“You’ll Ruin Your Horse!”

If you've been in horses and riding even for just a while, you've probably already heard someone say that about how someone is riding their horse. Or they may have even said it about you and your horse.

The theory is that you can "wreck" your horse if you ride poorly. If you do something wrong long enough, your horse will forever be negatively affected, develop bad habits and never, ever go properly after that.

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I suppose it can be true. If you are not interested at all in developing your skills, and you do the same terrible thing over and over for an extended period of time (expecting a different result, perhaps?)... then yes, your horse will likely be ruined as long as he remains in those circumstances.

HOWEVER.

Let's say you're not trying to hurt the horse. And despite your best efforts, you are still having trouble with a fundamental skill - for example, you put your horse too much on the forehand. And you're getting negative feedback from your horse: tail swishes, hollow back, pinned ears. And you know it, and you're doing something about it.

The trouble is that it will likely take a long time to change your bad habit, or develop that new skill (or likely, set of skills).

What then? The horse will surely go through this tough time with you.

Will you actually ruin your horse?

My answer is: no!

Here's why.

Same Horse, Different Riders

The horse can only go as well as you can. This is why you might see the same lesson horse go so much better for a more experienced rider than a novice. Even if the horse is "ruined" by one rider, the next rider can help the horse find the stability he needs. Soon enough, the tension and apprehension caused by the first rider will be eliminated.

So it stands to reason that once you get through that learning curve, your horse will go back to being that same happy horse - only better. But you have to learn these skills first.

You Have To Learn At Some Point

The reality is that no matter how hard you try, your learning curve will negatively affect your horse. You have to develop timing, coordination, probably core strength, independence of aids - all over again for each new circumstance. These learning stages have to happen if you are to progress.

And they will negatively affect even the most educated horse.

My suggestion is to take note of the horse's feedback, work to improve your skill set, and beg for forgiveness from your horse. 🙂

The Horse Forgives

I often go back to John Lyons on this one. During his clinics, he often would say (I'm paraphrasing), "Zip is the most patient, forgiving horse. He forgives me for making mistakes. He waits and waits until I get better. Then, as soon as I'm better, he's better! He's been waiting for me to get better all along!"

What an optimistic perspective! Just trusting that my horse will get better when I get better has given me hope and determination during my most difficult learning phases to keep trying, keep working hard at learning a particular skill. Because I know if I can get better, my horse will reflect that change.

What To Do?

Here are some ideas if you feel like you're in a bind.



Get help from a knowledgeable instructor. If you've read my blog regularly, you'll know that I always start here. There is no replacement for an "educated eye on the ground" who can give you ideas, teach you skills and make suggestions you might not even know about.

Be prepared to "study."

The concept of studying might be rare these days in equestrian circles, but there is no other way. Read, watch videos, audit clinics, watch lessons, set goals, ride in lessons. Immerse yourself in learning.

Get a more experienced rider/trainer to ride your horse. This person can help the horse work well and stay calm mentally. She might even be able to teach your horse something he needs to know. Watch and learn what the rider is doing that may be different from what you are doing. Take mental notes and try to duplicate when you ride.

Be patient, especially during the worst times. Cut yourself (and your horse) some slack. Learning takes time. Mistakes have to be made. Do everything you can to reduce the duration and frequency of the mistakes, but know that there is a better time waiting for you ahead.

Practice consistently. This means getting out to ride as often as you can. You have to ride regularly in order to develop new muscle memory. Just one extra ride a week will make a huge difference in your learning curve.

The thing is, every ounce of effort you put into becoming a better rider is an investment in yourself. Every horse that you ride after you have consolidated a skill set will benefit. There really is no other answer. Don't be afraid of ruining your horse. Instead, put all your energy into improving yourself!

Horse Listening

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Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.

Included in the book:

  • design your overarching goals
  • long- and short-term planning,
  • debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
  • reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
  • sample goals and pages

The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.

Click here for more information.

white-book-3d-cover-2Read more here:

Living (Horse) Life In The Basics: Can you distinguish the difference between good and bad movement?

A Question Of Imbalance: Can You Tell? At some point, it becomes essential to be able to feel what is happening so that you can hopefully address it sooner than later.

Top Ten Reasons To Ride A Horse: There must be as many reasons to ride horses are there are people who ride.

What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.

What’s The Difference Between The Inside Rein and The Outside Rein?

While we generally want the reins to act and feel the same during our rides, they do have different uses and techniques. The better we get at riding, the more subtle these aids can be. However, there are still different things each rein can do at different times to maintain the overall balance, power and straightness of the horse.

