Introducing The Practice Sessions!

Well, it's been long in development and mentioned several times over the past years, and now, I can finally say...

The Practice Sessions are ready to go!

I've had many blog readers contact me about how I might be able take the blog to the "next level." So while the articles are there for all to access and read, they don't (and honestly, they can't) get into the nitty gritty HOW of everything. In order to do that, I need more space, more effort, and even a different platform than a blog.

When I teach my own in-person students, I can give them all the details they need for each exercise. I can structure the lesson and add theory into the mix as we go. I've been doing the Practice Sessions informally for the past 10 years, creating them, then evaluating them for effectiveness, and then refining them as various students and horses gave me feedback. So when I first envisioned the Practice Sessions, my intention was to do something similar over the Internet.

The Practice Sessions are whiteboard videos that combine several figures and movements in specific order to improve a certain aspect of riding. It might be to help with quicker and clearer transitions. It might help develop left and right suppleness, or improve hind end engagement or overall balance. Often, one Practice Session can impact more than one area of development for both the horse and the rider.

To top it off, I have ridden ALL the Practice Sessions myself  with several different horses, including my own.

I have taught them to riders at different levels, riding all types of horses at different levels.

Then I put them together into detailed videos.

The videos are not your typical watch a rider/horse go through their paces scene. These videos are carefully planned and drawn out whiteboard animations. You'll get details, explanations and clear theory. You'll hear about common problems and solutions. The videos will help you develop the very basics of your riding and the quality of movement of your horse.

You'll get new Practice Sessions twice a month.

But then I realized that I needed to add more than just these exercises. There's so much more that I can offer over the Internet, that would support the Practice Sessions and make it more of a complete program. So here are some added bonuses:

  • Quality of Movement Exercises (improve things such as better impulsion, hind end use, energy over the back, "connection")
  • Once A Month Progress Email (you can let me know how things are going and ask specific questions)
  • Resources From The Blog (so you don't have to go searching yourself)
  • Downloadable Cheat Sheets For The Practice Sessions (so you can print them off and take them with you to the barn for easy reference)
  • Groundwork Sessions (twice a month to add that all-important groundwork dimension to your regular riding routine)
  • Q & A Audios (for when we have a bunch of questions so they can be answered clearly and for everyone's benefit)

Two More Bonuses

The Private Facebook group allows all of us to stay connected through one platform. We have an active, encouraging and supportive group of riders who share successes and ask questions. I share ongoing tips, comments, goal setting exercises, and much more through the group, as well as answer specific questions.

Then there's a Remote Coaching feature (at extra cost) that you can use if you want detailed, specific feedback on you and your horse. You can share videos and pictures, and we can chat live through Facebook Messenger or even do a phone or video call through WhatsApp.

OK.

The Practice Sessions membership will open for registration on July 1st.

To thank you for your readership, I wanted to let you know right here on the blog so you can have first access to the limited-time Introductory pricing, which will be available for two weeks only (until July 14th). If you join during those two weeks, you will keep your price point so long as you stay a member.

*The actual prices will be announced on July 1st when registration opens.

If you think you might be interested in receiving more information, please click here and join the Introductory email list. You will be among the first to receive information about pricing and registration when it becomes available.

Finally, thank you for your readership, and for the years of encouragement through the Horse Listening blog and now onto the new pastures of the Practice Sessions!

Wishing you years and years of happy Horse Listening!

Kathy

When Your Horse Is Heavy In The Bridle

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Phtotgraphy

You've probably been in this situation at some point in your riding career. No matter what you do, it seems like you simply can't lighten the pressure on your reins.

If you pull, your horse pulls. And as they say, the horse (no matter how small) can eventually out-pull the rider. Some horses (saints) get used to the amount of pressure on the bit and will carry you around even with relatively heavy pressure on the bit.

So what can you do about it? Even if you can re-educate your body to stop pulling on the reins, you might still need to help change your horse's balance to the hind end. Here are some ideas to try.

1.Go "Under"-Power

If your horse has a tendency to grab the bit and go, this one might help a lot.

When your horse wants to power up, you ask for a power down. If you're in trot, make it more of a jog. If you're in canter, make it a slower, smaller strided canter - or just go to trot if that doesn't work.

