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?"

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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.

How A Simple “1,2,1,2” Can Improve Your Ride

It's such a simple thing that you might not think about it in the first place.

However, if you're a hunter/jumper, you might be absolutely familiar with it because you simply can't navigate through the jumps without doing it.

What is it?

Counting strides.

The difference between dressage counting and the jumping kind is that there is no jump to count up to. So it's easy to forget about it and just go along however things work out. But there's so much to be gained from the count!

All you have to do is count. 1,2,1,2,1,2... and so on, with each step of the front feet. You can count in all the gaits, in their own rhythm. But the 1,2... must stay consistent in each gait.

Of course, the tricky part is to get your horse to keep that same 1,2... in the gait. If you take some time to watch riders from the ringside, you might notice the tempo speed up and then slow down and then speed up again. The horse scrambles in speed, then quits through the turns or circles, then speeds up again when a leg aid is applied. Usually, the horse just goes along and the rider changes tempo to meet the horse's changes.

But the idea is to let the counting help you maintain tempo. Consistency is key for so many reasons!

How can counting the strides help? Here are five things that might improve for yourself and your horse.

Rhythm

First off, keeping a steady tempo will quite certainly help you maintain your horse's rhythm in each gait. Change of leg speed almost always throws the horse's weight to the forehand, and can cause variations in the footfalls. If you focus on tempo, your horse will have a better chance of maintaining "pure" gaits - that is, keeping a walk to an even 4-beat, keeping the trot to a consistent diagonal pair 2-beat, and the canter to a 3-beat with the moment of suspension.

So, the first focus of your count should be to ensure that the horse has an even and consistent rhythm at each gait. Feel for the strides and listen to the footfalls to gauge the quality of the rhythm.

Balance

Lack of tempo often causes balance changes in the movement. Have you ever felt like you were going just great at the trot and then suddenly there's a small whiplash dive to the forehand, then a sudden blocking of the energy? Your upper body falls first forward and then backward. The tossing around you feel is connected to balance changes as the horse also falls to the forehand or loses engagement.

Balance is the second almost natural result of the 1,2... count. When you stabilize the leg movement, the horse will have plenty of time for each leg to come through. This allows for a stronger and more consistent weight bearing from the hind end, which will allow the horse to keep better balance. You won't be flung around as much, and soon enough, you will both float along as if "one."

Looseness 

As the horse relaxes in the gait, he will likely find more opportunity for "free movement." You might notice more bounce in his stride, more reach through the shoulders, and more swing through the back. To me, it feels like a trampoline. Beware! If you cannot become loose yourself and ride that motion, you will likely block your horse from continuing in this manner. So you have to feel for the looseness, recognize it and ride it!

Posture

Once you have a steady rhythm, consistent balance, and looseness, the horse's posture will just fall into place seemingly on its own. The back will rise and fall, the body will round and the horse will begin to tilt a little more in the hind end. Your horse's neck will assume a height that is natural to his conformation. No more high heads, no more diving down necks.

Connection

The next step is an improved sense of connectedness between the horse and rider. The horse may reach more for the bit. The rider might be able to keep her own balance better and therefore stay better with the horse's movement. There will now be an opportunity for the aids to become more subtle.



The communication will be much more pronounced and clear than it ever can be when the horse is inconsistent. This means less rein aids are needed even while the contact is improved.

Athleticism

Finally, you might notice an amazing increase in athletic ability, both from the horse and the rider. All it takes is a small change of aid for anything - downward transition, sharp turn, change of bend, lengthen. Any movement becomes easier because the basic balance is already in place. The horse is stronger, looser, maybe slower than before - these will all contribute to better comfort in movement for both the horse and rider.

One last note: use the half-halt! Initially, keeping that absolutely consistent gait will likely be difficult. If you aren't used to counting strides, you will have to work hard to identify when the tempo speeds up and slows down. Then you will have to figure out how influence the horse to not let him rush but also not slow into disengagement. The half-halt is definitely an integral part of the puzzle.

Wow!

All this with a simple 1,2,1,2... count?

Try it and see what happens for you and your horse.

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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

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 2

Read more here:

Ready? Steady! (Or How To Ride Calmly And With Consistency)Achieving consistency in riding is not a matter of waving a wand and then simply hanging on for the ride.