How are the inside and outside reins used? What is the difference between them?

Inside Rein

Slightly open for flexion

When you are on a turn or circle, the horse should be looking slightly to the inside, in the direction of movement (flexion). We often see horses either stiffly pointing their noses straight out and against the reins, or even pointing to the outside and turning in the opposite direction! While there are leg, seat and torso aids involved in truly bending the horse in the direction of movement, the inside rein is also a key player in maintaining flexion.

Keep the inside rein slightly off the neck (open) to maintain better flexion.

Slightly open to create room for the inside shoulder

The slightly open inside rein also allows the inside shoulder space to move into. While you don't want the horse to fall to the inside because you opened the rein (use your inside leg to prevent this from happening), you also don't want to block the inside shoulder from being allowed to reach forward in the stride.

People often close the inside rein in attempt to stop the inside shoulder from falling in. Do the opposite. Take the rein only a few inches off the neck and allow the shoulder to move forward. Stop any lean with your inside leg instead.

Give/release often

The inside rein is the giver! Release as soon as you get some desired response from your horse - whether you wanted flexion or better rounding.

The release can be from your elbows or shoulders. Push the reins forward without letting the reins slide through your fingers. Ideally, the inside rein will have tiny fluttering releases as you ride along.

No pull

Avoid pulling back on it. Pulling on the inside rein creates many problems including loss of balance,  crookedness, blocking of the inside hind leg, and much more.

Create contact through a "hold" on the reins rather than a "pull." And then look for opportunities to release.

 

Outside Rein

Indicates a turn (neck rein)

One of the main uses of the outside rein is to initiate a turn. We often think that we need to pull on the inside rein to turn, but the outside rein is the preferred method because it helps keep the horse much better balanced.

Click here to read a detailed breakdown of how to create a neck rein that turns the horse.

The horse should understand to move away from  the pressure of the neck rein.

Prevents the outside shoulder from bulging 

The outside rein can also work on regulating just how much the outside shoulder can "step out". Many times, the horse will turn but drift out in the opposite direction. It is the outside rein's job to block the drift.

Prevents the neck from pointing too much to the inside

The final use of the outside rein is to keep the neck from swinging too much to the inside. This is also important for balance and control. The rider must help the horse keep a straight body even while bending around a turn.



Hold the outside rein steady when turning and make sure your inside rein isn't forcing the horse to swing his neck too far to the inside.

Steady contact

The outside rein is responsible for maintaining steady contact. It steadies the horse and helps to maintain the horse's overall body outline. This rein should have a "feeling" give to it but much less than the inside rein. The rein should stay fairly straight and consistent in length most of the time.

Half-halt

The outside rein is also usually the half-halt rein, although as mentioned before, the hands are the last component of the half-halt. In general, the half-halt is done using the outside rein to maintain balance and a steady contact.

A few parting notes

Do not cross either rein over the neck (no pull across the neck either)

We often try to prevent the horse from leaning one way or the other with our reins. Have you seen someone take their rein up and across the horse's neck in attempt to control the inside shoulder? Unfortunately, this will never work and actually causes the horse to lean even more on the shoulder.

The pull will block the inside hind leg from coming under the horse's body (thereby preventing him from being able to balance better) and will actually twist the horse's head and neck away from the body - and this will also affect his balance negatively.

Inside, try to use the slightly open rein to prevent leans, drifts and dropped shoulders.

Keep the neck between both reins

One of the oldest sayings about the reins is to "ride the horse straight between the reins and legs." It's true!

Even contact and hand positions

Strive for developing an even contact - not one rein stronger than another. Also keep your hands parallel to each other, in front of the saddle. While you may need to venture away from the front of the saddle area at times, come back to "home base" as soon as possible. In our dreams, the hands stay there just beside each other all the time.

The seat, weight and leg aids

I didn't mention the rest of the aids here because I wanted to highlight just the use of the reins. But there are many other aids involved in all of the turns, straight lines, changes of bends, and transitions that will be included in each of your rides.

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Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

If you enjoyed the above article, you'll find many related chapters about training horses and and the rider in Horse Listening - Book 2. Your favorite Horse Listening training articles are compiled in this beautifully bound paperback (or digital) book.

Instantly order online. Click here to learn more.

Horse Listening Book 2Read more here:

What Is Contact? The First StageThe level you are at right now isn't where you're going to be in a couple of years' time. "Taking up contact."

