“You’re STILL Taking Riding Lessons?”

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

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. Because surely, after all these years, you should know everything there is to know! Think of everything you've done with your horse. How can there possibly be more for you to learn?

This article is especially for those who have been riding for years and years. Do your friends insinuate that there might be something wrong with you if you still need lessons after all this time! Do your parents/friends/significant other complain that you shouldn't need to go to that clinic since you can pretty much write the book by yourself?

It's hard to put into words how there is no such thing as knowing everything in horse riding, that levels of expertise are relative and there's always more and more and more.... If there ever were an embodiment of life-long learning, horse riding is it!

Quick Fixes

As an instructor, when I start lessons with a new (lifelong) rider, two things happen. There is an initial change during the first few months, but the real learning takes a lot longer.

The little nit-picking bad habits that we can address right away will generally make an initial positive impact on the rider's feel and the horse's way of going. These fixes will make an obvious difference if practiced consistently during "homework" rides because they are likely the quick fixes that are currently getting in your (horse's) way.

They are the ones that are easier to do because they require less coordination or build on what you already have achieved.

The Plateau

Then invariably, the plateau hits. While it seems that nothing really changes during this stage, it is an essential part of long-term development. This is where the tough learning happens, where we work on firmly entrenched muscle memory habits that prevent progress. This is when you wonder if taking those lessons really make any difference at all!

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to step ahead.

Real Change

Making significant change can take at least 2 years - usually more if you take lessons (= get reinforcement) only once a week. Getting to the root of a problem is a difficult task not only in terms of changing old habits but also in terms of blueprinting new responses and movements.

We usually need to work on our basic skills more than anything. This is because all the more advanced movements rely on sound basics. Once you move on to the higher level movements, problems will arise not from the highest level skills, but from the basic skills that have not been established enough to be able to support the higher skills.

For example, you might be working on more advanced movements such as shoulder-in or half-pass when you discover that you have to give up the laterals yet again to better establish forward movement and straightness. Or how about the time when you think you're already sitting well in trot only to realize that you have to be more toned - which requires much more lower abdominal and core muscles than you're used to. Those changes seem to take much effort and time.

Little by little, you whittle away at the old habits, establish new habits, and build upon correct learning. Yes, this takes years, especially if you didn't start with strong basics in the first place.

But by then, the change is surely substantial because you would have made many small but significant changes to your basic skills that not only make your own riding better, but change your horse's life. There is nothing more satisfying than to one day realize your horse is moving stronger and more freely than ever before because of your dedication to making those changes in your own riding - day in, day out - until you can finally see and feel the result in your horse.

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Let's celebrate!


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: 

When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great:  How much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?

16 Ways to Not Become Bored During Your Ride: Here is a list of just a few ideas to keep ring riding fresh and interesting for both you and your horse.

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

14 Reasons to Love Horseback RidingThere must be hundreds of reasons why people enjoy horses and horseback riding. Here are fourteen.

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

Not Fast, Not Slow. So What IS Impulsion?

what is impulsion
Photo Credit: NBAnaszak Photography

The thing is, we often think that energy is all about a surge of forward-moving legs.

Use two legs, squeeze either from the calf or from the lower leg. Follow with your seat to allow the increase in movement and energy from the horse. Then invariably, this happens:

The horse runs faster.

His tempo speeds up. His legs move faster, churning at a higher rate. He has to balance by bringing his head higher and "off the bit" (or letting go of connection), hollow his back to counter the energy that pushed him to his forehand, and generally brace through the body.

Speed often masquerades as impulsion and it's easy to just let it go. (Click here to tweet that if you agree!)

Three things can happen when you ask for more energy.

1. Faster Faster "Out The Front End"

This usually happens when horses and riders are learning what impulsion is about in the first place. It takes time and repetition to learn the "feel" of fast legs. Originally, we think of fast legs as increased energy and then try our best to stay with the horse through the flurry of increased movement. 