When you power down, your horse has a much better chance of taking all that energy and using it in the hind end. The slowness and the reduction of pushing power will help the horse maintain better balance. The hind legs will have a chance to slow down and therefore go more underneath the body. The front end will have less energy coming to it and therefore won't HAVE to be on the forehand as much.

You might suddenly feel a lightening of pressure on the reins. As long as you still have some connection, you want the lightness and so now your job is to maintain it through the rest of the movement.

One word of caution - don't stay in under power. Once your horse has better balance, and you feel the lightness, start to slowly allow the energy level to come "through" again. Make sure you're not just blocking the horse in the front end, because that will result in disengagement of the hind end and then you'll have the same problem, just from the opposite cause!

2. Get Better Impulsion

So we'll talk about that scenario next. Many horses become heavy on the bit because the rider isn't asking for enough impulsion or power. So in this case, you need to "Power Up"!

If there isn't enough energy, chances are that the horse is long in the body, and the hind legs are not underneath the body. This is what we call "strung out". The problem with the hind legs being out behind is that the horse then HAS to balance on the front legs. All the movements begin in the front than the hind, and therefore, you feel the weight in your hands.

So in this case, you have to create more energy, and then learn to contain it.

I have written a lot about impulsion here on the blog, but this is the best one for this purpose. If you want to read more, take a look at the links at the end of this article.

2. Move the Shoulders

One of the best ways to get weight off the forehand and onto the hind end (to work toward your goal of better balance) is to move the shoulders. Lateral movements help the horse to shift his weight back naturally and by doing so, he will invariably have to take the weight off the front end.

So you would do lots of shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, leg yields and half-passes if you are at that level. Walk and canter pirouettes will also help build the muscles needed for better balance to the hind end. By adding in the lateral work, you might notice that your horse becomes lighter and lighter, especially as he becomes better able to get off the front legs.

3. Give to Half-Halt

This is more of a standard re-balancing technique. It's a great way to set your horse up for any transition or change within a movement. But because of its effect on balance, it might also be helpful in getting your horse off the forehand and lighter in the bridle.

The key, aside from the half-halt, is the give at the beginning.  It's not a throw away rein, because if you do a sudden release while the horse is heavy on the reins, the  horse will fall to the forehand (can't help it). Just give a tiny amount, say an inch. Enough for the horse to not be restricted and to be able to power out of the first half-halt.

Then use the half-halt to contain the energy forward and help in re-balancing the horse's weight to the hind end. I've written about the aids in much more detail here.



4. Many Down Transitions

If you find your horse sort of running away with you, down transitions can be extremely helpful in redirecting the energy. In trot, do walk transitions ideally before the horse gets too heavy. In canter, do trot transitions. 

Then transition up to the original gait again and be ready to ask for the down transition again. Practice until your horse relaxes and the down transitions become easier.

5. Leg Yield Out/Transition

Finally, you can use the leg yield out to a transition up to help engage the inside hind leg. 

So at the walk, head down the quarter line. Leg yield out to the rail, and then pick up the trot. 

In trot, leg yield out and then pick up the canter. 

The leg yield is an excellent way to get the horse to begin to respond to leg aids, move the body sideways and forward, and have the inside hind leg positioned for the transition. Combined, they might help to get the weight more to the hind end.

Well! That was a lot of information. 

If you need ideas for exercises that would address these needs, consider joining my Practice Sessions. I have an excellent basic Quality of Movement exercise for exactly the purpose of moving the shoulders. The Practice Session exercises work on many of these tips - and they're all prepared for you! Click here for more information.

Horse Listening
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If you like this article, read more here:

12 Riding Quick Tips – #6: Developing Impulsion

How You Know You Don’t Have Impulsion (Yet)

4 Steps To Better Movement

What To Do When Your Horse Loses Balance

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

4 Steps To Better Movement

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Improving the horse's movement is one of the first things we should attempt to work on from the minute we get on the horse's back. We should always aim to keep the horse happy, healthy and strong into his old age. 

While there are actually other ways to improve the horse's movement, I've distilled it down to four basic steps so you can get started with your own horse. Even if you and your horse are farther along, coming back to these basics might be helpful for you at times.

