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Cloke Training Stables Specializing in Raising and Training Miniature Horses

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  Getting a Head Start, Conditioning for Your Upcoming Show Season

by Patty Cloke

The show season is just about here! Some people still have a white landscape and others are standing in puddles of mud. Regardless of your current weather, that first show is just around the corner and it’s time to get ready.

The challenge at the beginning of each show season is to get our trained performance horse back into shape so he can be competitive as well as injury-free. Most people do not have an indoor arena or round pen, so what to do?

A treadmill can be a quick and easy conditioning tool but it has its drawbacks. It is hard to supple your driving horse because he can’t wear his harness and bend while on the treadmill. The treadmill will not get your horse's cardio conditioning to quite the level that he will need to do his performance classes. Don’t throw out your treadmill though; just realize it is only part of your horses conditioning program.

For working outdoors in these last soggy days of winter there are a few things you can do. Set up a round pen or an area that you can lunge your horse in. Your round pen needs to be at least 40 feet in diameter. This keeps the horse from having to workout in too tight a circle. If your horse has to work in too small an area, then he has a greater chance to slip and fall. It is also harder to keep him going at a good gallop. Your footing in your round pen or lunging area is imperative. It must be firm, yet have a good layer of cushion. Since we are talking about an outside area, your footing needs to reflect your local (wet) weather. There are several very cost-conscious ways to achieve good, safe footing. Talk to someone in your local area who is experienced with outdoor arenas. Since we are working in a relatively small area, your investment should be minor.

Once you have your round pen or lunging area safe, it’s time to get the program started. You might want to purchase a good rain slicker for yourself because you cannot wait for just the nice days to do the conditioning program.

I suggest using an old harness when possible. Put the harness on without the traces or martingale. Then put on the bridle with the caveson. You will need a side rein. I personally prefer a non-elastic side rein. This prevents the horse from learning to bounce or lean on the bit. Attach the side rein from the bit to the harness saddle to the ring under the turret ( the turret is the ring on the saddle that your rein goes through). Try not to attach to the turret. If this breaks, it is difficult to fix.

When starting this conditioning program, start with your side rein only tight enough to keep your horse from being able to straighten his head out. You want his head turned slightly to the inside of your circle. As you progress, you can tighten the side rein to about 45 degrees. The side rein part of this is to help your horse regain his suppleness in driving. If you are working with a lunge line, attach the lunge line to the bit also. Another option when working this setup with a lunge line is to get a large halter and put over your bridle and attach your lunge line to the halter. Still use your side rein the same as in a round pen.

What condition your horse is in to begin with will determine how long and hard to start his workouts. I like to start at five to six minutes at a good hard gallop. Don’t worry about your harness horse galloping in the harness; he will still trot for you. You are not teaching him any bad habits. What you will discover is that your horse works much harder while wearing the harness.

Another thing you can do is work multiple horses at the some time. This really makes the horses work hard, as they challenge each other. When you do this, you need to make sure your round pen is larger.

Don’t work your horses when the weather is below 30 degrees. This can hurt your horse's lungs and respiratory system.

To achieve your conditioning goals, you need to be realistic about how many days per week to work your horse. If you can get in five days per week and get your horse up to 12 to 15 minutes each time at a hard gallop, you will have a well-conditioned horse. If you can only work three or four times per week, then it will take a bit longer.

In six to eight weeks you will have a nicely conditioned horse. Consistency is the key! You may not be able to put your horse in every class you would like to at the first show, but you will be able to increase the number classes as your horse gets in better condition.

When possible, you can clip your horse's head and neck to make it easier to work him. If this is not possible, clip under his chin so the bridle fits better. When you’re done with a work session, be sure to towel dry your horse and put coolers or a blanket on him so he does not get a chill. You can take these off after he is completely dry. Make sure to check through your horse's hair often for dry spots or fungus. When your horse sweats, it does leave him vulnerable for skin problems. Good feed and careful cooling will help prevent these potential problems.

Your veterinarian is not just around for emergencies and shots. Make an appointment to meet with your veterinarian to go over your feeding program. Explain your goals and how much you're working your horse and your upcoming show schedule. He should be able to help you create a good nutritional feeding program to fit your horse's needs and goals.

Your performance at the show is only as good as the homework you put into it. Set up a realistic schedule that you and your horse will be able to do consistently.

You will find those ribbons you win will be worth all of the preliminary work you have been doing. Make your workouts fun for you and your horse.

Patty Cloke has more than 20 years of experience in training world champion miniature horses. She is also the author of several training DVDs for the miniature horse enthusiast. (First published Spring 2007 Miniature World)

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  Is your Horse a Country or Single Pleasure Driving Horse?

by Patty Cloke

How do you decide if a horse is a Single Pleasure or Country Pleasure Driving horse? Let the horse tell you. When you look at how he or she moves, its God-given talents, that horse is going to tell you. If your horse moves with a more vertical motion, it’s likely he will do better in Single Pleasure Driving. A horizontal movement is more suited to Country Pleasure Driving.

Wow, that sounds so simple and clear, however we all know that is not the case. Let’s take a look at conformation before we go any further.

Single Pleasure Driving

My ideal Single Pleasure Driving horse is one that is very upright, has an extremely laid back shoulder with a very large scapula, meaning that the length from the elbow to the point of the shoulder is a minimum three-quarters the length of the shoulder. The horse should have a good length of neck, but this is not the only criteria. I’d rather have an upright high-set neck. The front legs should be the same length as the back legs with a nice supple pastern. I don’t mind if the horse is a little on the long-backed side because it gives the rib cage the chance to be lifted up and to stay out of the way of that hind foot so when we engage that rear end, there’s more room for the stride to get deeper.

