Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Clinton Anderson review

I really wanted to go ride today, to try out the Forerunner, but I thought Dixie deserved a rest day. We don't actually go very fast yet, but she still needs down time. I really don't want to injure her! So today's post is a brief yet rambling review of the Clinton Anderson gaited horse DVDs.

He works with two horses, a lazy stiff pacey black mare and a hot bolting palomino mare. The owner of both is a Fearless Teenager - she demonstrated the palomino bolting when she drops the reins, and she was more annoyed than anything else. I often wish I was a fearless teenager! The black mare needs constant kicking to go forward at all, and she paces pretty bad. They're flat shod, but she rides in the usual long-shank curb bits.

I watched the first couple sessions with the lazy black mare and all the sessions with the hot palomino. I haven't seen any other Clinton Anderson stuff (other than the demo at the show), but he says he treats gaited horses exactly like trotting horses. The videos are filmed a week apart for 4 weeks. He gets some respect from the ground, then mounts up and teaches them NOT to take off when he drops the reins. Then he does a lot of "suppling," every single ride - he wants the horse to yank its head around and touch his boot when he picks up the rein.

This is the first point where I was like "well I am not going to do this and I'm not so sure it's a good idea." I don't want a horse that snaps her head to my boot when I touch a rein - I want a horse who will eventually touch my boot if I keep asking her to bend. And he drills this suppling exercise HUNDREDS of times a ride, after doing it hundreds of times from the ground, every single ride. I don't think this is a good idea for a couple of reasons - I do not want an unthinking automaton horse with a conditioned response like that, and I am not sure that's a physiologically good way to stretch your horse.

After all the suppling, he teaches the horses the one-rein stop, then "cruise control." Cruise control means (obviously) "don't break gait." It's sensible enough, and follows standard training procedures. 1-2-3, ask very softly, then more forcefully, then whap the horse with the end of the lead rope til you get the speed you want. As long as the horse is in the gait you want, leave it alone. ORS if it speeds up, 1-2-3 if it slows down.

Here's where Clinton Anderson differs from most gaited horse people: He does NOT care if the horse trots or canters. He says that in his experience they'll gait once they get strong and/or supple enough, so he just rides out the trot and canter as they appear. In the last videos, the horses are definitely doing a four-beat moderately fast gait - not real running walks or even fast racks, but a walk at a nice trail speed. Maybe 5-7 mph.

He did some other drills - turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand - but again, they're very Western-ish reining style moves, not the dressage-ish stuff I am going for. I honestly didn't pay all that much attention. Again, I don't want my horse to do a reining spin when I pick up a rein and put my leg on! And again, he drills and drills the horse on the moves. I thought reining people thought there's only a certain number of spins in a horse's hocks and you shouldn't waste them?

Anyway, I'm glad I borrowed and watched the DVDs. I wouldn't be thrilled if I'd bought them, but I don't think I'm the target audience anyway. They'd be very good if you were scared of your horse - "here is exactly what to do to stay safe and get a rideable horse." And it's nice to see someone ride a gaited horse WITHOUT hauling back on a huge curb bit.

There's other clinicians I'd really like to see / work with - Howe They Walk, Liz Graves, or (warning: TERRIBLE site ahead!) Walkin' On Ranch, just to name some of the gaited clincians. There's plenty of "normal" horse trainers I'd like to work with too, of course. I don't feel like I wasted my time with the CA videos, but I don't think I'd go to one of his clinics either.


  1. This is how I view any clinician. You take bits and pieces and put it all together how you need it. I like Clinton Anderson, and suppling has it's uses. My horse was very stiff necked when I was on him. Once he figured out that moving his head around was an ok thing, I quit, I'm with you, I don't want some automatic response to slam his head around. The response I had before though, was to pitch a fit. So I took what he(CA) did and modified it.

    I wasn't impressed with his gaited rides either. I saw the one were he rode a fox trotter. He never asked it to gait right he just let it throw it's feet around and do what ever. The poor horse looked lost.

  2. Yeah, the way he rides gaited horses is the far opposite of the "traditional" way to ride them. From tight reins to no contact at all! I think most horses need a little support to gait their best. Something in the middle.

    I don't know what part of CA you're in - did you go to the Liz Graves clinic in No Cal this summer? I'd just moved out here and I didn't want to take a four-hour road trip to audit her, but now of course I wish I had. I think she'd be worth the audit fee at least, and possibly the full clinic fee!

  3. It's good to watch lots of clinicians, even if you don't agree with all (or most) of what they do. I'm not a big fan of the nose to boot suppling exercise - I think it just produces a horse with a rubber neck, which I don't want.

  4. I'm not a fan of the nose to boot thing either, but that comes from the dressage rider in me. If I give a balancing halt-halt and close my hand on my right rein I don't want to suddenly find my horse's head on my knee! That's not going to go over very well, lol. Not to mention Gogo would probably flip over. I gotta say though that I definitely want to go out and ride a gaited horse on trails after reading about all these adventures.

  5. I think the nose-to-boot thing over-supples the horse, and that's why it's so hard to get a western pleasure horse to raise it's back when it lowers it's head--its neck has been in so many awkward positions that it just doesn't 'hook up' right anymore.

    Not to mention a LOT (if not all?) of his horses can be really behind the bit, and dare i say, rollkured in a western saddle.

  6. Welcome back, DiJ! :D

    I agree on the rubber necked thing. I suppose there's a way to teach nose-to-boot as a totally separate cue from a dressage rein aid, but I don't think I'm talented enough to do it. And I don't think CA's videos are explaining it as two cues, either.

    Andrea, if you ever get a chance to ride a good gaited horse, DO IT!

    I almost think habitually behind the bit is worse than rollkur. At least a rollkur'd horse pops its head back out and its neck back up when the rider quits overflexing the neck. It seems like a lot of the overbent behind-the-bit western horses NEVER uncurl their necks under saddle, and I hate to think of the horrible strain they're always under. I dunno, it's comparing evil A to evil B.

  7. I'm Nor. Cal, just west of Sacramento,but I didn't know she was up here. I actually don't like going to gaited clinics. They either have people that believe you need to be completely in their mouth, or that you should be loosey goosey with the reins. I'm in between and just enjoy riding my horse.


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