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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

When your horse decides to express himself, do you ride it out? Or do you panic?

Of course, we'd all like to say that we can just float along while the horse shakes, rattles and rolls (the equine version) but it does stand true that stickability is probably one of the strongest determining factors of how well you can work with your horse rather than against him. Without being able to ride through a bobble, you will almost likely always be at the very least, left behind, and at the worst, left without (a horse)!

Where do you fit on this scale? The higher the number, the farther you can go in helping your horse through difficult situations.

0 - No stickability at all

If we aren't at this level now, we definitely were at the beginning of our riding careers. So all of us should know what it feels like to not be able to stick around. It's not a good feeling. The smallest hiccup, and we get to kiss dirt. Not only does it hurt, but it's also very humiliating. Aside from that, it teaches a young horse to lost confidence in the rider, and it plain scares the older, more educated horse - imagine that the horse is doing what he knows he's supposed to do, and before he knows it, off pops the rider!

All kidding aside, hopefully, you will go through this stickability level quickly. If you find you are falling off at any unexpected moment, you probably need to be working on your seat. 

1 - Sticks to the horse - sometimes

You will eventually get to a point where you can follow the small misstep/deek/stop/start. This is when your confidence begins to build. Now, if your horse does something unexpected, you can move almost fast enough to right yourself if you lean too far. You can sit through a small buck if the horse happens to go straight and bucks only once. You can grab onto a fistful of mane and drag your body back into the saddle. How many of us have gone through this?

2 - Sticks more often than not

At Level 2, you are beginning to be able to take on more of a challenge. You can now sit through several bucks as long as they aren't too big, wild or sideways. You can keep a more upright body while the horse spooks. Hard starts and stops don't phase you as much. You still have that sinking feeling once in a while, if your horse slips out quickly from underneath you. You fall less often than you used to, and you're generally more sure that you can have a chance to correct the horse once the romp is over.

3 - Stickable

Ah! You have "arrived" once you reach Level 3. At this point, you are able to sit through many of your horse's inconsistencies. Although you still do fall off when something happens when you aren't expecting it, you can stay on most of the time and come through the episode with your senses intact. Not only can you stick, but you can ride well enough to recover your balance within several strides and carry on. The adrenaline you get from the almost-fall is lower in intensity and you have more control over it. If you are riding in a lesson, there is only a small disturbance of the rhythm of the ride and you can usually recover quickly enough to not lose everything you had been working on.

4- Sticks to train

The next level is to be able to stick well enough to ride out most of your horse's expressive maneuvers. This is when your riding can become more about the horse than you. Most Level 4 riders will be able to ride young horses at this stage, because they can handle most of the horse's missteps. This rider will allow a horse to make mistakes and still be there afterward.

If you get to this level, you will start to discover that you have a riding sense of humor. Things don't matter nearly as much as they used to. You will happily enjoy the horse that shows you his personality even if there is some up-and-down hops along the way. Although there are times when you might still be reactive rather than active, most of the ride is intentional and most of the time, you have enough control over your emotions that a bobble can be just that - a bobble.

5- Sticks - almost always

This is the epitome of stickability. Not only will you be able to ride out the young horse's initiatives, not only will you be able to correct the more educated horse's exuberance, but you will be so stickable that with the additional training you have had to get to this level, you will be able to actually improve the horse's way of going. You will be able to ride through problems as if they weren't problems at all. In fact, you will probably be able to stop problems from the get-go.

The only one disadvantage to being completely stickable is that although the probability of falls is drastically reduced, you still can't predict when the horse is going to fall. And if you stay on  well enough, there is a chance for you to fall with him if he is the one that does the falling.

What to do

There is always going to be a certain amount of danger when riding horses. You can never eliminate the possibility of falling. However, developing your stickability factor will help you go a long way toward improving both your and your horse's level of confidence.

How can you improve your stickability factor? Work on the seat. There is no other answer.

If you can improve your seat, you can improve your balance, your timing of the aids, your core muscles, your movement with or against the horse - pretty much everything. Lunge lessons are excellent, no matter which level you are at, to help you develop confidence and allow your body to learn to do what it needs to without worrying about where the horse is going.

Everything, including stickability, begins with the seat.

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18 Comments

  1. I have no ides how to rate myself. I don’t ride overly expressive horses, so I don’t have the sticking experiences needed, and yet throughout five years of riding, I’ve fallen off twice, total. Very confused…

      1. 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have my own horse yet, so I ride school horses. I just moved, so I’m riding a new horse now, who is quite a challenge for me. 13.2 Welsh ponies are much different from 15.2 Mustangs. 😉

      2. That they are!!! It is always so insteresting to see the relationships thwy have wi their riders, especialy if they have (ehem, Magnum, I’m talking about you) larger than proportionate egos. 🙂 And Additudes. And Personalities. I really can’t believe I’m saying this because the horse that this is directed to is my baby boy, a 13.2 pony. With the largest personality on the whole farm.

  2. Pingback: How Timely! | LKM
  3. I have been riding for many years on stable horses and come across all types and have unstuck many many times, sometimes their fault sometimes mine. I know own my own horse and he is well behaved but has the odd “joie de vive” and I stay on. I can feel when he is about to do something so that makes it a lot easier.
    There are times in every rider’s life when the unexpected happens as it did to me 6 weeks ago. A totally freak accident when horse and rider got to a point where they met BobCat cleaning out stable. Re result was a spooked horse and a riding flying off and breaking her arm.
    It was so fast I don’t even remember him turning 180o and going around another bend. I just remember centrifugal force and flying off.
    First injury in my riding years, not bad. This was a completely new piece of equiptment to the barn and although he had passed it several times it was not moving. No blaming him, he did what a horse is supposed to do, run away from danger.

    1. Oh no! Glad it wasn’t more serious than that. Hope your recovery is quick. For sure – there are times when we just don’t stick because things can happen very quickly on horseback.

  4. I can stick the odd sideways jump or lunge or buck but those 180′s can be a challenge. They happen so quickly. I stuck one once but then went back to work on the fear and the second one left me in the dust with numerous bruises and a broken finger. (My brother was working on the roof unbeknownst to me and his movements spooked my young horse.)

  5. I’m no bronc buster, but I have ridden some buckers and lately most of my falls include the horse eating dirt and taking me with him. I’d rate myself a 4, maybe 4.5 at the most. The thing that most contributed to my stickability? I basically spent two years of my childhood alloping around the farm bareback because I was too short and weedy to get a saddle all the way up onto my big pony’s back. Now several years later, I almost never ride bareback anymore but losing a stirrup is still a total non-event because I was so used to never having them in the first place.

  6. My second horse was/is and Arab and has her days of “high alert” and spookiness. I am 54 years old and started riding 4 years ago and have managed to stay on her except for when my treeless saddle rolled. (no withers, treeless saddle – bad combo.) She has taught me a great deal about stickablility! Probably not the best choice of horse at the time – but live and learn right?! I want to start riding bareback to improve my seat. Love Horse Listening the Book.

  7. Haha! I am a # 5 , Velcro butt, but always worried about if a horse fell, I was going too. Finally happened, just getting over a broken collarbone from when my mare fell while cantering… Not bucking, not rearing, not bolting… Those things don’t worry me, falling, on the other hand, well it happened so FAST, nary a stumble, there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it. Luckily, she did not fall ON me, I did not get hung up in my stirrups, I was wearing a helmet, and it had a cell phone on me to call for help, as I was riding alone…

  8. Long before I ride I was always able to stick on the horse no matter what did. Even now I can still stay on if I am sitting upright. I thought stick ability was separate to riding ability. Nice to know they are tied together.

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