Riding's JULY, 2008 COVER STORY!


California Riding Magazine • July, 2008

Under Construction
Five steps are critical to
building successful horsemanship.

by Christa Petrillo

Photo: Erpelding Photography

Many of our horses’ common training or behavioral issues are caused directly by how we interact with them. When we learn to identify what causes the issue, and then modify our own behavior, we can greatly improve our overall experience with our horses. Let’s look at five important steps to building successful horsemanship.

1. Identify the Cause

Problem behavior can have many causes, and in most cases you can identify your horse’s problem by careful observation and a process of elimination.

Pain: By doing a simple physical examination and by knowing where to check for pain, and the nerve and pressure points on a horse, we can easily do this examination anytime, anywhere. Once the pain is gone, usually the “problem behavior” is gone.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

Improper saddle fit: If the saddle is too narrow it is going to pinch, causing immediate pain, and eventually it will cause nerve and muscle damage. A saddle that is too wide is going to roll and sit on the withers. If the skirt on a western saddle is too long, it can hit the horse in the hips causing the horse to not want to move correctly.

Holes in training: Just as a building without a good foundation eventually develops structural problems, a horse without a foundation of good training eventually develops behavioral problems. Horses in training are always under construction, and one lesson builds on another, so make sure your horse understands each step in the process.

Poor shoeing: Proper trimming is of utmost importance. Feet that are too long or trimmed improperly can put too much stress on the tendons and ligaments, which can eventually lead to an injury and permanent damage. Improper shoeing or trimming can lead to balance issues and an improper way of going that will affect your horse’s ability to perform well.

Handler ignorance: If we don’t understand equine behavior and if we don’t “speak horse” we are asking for problems. As responsible horse owners, it is important to learn what horses are saying by their body language and their actions. It’s important to know how to correctly respond to what they are saying in a timely fashion in ways they can easily understand. Educating yourself through clinics or lessons is a good way to get hands-on experience, but there are also many books and videos that are effective teaching aids.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

2. Learn to Understand Horse Behavior

Such commonly misunderstood equine “bad behaviors” as head rubbing, head tossing, stepping into your space and walking ahead of the handler can be easily corrected. But if allowed to go unchecked, they can eventually translate to bigger problems when the horse is ridden. Once a person understands how to speak “horse” they can recognize and understand what the horse is communicating.

Many behavioral issues translate to the desire to establish dominance. This is where the John Lyons’ Round Penning technique can be useful and effective. It helps to establish control, sets the handler up as the dominant one in the relationship, and aids in correcting respect issues.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

3. Focus on Foundation Training

Foundation training is a series of exercises designed to control the separate parts of the horse. Each exercise is designed with the goal of controlling individual parts of the horse on cue.

I teach the horse where to move the part, how far to move it, how quickly to get it there, and with the lightest pressure possible. Combining the cues that are solidly built in foundation training, the horse has the ability to perform movements and maneuvers that can be used on the trail or at the Olympics.

Many elements are used in Performance Training. They include: Lead changes, elevating the withers, choosing your horse’s headset, straightness and bend, advanced lateral work, shoulder-in, haunches-in, full pass, half pass, side pass, piaffe, sliding stop, passage, spin, canter pirouette and much more. Before these movements can be performed, the horse needs to have established the foundation upon which these movements are based.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

4. Give Proper Nutrition and Conditioning

Give a horse what it needs nutritionally and environmentally and it will be better off, mentally and physically, to give you what you are looking for in performance.

Nutrition is critical. Know how much to feed and what to feed. I weigh my portions out so I know exactly what my horses get. What matters most is the quality of hay you are feeding. The horse reflects the quality of what they are eating. There are a vast number of quality feeds, vitamins and supplements on the market. Be consistent with what you feed. It is always a good idea to check with your vet about what you are feeding.

Provide proper paddocks, stalls and sufficient exercise. Horses at our facilities are given a 40’ x 60’ paddock and a stall where they can come in and go out at will. They enjoy their environment and seem content. The right environment sets them up to succeed mentally and to progress in their training much more quickly. Attitude is everything!