What Is Contact? The Second Stage: "On the bit."

What Is Contact? The Third Stage: "On the aids or connection."

Try This Exercise To Improve Your Rein Contact: This article is about how you can "take contact" in a predictable, consistent manner. 

Demystifying "Contact" In Horseback Riding: To think that correct and effective contact is something out of the reach of the average rider is simply not true.

 

24 Reasons Why Horsin’ Around Makes Us Better Human Beings

Horse Listening horsin' around
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

I often write about how being around horses changes a person. In many ways, there is no chance that a person who is involved in horses - whether as a rider, or barn owner or manager, instructor, volunteer, or someone who helps with the chores - can stay the same as they were pre-horses. While there's likely plenty of physical improvement, there's the even more important aspect of development of character.

Well, it makes sense when you think about it.

First off, there's the being-out-in-the-country factor. For many of us who live in suburbs or cities, being outside "for real" puts us in a much different position than we're used to. The sheer space and conditions create an environment that is rarely experienced these days by most people. Quite opposite to the hustle and bustle of our city lives, being at a farm makes us do things differently.

Time slows down. Pace slows down. Even while we have to actually perform tasks (that won't get done otherwise), the physical aspect requires us to focus on one thing at a time, prioritize tasks, find the most efficient way to do things and to "live in the moment."

Then there's the horses.

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They teach us so many "soft" skills like empathy, responsibility, leadership, compassion, determination and organization. That doesn't even include riding-specific skills.

So why does horsin' around make us into better human beings? Here are 24 ways.

    1. Work hard: Whether we're carrying water buckets or cleaning out stall after stall, we're in it to get 'er done, no matter what it takes!
    2. Ready to pitch in when needed: We learn quickly that many hands make light work.
    3. Compassion - for people too: (As in, not only for the animals. We become "tuned in" to others, period.)
    4. Clean without complaint: Well, maybe just a little complaint. But we realize that if we don't do the cleaning, the mess will build up quickly and not go away on its own!
    5. Walk briskly and far: Walking is the major way to get around farms and so you learn to go - fast!
    6. Not afraid to get dirty: We get right into the mess of things and clean up later.
    7. Keep doing despite the weather: Like turning horses in just as the huge downpour begins, or taking the wheelbarrow to the muck pile after a white-out blizzard covers the path.
    8. Put others' needs first: The horses always get taken care of first because they rely on us for almost everything.
    9. Stubborn: In a good way, we try, try again in order to learn the new skill.
    10. Make decisions - even the hard ones: As the person responsible for the horse, it's our duty to keep our selfish needs to the side and do what's best for the horse.
    11. Have fun! Stay a while in any barn and hear the laughter echo through the rafters (literally).
    12. Enjoy being alone: We relish our quiet time listening to the munching of hay and occasional snorts of our equine friends.
    13. Enjoy being with others: Even the most introverted of us becomes more outgoing and social simply by virtue of the shared passion we have for horses.
    14. Stick to it when the going gets tough: We learn that almost any problem can be overcome with perseverance and a little bit of creativity.
    15. Willing to "perform" in front of others: There's no way around it. You watch others ride and others watch you ride.
    16. Step out of own comfort zone regularly: We become more willing to do try new things and grow - whether in the saddle or on the ground.
    17. Share information and knowledge with others: We pool together all of experiences and research especially when there's a horse in need.
    18. Finish tasks: Because the chore won't get done otherwise.
    19. Take initiative: Our leadership skills flourish in a barn setting.
    20. Lift heavy objects: We build our strength and we aren't shy to use it (water bucket, anyone)?
    21. Can be counted on to pitch in or complete tasks: Because that's just the way things get done in a barn.
    22. Communicate clearly: We use white boards, lists, text messages, memos, and old fashioned "face time" to make sure we're on track and the horses are taken care of in a consistent manner.
    23. Self-starters: We will find the things that need to be done and do them on our own.
    24. Life-long learners: Because we need more than one lifetime to learn everything we need to know about riding and horses.

When you take a look at those 24 characteristic traits, it's pretty easy to realize that little by little, day by day, being out in that barn and interacting with those horses adds a huge dimension to our way of being in the world. How have your horses made you into a better human being?



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Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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Read more here:

Riding Should Be Fun... Right? Just like anything worth doing, there are going to be moments when you think you're having anything but fun!

Your Horse Is How Old?? 7 Tips to Ride For LongevityHere's the thing: while the older horse may have a few hitches and "irregular" footfalls, the key to helping him lead a quality life in his later years is to keep him moving. 

