All posts by Matt McLaughlin Dressage

Matt McLaughlin Dressage offers training and instruction from training level through Grand Prix Dressage and in haute ecole. Our training philosophy integrates classical principles of dressage, the requirements of today’s competitive dressage and Natural Horsemanship techniques. Emphasizing the values of respect, control, and fairness in the relationship between horse and rider, our focus is to teach people how to train horses. While our training methods are focused on dressage and haute école, these methods are applicable to all disciplines and breeds.

Rooster’s 12 days of Christmas

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On the 1st day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “Keep all your Christmas stuff far away from me!”

On the 2nd day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “I will eat your stinky, blinky Christmas tree!”

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On the 3rd day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “Your silly colored lights are blinding me!”

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On the 4th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “Your ugly little elf should have stayed on his shelf.”

On the 5th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “That silly flying Reindeer has got nothing on me!”

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On the 6th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “I will stomp this empty stocking into history!”

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On the 7th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “That creepy, freaky gnome is scaring me!”

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On the 8th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “Naughty or Nice, don’t be judging me!”

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On the 9th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “These Christmas cookies aren’t terrible… I’ll take three!”

On the 10th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “I didn’t know that there were presents… is there one for me?”

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On the11th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “I look better in this hat than the rest of ye!”

On the 12th day of Christmas Rooster said to me, “I’ve decided I love Christmas!  Let’s go on a decorating spree!”

See below for the results of Rooster’s decorating spree:

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turtle xaf-christmas

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A big thanks to our valiant steeds for their patience with Rooster’s efforts.  Happy Holidays to all!  Best wishes in the New Year!

The Concept of Fairness

Being fair is an important concept in a training philosophy.  Fair is defined as being free from bias, dishonesty or injustice; marked by favoring conditions; and legitimately sought, pursued or done.  Relevant synonyms include:  just, impartial, rational, honest, and evenhanded.  These concepts are reflected in training in a variety of ways.  First, be fair by creating a situation where your horse can successfully perform the required task.  Second, be fair in the use of rewards and discipline.  Third, be fair by making an honest and rational analysis of what is happening during your training session.

Creating a situation where your horse can succeed in the task required:  When working your horse, ride with accuracy and pre-planning so your horse has every opportunity to perform correctly.  If you want your horse to do a 20 meter circle in a round frame with forward intent, you must ride a geometrically correct circle with the same amount of bend in the body the entire way around.  Each time you fix your circle’s geometry, effectively introducing straight lines and turns, you interrupt the flow and balance of the movement and your horse.  This makes it more difficult for your horse to maintain what you want and allows the naughty ones an opportunity to misbehave.  If you want to turn down the centerline and proceed straight on the centerline, making a sharp turn onto the centerline disrupts the rhythm, causes the haunches to swing out, and creates a wavering line for the first half of the arena.  Pre-planning the turn from the corner before the centerline, picturing a geometrically round half-circle onto a straight line, allows your horse to maintain his rhythm and frame through the turn and minimizes the number of adjustments required to transition from a curved to straight line in the horse’s body.

This concept of fairness includes being aware of your environment and other influences.  If you have a deep spot in the arena or a section that is not level, it is unfair to expect your horse to maintain his balance or conduct a difficult movement through these areas.  If it is cold and windy and your horse is fresh,  if your horse is tired or sore, or if you have had a bad day and are grumpy, do not set you and your horse up for failure by expecting to work on the newest or hardest movements that session.  Work on equitation, geometry, transitions, or just go for a trail ride.

