8 Types Of Rides To Make Your Horse Riding Dreams Come True


8 Types Of Rides That Make Your Horse Riding Dreams Come True

Wouldn't it be great to achieve your wildest horse riding dreams?

The thing is, it's great to have dreams but it's completely another thing to make them come true. 

This article is about the action-taking part after you've set your riding (or ground work, or anything to do with horses) goals.

I've been considering the big picture of goal setting these days, looking at the ride after the ride after the ride. Because as with anything worthwhile, it might take many more rides than you think to achieve that seemingly simple goal - whether it's a skill like maintaining a tall upper body, getting a real bend around your inside leg, or riding that fluid first level dressage test. Or any horse-related activity, really.

And I've been thinking about the journey. Something happens when you get into a steady groove in your horse riding schedule.

You'd think that once you're on a roll (as in, riding regularly), you'd build on your previous skill levels, step by step, beginning at one point and ending at a new, better point.

But I had a realization the other day.

Getting from point A to point B in horse riding is not a linear path. While you're busy taking the steps you need to achieve your goals, you will likely go through so many different types of rides from day to day, week to week, month to month.

When combined over the course of a year (or more), they make up the "whole" of your riding experience. 

The Fun Ride

This is the one where you just have a great time and not work on too much. Maybe you ride with your friends and simply enjoy the moment of fellowship that is riding. Maybe you try a new pattern (or test) and relish in the fact that you were able to complete it without any practice. Maybe it's something that your horse enjoys - like throwing in a flying change or going long on the rail for a strong (lengthened) trot, or releasing into the swinging back of a stretchy trot.

The key is that whatever you did, you and your horse had FUN! You end your ride with this feeling of exuberance, enthusiasm and joy.

The Difficult Ride

This happens when you just can't seem to do what you're supposed to do. You try and try again. You give it your best shot. And for whatever reason - maybe it's the day, the weather, fatigue, or nothing at all, really - things just don't seem to jive. Your communication with your horse is limited. You end your ride with this feeling of disappointment, like you didn't accomplish what you set out to do.

The Work Hard Ride

This ride is the one where you have to work for everything you get but in the end, you can see the results and you and your horse are suddenly much better. It might be the result of changing something significant in your body - maybe you had to fight hard to maintain your balance. Perhaps you worked at improving the coordination of your aids. It was a struggle but you were able to make real change, which made a positive impact on your horse.

You end the ride reeling a bit from the effort and dramatic learning, but wow! It was worth every minute.

The Easy Peasy Ride

Usually, you come out of the ring in jubilation after this type of ride. This is the one where everything falls together! You and your horse move as one. You whisper back and forth to each other. Your balance is impeccable, movements are floating. 

This is the ride you want to get all the time but only happens rarely. But it is the one that keeps you motivated through the less rewarding rides.

The Confusing Ride

This happens when you had goals and inspiration and it simply doesn't work out the way you expect it to. It probably happens when you have set a level of achievement for yourself but you fail to reach that expectation. Usually, you can't pinpoint what is causing the difficulty and so you are left feeling confused. 

The Just-Put-The-Time-In Ride

There might come a day when you ride even though you don't really want to. You are tired, or it's really cold (or hot), or you just would rather be doing something else. Yet you know you have to just go out there and go through your paces (pun!). 

While it might feel like this type of ride is pointless, just getting out there and moving and doing is a huge part of sticking with the overall plan.

The Completely Different Ride

When you do something totally out of left field, you bring a sense of newness to your rides. For example, you start your ride in the ring and realize that it's gorgeous outside! And so you head out for a ride along the trails, leaving your "lesson ride" for another day.

Or you abort the ride altogether and do some ground driving.

Or you decide to finally pull out that blue tarp and see if you can get your horse to walk over it. Or play horsey soccer with a huge ball. Or pick up something unfamiliar (like a bag or jacket or umbrella) and carry it on horseback from one place to another. 