If we are reluctant to take the contact initially, then all that happens is that the energy increases leg speed and then is let out the front. This means that nothing really happens with the energy. We leave the horse to his own devices and expect him to deal with the resulting imbalance that the energy creates. 

While keeping the "energy in the body" (which is the opposite of letting it out) isn't done exclusively by creating short reins, the reins do play a role. If you let the reins slide out of your fingers in the moment that you ask for increased energy, you effectively send the horse into a longer body frame, which then results in sending his weight to the forehand. He then has to try to manage this change of balance while increasing his leg speed. You can now imagine why he would brace and perhaps hollow his back in effort to prevent a fall or stumble.

2. Slow But No Energy

So we grab at the reins and stop the forward energy. The horse has no choice but to disengage at this point. Rather than reaching further underneath with his hind legs, he shortens his stride. This can cause many problems in the horse's body including a hollowed, braced back (because there is lack of energy to give strength to the carrying muscles). The legs slow, but the body lengthens and suddenly you feel like you're riding a hammock.

You might have difficulty getting a turn, or changing gaits (especially to canter). Anything that has to do with balance becomes more difficult (like turning, half-halting, lateral movements). The horse might actually stumble because of the heaviness on his front end, or because he simply can't bring his hind legs deep enough under his body due to the lack of energy.

Fast isn't the answer and neither is slow. What, then?

3. Create and Contain

It sounds simple, really. First - create energy. Second - contain it.

The problem is that it takes a lot more strength and effort from both the horse and the rider to do both at the same time.

If you're not used to it, you'll find yourself teetering between both extremes. Sometimes, your energy causes the horse to move faster-faster. Other times, your reins cause him to plod along with stunted gait and feeling "stuck."

Fear not! 

Cut both of you some slack as you begin to experiment with energy and containment of energy. If you notice the legs speeding up, just slow down again. If you feel the horse getting stuck, ask for more energy. 

Keep fine-tuning your aids and soon enough, you'll notice that the difference between the extremes becomes less and less. One day, you'll feel a surge of energy that doesn't make the legs faster! You might notice an increase in movement but you seem to travel less than usual.

This is when you know you're on the right track!

How can you tell you're heading into real Impulsion-land?

The horse's legs move slower WITH energy and activity.

  • movement flows (doesn't feel like it's going to stop any moment)
  • more bounce to the gaits
  • horse generally seems to maintain balance better - not falling to the forehand or heavy on the bit
  • body becomes rounder, more uphill
  • transitions are effortless (especially downward transitions)
  • you travel further with less strides

When you're not used to this type of energy, you might even become a little unnerved because the horse feels like he's going to take off. That's the key! He feels like it but in fact, he doesn't. That energy stays in the body and becomes expressed in higher leg movement, more bounding strides, and most significantly, rounder movement that is usually easier to sit to.

If you'd like a tried and true exercise to help develop your impulsion at the trot, try this Canter-Trot exercise and see what happens to your trot after the canter. Be ready for the extra energy and ride it!

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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 all about impulsion here:

12 Riding Quick Tips - #6: Developing Impulsion:  How can the rider encourage impulsion?

How You Know You Don't Have Impulsion (Yet): There are actually two fairly easy to spot signs.

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem: One of the easiest, and most beneficial solutions to many riding problems is to teach the horse to move from the hind end.

12 Riding Quick Tips - #5: How To Prevent An Upper Body Collapse During TransitionsDo you have a tendency to "fall", or collapse in the upper body, during transitions?

38 Moments To Half-HaltHere are 38 moments in a ride that you could use the half-halt.

Kayla’s 35! An Endurance Riding Celebration Story

Kayla 35 years old
Kayla during her competitive trail years

It's January again.

This means that my old mare, Kayla Queen, has reached yet another milestone year. As an unraced Standardbred mare with no papers and no known history, it's hard to judge her exact birth date. But I was told by her previous owner that she was born on January 6th, and so I still celebrate her birthday early in the month even though it might actually be just a random number. 