Creating a situation for success is particularly important when training new and more difficult movements.  You want your horse to enjoy learning and not be afraid to make a mistake when trying to understand a new concept.  One of Matt’s favorite quotes from his mentor Chuck Grant, a USDF Hall of Fame member and recognized father of American dressage, is “ask often, receive little, reward generously.”  This is where the rider needs to manage their expectations and set realistic goals.  Start small, with a couple of steps of the new movement at first, gradually increasing the number of steps until you attain the required duration of the movement.  When the movement starts to fall apart, abort, reorganize and try again.  Better to reorganize and restart than attempt to fix something within the new movement itself.  Expect that your progress will follow the “two steps forward, one step back” philosophy.  Be patient, all horses (and people) learn at a different pace and with different methods.  If your tried and true training method for the movement is not working with a particular horse, be creative and try new approaches.  If the horse or rider are getting frustrated in a new movement, stop working on it and go back to something known, that can be achieved successfully and rewarded.  Once both horse and rider have returned to a calm and receptive state, begin working on the new movement again.

Fair use of rewards and discipline:  Positive re-enforcement is the key to a happy, willing horse.  Make sure to take every opportunity to let your horse know they have done the right thing.  There are a wide range of rewards for your horse during a training session.  Ending the session, taking a break, giving a quiet pat or rub, saying good boy, stroking their withers or neck with a finger, or just softening the reins for a moment are all ways to say good job, thank you for the effort.  It is also important to always end a session on a good note.  If you have had a difficult ride, make sure to make time at the end for something the horse can do successfully, even if it is just a transition, so they can receive a reward.  Pay attention to what the horse likes to do so you can use it for a happy ending.  For example, our Andalusian stallion, Enamorado, loves the extended trot and our paint, Rooster, thinks Spanish walk is the coolest thing ever.

Being just, evenhanded and rational are extremely important concepts when it comes to discipline.  Is discipline required, or was the behavior a miscommunication or mistake?  There is a big difference between a horse who crow-hopped and one that tripped, even though it may feel the same to the rider.  Does the punishment fit the crime?  Is the discipline crafted to address the issue or is it just an expression of frustration or anger?

Our mantra for training is “Ask, Tell, Demand.”  Ask with the initial cue, Tell with a stronger aid or correction, and Demand with a much stronger aid or correction.  When applying this to moving forward, Ask by squeezing with both legs, Tell with a spur and Demand with the whip.  Always give the horse a chance to respond to your aid before increasing the degree of a correction.  Allow the horse the opportunity to do the right thing.  If they make the wrong choice, then you can move on to the next stage of correction.  Over correcting often escalates a situation.  Instead of a spook corrected once and allowed to redirect back to work, over correcting turns the spook into a fight where each correction leads to worse behavior, such as running away, rearing or bucking.

Finally, timing is everything!  Whether it is a reward or a form of discipline, there is a 3 second window for your horse to correlate your action with their previous behavior.  So be generous with your praise in the moment of good behavior and be quick to correct, allow a response, and correct again when implementing discipline.

Making an honest and rational analysis of the training session:  It is important to make an objective assessment of each instance of a training session that acknowledges both the good and bad.  What was correct?  What was incorrect?  What can be done differently to make that movement better next time?  If something went wrong, what did the rider do to contribute to the issue?  It is easy to blame the horse for mistakes and bad behavior.  However, many times the rider either caused the issue or made the issue worse than it needed to be as discussed previously.  For example, a rider was unable to pick up the left lead canter at a show.  She left the arena angry with her horse, put him away with no cookies and held a grudge against him for the rest of the show.  A review of the video showed that she bent his head right and positioned her leg biometrically incorrectly each time she asked for the canter.  The horse did exactly what she asked him to do, canter right.  He was being obedient, not belligerent, and deserved cookies for performing a more difficult task of picking up the counter canter, instead of punishment.

Final thought:  While this article has touched on three facets of the concept of fairness as it relates to training, the concept applies to all areas of horsemanship and is an integral part of building a positive and productive relationship with your horse.

Journey to the Midwest Horse Fair

We started our journey to Madison, Wisconsin for the 2015 Midwest Horse Fair with a bang….literally.

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Our equine crew, Cooper V, Versatil Imagem, Pecos and Confetti, monitored the repair closely and we were soon back on the road.

