Clinton Anderson in CA 2012, by CA, Christine Amber.
[Un edited, un spell checked] I went to Clinton Anderson's Walkabout Tour yesterday. I went to Tennessee in 2010 to see him compete in the Road to the Horse Competition. I haven't seen him on his own turf until yesterday, since my last clinic with him in 2004. He is just amazing. I have the utmost respect and admire him immensely. I truly believe he is so very honest when he talks to the crowd and in his Method. I feel like a gloating parent, being older than he, and having met him for the first time 14 years ago when he was just beginning his career. He shared yesterday that he will be 37 this year. He has built an empire, a marketing and sales machine on top of his horsemanship, people training skills and his most darling, naughti, clever, funny and "tell-it-like-it is" personality.
I don't think I am just an aging horsewoman gawking and fawning over a young man who can do what I wish I could and has done what I have not been able to. I think I am critical. I think I am more educated than many, both in horse training experience and in holding a Masters college degree. I am a hard worker. I am a researcher. I am a very strong rider. I am a skeptic and not gullible. I think of most clinicians as my equals, my peers .Clinton has earned my respect and admiration and I believe he is really a cut-above the rest.
When he first spoke to the crowd, he wasn't preaching to the choir. He was almost pleading, no, he was pleading with the audience to take him seriously and believe that this business of horses is serious, dangerous, and sometimes life threatening. There was a mysterious quality as he divulged his own feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and self-deprecation; telling the crowd that his horsemanship hasn't come naturally. He demonstrated how easy it can be to teach a horse a behavior and yet what hard, diligent, even compulsive work that it is to perfect that horses' behavior into the reliable, refined, and incredible performance as displayed by his equine partner Diaz.
If people didn't consciously notice Clinton's rapid, stressed breathing over the PA system after running around with Diaz, working the spoiled 2-year-ol demo colt, perhaps it conveyed subconsciously that working horses is hard physical work. If the crowd did not hear Clinton tell them horses' have the quickest reaction time of any domestic animal, their shock and horror echoed in silence and air sucking when the demo horses kicked out with force, speed, intention and accuracy at a simple rope flicked at its hind legs.
The crowd laughed at his jokes boisterously, and then made the sound of silence when his joke would quickly segue into a sad or tragic horse story or human accident recount. He told the "tree huggers" to leave, lumping the warm, fuzzy un disciplining horse owners with the liberal californians who can be nature conscious to a point of hysteria. I almost sensed his self recrimination saying, if you don't believe the truth I am telling you about how to make a horse safe there is no way you are going to like watching the truth transform a horses attitude and willingness. I thought i felt him saying, "Hey, don't judge me and my method as harsh, especially when I demonstrate that the Method works. I am never harsh unless the horse is dangerous and threatening my safety. Don't think I like to be the disciplinarian all the time, I love and appreciate these wonderful beasts more than you can see or know. His second demo horse really demonstrated how unharsh the Method can be. A paint horse that was dancing on the end of the lead rope and banging into its owner just simply dropped it's head and licked its lips when Clinton just backed the horse out of his personal space. No sweat, so spank just a few wiggles is all the horse required and it was calm.
Speaking of sweat, I think some of us tree huggers confuse work ethic with harshness. We are silly and can feel like we should expect things of our horses. We love them, we want them to feel happy, we don't want them to be confused.....Clinton nailed us on the mark. Really, there isn't anything wrong with expecting a horse to be a performance animals. Yes, we have pets and a few of us have clear safety rules that we enforce, but before our horses break a real sweat we are already tired! Every horse should be safe, giving it a good work ethic is part of Clinton's real success in creating a safe horse. I took four of my client pet-owners to Clinton's clinic and they all came away with a desire to get more from their horses and a renewed awareness of how little their horses willing give them. What could be wrong with that?
