The Taiji Horsemanship Training Pyramid
The Taiji Training program is a training program that is designed to try to give a rider/trainer the basic skills and tools to make sure that their horse is prepared for what is going to be asked of them. Preparation is so important to everything you do with your horse from the basic training at home to the training you do at a performances and competitions prepare for ring time. I can always predict whether a performance or competition is going to go well or present challenges based on how well I was able to prepare both in the weeks leading in and at the actual competition. With Taiji Horsemanship, we encourage that every time you ride you go through some mental checklists to make sure that your horse is prepared to be successful in what you are about to ask them to do. If there is anything lacking, step back and revisit that skill. We do this so often, that my mom and I have come to refer to it as “The Dance of Taiji”…..two steps back three steps forward….REPEAT….REPEAT….REPEAT. So many problems are caused by a horse or rider not being ready to do the task at hand. An imbalanced rider may cause a horse to start rushing jumps….step back …..get balanced…don’t put just put more bit in their mouth. A fresh horse might buck their rider off……if they have been stalled they need and want to stretch out and play…… Let them! When they are ready to focus on you, than they are ready to safely go to work under saddle. I could give you so many examples. The point is my point. Having a solid foundation based on skills that build on each other will allow you to do so much more with your horse with ease and in a manner that is safer for both you and your horse. Our goal is to prevent problems from ever occurring by always making sure that our horses and riders have the skills and tools they need to do the task at hand.
We use a training pyramid to show how the skills build. As you move up the pyramid, if a skills at the bottom of the pyramid is lacking or weak, take a step back and revisit the skill that is lacking. It is this approach to training that will give you the best long term training results. My mom says the trick with success is repeating it. If it the result of building a strong foundation, the success will repeatable. If it was based on the use of shortcuts, you can’t count on it being repeatable!
Our pyramid has some similarities to the United Statess Dressage Foundation (USDF) training pyramid, but it also has some differences. The USDF pyramid has only skills under saddle. Our Pyramid has four levels of skills that are done with your horse on the ground. We believe that much training should be done with your horse before you ever mount. Some horses and more naturally comfortable in a strange environment, quieter by nature and easily focus. Others not so much. In your horse is settled and in a workmanlike frame of mind ready to focus, some ground work preparation may significantly the outcome of the days ride. Ground work…..focus exercises, lounging, sensory training is absolutely invaluable for a fresh, spooky and distracted horse, both at home when training and at a performance or competition.
In addition, we believe that a rider needs extensive balance riding exercise work to ensure that they are balanced in their tack before ever proceeding to mount for the purpose of training. If a rider is not balanced, it will create so many training problems just as a result of not be balanced. So much of my communication with my horse is through balance. If I am not balanced, don’t have control of what I am communicating to them. If you don’t believe me. Think of the novice on the horses that is all over the place. Often time you will hear than rider say “My horse won’t go straight” Now hear is the question I have for everyone, when was the last time you saw a horse in the field like he was drunk. If a horse chooses to walk straight in the field why would he choose to walk all over the place when you put tack and a rider on him?
The Taiji Training Pyramid helps you to understand how it all goes together. Yes, much of this work can be slow, repetitive and often times not real exciting. The key is to mix it up. At home, my horses are either on a 3 or a 6 day a week program. For the three days a week…..they flat a day, do hill work for conditioning one day and high performance day, which for me is usually jumping. For six days a week they repeat the 3 day program with the first three days having a light jump and the next three days having a harder jump. The jump day can be hippodrome riding, roman riding, high school dressage, etc. The key is to mix it up all making sure they stay on top of the basic skills on the pyramid and conditioning.
The training pyramid is an awesome tool to to use with your checklists to figure out what you and your horse need to work on. The cool thing is that just out any skill can be incorporated into the flat conditioning or performance riding day. If you need to work on balance and it is a conditioning day…ride hills in a two point. If you need to do some sensory work on a conditioning ride…..find some water to cross during your ride. The training pyramid provides a great reference to plan what I am going to do each days with my horse. I can assure every day when I challenge myself with some cool fun exercise, that keeps both me and my horse progressing in our training. You won’t typically see me walk….trot….walk…..canter….walk….now do it all in the other direction! That would definitely get boring really fast for both me and my horses! I actually love to train. I look forward to every day to see what cool thing my horses and I can do next! can we jump that blind rollback…..can we bounce those cavalettit on a curve, can my horse start to get light at the canter…….I look at training like tie die……you work on all these little skills….like putting in knots…..then you have to put in the die and wait. Then a some point in time you take out all those knotted rubber bands, but you don’t actually know what you have until you take out all of the knots. There is no way to peak at your creation while you are creating it! This is the same as you don’t want to go to that jump until your horse is ready and can balance at the canter. One day you feel he is ready to canter that course of jumps. With any luck both your effort to tie die and your effort to train your horse to jump result in a beautiful picture. Happy Training! Lizzy