When We Want To Actually Ride From The Hind End, But Get Stuck On-The-Forehand

Hind End On-The-Forehand

This is a tough one. I bet we've all been stuck with on-the-forehand at some point during our riding career (probably longer than we'd like to admit).

So how do you transform on-the-forehand to (more) on-the-hind-end?

Learning the feeling of movement from the hind end takes time, and lots of practice. Because it's based on feel, it's more difficult to "find" than a simpler riding skill, like an open rein, or the outside leg back. Not only do we need to learn the feel, but there are seemingly never-ending levels of feel as we progress through our learning stages.

But let's start at the beginning. Let's assume we're working in the trot, but really, it's the same at all gaits.

Leg Aids

One of the most common mistakes we all make when we first want to access the horse's hind end is to let the horse go faster. So we squeeze with the legs and the horse speeds up. Faster means stronger, and stronger means hind end, right?

Not really.

The thing is, that the faster the legs go, the more the horse falls to the forehand. By sending all the energy to the front, the horse has to actually brace with the front legs (to avoid literally falling forward). Sometimes, the head goes up, the base of the neck drops and the back hollows. Sometimes, the horse trips or has a mystery lameness. But not all the time. Some horses can stay somewhat flat or round "looking" and still truck along with most of their weight on the forehand.

"Catch" The Energy

Sometimes, people call this "recycle" the energy but I find the term "catch" can be clearer when you begin with this concept. Pick a rein length that you feel is reasonable for your horse's level of education and keep it the same length while you ask for more movement. If the horse throws the head, reaches down, changes gait or runs faster, we must keep the hands steady and not-let-go-but-not-pull.

So we create the energy with our legs, but we must catch the energy with our reins. 

Because if we let the energy "out the front end," we invariably have created the conditions for on-the-forehand.

So we catch but we don't pull. We also don't hold the energy for very long.

So far:

  • use legs for energy
  • catch the energy so the horse doesn't just speed up

Then Release

It's not a release like letting your reins slip out of your fingers or straightening your arms in effort to give more rein. It's more a release of your joints - your shoulders, elbows, wrists - enough that there is a small space forward that you invite your horse into, after the "catch" part. In terms of space, you might only let out half an inch of rein. The rest of the release comes from your body. (*Note: You can do this on long reins or short reins.)

The idea is to allow freedom of movement, allow the hind legs to reach further underneath the body, and ideally, have a soft, light connection with the horse that allows you to direct the energy lightly, softly and promptly.

What Does It Feel Like?

You might have to really tune in to your horse to be able to feel the hind end at first. This is likely because we are always so fixated on the front end. But if you work at it, and maybe get someone to help you from the ground, you will be able to identify what movement initiated from the hind end feels like.

Here are some thoughts:

  • You might initially feel a really powerful surge behind the saddle. Sometimes, it might turn into a small buck. This is good because it's the horse trying to "come under" but doesn't yet know exactly how much. Don't reprimand the buck or the lurch. Just ride it through and thank your horse by doing your best to stay balanced and gentle in the aids.
  • The horse might breathe harder, deeper and/or louder. He might snort once or twice. This is also a sign that you are on track, because it is much, much harder for the horse to carry his weight rather than to let it run through onto his front legs. Again, give thanks and ride on.
  • The horse might miraculously feel straighter. If the horse usually leans on one shoulder or another, and suddenly, that all disappears - you're on the right track.
  • The horse might also stop pulling on your hands, or leaning forward and down with the neck. That too is a result of lack of hind end power, so once you really achieve energy from the hind end, the quality of your contact will likely improve dramatically.
  • Head bobbing/tossing might disappear. Same reasons as above.
  • Tripping and mystery lamenesses might also improve.
  • If you notice that your horse is moving with better expression (ears forward, looking ahead), more freedom in the gait, and seems generally more confident, you're on the right track.

The thing is, getting the horse off the forehand is something that takes time to learn, and then time to teach the horse. It's not something you can make happen in one day. Many horses don't even know they can move in this manner until they are given the opportunity. But you can make small steps of improvement. Occasional success will become more regular and one day, you'll notice that the horse is mostly initiating movement from the hind end - just because.

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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:

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding ProblemIt can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.

How to Ride the Stumble Out of Your HorseDo you have a horse that seems to regularly trip or stumble, either in the front or hind end?

Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.

Can You Recognize the Sewing-Machine TrotIt is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot.

Frame, Round or Collection? Do you know the difference, and in a pinch, would you be able to identify it in a moving horse?

 

New YouTube Channel For Videos

Dear Reader,

So, I'm launching the Horse Listening YouTube Channel (that I've already had for a few years but only posted a few videos on)!

I've had suggestions for videos for a while now, and one idea that interested me recently was to produce fairly short, to the point, and easy to digest videos out of my existing blog posts. These videos will be like the old slide presentations of days of yore, and will highlight the most important information from the post. The goal is to present the gist of the article, and reference the original article in case people want to go back and read up on the details.

Here is my first one. I will post new videos here when they become available.

If you like this idea, you can subscribe directly on the YouTube page and you will be notified as the new videos become available.