Photo: Erpelding Photography

5. Match Horse and Rider Suitability

When selecting or evaluating a horse, consider the factors that make a horse a suitable match for its rider.

Be honest about your capability and personality. Honestly appraising yourself, or having a trainer help you with matching your abilities with an appropriate horse, will save you disappointment and problems in the long run. Not all horses and people get along.

No matter the breed or pedigree, the most important characteristic to consider is disposition. A pretty horse that doesn’t have a mind to work doesn’t make a good riding horse. A horse’s pedigree can give clues to its genetic traits, including disposition.

Conformation is a factor, as well. Certain breeds of horses are known for being best suited for particular styles of riding due to their conformation. For example, Thoroughbreds are best known as race horses but also excel at jumping. You want to choose a horse suited to your style of riding.

If you already have a horse, make sure you are using your horse in a way that is best suited to its abilities. Asking a horse to do something they physically cannot do can lead to injury to the horse, frustration for the rider and “training problems” because the horse is being asked to do something it simply cannot do. Conformation suited to the horse’s use also helps ensure the horse can stay sound.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

On the Road to Success

By addressing the causes of behavior problems, and by educating ourselves as equestrians, our journey on the road to successful horsemanship will be more rewarding and enjoyable for ourselves and our horses.

For an expanded version of this article, visit the Christa Petrillo Total Horsemanship Training web site at www.christapetrillotraining.com.

Photo: Erpelding Photography

On the Road to Success
Christa Petrillo Offers
Total Horsemanship Training

by Kathleen Burke Jensen

“The road to success is always under construction,” is one of natural horsemanship trainer Christa Petrillo’s favorite quotations and is part of her recent campaign to help people understand both natural horsemanship and the realities of horse ownership.

“Good horsemanship is a process like so many things in life,” Christa relates. When Christa talks to people about horses it encompasses more than just training issues. She imparts wisdom and insights, such as little trade secrets, to everyone she meets. It just comes out naturally in her conversation. People are always appreciative and amazed at what they’ve learned from just a few minutes with her.

Christa believes strongly in building a good solid foundation in people concerning their horsemanship and life with horses. “A building is only as good as the foundation it is built upon. If you have an inadequate foundation the building is going to come apart over time. So it is with our horses and with our understanding of horses.” Christa guides her clients through the “construction zone” of education to successful horsemanship. She helps set people “on the road to success.”

These days, “On the Road to Success” is living in her barn. It’s the name of Christa’s yearling paint filly that she is training up to be her new demonstration horse for her clinics. While Christa didn’t name her, the match between horse and philosophy is a happy coincidence.

Christa Petrillo is a John and Josh Lyons Certified Trainer who runs her Total Horsemanship Training business at her family’s Golden Moments Ranch near the small Northern California town of Winters. Christa’s business is based on training the horse and rider to achieve the best possible experience together.

The Lyons program encourages its students to learn from everybody and see what others are doing, evaluate it, question it and apply it. Christa has continued to further her education by taking clinics geared toward the professional horse trainer and has completed the first leg of a two-part Professional Trainer’s Reining Accreditation Program with Josh Lyons. “Lyons techniques,” Christa says, “work on every horse.”

On any given day, you can find Christa handling a foal or starting a young horse, re-educating a problem horse, finding the perfect match of horse and rider in the sale component of her business, putting the finishing touches on a top show contender, rehabilitating horses or breeding and managing stallions at stud.

In addition to her work with horses and riders at Golden Moments Ranch, Christa also maintains a busy clinic schedule. Her coaching is geared toward more than just riding the horse. She sets her clients on the right path to becoming conscientious equestrians. This includes educating students on nutrition, conditioning, safety, equine behavior, veterinary work, equipment, saddle fitting and more. Christa also exposes her clients to equine acupuncture and chiropractic work.

Talented, ambitious, enthusiastic and passionate about her work, Christa, her clients and horses are “On the Road to Success.” Grateful for her success, Christa views her skill with horses and people as a gift from God. The scripture that guides her is Jeremiah 33:3, “Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”

Visit Christa Petrillo Total Horsemanship Training at www.christapetrillotraining.com.