Because of Horses: What has changed in your life because of horses?

Horseback Riders Do Nothing Anyway! Well, at least, that’s what “they” say. But we know differently, don’t we?

6 Reasons To Thank My Horses: Horses give us opportunities for experiences and growth that are not part of everyday urban living.

To The 50+ Year-Old Horse Rider

Horse Listening 50+ Rider
Credit: NBanaszak Photography

I know you're out there.

In fact, I know there are more of you (us) than ever before.

It seems like more and more middle-aged people are able to maintain their health, finances and activity level enough to own, ride and care for horses well into their 50s, 60s and beyond.

Some people are coming to horses for the first time. Maybe it was a lifelong dream, or wishful thinking that is finally coming to fruition.

Others have been "in horses" since they were young children, and were among the lucky ones who have a long history of enjoying every avenue that horse riding has to offer: riding lessons, ownership, showing, trail riding, special tricks and performances (musical riding, anyone?) and so much more. Many of their lifelong friends are likely of the horse-loving variety.

Both types want to keep riding. They want to keep showing up at the barn, savoring the ambiance and environment that it has to offer. Most of all, they want to spend time with the horses themselves.

People often ask me what they need to do if they are older riders. Is anything particularly different for the over 50 crowd?

Well, sure. And, not really.

Because after all, a horse is a horse of course, of course!

If you look at the guidelines for people as they age, you'll see that horses and horse riding meet all of our "grown-up" needs. I'm no doctor, but I can tell you that being involved in horses maintains and maybe even improves many areas of our lives, such as:

  • general muscle strength (lifting, pushing, pulling)
  • balance
  • core strength
  • general mobility (both fine and gross motor skills)
  • emotional health
  • mental health
  • socialization
  • lifelong learning

Walk through any riding facility and you'll likely find children, teenagers, adults, "grown-ups" and every age in between. Age has little meaning to a horse. They respond similarly to all of us.

However, there are some things you might want to consider if you're in the "grown-up" category (although honestly, I'd give these same recommendations for children and new horse riders of any age).

Pick the right horse

I can't stress this point enough. The horse you ride/buy can make or break your experience - never mind your body! Know your strengths and limitations, and find the horse that will enjoy what you want to get out of riding. This might mean that you'd pick a more experienced, possibly older, but likely much more forgiving horse that will be happy to do whatever you want to do - whether it be a good grooming, a riding lesson, a trail ride on a nice day, or just hang out under a tree enjoying a nibble on some grass.

Stay away from horses that need more attention or require more athletic ability that you are able to provide. Younger horses may need to be ridden every day. They may need training by a professional. They may go through learning stages of their own, which might include bucks/rears/spins and whatever else a horse could do under difference circumstances.

Pick well!

Ride at your level

You might think riding at your level is common sense, but many people try to push themselves far outside of their comfort zone, for various reasons. As an older rider, you should constantly challenge yourself to keep developing new skills and "feels," but make sure that you are riding at a level that you can be safe and confident.



Take lessons to keep developing your skills

This is not to say that you should be content with maintaining the status quo. Learning to ride is a life-long quest and you can absolutely continue working on your aids, balance, coordination and timing. Keep setting goals and working toward personal bests. Realize that goals might take longer to achieve, but keep at it!

Finding a good instructor is even more important for someone who has no prior riding experience. There is no replacement for honest guidance and a safe learning environment and horse.

Take more walk breaks

This is a recommendation I'd give to "grown-up' riders as well as young children and anyone new to riding. Walk breaks give both you and your horse some time to catch breath, regroup, let the muscles relax for a moment, and allow some rest between more demanding work.

Use these moments to work on stretchy walks, lateral work at the walk, halts and then transition out of the halt, any sidepass/turn on the haunches/backup practice. Walk over poles, back around a pylon, work on inside leg to outside rein (bend)... the possibilities are endless! When you're ready, move back into the trot and canter.

Listen to your body

Well, here, I'm referring to the aches and occasional creaks the ol' body might complain about. Seriously, though, if you feel a recurring ache, or a new strain, be sure to listen. There is absolutely no reason to push the body to a point of disrepair and discomfort.

Take it easier, change what you're doing, or get off altogether and look forward to riding the next time. Getting hurt, even from something like a repetitive strain injury, is not worth the extra few minutes you can keep riding. Give the body time to recover.

