After spending three days with Joe Wolter, I have finally had a time to reflect on the initial things that came to me over the weekend. If you don’t know who Joe is, that’s ok. But what you should know is, he’s learnt from the very best – the legends of the horse training world, the legends who are no longer with us but passed their message on to others. Joe is one of those rare people who passes this message on in its purest form, without the need for fanfare. He is a kind and generous person. When someone compliments him, he brushes it off with a humility that you just want to try to emulate. He is truly there for the horse, and also for the human.
I had always planned to take Shaun to this clinic but fate has decided that it was Hugo’s turn to step up. With a handful of rides behind us, I was really unsure of what to expect. In fact, my goal was to be riding him in the clinic by the third day. As it was, I was riding him on the first morning! We learned so much but these were my three highlights, one from each day:
Help him find the relief – the release that teaches. Halfway through the first morning, we were playing with moving the hindquarters using the reins and Joe noted that I was way too late in releasing Hugo’s weight shift. The funny thing is, my brain already knew that I should have released but my hand was still holding the rein. It was at moment that I realised that it was not me who was teaching Hugo, but Hugo was teaching me. I love this!
Drive or direct – not both at the same time. This showed up hugely on the second morning when I just couldn’t get my timing right to help Hugo understand that he needed to go off my legs. Why did he not understand? Because I had direction in the reins as well as driving. It’s like pressing the accelerator and brake at the same time. How confusing for Hugo! It’s not like I don’t know this. I’m constantly telling people to ride forwards, not to hold on but I guess sometimes human nature (in this case, in the form of fear) tells you it’s a silly idea. However, it was my lucky day as Joe treated me to a masterclass in riding Hugo. His feel, timing and balance was just wonderful to watch – when Hugo was unsure, he never let him get to a point where he needed to react but instead directed him somewhere else. This was initially through moving the hindquarters and then latterly to think forwards, even into areas where Hugo was unsure. Joe taught him to be ‘sure’ in what the legs mean. The difference in Hugo afterwards was phenomenal. I will never forget that feeling.
Having ‘locked in’ the feel of how Hugo was on the second day, I was really looking forwards to riding him on the last morning. Despite me thinking he would be ‘cooked’, he really wasn’t. He was, in fact, quite spooky and pretty sharp. I could have stayed on the ground longer but after working him for quite a while, I decided I wanted to try and help him in the saddle. After all, I wouldn’t have another opportunity to ask Joe to help me. He was no more spooky in the saddle than he had been on the ground, so Joe helped me to allow him put effort into escaping the scary things and then get peace from me as he tried to seek the edge of his comfort zone. I love this approach – the horse always feels successful. Something Joe said more than once was ‘Teach him to do your thing, his way’. As a bit of a bonus, we also got involved in the group riding – I couldn’t have been prouder of him trotting and cantering around with all the ‘grown up’ horses.
I guess we both grew a whole load this weekend.
Thank you Joe for sharing your message. I will be forever grateful.
Photo Credit: Claire Dupuis