Turn obstacles into opportunities

posted Feb. 19, 2016 3:00 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Pat McKnight | Correspondent

  • con_CT_traildvd_021016
    Michelle Rasmussen

Michelle Rasmussen thinks objects encountered on the trail should be seen as opportunities instead of obstacles. To help timid riders see such obstacles in a positive light and build confidence, the Tomah-area trainer has created a video showing how to make games out of challenges found along the trail.

“I made the DVD because I’ve had friends and students who were comfortable in an arena but afraid to ride on the trails,” Rasmussen said. “In order to help them, and many others, I thought about what makes the trails fun for me. I feel sad for riders who are afraid to go out on the trails on their own or with someone. I really like coaching them to learn to build their confidence in the open by still using boundaries.”

Released last fall, the DVD took three days to film and Rasmussen spent last summer learning the ins and outs of editing and producing a video.

Rasmussen developed the trail riding games using the approach, “Use what you know and progress as you go.” In the video, she shows how to play games to build the horse’s confidence through the rider’s leadership.

Some of the games shown in the video are Circle One, Leap Horse and Short ’N’ Sweet, which show riders how to maneuver their mounts and get their attention by being a leader and a follower.

“These games build calmness, confidence and curiosity,” Rasmussen said. “This connection with your horse is what helps when you meet any of these obstacles such as downed trees, muddy and marshy areas, water crossings, stumps, wildlife, sign posts, guardrails and litter.

Rasmussen created the games to develop the rider’s leadership, so the horse and rider team stay calm and together.

“The games help focus the rider as well as use the horse’s curiosity to use their energy in a certain pattern with a beginning and an ending place,” Rasmussen said. “The game is won when the horse is calm, confident and willing. The goal is to keep the connection between the rider and the horse regardless of what anyone else is doing or whatever else is going on. This builds safety and then comes fun. Parents really like this for their kids, and older adults, not wanting to fall, appreciate remembering how to play and relax on a trail ride.”

Joined by her eldest daughter, who hasn’t ridden in a few years, and a friend with a new, energetic horse on the trail taped for the video, Rasmussen guides fellow trail riders in overcoming frustration and fear on their way to a pleasant ride on the trail.

“Looking at obstacles as opportunities supports the horses and grows riders’ horsemanship, so they enjoy trail riding in a delightful new way,” Rasmussen said. “Using the horse’s natural curiosity and willingness to follow direction benefits the horses as well as the horsemen.”

In the video, Rasmussen shows how to practice for a trail ride before leaving the stable. The games riders can “play” with their horse before heading out on the trail range from teaching the horse to “catch the rider” to easy trailering.

“Doesn’t it make sense to practice for the real trail ride at home and be ready for whatever opportunities the trail ride presents?” Rasmussen said. “Simulating what you’ll do on your place develops your horse and you and shows where improved connection and trust need to progress. It just takes time.”

Rasmussen has found horse enthusiasts who grew up with horses tend to want to form a better understanding of and with their horses when the riders reach adulthood. They also seem to enjoy going at a slower pace so as to enjoy beautiful scenery and sounds found along the trail.

Rasmussen has been riding horses since she was a teen, buying a 3-year-old green-broke thoroughbred when she was 15. The horse and rider enjoyed hacking along country roads and along the fields of the family’s and neighboring farms.

She has studied hard to become a Parelli Natural Horsemanship graduate of Level 3 in the On-Line category and Level 4 in Freestyle and Liberty plus graduated from the FastTrack monthlong program at the Parelli Ranch in July 2013. She incorporates this training in her creativity and confidence with trail riding.

“I enjoy riding on the Castle Rock, Kickapoo Reserve and Kettle Moraine as well as Black River Falls-area trails,” Rasmussen said. “I have made a trail system around our farm pastures where we have water and mucky crossings, downed trees and open fields with hills; it’s a great place to train and have fun. Also, I have a pasture set up with obstacles where I ride. I really like the opportunities obstacles present to develop my horse’s potential. I have fun training our dog, Ace, to do the obstacles, too.”

Her training on the obstacles has resulted in championships at the Tomah Saddle Club Obstacle Challenges on her paint gelding, Tigger, in 2014 and on her Morab mare, Glory, in 2015. In 2011, she rode Tigger in three American Competitive Trail Horse Association challenges in Wisconsin, tying for first place.

“Riding Tigger, I earned a spot on the reserve list for the 2011 America’s Favorite Trail Horse,” Rasmussen said.

The DVD is available through Rasmussen’s production website at http://www.mlrproducts.com. She can also be contacted for lessons, training and clinics through her stable website at http://www.morningstarstables.com.

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