What I am trying to convey here is that, even in California, in the Bay Area abounding with tree huggers, pet owners and lead-and-feeder,s Clinton Method is the best for keeping people safe and horses happy. Clinton's message wasn't lost on seeing the forest for the trees. Any one, tree hugger or otherwise who misses Clinton's big picture and gets lost on some of the details sometimes required for a difficult or unsafe horse may find themselves being unable to learn. As Clinton says, "You can't learn if you're hurt or dead."
All material herein copyright by Christine Amber, 2005.
I first met Clinton Anderson six years ago at one of his five-day clinics in Ione, Ca. (Nov. 1999). Since my first clinic with him, I have followed his career ever since. Clinton Anderson is the youthful Australian equestrian who has developed Downunder Horsemanshiptm. He qualified for the Australian National Polo-Crosse team when he was 15, studied with great Australians and Americans such as Gordon MacKinlay, Ian Francis (Three-time Australian futurity champion in reining, two-time champion in cutting), Al Dunning (Multiple AQHA World Champion), and Sam Smith (International Reining Judge). In 1997 he placed third in the Australian National Reining Futurity, on Pillimindi Doll, "Mindy", a mare that he trained from a weanling. He pioneered the use of television to promote his training methods, being the first national trainer to have a weekly television series on RFD-TV. He still competes in the (U.S.) National Reining Futurities, and recently won his second two-day, El Camino del Caballo colt starting challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. He keeps a very busy schedule, holding clinics around the United States as well as at his home, in Ohio. He has been both on the cover of and a featured writer for Horse Illustrated (July 2000) and Horse and Rider Magazines (Dec. 2003). He has produced numerous videos on topics from Lunging for Respect to Riding with Confidence. He has teamed with Weaver Leather products to produce a video on horse safety. For more details about Clinton you can see his web site, www.clintonanderson.net
Over the past six years, I have seen his horsemanship program develop, making safety and foundations the top priorities. One of his premises is that, the person builds confidence by controlling the horse with groundwork. For groundwork, he uses a four-foot whip, a "handy stick" that helps define a boundary of personal space. The horse is taught never to enter the boundary unless invited, limiting the risk of the handler being injured, whether accidental or intentional. Clintonís clinics, tapes, TV shows and articles are all "step-by-step" presentations. He stresses that a student reach a level of proficiency at each foundation before moving to more difficult exercises. He teaches "form-to-function", whereby perfection of form brings greater function, whether the form is how well the handler can effectively move his horseís forehand around the haunches or how well the horse can execute a flying lead change.
Since my top priorities are always improving my own skills, better understanding the studentís experience and efficiently training horses and people, what could have been better than becoming a student again at a three-day DownUnder Horsemanship clinic? So, in Feb. 2004, I enrolled in my second Clinton Anderson clinic. I was one of 15 participants whose skills varied from riding only at walk-trot to starting young horses under saddle. There were Western and English riders, men and women, ranging in age from 50-ish to a 10ish young girl and her shetland-type pony. The horses varied in size and temperament as well, there were Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Paints, Morgans, and a Spanish Colonial. This was truly a diverse group in all aspects.
The first day, the clinic focused intently on ground work --guiding the haltered horse through turn on the forehand, rein back and turn on the haunches. All three exercises where accomplished while keeping the horse about four feet away from the handler, safely outside of the boundary measured by the length of the handy-stick . We could enter into the boundary to reward our horse, but our horse was not allowed into the boundary unless invited. This day was a good reminder for me, that when working with groups of riders, you can not assume skill level, but must always review basic skills and make a visual assessment. These maneuvers are basic in-hand exercises for a horse and rider combo, trained the Downunder way. After a demonstration, we worked simultaneously in the arena to duplicate what was demonstrated. It was a measure of our ability to have the horse respect our wishes, while giving the clinician a chance to assess his group of riders and horses.