Why Boring Is Beautiful In Horseback RidingNow I'm not talking about the kind of boring that you might see if someone just sits on the horse and does nary a thing at all. That can, in fact, be quite boring. This kind of boring requires movement. You go places. The horse floats and glides. The rider is so quiet that we forget that she's there.

#1 Riding Problem: Riding In Tension: The thing is, tension happens all the time. Working to eliminate tension isn't the problem. The real problem is that too many riders don't address tension when it arises. 

How To "Allow" A LengtheningA good lengthen feels effortless. The strides bound down the rail and you can feel the surge of energy coming from the hind end. The horse should be forward-feeling, uphill and energetic.

14 Ways To Communicate While Riding Your HorseHorseback riding is unique among team sports precisely because of the horse that becomes your athletic partner. The difference between other sports and ours is that we must learn to communicate to our teammate in less obvious ways.

What To Do When Your Horse Loses Balance

balance horse listening
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

There are many reasons why a horse might lose balance while under saddle:

  • change of footing (dips and bumps)
  • something interfering with his front feet (hits a rail during a jump)
  • rushing (not paying attention where the front feet are going)
  • gait problem (front feet brushing each other for some reason)
  • balance issue (too heavy on the forehand)
  • tension or braces against your aid and loses footing in the process

* This article is not about a health issue that may cause stumbling; rather, it is about a riding-related loss of balance. If any health problem is suspected, please consult with a veterinarian. 

In any case, loss of balance can be a problem for many riders. If you can identify why your horse is stumbling, you can begin to address the cause with one or more of the five tips below. They will give you a good idea of how you can influence the horse's balance.

1 a). Don't fall with him

It's not fun getting bounced around in the saddle. You have two choices when the horse loses balance: stay balanced yourself (and help him get his feet back underneath him) or fall with him, thereby putting him even more off balance and risking a trip or real fall.

You can let your reins out if needed to let him regain his own balance. However, you should not add to the problem. Stay tall and strong.

1 b). Stabilize through your core and try to change as little as possible.

Again, if your horse tilts forward to the forehand, the last thing you should do is let your upper body flop forward over his neck (unless you can't help it). Instead, tighten through your core muscles and keep your upper body as quiet as possible. The horse will need time to regain his balance, and it is best if you can maintain your own balance as much as possible until he can regain balance. Do #2 if needed.

2. Lean back!

It might help to lean back, even further back than normal. Counter the pull of gravity by putting your weight onto the horse's hind end. This will free up the horse's front end and prevent excess weight on the forehand.

3. Slow down.

Stumbles often happen when the horse is moving too quickly, too heavily on the forehand, or bracing against an aid. In all those cases, it is helpful to ask the horse to slow down his leg speed (tempo).

Half-halts are essential to help maintain and re-establish balance. Use a well-timed half-halt to slow down leg speed, if the horse is moving too quickly, and to re-balance toward the hind end. This will allow his legs that extra split second needed to "come back under the body" - meaning that he will be able to have the four legs (but especially the hind legs) supporting the body weight.

4. Be ready to move with him immediately after.

It won't be helpful to keep slowing him down, as it may cause the horse to disengage in the hind end. So as soon as you can, allow him, or even encourage him, to take a few larger steps. This will enable him to step deeper underneath the body with the hind legs, which will help take his weight off the forehand.

You might feel a surge of energy and that is just fine. Just be sure to ride right along with the movement and let the horse freely do what he needs to do to regain tempo.

***

You might be thinking that riding through a stumble is all about letting the horse handle it himself. In fact, it really is. The horse knows how to regain and maintain his balance. It's best if you become as invisible as you can and let him fix the problem.



Once he has his balance, just go on with your ride as if nothing happened. Don't make a big deal about a stumble, or try to correct the horse with stronger aids or "chasing" the horse along. Instead, keep riding and pay close attention to see what is causing the balance loss. Trouble-shoot the situation and see what you need to do to prevent future stumbles.

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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

Other posts you might enjoy:

Not Fast, Not Slow. So What IS ImpulsionIt sounds simple, really. First - create energy. Second - contain it.

Ready? Steady! (Or How To Ride Calmly And With Consistency): Riding smoothly through transitions left and right, up and down while maintaining a steady rhythm and impulsion, outline and self-carriage is nothing to be scoffed at!

Why Interrupting A Horse's Stride Might Be Just The Ticket For Better Balance:  Just like you might need to interrupt someone to get their attention, do the same with your horse.

