Ep. 7: Office Hours

Q&A with Doug Payne
Recap from 10.05.21

Victoria Clayton holding two horses

By Victoria Clayton

Q: How do I get a more purposeful walk? My horse just slams on the brakes in downward transitions and loses any connection and roundness.

Start at the walk itself.

You can only communicate with the horse through pressure, right? That means adding or taking away pressure.

You want to keep the pressure here by keeping the leg on because taking the leg off would be rewarding the behavior. If they are going to start to jig, think about pushing them laterally and getting them in a big open walk first.

Close your thigh, and the moment you can feel the horse is committed to stepping into the walk then apply your lower leg to press them forward.

Q: Do you have experience with horses in your program with Kissing Spine? If so, do you do anything different with those horses?

I think is far more prevalent than we give credit for. Frankly, in our barn we don’t generally x-ray backs when we are buying horses.

If it is something that bothers them or if it’s a horse that is tight in their back, I have found that going into the canter early in the warmup is more helpful than starting at the trot. Also, a lot of counter-canter is super helpful—anything that can get them to really loosen their back and stretch. Canter to trot transitions is probably your best bet because they really can’t stay super tight during those transitions.

Try some lengthening and shortening, too. When you lengthen, think long and low stretching in that process. 

“It is definitely not a deal killer that your horse has Kissing Spine.” – Doug Payne
Q: What is your advice to get a horse who is built downhill to lift its front end on the flat?

In the end, the same fundamentals must happen regardless of his confirmation.

He is going to need to stretch over his back and reach for the contact. From there, he can start to sit more and lift his front end properly.

The one thing we do a lot to get horses strong is do dressage and jump work on a mild slope. Think about a lengthen up the hill and a little collection down the hill—when they collect down the hill, they will shorten themselves more under their body because the ground is falling away. That is a helpful way to teach them a more efficient way to balance themselves.

Q: I’m looking for a new jump saddle and have heard several complaints about foam flocked saddles. Do you think all foam flocked saddles should be avoided?
No, every saddle we use is foam flocked. We have a partnership with CWD. The important thing is to have a very knowledgeable person fit the saddle first, and from that point you’re going to be in great shape!
Q: What is your favorite saddle brand?

CWD it is!

Q: What’s your advice for a horse that wags his head at the trot? Even with very little contact in a snaffle.

That can be very annoying! In the end, he is going to need be more stable and stronger.

The temptation is to think, “Well, I am using too much hand and need to go softer and softer,” but I wouldn’t be afraid to add a fraction more contact. Then, do a lot of lateral work so you are actively pushing him from one side to another. Even on a straight line—say you’re going down centerline—you want to be thinking a mild shoulder-fore, so you are pushing him into one rein.

Also, make sure the bit is the right fit. Some horses might need a thinner or thicker bit depending on their mouth. You want them to be comfortable, and that can sometimes be a contributing factor to the head wagging.

Q: How do you handle the pressure of competing? Do you get into sports psychology?

Great question! I am lucky enough to compete a lot. I think the more you can get in the ring, the better it will be.

There are two main tools or thoughts that go through my head right now:

The first is a visualization technique. Imagine the most nerve-wracking venue you can think of. So, at one time I was using walking down the tunnel into the Kentucky stadium. Imagine that scenario for you and have a routine at home and walk yourself through every aspect of that nerve wracking scenario. Do that when you get to the actual event!

The second thing is for when you’re at your most pressure packed situation. Mine most recently was the Tokyo Olympics where the world was watching. I try to think: I trained the horse to this point on this stage, and I tell myself that if I can do it once, then I can do it again and again and again. In some ways I remove the importance of the situation and I devalue it. It helps me a ton!

Q: Is there anything you learned in engineering school that you still use? Do you regret getting your engineering degree? Do you do any engineering now?

Not even close! My degree is in mechanical engineering, and I wouldn’t trade that in the slightest bit.

I will say that the hard thing is that you see a lot of kids in high school wondering if they should go to college or go ride. I was very lucky growing up because my parents were deeply involved in horses. My sister ended up riding professionally and my mom judged at two Olympics – Rio and Hong Kong. We were able to have one horse growing up that we were able to train and compete. When we turned 18, we had to sell everything we had–anything beyond that was 100% on us, and we were to go to school.

“I had done three Advanceds by the time I was 18 and then my fourth was when I was 29! So, the urgency isn’t as real as we make it out to be.” – Doug Payne

I think education is key. I think it’s helpful for relationships with partners and people with an academic background.

Q: Are your kids interested in horses?

Abby is a 1 ½ , and Hudson is 3 ½ .

Abby is going to be in it for sure, she is obsessed! She will sit by the window, point at the horses, and even walk up and down the aisles to feed the horses hay.

Hudson is totally on the fence, but frankly so was I at the time.

Growing up, we had no pressure to ride, and we want to take the same approach. If they really want it and show they want to work hard for it, then we will of course support them in any way.

We couldn’t care less either way, we just want them to be happy, productive members of society.

Q: Do you ever have rides where you have to abandon what you wanted to work on based on a horse’s behavior?

For sure! I think that is life with horses. There are going to be times where that happens.

I try to have a plan the day before of what I want to work the next day with the horse. But there are going to be days those things go haywire. Say it starts to go sideways and the horse isn’t doing what was planned for the day. I always try to pick a point where I got through or got past what they wanted to do, so I can still come out ahead.

“I won’t give up. I will keep going until I get to a point where we are making a positive step forward in the direction I wanted to go for the day. ” – Doug Payne
Q: In general, what is the biggest issue you see amateurs having in your clinics and what advice would you like amateurs to hear so they can do better?

I would say canter quality in general is probably the biggest thing I see across the board. 

“Everyone seems to be quite happy with horse slightly behind their leg and strung out. ” – Doug Payne

I like to do a warmup with small oxer about 18″ high and 18″ wide with placing rails 7′ from the front and back of the fence. I start at the trot and then move into the canter on a figure-8, which helps with the canter quality.

Q: Do you have any exercises to help a young horse be more balanced and pick up his feet?

Equipment-wise I recommend open front boots only. My thought is that if they are hitting the jump you really want them to feel it for both of your safety.

At home, use super heavy wood, preferably 4x4s. The key is to make them feel it, because it will make them more inclined to not keep hitting it, which is going to be huge on the safety aspect of things.

Q: What is the number one thing you look for when purchasing a young, green horse?

For the most part, we look for weanlings and we gravitate towards Holsteiner x TB crosses. I tend to look for elastic, free flowing horses. I love babies that are a little bit of a punk and go out and play in the pasture. The tiny bit of edge is super helpful!

Q: I know some people use walkers, exercise ponds, long hacks, or swimming for extra strengthening- is any of that part of your program?

Our horses do a lot of walking – long hacks with different types of terrain.

Exposing them to different types of terrain can help them with their long-term soundness. If you are only working on a perfect surface all the time, then they are more likely to get hurt on an imperfect surface.

Q: How can I keep my horse fit during the winter? I am limited to an indoor arena.
Work with cavalettis and bounces – anything to get their heart rate up! Gymnastics are great because you can work through them multiples times without a break unless they are great the first time!
Q: What horse, currently competing or not, is the horse you think would be the most fun to ride?
I would steal Matt Flynn’s horse Wizzerd without a doubt!

One response to “Ep. 7: Office Hours with Doug Payne”

  1. Angie Timmons says:

    Really interesting that he had a 10 year gap in riding at Advanced and made it right back to the top of the sport! Would love to know if those 10 years included time off from horses.

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