TOMAH — Horse show competitors who feel their show ventures have them riding in circles might want to consider taking in a Horse Show Naturally show.
The concept of a different sort of horse show was developed by Tomah horse trainer and riding instructor Michelle Rasmussen. Rasmussen owns Morning Star Stables near Tomah and is a Parelli Natural Horsemanship graduate at Level 3 for the online category and Level 4 in Freestyle, Finesse and Liberty.
The HSN show’s classes encourage riders to develop better communication with their horses using Natural Horsemanship techniques.
To help riders prepare for the show, Rasmussen held a clinic before the show classes began. Participants included horsewomen as young as 5 up to preteen and senior adults. The goal was to provide an enjoyable, relaxed learning opportunity for participants.
“This is a fun day to develop partnership,” Rasmussen said.
During the clinic, participants learned how to direct their horses through various patterns and through obstacles both on the ground and while mounted.
One unusual obstacle was the “friendly fingers.” The “friendly fingers” were pool noodles attached to a chute-like structure, so when horses were directed to walk through the chute, the tubes would rub against their sides.
In the clinic, Rasmussen’s goal was to guide the participants in developing skills in the five natural horsemanship abilities of fluidity, creativity, leadership, willingness and communication.
Stressing leadership and communication between horse and handler, Rasmussen told the human partners of the equestrian teams they show leadership through their approach and attitude.
“Walk with confidence,” Rasmussen said. “You don’t look to your horse for confidence; they look to you for confidence.”
Rasmussen helped the clinic participants become more aware of how their position influences their horses’ response to cues.
“You’re responsible for telling your horse where you want it to be,” Rasmussen said. “If we get ahead of our horses, they want to follow.”
Following the clinic, the show classes began, with each class referred to as a game.
The first game involved groundwork where the handler directed her horse to back through two barrels while the competitor was seated. When the horse completed the maneuver, its handler then directs it to walk, trot or canter in a clockwise circle at the end of a long line back to the two barrels. The horse was then asked to come toward the handler. The maneuvers were then repeated with the horse working in a counterclockwise direction.
When the horse once again returned to stand in front of the seated handler, the handler stood and directed the horse toward a hula hoop lying on the ground. The horse was asked to put its front feet into the hoop and stand there for a count of three seconds.
Although the games were timed, the time limits were not strictly enforced; the focus stayed on the objective of participants having successful outcomes and their horses completing the exercise.
“The games were both for speed and control with a specific place to stop,” Rasmussen said. “Fun and safety for a quality ride were the keys to progressing the partnership. The riding games were done at the pace the rider felt confident, so we saw walk, jog and lope.”
In the second game, the handler asked her horse to stand for five seconds on a tarp lying on the ground. The horse was then sent over a jump from both directions. This game also asked the handler to put a tarp on her horse.
The first riding game was the flag race and the second was a double weave and bridge obstacle where the horse had to stand on the bridge for seven seconds.
The third game was a group “Simon Says,” which was followed by musical routines that could be practiced or ad lib and could be executed online, as casual rein freestyle or collected finesse.
Every participant was awarded a ribbon with one of the five natural horsemanship characteristic stamped on it, indicating the competitor had accomplished that particular skill.
For more information about HSN, other clinics or lessons, visit Rasmussen's website, www.morningstarstables.com.