5 Reasons Why Most Horses Should Slow Down: It turns into a vicious cycle. He goes faster so you go faster so he goes faster.

A Question Of Imbalance: Can You Tell? We hope the list will assist especially those who new to riding, or to those who do not have professional help while they ride.

Product Review: StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
Girth action in canter

My claim to fame is that I tend to have looser-than-normal girths when I ride. It's not because I want the saddle to slide off; rather, it's so that I can keep my horse as comfortable as possible.

My (now 29 years old) show mare, Annahi, taught me early on how sensitive she was to tightness around her girth area. She is chestnut and thin skinned. She would also sweat quickly when in work. Long before I knew much about saddles and saddle fitting, I would take extra care to not tighten the girth too much so as not to put too much pressure or cause girth galls.

And so my most recent purchase for my gelding, Cyrus, was bought with the same purpose in mind. It is a new style girth, wide and long enough to distribute pressure, and made of soft leather.

I thought it was perfect.

Until I talked to Justin of Total Saddle Fit about their newest girth, the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™. I have heard of the company before. Their original girth, the Shoulder Relief Girth™, is already being used by some of the top level riders that I most admire in my area. I had seen them at the shows and was always intrigued about their design.

Before I knew it, the newest model of the SRG arrived at my door. This girth comes with three types of liners: neoprene, leather and sheepskin. I ordered the leather and the sheepskin liners. 

It is called StretchTec because it has a feature that I haven't seen in any other girth model: the elastic in the middle of the girth.

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
Top: The leather liner. Bottom: The girth with the sheepskin liner

If you haven't held one before, it might seem a little overly flexible at first. The girth is divided into three sections and so it feels different when you carry it. Think of a three-piece snaffle bit with the French link in the middle and you'll have an idea of how the movable middle of the StretchTec feels.

My friend and I played with it by each holding an end to watch the stretch action. The elastic is wide to the back of the girth, but is held snug at the front by the leather of the girth. We could imagine how this elastic would allow for the horse's girth area to expand and contract as we pulled and released it. The action was the same with both the custom designed leather and the sheepskin liners.

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
Top: Fleece liner. Bottom: The underside of the girth without the liner attached.

I tried the girth with the sheepskin liner first on Cyrus.

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
Fleece Liner

You can clearly see how the girth is cut back at the elbow to allow greater freedom of movement. The middle of the girth falls forward and naturally into the horse's girth groove while the cut back section allows the saddle billets to be directed straight down. This prevents the saddle from being pulled forward to the horse's shoulder blades, hence, the "shoulder relief" action of the girth.

Next, my friend tried the leather liner on her horse, Boss.

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
Leather Liner

The leather liner is also wide and made of a pliable, quality leather. In my opinion, it's perfect for a tidier "show" look (but honestly, the fleece liner would be great at a show too). It comes off in seconds and can be cleaned as you would any leather tack.

But the key feature was most evident when I looked underneath the horse's belly at the elastic.

StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth
The Elastic

The "stretch" part of the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™ has got to be the most innovative feature I have ever seen on a girth. It literally expands and contracts with the horse's movement. While it stays flush to the body and keeps the saddle balanced and snug on the horse, it allows the horse's girth area the flexibility it needs for any and all movement and breathing.

While I thought that the leather liner would be my preferred choice, I realize now that the sheepskin liner is soft, cozy to the skin, and easily washable. You could use the sheepskin for everyday riding (and wash at will) and use the leather liner for special events. 

I have to say that I have never had a better girth on any of my horses. Even my newish "fancy" girth is not nearly as beautiful and functional. I can now say goodbye to loosely fitted girths, and hello to snug-without-restriction. If only there had been such a thing when I was riding my sensitive chestnut mare, Annahi!

There are many more details available for you if you'd like to learn more about this girth. The Total Saddle Fit website has diagrams, videos and more information about the design and rationale behind the StretchTec Shoulder Relief Girth™.

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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: 

Ode to the Stretchy Trot: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

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

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

8 Ways To Help Your Horse Achieve His Highest PotentialRegardless of what we want to do with our horses, our first responsibility is always to the horse.

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.

Riding Should Be Fun.. Right?

Absolutely.

If there isn't any fun, what is there, really?

