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Entries in horsemanship (3)


Celebrating Successes - How Cowboy Dressage and Liberty Have Helped Us Define Success

As you look back on 2015, have you considered and celebrated your successes?  How do you define success?  Stephen Covey suggests that success is very personal, and each individual has a different definition.  For some, wealth or fame makes a person successful.  Others consider the quantity or quality of their relationships.  Webster’s dictionary defines it as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the attainment of popularity or profit or as a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.  At MM Training and Consulting we believe that having a solid foundation of horsemanship and relationship skills, rooted in faith and principle, coupled with a strong work ethic and commitment to growth, leads to success.  We celebrate the successes we’ve had in the last couple of years and share them with you.  

Foundation of horsemanship and relationship skills

In 2014, when Marcia decided to compete in the American Horsewoman’s Challenge, none of us knew how much it would test her horsemanship skills and all of our relationship skills.  The three components of the Challenge – Liberty, Cowboy Dressage, and Competitive Trail – seemed fun and interesting.  Liberty and Cowboy Dressage were new to us but we had always had a systematic ground-training program and liberty appeared to just be the next step.  Sign us up – we were ready to take on the Challenge!  It didn’t take long for us to figure out that liberty was a whole new ball game.  Marcia spent hours and hours working with her young gelding, Stretch, to prepare for the liberty section of the Challenge.  Never had their relationship been so tested, and never had Marcia worked a horse on the ground to this degree.  It was intense; yet, the rewards were evident and lasting.  Marcia’s horsemanship went to a whole new level as she experienced a new degree of awareness of her body language and developed a deeper connection with Stretch.  This was success before we ever even got to Oklahoma and the competition. 

 On the people side of things, we developed a team to take our show on the road.  Kori, Marcia and I drove all the way to Oklahoma in two days.  We spent five days there in full-tilt competition mode.   Then we spent three days driving back.  It took extreme thought, energy, commitment, communication and tolerance, for us not only to survive the trip but also to triumph in the midst of stress.  We worked as a team, gave each other grace, and appreciated each other’s strengths.  Many people commented on how great our team was and how well we worked together.  This was the picture of success. 

 There were the external rewards of Marcia’s placing first in Cowboy Dressage and top 5 overall.  The money, trophies and kudos were nice.  The true success came from the deepening of relationships, both horse and human.

 Rooted in faith and principles  

Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, says success is about living in accordance with your values.

“Your personal core values define who you are. For individuals, character is destiny,” he says. 

Going into the 2014 American Horsewoman’s Challenge, we knew that there would be some testing of our horsemanship principles.  The Challenge was specifically for trainers, and had a time constraint of six months.  The horses could have no more than ten rides at the beginning of the training period and in many cases that meant the horse would be young.  In Marcia’s case, Stretch was a 3 year old.  I figured with the expertise we were facing in terms of the trainers competing, Marcia would have to expect to reach a level of training where Stretch would be able to do a consistent flying lead change. That would potentially be a physical, mental and emotional stress for him.  Marcia and I sat down to talk about what she wanted to achieve during this competition.  We didn’t talk about placings or money or notoriety.  We talked about the best way to take care of Stretch mentally, emotionally and physically and how to bring glory to God while we were there.  Setting parameters to stay within the boundaries of our faith and principles helped us achieve freedom to easily make the decisions that needed to be made along the way.  In the end, Stretch was able to do multiple beautiful flying lead changes as well as perform bridleless.   But the real success was setting the boundaries that we return to again and again to help us stay in alignment with our faith and beliefs.  This was success. 

When Marcia and Stretch competed in the Top Hand competition at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals Gathering in 2015, we returned to the values and principles of taking care of Stretch mentally, emotionally, and physically.  This included turn out and rest time at the show, not drilling patterns, not expecting more than Stretch had been trained for, taking time to connect with him, and maintaining his usual good routine of care.  Top Hand stretched over several days and included increasing levels of stress.  Stretch handled it all beautifully and he and Marcia came away as Reserve Champion Top Hand.  That’s the payoff for sticking by your values and principles while under the pressures of competition.

Work ethic   

Thomas Edison - holder of over 1,000 patents - had an insane work ethic.  He stated, “Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” 

People sometimes discount the value of hard work.  Sayings like “work smarter, not harder” are valid in certain situations, but often the difference between success and failure is the amount of “perspiration equity” that has been invested.

When Marcia was planning for 2015 and considering new challenges, I mentioned to her that her older gelding, Sam, looked like an excellent Cowboy Dressage prospect.  He is a reining cow horse, with a nice handle and amazing athletic ability.  I had a picture in my head of Marcia and Sam doing a La Garrocha freestyle routine.  Marcia could see the vision, and off she went. 

