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Five Days with a Master

June 14, 2013

For 5 or 6 years now, I’ve managed to find time yearly to study horsemanship with David Ellis, 5* Parelli instructor.  My first time as his student was so monumental to my growth, that every year when he came to town I’d be there, ready to learn.  I’ve studied with numerous horseman and women, but Dave Ellis is the one who stretches me like no other.  I always walk away feeling like I’ve soared to new heights and I can go home and get higher levels of results from the horses I’m training.  Additionally, my arsenal is stocked and loaded to take my students to their new heights.  I’ve even gone to his ranch in California to get further doses of his and Gem Ellis clinic 2013

This year was no different, except that it was.  Jodi Grimm, Dave’s wife, was also there to help teach.  She is now a 3-star Parelli instructor and was there to offer help and support, which added to the clinic in a deep way.

There are 2 parts to this post; a summary of the information and exercises we covered, and a summary of my personal experience.  This allows you to focus on what you choose.

The Information and Exercises

The clinic was 5 days, with the first 3 focusing on preparation for the cow work during days 4 and 5.  We started the first morning with Dave talking about the prey/predator relationship.  One student had a horse who wanted to graze and the student didn’t want that.  Dave spent some time helping use the idea of comfort and discomfort to set boundaries for the horse by applying light rhythmic pressure on the horses back.

We worked a while on moving the hind with a subtle ask and helping the horse feel our intentions of a more energetic ask.  This exercise would be a recurring theme throughout the 5 days (but, of course!).  Dave calls this “crouching tiger, hidden dragon”.  The idea is that if I bend over slightly to the hind, it should be moving.  If it doesn’t, I bend over more and go get it – like a fire-breathing dragon.  This exercise helps the horse become acutely aware of the human and prepares the horse to turn loose of his hind end.

When the human is actively facing the horse, the horse should respond with 2 eyes facing the human.  If not, we would use the hind end to cause the horse to face us squarely.  We also played with using steady pressure to get the back up by pointing over the horse.  If steady pressure wasn’t enough, we’d add rhythm.  The idea was to help the horse understand our intent and focus with a steady feel.

We then put the horse on the circle (not circle game) and asked the horse to yield his hind to us while continuing to move forward.  Dave does this exercise in most clinics I’ve attended and it’s a neat feeling to talk to that inside hind and ask the horse to step it under just a bit and then continue forward, while never breaking gait.

We played a lot with moving the fore and hind mounted, from a halt, and from all 3 gaits.  He wanted us to be more particular about asking when the horse was setup to respond positively (when the correct foot was ready to leave the ground).

Dave talked about tempo and asking the horse to feel the tempo of the rider and get into rhythm.  For example, at the trot, the rider should have a specific tempo in mind and be particular with the horse to join in that tempo.  Then, ask the horse to turn loose at that tempo and settle into it, finding a release to be allowed to be quiet in that movement.  Dave called this “comfort in motion”.

We worked on get a positive response from the hind in the saddle, using the reins as phase 4.  We’d hold the reins straight up while asking the horse to yield the hind.  The reins stopped the forward while we worked on teaching the horse to follow the feel of the hind request.  This particular method was new to me.

We played with a lot of synchronized riding in groups of 2’s, 3’s and 4’s.  We played with turning in sync, gait transitions and more.DSCN1391

**If you have to go to phase 4 to teach a horse, be sure that you give a release that’s even bigger than the phase 4 pressure you applied.

Day 4 we started focusing on cow-working.  We started with exercises to prepare the horse and human for the cows.  We did rollbacks with a partner playing the part of the cow.  We talked a lot of teaching the cow AND the horse when working cattle.  We played with turning the cow a full 360 degrees on his hind, splitting the cattle, tailing a cow, stopping a cow.  Dave discussed the pressure focus point behind the ear of a cow to get the cow to turn.  We played with counter-arching around the cow to get the cow turning in place.

We finished the clinic playing with Campjouring and Team Penning.

As always, there was a healthy dose of discussions on the horse turning loose to us, teaching the horse to hunt the comfort and remembering to ALWAYS deal with the opposition the horse presents right away.

gem and i at de clinic 2013 - 2

My Personal Experience

My gelding, Gemini, has been in my life for 6-7 years.  He is now my main horse since I lost my mare partner in March this year.  I wasn’t sure how he’d do with cows, with the exercises, with herd sweetness that he develops so easily, the pressure…  but he was a champ and never let me down.  We grew together in this clinic unlike ever before and I raised my expectations of him to a new height.  I became more aware of some of the ways I was allowing opposition with Gemini, which allow him to question my leadership.  Gem needs me to be more aware of those moments and show him that I notice and help him turn loose in those moments.  Dave seemed to like Gem and let me know that he was the right horse to get me through level 5 and beyond.  That was nice to hear and gave me even more faith in my fine gelding.

It was a neat experience going with a group of friends.  I’ve always attending clinics on my own, so this was quite different.  I enjoyed it!  My reflection time after the day was over was a change from how I normally do things, but the reflection time in our discussions was great.  Each of us in the group felt our horse/human partnerships growing and evolving rapidly.  DSCN1413

Gem is a “bucking horse”, meaning early on he learned that bucking would make the pressure go away.  Although he’s been generally trustworthy, there have been times when he’s resorted to bucking when I wasn’t expecting it.  Dave and Jodi set it up for Gem and me to focus on this and get past it on day 2.  This was brilliant for my development!  All the horses and riders stayed on 1 end of the arena and Gem and I went cantering into the other direction.  This is typically a scenario where Gem would buck.  He did hump a little, but each time I felt him consider it, Dave had me bend him with a lot of energy for a bit and then ask him to back up with energy.  The backing would wind him up and we’d canter off again.  At one point, I was asking him to bend with so much energy he almost fell over!  However, after that round, his canter was more free and he was more willing than ever.  See, I think we needed to go there and I needed the support to handle whatever happened.  Great learning experience for me and it set the tone for the remaining 3 days with my equine partner.  We were changed.

Jody also helped me with Gem’s left lead.  This was great as Gemini and I struggle with the left lead.  I’m sure it’s me and how my body is positioned, but I’d love to get that lead more consistently.  The right comes naturally.  We were focusing on freestyle techniques with leads and I was trying to use finesse riding to get the lead. I’ve got to practice with this more this summer.

I have lots to play with this summer and I’m recommitted to getting my level 4 completed.  I finished level 3 in 2009 and I have focused on other parts of my development since then.  Gem is certainly ready to start filming and I finally am there, too.  It hasn’t been about the skill or the tasks, but more about priorities.  Dave and Jodi helped me get refocused on my Parelli journey and I’m thankful.

  1. Alice permalink

    When I was doing hunter-jumper, we did a bit of yielding the hind while moving forward–we called it “shoulder-in.”

    I like the “crouching tiger, hidden dragon.” Horsemanship is like parenting. 🙂 You ask nicely, and then you expect and insist upon compliance. Horses and kids know whether you really mean it or not.

    It’s great that Dave thinks Gem has Level 5 capability! I hope you’ll post your testing videos! 🙂

  2. Hi Alice! Yes, shoulder-in and haunches-in are great exercises to supple your horse. Renvers is a move that really tests the horse’s ability to respond and be light. Leg yielding typically means you are not using your other aids to ask the horse’s feet to move. We worked both on leg yielding – asking the horse to come off our leg pressure as well as asking the horse to keep the body on our legs, essentially following the pressure. Just some different perspectives that broadened our riding abilities.

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