She turned 35 this year! It's hard to believe that she's still going strong, still bright eyed and bushy tailed (for real), and still enjoying each morning turn out (she can't wait to breathe the fresh air no matter the temperature), and each evening turn in (she can't wait to come into her snugly barn no matter the time of year), and every meal that is set in front of her (despite a few molars that are now worn right down to the gum).

There have been many a highlight through the 27 years that we have been partnered together, but I selected a vignette I wrote about her old endurance days when the following piece was first published five years ago, titled "The Standardbred Mare That Could," in Horse Canada, a national equine magazine. Back then, I was celebrating her 30th birthday, fully aware that these years are precious years, and to showcase the Standardbred's ability to be sure-footed and reliable riding horses far after their racing years. 

It was our second endurance ride, a 55-miler over some of the most beautiful trails in Ontario. Enjoy!


As we swept around yet another turn while negotiating a mild downhill slant, the slick ground underfoot gave way. Before either Kayla or I could realize our error, all four feet swept out from underneath her, and we found ourselves skidding on a sideways slant, heading to the ground. Luckily, we fell onto a hill rising up to our right side, so the fall was short and soft. Kayla immediately found her feet and righted herself. I was on my side on the uphill slope, unhurt but quickly discovering that I was horseless.

Kayla looked for the horse ahead of us. The rider had unknowingly continued at the canter and disappeared from sight. I was on my feet but not fast enough to catch the mare. In a flash she disappeared around the turn in swift pursuit of the horse, and I was left to myself in a suddenly deafeningly quiet woods, with no assistance.

I walked around the corner, wild thoughts running through my mind. I started reviewing the event and all the “should-haves” popped into my mind. I should have slowed Kayla down – she was too inexperienced to handle that kind of footing at that speed. I should have leaned farther back as I noticed the downhill slant. I should have….

But I’m getting ahead of myself.…


Very, very early that morning, we had set off on our adventure. The sky was still pitch black as we left camp, waiting for the most competitive horse and rider combinations to leave before heading out on the trail. In the dark, it was difficult to see the trail markers that were undoubtedly set up to keep us on track.

In the shine of the almost full moon, I looked down for guidance from below and followed the weaving path already expertly drawn into the grass by the horses ahead of us. The tall autumn grass gleamed with wet dew and splattered cool droplets over Kayla’s eager footfalls as we headed off on our second ever endurance ride, the 55-mile “Oktoberfest” contest held each year by the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association.

The darkness seemed to last forever, and most of the beginning of the trail was completed before I could really see the surrounding scenery. At long last, the first hint of grey daylight began washing over the foliage around us, and I could begin to pick out the trail markers – ribbons of red for right, blue for left and white for straight.

I let Kayla settle into her own rhythm; being a Standardbred mare, her casual footfalls tended to be faster and more ground-covering than the typical Arabian horse. I had learned over the years to let her do her thing, as she had an uncanny way of picking through the terrain to find the best landing spot for each foot. She rarely got snagged in underbrush or took a misstep over tree roots or rocks. The remarkable thing was that she could do all of this – FAST!

Three years prior to the ride, I had been taking riding lessons at my friend's lesson facility when I met Kayla for the first time. Impressed with her calm temperament and rideability, I bought her as my “dream come true horse”. Our initial outing together was to a trail ride organized by the local Trail Riders Association. At that ride, I realized that she had a lot of potential for speed on the trails, and one of the members introduced me to OCTRA.

standardbred mare trot
She has a gorgeous trot too!

Having little experience with Standardbred horses, I searched for information and assistance in training a racing-bred horse. A little research revealed that Standardbreds had originally been raced at the trot under saddle in the 1600s in America. It was about 150 years later that people began to race them in harness. I was convinced then that her flair for the trails was more than just my own wishful thinking.