Enjoy the social aspect

For many of us, interacting with fellow horse lovers is an essential part of the whole horse "experience." The barn is where friendships are made. Enjoy spending that extra time with your friends even while you're grooming or tacking up your horse. You might not notice - but your horse likely enjoys your chat time with your friends as much as you do!

All this to say, if you want to ride horses, your age doesn't really matter! Get out there, get active, and enjoy the companionship of this very special animal.

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IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY!

Let's celebrate!

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Five Years Of Horse Listening

We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!

Learn More.

Read more here:

 

Riding Should Be fun, Right? The only thing you have to keep in mind is how you define fun at different points in your riding career. 

Your Horse Is How Old?? 7 Tips To Ride For LongevityHere are some "accommodations" I put into place for the horses as they aged. Some of these ideas might work for your horse as well.

Ode To The Stretchy Trot: Counting the ways I love the stretchy trot!

42 Ways to Learn, Play and Grow With Your HorseHorses give to us in countless ways. We play, learn and grow with them, making horseback riding not merely a sport (which it truly is, like no other), but so much more.

Good Day For A Little HorseplaySnort, snort, snort, SNORT! My gelding couldn’t tell me in any clearer terms how much he was enjoying the moment.

Jelly Elbows & Clutched Elbows & The In-Between

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Maybe I should call this article something like, "How To Maintain Quiet Hands."

That's because we are more likely to notice the hands of the horse rider more than anything else. We likely never notice the elbows at all but there is quite a lot to be said about the elbows (see my previous post here).

This time, we're going to take a look at the two extremes of what can happen in the elbows, and then see what the in-between can do to help us keep quieter hands, more subtle rein aids, and generally become more stable in our riding position.

The Jelly Elbows

These elbows are often so willing to open that the rider often goes around the ring with straight arms. Jelly Elbows open whenever there is any pressure on the reins. Sometimes they close when the rider feels that there is little control of the horse, but then then they open again. Sometimes, they open wide even when the horse isn't pulling or falling to the forehand (and thereby putting pressure downward). You can get a feel for the confusion that these elbows can create just by reading through the above description!

When the elbows are inconsistent, the horse ends up feeling the result in his mouth. On-again, off-again contact often ends up being reflected in the horse's head. If you notice your horse bobbing his head up and down repeatedly, it might be due to on-and-off contact. Which might be due to jelly elbows.

The Clutched Elbows

These elbows are exactly the opposite of the the Jelly Elbows. These elbows stay tight and strong constantly. They usually have a strong "L" shape to them, and sometimes, they might be so tight that the rider can actually hold the horse's head and neck in place regardless of the amount of pressure on the bridle.

You won't see the horse doing much head bobbing with these elbows, because the pressure is consistent. But what you might see is the horse going around with a tighter, shorter neck outline. You might see the horse bracing through the jaw and neck because invariably, the horse is stronger than the rider and can capably hold that kind of pressure with the front end.

Some horses and riders go along seemingly fine for years and years in this manner, and many horses (but not all) comply without too much fuss. The thing is, if the rider tries to work on more demanding or advanced movements (like lateral movements or collection), there will be major stumbling blocks to overcome.

The In-Between

Well, this third alternative is absolutely the most difficult to achieve. This is why it might take years to develop really, truly "supple" elbows that can navigate through the gives and takes - and not change the pressure the horse feels in the mouth. Tiny, not-more-than-needed movement in the elbows is the key to achieving quiet, responsive (but not throw-away) contact.

How To Work On The In-Between

The best thing I know about finding those in-between elbows is to stabilize your hands and let the elbows do what it takes to keep the hands stable.

Try this:

If you ride in an English saddle, place your hands on the pommel of the saddle right above the saddle pad. If you have a bucking strap on your saddle, actually hold on to the bucking strap with both hands.

If you ride in a Western saddle, you have the pommel as well that you can just rest your hands on. Make sure they don't move.

Make your reins long enough that your horse is comfortable, but short enough that you have enough control to be safe (safety first always). Then start riding. (If you ever need to take your hands off the saddle to take up the reins to maintain control of the horse, do so. You can always stabilize the hands again after the horse is moving quietly)

Don't move the hands!



In trot, you'll be amazed at how much your elbows will need to move in order to keep your hands still. In canter, they move slower and more deliberately but your hands can still be steady and sure if the elbows open and close enough.

Don't worry if your horse isn't going perfectly for the moment, and just focus on your hands. They must stay still while the elbows do their job. You'll notice there will be times when the elbows MUST open and then there will be times when the elbows MUST close - all so that the hands can be quiet and calm.