1. Free Moving Gait

Elsewhere, I've called this "impulsion." But I also like to think of it as moving "freely" - strong, bold, not fast. When the horse moves freely with impulsion, you can see the horse stepping out at will, looking ahead, using the hind legs deeply underneath the body, covering ground effortlessly.

The opposite is the horse that takes short, stilted steps. The legs move but the back is tight and rigid (and maybe it feels like the gait is smooth because of lack of movement). The horse might be looking around, not focused and quick to stop.

The thing is, many horses aren't inclined to moving freely under saddle. It's tough work to carry the rider and propel through space energetically. As the rider, you have to learn how to get your horse to move better in each gait, how to be more responsive to the leg aids, and then YOU have to be able to ride that gait and not get left behind in the movement!

But with practice, most horses will move forward freely. It can be done.

In general, you always need this sort of forward energy in order to even begin to balance the horse. So it's the first step toward better movement.

2. Rib Cage and the Shoulders "In" The Body

After you have energy, you need to do something with it!

First off, let's consider the rib cage and the shoulders of the horse. If either is "bulging" (or not aligned with the body), there is a blockage of energy that results in falling in, drifting out, slowing down or even spooking. All of these problems are rooted in one cause: lack of straightness through the body.

So now that you've got some energy to work with, you can pay attention to the straightness of the horse's body. Do you feel the rib cage pushing on one leg? It could be either the inside or outside leg. If so, squeeze with the leg to "push" that side of the horse back into alignment.

Can you feel a shoulder stepping outward from the body? It could be either the inside shoulder reaching even more to the inside than the rest of the body ("falling in"). Or it could be the outside shoulder stepping farther out ("drifting out"). In each case, use a rein aid (open, direct or neck rein) to, in effect, "put" that shoulder back into the body. You want to feel each front leg reach straight forward into the next step, not sideways. 

You will know you're on the right track if your horse suddenly feels like he's having an easier time moving on his own. When a horse straightens up, his balance improves and he becomes lighter on his feet. You'll feel that energy created by the hind end travel through the horse's body.

3. Straight Neck

This one is fairly easy to recognize and happens all the time! If your horse has his neck turned far into the direction of travel (called "neck bend"), or turned far outside the direction of travel, you will notice a significant change in his ability to maintain his balance. He will likely bulge through the opposite shoulder and end up traveling in that direction. 

While there are possibly times when we might want to bring the neck "around" to soften the neck muscles or get better access to the jaw and poll, we should always be seeking to allow the horse to have a straight neck specifically to help with balance. Sometimes, riders might have to work at keeping the neck straight if the horse has developed a habit of holding the neck farther to one side. 

But if the rib cage and shoulders are kept straight, it shouldn't take much to keep the neck straight at this point.



4. Flexion/Soft Poll

The horse should have flexion (the corner of the horse's eye) into the direction he is moving. So if you're going right, you should be able to see the corner of the horse's right eye. It is generally important for the horse to look where he is going. Also, by flexing the jaw a little to the side, the horse often relaxes and softens just a bit more through the head and neck.

You also want to teach your horse to move with a soft poll. Rather than moving along with the head braced and the nose pointing up and out (try it yourself to see how it tightens your neck, shoulders and upper back), you want the horse to respond lightly to your rein aids. When he feels pressure from the reins, he should soften and "give," bringing his nose to a "more" vertical position. As in, the nose can stay slightly above the vertical. The key is that the horse will respond to the rein aids and soften when needed.

A soft poll will allow the horse to release the whole connected muscle structure over the neck and to the back under the saddle. This release will help allow the shoulders to work better and the back to swing more. 

Put It All Together

Well, it can get complicated to try to do all four steps in succession in movement.

So if you find it difficult, start with one step at a time. Go for the energetic gait first. When you can get a consistently strong gait, try to straighten through the rib cage and shoulders (this step may take some time to understand and master). Make sure you still have that energetic gait and straightness.

Try to straighten the neck soon after you're getting straightness through the body. You still should have the energetic gait and the straight rib cage and shoulders.

Finally, work on the flexion and poll. You still should have the energetic gait, the straight rib cage and shoulders, and straight neck! 

You see how it builds together. 

Take your time, try and try again, and feel for improvements as you go along. 

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to be among the first to be notified about our upcoming Introductory pricing!