Kayla’s history was vague and limited to the anecdotes of her previous owner, who had been unsure of her life story. Although trained to harness as a two-year-old, she had never made the qualifying track times, so she was never tattooed or raced. Typical to a retrained Standardbred, Kayla offered excessive speed at all gaits. As a “free-legged” pacer, she often switched into the pace, a lateral gait where both legs on the same side progress together. Even when ridden under saddle, she was quite content to settle into a rhythmical, side-to-side sway that matched the speed of an average Arabian horse’s canter.

Kayla’s racing ancestry enabled her to be a prime candidate for long distance trail. Aside from her good “wind” (her large flared nostrils could exchange large amounts of air in each breath), she also had that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it characteristic: heart. Having a strong intrinsic work ethic, she was most encouraged when she saw even the tiniest outline of horse and rider ahead. A competitive drive in a horse might be frowned upon in other riding disciplines, but in distance riding (and particularly endurance races), her insistence to always be first became a remarkable asset.

It took some time to learn how to correctly condition for a ride, and with no other competitive trail riders in my area, I was left on my own to read books on the topic and devise my own conditioning strategy to build us up for our first ride. Carefully, I started with “long, slow distance” rides, where I walked, then trotted, then walked again to end the ride.

Next came a change in her feed plan. After consulting with the local feed mill representative, I changed her grain over to a high performance, textured complete feed program. She stayed on the already good quality hay given at the barn, and I added a Vitamin E/selenium supplement to support her muscle cell requirements over long periods of exertion.

Week to week, I lengthened the trot component and slowly reduced the walk sections. Eventually, I added the canter, first only over short distances, then working up to canter/trot sections before a long walk to cool down. We entered our first 25-mile competitive trail ride after 6 months of steady conditioning.


Now at the endurance ride, having made a potentially serious mistake, I wondered what was going to happen to my horse on these strange trails. Alone and walking on the trail, I felt vulnerable and lost. Although I could follow the trail markers, it would be some time before I would get to a vet check. I was also keeping an eye behind me in case another competitor came up from behind me at speed.

I looked up when I heard a rustling ahead of me. To my amazement and wonder, the rider ahead reappeared, coming toward me with Kayla in tow! Both horses were walking calmly, and he courteously asked me if I was injured. When I responded in the negative, he gently handed Kayla’s reins to me. Noticing that I was going to get back on, he faced his horse toward us and stood still.

As I mounted, I was in awe that this rider, who was obviously in the race to win, had the generosity and composure to stop his rhythm long enough to know that I was safe, on my horse, and able to continue the ride. After a humble “thank you” on my part, he swung his horse around in the tight quarters and sped around the turn, back into his strong canter.

For the remainder of the ride to the first vet stop, Kayla and I matched the horse ahead in speed, with a significant change of strategy from my end – I rated her speed with more insistence at any area that seemed to have questionable footing. We slowed at the 2-mile marker and then came in calmly and confidently to the 20-mile stop.

In an endurance ride, you can strategize your entry into the hold. Knowing that Kayla usually had a higher pulse and breathing rate than the Arabian horses, it was to my advantage to walk almost to the vet check rather than come in at speed. I had slowed her pace early enough to give her parameters plenty of time to recover, and by the time we stepped into the vet check, she was below the mandatory pulse rate of 64 beats per minute and breathing slower than 12 breaths a minute. The lay vet checked her for possible injuries, palpated her back for any discomfort, listened to her gut sounds, took a look at her capillary refill rate and hydration status, and sent us through with no worries.

I checked my watch – only 2 hours had passed since we had left the start! We had completed the first section at an astounding 10-mile per hour pace – almost twice as fast as our competitive trail rides during the summer! It was then that I realized that the rider ahead was probably one of the most competitive in this ride (he was the eventual winner).

We negotiated the second loop at a more relaxed trot. Somewhere at the 35 mile point, after several hours of posting, my legs cramping and crying out for a break, I started wondering why I was doing this in the first place. For some time, although Kayla kept up a good trot, I caught myself thinking, “And this was my idea of fun?” I realized I was experiencing “the wall” that many long distance riders speak of.