The only thing you have to keep in mind is how you define fun at different points in your riding career. Just like anything worth doing, there are going to be moments when you think you're having anything but fun! Maybe there's no show or trail ride to look forward to. Maybe things don't go right just when everyone is watching. Maybe the skill you're trying to learn remains ever elusive.

Those are the times when you need to bring out the most dedicated, persevering, stubborn part of you that you can. Though you might be struggling beyond your limitations, maybe even hating what is happening between you and your horse, you must hold on to the knowledge (not just hope) that if you can figure out what you need to change in your skills, you and especially your horse will benefit in the long run.

I imagine that most of us have gone through a very difficult period in our riding careers at some points. Maybe we were going through a situation that pushed us beyond our safety comfort zone. Maybe we were trying to learn a new skill that just wasn't doing anything good, and in fact, making the horse struggle even more. It happens.

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During those times, there are three things you could do.

Get an educated eye on the ground.

You knew I was going to say this first, didn't you?

I mean, there is no replacement for a great instructor who can be there with you as you go through the challenges, and give you on-the-spot strategies. In horseback riding, there is a horse and a rider, both of whom have different strengths and weaknesses. Every situation is unique. An instructor will have the experience and techniques in her "tool box" to help you chisel away at what not to do, and what to do instead.

Change what you are doing.

Sometimes, it is enough to just change the topic for a while. Do something else and then come back to the challenge later in the ride. Or scrap it altogether and come back to it in future rides. You might choose to head for the hills (literally, if you have hills) and forget about the ring for a ride or two. You could play with your troublesome skill out in the fields where there is room and invariably, more energy and enthusiasm.

In any case, don't feel like you have to skill and drill and make it unbearable. Get creative, find a way to play, and come back to it from a different perspective. While you should probably not ignore the problem, it can be helpful to step away from it for a time and come back to it later.

Kick it into high gear.

If all else fails, it may be time for you to put even more effort in than you have to date. Sometimes, the only way you can make the required change will be to just commit to the task until you make the required breakthrough.

I'm not saying you need to become harsh in your riding. Quite the opposite. The most difficult skills might require you to be extremely subtle and in control of your own body.




But commitment is key. For example, while I was in my beginning stages of learning to use my seat, I had to put much more effort into activating through the lower back and seat bones than I'd ever done before. I remember the amount of effort it took. I spent months working on feeling, activating and controlling my seat in the various gaits. I made mistakes and more mistakes, ever so slowly finding what worked and what I shouldn't do. It was not an easy task for me at the time and I had to really hunker down and commit to the new muscle memory acquisition.

But it was so worth it.

Where's the fun?

Well, the skill acquisition is the fun, isn't it? There is no better feeling than realizing that you've passed a developmental level that will forever allow you to be better equipped to address a particular riding problem because you know how.

Your horse moving better is the fun, right? There is no better feeling than being a partner to a freely moving, energetic horse that is balanced and active and powerful all at the same time.

Your horse feeling better is the fun too. There is nothing better than knowing you can be the kind of rider that allows the horse to feel good in his work.

Because there is no better reward than discovering that the changes you've made to your skills positively affect your horse - mentally, physically and emotionally.

Because it's fun to be the best rider we can be, for our horse's sake.

And THAT is the most fun part of all.

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:

8 Ways To Help Your Horse Achieve His Highest Potential: Regardless of what we want to do with our horses, our first responsibility is always to the horse.

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.

20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself: You could say that horses are our teachers. Not only do we grow in terms of physical ability, but perhaps even more so, we grow in character.

What Responsible Horse Ownership Really Means: We need to keep in mind that horses are prey animals and long-time domesticated livestock. If we listen well enough, we discover that what we think of as giving might not be what the horses truly need.

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

7 Errors To Avoid After You Ask For More Energy – And Solutions

leg aids to canter
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

What happens when you ask your horse for more energy?

The simple answer is that he should reach further underneath his body with his hind legs, go straight and energize within the gait. The hind legs reach deeper underneath the body, the energy "flows through", allowing for a rounder top line, a more active back, and a bouncy, straight feeling. Your horse's response to the bit should improve all on its own. However, it's easier said than done.

As you probably already know, there are many different unwanted things that can happen when you use your leg and seat aids to ask for impulsion.

You will likely discover that there are a variety of responses to your request. Most of them won't be what you're seeking - the straight, strong and true gait that you are asking for. However, the horse doesn't know any better, and it is your job to know exactly what you're looking for, and to teach the horse correctly from the start.

