Dreams of the Olympic podium are not for every horse owner. Join Muffy and Ron to discuss the learning opportunities for horse owners whose primary goal is enjoyment of the recreational horse.   

Muffy Knox is an equine educator who has enjoyed many years’ experience raising, training and showing Paint horses. She is still very actively coaching from beginner, youth and adults, to 4-H to the show ring level. In 2005, Muffy was named Western Horse Review’s Horseperson of the Year.


Ron Anderson has enjoyed a life-long career in the stable industry and he and his wife Marilyn currently operate Sylvancrest Stock Farm east of Calgary.  In addition, Ron has provided horse auction pedigree and commentary for over 35 years. His voice is familiar to many as a premier agricultural event announcer. In 2003, Ron was named Western Horse Review’s Horseperson of the Year.


Most potential horse owners, recreational horse owners and those returning to horses after a number of years off, do have in the back of their minds a notion or dream of what they would like to do with their horse. Still others know that they want to do something more than what they are presently doing but have not yet explored the options available.


What Are the Choices?
The choices are vast and the list continues to grow. We are fortunate here in Alberta that we have four major showcases that celebrate the horse and everything that could possibly be done with it. Those showcases include the Spruce Meadows Masters in September, Northlands Farmfair in November, the Horse Breeders & Owners Conference in January and the Mane Event in April. All of these, plus numerous other smaller venues, give you the opportunity to make connections. They will lead you to other contacts like web sites, associations, publications and a contact list to help you get started.

Once you have decided on a discipline or direction, attend an activity and repeat your quest for more information. Talk to organizers, participants, spectators and perhaps volunteer to help in some minor capacity at their next event so you get to know the people involved, and see what goes on out of the spotlight. If your interest and curiosity are still peaked, what happens next?

Start the Journey
Now you have to decide how involved you want to be. How much time, money and commitment can you devote to this aspect of your life? With that in mind and by being totally honest, you will be able to set your current goals. Your goals may change, but at all times you will need goals and a set time in which to achieve them. Without these two elements, progress will be restricted. You will choose 1 of 3 different paths to your goal and, like your goal, your path may change at any time.

Path 1 will take you on the Social Route. It will be the least expensive, in fact you could start on it before you even get your horse. Every equine event requires people power ranging from event managers to gate openers. All are part of a team that is essential to the event’s success and get you involved with a core support group who enjoy horses and their people. Then, when a horse comes into your life, you’ll know enough about the safety factors, etiquette and rules of the activity that you will soon be able to participate at a non-competitive and fun level. There are mentors available, perhaps even family and friends, who can assist you with any minor riding or horse problems that you may encounter.

Perhaps your aptitude attracts you to the Skills Route. You still do not have any desire to compete but it intrigues you how easily competent riders can perform specific skills and you want to learn how to do those skills or improve your present level of competence in a discipline. There are mentors who specialize in this as well. It is your job to use your networking connections to find the coach that is right for you. It doesn’t take long for the horse community to know where a mentor’s coaching strength lies. Some make good elementary teachers and others prefer post secondary students and thank goodness for that. Good coaches are needed at all stages of the learning game. Watch your potential coach working with students with abilities similar to yours and decide if you are compatible with that type of coaching. You must feel comfortable to get the most out of your lessons. Much of what you’re going to be doing will be very similar to the 3rd route that will be chosen by some riders.

The skill development for the Competitive Route will be the same, the plan just goes one step further – to the competitive arena. So you want to compete but the pros are so good that you feel you’ll never ride at that level. Probably, you don’t have to. Virtually every discipline has entry level competition, not just for kids but for novices as well. Call the classes what you like -- maiden, green, nervous novice, novice amateur or non pro -- there is a competitive level out there just waiting for you. And there are mentors who specialize in novice competitive riders. Most of them are also trainers. You must remember that all good trainers are not good coaches and all good coaches are not high profile trainers. Both jobs require specific skills, some horsemen are good at both but others are more suited to only one.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
If you’re still not sure of what path to take, the social or skills routes are exciting and fun ways to start. Remember you can change your route at any time. There is one important thing you can do on any route that will help you achieve your equine goals…learn all you can about horse behavior. Horses talk all the time with their body language. If you are going to be in their world, it will help greatly if you understand their language and have an action plan when they tell you they are going to do something that is not in your best interests. With this skill, rider frustration can be greatly reduced or eliminated.