The second day was also mostly groundwork. "Lungeing for Respect" is an exercise where the horse is asked to responsively trot in a small circle around you and then stop through a turn on the forehand by yielding itís hind quarters away from and turning it's forequarters to face you with two eyes. Putting these moves together smoothy was quite a challenge. Done correctly, it was like a flowing dance. Lunging for respect was followed by "lateral bending", a suppling exercise. Pressure is applied to the horses halter by bringing the lead line firmly backwards and upwards towards the withers. As soon as the horse "gives" to the pressure --softening his neck laterally and turning his head toward his side -- we were instructed to instantly release the pressure on the rope. Clinton will say, "Drop the rope like itís burning you". The reward for the horse is the release of pressure; the quicker we reward the correct response the quicker the horse learns. After effectively learning to laterally bend the horses from the ground, we all saddled up.
This day reminded me how important it is to be clear and communicate with words and examples that can be understood. Every one of us understood the concept of quickly dropping something when it burned us. It is a clear analogy. Many riders want to hang onto the rope or turn it loose slowly, both of which make a heavy horse, both of which allow the horse to wonder if he is being asked to pull against the hand, not soften to it.
The lateral bend from the groundwork became the mounted "one rein stop". Beginning at the walk, he taught us to use the lateral bend to stop the horse. After bending the horse to one side and then only releasing the rein pressure when the horse stopped moving its feet and bent it's face softly toward our rein. We had a concrete example of how exercises and skills build. Throughout the rest of the clinic he had every rider walk, trot and canter and use a one-rein stop, even the rider's who initially were afraid to canter and the rider on the young horse having itís third ride under saddle. The exercises from the ground taken to the saddle gave everyone the confidence to control or stop their horse "no-matter-what".
Day two reminded me of how many concepts we present to students, and how we must separate exercises into building blocks from the bottom-up. The ground work transitioned smoothly to mounted the exercises. The focus on being able to quickly and safely stop and control the horse really boosted confidence and reduced fear, while helping riders relax about learning more difficult tasks. Everyone knew they could always stop the horse and be in control with the one-rein stop. It was an emergency brake. For young horses it began the training to a fundamental safety feather for every school horse, "whoa", for older horses it was a reminder that the rider could always be in control.
There were several other valuable exercises he taught us during the clinic, each built upon the concept of always being able to safely control the horse on the ground and always being able to stop it under saddle. The second priority was developing responsiveness and softness in the horse. The clinic finished off with each participant having a 10-minute private, working on whatever issue brought us to the clinic. In all, it was a very valuable experience. I got to work on fine tuning some of my own training skills. As Clintonís student for three days, I lived the studentís perspective learning new tasks, and I was able to spend some focused time training my own horse.
A few days after my clinic, Clinton was kind enough to give me an interview. He was enroute to Arizona to meet another 15 participants. He has so much to offer those of us in the equestrian business. In just five years, with incredible hard work and effort, he has become a very successful equestrian educator. His primary business is teaching people, not entertaining them, as some of the other other well-known clinicians on the expo circuit do.
I asked him the attributes of his public and primary customers. "My primary customer is a middle-aged woman, between 40 and 50 years of age. [Their] kids are out of high school, usually theyíre a baby boomer--kids are out of college, they are recreational riders, trail ride. They love their horses. They would like to get along with their horse better and feel more safe and confident when they ride and on the ground." Many of the women I spoke with at his clinic wanted a method that was easily applied and quickly effective. That is why they became interested in DownUnder Horsemanship. He never says it is easy, but because he is so effective, it might appear easy.
I asked him questions for the American Riding Instructors Association quarterly publication. I told him this was a publication for instructors teaching people versus people training horses, and asked did he see any differences between the two. His answers come quickly, such that you know he has already thought through these issues and dealt with these scenarios. He is very clear of purpose, and often describes himself as very "black-or-white".
"When you know what to do, training horses is much easier. You just have to do your job right and the horse will usually get it. Training people is much more difficult, because even if the person understands what to do, they may not necessarily do it. So you have to repeat [your instructions] and go over and over it. People have different issues that they donít want to let go of, past issues, fear and confidence and all these other things. So if youíre asking me, yes, training people is much harder, much more difficult than training horses."
