Communication, cues key to horseback riding program

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At the turn of the 19th century, Germany produced the miracle of the scientific world the clever, Hans horse.

Hans the horse originally belonged to a school teacher, and what made him so clever was that he could preform complex, mathematical problems and give an answer by pounding his hoof on the ground.

Of course, the horse wasn't really a four-legged calculator. He was just observant. Hans was able to read physical cues from his owner to discern the correct answer cues the school teacher didn't even know that he was giving.

The case went down in the annuls of scientific history as an example of behaviorism and the misuse of scientific method.

Today, Hans can be considered even more clever than he was thought to be a century ago, since he was the first documented case of an animal being able to read a human's physical cues.

For local horse trainer Karrie Booth, the idea of an owner communicating with her horse through cues is central to her teaching method.

"In many cases, a rider will try and make his or her horse try to react to everything they do. They try to take command and don't look at what a horse is trying to tell them," she said. "What I try to do is make horse and rider become more in tune with each other."

Booth has a number of methods she incorporates to synchronize horse and rider, but groundwork is her cardinal strategy. She believes in taking the rider out of the saddle, and that's one of the first things she does when working with a rider and horse.

The idea behind getting off a horse in order to achieve better results when riding comes primarily from renowned trainer Linda Jones, who revolutionized the use of a pole maze to work on cue reading.

The pole maze is simply that, a maze constructed of spaced poles in which a rider will walk his or her horse through, all the while remaining sensitive to what the horse is telling them.

"The maze is a good way to develop the skill of asking a horse what you want it to do, instead of forcing it to do it," Booth said.

For the horsemen and women of Craig, Booth's cohesive style of horsemanship training is available throughout the summer.

Along with Leigh Gillingham, owner of the local tack shop, Horses Etc., Booth will conduct a riding program in Craig. The program will focus on English-style riding, which is the style seen in steeplechases and equestrian jumping, but not limited to it.

They will also offer clinics for those with troubled horses, and try to create a more eclectic approach for those who do not ride the English style.

"The program is meant to improve communication between rider and horse, it will also steer in the direction of improving English riders," Booth said. "We also encourage other styles of riding to join in, since many of the techniques used in English riding will enhance other styles."

Along with improving riding styles, the program will also offer the chance to learn how to jump and do dressage.

The program offers three different choices for participants.

A rider can take private, semi-private or group lessons, with each costing around $20 to $30.

Package deals are also available, and are more cost-effective, but they are limited to two-month stints.

Age is not a factor for participation. Children and adults are both welcome, though Booth does run a youth-only program at the Hayden Arena.

Booth and Gillingham both aspire to create a club that is more than just riding lessons, and in the near future, the duo hopes evolve the program into a club.

"We look to make the program into a club, maybe hold a horse show in the summer, but mainly just to ride," Booth said. "Craig is one of the few communities in this part of Colorado which doesn't have a riding club, which we feel is unfortunate."

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