs to soſt en him laterally. I know

Sheryl Lynde gives her view on problem-solving and more

Horsetrader columnist Sheryl Lynde is a John Lyons Certified Trainer who specializes in foundation training, colt-starting and problem-solving. She is based in Temecula.

I want to build his confi dence, not create fear with my legs or spurs. If he is exhibiting fear in his reaction, I need to pay at ention to what he is telling me and correct how I ask him to perform a task.


the more I work on his lateral fl exion with my legs, the soſt er he will be vertically in my hands. If I pick up one rein, I will take the slack out until I feel resistance. At that point of resistance, I will use my leg and apply my calf to his rib cage. If he doesn’t soſt en and give to my hand, I will increase the pressure by rolling the rowel of my spur until he yields bringing his nose to his shoul- der. When I feel him give, I release my leg. I will keep repeating until I can pick up one rein and he soſt ens, bringing his face to his shoulder. If, instead of soſt ening to my hand, he throws his head up in anticipation of my leg, I listen to his reaction and take invento- ry of how I applied my leg cue. Was my pres- sure too much and hurried? Did I go right to my spur instead of my calf? Next time I ask, I pay at ention to smoothing out my request. I want to make sure I go in with my calf fi rst and apply pressure, slowly but surely, until he yields. I want to build his confi dence, not create fear with my legs or spurs. If he is exhibiting fear in his reaction, I need to pay at ention to what he is telling me and cor- rect how I ask him to perform a task. As Ray Hunt said, “my legs are as important as my arms and hands, if not more.” With an aid as important as my legs, I need to make sure I am using them prop- erly for this horse, as each horse is diff erent. Now, conversely, if I

apply my calf, then add my spur to no avail, I need to continue to add pressure until I get the response I am look-

ing for. I can make the argument that I am using my legs; however, if I am not get ing a response, then I need to add pressure. If my horse’s resistance is at a “level 6”, I need to continue to add pressure until I get to a “level 6.5” or “level 7” to get a response. If he isn’t upset or fearful, just a lit le dull in his response, then I need to be stronger with my leg. With consistent use of my leg cue using the accurate amount of pressure given each time, the dullness will be replaced with responsiveness. It takes listening to know the diff erence to what your horse is telling you. I have a client who became a close friend.

What a talker—she never stopped. It didn’t mat er where I was, if I was in the vicinity, she was having a conversation with me. Whenever she rode her horse, she would have full blown conversations with him. “Hey, I didn’t ask you to trot, slow down, why are you driſt ing towards the other horses - Hey Sheryl… he isn’t listening to me .” It appeared to me that she was the one

who wasn’t listening. She needed to elim- inate the conversation and feel what her horse was telling her that he was going to do. Her timing was off with her corrections, and she was always behind his actions because she wasn’t paying at ention. You will be unable to develop timing and feel if you don’t quiet the endless stream of thoughts that intrude on a constant basis and learn to be present while in the saddle. You will be amazed at what you can learn by cultivating the art of listening.




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