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Josh Lyons: Trust Not Trauma


Josh helping Carroll Nicholas to get Nickers to move towards her

The moment Carroll Nicholas successfully moves Nickers into position

Josh Lyons talking to the riders

Josh Lyons talking to the riders. Riders from left to right; Mike Harrison, Judy Lee, Kim Harrison and Carroll Nicholas

Josh Lyons talking to the riders about moving their horses in a leg yield

Judy Lee and Amigo working on the leg yield
By Kristi Crowe

The last weekend in September (28-30), 2018 Josh Lyons made the trip from Cross Plains, Tenn. to Kimber Goodman’s Circle G Guest Ranch and Event Facility in Lynnville, Tenn. for a 3-day horsemanship clinic. He brought assistants Jay Finn, Tracey Boogs, and Jordan Nickel, and on Saturday, his wife Jana and his two youngest sons joined him.  For Josh, this is his “normal three day horsemanship clinic.”  Josh has a simple objective: to “teach the riders to train their horses, and to make their idea the horse’s idea,” he explained.  “Knowledge and motivation are the only tools you need to bring to the barn with you.”

Kim Harrison, riding her Friesian Nonios and her husband, Mike, riding his Percheron-cross Duke, traveled from Goodlettsville, Tenn to attend the clinic.  Carroll Nicholas and her horse Nickers came from Arab, Ala. and Judy Lee brought her horse Amigo from Dickson, Tenn.  Josh also brought a couple of horses with him.  One was a home bred 2-year-old Palomino stallion with 60-90 days training, whom assistant Jay Finn rode on Saturday after lunch.

Josh says, “My idea is to make better horsemen.”  If he can change the rider, he can change the horse.  Most people “ride the horse they rode yesterday.” If the horse decided to buck yesterday, that does not mean they will buck today. But if the rider is expecting the buck, he will be tense and give the horse mixed signals, which could, in turn, actually cause the horse to buck. Riders will treat a horse differently if they know what the horse has done in the past.  So, it is best to “ride the horse you have today.”  When Josh gets a horse in for training, he usually does not want to know the history on the horse, so he will have no preconceived notions as to what may happen.

It is important to remember that every bit of training can have a negative effect. The question must be asked, does the positive that comes from the training outweigh the negative? If the answer is yes, then the training is worth it. For example, it is relatively easy to train a horse to bow, and people are always impressed with a bowing horse. But the negative effect is that sometimes the horse may bow when not asked to. A different person riding the horse could inadvertently give the signal for the horse to bow. So before beginning a training program, the negatives must be considered and weighed against the positives.

Josh uses the analogy that riding a horse is like driving a boat.  To steer a horse, you pick up the reins and point the tail in the opposite direction of travel you wish to go.  People commonly say to point the nose where you want to go, but from this point of view, you are telling the tail where to move. There are times when you may have the horse’s head turned away from the direction of travel, but you are still going in the opposite direction of the tail. 

To get your horse to leg yield, the key to moving left is the left rein, and the right rein to move right.  When the rein is picked up, the horse’s shoulder is lifted, which encourages lateral movement. The rider should not have to pull the nose all the way to the shoulder to start movement in either direction. 

If you ‘ask’ a horse to do something, the horse has the opportunity to say ‘no.’ It is important to be firm and clear with cues when you ‘tell’ a horse what to do. It is helpful to know how the horse is responding, which determines the direction to go with your training.

 Did you know that a horse has about 35 more muscles in its face than a person? With all those extra muscles, horses are able to make 40-45 more expressions than people. That is very important knowledge for riders and trainers, because if a person is able to read the facial expressions on a horse, that can help with training.  One can tell if the horse is relaxed or tense, listening or distracted. 

Horses learn with pressure and release and are rewarded by the release. The first release comes when the horse understands the rider’s intention. For example, you want the horse to move close to the mounting block; when they understand the idea, that is the first release. When a horse softens to the reins or legs, there is the second release. The horse must be soft in its nose and ribcage to not have resistance to the rider.  And the third release comes when the horse responds to cues. For example, the rider gives leg pressure and when the horse starts walking, the leg pressure is released. 

In “mark training” the trainer selects a mark, such as a jump, trailer, or mounting block. When the horse goes over the jump, gets in the trailer, or stands next to the mounting block, that horse has learned to go to its mark and then receives the release. In the movies mark training is often used; when a horse goes to a location and stops – that is mark training.  In the beginning, the horse is taught to go to a piece of plywood as the mark.  Over the course of training, the plywood is taken away and the horse goes to a smaller mark in its place.

One lesson Josh used was to stand beside of the horse’s head and gently, but repeatedly, tap the horse’s flank with a whip, with the opposite hand holding the reins to prevent the horse from moving the front end. The objective was to get the horse to move its hind end towards the rider and stop with the stirrup at the rider’s stomach. This maneuver can help place the horse next to a mounting block. I asked Josh about this because I was always told that the whip encourages a horse to move in the opposite direction (away from the whip). Josh said that it is just a cue like any other cue. When the horse performs the desired movement, the tapping of the whip ceases and that is the release. 

Josh has been giving horsemanship clinics for 29 years, since he was only 14 years old.  After graduating from high school, Josh got a scholarship to go to college. But he was asked to do a clinic a few days after graduation, and decided to make horsemanship clinics his profession.  Josh has one of the longest running horsemanship training schools, which is also government approved for VA loans as an occupational school. 

Lyons Legacy is truly a family business, with Josh following in his father John’s footsteps. He and his father have trained 500 accredited trainers in 48 states and 13 countries. And the Lyons Legacy continues with next generation of Josh’s oldest son and his niece Jordan.

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