We all know people who seem to try to make riding difficult on themselves - maybe without even knowing it! The problem is that these challenges won't go away on their own, no matter how hard they try to ignore them. In the end, the truth will prevail - positive or negative.

Photo credit: NBanaszak Photography
Photo credit: NBanaszak Photography

How many of the following have you seen or done yourself?

1. Don't take lessons.

... because a) they already know everything there is to know about riding, and b)  they could use that money for show fees.

2. Ignore warning signs from their horse.

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It's been there for some time. Maybe their horse is showing physical signs of discomfort. Perhaps there are mental indications - ear pinning, tail swishing, hopping in the movement. Regardless of what it is, if they don't know the warning signs, they might miss the clues before they compound into something  much bigger.

3. Use poorly fitting tack - for them or their horse.

A saddle that is too wide/narrow for the horse will limit his movement and comfort. A saddle that is too small/large for the rider will affect her balance and capacity to follow the horse.

4. Ride inconsistently.

Horses need routine and consistent training to be at their best. Occasional rides just make everything harder on the horse - and the rider will know it!

5. Let the horse be the alpha while they groom before the ride.

Yes, what they do on the ground really does make a difference once they're in the saddle. If they like letting the horse know he's boss while they groom, they shouldn't be too surprised when he wants to keep telling them what to do once they've mounted. 

6. Hand feed treats without setting ground rules.

Only subordinate horses move away from their feed in the herd.  Every time a person offers food to the horse, they are putting themselves in a lower herd position. Some horses might truly believe the dynamic they set and do not differentiate once they're riding.

7. Step out of their horse's way while leading.

Again, this sends the message that they are not a herd leader. Their work will be doubly difficult once they've committed themselves to their horse's four legs.

8. React to the horse's bucks or rears emotionally.

They forget their role as trainer/teacher when their  horse misbehaves and let him set the tone of the ride. They are reactive rather than proactive.

9. Look out for the spook corner - themselves!

They let the horse know that there is definitely something to be afraid of in that corner - even if he didn't think so in the first place! 

10. Do the same thing louder - especially when they already have resistance from your horse!

More, faster, stronger, harder - the horse will give in at some point.

11. Make riding all about their own ego.

If things go well, it's because of them. If things don't go well, it's because of the horse! 

12. Do all the talking - and avoid listening!

Not knowing what the  horse is saying - good or bad - can have so many repercussions in the saddle.

The more people can correctly interpret the signals and communications the horse demonstrates, the easier they will be able to respond to situations, eventually correcting them before they arise. Of course, experience is the greatest teacher, and as we make these mistakes, we will begin to narrow down the root of riding problems. Eventually, we will know how and when to set up a situation so we can dramatically reduce the number of times we react - and develop into a proactive rider!

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  1. A great list! I see this all the time in my coaching practice. I’m really glad you included the points about defining the relationship between horse and human from the ground through leading, grooming and feeding. People don’t generally see these 3 things as ‘ground work’ nor do they pay enough attention. They focus on the ride. But, as you said, if you haven’t earned your horse’s respect when you’re on the ground with him why should he give it to you when you’re sitting on his back?

  2. #5,Letting the horse be Alpha during grooming, jumped out at me because a good many of the things listed, are affected by #5. Alpha during grooming = Alpha Everywhere Else eventually. Oh, I love this list because I see myself, and the corrections I had to receive from my instructor (once I admitted to myself that I could possibly learn a bit more about riding—what a joke; like everyone else, I’ll never be done learning).And, to start, there was so MUCH I didn’t know I didn’t know. That is dangerous. The saying, “Start as you wish to continue”, applies to so much, and to riding and groundwork before the ride, it applies in spades! Love this post. It is inspiring essays in my head.

  3. Just wanted to add one more important item- just as we expect our horses to be strong, supple, and fit, we must also keep up with our own fitness, so that we don’t disturb our horses’ balance. Beautiful movement and horse/rider harmony originates from balance and tact.

  4. It always amazes me, that most people just get straight on the horse without allowing him to walk and stretch and know what sort of mood its in, if he doesn’t respect you on the ground then what chance are you likely to have once your on his back!