Monday, June 15, 2009

Feed the Body - Feed the Brain

If you want to improve your horsemanship, go to a Matt Sheridan clinic. Don't go because of the food. No one would blame you if you did, but at least pretend your "real" purpose is to improve your horsemanship. Matt and his wife Jennifer took great care of us. We got dinner Friday night (Morrocan Chicken and cous cous), breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Tri-tip, baked potatos and beans) on Saturday, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. We did not go hungry.

(I took a lot of pictures with my cheapo camera, so some of them aren't as clear as I would like. I do have about an hour of video. I just put the camera on a post and turned it on. Not sure what all is on it, but there has to be some good stuff. The wind makes the audio tough to hear. We'll see if I can make something good out of it.)

Matt's a lot of fun. He was well aware that most of my knowledge is Clinton Anderson based and I got a fair amount of ribbing for it, but it also opened doors to many conversations on the different training approaches. The whole of my horse behavior knowledge was born in the summer of 2005 when RFD started airing their horse shows. I didn't get my first horse, Tex, until December of '05, so one of my goals was to get some hands on experience to expand my horsemanship. I went with the intention of keeping my mouth shut and my ears open to try and get as much information as I could. Matt's experience is expansive and the great thing is he is willing to share EVERYTHING. It's like trying to drink out of a fire hose. It is tough to take it all in. Too bad we can't do one of those Vulcan mind meld things. So how was the clinic structured? Well, let's get stuck in it, mate:

I had to work in the morning to help the person who would fill in for me at the store. I got up early and gave Jessie a clip and a bath, cleaned the pens, and Ranae drove me to work. The trailer was hooked up and ready and she would load the horses and pick me up on the way out of town. We got to Matt's ranch about 3PM (times may be off, I don't wear a watch), unloaded, got the horses settled in their pens. The weather was perfect - mid 70's and a little breezy (It's almost always breezy in Tehachapi. That's why they have the wind farms there). Matt gave us a tour and a talk about what was scheduled for the weekend. He had talked to each of us beforehand to determine what we wanted to work on and had an exercise or situation set up for just about everyone. He only takes five riders and we all got a lot of one-on-one attention. So there was Ranae and Dusty, Me and Jessie, Susan (our neighbor) and Charlie, Melanie and her horse Cindy, and Renee (yeah, two Renees) and Star. Melanie and Renee are long time students of Matt's and they were very nice and patient with our inexperience. We had a fun group.

Our working arena in picturesque Tehachapi

Around 4 PM we saddled up and went in the arena to go through Matt's basic horsemanship maneuvers. We learned his three basic positions that he conveniently numbers #1, #2, and #3. Everything essentially begins with a circle. It was quite a change for me because he had me holding my hands higher and using a much shorter rein than I had been using. I heard "Hold those reins a little higher, John" and "Shorten up that rein for me, John" quite often that afternoon. He was very patient and slowly I got the hang of it. Position Three is a shoulder out move and was a little more difficult for us to grasp. He put three cones down and we serpentined them using the basic positions. At a trot it was essential to use #3 to negotiate the cones without knocking them over. That was a tough one for us. (As a matter of fact, back at the hotel room Ranae and I put down some plastic cups and walked through them several times trying to get the timing right.)

We worked in the arena for a couple of hours, put the horses up and had a great dinner. Back at the hotel, Ranae and I tried to review as much as we could in the hopes it would have a better chance of sticking.

More to Come...
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