Learn bout this thing called “pecking order”. Realize that, even though you are a human, the horse wants to know where he stands in the pecking order with you. Your job is to ensure that the horse respects your space as he would any member of the herd that is higher than him. Learn how to say NO to a horse in an appropriate way that he will understand. There are a number of other facets of equine behavior to investigate to understand why a horse does some of the things he does. Once you understand the horse and his point of view, it will be much easier for you and your horse to be on the same team rather than opponents.

You can choose to learn by need, which usually means you don’t change the way you’re doing things until you’ve had a bad experience, or you can choose a more pro-active approach and do some research. Whether your interest lies in trail riding, jumping, gymkhana, driving, working cattle or whatever, someone has done it before you. Learn from their experience so you will know the basic requirements of your goal and common problems that might occur. You will often be given suggestions on how to prevent such problems or how to handle them if they do occur. By finding out what expectations other participants in your chosen activity will have for you and your horse, you will be a welcome new member of the group.

Get an Evaluation
It never hurts to have a coach evaluate you and your horse so you know what you’re getting into. There will be less chance of unpleasant surprises later on. Ask the right questions. Are you, your horse and your tack likely going to be able to achieve your goal? Is it likely that major changes will have to be made before you start, or somewhere on the journey? How long will it take to get to where you want to be? The length of the timeline will directly correlate to where you and your horse’s skill level are now and where you want them to be. It will also be dependent on the options you choose. Will most of the learning be done by you or will your horse also require further training? How much time can you commit to lessons and practice? Obviously, if both the horse and rider need to be trained, this will take a longer timeframe than if just the rider needs to learn.

Getting into High Gear
Are you ready? Are you excited, ready for a new challenge and prepared to change your thinking from “He won’t” to “What do I have to do to help the horse do what he has to do?” Is your horse ready? Besides all his health needs, is he fit enough to start this training program? And, depending which path you choose, there may be homework. Get your coach to teach you about all the paperwork involved in competing. If the horse has registration papers are they up-to-date? Do you require a passport? Get a rule book so you will know what category that you will be competing in and read the general rules and those that pertain to your specific class. Being disqualified in your first competition because you didn’t know the rules is easily avoided. Something that is not written in the rule book but is expected by other competitors is that you understand and practice the etiquette that’s associated with your sport. Make yourself aware of the unwritten rules.

Get Your Budget in Order
The earlier that you can start to pay some of the involved expenses the easier it will be to balance the bank account. Pay all the required memberships well in advance so that you’ve got the paperwork to prove that you’re in good standing. Learn how to fill out entry forms and get your entries in on time to avoid late penalties. What about overnight accommodation, do you need to reserve a room? How much do you need to budget for food? How are you getting you and your horse to the event? Will your horse require any pre-event health updates? What about clothes, make sure they meet any rules, are appropriate for you and fit comfortably.

It’s Getting Exciting – You’re Almost There
New challenges will appear when you travel away from home. You need to have one or two specific goals at this first event and by now you will be very aware of what your role is in achieving them. You should now be well prepared to own your performance and be able to analyze most, if not all of it, so that you understand what is going wrong and what has to be done to fix it. You will be able to fix some of the problems but your coach will be required from time to time to assist.

Make Your To-Do List
Get as much as possible done before the day you have to leave to lessen the work-load and your anxiety. Get your vehicle ready and load what you can both for the horse and you. Have a food preparation plan if you’re taking some. Don’t forget your paperwork. Does your horse need to be pre-bathed or clipped? What time are you leaving? How do you get there and how long will it take? What do you have to do at home before you can leave? What’s the normal routine when you get to the event site?

You Made It – Celebrate!
You set a goal, you did your best, and although nerve wracking, it should have been fun. Again, there will definitely be some good parts to celebrate, but if you want to progress, any problem area must be analyzed so that you know why you had the problems and how they can be fixed.

After a rest, the learning process starts all over again, improving on your present skill and adding new challenges. You’ll find it enjoyable if your goals are chosen wisely so they are challenging but achievable. Soon you’ll be hooked, excited about your next go, excited about your achievements, excited about your new peer group friends. You will come to the realization that your performance may never be perfect but it’s sure fun when you can get more out of yourself and your horse than you ever thought possible…and the journey has only just begun.


Upcoming Events

 Upcoming Events
Spruce Meadows 'National'

June 6-10, 2018





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