Traditionally, the Garrocha was a pole used by vaqueros to work cattle, and especially fight bulls.  Today, the Garrocha pole is used as a prop in a kind of dance with horse and rider.  It requires surprising precision and control to achieve the perfect circles and other movements with the pole.  Then there is the difficulty of handling the pole in a graceful manner while riding the horse one-handed with soft feel.    Holding a fourteen-foot pole in one hand can become shockingly difficult and awkward when doing a rollback or spin. 

There was no doubt that Sam had what it took physically, and mentally he is a happy boy who can handle the stress of learning very well.  It was the emotional part that we knew would be tricky.  He has a ton of energy, can be quite silly when exposed to new things or places, and has a hard time being focused and precise.  Just to get his energy to a level where he could focus on learning took a lot of time each ride.  It was hours and hours of riding, day after day, which got Sam to the point where he was able to perform successfully.  Marcia’s work ethic really came to the forefront and it paid off.  Success was measured by Sam’s ability to listen and focus, his soft response, and his happy expression. The freestyle wins and placings at the 2015 Cowboy Dressage Gatherings in Bend, Oregon, and Rancho Murieta, California, were just the icing on the cake.

Commitment to growth

Taking on a new discipline in the midst of preparing for the biggest competition you have ever faced may sound a bit crazy.  But when Cowboy Dressage was billed as part of the American Horsewoman’s Challenge, it was exciting to dive into learning about this specialty.  We had experienced the Cowboy Dressage culture at the 2013 World Gathering and knew that it was a great fit for us.  Now, we just had to learn all the details.  Simple, right?  Well, in a way it was and in a way it wasn’t.  Cowboy Dressage’s guiding principle of soft feel was something we had been living for a long time.  But there were many things to learn about forward movement, lifting the forehand, the court, the challenge court and the nuances of the detailed simplicity that is Cowboy Dressage.  We decided we wanted to learn it from the founder himself, Eitan Beth-Halachmy, and found a clinic with him that was within driving range, near Tahoe, in Nevada.  We invested the time, money, and “sweat equity” and we had great return on our investment.  When you attend a clinic you learn both what to do and what not to do, and there is wisdom in both.  Getting to know Eitan and his wife, Debbie, and discovering that we loved Cowboy Dressage as much as we thought we would, was life and goal changing.  Our commitment to learning and growing in Cowboy Dressage has led to many successes, both personally and professionally.  We have met countless amazing people with similar faith and principles, developed wonderful relationships, experienced a culture of kindness, worked hard and had fun, and grown in our horsemanship skills.  That’s what we call success!

We invite you to share in numerous upcoming success opportunities in 2016!  Check out our Upcoming Events here.


Team Black Stretch Limo presents… The American Horsewoman’s CHALLENGE - 9 Steps to Entering and Being Chosen to Compete!


Step 1   Answering the Call. 

It began innocently enough.  Kori, our team member who loves to do on-line research for us, told Marcia about this cool competition she saw advertised, the American Horsewoman’s Challenge.  As we looked through the information, there were several key words that really seemed to be a fit with the philosophy of our team at the barn.  Words like horsemanship skill, equitation, light handedness and equine partnership were music to Marcia’s ears.  What a fun way to add focus to the training of Marcia’s colt, Stretch!  The steps for entering seemed doable….just needed to complete the paperwork, get the videos ready, and hey presto, an entry is born!  First, time to get out Sam, Marcia’s older gelding, and start work for the videos!

Step 2   Preparing the Horse.

Sam, Marcia’s dark bay, Quarter Horse gelding, had been used for reining and had solid training that would be a bonus in the Cowboy Dressage and ranch/trail portions of the entry requirements.  All that would be needed was a tune up and some work on specific moves.   Sam also had nice ground manners, but had never done liberty as was described in the entry rules.  Let the training begin!  Marcia worked with Sam at least 5 days a week through January and February perfecting the parts of each pattern.  Liberty proved to be the biggest challenge, with each part of the pattern being broken down into smaller individual parts as Sam and Marcia learned together what it took to make each movement fluid and easy.   Marcia’s hard work with Sam was paying off as we watched Sam learn weaves, figure 8’s and backing at liberty.  We were getting closer to being video ready!

Step 3   Accepting and working through Adversity.

A few things would attempt to get in the way of success.  Through January and February the temperatures were frigid, sometimes below zero.  Snow was deep, paths and roads were pure ice, and always the cold was biting.  The Challenge entry deadline was actually moved out because so many entrants were having a hard time getting training and videos done due to the extreme weather across the country.  In addition, Sam experienced some lameness, apparently through a fall on the ice, and was sore through his hip and hind leg for a few days.  This happened right before the team was getting ready to shoot the videos.  As a result, the videos were spread across several days and then cut and pieced together for the final product.  We took care of Sam by only doing what he was physically able to at the time, and he took care of us by giving his best effort and an excellent performance.  We bundled up every afternoon and evening, braved the cold, and got some great video to enter.  We even met the original entry deadline.  Now that’s teamwork!