When you get nice and comfortable with the elbow movement, take your hands off the pommel or bucking strap and try to maintain those In-Between elbows. Keep the hands close to each other, near the front of the saddle.

Every time you feel that you're heading back into the Jelly or Clutched elbows, go back to the pommel to remind your elbows of the feel you need. Then let go of the pommel and try again.

The thing is, if you can achieve suppleness through your elbows, you will also free up through the shoulders, the neck and even through your lower back. It's all connected. And guess what? Better contact will also be a part of the aids that free up the horse's poll, shoulders and back too.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2

Read more here:

12 Rider's Quick Tips - #2: Don't Forget The Rider's ElbowsQuite a lot of flexibility is required from the joint; the opening and closing of the elbow, in relation to your horse's movement is something that can only be achieved through enough practice to develop muscle memory. 

Why We Dressage: The RiderBecause dressage training is rooted in the absolute basics that all horses will go through (whether or not the riders are aware), time spent on developing the dressage in the rider is never wasted!

Spring Into A Horse Riding Exercise: If you’ve got a rambunctious, hippety-hoppety four-legged equine emerging from his shaggy coat and winter paddock, here is a fun and active exercise you can use to allow for movement while while also encouraging focus and calm attention.

Go With The HorseIsn't that what you're supposed to do? I mean, if you're on the horse's back, and the horse is moving, you're undoubtedly going along with him (unless you're off his back and on the ground - fairly undesired). So what's the fuss about "go"ing with the horse?

"You're STILL Taking Riding Lessons?"  Maybe you've heard that question more frequently than you'd like to. 

How to Fix Your Horse’s Crookedness

Crookedness horse riding
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it's true. Your horse's crookedness is all about you.

It's just that the more I know, the more I watch riders, and the more I ride horses, I can see that what "they" say is really true.

"They" say it's always about the rider. "They" say that the horse is the mirror of the rider, and it can only do as much as the rider can.

Of course, this means that everything the rider can or cannot do is reflected by the horse. Everything from tension, attitude, and yes... crookedness. Even for the long term.

In a way though, this is good news.

Because if the main problem starts with you, then you have the power to change yourself, right?

The tough part, of course, is to make the change happen. But with perseverance and effort, it can be done.

What does it take to actually change your "way of going?"

First of all, we need to identify what it is that allows us to keep doing what we're doing. How is it possible that we're so strong on one side, and so soft on the other, and how can we change it?

Obstacles That Keep Us "Blind"

There's a few reasons why changing the body's muscle memory can be so difficult. 

  1. Muscle memory is difficult to change - you just don't feel or notice your crookedness. The body is so very good at duplicating old movements that once we've established the "neural pathways," we no longer feel what we're doing. This can be the case for the large, complex movements that we have to do as riders, such as inside-leg-at-the-girth-outside-leg-behind-the-girth-inside-rein open-outside-rein-neck rein... sounds pretty complicated when it's all written out! 
  2. Unconscious movements: It can also be the case for those deep-in-the-pelvis core movements that you can't even feel - until they're sore later! In fact, these movements are the most difficult to change exactly because we don't have the same kind of intentional access to them. I mean, balance is balance. A baby learning to walk doesn't sit around and contemplate the many tiny muscle contractions and releases it will take to make that first walk step. The same goes for us in the saddle.
  3. Your horse's kind compliance can also be a factor. Horses often do what you want, as crooked as necessary, despite the discomfort or difficulties that may cause them. In my experience, horses work through the crookedness or lack of balance as much as they possibly can. So while you may notice signs of discomfort, it takes quite a lot of sensitivity and "listening" to know what the horse is saying.



The Good News

It might take a lot more effort than you think you should put into something you already "know", but at least, if you do make these changes consistently, you're sure to see results in the long run.

How? You can go through this mental checklist the next time you ride. Start with understanding the ideas and see if you can make the physical changes you need in order to become a straighter rider.

Feel For Straightness

  • Can you tell if you're sitting on both seat bones evenly? 
  • Are your shoulders (and belly button area) pointing straight ahead?
  • Are you looking through your horse's ears?
  • Do you have even contact on the reins?
  • Are your hands close to each other and parallel (one is not ahead of the other)?
  • Do you have even (fairly light) weight in your stirrups?
  • Are you pointing your whole body straight ahead?