When I could post no longer, I dismounted and walked casually beside her. For almost half an hour, I worked the tension out of my legs and gave Kayla plenty of time to recover and move without weight on her back. At the final two-mile marker, I remounted and we headed off at a very calm trot, aiming to finish strong. There were just two miles to go, a final vet check and a completion certificate to seal our achievement. Kayla scored mild hydration loss and slightly lowered gut sounds. However, her pulse, respiration and capillary refill time indicated good recovery parameters.

As we left the final vet check, I gazed into the infinite wisdom of her deep brown eyes. Kayla’s butterfly wink seemed to say, “I knew we could do it.” I looked at Kayla with the sort of awe reserved only for the most extraordinary and inspiring moments, thinking, “We really DID that… ?”

“To Finish Is To Win” – the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association motto – was certainly our experience that day. Although we were both exhausted, I was exhilarated with the realization that we had completed one of the biggest accomplishments of our lives.

Horse Listening

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

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:

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

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

An Ode to Kayla Queen – As She Turns 30Happy 30th birthday, dear Kayla, the exhilarating horse with a never-ending zest for living!

A Recipe for Living: If life were a recipe, what would it look like?

5 Life Lessons From HorsesHow can horses help us grow and develop in our own lives?

12 Riding Quick Tips – #12: Five Ways To Reach Your Horse Riding Goals in 2017

With thanks for your readership!

Thank you for joining us for 12 Riding Quick Tips through this holiday season! 

Sponsored by O3 Animal Health Products. Please visit their website and enjoy their amazing equine supplements.

How can you really and truly improve in your riding? Many people speak of "perfect practice makes perfect" but how does that relate to our day-to-day rides? I traditionally write about my New Year's goals around this time, but I thought I'd change it up this year and look at how to set goals instead.

Sometimes it seems like once we get into a riding groove, we fall into routines. Progress slows to a crawl. While it may be true that it can take up to two years to see real progress in any riding skill, we certainly can take intentional steps to improve. There are things we can do to plan, try, evaluate and recognize our progress over the long term.

Over a year ago, I went searching the Internet for a useful goal-setting guide specifically designed for riders. While there are many articles that give good advice, there was really nothing that I could use to plan and track my own personal progress. So last year, I published a new book, Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook.

I researched the best theory, but my criticism with goal-setting in general is that while we can easily decide what we'd like to do, what really happens doesn't always go as planned. I'm also aware of the fact that we have to include our horses into our decision making process.

Some days, nothing goes as planned. Other days, everything falls into place and your horse surprises you with movements you didn't know you could do. The more we learn to "listen", the better we will be at setting goals, throwing in challenges at a moment's notice, backing up when necessary, and working through problems compassionately.

So I added other, more relevant, aspects in the book. I did the ol' "practice what you preach" and have worked through the process myself over the course of this year. Here are five suggestions I learned from the process, that might help you make intentional progress as you head into 2017.

1)  Set goals that take you only slightly out of your comfort zone. 

Your goals can be smaller than you think. We often start with too large of a change and end up being unsuccessful. Then we get discouraged and back track or stop working on that skill altogether. The key is to find a small enough change that challenges without overwhelming. Make things just a little difficult.

2) Practice. Give it a good shot.

Nothing happens if you don't actually go out and do something. Start somewhere. If things don't go well at first, analyze: ensure your aids are correct and clear, look at possible environmental factors, and try again. Then re-evaluate: what do you need to do next?

3) Go back and fill in the "holes."

Often, when you focus on one skill, you'll realize that there is a prerequisite skill that hasn't been mastered "enough" to let you move on. Alternately, when you try something more difficult, you'll notice that your old weaknesses become more evident. In either case, going back to basics is more important than working on the new skill. 

For example, take the shoulder-in. It's time to add some lateral work into your daily rides. You set up the movement with a small circle which leads into the line on the rail. While you are able to position the horse in three tracks, the horse loses impulsion. Your trot becomes less and less active. You start to lose angle as you lose energy. 