Step 4   Keeping things Light.

When you are under a deadline, learning and teaching new things, and experiencing some adversity, it’s easy to get stressed and lose sight of the big picture.  Marcia did an excellent job of keeping her perspective and her priorities in order as we approached the entry deadline.  First priority was taking care of Sam, physically, mentally and emotionally.  Too much drilling of patterns would take the fun out of it for Sam, but there had to be enough repetition for him to understand what was being asked of him.  In addition, Marcia made sure that her team was having fun and felt appreciated, even when freezing during shooting the videos!  She also did a great job of balancing her drive to win with acceptance for what was possible at the time and didn’t expect perfection.  She expected the best effort possible from herself, her horse and her team and that’s what leads to success!

Step 5   Loving the focus.

Marcia loved  having a deadline and specific  goals to work toward during that time.  The Challenge gave her a specific focus and something to work toward.  It gave her training a bigger purpose and so gave her a reason to strive for something more than she might have otherwise.  This usually happens when we make goals specific and measurable and attach a deadline to them.  In this case, the goals were the patterns, the measurements were the accuracy with which they were completed, and the deadline was obvious.  Working backward from the entry deadline, we made sure there was time to edit the video, and then determined when the videoing would need to begin.  From there it was easy to make a mini timeline of events and prepare everyone for videoing.

Step 6   Engaging the team

The simplest way to engage anyone in an activity is to work to their strengths.  Marcia knew the people around her and knew what skills she would need to complete the entry.  By matching the people and their strengths with the skills she would need on her team, she created a win/win situation that worked well for everyone.  Some people helped with videoing and technology, others could see the big picture of light, color, angle and timing and how it might look to judges, one helped with writing and editing, another with ensuring the patterns were accurate.  The team came together to create an entry that captured the attention of the judges and won Marcia and Stretch a place in the Challenge.

Step 7   Noodling through patterns and instructions

Most people we know don’t love patterns.  They find them stressful, hard to remember and easy to misunderstand.  We find that practice makes perfect and the more patterns you do the less stressful they are.  We had a few challenges determining the specifics of the patterns for the Challenge and everyone had a little different perspective at first on how they should be done.  We have always found it helpful to read through the pattern, then read it to another person out loud, draw the pattern, walk the pattern, and ride the pattern in order to get it correct.  Patterns generally have fluidity to them and finding the cadence of the pattern is helpful in making it look effortless.  Once we agreed on exactly what the judges were asking for in the patterns, Marcia and Sam were able to execute them beautifully.  Like dancing partners, a horse and rider performing a seamless pattern is a thing of beauty.

Step 8   Getting it on tape

We were lucky in having a facility with an indoor arena since the snow was pretty deep in places.  Lighting was a challenge sometimes, as was getting the right camera angle.  At one point, our videographer, Kori, was standing on the next-to-top step of an aluminum ladder to get a good shot.  It’s much easier to stand on a ladder and hold a camera steady when you don’t have on 30 pounds of clothing, snow boots, mittens and a furry hat.  We were glad to go inside by the fire to shoot the introduction portion of the tape and work on some editing.  Another team member, Jessica, did the cutting and added music.  It was so much fun to sit down and watch the final version and see the product of our efforts!  Marcia bundled the tape, recommendations, and written paperwork into a package and mailed it off.  Now our wait to hear the judges’ decision began.

Step 9   Exciting news!

Our patience was rewarded with a letter from the selection committee.  Marcia played it cool and was very modest about being selected one of 50 entrants in the Challenge!  The team was thrilled and congratulated Marcia and each other on our success.  Now the real teamwork begins as Marcia starts training Stretch and the team helps with marketing, writing, travel plans and capturing all the steps in the journey to the final competition in Oklahoma.  Let the CHALLENGE begin!


What Dr. Miller Says About Cowboy Dressage

When we attended the Cowboy Dressage World Show, we had the honor of meeting Dr. Robert Miller, a renowned veterinarian who is known for his imprinting techniques and empathy for the horse.  When asked why he likes Cowboy Dressage, Dr. Miller said the following:
 “There are several things that I am enthused about in Cowboy Dressage.
 1. It is one of the rare horse-show events that is not potentially damaging to the horse’s limbs. (Another is the trail class and ranch pleasure).
 All others I can think of, (under saddle) can do harm, especially if done to excess, to an immature horse (under 5 years of age).
 2. This discipline will demonstrate that proper collection is possible on a loose rein, without excessive contact. 
 3. It will also help to sophisticate Western Horsemanship.”

We appreciate Dr. Miller’s perspective and whole heartedly agree with him.

We will be attending a Cowboy Dressage Clinic this June.  We look forward to bringing back knowledge and techniques about this exciting discipline and sharing them with you.