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Connect the Mind to the Hind with Wildwood Horsemanship


By Tommy Brannon

Olympic gold mentalist and Germantown, Tennessee resident Melanie Smith Taylor is collaborating with mid-south trainer Robyn Miller in a series of regularly-scheduled riding clinics to teach riders confidence and control of their horses. Their program is called Wildwood Horsemanship. Melanie says the idea is to connect with the horse’s mind to make them feel safe and, thus, become safe.

Their program begins with ground work to enhance the communication between horse and rider. The ground work also lets the rider check their horse for soundness and attitude before mounting. There is emphasis on how to recognize cues from the horse, as to how well he understands what we are asking through our body language, pressure, and release.  Melanie explained, “Release is his reward for doing what the rider is asking. This can help make for a connected horse and rider who effectively work together. It’s all about communication with the horse.”

These clinics take place most Wednesdays at Melanie’s Wildwood Farm in Germantown, Tennessee. The sessions last about two hours in a group setting of eight to ten riders. The particular session that I observed in mid December was conducted by Robyn in the spacious hallway of the large Wildwood barn because of icing in the outdoor arena. There were groundwork and flatwork in this session, but no jumping since the jumps were in the outdoor arena. In the session were several kinds of horses: Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and several horses with non-discernible breeding, but no gaited horses. Some horses were in Western tack and some in English tack because these clinics welcome both disciplines, Robyn said.

Both riders and horses seemed to benefit quite a bit from the session. Robyn used a headset microphone and PA system so that all of the riders could hear her comments. She conducted the clinic from horseback, riding a cute Palomino named Winslow. She first demonstrated and explained a particular technique on Winslow, and then asked each rider to perform the technique. The riders switched places in the group quite frequently, so that each rider had an opportunity to get up front and each horse could be worked in a different place in the herd dynamic.

During the groundwork session Robyn showed the group how to synchronize the human’s feet with the horses feet (footfalls) and where to position oneself for the best effect. She used the slightest of hand gestures without touching the horse to tell the horse where to step. She explained that because of the horse’s flight instinct, a horse does not feel safe when they do not have control of their feet – and particularly the hind quarters. If you connect your mind to the horse’s hind quarters, you can tell the horse what you would like him to do and he can still feel safe.

In the riding part of the session she showed how get the horse to cross over with its legs and still feel balanced. She said that the rider should consider the reins as an extension of the horse’s feet. When you move the reins over, the feet should follow, she said.   

Melanie and Robyn have developed their training techniques through a lifetime of horsemanship and have been conducting multi-day clinics across the US. A three-day clinic is scheduled for Feb 14-16, 2020 at The University of Tennessee at Martin.

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