The Cross-Training Ride

We often get so wrapped up in our riding styles that we rarely step out of our long practiced and repeated movements. This ride is when you reach out to another completely different riding discipline and infuse some of what they do into your normal routine.

Let's say you ride dressage. Then you cross-train by setting up a few jumps. Or set up a few poles for a western trail pattern! Or how about you go on a cross-country ride where you can trot and canter to your heart's (and horse's) content! It can be a very powerful thing to open your mind to other sources of inspiration and learning.


And so your rides go from one to the next until a year (or more) has passed. And you take stock of you and your horse over this time - and notice the many small steps you have achieved, the many leaps in learning you have taken, and how far you truly have come! 

Each and every type of ride is necessary - or even critical - to achieving the success you desire. Each type fits in to the overall journey that is riding, and makes it such a complete, robust experience. 

I'm sure there are many more types of rides. If you can think of something to add, please comment below.

Horse Listening

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

Goal Setting For The EquestrianIncluded 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.

Read more here:

Our Best Goal Setting Year Ever!

“You’re STILL Taking Riding Lessons?”

6 Ways To Compete Against Yourself in Horse Riding

12 Riding Quick Tips – #12: Five Ways To Reach Your Horse Riding Goals This Year

42 Ways to Play, Learn and Grow With Your Horse

Horse Listening Among 20 Best Horse Blogs of 2018!

2018 Best Blog AwardI'm so thrilled to find out that we've been chosen to rank among 20 of the best horse blogs of 2018 by Horsemart, a massive equine marketplace based out of the UK. Horse Listening was picked because this site holds "the most useful or engaging information for those searching for it."

Click here to see what they said about our site.

But don't stop there! Take a look through all the sites they have recommended. There is so much excellent information there for you to peruse.

There's nothing more meaningful than to be recognized by members of the equine community itself. I'm honored to be included in that list of quality sites!

Most importantly, I want to thank you for reading and sharing and liking and commenting! You have made Horse Listening what it is today because of your readership and encouragement. 

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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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How To Change Directions In The Riding Ring

Well, I know that you can change directions just by turning around and going the other way! That's not exactly what I'm talking about! 😉

There are four basic ways you can change directions in the dressage ring. The figures are designed to help you and your horse change rein without losing balance or forward energy. There are several goals for these figures:

  • smooth change of direction (no cutting corners or diving)
  • allow time for the horse to go straight a few strides between bends
  • allow time for the inside hind leg to come deeper under the body to help in maintaining balance through the change
  • allow (encouragement) for energy to be maintained

Across the Diagonal

Across the diagonal
© 2018 Full Circle Equestrian – All Rights Reserved
Across the diagonal
© 2018 Full Circle Equestrian – All Rights Reserved


The key to the change of rein across the diagonal is to ride a good corner. Instead of cutting through the corner on an angle, go straight so that you have the 3 or 4 strides to prepare for the turn. You can do a shoulder-fore as you turn so that you are already bent slightly in the direction of the turn that's coming up.

Then ride out to the corner letter, aim straight into the diagonal line, and head off in a powerful trot through to center line. You will have plenty of time to establish flexion for the new bend, long before you get to the rail at the far end. Then go into the corner again, shoulder-fore position to set up for the new bend.

Through Center Line (E to B or B to E)

E to B line
© 2018 Full Circle Equestrian – All Rights Reserved

You can also change reins across center line. This line is shorter than the diagonal lines and requires a tighter turn going into and out of the line. However, the set up is exactly the same.

According to this diagram, you'll be on the right rein coming toward E. Three or so strides before E, establish flexion and set up the shoulder-fore position. This will help your horse engage the inside hind leg, create a small bend, and position into the turn, before turning.

Then turn before you get to E. If you wait for E, your turn will end up drifting too far off the line, and you won't pass over X.

Straighten as you go over X, then prepare for the turn at B, exactly as you did for E.