I asked him what he thought the instructorís primary focus should be to ensure the riderís success. I defined success as the riderís safety, while doing the equestrain activities they want to do and gradually achieving their goals.
"The Instructor needs to make sure that the student knows how to do a one-rein stop at all three gaits, thatís [the] emergency hand brake. That way, in any situation that the rider feels insecure, the rider knows how to get back in control or at least get the horse to stop so they can get off, one of the two. [The Instructor] needs to be concerned with teaching that person how to have some confidence, and get control of their horse on the ground and in the saddle. The series of exercises on the ground and in the saddle will teach that rider how to get control, which in turn will build confidence, which in turn will get rid of their fear. "
Of fearful riders he says, ".. theyíve got to get safe and confident on the ground. Donít put them on the horse until they feel safe and confident on the ground. And then when they get on, make sure you teach them the one-rein stop, because that is what is going to keep them safe if things start to get out of control."
Does he have any tips for teaching the over confident rider; riders with the attitude that than can perform a particular skill when in fact, they can not? He says to tell the student, "... you need to listen to what I have to say. If you donít agree with it, thatís fine, you donít have to come back for another lesson. But, if you are here for a lesson, you need to do what I tell you to do and respect what iím saying because Iím trying to help you." His tone is very matter of fact, and not punitive. "If you donít want to do that, you wonít hurt my feelings but this is the last lesson we are going to have together." He seems to believe that honesty is the best policy when he says, "Because, otherwise youíre just wasting your time and their money."
Have we all had the parent who thinks that their child should be jumping just because the child went to summer camp last year? He says, "Sit down with the parents before the lesson starts and say.íListen, there is only one teacher in this group and itís me. If you are watching your child get a lesson, I donít want to hear boo out of you....because, as soon as you, start telling the kid what to do, the kid starts arguing back with you. Iím the one teacher, Iím it. If you have an issue with whatís going on you talk to me after the lesson or before the lesson and you and [I] can talk about ití But there is only one teacher. As far parent putting pressure on the kid, you need to explain to the parent, if the kid doesnít want to do, the kid doesnít want to do it, end of story. The relationship is between you and the student, if there is a problem the student and the parent can come to you before the lesson or after the lesson, but during the lesson, the student may ask questions, but you should be the only one that [gives direction and answers questions]."
What has made Clinton a very successful equestrian educator is not only his dedication, but his honesty. Clinton has high expectations of his participants. He does not mince words or spare anyoneís ego. When he thinks you are doing well, he compliments you. If he thinks you are ineffective, he prods you. If he thinks you are over ambitions, he warns you. If he thinks you are intimidated, he encourages you. When he thinks you are not working hard enough or you complain that your muscles are getting tired, he calls you "a wimp" and tells you to "suck it up".
Working day-to-day, month-by-month with our clients, we are dependent upon their satisfaction and success. We are always balancing between goals, safety, skills, motivation and improving within the constraints of reality. There is nothing like being under the tutelage of one the best professionals in the business to learn that there are no exceptions to consistency, hard work, commitment, drive and honesty when it comes to success. Equestrian training must build upon a strong set of foundations to develop safe, effective and athletic riders and horses. And, that is what we should be teaching to our students, as well.
My Clinton Anderson Clinic Experience 1999
Yes, my "experience". That is the only way to describe attending a 5-day clinic with famed Aussie horseman
I had to go to the clinic. After watching his skill and success at making that horse choose to load in about 30 minutes, I wanted to learn more about how I could use his techniques to improve my own horse, and of course my own skills. After the Expo I borrowed all three of those videos and watched them; I wanted to learn more.
I am an owner. I have 6 equine pets, they are not perfect. My 5 don't always make me look good. But, they are my pets, and barring safety issues, I tolerate their antics and am committed toward making them willing and happy to do the things I ask.
