Sandy Collier on Winning & Training (Mental & physical prepartions for her horses AND herself!)
Selecting the right horse
What’s important to me is how the horse 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.
Keeping your horse’s 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 one 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 reach 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.
Keeping YOURSELF fresh and excited about riding
Give yourself variety, just like I suggest giving your horse. 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.
Being a woman in the horse training & competing 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 finesse and creativity. When you can turn a potential weakness into strength, that’s great. Since horses are bigger and stronger than I am, I try to challenge them and get them to be enthusiastic about participating and being a team player (rather than dominate them). 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.
Encouraging a horse to participate when he would rather not
Give your horse a choice, but make what you want 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 he 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.
Popular techniques I depart from
There is a common theory that many subscribe to called “peaking a horse”. In other words, getting the horse improving 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 will be confident and comfortable ““ 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 a little in a shank bit with a jointed mouthpiece, one handed. We did all the moves that way (normally you use two hands with snaffle bit training). I wasn’t helping her so much and she was making more of the decisions. I really think this made a big difference.
Bits I use
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’s broken in two places instead of just one. The snaffle bit is the third bit I use.
Preparing 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 those belts came the mental high of being up and positive. 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 car 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 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. 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. Also, winners don’t make excuses and don’t cast blame. Everyone loves winning but you must love the struggle to get there.
[Interview printed with Sandy Collier’s consent in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 5, Issue 12.]
Do you give you and your horse mental & physical variety?
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