In this case, you might need to focus on reestablishing activity and energy in the trot before trying for the shoulder-in angle. You might even want to "change the topic", focus on impulsion, and come back to the shoulder-in only when you have the better trot.

4) Do a monthly reflection.

It's  important to stop and pause at regular intervals. At the end of each month, take some time to reflect. What went well? What needs revisiting? What new goals emerged from the month's work? How did this month help you progress toward your intended long-term goals?

5) Keep track of the special moments.

We often overlook the key moments through the year. While we're busy participating and enjoying the moment, the learning is forgotten. Keep track of the special activities. If you went to a clinic, show or special lesson, record what you were told. Write down what you did, reflect, and let the feedback inform your next steps.

There are actually two more requirements for progress.

First, there is no replacement for an educated "eye on the ground." A good instructor can give you immediate feedback, explain theory, give you relevant practice, correct mistakes or show you your next steps.

Second, the quality of your practice does matter. I'm not talking about perfection here, but more about the way you work through the difficult moments with your horse. Try to be patient but ever striving for better movement. Because in the end, it's all about keeping your horse moving in a way that keeps him healthy and happy over the long term.

Do you have a copy of Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook? If so, I'd be very interested in your feedback. What did you like? What needs a rework? Is there anything that should be added? I will be doing a revision early this year. Please email me at fwdnrnd@gmail.com

Horse Listening

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

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:

Top 10 Common Goals For Riders (Part 1): These are goals that most of us need to aspire to during our riding careers.

Top 10 Common Goals For Riders (Part 2): More goals!

Listening Corner - Riding Goals DefinedAt some point, you're going to find yourself wondering: why am I riding? 

The Truth About Perfect Practice and the HL Rider Learning Cycle: How does "perfection" fit in with horse riding, and what are the learning stages a rider goes through?

How You Know You Don't Have Impulsion (Yet)You can think of it as a sort of health insurance policy for your horse. The better the movement (which is highly influenced by impulsion), the healthier your horse may be over the long term.

Happy New Year Giveaway – Winners!

Thanks to everyone who participated in our Happy New Year Giveaway by writing down your favorite article. I truly enjoyed seeing which articles resonated the most with you. 

Five Years Of Horse Listening is compiled out of the top 20 most widely read articles from the blog. It celebrates the fifth anniversary of the blog, and is available in both digital download and paperback versions. Our 5 winners today will receive a free copy of the digital version. The draw was randomly done and included all comments up to midnight on Jan. 2, 2017.

If you didn't win and would still like to get the book, click here for more information. 


Congratulations to the winners below! Please contact me privately by email to receive your digital copy of Five Years Of Horse Listening! fwdnrnd@gmail.com

Naomi Towan

Why Rising Trot Is Not Rising At All

Jeanette van der Ploeg

Move to stay still on horseback.


Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones


Ruth Moore

How to ride the stumble out of your horse


Marion H

Dear Adult-With-Many-Responsibilities Horse Person 

Happy New Year! & Giveaway!

happy new year horse listening


In celebration of the New Year, and to thank you for your readership, we are giving away 5 copies of the digital version of our newest book, Five Years Of Horse Listening! It's our fifth year anniversary for the blog, and what a better way to celebrate into the first day of 2017!

All you have to do is write the name of your favorite Horse Listening article in the comments below. One entry per person. If you need to remember a title, go to the search bar on any blog page, search for the topic to find the (correct!) title of your favorite post, and copy and paste the title in the comment section below.

The giveaway is open to current readers as well as new readers (so tell your friends!). Entries will be accepted starting now and ending at midnight (12:00 am) on Jan.2. The randomly chosen winners will be announced on the morning of January 3rd. 

Good luck, and Happy Holidays!


#1 Rider Problem Of 2016: Patience

#1 rider problem of the year
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Patience... sigh.