I am a rider. Have been riding since 1960, English and Western. I love doing everything on my horses, trail rides, cross country jumping, arena work, team penning. We aren't great at everything, but we do everything. My thoroughbred team pens, my draft horse does low level eventing and 8 mile trail rides, and my mules jump and have done gymkana and parades.
I am a riding instructor, I am certified by American Riding Instructors Program to teach Stock Seat and English huntseat. I was also certified in English and Western Riding by CHA, Certified Horsemanship Association.
I have a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology. I did some clinical work but left to earn enough money in computer technology here in Silicon Valley, and now do what I really want to do -- train horses and people, being happy and earning less money.
I teach riding at a large commercial ranch to mostly beginner riders. I also have a private clientele of people who have purchased horses for pleasure and train with me in their discipline, or clients who find me because they need help solving some horse behavior they didn't know existed.
I am amazed that people buy horses without having any, or with vary little previous horse experience, just because they like and want to learn about horses or riding. Most of these owners are, or quickly become, very attached and committed to their pets. They are often motivated to seek training more for their pets well-being than for their own safety.
Here I will tell you, I love my thoroughbreds, mules, and percheron draft horse, but never ever do I doubt that they are large dangerous animals and could and would hurt or even kill me unintentionally if I were not careful, skillful and "the boss mare".
My goal in training is to help my clients learn to be safe and make their animals safe for their intended use. My goal in teaching riding is to make my clients stronger and more skillful so that they can safely control and enjoy their animals. If I were queen, I would dictate that people wait before they buy a horse, and that they learn all about horse care and riding first. But, once an owner comes to me with their horse, I try to work with them, at their current skill level, being open and honest, to help them learn, improve their horse skills and have good judgment for their safety and their animals future. Some clients do arena showing, some pleasure trail riding, some Eventing and jumping.
Clinton was honest. I felt like he understood and supported my issues as a trainer, not just as a horse owner. That is difficult to find, because many trainers are competitive and critical, trying to gain more clients by criticizing each other. Some trainers prey on peoples naivety and commitment to their horses, taking their money and never telling them the truth, that their horse may hurt them it they don't get it's respect. That a horse is a continuous maintenance program.
Clinton's ways help us to to expect more from our horses and ourselves. Having our horses respect us is what it is all about. He honestly tells you, horse ownership requires on-going maintenance, if you want a passive sport to just watch the world go by, this isn't it. He goes beyond the "feel good" understand-it-all talk and helps you work your horse to get real, "feel the difference" results. I felt the difference after he rode my horse for 10 minutes on the first clinic day. My horse was lighter in my hand, softer in the face than I expected. I was amazed. Clinton has clearly worked hard and studied horses and their behavior. His timing is so perfect, it is difficult for the untrained eye to realize how precisely he rewards the slightest try, and then gets the horses to try harder. I felt the difference in my horse.
My horse's personal problem, the one that brought him to the clinic, is herd dependence,. He is buddy sour, he is a cheap date, 5 minutes in the trailer and he's in love. As an arena mount I have been very happy with him. I use him for three-day eventing at training level. His dressage is fine when he isn't screaming to a buddy with his head in the air, and he jumps nicely-- about 3'6" even while screaming to a buddy, and he is fast on the cross country course, screaming to get back to his buddy. OK, at home he has been a nice arena mount, away from home at events, he can be an embarrassing, screaming meemee.
After the first day, and first hurdle of getting his attention in the arena, he was behaving really well, "being too good". I followed the lateral bending exercises, and felt the lightness in his response. But I kept wondering, "why am I bending him hither and yon, why am I making him work when he isn't being naughty, why am i wearing spurs when he isn't being sluggish. He is being so good, too good."
I was uncomfortable using spurs. I felt a bit uncoordinated, like I didn't release soon enough after I put pressure on my horse. But, i kept with it. I kept trying to ride and train using Clinton's method, because each day I would feel improvement.
