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Checking Saddle Fit

dessage saddle (1)

Yesterday two lovely saddle fitters  were at my house to check the fit of my english saddles on Cash. I learned 2 things:

  1. Cash has an incredibly wide back! Comfy to ride but a bear to fit a saddle on.
  2. My saddles don’t fit.

 

Its a good thing I have a western saddle as a back up because my dressage and jumping saddles will soon be for sale so I can order one that fits my beastie!

Since Jack is still growing he will be ridden in a western saddle, for the most part, until he’s older and finishes widening out and is a wee bit more reliable in his work ethic. (free flying lessons are not appreciated) If he’s anything like his Uncle, he will be around the same width.

I always believe saddle fit is a very very big issue a lot of people overlook. It’s amazing how much Cash has changed since I started riding him. Granted  some of Cash’s “wideness” right now is probably a bit of fat but since he was  started under saddle he has gone from a narrow tree all the way to almost extra wide!

Horses change a lot when growing and even older horses have major muscular changes as they progress in training so it’s never a bad idea to have your saddle fit checked regularly!  When issues start arising that seem to be out of the blue it is always a great idea to have a professional saddle fitter come out and evaluate your saddle. It might be too wide and putting pressure over the wrong area, the gullet might be to small and pinching the spine and many many other possibilities.

Having an ill fitting saddle is like trying to run with the wrong size shoes. At first its bearable but after a while it hurts so much you just have to stop and take them off.

Horses try to tell us this in many ways. The most notable is when a horse bucks but many times a horse will show saddle fit issues in a much more subtle way. He’ll be tense over his back and won’t relax into the work or He will get girth-y when tacking up. Lack of forward movement is also a big indicator somethings just not fitting right, especially if it used to not be an issue. White hair starting to grow in around the withers area is also very common.

Now granted these aren’t all they signs and symptoms of poor saddle fit but they are some of the bigger ones.  It may cost a bit of money but it’s defiantly worth the cost to verify that your saddle isn’t the cause of your issues!

And since my saddles don’t fit any more guess I have a great excuse to go shopping! Muh hahahahahahahahahahahah!

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Training Plans

Well it has decided to rain/snow for two days now and while I love the weather and the ambiance it has swamped our arenas and soaked the pastures.  So what to do?? What to do????

I think it’s a great time to come up with training plans for the beasties! Now my training plans aren’t that detailed. Well at least not yet. Since both boys are getting back into training I make them very broad and very very flexible. The areas they need more work in will become apparent as we work.

So whats some of the things I plan out?  Well sometimes I plan out specific rides and sometimes I plan out a weekly progress. For me, the plans are more like a checklist and a guideline to make sure I’m not rushing my horses. Here is a sample of one of my plans for a session when I’m working on getting Cash going on the ground and in the saddle.

On the ground:

  1. Relaxation on the lunge line. The Cash is always a little full of energy when I take him out. He needs a few laps to get some bucks out, canter and snort before he’ll settle down and start listening. Once he’s listening I want him relaxed not tense and ready to run.
  2. Responding to voice commands. I want my horses listening to me. I want their transitions to be as quick but not rushed! When I say Whoa I want them to stop! Brakes are a must even on the ground.

In the saddle:

  1. Relaxation. If he’s tense and I can feel a hump under my saddle I know that he’s probably thinking about bucking or he’s unsure of whats going on. I usually will keep it to a walk or trot until he relaxes talking to him in a calm voice to keep myself and my horse calm. The more calm and relaxed I am the more relaxed and calm he will be.
  2. Basic transitions. Again just like ground work I want him to be listening to me. I want a quicker response without a lot of nagging and reputation. I’ll keep it to walk and trot and stop transitions. I want my horse to have brakes. If he’s not wanting to stop then we work on stop-walk a few strides-stop-walk a few strides before moving onto trot. I always always always want brakes! I can speed up anything thats too slow but should it all hit the fan I want to know my horse will stop when I tell him.
  3. Add in canter work. If he’s listening at the walk and trot then I’ll move onto trot and canter transitions always making sure he’s relaxed.

 

Now throughout a training plan I assess what else I need to do to keep the horses interested. Sometimes I’ll throw in ground poles. Especially if Cash seems really bored or reluctant to go forward. Ground poles peak his interest and keep him thinking.  If he’s having problems with any transitions I’ll work on that until he gives me a couple of good ones before moving on. If he gets to frustrated I’ll go back to something he is good at for a while before attempting whatever made him frustrated again.

I’m also not afraid to keep sessions short especially in the beginning. If I feel I’m nearing the end of Cash’s attention span or if he’s done just an outstanding job I have no objection to only a 20 minute season.

There’s no reason to keep a lesson going if the horse is understanding what you’re asking.  If they have accomplished what you wanted, or shown a great effort in learning the task, reward them for it.

I’m never afraid to change a training plan. Sometimes I have to take a huge step back and work on basics again if something was lost in translation as I’ve asked for more. Sometimes my plans for the horse just don’t fit how the horse learns and I have to re-think everything I’m doing to keep that horse engaged.  Each training plan I have is different for every horse.

Now if only this weather would stop this shenanigans or if a indoor arena would just sprout up around the ring that would be great!! But I guess I’ll just go grab another Cuppa and work on some more plans and maybe even pop in a movie to watch!

