An enthusiastic group of young 4-H members had an experience they won’t soon forget when Julie Goodnight offered a clinic at their annual horse camp at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colorado.
Douglas County hosts an annual horse camp for 4-H Horse Project members. For four days, industry professionals and volunteers share their riding, farrier and veterinary skills with the youth riders.
“The kids were so excited,” says Mary Ann Page, Douglas County 4-H Horse Project Leader. “Having Julie available to coach the kids was simply the cherry on top of the sundae for the camp. Her simple, straightforward approach had the kids making great strides with their horses in just a few hours.” The young riders and their horses got help with challenges common to many equestrians, but two in particular stood out to Goodnight.
Challenge #1: A Jiggy, Anxious Horse
A gymkhana horse pranced and jigged at the start of the clinic, causing its rider to hold the reins tight in an attempt to keep the horse under control. Goodnight hopped on the anxious horse to demonstrate how to handle this kind of situation.
“It’s really hard for a lot of riders to loosen the reins when a horse seems to be too fast,” says Goodnight. “It’s a chicken-egg scenario—the rider holds the reins tight because the horse is going too fast, and the horse is going too fast because the reins are too tight.”
After loosening up on the reins of the old horse, it immediately dropped its head to a low and level position, breathed a sigh of relief and walked.
“Horses don’t really want to be nervous and anxious all the time,” says Goodnight. “When he finds he can relax by putting his head down, he comes to like it.”
Challenge #2: A Shutdown Horse Refuses to Go
After working admirably all week during the horse camp, an older mare completely shut down and refused to move forward—a direct result of having nothing left to give.
“Sometimes we are in situations where the horse is working more than normal, and if you push a horse beyond its limits, you risk having to end on a very negative note—one that can have a lasting impact,” says Goodnight.
Goodnight told the rider to ask for easy changes of direction at the walk—a technique to help the horse relax and move freely forward again.
“The power of ending your training session on a good note cannot be overstated,” says Goodnight. “Horses always come back with the same attitude they ended with. If you’ve asked more of your horse than they can give, ask it to do something easy. When it resp