This change of direction is more difficult simply because of the smaller space available, but it does help you and your horse learn to bend, balance and bend again.

I use this type of change of direction on the S-change pattern.

The Tear Drop

Tear Drop
© 2018 Full Circle Equestrian – All Rights Reserved

I personally love the tear drop and use it many times in a riding session. The straight line up the rail allows your horse to develop strength and momentum, and the half-circle after S helps to contain the energy. You can do a 10 or 15-meter half circle at the top of the tear drop, depending on your level of training. Leave the rail after S and keep the circle even. You might notice that the horse has a tendency to drift on the turn, either going too far towards C or to the opposite rail.

That is the fun of the tear drop! You will learn how to use your outside rein to contain the size of the circle, as there are no walls to help you!

After the half-circle, you head back to the corner letter (V in this example) on a straight diagonal line. Then you have the corner again, this time in the opposite direction.

Lots there to keep you and your horse attentive!

You can then go on to doing a new tear drop on the opposite rail in the new direction.

Center Line

Well this one is a given, but it's not necessarily easy to do without enough practice. The line is long! It takes even strength in the hind legs and even aids from the rider to move straight for that many strides.

Center Line
© 2018 Full Circle Equestrian – All Rights Reserved

The tricky part of making your center line land ON the center line is that you have to start the turn long before you get to the letter (A or C). Just like the E to B line, if you wait for the letter, you'll overshoot the line by several strides.

If you are using a regulation size ring, you might be surprised at how quickly you have to turn. It's only 10 meters from the corner to the middle letter, so you basically have to start turning as you complete the corner, and keep turning until you are on the straight line. Many riders drift on these turns and it might take some time for you to get a good feel of the size and shape of those turns.


Well, there you have it! 

You can use these changes of directions at any gait. If you are in canter, you can do a simple change through trot or walk. Or if you're advanced, you can do a flying change at the middle point of the line. The key is to stay on the line while you change leads.

The next time you want to change directions, think of one of these figures and plan ahead to make them smooth, balanced, strong in gait, and accurate. Work those bends so that you develop your horse's lateral suppleness.

And most importantly - have fun!  

If you like this sort of pattern work, join my Practice Sessions Pre-Launch GroupThe Practice Sessions are Modules of many exercises that work together to develop one major aspect of riding. The are currently two modules being prepared, "Focus On Transitions" and "Suppleness." There will be more Modules in the future, each dedicated to other significant concepts in riding horses. There will also be a private community and many more bonuses included. Click here to learn more.

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If you like this article, here are more fun patterns to take with you to the barn:

Spring Into A Horse Riding Exercise

12 Quick Riding Tips – #8: A Transition Exercise To Jazz Up Your Riding Routine

Suppling Fun! An Exercise

A Simple and Effective Horse Riding Warm Up (Exercise)

Collection: A Beginning Exercise To Try

Maybe You Want To Be The Horseless Horse Person

Horseless Horse PersonI mean, this is for the person who rides horses but doesn't own one.

What do you do when you don't own a horse? Does that mean that you can't ride or be around horses?

Not at all.

In fact, being horseless can often be a blessing in disguise. What if you give it a good go and decide the whole horse riding thing isn't for you?

It takes years of education, mentoring and even apprenticing to know enough to be responsible for a unique "pet" (some call it "livestock") such as the horse. What could be better than learning all these things on borrowed horses, investing money into your own learning, and spending time exploring different disciplines to know what you really want to do for the long term?

Some people never buy a horse but ride for years on end. It can be done.

Opportunities abound if you take a good look into what you can do when you don't actually own a horse.


The first and  surest way to get into the scene is to volunteer your services. If you really have no experience with horses, this is a great way to start. People will happily train you in exchange for your work. You might even get some riding opportunities as you get exposure and become familiar with instructors and barn managers.

You might be exposed to the ins and outs of everything horses. Aside from the physical development that you will gain, what can you learn in a volunteer position?

