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Keeping Your Attitude and Your Horse’s Fresh, by Sandy Collier

Meet Sandy

After returning from a major futurity, Sandy answered a few questions that will help everyone before and during a competition.

What do you look for in your selection  of the right horse?

What’s important  to me is how the moves, because the one who  accomplishes the most with the least amount  of effort is going to be the winner.  A horse who  is athletic and efficient in his movement has a  presence about him that commands attention,  even if he is not really pretty.  As for conformation, I like them to be a little  narrower in front than some people do.   I look  for a smart, kind eye and a willing horse who is  intelligent and eager to learn and to please you.   If they aren’t, in spite of all their training, they will  never look like they enjoy what they’re doing and  won’t be a winner.   When riding, even on a green horse, I want  their hindquarters to just drop beneath me–when  I sit down and they stop.   I find that they either  have the ability or they don’t.

How do you keep their attitude fresh and  willing?

I never fatigue a horse.   That can bring  on injuries and it takes away their enthusiasm.   I  remember that there is always tomorrow, and if a  horse has gone at least a little way toward what I  am trying to accomplish and the horse is getting  tired, we stop.   My theory is that I try to improve  the horse 1 percent each time I ride them.   I plan  one little thing to work on each day.   This has  resulted in a very low injury rate and perfect  results in avoiding a sour horse.   Another way to keep them fresh is to give  them variety.   I ride them out on ranches, I have  a big loping arena for them to lope on, we gather  cattle, we work the cows, etc.   When they come  out of their stalls, they never know what they’re  going to do that day.

How do you keep yourself fresh and  excited about riding?

The same way I keep my horse fresh and willing.   I do a lot  of things beside ride horses.   I run every day and  play racquetball or squash.   I take lots of adult  education classes and work part time in the  emergency room at the hospital, and I also have  my real estate license.   I am hooked on learning  and trying something new and different.  So,  I strongly feel that a variety works very well for  animals and humans alike, in keeping enthusiasm  high.

What are your thoughts about being a  woman in the horse training profession?

 In some  ways, it has advantages, as I don’t necessarily  resort to physical strength as a solution to  problems.   I think we tend to make up for any lack  of strength with fitness and creativity.   When you  can turn a potential weakness into strength, that’s  great.   Since horses are bigger and stronger than I  am, rather than dominate them, I try to challenge  them and get them to be enthusiastic and want to  participate and be team players.

How do you encourage a horse to want to  participate when basically he would rather do  nothing?

Give the horse a choice, but make  what you want to him to do more pleasant and  give him lots of praise for succeeding.   Then his  confidence is raised and he will start volunteering,  just like a kid in the classroom.   I use the principles put forth by Tom Dorrance  and Ray Hunt, the legendary colt starters who  developed a system that is pretty stress-proof.   This leads right from the round pen to a training  program that allows the horse to make choices.

Is it more difficult for women to compete  in these events?

When I first started showing, I  thought men and women had equal opportunities  to win, but I was mistaken.   However, it has now  changed a lot because of some fine women  competitors who, in spite of the odds, kept turning  up with great horses from their excellent training  programs and they became highly respected  because they have earned it.

What popular training techniques do you  depart from?

There is a common theory that  many subscribe to “peaking a horse.” In other  words, getting the horse to improve steadily in  his performance and timing it so he reaches his  apex of performance right at the time of the major  futurity, before he tapers back down.   I don’t want my horse peaking at the futurity  season.   I want him solid; so I take him to a place  in his training where he is really comfortable,  and we form a solid foundation there.   Then, no  matter what happens, he can fall back on a solid  foundation.   If I have to ask them for one more inch during a futurity, they are confident and  comfortable that they will revert to that spot if  necessary, but not stress out and fall apart.   Miss Rey Dry was happy and fresh and  sound mentally and physically.   Although I had  shown her at five futurities previously, she never  acted like she had been shown yet.   She was still  fresh.   Since I must train a futurity horse to be able  to compete in reining, cutting, and cow horse  work, I have to teach them one way and make  everything fit it in an orderly way.   But this is really  a tricky thing to do.   With Miss Rey Dry, I did  something a bit different.   I rode her like a reiner  on her dry work, so by March I was riding her in a shank bit with a jointed mouthpiece, one  handed.   We did all the moves that way (normally  you use two hands with snaffle but training).   I  wasn’t helping her so much and she was making  more of the decisions.   I really think this made a  big difference.   When I did herd work, I rode her like a  cutter ““ “˜one handed.’   I repeated these techniques,  because I was really pleased.   In a way, a horse  is like a computer.   If you put the right things in,  step-by-step, in the right sequence, then when  you push the right buttons, it all comes out and  forms a pretty picture.   If it’s crammed in there and  you beat it in, you get a little picture of a bomb on  your screen.

What bits are you happiest with?

For reining,  I use a Billy Allen, a bit made by Greg Darnall that  has a medium length shank and a little roller in  the mouthpiece.   The cutting bit is a short-shank  correction bit and it has a mouthpiece that is  broken in two places instead of just one.   It puts a  big whoa on them.   The snaffle bit is the third bit I use.

How did you prepare for the futurity?

I  increased my workouts at the gym, I can run for  an hour effortlessly, and I have two high-ranking  belts in Aikido and Kenpo karate.   Along with that  comes the mental high of being up and positive,  and these are sustainable.   I never went through  the common pre-futurity stress syndrome.   You have to learn to control the pressure on  yourself.   Instead of being obsessed with winning,  vow to be the best that you can be on that day,  on that horse.   The winning will take care of itself.   That’s what I did at the futurity.   As we went into  the herd work, I was aware of everything but  distracting by nothing, rather than having tunnel  vision.   I learned this in martial arts training.   The  fact that there were 5,500 people there didn’t faze  me because of the preparation I had done.   I didn’t  perceive it as pressure.   I felt like I had a team  behind me that wanted us to win and my horse  knew it, too.   It was like being on a crest of a wave,  and we were going to ride it to victory.

How do you advise students  to handle pre-show butterflies?

Get out of that fight or flight response, which is  dysfunctional in the show ring.   Convert it into  enthusiasm and feel excited and challenged.   Remember that, after all, this is not brain surgery.   No one is going to die if you don’t do great.   A positive attitude should become a way  of life.   Negative thoughts are your opponents.   Feel like  you’re a winner by reviewing your victories and  your strong points.   Having good mental skills  is half the fight.   Be relentless in pursuit of your  goals.   Have complete faith in your ability to be  great.   If you don’t completely believe in yourself,  you will never get past mediocrity.   You don’t make  excuses and you don’t cast blame.   Everyone  loves winning but you must love the struggle to  get there.

About Sandy Collier:  AQHA Professional Horseman  Sandy Collier is the only woman to win the  National Reined Cow Horse Association  World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity Open  Championship.   She is an AQHA World Champion  and International clinician and judge and was  inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame last year.  Many training videos and advice can be found at:    www.SandyCollier.com  

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 5, Issue 12.]

 

Tell us your favorite way to prepare for the show pen – do you have a ‘mantra’ or something that you do every single time before you enter the showpen?

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