What could three days with a personal trainer do for your horse? Horseman attending the Les Vogt "Cowhorse U" clinic at the University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) had the chance to find out. The clinic was held September 10-12, 2010, with Les Vogt, horse/rider trainer and 15-time champion in cow horse competitions, as presenter. The clinic drew horsemen from all parts of Nebraska. While the class size for riders was limited to provide for individualized instruction, the presentations and discussions were available on an audit basis to those wishing to take the course.
"Cowhorse U" is a program developed by Vogt to assist riders in learning to work more effectively with their horse. His approach is focused on "5 Easy Pieces" which are warm-up exercises that any horseman can use. The exercises are intended as a way for a rider to better communicate with their horse. By considering the different zones of muscle groups, a rider can use the sequence of exercises for training. It can also be a way of screening a horse for physical weaknesses. The planned end result is to have a horse traveling "in frame." That is when a horse is traveling efficiently to easily maintain speed, pace and position.
The clinic began with basic horsemanship before Vogt introduced the 5 Easy Pieces. During presentation and riding practice, Vogt emphasized the importance of using cues in sequence when training and practicing a skill.
"In practice, always exaggerate your reaction. Like leaning back in a stop," said Vogt. "Practice skills with lots of control-first at a walk, then at a trot, and so on."
While the clinic devoted much time to work with horses in learning and practicing the warm-up exercises, there was also time spent in discussion. Vogt talked to the group about the importance of good conformation as it affects the soundness and durability of a working ranch horse or a horse competing in horse shows. Vogt's suggestion was to know something about the different bloodlines. Some bloodlines are known for soundness, while others have weaknesses. When purchasing a horse, he advises to buy one that has the qualities you are looking for so there is something to work with in developing that horse for work or show.
Vogt recommends occasionally changing the type of bit used. The reasoning here is that a horse may get too familiar with the bit that is regularly used. Switching to something different, especially for show gets their attention and respect. Some horse shows do require using a solid bit or a bit with a roller during competition. When selecting a bit, it's best to choose one that has higher leverage.
Use of spurs was another topic covered by Vogt. While spurs can be a help, their overuse can cause a horse to be less focused since it stays tenser expecting the poke of the spurs. It should be done only when needed. Vogt considers the drop-shank spur a less aggressive type of spur to use.
Under Vogt's direction, riders tried different types of bits with their horse, and he coached them in the adjustment to handling their horse with a change of bits. Many riders felt a noticeable difference in how their horse handled with the change.
Participants at the clinic ranged from those who compete in horse shows to ranchers wanting to improve the performance of their cow horse. NCTA offered use of the Livestock Training Center for the clinic to provide an educational opportunity for horse and rider, horse enthusiasts, and NCTA students.
A clinic of this type provides riders with some knowledge and experience that can be a start to competing in horse shows. There is local interest in the American Stock Horse Association (ASHA) competitions, of which there are about 45 competitions each year through-out the United States. The finals are held in Waco, Texas, during November. Each show has events in pleasure, trail, reining, and ranch horse competition. These shows are also a learning experience, because there is a clinic prior to the show for participants to learn as they go to competitions. Competitors are put into a class that is leveled according to their experience.