  • horse handling - leading a horse, teaching ground manners
  • horse care - grooming, feeding, leg wrapping, blanketing
  • equipment - saddle and bridle, clean tack
  • horse training - lunging, ground training (such as leading), in-hand work
  • facility management - learn how to run a barn
  • client/customer relations
  • I'm sure there's lots more!

You can find volunteering opportunities at riding schools, trail riding barns, horse rescue operations, therapeutic and equine-assisted riding schools, summer camps, and even veterinary facilities. Give these places a call and see what fits with your schedule and goals.

Riding Lessons

Well, I've written about riding lessons so often on this blog. But really, that is the best place to start riding. There is nothing better than having a trained instructor lead you on your horse journey. But there's a lot more to horses than just riding. So when it comes time for you to think about committing more time or (physical and financial) resources into the horse "thing," your riding instructor can be an excellent resource to guide you to your next steps.

By then, she will know you and what your goals are, and she can help you decide on future horses, higher level goals, riding disciplines, and general horse management.

The advantage to riding in a school is that you will be exposed to many different horses and possibly riding styles. You will ride alongside fellow students who are at various levels - maybe newer to horses than you are, or maybe more advanced. You an learn something from watching all of them over time.

This is a distinct perk compared to horse ownership, because once you have your own horse, you will be busy affording, riding and developing that horse only. At a riding school, you might be able to ride the same horse for a length of time, then move on to a new horse later so you can continue to learn and build your skill set.

There is an old expression that a rider should ride at least 100 horses in order to be able to call themselves a horse(wo)man. You might not be able to access a hundred horses, but without a doubt, the more you ride, the more you will learn. Horses are just like people in that they bring different personalities, quirks, skills and talents to the table. Not one is the same as the rest.


You might want to ride more often than once or twice a week in a riding school environment, and that is when part-boarding becomes an excellent option. When you think you're ready to ride on your own, work with a single horse regularly, and possibly take either group or private lessons with that horse, you might want to investigate a part-boarding opportunity.

Many horse owners want to share their horse with one other rider - some for the financial help, others because they simply don't have enough time to ride their horse often enough. As a part-boarder, you will be responsible for part of the financial upkeep, but you will have access to the horse more often. You will be able to work with that horse and develop a relationship over time. You might move away from the riding school environment and into more of a boarding facility where most of the people are horse owners.

The advantage of part-boarding goes without saying: if you want to switch horses, move away from the area, change riding disciplines, etc., you can end your commitment (usually with a one month notice) without worry of what will happen to the horse. Many people spend years being part-boarders.

Full Lease

When you lease a horse, you are ready to take on more of a horse ownership role than the above options. However, there is usually an end to that lease when the horse should be returned to the owner. Often, horses are leased out year to year, with the possibility of a renewal term towards the end of the lease period.

When you take on a full lease, you are responsible for all of the horse's expenses. You might also be required to pay a certain amount to lease the horse as well. The more trained, talented or advanced the horse is, the more you can expect to pay for the lease.

But then, you can treat the horse as if it were your own - for the lease period. Many horse owners will visit the horse, or require that the horse is boarded at a particular barn or location, but otherwise, you are the contact person for the horse and with that comes the financial responsibility of vetting, shoeing and board fees. Of course, riding privileges are yours and yours only.

Under certain circumstances, there are huge advantages to taking on a full lease versus permanently buying a horse. If your child wants to ride, she may currently be young enough to ride a pony. But a few years in, she'll be taller and want to move onto higher levels - which might require a specific horse type for the discipline she wants to be in at that time - but you won't know until that happens!

For adults, leasing will allow them to learn in-depth from one horse, then have the option to move on to a new horse - which will offer a whole new set of learning experiences. 

Leasing horses will allow you to change horses in the future, without worrying about the horse's security or going through a sale process. This is a luxury you wouldn't have if you owned the horse.

They say horse riding is only for the very rich. Well, now you can see how many, many participants in the horse industry can do so frugally, still meet their goals, and share in the incredible experience that is horses and riding. 

