Last weekend, I audited the Julie Goodnight Clinic up in Santa Fe. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to audit one of her clinics even though I’ve been watching her on RFD-TV for years. But I wasn’t sure I would go because I had no one to go with. So, when two of my Santa Fe horse friends, Trish and Cindy, told me that they had signed up themselves and their horses for this clinic, it was just the push I needed to drive the hour from my house to Santa Fe for this clinic.
It was held southwest of the city, at the Santa Fe Equestrian Center.
As soon as I parked my car in the lot surrounded by horse trailers, and began walking up to the indoor arena, I was happy to see some friends I knew and had ridden with twice before (during an ACTHA ride in Santa Fe and while marking trail for an ACTHA ride down in San Acacia): Laurie and Gus of Listening Horse Therapeutic Riding.
Gus, watching the Julie Goodnight clinic inside the arena.
Listening Horse was one of Julie Goodnight’s Clinic sponsors, and they provided a concession stand during the clinic with the proceeds going towards their therapeutic riding program.
And when I entered the arena, the first faces I saw were those of my good friends, Dan and Betty, of the blog Dan and Betty's Place. Some of you may already follow this wonderful couple’s blog and enjoy reading along about their horse journey with their Icelandic gelding Morgunn, and Rocky Mountain mare, Sugar.
Betty and Dan enjoying a picnic during the clinic’s lunch break.
So, I sure am glad that I didn’t let my worry, about going to the clinic alone, stand in the way.
The first half of Saturday’s clinic was spent on groundwork, specifically leading a respectful, obedient horse, as well as training a horse to stand perfectly, and respectfully still while ground tied.
(Julie was preparing to correct my friend Cindy’s horse, Nova, for focusing on something outside of the arena, and not paying attention to her instead)
(Here Julie was correcting Nova for trying to walk past her while being led)
(Here Nova is respectfully paying attention to Julie, while my friend Cindy looks on)
(A respectful and obedient Nova being led by Julie, while Cindy observes)
(My friend Trish, working with Julie, with her new gelding, Cactus. Trish has only had him for about 2 months, but he is a well-behaved, well-trained boy and they are starting to build a nice bond together)
Watching the different horses and riders doing the ground work was very insightful, and it was interesting to me, how leading a horse can be sorely taken for granted…by both horse and rider.
After breaking for lunch, we reconvened inside the arena for under-saddle work.
(Trish and her boy Cactus. She had only ridden him 4 times before this clinic)
Julie instructed, “I like to teach students to observe the “Golden Moments” of each ride—these are the first 10 minutes after you’ve gotten in the saddle when the horse is forming an opinion about how this ride will go and who is in charge".
The important principles of these "Golden Moments" are:
1)You direct the exact path of your horse with no argument, discussion or compromise.
(Cindy and Nova)
2)You always control the speed of your horse (Your horse should immediately be corrected for any unauthorized change of speed, either up or down)
3)Put your horse to work so she starts complying with your directives (doing turns, circles and transitions)
4)Keep your horse focused on you and away from other horses (Julie claims that there is a magnetic field around each horse and if you get too close, your horse can get sucked into that magnetic field which will cause your horse to no longer listen to you. Instead your horse will take her cues from the horse she is being drawn towards)
By spending those first 10 minutes working on independent control and communication, your horse will be more focused on you, you will have more control and that time spent with your horse will help you identify potential problems.
At the start of every ride, Julie said, you should have a conversation with your horse, and it should start like this:
“Horse, this is your Captain speaking.”
(It had been a long day…poor Cactus was sleepy)
Julie advised, “The cue is your voice and your seat,” “And the reins are just the reinforcement – they are a correction for the horse if they have not listened and obeyed your voice and seat.”
(Trish and Cindy, in the back, paying attention to Julie’s instruction)
Julie demonstrated the subtle directional seat cue by standing in the arena with her knees bent, while twisting her torso.
“The horse will feel a shift in your weight, and if you’re turning right, your weight will be on your left seat bones, and if you’re turning left, your weight will be on your right seat bones. This is using your seat to help guide your horse. Try to keep from micro-managing your horse’s every move by using your reins. Keep your hands low on the pommel, keep the reins loose, and turn your horse by only using your seat.”
Some of the riders had Julie help them with cantering and correct lead starts. This is something I would have liked to have worked on with my own horse if I could have signed up for this clinic.
Julie is not a huge sales person, even though she did have a sales table with some of her books, videos, halters, a saddle, etc, but she did discuss bitting, and brought out a stack of bridles and Myler bits (one of her sponsors) for the riders to try on their horses if they wanted to. Just like Mark Rashid, she expressed her disapproval of the harsh nature of the Tom Thumb Bit, but also shared that the simple single-jointed snaffle is not always the best choice for all horses, and she felt that it can be a much harsher bit than most people realize.
(Rick Gore’s outspoken opinion on snaffle bits, leverage bits and Tom Thumb bits)
Case in point, during the clinic, there was one horse that was being ridden in a single jointed snaffle bit and it was shaking it’s head and gaping it’s mouth. After examining the bit and the horse’s mouth, Julie stated that the horse’s gums were bruised and the horse’s mouth was in pain from the bit.
(Dale Myler discusses pressure points and popular bits)
Julie discussed the inside of a horse’s mouth, the jaw, teeth, tongue and palette and how the bit is supposed to fit inside without causing undue discomfort. Julie prefers a solid bar curb bit with plenty of room for the tongue. The Myler bit she recommended for a horse that was being ridden in a Tom Thumb, is one she uses on her own horses: a 3-ring combination bit.
This bit uses 5 different pressure points to disperse rein pressure. When the reins are engaged, the horse feels the nose, chin, and poll pressure before he feels the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece can slide 1” before reaching the ‘stop’, where it will engage.
(Here’s a link to video of a horse that was ridden in a loose ring snaffle and then switched to a Myler 3-ring combination bit: 3 ring combo
The effect is to give the horse ample opportunity to respond to the rider’s rein signals, plus disperse the rein pressure over multiple pressure points rather than just the tongue or bars. And the 3 rings offer three different rein positions: the big ring (no leverage), the middle ring (mild), and the bottom ring (mild to moderate). This bit is a combination hybrid ring bit/shank bit/hackamore.
This bit information comes directly from the book The Level Best for Your Horse ~ The Myler Bitting System. Julie had a little giveaway contest during the clinic and gave away some blankets as well as several copies of this book, one of which Dan won, and he gave it to me, since he is happy with the bits he and Betty currently use on their horses.
I am enjoying this book because it doesn’t just focus on Myler bits, but also discusses the anatomy and physiology of the horse (head, mouth and body) and how they relate to bits, bitting for communication (bit resistance, tongue pressure and how they fall into play when using bits, bit knowledge (direct rein vs indirect rein action), and traditional mouthpiece and cheekpiece designs.
(It even comes with a free 85 minute visual guide DVD)
I’d recommend this book for anyone who uses a bit in their horse’s mouth, even if they think they know everything there is to know about bits.