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 like this article, read more here:

12 Riding Quick Tips – #6: Developing Impulsion

 

How You Know You Don’t Have Impulsion (Yet)

 

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem

#1 Rider Problem of 2017: Riding “Disconnected”

What To Do When Your Horse Loses Balance

 

 

Partnership With Your Horse: The Essential Ingredient (And How To Get There)

At Horse Listening, we are emphatic life-long learners of all things horsey. You will be reminded time and again about how there is so much to be learned from horses and other horse people, if only we listened.

This guest post is written by Lindsey Rains, who is an equestrian blogger and creator of Alta Mira Horsemanship. She focuses on communication between horse and rider, with an emphasis in kind training tactics.  She resides in Auburn, WA, USA, with her husband, and daylights as a non-profit administrator. Visit her blog.  You can also follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

 

One of my favorite movies as a young girl was My Friend Flicka: A misunderstood girl reaches out to an equally misunderstood mare from the wild.  Together, they both transform through the deep bond they create. I am convinced this is every horse-crazy girl’s dream.  It certainly was mine! This is what many of our friends think that their first trip to the barn with us will be like, also.  

But we all find out pretty quickly that most interactions with equines are not a magical encounter.  Most of our time with horses involves work, persistence, and routines--not quite what the movies would characterize as the essential elements of the equine-human relationship.

And yet, these movies still tug at our heartstrings.  Sea Biscuit, Hidalgo, and The Black Stallion speak to a deep truth about humankind’s relationship with horses: that it all comes down to partnership.  

Partnership: Is it Just for the Movies?

I think the reason why we are drawn to these movies is because we know that we can bond with these strong, sensitive, and intelligent creatures.  The experience of that partnership is indescribable until you have experienced it. But is that partnership an anomaly?

The drama of storytelling aside, I think all of us can experience partnership with every horse we encounter, even if we haven’t gone through a harrowing event or a mighty quest with that horse.

To Be the Leader is to Be the Friend

If you’ve studied a herd structure with any handful of horses, the central question is always “Who is the leader?” Every single horse is unsettled until that question is resolved. Once an order is established, the entire group is at peace.  

The same can be said for your horse when you first interact with him.  When I was a youngster, all the barn girls used to joke about how every new horse would push your buttons in the first lesson.  Could it be because every horse needs to find out who is the leader in that initial encounter?

I have found that most horses, with very few exceptions, ultimately want their handler to be their leader.  Though we have dominance struggles with our horses periodically, knowing that they don’t have to make the tough decisions in a life-and-death situation is a huge relief for the horse.  

Of course, we don’t have to face life-and-death situations to show them that.  All we need is to show that we are trustworthy and willing to stand our ground.  This, in turn, will make our horse feel that they are both cared for and protected.  Given this trust, their best talents will be able to rise to the surface when you ride them.  

How to Gain A Partnership with Any Horse:

Maybe you don’t own a horse and are taking lessons or riding a friend’s horse.  Perhaps you own several horses, and trying to bond with each and every one of them feels daunting.  Here is a way to quickly lay down the foundation for a partnership with any horse at any time. Upon this foundation you can continue to build trust and a positive history with that given horse, and cause all your work together to be spectacular.  



The Five Key Ingredients for Partnership Are:

  1. Boundaries: Every horse is more settled knowing exactly what you expect of them.  Beyond the basics of no biting, kicking, or invading your personal space, be firm when their attitude is aggressive, pushy, or wild.  Then soften when they are obedient, inquisitive, and calm. Horses settle and work their hardest to please you when they know what is expected of them.
  2. Consistency: As you make your boundaries clear, be consistent with them.  A horse will get confused when you allow bad behavior in one moment, then punish him the next.  By keeping your responses consistent, the horse will be able to rely on you. Consistency is vital to have in your composure, as well.  By remaining as relaxed as possible in every situation, the horse’s baseline temperament will be calmer also.
  3. Kindness: Do not be harsh or over-reactive in your correction.  The source of all your guidance should be kindness. Take a little extra time to hang out with the horse when you’re not “working”.  Bring them an apple, spend a few minutes lightly massaging them in their stall, or even talk to them as they graze. Small moments are more than enough to reinforce trust.  
  4. Communication: Just like consistency, clear communication is integral to riding a relaxed horse.  If you send your horses several signals at once (or over or under-communicate), they will be confused and either get fidgety, spooky, or withdrawn.  Being really clear about your riding aids will deepen their trust in you and reinforce your leadership.
  5. Reward: This last step is the most important: always look for ways to reward the horse.  Let him walk, pat his neck, give him a treat, or put him away for the day when you see good behavior, breakthroughs, and accomplishments.  You can provide all the structure and guidance you want in order to be the leader. But with reward, the horse’s respect will transform into loyalty.  