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Although rainy and windy, the rest of the trip was uneventful.   After unloading the horses and equipment at the Alliant Energy Center, we tracked down a nearby commercial tire shop and got Velma (our Volvo Semi) six new shoes including fancy lo pro fronts…just in case she decided to mimic the trailer on our way home!

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The booth set up, we were all ready for opening day on Friday.  The Mid-West Horse Fair is the second largest event at the Alliant Energy Center.  A record breaking 61,000 people attended the Fair this year!

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Matt and his horses were very busy all three days of the exhibition, giving lectures and demonstrations on training philosophy, the different levels of dressage, lateral work, flying changes as well as piaffe and passage.  Bucket list accomplishment?  Getting his name on the Jumbotron.

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Cooper V and Confetti were spectacular in the Epic Night of the Horse production on Saturday.  This was Cooper’s first time performing with spotlights and a large audience and he was absolutely brilliant.  Confetti’s routine was funnier than ever, with the help of production director John Harrison, whose portrayal of Angora, the ugly stepsister, had Matt laughing so hard he couldn’t remember his lines.

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A fantastic weekend for the McLaughlin team!  We would like to send a huge thank you to the management and volunteers at the Midwest Horse Fair.  Your organization and amazing hospitality are unmatched.  We also were very impressed by the Fair attendees whose kindness, intelligent questions and interest in dressage made the weekend especially rewarding.  We truly appreciate the feedback and comments we have received since we returned home and have included some of them below.  Thank you Wisconsin!

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I attended all of Matt’s sessions at the Horse Fair. What a wealth of knowledge he shared with us and his love and passion for his horses and teaching dressage was clearly evident. Plus he was funny and kind. Can’t get any better. PLEASE email the Midwest horse fair to let them know you enjoyed his visit. It would be wonderful to have Matt come again to the fair.

It is not that easy to make dressage entertaining AND informative – but you did. Very much appreciate your efforts.

Enjoyed your clinic Saturday! Love Versatil’s personality and thank you for the reminder that things don’t always go as planned and that’s okay.

All of your demos and performances were fantastic! The evening show performance was breathtaking and you were clearly the star of the show. The audience was going wild. Thank you so much for sharing with us. The schedule seemed pretty intense. I came right home and started working on the piaffe with renewed understanding.

Thank you for sharing your talent, knowledge and passion with us at the Fair this weekend! Both you and your horses were simply amazing and inspiring!

Matt and team-we were so blown away by your demo style and the beautiful, happy horses. It’s not easy to take them that far away from home, and still see the enjoyment of their job on their faces and in their body language. I also so appreciated how much YOU seem to love what you do. Your passion and knowledge of the discipline make me want to cross-train my big 17h appendix QH hunter!! Do you take vacation visitors??  Thank you again. Trainers like you re-inspire my love and appreciation for these animals all over again. Great job.

I just wanted to tell you that I have seen many different shows and exhibits but When I saw You ride to AC/DC I can’t even tell you what kind of goose bumps I got. You definitely were one of the best parts of the show. It  made my day.

My daughter, son, and I attended a couple of your sessions and really enjoyed them and we all learned something and left inspired.  My 12 year old daughter is now very inspired to teach her Welsh pony (who was one of those poor little carnival ride ponies in a previous life) to piaffe. I purchased your DVD and a cue stick for her and she is already hard at work. So please know your trip was well worth it. She has been interested in learning and improving in dressage and is now very inspired and ready to show the world just what she and her pony can do. This will be a fantastic learning experience for her. 🙂 Thanks!!!!

The Probiotic Supplement Solution – Fact or Fiction?