A horse with a steep croup is not as desirable. I like a horse that has a nice length of hip, not necessarily to short or long but one that matches that horse’s body. If a horse has a longer back, you’ll want it with a little longer hip. It should have a nice glutial muscle that ties into the hock well.

The Single Pleasure Driving horse needs to have very vertical motion, meaning that when he is pushing from the hind end, he is propelling his front end up. At the top of his stride his knee is level or above his shoulder and parallel to the ground before his stride starts lengthening and descending.

Country Pleasure Driving Country

Pleasure horses should be structurally sound in the same way as a Single Pleasure horse is. Of course a shorter scapula, straighter shoulder and a lower set neck will keep that front end from being able to go vertical, but will allow it to flow horizontal to the ground. The Country Pleasure Driving horse’s motion is very circular. When the rear end is well engaged you want to see this horse move up (not level with his shoulder) and forward out of the shoulder immediately.

A Country Pleasure Driving horse should have a lot of suspension and freedom to go along with that pretty horizontal motion. When a Country horse extends his gait, it should be a very obvious lengthening of the stride. He should not fall forward on his front end and his head carriage should not change. The only change should be the stride length and the speed should increase.

Seeing the Differences

Okay, does that simplify the differences any better? Maybe a bit!

Let’s look at some photos to help us understand. In the first photo we see a very well engaged Country Pleasure Driving Horse, Samis Rocket Squirrel. When we compare him to the next photo the difference is very obvious. Notice that Samis Rocket Squirrel stride is lengthy and horizontal to the ground while JF Gizmo’s Victory, the Single Pleasure Driving horse's knee is hitting vertical before he lets his stride go forward.

Notice that both horses are very deep-strided in the rear end. Their ribcages are up and out of the way leaving lots of room for their hind legs to get nice and deep to propel them forward. In the case of the Country Driving horse, his rear end is propelling his front end up (knee) and horizontal. The Single Pleasure Driving horse's rear-end is propelling his front end (knee) vertical, parallel to the ground before the front leg starts descending.

In order to achieve the ultimate picture, the horse must be working from back to front. In other words he should be using his rear end to propel him forward to the bit. No you don’t want to drive off of the bit; you want to drive up to the bit. When the horse responds to the impulsion from the rear end and the pressure of the bit, he should flex his throat latch. How perpendicular a horse’s headset should be is also up to his conformation.

As you can see by the Single Pleasure Driving horse, Victory, he has a shorter straighter neck. He travels very upright because of his well laid back shoulder and high set neck but, he can not flex his throat latch to achieve a perpendicular headset so he travels with his nose slightly out. This is just fine for him and more importantly, the picture looks wonderful going down the rail.

The other Single Pleasure Driving horse, Winners, has a very long neck and clean throat latch on a well laid back shoulder. His neck is set very high. As you can see he easily achieves a perpendicular headset.

A Country horse should have more curl to their neck. Yes, they too can be quite high-headed.

Again, depending on their conformation, where their neck comes out of their shoulder will determine how high the Country Pleasure Driving horse's head will be. They should then curl into their face. Most Country Pleasure Driving horses display a very perpendicular headset. As you can in the photo, the Country Pleasure Driving horse Sami’s Rocket Squirrel has a beautiful curl to his neck and a very perpendicular headset. The other county horse has a bit straighter neck but also a perpendicular headset.

Athlete

It is absolutely mandatory to have good physical and cardio-vascular conditioning with performance horses. The horse cannot just be well-muscled like a halter horse. Performance horses are athletes. They have to be fed and conditioned as athletes. Their attitudes have to be honed as athletes.

Attitude

In a driving horse, attitude can be very influential. It’s not always the most talented horse that wins, but the one with the attitude. Some of the horses out there winning may not be the most talented horses, but they supersede their talent because their attitude pushes them to go the extra mile. They just have it all; you can’t train that into them. Attitude is very important in any driving horse, but is that attitude going to push them horizontal or is it going to push them vertical?

Overall, a Country Pleasure Driving horse should be a quiet, well-balanced, forward-moving horse. We want to see good impulsion and suspension in both trots. He should move out freely and loosely at the walk. This horse should not be breathing heavy or leaning on his check or side check. You should be able to see a taut but not a heavy held rein. This horse should always display a positive attitude. They should stand quietly in the line up and rein back easily and readily.

The Single Pleasure Driving horse should also be well behaved. Many of these horses appear hot in the show arena but they should still show each of the gaits with ease. As the Single Pleasure Driving horse is going down the rail he should be well-engaged, balanced, and moving easily forward. His speed should be well under control and definitely not excessive in either trotting gaits. His walk should still be ground-covering and free-flowing. While in line he too should stand quietly and rein back with ease.

Conclusion

When looking for your next driving horse, look for the characteristics that will fit you. Depending on your experience, if you’re going to work with the horse, you don’t want a horse that's spooky or scared, but one that's a little more bold and has some confidence, a horse that’s not necessarily aggressive, but one that is friendly and inquisitive. Look for a horse that fits your attitude.

People get along with horses like they get along with other people. There are ones you get along with ones you don’t, so look for a horse you feel you can get along with.

Patty Cloke runs her own training stable in Sultan, Washington, where she has trained and driven to many World Championships in Country Pleasure, Single Pleasure, and Roadster over the past twenty plus years. She conducts several clinics every year and has also produced several DVDs discussing various aspects of training and showing performance horses.

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