Let me know in the comments below if there are any articles that you would like to see in video form. Also, if you have any feedback for me, please email me directly at fwdnrnd@gmail.com.

Thank you!

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

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

Available as an eBook or paperback.

Horse Listening The Book

Read more here:

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.

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.

Living in Flying ChangesI wrote this short poem after a wonderfully exhilarating night ride.

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

The (Simple?) Halt To Walk Transition

Horse Listening Halt To Walk
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Just a simple halt to walk transition. We do it all the time! So what's the fuss?

In my experience, horses often do something other than walk straight forward out of the halt. Try the transition a few times and pay close attention to what happens after you ask for the walk. 

Let's break it down.

Sponsored Video: Equine Omega Complete

The Halt

First, develop a strong, marching walk that shows "activity." In other words, the walk should be brisk and fairly up-tempo. Not so fast that it feels like your horse will break stride into trot any second; but develop a forward, reaching, free-flowing walk.

You'll know it's a good walk when the foot-falls are evenly spaced apart - 1..2..3..4. If it's more like 1..2.3.....4, then you know that it's still not a "pure" walk, or one that is balanced and strong.

You can prepare to halt after you get that walk!

The aid for the halt is mainly in your seat. While in the walk, you're walking with your seat bones, in rhythm with the horse's movement. Prepare to halt with a half-halt. When you halt, you stop the seat. If the horse continues to walk, don't be as free-flowing with the seat bones. Follow up with half-halts on the reins (not a steady pull) until you get the legs to stop.

Stay in halt for five seconds to really establish immobility. Work on keeping your horse's attention - no looking around!

Consider the halt as a movement rather than a "stop everything." Stay toned, "connected," tuned into each other, and just wait. 

But don't wait too long! If you managed the five seconds, and your horse is still with you, walk out of the halt. It takes practice to stay immobile while ready to go at a moment's notice. 

The Walk

What happens during the very first step out of the halt?

Does your horse lift his head and stick the nose to the sky?

Does he take a large step left or right?

Does he take a few tiny, slow steps before establishing his normal pace?

Does he go to take a few steps backward before he realizes you wanted forward steps?

Practice

While it seems too simple, achieving a bold, powerful but contained, smooth walk out of the halt is something that must be learned by both the horse and rider. It doesn't always come naturally.



Here are a few things to keep in mind as your horse takes that first walk step.

  • Is he ready to step out with an active hind end? One of the first things to notice is whether the horse pulls himself forward from the front end or pushes from the hind end. Make sure you are asking his hind end to move forward first. The horse should ideally step forward promptly and energetically from your two light leg aids.

 

  • Is he straight? You can notice straightness by observing his front legs. Do they aim straight forward, or do they step slightly sideways? Does the hind end swing to one side or the other? Be sure to keep your reins even, your legs even, and your seat and upper body pointed forward. When the horse takes the first step, make sure you are not leaning or weighting one seat bone over another. Urge him to go straight from your straight body and aids. Use leg aids to counter any hind end swings.

 

  • Does the horse throw the head up in those first few steps? We call this a "giraffe neck" - the head goes high, the horse flings the nose up in the air. If you try it yourself, you'll feel the discomfort through the back of your neck and shoulder blades almost immediately. When the head goes up like that, the base of the neck actually drops. The back hollows and the horse's underline lengthens. This puts him on the forehand immediately and he has to carry your weight with a compromised balance.  In this case, make sure you are not letting your reins out through your fingers, or doing the Jelly Elbows routine as you transition to walk. Find a comfortable rein length for the horse, and keep that rein length right through the transition. Keep your elbows on your body and expect the horse to walk even while he stays round and on the bit.

Intersperse the halt to walk transition through your ride as a breathing break. Just after you've done some canter and trot work, go to the walk, halt (five seconds) and walk again. It might take some practice to get the immobility and then the energy and regular footfalls of the walk after the halt. 

Use it also as a cool down at the end of the ride. Before you get off, do a few halt to walk transitions. 

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

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

Available as an eBook or paperback.

Horse Listening The Book

Read more here:

An Awesome Over-The-Back Suppling Warm-Up At The WalkI've been using this exercise as a warm-up for both myself and my horse lately and I'm seeing great results! It's an active but relaxing way for both of us to loosen up. 

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the WalkAlthough we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse's mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to, especially for a downward transition. Here are three steps to develop a balanced trot-walk transition with minimal rein pressure.

How to Fix Your Horse’s Crookedness: I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it's true. Your horse's crookedness is all about you. 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?

How A Simple “1,2,1,2” Can Improve Your RideAll 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.

Listening Corner: Contact and “On the Bit” : Let's see what the "Masters" have to say about this topic.

6 Ways To Compete Against Yourself in Horse Riding

horse lunge rider development
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

It's tempting to watch other horse people and feel either somehow deficient, or somewhat rushed. Many of us end up avoiding new learning because it takes us out of our comfort zones.

However, it helps to think of  "competition" not as an aggressive, winner-take-all, loser-get-none scenario, but as a process of self-development and education. In other words, the quickest route to winning might be to "compete" against yourself instead of others - in all areas of riding and horsemanship.