Probiotics and Prebiotics are a hot topic these days, for both human and equine digestive health care.  A probiotic is a supplement containing live bacteria or yeasts (flora) that are normally present in the gastrointestinal tract.  A prebiotic is a type of fiber that nourishes the flora already present in the gastrointestinal tract.  When our sponsor, Nutramax Laboratories, brought some samples of their product, Proviable-EQ, we agreed to give it a trial run.  According to Nutramax, Proviable-EQ is a “probiotic plus prebiotic product designed to reestablish and maintain intestinal health naturally.”  It “can be used continuously or as needed to maintain hindgut health during times of stress or digestive upset” and “to encourage normal gastrointestinal function and health.”

Our expectations were low, supplements were not something we fed regularly as they were often ineffective and unnecessary with a balanced feed program.  We had clients who had used other probiotic products at great expense without any visible benefits.  However, at that time, Matt’s exhibition horse, Coral, appeared to be a good candidate to really test this product as he had several symptoms indicating digestive upset.  He cribbed incessantly, and had frequent bouts with colic.  As he got older, it became more and more difficult to keep him at a good weight.  We started Coral on the Proviable-EQ powder and within a couple of weeks, there were obvious signs of improvement.  He was cribbing much less and the frequency of colic dramatically decreased.  He gradually gained weight and his energy improved.  We kept Coral on a maintenance dose of Proviable-EQ until he passed away at the ripe old age of 29.

Based on our experience with Coral, we started recommending Proviable-EQ to our clients who have had equal success using the product.  One horse came to us with a rough coat, weight issues and a box full of ulcergard.  Another stallion also had ulcers, was under weight and had a supplement and grain regime requiring an instruction manual to understand.  A different client’s horse had ulcers and would colic anytime the weather or hay changed, or if there was a new situation, like a horse show.  All of these horses responded to a maintenance dose of Proviable-EQ powder with amazing results leading to much happier and healthier lives.

Proviable-EQ also comes in the form of a paste.  This is a very convenient way to dose a horse on an as needed basis.  We found the paste to be especially helpful when a horse is off his feed.  Whether due to nerves from being at a show, on the trailer or in a new situation, or from frustration that the hay has changed to a different flavor, dosing with the paste ensures the horse ingests the product so their mental upset does not lead to a digestive one.

Check out Nutramax’s website for more information on Proviable-EQ and their other equine products.  If you would like to purchase Proviable-EQ online, use this link for shopping on Amazon.

Farewell Coral II

August 3rd, 2014 was a heartbreaking day at Matt McLaughlin Dressage as we said a final farewell to our 29 year old Andalusian, Coral II.  Known and loved by spectators all over North America, Coral was Matt’s exhibition partner and friend for 22 years. 

Although our favorite opinionated grouch at the barn, Coral’s colorful past rivaled the popular tales of Black Beauty and War Horse. He entered the world as a feisty young horse with a sore temper.  He was gelded and sold to the Royal Lipizzaner Stallion Show.  Coral had contentious relationships with several trainers, introducing all to the wickedly fast punishment of his right hind foot which claimed several broken human bones along the way.  In 1993, Matt took Coral on and began to re-integrate him into the show.  With the help of the Head Trainer, Coral taught Matt the intricacies of timing, patience and earning a horse’s respect.  The two began to shine as the favorite solo act with the show.  Coral’s flamboyant performance of haute ecole and Olympic level dressage movements in perfect rhythm with the music made him a favorite with audiences.  Coral performed in exhibitions all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Europe.  

After Matt left the Lipizzaner Stallion show, the company sold Coral to a woman in Colorado.  Several trainers deemed Coral dangerous, based on his favorite trick – a vertical rear, so the woman put Coral out to pasture.  In 2001, the woman contacted Lori, who recognized Coral instantly, and arranged to have him shipped back to Florida.  Reunited, Matt and Coral continued to wow audiences with their high energy performances.  

