Broadening the Envelope

With Richard Winters

I conduct horsemanship clinics and seminars all over the country and around the world. Recently someone asked me, “What is your goal when you begin a clinic with a new group of riders?” There is certainly a whole list of things we would like to accomplish in each clinic. Rein management, focused riding, body control and more refinement are just a few of the objectives. However, This is how I responded. Everyone comes to my clinic with some things that they are comfortable with and many things that they are not comfortable handling. For many people, the envelope of where they feel safe, comfortable and confident is pretty small. My goal is to open up their envelope and increase their comfort level to be able to enjoy their horses to a greater degree.

Most equine enthusiasts did not start out with such a small envelope of competency. Most of us had big ideas and grand visions when we were young of what we would accomplish with horses. We envisioned what we saw in the movies and read in books. We would be galloping across big open country, jumping over down timber, riding through beautiful streams and gathering cattle.

cattle-handling-101What happened? For many of my clients, it was simply the effects of time. The invincibleness and immortality that we felt in our teens and twenties is now a distant memory as we live our lives at 40+ years of age. Where did all of the confidence go? For some, there was a specific accident or incident that shattered that confidence. Now those dark memories are ever present with them every time they put their foot in the stirrup.

As mentioned earlier, my goal is to build confidence and increase each rider’s comfort level. How do I accomplish this? First, the greatest confidence builder is knowledge. It’s my job as the clinician to share information. Information is power. The information I share gives riders confidence that their equipment is adjusted properly. It’s my reassurance that the horse they’re riding is suitable for their level. (Or in some instances, is not.) It’s helping them understand when their horse is warmed up and prepared to ride. It’s helping each rider to be aware of and act on the signs of trouble before the trouble has overtaken them. Sometimes it’s me personally riding a participant’s horse and giving them a picture in their “minds eye” as to how they can work through an issue.

We just wrapped up a great event at a working cattle ranch in Central California we call “Ride to Rancho”. This weeklong horsemanship experience exemplified my goal of opening up each rider’s personal envelope to greater possibilities with their particular horse. It was my goal to spend a minimal time in the arena and the maximum of time out in the big open country working through real life experiences. I wanted to take everybody’s personal list of “can’t, won’t, don’t, yeah buts” and shrink it down as small as possible.

confident-lopersI have a good friend who is the headmaster at the Thacher School. This is a private boarding school with a strong emphasis on outdoor activities. My friend would always talk about “carefully calibrated challenges.” It has nothing to do with taking unnecessary risks, ignoring safety procedures or being haphazard. Rather it is equipping each student with knowledge, encouragement and a plan to do more than they thought they could ever done on their own. At this year’s Ride the Rancho we accomplished that mission!

What do you need to open your envelope and expand your comfort zone? It might be taking a series of lessons. It might mean committing to more training for your horse or possibly attending a clinic. With some solid guidance, knowledge and support you can step up your horsemanship game to the next level.

Take a look at these accompanying photographs. These riders are just like you. Many of these riders came with the same questions, concerns and fears that perhaps you are harboring. With help and support they stepped out of their comfort zone, became strong leaders for their horses and accomplished great things. They broadened their envelope. Who’s next?

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