How Partnership Will Revolutionize Your Riding

In all reality, bonding with a horse is not just for the movies.  Partnership makes all the difference when we handle, rehabilitate, ride, and train any given horse.  Having grown up riding lesson horse after lesson horse, I know how it feels to try to figure out how to bond with a horse that you may never ride again.  When I finally discovered that a horse’s trust was simply anchored in kind leadership, every encounter with a new horse involved that beautiful element of partnership--and it can for you, too.

What comes to mind when you think about partnership with a horse?  What has been your best bonding moment?

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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If you enjoyed this article, you might like these other guest posts as well:
The Mental Game Of Riding: by Bora Zivcovitch: If technical perfection is essential for success, what explains the success of riders whose technique leaves a lot to be desired? Thoughts on muscle memory, practice, the mental part of riding, finding courage, and one simple thing you can do to improve all of the above. 
Choosing Appropriate Western Dressage Goals: by Cathy Drumm: The understanding that horses need to be properly developed and conditioned in order to perform ANY significant physical activity with a rider on board doesn’t seem to be standard knowledge.
Get In Rhythm, Stay In Rhythm: by Patricia Pitt: Here’s some food for thought, like your heartbeat is the ‘rhythm of life’ so rhythm is to your horse’s gymnastic development.  Without it … not gonna happen!
Getting "In Touch" With Your Horse's Body: by Lindsay Day: You don’t have to know the names and function of every muscle, bone and joint in your horse’s body to garner benefit from, well, quite simply, feeling your horse.
Little Known Qualities of Great Farriers, by K. Arbuckle, professional farrier: The farrier, though required to scientifically balance and shoe a horse, is an artist working with a living canvas.
Scoring the Hunter Round, by L. Kelland-May, senior judge: Have you always wondered how the hunter class is judged? Read it here straight from the judge’s perspective!

Why Do We Post At The Trot & What’s The Fuss About Being On The Correct Diagonal?

Back in the days of yore, when the only mode of transportation had a mane, a tail and four hooves, people would spend much of their travelling time upon a horse's back. When you stop to consider that towns were few and land was plenty, you can imagine that people would spend a whole lot of time upon a horse's back.

And so the rising trot was invented - mainly to save the poor horse's back from repeated rider bounces and conversely, to save the rider's back from repeated jarring. It makes sense, no?

At least, that's what I was told way back when I was first learning to ride. I have no idea if this theory is true at all - but after several years of endurance riding (over distances up to 55 miles) I can vouch for the relief that rising trot gives when you are considering horses as a means of long distance travel. In fact, rising at the trot can also invigorate your legs that have probably gone numb from sitting the whole time, even if you were moving at just the walk!
OK. Rather than pontificate on what I don't know, here's a cute video that is probably much more accurate and describes how the word "post" was adopted into the horse riding dictionary.

Let's face it. Many horses have bumpy trots and sitting the trot immediately may be an insurmountable task for the average beginner rider. It might actually be difficult for even the experienced rider who might have enough physical difficulties or pain to ever sit a trot correctly.

And so, one of the first things we learn to do as horse riders is to "rise to the trot" - that is, we get off the horse's back in one moment of the trot stride, and then we sit in the saddle the next moment. Over and over again, we rise and sit.

Diagonals
The second thing we learn is that we HAVE to coordinate the rise moment with the moment that the horse's outside front shoulder swings forward. So when that leg is off the ground, we are off the horse's back. We call this "posting on the outside diagonal" because the legs move in diagonal pairs in trot.

So we spend months - and for some of us, years and years (!!) - learning to post on the "correct" diagonal in effort to do what is right for the horse.

But do we know WHY?