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 Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

The Top 8 Perks of Horse Keeping


23 Ways Your Horse is Your Life Coach


12 Riding Quick Tips – #12: Five Ways To Reach Your Horse Riding Goals This Year


Dear Adult-With-Many-Responsibilities Horse Person


The One Answer to Most Horse Riding Problems

Top Three Ways To Gain Your Horse’s Trust While Riding

Top 3 Ways To Gain Your Horse's Trust While RidingYou may have seen many articles about how important it is to gain your horse's trust. It's even more important while you're riding. Let's face it - once you're on your horse's back, his four legs are your legs, and if you're lucky, you get to go where his body goes (!!). So the trust factor becomes really important - most especially when your horse sees a terrifying spot in the arena and wants to get out of Dodge.

But it's not only about you trusting your horse.

It's about getting your horse to trust YOU!

The funny thing about trust and horse riding is that trust is displayed through the horse's behavior. So if the horse spooks and runs off, we think the horse lacks trust in the rider. 

However, if the horse carries on like nothing happened, then we feel that there is a trust dynamic in the horse-rider relationship. (*This applies to ground work as well as riding.)

So it might help you to take the focus off the emotional aspect of trust and instead, break it down into observable, reproducible physical responses that will be interpreted as trust when it all comes together.

3. Work past the scary area.

One of the best ways to develop trust is to project your confidence to the horse. You have to develop the communication and riding skills necessary to convince your horse that he is safe with you no matter where he goes.

Let's say the horse is spooking at an object and reacts with heart-thumping, sweat producing fear. To him, it's real danger. It could be something as simple as a bird suddenly flying by, or the sound of people walking and talking outside the arena. He's ready to scoot.

In this moment, you can either be forceful and aggressive, or you can choose to be the calm, confident one.

Even if he steps away from the perceived danger, or spooks suddenly underneath you, you can firmly but calmly and quickly re-establish what you were doing. Re-establish balance. Re-establish tempo. Stay tall and supple and balanced in your torso. Don't tense while your horse tenses. Don't look at the object your horse is terrified of (he knows when you're looking). 

Just carry on as if there's nothing there, as if there's nothing to be concerned about. Because in reality, there is nothing to worry about because you would never put your horse in a life or death situation. 

Ride away from the area, and then ride back to the area, knowing full well your horse might think about spooking again. Don't push him into the area, just ride past it as close as you can, but far enough away to help him stay calm. Show him there's nothing to fear. 

As your horse relaxes the third and fourth time through, go deeper into the area until you're riding right through it calmly, without any fuss. Slowly but surely, your horse will realize that if you're not tense and tight, he won't have to be either.

One day, your horse will think about spooking, feel your confident guidance... and just carry on.


2. Stay in balance.

Balance is such a huge topic. There's left and right balance (lateral) and forward and back balance (longitudinal). 

The horse can be off balance laterally when he is leaning too far in one direction. Or he might have his neck turned deeply into the direction he's going. Or if he has a twist in his poll or neck (you'll notice that his ears aren't level). 

He might be drifting out or falling in on a circle. Both are indications of lack of balance. 

We've talked about longitudinal balance often here in the blog. The most obvious is when the horse is travelling on the forehand.

Think about it like a teeter-totter. The horse's body is the teeter-totter and the balance should be at least level, or ideally, tilted toward the hind end. Problems arise when the horse is tilted downward on the shoulders and forelegs.

He might have to brace, scramble, move too quickly, or hollow. Lack of balance becomes a problem when the horse learns that he will be moving in discomfort or pain every time you ride him. 

Unfortunately, you'll likely need an instructor to help you identify and then correct balance problems. I've written much here about the pieces - half-halt, on-the-forehand, circles and more - but the challenge is to put all these together while you ride. 