Feel For The Turn

  • Are you on your inside seat bone?
  • Is your belly button (and therefore entire upper body) turned into the circle (or turn)?
  • Are your shoulders pointing to the arc of the circle?
  • Are your hands moved slightly in the direction of the turn, creating a slight open rein on the inside, and a neck rein on the outside? Are they STILL even and parallel to each other?
  • Do you have your inside leg on the horse at the girth?
  • Is your outside leg slightly behind the girth?

***

Of course, there's so much more to developing straightness. Once you have a handle on these basics, you will need to become friends with the more complicated lateral movements beginning with leg yields and moving on to shoulder-in, travers (haunches-in) and renvers (haunches-out). If you're not straight for those movements, you will surely realize it because your horse will have difficulty doing them. 

A knowledgeable eye on the ground will help a lot because she can let you know if you're on the right track as you ride. You can make adjustments based on the person's input and learn what the new "feel" feels like.

Videos help a LOT! See if you can get a friend to video you from good angles (ones that can show your body position clearly) and then watch it over and over again. 

Mirrors are even better! I know most of us don't have mirrors but there really is no better way to get instant feedback than riding in an arena with mirrors. What you see can easily be changed and you can learn to rely more on your visual feedback and literally see what straightness feels like.

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Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

If you enjoyed the above article, you'll find many related chapters about training horses and and the rider in Horse Listening - Book 2. Your favorite Horse Listening training articles are compiled in this beautifully bound paperback (or digital) book.

Instantly order online. Click here to learn more.

Horse Listening Book 2Read more here:

Blueprinting - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: The bad news about blueprinting is that the same learning process occurs with all body movements - even the ones you'd rather NOT duplicate!

You're STILL Taking Riding Lessons? Maybe you've heard that question more frequently than you'd like to. It happens all the time to us lifelong horse owners and riders.

How To Improve YOUR Trot-Canter Transitions: Try this great exercise to improve your ability to initiate and stay balanced through the transitions.

Breaking The Cycle: It Might Not Be What You DID Do... but rather what you DIDN'T do!

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

 

Why We Dressage: The Rider

Why We Dressage
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Dressage (in French) = To Train

It stands to reason, then, that all horse riders should learn dressage, even while specializing in their chosen discipline. I'm not talking about the type of dressage that it takes to get into a show ring well enough to put down a great score (which isn't a bad thing to do for sure), but the kind that teaches riders fundamental skills that are the basis of all good movement.

This is not to say that different riding disciplines don't teach effective skills. Far from it. But because dressage training is rooted in the absolute basics that all horses will go through (whether or not the riders are aware), time spent on developing the dressage in the rider is never wasted! Dressage can be a powerful addition to your regular riding program. 

ALL disciplines use circles, straight lines, suppleness, transitions, energy from the hind end, and more. ALL riders can benefit from learning how to use their aids effectively, even if they ride in different tack with a different body position. Because in the end, "all horses have a head, a tail and four legs - and gravity sucks the same way for all of them!" (*credit for that quote goes to my long time awesome dressage instructor)

Here is what dressage can do for you, the rider.

1. Education

Let's start with the main reason. Riders from all disciplines will benefit from the fundamental instruction that is rooted in dressage. There is a reason that terms and phrases such as "inside leg to outside rein," "forward" and "hind end engagement" are pervasive in all riding arenas. While they are technically taught in dressage, they are applicable to all sorts of riding activities.

Riders who have spent some time learning the dressage basics will always have those skills to inform their future endeavors. Many riders from various disciplines use dressage techniques in their daily riding activities - not to take to the dressage ring, but to take to their preferred ring. Knowing what to do, why and when to use a technique or skill can make a huge difference in both the short and long term success of the rider.

2. Seat Use

When you hear "dressage," you probably instantly think "seat." The whole concept of using the seat as the beginning and end of balance, communication and "aiding" is a core teaching of dressage. When riders lack an educated seat, they likely spend their rides being reactive, out of balance, and ultimately, on the ground after an unplanned dismount.

Learning to use the seat effectively takes years of practice and is one of those things that you never stop developing, but every horse will benefit from your dressage-acquired seat.

3. Independent Aids

Another main component of dressage is to get the riders to use their aids independently of each other. So when the seat is balancing or asking for more engagement, the hands are not pulling but still adequately containing the energy that is delivered to them. The elbows might be soft but toned while the hands are closed and not letting the reins out. The seat does its job while the legs stay inactive and on the horse's sides until more energy is required.

It takes a considerable amount of coordination to be able to work each body part independently from the other, but it can be done.