There is a perfectly rational, bio-mechanical answer to why we insist that riders rise when the outside front leg begins to lift off the ground. But first, we should discuss a little theory.

How Do The Horse's Legs Move In The Trot?
If you slow down the horse's footfalls, you can see that the horse trots in diagonal pairs (unless the horse is gaited, which means that there is no trot and therefore little reason to post!!).

The above video clearly shows the right front leg moving in tandem with the left hind. Then the left front moves with the right hind. This is why we hear a two-beat rhythm of the footfalls at the trot.
When we're first learning to ride, it's fairly easy to actually see the outside shoulder as it moves. But we're not really interested in the front leg at all.

If you're told to rise when the outside front leg is coming off the ground, what is happening to the inside hind leg? Take a look at the picture below.

Rising Trot Moment. Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Clearly, the inside hind leg is off the ground.

This is a very important moment in the stride.

Because this is the only moment - out of all of the other trot stride moments - that we can influence the inside hind leg.

Why Do We Want To Influence The Inside Hind Leg?
When we rise at this moment, we are in fact encouraging the inside hind leg to step deeper underneath the body. We want that deeper step to:

  • provide better overall balance on turns (less leaning in)
  • carry more weight on the hind end (rather than the forehand)
  • have more pushing power into the next phase of the stride
  • support the horse's back through the movement

Wrong Diagonal!
Then we learn that there is such thing as a "wrong" diagonal. Because if you rise when the inside shoulder is reaching forward, what is happening to the inside hind leg?

It's on the ground. Bearing weight. Unmovable.

Therefore, you can't influence that leg at all. You might be using leg aids for more energy, but that inside hind leg is immobile, weighted down. You might want better bend, but that leg is stuck on the ground.

Timing is everything, my friend!

However...
(you knew there would be a "but..." didn't you?)

There are indeed times when you want to post on the inside diagonal. (Did I just say that??!!)

There are absolutely instances when you might want to influence the outside hind leg while travelling in a direction.

Maybe you feel that the horse needs more encouragement to use that leg deeper underneath the body. Maybe you just want to strengthen that leg for some time. Maybe you want to improve the horse's outside balance.

When we rode on our long endurance rides, we were taught to be very diligent about our diagonals. Because we spent much of the time riding straight lines on the trails, we would be strengthening (or resting) one leg at the expense of the other leg. And so we would consciously change diagonals at regular intervals in order to evenly develop and use the hind legs.

OK. Go out there and play around with the diagonals. See if you can feel the increased thrust of the inside hind leg when you are in the forward phase of your post. See what it feels like when you post on the outside diagonal. How does it change your horse's balance? Can your horse bend better on a turn or circle if you time your aids to match the timing of the diagonal? Most importantly, have fun!

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 like this article, read more here:

How to Fine Tune Your Canter-Trot Transitions

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the Walk

How to Improve the Sewing-Machine Trot

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End

3 Steps To A Quieter Leg Position

10 Strategies For The Nervous Horse Rider

This one goes out to the people who want to ride horses but still have that niggling nervous feeling even while they are enjoying the incredible "sport" that is horse riding.

I mean, we wouldn't be human if we didn't get nervous - it happens all the time in all avenues of life. Sit on a 1000-pound animal about five feet off the ground and commit your entire being to that animal's four legs - and then try to get it to DO things - well, yeah, one can see how a somewhat precarious situation might arise!

So what can you really do to help with the nerves while riding? Here are some ideas that might be useful for you. Of course, many reference getting help from a riding instructor, because there really is no other way. Even if you've been riding all your life!

1. Control The Environment

One of the most obvious ways to set yourself up for success is to ride where you and your horse feel most at ease. If you can feel confident in the environment, then you will have a much better chance of finding release through your joints and maintaining a calm, relaxed feel toward your horse.

If your horse enjoys riding in an outdoor ring, go there. If your horse is less distracted in a quiet, contained indoor arena, then that might be your best choice. If you feel that your horse gets nervous on the trails alone, and you are alone, ride closer to the barn. You get the idea.

The opposite would be to force yourself through a ride when you know the horse is going to be tight and tense and unresponsive. Or let's say the weather is so bad that you are sure that your horse is going to go through 20 minutes of being over-reactive before he settles down. Rather than trying to overcome your anxiety about having to deal with such a situation, don't ride that day and wait for better conditions when you KNOW you and your horse will be calm, cool and collected.