On the last day of the clinic, we went on a trail ride. That is one place that my "buddy sour" pony and I have had our battles. I was really looking forward to being out of the arena, but I was afraid the "buddy-sour" battle was coming too late in the clinic.
Clinton worked with all of us on the trail. He said the moment any horse was picking up speed without being asked, they should do lateral bending. I was ready. But a difference had happened in that concentrated week of arena work. All that work, turning and bending, set the stage for the most "buddy-sour free" trail ride that i'd ever had. When I bent him, he bent. When I asked him to trot, he trotted, when I asked him to canter, he cantered slowly, when I asked him to stop, he stopped, when I asked him to walk, he walked. He even began walking nicely, on a loose rein, at the end of the group of riders. It was amazing.
Clinton made sure we found some buddy sour issues on the trail, he knew how to help find the resistance. When my horse didn't do what I asked, or when he acted buddy sour, he bent more, he trotted faster in small circles, he jumped more logs. When he paid more attention to me, he walked easily or got to rest. Working through the resistance, Clintons said "Most people would have quite by now." That really helped me to keep working even when it wasn't easy or fun. Clinton was honest that my thoroughbred was a more difficult horse.
I realized in that day, the benefit that comes from having asked your horse to lateral bend, so many times, that when you ask-- they automatically answer. It had become automatic for him to bend. So, if I didn't want him to be buddy sour I asked him to bend. And, he bent and worked unless he would cooperate with me.
Is his herd dependence all fixed? No. But, he is greatly improved. I have some new tools, my horse is more supple, I got alot of support for making him a better behaved horse instead of trying to understand him or make excuses for him. I have some new goals for his arena work, I know that I need to expect more from him and that I should keep asking him to improve. I know that sometimes I stop working him too soon, before I have worked through all the resistance.
There was so much to take in, so much improvement that I could make, watching and riding for one week in Clinton's clinic, that I continue to make connections now, between the amount a horse improves and the amount I make that horse move. Whether he bends, or trots, or canters and spins, the more he works, the more he improves overall. My skill may never be as refined as Clinton's, but the connections keep happening as I apply his techniques to the horses I am working. The more I bend them laterally, the nicer they tuck when I ask. The more I drive them forward, the better they stop. The more I ask them to move their shoulder, the less they speed up and fall out of the circle. The more I ask the more I get.
Once I got home, I felt sort of shell shocked. It was an intense experience. In my day-to-day training, working with people or their horses, I wondered about the level of intensity that I experienced at the clinic. I questioned how much people would be willing to work their equine pet to have it improve. I thought about my beginner riders, and wondered how they could stay on their horses if their mounts really moved.
One of my clients became upset because I would not tolerate her horses aggressive disrespectful behavior, his flattened ears and glaring eyes, his immoveable feet and that thrust of his head, that she found adorable. I made that horse move backwards down the barn aisle. The next day they took the horse to another trainer, the next month they sold the horse at a cattle auction because it bucked them off. Clinton helped me have the confidence to let that client move on. Horses being what they were, this disrespectful horse continued to be disrespectful because the owner allowed it.
With my own horse, I have continued riding on a loose rein, even though riding English. I have continued to work on lateral bending. Have continued to make the trail rides harder near his buddy, and easier away or behind his buddy. I see his ears start to flick and he looks back at me. He realizes the closer he gets to his friend the more he will have to do. When he is away from his friend or behind his friend now, he walks more relaxed. This is improved behavior, and continues to improve. His lateral moves have tremendously improved, stepping nicely sideways and under himself with a nicely tucked head and on a loose rein, when I ask for a leg yield or side pass.
I continue to hear things Clinton said, and see and feel the difference attending his clinic has made for me in all my roles. Thank you Clinton, for your support, honesty and dedication, for helping me be a better owner, trainer and teacher.