What I can tell you, though, is that once you improve your ability to balance yourself and your horse, you will notice a profound difference in your horse's way of going. He might be more bold, more active, softer and lighter on his feet, more confident in his movement. Let's face it - if he feels comfortable, he will be happy in himself, you and the world around him.


1. Be consistent.

I can't emphasize this aspect enough for all things related to horses.

Consistency is the key to developing a bond with your horse. Be consistent in your general riding activities, your riding schedule and your expectations of both yourself and your horse.

Be consistent in your aids. If you send conflicting signals time and again, and your horse has to play a mental and emotional guessing game each time he interacts with you, he will soon become sour and reluctant.

The problem is that real consistency takes a lot of dedication, self-evaluation and discipline. It's so easy to let things slide and do what you feel like doing whenever. But horses remember. 

Try to find a consistent rider and see what their horses are like. Are they also consistent? Are they calm? Do they know what to expect?

Trust. It's worth the effort.

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 Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

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

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.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in RidingBeing uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.

5 Ways To Be A Confident Horse Rider

5 Ways To Be A Confident Horse Rider
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography


We all know that we should be riding horses with confidence. 

We know that horses can literally sense our state of mind - not through some heebie-jeebie magical mythical powers, but quite simply because they feel us through the saddle. They feel our aids, our balance... and our hesitance.

But we can do something about that.

It's possible that some riders have more intrinsic confidence than others. But confidence is the by-product of the skills we learn. Here are five ways you can learn to improve your confidence while in the saddle.

1. Let the horse move.

It takes a certain amount of courage to let the horse really move underneath you. Many of us tend to hold back the horse and ourselves using the reins - to slow down, contain, "collect" (probably not really but that's what we're thinking we're doing), and even hang on. Sometimes, we also hold back physically, getting behind in the horse's movement.

I don't mean that the horse should run off and we should do nothing. We should always strive for connection, balance and straightness. We should always be watching to maintain correct rhythm and a good tempo for our horse.

But it's more about letting the horse find his balance, energize enough to be able to use his hind end, and flow in the gait. If you can allow the movement, you might be surprised at first about how much ground a horse can cover in relatively few strides. It might feel powerful and strong.

Your body has to get used to the movement. Sometimes, you might have to consciously work to stay with the horse, especially in the upper body.

2. Never mind the bobbles.

A confident rider lets the bobbles roll off her back. In other words, if the horse takes a misstep, or goes for a little romp, the confident rider has enough skill to roll with the flow, as it were, and still be there at the end to ride on. She goes through all that with little stress and maybe a giggle. The horse feels her confidence and settles.

Now I'm not saying that the confident rider aspires to be a bronc rider. But the bobbles will invariably happen, and the cooler you can be, the quicker you can get back to your rhythm and tempo, the better you and your horse will be in the long run.

Which begs the question: how can you learn to ride the bounce?

Well, you do have to earn the skill to stay on when a horse takes a step sideways or upwards. It helps if you have a great horse (and instructor) to let you develop your seat early in your riding career. Lunging lessons are hard to find but indispensable and the quickest path to a great seat. Otherwise, there is no answer other than ride, ride and ride (many horses if possible). It's about practice, time and experience.

3. Ride with patience and influence.

I've written about patience and how it relates to riding in The #1 Rider Problem of 2016: PatienceEssentially, I feel that riding with patience is a key component of confidence. Riders who can be patient about skill acquisition, practice and self-development invariably become composed, confident riders. 

What does patience look like?

  • the rider who looks to herself to improve the horse's movement.
  • the willingness to wait a little longer for the horse's response.
  • knowing that finishing on a good note is more than enough from a day's ride - even if the desired movement was not perfectly achieved.

When a rider has influence over the horse, she can be effective. Influence is evident by the rider's ability to get the horse's calm, relaxed response. She makes immediate corrections (or anticipates problems so that they don't appear in the first place). She uses small aids that "go through." She maintains her balance while she improves her horse's balance. She sets her horse up for success.