It really is a virtue, especially in horse riding.

But I might be referring to something other that what you're thinking. Not the kind of patience that results in lack of progress, doing the same thing over and over again, or basically being inactive in your own learning phases. In fact, I mean quite the opposite.

It takes quite a lot of skill - forethought, presence of mind, riding ability - to be patient while riding. To be honest, it might take years to fully develop these "soft skills", know when to apply them and know which will work for which horse.

Let's say you were cantering and the horse spooked away from a particular corner in the arena. What would the patient rider do? Here are some options.

1 - Adjust your aids.

Well, yes. Always check yourself first. There is a good chance that you did something or didn't do something that will make a huge change to your horse's way of going. Did you use your inside leg to stop the horse from falling in (away from the corner)? Did you ask for flexion to the inside so the horse wouldn't have to look at the scary monsters? Did you somehow tighten (tense) or strengthen your aids too much, which resulted in rushing the horse into and out of the corner? Did you stop riding as you started thinking about what the horse might be spooking at?

2 - Do it again.

Not in a negative, aggressive, rough manner. Just stop the spook (maybe go to a walk), turn around and go back to where things were going well. Start there again. If you were already in canter at that point, pick up the canter. Head toward the spook spot, clarify your aids (make sure you are actually using the correct aids) and just go through that corner as if nothing happened in the first place.

3 - Wait a little longer.

You could choose to ride the spook out. Sometimes, you can pretend that there is no problem - and transmit that feeling through your body, aids and actions to the horse. If the rider stays focused, the horse will follow right along. Do that a few times until your horse settles down. Give him the extra time, the extra strides, or more space to think the situation through - even at canter.

4 - Change the topic and come back to it later.

Sometimes, it works better to get away from that corner, go ride in your horse's "safe zone," and make your way back (almost as if by accident) some minutes and a few movements later. You're not actually ignoring the spooking problem, but you're showing your horse that it's ok to think about something else for a while and come back to it later when he's a little more on the aids.

5 - Quit altogether and work on it next ride. Lots of people think they MUST stick it out and ride through the worst of the worst. I'm here to tell you that you that there are times when it's not only good to quit, but that you must quit. Those are the times when you simply can't get or maintain control of your horse. Those are also the times when you might need to take a break yourself - either mentally, emotionally or physically. There is ALWAYS a next day, a next ride, and another opportunity.

6 - Scrap your plans and do what your horse needs that day.

This is the epitome of knowing what to do when. It happens when you've got your plans all set to work on the "next step" - or improve on something you did that last ride. And then your horse spooks through the corner. You realize it has little to do with actual spooking - it's more that you allowed the horse to suck back to and through the corner. It looked like he was spooking , but in fact, he lost impulsion, resulting in a sideways movement instead of a straight, forward-bounding stride.

The answer this time would not be to just keep working on the spook idea, but to completely change your focus to getting your horse to go "forward" (not fast). It's a whole different topic, and you might need to go to an entirely different lesson plan to address the lack of impulsion rather than anything about that corner. Fix the impulsion, and you'll fix the spook.


You can use these strategies for every type of riding problem:

  • not picking up the canter after trot
  • picking up the wrong canter lead
  • learning to do the walk pirouette
  • finding the correct angle and bend for a shoulder-in
  • maintaining impulsion through a corner

You might be able to think of any situation and one or multiple strategies listed above might help.

The amazing thing about having this kind of "patience" is that your horse might actually work through the problem much more quickly than if you were to ignore the situation altogether. Being a patient rider doesn't mean that you'll be a pushover, or somehow less than adequate.

It just means that you'll be willing to analyze the situation (very quickly) and come up with a plan that will help you overcome the problem swiftly, diplomatically, and as easily as possible. And that will help both you and your horse on your path to developing a true partnership.

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The #1 Rider Problem Of The Year: Riding In Tension: The thing is, tension happens all the time. The real problem is that too many riders don't address tension when it arises. Or perhaps, we don't even know what it feels like. Or looks like.

