Dr. Deb Bennett Seminar Notes

Home Up TTeam Centered Riding Dr. Deb Bennett Ray Hunt PNH Tom Dorrance Equine Homeopathy Harry Whitney

February 21, 1997 at the NATRC National Convention, Kansas City, MO

Deb Bennett was the guest speaker at the 1997 NATRC (North American Trail Ride Conference) national convention. She spoke on several topics, but primarily directed her discussion to training of horses.

Deb grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. She now resides in California, where she is an accomplished horsewoman and author. She is a contributing author to the equestrian world through publications such as EQUUS, Horse and Rider, Western Horseman and others.

Deb rode NATRC competitive trail rides to learn about horses. Sadi, a 29 year old half Arab, half quarter is still worked daily.

Some opening remarks and answers to questions:

"Conformation is just a rule of thumb."
"Horses are not critical, they are analytical."
"Conditioning - With good horsemanship, ANY horse (sound horse) should be able to come out of the pasture and do 30 to 50 miles in a weekend."
"Focus on the horse, teach them to walk at 7 mph."
"Don't be afraid to make a referral, develop a network of other trainers. NO ONE has the answers to every problem."
"Prepare your horse to win."
"When horses are faced with a problem, they create a plan and execute it."
"If you try to fix the performance, it'll never work."
"Legs don't make the gaits, the body does."

She continued with a discussion of the "Great Tree Of Training" principles:

Tree Of Training Pic

The idea is that performance is dependent on everything above it in the graphic, that movement and to some extent, conformation, is dependent on roundness and straightness, that roundness is dependent on straightness, etc. A very good point was that if the spirit wasn't taken care of, the emotions couldn't be right, and that affects the horses ideas and body, so the performance can't be there. You must take care of the mental parts of the horse first, in order that the physical parts can be affected.

Think past the performance, try to find the real cause behind the (perceived) lack of performance.

She then discussed the horses body, relating specifically to the issue of straightness. The axial body has two basic movements: vertical and horizontal. Vertical movements include roundness, horizontal movements include crookedness. Horses need to be round and straight. Ride a horse round or he goes lame. If you work on the spirit you can fix the performance. You pay for just working on performance, you push and he pay by you killing him. Be OK on the inside, you and your horse. Get OK! The LAW: Whatever the horse is feeling he will be doing immediately. Read the body and know what he's feeling. What they are doing they are feeling - change what they are doing and you change their feelings. Conformation is OK, however you can do anything with anything - get them OK on the side.

"There are NO straight horses!"
"Most horses lean to the right and go to the left, about 60% / 40%."
"There are some pretty straight horses, but they are ALL crooked to some extent."

Horses have no collar bones, no bony connection AT ALL between the forelimbs and the chest. Instead, the chest is suspended between two muscle complexes, the pectoral complex on the under-side and the seratus complex, at each shoulder. This means that the horse's chest is free to 'pendulate' between the shoulders and front legs.

Some "lay" definitions of crookedness:

"My horse won't jump a fence in the middle..."
"My horse changes lead to the left OK, but is very hard to the right..."
"On the calf one way, the other way he loses it..."
"My horse lifts one knee higher than the other..."

There are religious writings and then there is horse literature. Horse literature is the second most printed literature in the world. Nowhere in the literature is there a definition for straightness. Dr. Deb offered the following as a definition of straightness:

"A horse is straight when his sternum is centered between his elbows (points of shoulder)."

Tree Of Training Pic

Tendons connect muscle to bone, just the end. Ligaments connect bones to bones. You don't "blow a tendon" you tear a muscle - think of the whole. If muscle are in work they are not elastic. You must teach muscles to relax. If you can push down on the withers and bounce it, you will have a good smooth ride, if it is tight you will get a bouncy ride. Horses will not be lame in one leg, they will be lame everywhere. When the horse is leaning to the right the head and rear will be shifted to the left. Deb stated one possible cause could be eye dominance. (Most horses are right eye dominate.) It is the riders job to help the horse go straight. All ridden horses should be straight.

To fix crookedness; Beginners: address the shoulders. Tap on the should that is out. Do as little as necessary to help the horse come straight. You can not use the head and rear to change straightness. Masters Way - use the high leg and push into hindquarters.

Deb's thoughts on saddle fit - Put it on, girth it up, ride up a hill, ride down a hill, if it didn't move, you can buy it.

The Birdie

You have a different desire then the horse, resulting in a lose of harmony. If the horse is resistant he is uncomfortable. Every horse has a "birdie" (attention). The birdie needs to be in the horses head, if it's flying around or has flown off so has his attention. Horses do not understand punishment. There are lots of ways to keep the birdie in the right place. The horse believes it can not survive with the "birdie" separate from the body, so the horse will make every attempt to get to the "birdie". You must get them together, birdie to body OR body to birdie. All a horse wants is to be OK. When horses have to fill in for you they go straight to the birdie. To get the birdie to come to the body, do everything at every moment to notice where the birdie is and bring it back. This is hard for the human. Could take as much as firmly stating "Hey, hey, hey!!!" or tapping withers in front of the saddle. Lead the birdie, lead the horse. You have to practice to get you birdies together, then get your birdie to teach the horse's birdie to stay together. Get the horse's birdie to go back to the horse or to go to you. Get your horse to want to be with you more than anything else. They need practice, just like you need practice. They learn what they live and live what they learn.

There are three methods of riding: 1) Pushing - yielding to the pressure of an applied aid. 2) Removal of aids - moving into a freedom. 3) Calling the birdie - using your power of focus to get the horse going where you want to go.

Feel, timing & balance. You feel for the birdie (feel), you call the birdie at the right time (timing) and this keeps you balanced (balance). You have to learn this and feel OK with it. You have to adjust to teach the horse. I present myself to the horse in such a way that he understands. What kind of training?...The one that fits.

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