Not just in the show or competition arena, but in everything from horse management, to ground skills, to training and skill development, to doing the most fun things you've always wanted to do with horses - like a weekend camping trip, a trail challenge, or a swim at the beach.

If you regularly look for ways you can expand your skills, you will surely be on track toward making progress as you build in step by tiny step into your regular routines. Here are 6 ways that you can improve by competing against yourself.

Watch Others

In this day and age, you don't even have to watch a rider in person (although you certainly can do that too). Search for your topic of interest and you'll likely find many videos on YouTube. Watch them and see what you would like to emulate, and what you would definitely like to avoid doing. Then take some of those ideas back to your horse and start practicing.

Instruction

You can't avoid instruction when it comes to horses. Not even for ground work.

Find a well educated instructor who understands your goals and needs, and commit to a regular riding schedule. If you would like to develop new skills, you have to find the information you need, and then dedicate time and effort into your "homework."

Steps

Break down your goals into small, manageable steps and be satisfied with making incremental progress. Learning is a funny thing. Once in a while, you might make a huge leap in your skill development all at once. Other times, you might have to claw your way through each phase, feeling like it's one step forward, two steps back.

Stay devoted to challenging yourself and build your repertoire of skills one after another.

Routine

One way you can develop new skills is to put them into your regular riding (or ground work) routines. So if you want to work on canter departure, for example, make sure you integrate this specific skill into each and every ride.

You can work on the transition toward the end of your warm-up, in the "lesson" phase of your ride (when you do something new or something you're still working on) and then maybe do a little "pop quiz" at the end of your ride, just before you get off the horse.

In this manner, you can weave the new skill into other more comfortable movements.

Feedback

Get feedback from a clinician or judge (who maybe doesn't know you at all) and work on their recommendations.

Alternately, self-assess. How did your ride go on the trails? How well did you get along with your horse at the beach? All of the results are a form of feedback that you can use to inform your understanding of your progress and training with your horse.



Track It

Finally, it is important to keep track of your progress. Use a journal to reflect on the new skills and plan your next steps week to week. Or use the Goal Setting For Equestrians workbook I've designed specifically for equestrians to document rides and events. Later on, you can come back to your notes to gauge your progress, areas that need special attention, and achievements.

Don't think about competing against everyone else. Rather, compete against yourself, step by step. One sunny day, you may come to the realization that skills which seemed unreachable have become your new everyday comfort zone. Soon enough, you will have to challenge yourself even beyond those levels!

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.

Goal Setting For The EquestrianRead more here:

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).

Ten Habits Of Competent RidersWhat do great riders have in common that makes them appealing to watch, steadily develop their riding skills and become role models for others to aspire to emulate?

24 Reasons Why Horsin' Around Makes Us Better Human BeingsWhile there's likely plenty of physical improvement, there's the even more important aspect of development of character.

12 Quick Riding Tips – #8: A Transition Exercise To Jazz Up Your Riding RoutineTry this "simple" (but not necessarily "easy") transition exercise just to add a little pizzazz to your normal riding routine. 

Crystal Clear About Canter Leads and a Quick Fix: Everything you always wanted to know about canter leads. Plus how to get the correct lead.

 

“You’ll Ruin Your Horse!”

You'll Ruin Your Horse

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

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

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

HOWEVER.

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

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

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

Will you actually ruin your horse?

My answer is: no!

Here's why.

Same Horse, Different Riders

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

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

You Have To Learn At Some Point

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

And they will negatively affect even the most educated horse.

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

The Horse Forgives

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

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

What To Do?

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



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

Be prepared to "study."

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

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

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

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

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

Horse Listening

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

Goal Setting For The Equestrian Book

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.

 

 

Read more here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Rein

Slightly open for flexion

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

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

Slightly open to create room for the inside shoulder

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

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

Give/release often

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

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

No pull

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

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

Outside Rein

Indicates a turn (neck rein)

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

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

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

Prevents the outside shoulder from bulging 

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

Prevents the neck from pointing too much to the inside

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



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

Steady contact

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

Half-halt

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

A few parting notes

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

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

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

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

Keep the neck between both reins

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

Even contact and hand positions

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

The seat, weight and leg aids

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

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

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

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

Instantly order online. Click here to learn more.

Horse Listening Book 2Read more here:

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

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

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

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

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

 

24 Reasons Why Horsin’ Around Makes Us Better Human Beings

Horse Listening horsin' around
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

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

Well, it makes sense when you think about it.

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

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

Then there's the horses.

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

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

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

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



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To The 50+ Year-Old Horse Rider

Horse Listening 50+ Rider
Credit: NBanaszak Photography

I know you're out there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, sure. And, not really.

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

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

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

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

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

Pick the right horse

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

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

Pick well!

Ride at your level

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



Take lessons to keep developing your skills

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

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

Take more walk breaks

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

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

Listen to your body

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

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

Enjoy the social aspect

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

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

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

IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY!

Let's celebrate!

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Five Years Of Horse Listening

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

Learn More.

Read more here:

 

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