Get Rid Of That Tension: Four Steps To Improved SupplenessJust work on each component of the movement in this order, and work towards reducing tension and improving suppleness.

Suppling Fun! An ExerciseNo matter what discipline you ride, softness over the back and left and right are basic, fundamental qualities of good (and healthy) movement.

7 Great Tips For Beginner Horse RidersIf you are new to riding, you might be overwhelmed by all the opinions that are out there. Here are a few ideas to help you navigate your way through your first steps (walk, trot and canter).

10 Tips For The Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club! Enjoy the following tips to get through those average rider moments that we all experience from time to time.

12 Riding Quick Tips – #11: Do A “Beginner Bend”

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Mild bend. Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Sometimes I think bend is one of those "strive but never arrive" efforts of horse riding. It truly is one of those "conceptual" aspects, aside from just being a skill. You know the one - just when you think you know it all, you discover that there's so much more to it. Then you start all over as if you're still a beginner...

There is a good exercise you can always revert to which will help you establish, keep, and ultimately feel a true "through the body bend." Not the one that just pulls the horse's head and neck into the turn or circle, but one that helps him bend through the rib cage and step deeper underneath the body with his inside hind leg. The one that improves balance, releases tension and increases lateral suppleness.

You can use this exercise with a young or uneducated horse, a novice rider, or even a seasoned horse/rider going through stiffness at a higher level of movement. It's just basic and biomechanically easy to produce. It's called a leg yield on a circle, but I think of it as a "drift out" because I find that gives me a clear mental image to keep in mind.

  • Ride a circle - but place it in an area where you can have room to the outside.
  • Squeeze with your inside leg at the girth. Make sure you're sitting on your inside seat bone - but let the horse "escape" a little to the outside.
  • Your outside leg is behind the girth to keep the hip from swinging out.
  • Your inside rein is slightly open and your outside rein is on the neck - as in, a "neck rein."
  • Your body is turned slightly into the turn as well - from the seat all the way up. This helps to keep you balanced on top of the horse's movement.
  • Then encourage your horse to step out on the circle. Let him drift out a little, all the while getting him to step away from your inside leg and rein, and step into your outside leg and rein. 

If you do it well, you'll find that your outside rein "naturally" lands on the horse's neck. That is, you don't have to place it there with a pulling or active rein. Suddenly, there's a neck rein - because the horse actually stepped out and bent through the body. 

That outside rein can now control the direction of your movement (as in, the horse steps away from it into the turn), the amount of drift (as in, don't let the horse just drift on out till he hits the rail) and the balance (as in, half-halt if needed to slow the legs down and keep them underneath the horse). 

I've written about this and other exercises in more detail in the posts below. If bend is something you're working on, there's lots of ideas there. Let me know if this helps you find a better bend in the comments below.

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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.

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4 Steps To Help Your Horse Through A TurnI’m sure you’ve seen it before – there are many situations where a horse turns too abruptly, unbalancing himself and also the rider. Most often, the rider hangs on but other times, she might be unseated, losing balance, stirrups and/or seat.

Why you Don't Want To Pull On The Inside Rein - And What To Do Instead: There is one other consequence to pulling on that inside rein that has little to do with turning.

What Bend Really MeansAlthough it's not possible for the horse to actually bend his spine (the way you see in drawings showing a horse along an arc of a circle), the horse can bring both his hind end and his front end "in" (toward the inside of the circle).

What Is A Neck Bend? And What To Do About ItHave you seen a horse doing the neck bend? Maybe you do it unintentionally, thinking that it "feels right".

Bend: How To Drift Out On Purpose: There is a time that it is perfectly fine, or almost advisable, for you to allow the horse to drift to the outside, seemingly contradicting all rational reasoning. 

"Inside Leg To Outside Rein" - The Cheat Sheet: To gain a true understanding, and to begin to train your body, you may need more information in order to develop the ability to make it all happen in one movement. So let's break it down.