You might think this article comes from a negative perspective, but in my experience, it is as important to know what you don't want, as it is to know what you do want.



As Edison is quoted as saying, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Here are 7 things that can happen instead. The quicker you can recognize these miscommunications, the sooner you can address them. In fact, it would be best if you could correct these mistakes as they happen, before the horse loses more balance and then has to completely regroup.

1) Inside shoulder "drops."

This is what we sometimes call the "motorcycle lean." It happens on a circle or turn. Along with cutting the turn short in an awkward angle, your horse will likely fall into the circle, making it smaller than you want it to be. The horse will lower the inside shoulder and you will feel like you are hanging on an angle.

If this happens, try to stay upright yourself despite the horse's lean. Also, you can use a little leg yield and outside rein half-halt to improve the horse's balance.

2) Outside shoulder "drifts."

This is the opposite of #1. In this case, the horse will step outward, making the circle or turn larger than it should be. He will also often have his neck bent to the inside, while he continues to step in the opposite direction from your active inside rein.

In this case, shorten and straighten your outside rein to catch the shoulder. Avoid using more pressure on the inside rein. If your horse's flexion goes to the outside because of your outside rein, finish straightening the outside shoulder and then go back to flexion toward the inside after the correction. Once again, keep your own body upright and balanced. Don't lean along with your horse.

3) Hind end shifts to the outside.

The horse points to the inside with the front end while the hind end points to the outside. This can happen on a straight line off the rail. Sometimes, the rider causes the horse to move on an angle because of an overactive inside rein.

To correct, your inside leg can ask for a small leg yield, just like in #1. Use your direct (straight) outside rein to ask the horse to bring his shoulders to the outside. 

4) Hind end shifts to the inside.

Many horses do this as they transition into a canter. It is also common for young horses to collapse through their hips even in trot, mostly because they are still weak and uneven in the pushing power from each hind leg.

Sometimes, a little extra impulsion may be all it takes to get the hind legs working more evenly. 

5) Faster gait.

This is the most common response you'll get from young and older horses alike. Often, the rider doesn't recognize the increase in leg speed and so the horse just moves along faster.

A series of well-timed half-halts will help keep the horse's tempo the same even while you are asking for a little more power from the hind end.

6) Change of gait.

Horses will also change gait in response to a leg aid, mainly because it is often easier for them rather than to loosen more through the back and let the energy go "through" the body.

If your horse changes gait when you ask for more impulsion, gently transition back down to the original gait and keep on riding. Try again with your leg aids but you might want to add the half-halts in so that you can discourage a gait change before it happens.



7) Short stride/hollow back.

Some horses might tense in response to the leg aid. There may be many reasons why a horse will change his posture - whether because of lack of balance, discomfort, falling to the forehand, rider balance errors, or other problems that require the horse to tighten through the top line.

In this case, make sure that you are not causing the horse's tension. Adjust leg pressure, rein length (sometimes longer, but also sometimes shorter, depending on the horse's needs), balance (make sure you don't lean forward when applying your leg aids) and do use half-halts after the leg aids. The horse might tense just because he feels like he has to run faster.

I'm sure there are other things that can happen when you ask for more energy. In any case, you should be "listening" carefully enough to identify what the response was, and then take steps to correct any errors. Keep in mind that you're looking for a deeper stride in the hind end, a more bouncy, energetic back, a softer top line and better overall connection.

When you know what you don't want, you will find what you do want quicker and more consistently. 

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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.

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Other posts you might enjoy:

The "Iceberg" Result In Horse Riding - 5 Factors:  Looks like horse riding is a lot like an iceberg. We see the tip - but we fail to recognize the path that horse and rider had to take to get there (even if that final tip isn't world class level or picture perfect - whatever that means).

Not Fast, Not Slow. So What IS Impulsion? 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.

12 Riding Quick Tips #10: How To Canter Instead Of Just Trot FasterDoes your horse just go faster faster when you ask for the canter?

Love The Laterals: An ExplanationHere are brief explanations (there could be a lot more detail!) of what each movement means and requires the horse to do. 

38 Moments To Half-HaltWhen exactly should you balance (rebalance/catch the energy/give a “heads up”)? Here are 38 moments in a ride that you could use the half-halt.