4. Connection/Contact

Dressage riders spend a large amount of time on both contact and connection, and for good reason. Communication with the horse is critical in all endeavors and the way we communicate can make or break a horse's life. Many riding problems and even lamenesses can be corrected by achieving "connection" - that amazing feeling of the looseness of a horse that is moving confidently forward into your rein contact and responding to your subtle aids despite the great energy he is offering.

This is another life-long quest that can be beneficial to all disciplines.

5. Quality Movement

Movement is another essential part of dressage - but in reality, it is necessary for any kind of horse related activity. Movement is what we're all after, and good gaits are desired in all riding styles, whether it be under saddle, in harness or at liberty. You'd be amazed at how much an educated rider can influence the quality of their horse's movement

Dressage concepts are extremely relevant for all horses and disciplines. Adding a little dressage into your regular riding routine can make a huge difference in the level of success in your chosen field. Don't take my word for it. Just listen to your horse!

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Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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Read more here:

Feeling Like A (Dressage) QueenIf you go by what you hear, aspiring to be a dressage queen is often a frowned-upon goal. But something happened that completely flipped around the meaning of the phrase for me.

Dressage As A Healing ToolWhat do dressage exercises do for the horse?

In The Beginning (riding)In the beginning, you must focus all your energy on just riding.

It's All About Listening: If we weren't whispering, what were we in fact doing? This is the first ever blog post. 

17 Things I Learned While Developing My SeatRecently, I was inspired to think about my "journey" in discovering an effective (enough) seat that has allowed me to progress further than I ever thought possible in my own riding.

23 Ways Your Horse is Your Life Coach

Horse Life Coach
"Let me tell you about you."

 

At first, I wanted to say that your horse is your therapist. Let's face it - there are equine assisted therapy programs sprouting up rapidly these days, and for good reason. Interacting with horses really do teach people many things about themselves.

But then I realized horses do more than just that.

If you're lucky enough to have horses in your life on a regular basis, you will know that horses create opportunities that develop a person in every way possible. It's not just about the mental/emotional aspects, although those are certainly key areas that develop thanks to the horses. It's about everything.

So I considered the possibility that horses are more like life coaches. Life coaches help a person with every aspect of their lives - professional, physical, and personal goals. The list can be endless.



Yes, horses will help you understand and improve more aspects about yourself than you could ever imagine.

If you're lucky enough to have a horse in your life, you will likely have examples of many of the following ways a horse can help you on your path toward self-improvement and growth:

  1. Gives a great hug (makes a great companion)
  2. Helps you focus on something NOW (takes your mind off everything else for a couple of hours)
  3. Gets you walking - in mud, dirt, gravel, sand (who gets to walk in sand on a regular basis?)
  4. Calms you down (as you pet/brush him)
  5. Kissable any time (!!)
  6. Improves core stability and balance
  7. Gives opportunity for weight lifting (carrying buckets and saddles)
  8. Helps you find like-minded friends
  9. Improves fine motor skills (buckles and more)
  10. Builds self-awareness (physical and emotional)
  11. Encourages life-long learning (and humility)
  12. Develops leadership skills
  13. Is the reason for life-changing opportunities (horse events, shows, rides, performances)
  14. Creates confidence (doing things you never thought you could)
  15. Encourages responsibility (take care of your horse first)
  16. Listens (for as long as you need to talk)
  17. Pushes you past your fears (keep working on personal bests)
  18. Teaches you to take feedback/advice from others
  19. Develops your perseverance and the satisfaction of a job well done
  20. Shares the natural world with you (on the trails, in the pasture)
  21. Invites quietness and reflection
  22. Teaches body language
  23. Is the reason behind setting lifelong dreams and goals - and helps you fulfill them

How has your horse enriched your life and taught you something about yourself? Comment below.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY!

Let's celebrate!

paperback-reflection

Five Years Of Horse Listening

We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!

Learn More.

Read more here: 

17 Wise Reflections - Straight From The Horse's MouthMy horse, Annahi, is full of words of wisdom for those horses around her who are willing to listen.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

42 Ways to Learn, Play and Grow With Your HorseHorses give to us in countless ways. We play, learn and grow with them, making horseback riding not merely a sport (which it truly is, like no other), but so much more.

Good Day For A Little Horseplay: Snort, snort, snort, SNORT! My gelding couldn’t tell me in any clearer terms how much he was enjoying the moment.

The Top 8 Perks of Horse Keeping: Here are a few positives that keep us going when everyone else is enjoying their leisure time.