In 2007, Matt’s attempt to retire Coral was immediately rejected through hunger strikes and farm demolition.  This lead to the compromise of semi-retirement, which seemed to agree with Coral who continued to light up in the spotlights and perform with the energy of a horse half his age until 2011.  He then became a favorite for our working students who learned dressage, haute ecole and long-lining skills through his exacting instruction.  Coral’s teaching method of ‘do it right or I’ll do whatever I want’ was an excellent experience for students and great entertainment for the rest of us.  Finally agreeing to full retirement in the summer of 2013, he spent the last year of his life bossing around his pasture mate and making sure the barn feeding schedule was strictly maintained. 

Coral was an amazing horse.  We were lucky to have him in our lives and are grateful for everything he taught us about horsemanship.  He will be missed.

See Coral’s last performance in Del Mar, CA at the 2011 Annual Del Mar National Horse Show’s Night of the Horse on Youtube.


 

After posting this on Facebook, we received an incredible response from Coral’s friends.  As of August 6th, 19,552 people saw the post and 221 comments were made.  A true reminder that Coral touched many lives.  See below for a few of the unedited comments:

  •  “Matt I had the privilege of seeing you perform at Night of the Horse in Brooksville. You were my inspiration to pursue dressage. I have a video of this performance and was watching it last night. I’m so sorry for your loss what an amazing partner and partnership….”
  • “ I saw you perform at horse world expo in PA. Coral gave me the passion to never give up on tough horses, just to understand what they are telling me
  • “A true hearted Andalusian ! Fire in his heart and passion in his blood. No point telling him to rest easy. He wouldn’t like that. He’s probably shadow boxing clouds.”
  •  “So sorry for your loss! Coral was a lucky horse to live out his life with Matt. I’m so glad I was able to see them perform together many times! “
  • “I feel honored to have seen him showed. Chris Cox had Matt at his clinic. They even traded horses for a while.”
  • “So sorry to hear of his passing…I’ll never forget the show you guys put on in Windsor, Nova Scotia…RIP Coral”
  • “What a remarkable character he was! Two weeks ago, we laughed as he snorted and called to Frankie–obviously forgetting that he was a gelding. Hugs to all of you and cheers to Coral.”
  • “ I’m so sorry. I still have so many pictures from when I rode him and he was the first horse I have ever learned to rear and bow on. Corral will always have a special place in my heart. He was an absolutely amazing horse “
  • “So very sorry – I remember meeting him in person – he was vibrant and such a character.. I remember watching Matt ride in a solo performance – truly breath taking. RIP Coral II – you will be missed!”
  • “ I’m sorry for you guys. He was so much fun, and I learned a lot from him and his do it right or I’ll make you lessons. Hugs to you all, miss all of you and will miss Coral II forever!”
  • “I was a lucky person to meet and ride this amazing horse. I saw many performances of him and Matt. Rip Coral. You were an amazing horse and I’m sad to hear this news. I’m sorry for your loss Matt. He was loved by many of his adoring fans.”
  • “Fabulous horse. Grateful to have made his acquaintance. Will never forget the day he allowed my daughter the privilege of riding him. She got to feel all of his fabulous moves piaffe, passage, and much to my concern levade. He knew exactly what he was doing and I will never forget her smile when she asked for it and he so kindly, and honestly obliged. Matt and Lori please know how sorry we are for your loss and how grateful were were to enjoy him.”
  • “The Horse World Expo will forever miss you Coral. May you have all the mares you want and the alfalfa you can eat. (( hugs)).”
  • “So sorry for your loss Matt. Coral was indeed an awesome horse. Matt and Coral had a wonderful connection as performers. They WOWED many audiences. A few years ago I had the opportunity to go to Fla. and train under Matt for a few days, and some of my instruction was on Coral. What a honor it was to ride this great horse. Thank You Matt.”
  • “Farewell to a legend. See you on the other side Coral!  This horse and Matt performed together all over the world.  They always stole the show!“
  • “Tissues please! Matt McLaughlin is amazing person and Coral was an incredible horse. I was blessed and honored to see them both perform several times. My deepest condolences to Matt and the entire team at Matt McLaughlin Dressage. Rest in peace Coral. May God rest your soul.”