California Riding Magazine • December, 2011

Ask Charles Wilhelm
Super Horse Clinics

Question: My question relates to the Super Horse Clinics. What is unique about these clinics and why are they called Super Horse Clinics? Ranch versatility refers to an all-around horse so what is the difference?

Answer: Imagine if your horse could do a dressage test, go out quietly on the trail, work with cows, do a flag run, walk in a parade or anything else you could dream up. The goal of the Super Horse Clinics is to help you develop a horse that can be extremely versatile, light and responsive - no matter the situation.

The Super Horse Challenge is a venue for men and women to demonstrate what they have accomplished with their horses and to compete with other riders of the same skill level. The difference between this competition and other competitions is that you and your horse are being judged on the quality of the performance, responsiveness and equitation, not just speed.

For many years I specialized in working with problem horses and I still have horses brought to me that have issues, however, in the last few years my emphasis has changed a bit. I now work more with horses and riders perfecting their performance and skill. While I still have horses that come in for three to six months for issues or tune ups, I have a group of owners that have chosen to stay with me and continue to receive training and ride in classes. The result has been that over the years using our foundation training, the trainers and I discovered that the more educated a horse is, the more we can do with that horse. When we get a horse pretty well trained or broke as I like to say (not meaning broken in spirit but well educated), we have found that we can build on our foundation training and teach that horse to perform a variety of activities.

Our foundation training is aimed at getting the horses quiet, relaxed and accepting of different objects. We work with a variety of objects to de-spook the horses so they will not over-react to objects on the trail. For 15 years or so now I have been using blue plastic tarps to teach horses to go over objects and through creeks. Tarps are versatile and excellent objects to be draped over horses and for horses to learn to go over and to drag. They crinkle and are noisy and excellent for de-spooking. Later we started using a 36-inch ball to get horses accustomed to pushing something and having something bump against their sides and legs. Then we started to play soccer with the ball here in the arena which was fun for all. The horses also learn to drag a log and to carry a flag. I've worked with several rodeo queens in the royalty programs where horses must carry a flag and do pattern work. Pretty soon we started saying, look at the super horse who can walk, trot and canter with a flag and then mount a pedestal. The horses also had to be able to do reining patterns and work with cows. Again we found that the more things we did with the horses, the more we could do, including roping and even mounted shooting.

We have a nice groomed trail here at the ranch but we also have what we call an extreme trail. The trail is steep and the horse must really learn to climb and to slide down using their hind quarters. We teach the horses to jump as you never know when you will be out on a trail and need to get over an obstacle. Every horse can jump at least 24 inches and jumping is a great gymnastic exercise. We start by trotting over poles and small logs and getting the horses to pay attention. Then we tackle higher poles and larger logs. All these exercises translate into better performance no matter the chosen discipline.

Super Horses

So this is how it all came about. We began to refer to these horses as super horses. A super horse is able to do a variety of things. He is able to go to a parade, he can work with cows, he can do a reining pattern, he can perform in the arena and out on the trail. He doesn't have to be perfect at any of these activities but the main criteria is that the horse is quiet, soft to the hands and obedient. Another quality of the super horse is that he has what I like to call business ears. He is paying attention to me and waiting to see what I'm going to ask him to do next. For example, if we are doing a hand gallop, he is relaxed with a loose rein and I am able to stop without undue pressure on the bit. I look for a forward walk and a nice extended walk. I want a nice trot and an extended trot as well as a nice canter or lope, depending on the discipline.

This type of performance requires that the horse be balanced and carry himself properly. As owners and riders, we have to learn to ride more correctly. The more educated the horse is the more important is the rider's equitation. The rider must have proper body, seat and leg position.

I am not saying that to get a super horse you have to have your horse in full time training. We simply discovered that by working with horses over a long period of time, they can continue to learn new and varied skills. The Super Horse Clinics begin with the basic ground work and build the skill level. They provide an opportunity to learn the correct ways to teach your horse to do a variety of activities. Not all can be super horses but it should be a goal for all horses.

We will be doing additional Super Horse Clinics next year as well as Super Horse Challenges at some of the Horse Expos next year. Super horse performance should be a goal for everyone. Rather than just limiting you and your horse to one aspect of riding, expand your experience. Expand your horse's education, become a more responsive rider and have a good time.

God Bless,
Charles Wilhelm