Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charles Wilhelm's Horsemanship Clinic

When I attended the Western States Horse Expo in 2007, I came across this booth with a man and a woman sitting in it beside a big, colorful horsey ball. I was attracted by the ball and began asking questions about it. I was afraid to invest in such a toy/training tool if it was going to pop the second my horses got a hold of it. (BOMBAY! That means you!) The man was very informative and helpful. He explained that the balls do sometimes spring leaks, but his has an extra tough outer layer that is reusable. You would only have to replace the inner material or bladder of the ball.

I still wasn't satisfied with that. I wanted a horse ball that was guaranteed to withstand biting, kicking, slivers from the chewed wood fence, pointy rocks, foxtail weeds, and the sharp thorns of goatheads that we get in our corner of Nevada. Since no one has invented a ball like that yet, I walked away. When I looked back, I saw a huge banner hanging on the wall of the booth that said, "Charles Wilhelm". I suddenly realized that I had been talking to one of the clinicians, and started kicking myself for wasting his time talking about that stupid ball when I could have been using our time wisely by asking him horsemanship questions.

What astounded me even more was that I was able to talk to him for so long without any other people horning in. The reason why we got that uninterrupted time together was because it was the morning of the first day of the Expo and none of the clinicians had conducted clinics yet, so no one knew him by face recognition and most people didn't read the banners. However, once he presented a clinic, his booth was constantly mobbed. If you ever attend these types of horsemanship shows, I recommend getting a list of questions together and tracking down these clinicians before other people begin to recognize them. That way you can get their undivided attention.

I made a point of attending two of Charles Wilhelm's clinics at the Western States Horse Expo in 2008. His presentations are clear and concise. I really appreciated that he stuck to the topic and avoided rambling, so I made sure that I told him he did an excellent job at the end of the show. For those of you who don't know him, I'll reprint his bio here. This was taken from the Western States Horse Expo program...

"Internationally know as on of America's most respected horse trainers, Charles Wilhelm is the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, equine training techniques that combine the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into the methodology that is applicable to every riding discipline. His extensive background includes dressage, working cow horse, reining, western pleasure and trail... Charles is one of the few trainers specializing in re-schooling horses with often severe issues."

He told a story of how someone offered him a minimum of $500,000 to fix a problem with their Western Pleasure horse. The horse was great in every way except it kept looking over the rail during shows. He said that he was able to fix about 75% of the problem, but the other 25% was just the horse's personality. It was concerned and curious. His point being that you have to get to know a horse and use the horse in whatever discipline best fits the horse's personality.

Going back to what Victoria and Callie recently wrote about, it pays to spend some time with a horse before buying, and not trust what the seller, or even your trainer, says. I always laugh when I read horse ads that say, "This horse would do great in English, hunter/jumper, western, reining, cutting, endurance, trail riding, 4H, show halter or..." Come on, now. Get to know the horse's conformation and personality, and then pick one or two disciplines.

The first of Charles Wilhelm's clinics that I attended was titled, "Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Natural Horsemanship." He explained that both techniques focus on the release of pressure. Here is a picture of him working with a horse that is missing its right eye.

He said that in the case of horses that are blind or missing an eye, you have to just treat them like any other horse during their training. Of course, let the the horse know where you are, and establish that leadership role, but work the horse the same way in both directions. The horse will eventually build confidence because you are using consistent cues, and will rely on those instead of worrying that it can't see.

Before mounting, Wilhelm did some ground work by lunging the horse. He said that no horse in the world doesn't need a warm-up or pre-flight check before riding. Some of the reasons he raised for lunging before riding include:

1. Gaining control of the horse's feet before mounting.

2. Gaining the horse's respect before mounting.

3. Getting the horse's attention on you as opposed to whatever grabs his attention in the environment.

4. Taking the freshness out so that the horse doesn't want to take off with you on its back.

5. Checking to make sure everything is working properly. This can include the tack as well as keeping an eye out for health problems.

Just like the other clinicians, he recommended backing the horse up as a form of correction. He demonstrated this when the horse got into his space and almost stepped on his foot during leading. Once he backed the horse up, it kept a decent distance.

The other clinic I attended was titled, "Introduction to Western Pleasure." He explained some of the mechanics of collection and riding on a loose rein. Collection is getting the horse to change her frame in such a way that she relaxes at the poll, softens her hips, rounds her back, and gets under herself.

The best piece of information I took away from his clinics was to use my inside leg less and my outside leg more when turning a horse. He demonstrated how so many Western Pleasure riders have their horses walking sideways into their outside shoulders for way too long while making their turns. The problem is that they are pushing with their inside leg and not using their outside leg at all. The inside leg is supposed to act as a pole for the horse to spin around, so you gently lay it against the horse's side at the ribcage, but you need to block the outside shoulder and move it over during the turn with pressure from the outside leg. If using split reins, you want to be conscious of moving both reins left for a left turn and right for a right turn. That outside or indirect rein needs to lay against the horse's neck while the inside or direct rein opens up the direction that you want the horse to turn.

That red saddle pad sure looks good on a black horse, doesn't it?


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Now he sounds like my kind of horse trainer!! I will make it a point to remember his name. Thanks for the great info NM

Twinville said...

Thanks for sharing this information from those clinics, NM. I've taken away some great tips tonight.

And yes that red blanket is beautiful. And so is that black horse. wow!

Flying Lily said...

NM, these clinic reports are fantastic. i am getting a lot of great ideas. The white ball/black ball in the bucket concept was with me all day yesterday and through my ride. thank you so much! What gorgeous photos too. yes, the black horse with the red pad is luscious. Loved the one-eye horse too.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks for thinking of me, NM - These posts are really interesting. I used to live near Charles Wilhelm in San Diego, and I have a friend who took her horse to him for training. He's a good guy.