Work up to the more difficult environments little by little, building on success rather than fighting through failure.

2. Ride The "Right" Horse

I feel I need to put this in because it can be truly helpful to find a horse that helps you build your confidence. Some horses are just calmer than others, less inclined to spook, or generally dependable and even-tempered. There is also such a thing as being "over-horsed," or riding a horse that doesn't have either the temperament or education that would suit your needs.

This is when riding schools are distinctly advantageous because they will have several horses for you to choose from. They can likely find a horse that matches your needs and helps you while you still need some support. Once you've overcome your obstacles, or developed the skill necessary to have more confidence, you can move on to a less educated or more sensitive horse.

3. Ride Exclusively In Lessons

Confidence comes with skill building. There really is no other way. There is no short cut to learning - you must lesson and you must practice!

Many people ride only in lessons with an instructor for years until they feel they have the skill necessary to ride on their own. There is something to be said for having a consistent "eye on the ground" even if you already have strong riding technique. If you want to improve as quickly as possible, this is the way to go.

4. Demo Rides

Many of us are visual learners, and watching others ride might make a huge difference for your learning process. Whether you can watch your instructor, or other riders at a higher level than you, you will surely have a lot to gain by having techniques or strategies modeled for you.

Best yet would be to have your instructor get on your horse and show you how she rides your horse to eliminate spooks, how to use your aids effectively, or what to do when something specific happens.

5. Get Lunged

Well, this is the icing on the cake when you can find it.

There is no better feeling than knowing that your instructor on the ground has your horse under control so that you can explore your seat, legs, coordination and balance. Every minute spent on being lunged will pay back in dividends for years to come. You can fast track your seat development with lunge lessons. Better seat will allow your body to "take over" when necessary and will reduce tension all around.

6. Tone Down The Ride

Keep this tip in mind if your horse tends to go too fast or run off with you. If your horse tends to be over-energetic, ride him "under power." You can slow down that trot tempo until the horse is almost walking. Or you can do the downward transition from canter to trot and half-halt to not allow the horse to break into a fast aid-ignoring trot down the rail.



If you have the ability to control the tempo of the gaits, you will be far more able to let go and enjoy your ride.

Cooling it down takes a fair amount of ability and patience, but it can be learned and it can be done!

7. Ride Specific Patterns

This idea is great to get you and your horse paying attention to something other than the distractions. Know where you are going and take your horse through a predetermined pattern that will make him (and you!) balance, bend and think. Be picky - if you choose to do a 20-meter circle, then make it 20 meters, no matter what your horse does to fall in or out. Use your aids and take your horse places!

Give your horse some "pop quizzes" to practice your aids and his responsiveness.

8. Sing!

You might be amazed at how much singing can change your demeanor. Not only will it help you keep time with your horse's strides, it will help you in every way possible including your rhythm, your energy level (reduced if necessary), your attitude and even your tension.

If you can't sing, then talk a rhyme out in rhythm with your horse. It will serve the same purpose.

9. Focus On The Current "Thing"

If you pay close attention to your own riding or even to others as they progress, you might notice that we all have "THE THING" that we are working on at any given time. 

This skill is the one that most obviously needs work. It is what is preventing you from having that smooth, calm ride. For example, it could be that your horse doesn't go when you apply the leg aids. It might be that you have difficulty using the half-halt to balance. 

If you can focus on the current "thing" that is loudest, you might be able to make headway into the root of what causes nervousness. 

10. Get A Ground Person

I have asked people to be my ground person many, many times when I felt less than confident about what I was going to do. I had my friends help me when I backed young horses for the first few rides. No experience necessary!

If your ground person is willing to stand in the arena, or in the middle of a circle you are riding, just his presence might encourage both you and your horse to relax. The ground person can keep your mind off your tension. 

Well, I hope some of this can help you if you find yourself becoming nervous in the saddle.  If you have any other tips to add, please share them in the comments below. 

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If you like this article, read more here:

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

5 Ways To Be A Confident Horse Rider

23 Ways Your Horse is Your Life Coach

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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.

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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.

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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

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