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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Yes, it certainly is possible to drift through all your riding days with nary a thought to how your horse is moving. There are many people far and wide who either choose to ignore their horse's "way of going", or are truly ignorant of the differences in the horse's movements. They are also likely unaware of the implications of their lack of attention.

There really are only two possible results to riding:

1) Improve the horse.

2) Harm the horse.

The unfortunate news is that there is no middle ground between the two.

Either you are contributing to the proper development of the horse (physically, mentally, emotionally) or you are causing damage. Unfortunately, the path to damage isn't always obvious or easily identified.

However, deterioration of the horse can become evident to the educated eye; you just need to know how to spot the clues and draw accurate conclusions in order to know what to do about it.

But the message here isn't about what NOT to do. Instead, the idea is to learn, develop, try and keep working at it, especially when the going gets tough. Don't obsess over the "damage"; rather, take note and change what you are doing. 

How to spot the "healthy" horse

When observing the horse without tack, you will notice:

- a short coat with a glowing sheen (assuming the horse is already brushed and clean);

- a soft, almost slippery feel to the coat when you pet the horse (the coat feels "alive");

- evidence of good foot care and saddle/tack fitting;

- a bright, alert, even sensitive, inquisitive demeanor;

- a good appetite, rare to no bouts with stomach problems (and colics);

- when standing still, without tack, the back appears "rounded" in his top line muscling (rather than a flat back or having a sway in the middle of the back);

- a muscled hind end that is filled out in the hamstrings.

Under saddle:

-  is free moving and willing to stride out;

- rarely missteps or trips up in either the front or hind end;

- round, rolly-polly croup (behind the saddle) with hind legs reaching deep underneath the body;

- looks "filled out" in the front (thick neck muscles, swinging shoulders) as opposed to lean, thin and awkward-looking in the head to neck to shoulder area;

- appears confident in the rider, rarely pinning the ears or swishing the tail.

Good (a.k.a. responsible) riders are constantly looking for ways to improve their riding, and how their horse uses its body. If nothing else, the main goal of riding is to improve the horse's weight-bearing skills.

Proper movement leads to increased circulation in the horse's musculature, joints and skeleton. Good movement leads to good health and longevity in the horse - something all riders should be aspiring toward.

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6 Comments

  1. of course, none of us reading this would be seeing anything like this with our own horses, oh no!! I think ‘harm’ you describe here is something other people do!! LOL!! I am just about to have my first proper riding lesson for decades, am panicking quietly whilst my horse is contentedly munching hay without a care in the world :-))

    1. Of course the ‘harm’ is always what other people do! ;-p
      P.S. I take lessons fairly regularly and STILL have that tiny panic voice inside each time… but I plow through and usually have a great time. Enjoy!
      Thanks for reading.

  2. If it helps… consider that it might be worse to NOT have the tiny panic voice. If you didn’t, you probably aren’t aware of the ‘harm’ being done. So, if you’re always learning that’s the best you can do.

  3. Another GREAT article….and so glad to hear that others experience the tiny (ok maybe NOT so tiny sometimes) panic voice!!! Always worried about “ruining” my horse as I learn dressage. But that panic voice motivates me to read, study, lesson and learn, learn, learn!!! Thank you for your efforts in educating us & my horse thanks you too!!!

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