4. Stay open in your torso.

You can probably spot a defensive or fearful rider by their posture. And so it is the same with the confident rider.

If you can maintain tone and strength in your upper body, you can stay "open" in your torso. This means that your upper body is tall and stays tall through movement. Your shoulder blades are dropped down and together enough that your shoulders are even and square. Your hips are open enough to allow your core to move freely with the horse's back. Your chin is parallel to the ground and your eyes are looking between your horse's ears.

The opposite is the ever-common fetal position (when the rider hunches over and falls toward the horse's neck), rounded shoulders, looking down and carrying tension in the body.

You can fake this till you make it.

5. Breathe.

Finally, a confident rider breathes. In every gait. Through all the figures.

Because lack of breath pretty much ensures tension, tightness, and being forced to have to stop before you're done with the movement.

If you have to collapse at the end of a canter set (or similar), you know that you're probably not breathing. If you find yourself huffing and puffing, see if you can make it a point to breathe in and out in rhythm with your horse's strides.

If you want, you can try counting out loud, or do what I make my students do - sing along in tempo with your horse's movement. The singing takes you out of your left brain and into your right, makes you breathe and acts as a calming influence for you and your horse.

Horse Listening

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Scrap It: Even though you are inspired to get that horse to do the next cool thing, your horse might simply not be ready.

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

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

Finding Your Comfortable Un-Comfort in Riding: Being uncomfortable is often a good place to be in riding.

23 Ways to Solve the Riding Problem: Of course, we rarely speak of the one "true" way...


A Horsey Valentine’s Song

Dear Readers,

My human-mom has this unbreakable habit of singing songs (out loud!) while she rides. I think it's because of the incredible acoustics of the indoor arena - she must think she's on stage or something. But it got me thinking about creating a song of my very own, extra special for you on Valentine's Day.

Once you know the words, maybe you might want to sing along with me. It's sung to the tune of If You're Happy And You Know It.

With Love, Cyrus


A Horsey Valentine's Song 


I hear your car before you even park,

Out beside the barn down on the slope.

I know you're coming by the pitter-patter of your steps

And the clanging of the snap on the lead rope.


I lift my head and perk my pointy ears

I twist my neck just so and strain to see.

I hear it's Valentine's Day and so I lick my lips and chew,

Anticipating the treats you've brought for me.


You lead me down the lane back to the barn.

You pick my feet and brush my glossy coat.

You fluff my mane and tail, sprinkle me with smelly spray

All the while, I dream of munching on my oats.




The saddle's on and next you wrap my legs.

The bridle's set and we're going for a ride.

I thought I made it clear, you were going to be a dear

And spoil me with all the treats that you supplied.


So we're off and trudging through the knee deep snow,

The air is crisp, the sky a clear bright blue,

As we walk along the path, I consider the aftermath,

Of what will happen if I run back home with you.

The sun is low, it's time we turn around.

The barn is warm, the stall calls out my name.

There's a delicious smell inside, my excitement I cannot hide!

It's a happy Valentine's Day all the same!


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 Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
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HL Book 3
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HL Book 1

Here are some more poems, just for fun!

Moment of Beauty: Caught in the moment and recognizing it.

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

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

Living in Flying Changes: I wrote this short poem after a wonderfully exhilarating night ride.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

How Many Aids Are You Using?!

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

"Which aids are you using?" I routinely ask my students this as they develop a particular skill, especially once they have gained enough experience that they can analyze a problem while they ride.

But here, we can do it off the horse. Let's use this example:

You are in left lead canter, and getting ready to leave the rail to make a left circle. As you head into the circle, your horse drifts out, loses balance and breaks into trot. (If this does really happen to you, don't worry! It happens all the time to all levels of rider and horse!)

It's like he is losing just enough balance that he is unable to maintain the canter. What aids would you use to correct the problem?

(If you like, stop here and quickly think about or jot down the aids you would use. Then read on. I've added links in blue to other articles that explain some of the specific concepts better.)

1) Outside Neck Rein

One of the most common errors is to use the inside rein to pull the horse into a turn. When you pull on the inside rein, though, the horse's neck has to follow your hand. So before you know it, the neck is pulled to the inside, which requires the outside shoulder to bulge outward. The horse then HAS to step out in order to manage to stay upright. While you're trying to turn the horse left, he's got his neck left but is actually stepping right. 

Use the outside neck rein to catch the outside shoulder that wants to bulge toward the rail. That helps keep the horse's front end from drifting around the turn. The neck rein is also the initiator of the turn.

2) Outside Leg

Use the outside leg to prevent the horse's hip from swinging out.

Another tendency is for the horse to swing the hind end outward. When you are on a turn, you want the horse to turn "straight" (well, not literally, but physically). If you use your outside leg back slightly, you can influence the hind end so that it follows the front end on a single track. 

There's got to be more than just those two aids. So let's fill in the details. It takes some concentration and "feel" to break things down even more.

3) Inside Seat Bone

Put your weight on your inside seat bone, swinging it forward on the turn line so that you encourage your horse to come under your inside seat more - to basically keep him on the turn and not drift out from under your seat.

Using your weight aids is something that needs a lot of fine-tuning at first. But with practice, you will be able to first know which seat bone you have more weight on, and then be able to actually direct the weight to where you want it to be. Your weight can have a lot of influence on the horse. 

4) Inside Leg

Use a strong downward-stepping motion on your inside stirrup - like you are standing on the ground through the stirrup, in rhythm with the stride.

The stepping down helps the horse have a solid balancing aid on the inside rib cage, which encourages better bend and balance through the turn.

5) Inside Rein

Give a tiny bit with your inside rein as you cross the middle of the arena, to allow the inside hind leg more space to step into. Keep the outside rein fairly steady.

6) Impulsion

Use two legs for forward just before you leave the rail. This helps him engage a little more before he starts to drift, sending him forward rather than sideways.

7) Keep Your Balance

Try to let your seat come through more after you ask for impulsion (don't resist), so you keep your center of gravity over the horse as he moves off. Don't get left behind!

8) Use Half-Halts

Even while you ask for more energy, use half-halts to help the horse stay in balance and not just run faster and onto the forehand. You can try a half-halt before you leave the rail, through the middle of the circle, and then again as you finish and go to the next movement. But it might depend on your horse - you might need more or less.

Pinpointing your aids like this is actually a very interesting exercise, because while we often recognize the most significant aids, we rarely feel everything that the body is doing to produce one result. I bet you can think of a few more to list here as well.

Seriously?? So many aids for one simple movement?

Well, yes. And, not really.

The thing is, once you get the hang of it, it won't be nearly as complicated as it sounds here. If you think about it, we can probably break down every movement into multiple aids and skills like this. The more aids we can control through our ride, the more sophisticated we can be in communicating kindly and gently to the horse. 

From Wikipedia:

Automaticity /ˌɔːtəməˈtɪsɪti/ is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.

I like this word! And I like how it feels when I'm doing this while riding. The less you have to think about things, the easier it gets. But at the beginning, you do have to learn the skills first (practice, practice, practice!), before they become blueprinted into your body.


After a few rounds, and a few transitions down to trot and then back up into canter, things should get better. Your outside aids might keep your horse straighter. Your "ask" for impulsion might help him reach further underneath with his hind legs. He might drift less and then not at all. And slowly, his canter might become more fluid, stronger, more balanced.

And even while you know which aids you are using, you won't actually have to think about them. Well, maybe you'll be thinking about only one or two!

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 Collection - beautiful paperbacks with all the excellence of the blog - in your hands! Click on the image for more information.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

If you enjoyed this article, read more here:

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: There is no better way to develop your seat.

The #1 Riding Problem: The Outside Rein! The outside rein is the most underused and poorly understood of all the aids, and here’s why.

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

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