 

 

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Making Mistakes

Oh glorious days! I’m finally back with my beasties! Well Cash at least, as Jack is at the trainers for a few more weeks. It’s so good to be around family, friends, horses and lets not forget the old Koda dog too!

As Cash has had an extended vacation I didn’t want to ride him just yet. I always like to take a day or two to just get to know each other once again and let him get out any bucks and shenanigans he might be thinking about.

Today was the free jump day!  I always view free jumping as a play day. Yes they have to think about jumping and what they are doing but it’s more about the connection with my horses. They get to buck and squeal without getting in trouble. I get some exercise running up and down with them and over all it’s just a happy environment and of course treats for a good job.

One thing I do have to remember is not to over face my horse starting out. Cash hasn’t jumped in a long time (I did mention and extended vacation right?) and today I made the mistake of over facing him just a bit.

So what did I do? I used two cross-rails set so they were one stride apart. I made it so one jump was set up in a cross-rail and the other was just two poles on the ground so the first few times he jumped it he could just get an idea of what was going on. This is probably where I should have stopped.

But I put the second jump up to a very small cross rail and sent him back over it. I’ve mentioned before that Cash LOVES to jump but I didn’t take into account the very shiny white poles (Shiny poles/jumps can scare a horse and/or throw off their depth perception)  and that he’s had a bit of time off. Not to mention since he’s free jumping he can hit it at what ever speed he wants. Being that they were shiny white and he hit them at a fairly good clip I think he slightly scared himself. (See the video below to see how he jumped)

When I noticed Cash was a bit tense and didn’t want to go back over the jumps I realized my error. So I took a step back. I put a halter on him and showed him both jumps  by walking up to them and letting him look at them. Then at an easy trot/jog I lead him over the jumps one at a time until he was comfortable. Then I let him do it again by himself AlWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS praising after each attempt. It didn’t take more then three times before he was eagerly jumping them again.

I ended there on a high note where we were both happy and eager for more. I always believe on ending on a high note! If a horse always ends on a frustrated or bad note then the horse will have no motivation to continue working and it will always be a struggle.

The biggest thing with training horses is knowing when their confidence is shaken. Being an Eventer I always want to keep their confidence high. If they are confident, they won’t second guess themselves and will be much safer and bold cross country. If I see their confidence waver I will always do whats needed to rebuild it.

If I have to knock a jump down a notch or two, add a stride or change the speed I will. Then once he’s confidant there I’ll work back up to where I want them to be. If you make sure their confidence is high, you are also working on their trust. They will trust that what you are asking them to do won’t kill them and in order to have any sort of success weather it be on the trail or in the show ring trust is mandatory!

So my fellow horse enthusiast don’t be afraid to take a step back before you ask for a step forward. Don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake and take the correct actions to fix it! We are only human after all. Mistakes happen.

Build the horses confidence in himself, in yourself and in turn you’ll build a great trust and ensure a great partnership in anything and everything you want to do!

 

 

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Using Rider Fitness To Gauge Your horses Fitness( At Least In The Beginning)

I have been getting my butt kicked(quite literally and figuratively) in my training lately and it really prompted this post as I once again realized how much it matters as a rider to at least try to keep physically fit(and I defiantly gotta workout more!) . Said butt kicking is also why I haven’t been able to post much lately! Sorry about that! I’ll be back like normal very very soon!

Why should we as riders workout? Isn’t riding horses a workout in and of itself?  Well of course it is and it’s one of my favorite workout of all time but I think theres some really good reasons to hit the gym too!

The biggest motivation for me to workout, is to understand how my horse and his muscles feel as I ask him for more and to work just a tiny bit harder. Its easy to forget how tired and sore a horse can get when we aren’t the ones doing the exercise.

Have you ever been lazy and not worked out in a long time and then suddenly decided to go running? (oh yeah I have! More then once) Do you remember how hard it was to go for very long? Your legs start to burn and maybe cramp, breathing becomes a serious struggle and if you get a side ache you just want curl up and cry.  It’s not long before you’re tapped out and mostly just hurt to damn much to continue. Now try doing it with a 35 pound pack and see how far you’ll go. (It hurts oh dear god it hurts! I apparently just like to torture myself sometimes)

Your horse is no different, especially if they have been on a long break or stall confinement for any reason or are just learning to carry you. Horses won’t show that they are tired, at least not immediately. They will keep going until they physically can’t do any more. This makes knowing when you’ve worked them too much very hard to tell. This is also where you can use yourself as a reference. Would you want to have to do 45 minuets of intense workouts when you haven’t even thought about working out in 6 months? Why would you ask your horse to do that?

Now have you ever done a good strength workout and been so sore the next day you didn’t want to move? (oh yeah….still have those horrible days. It hurts so good…at least thats what I tell myself)

Lets not forget that our horses will also be sore the next day. They don’t limp or moan about it like we do unless something is really wrong or pulled. Its really good to give them some light easy work after a hard strenuous day to workout those sore muscles and just let them recover.I know I love my easy workout days!

Don’t let them just sit in a stall either as the lack of movement from standing in the stall won’t let the muscles stretch and can cause them to be even more sore the next day (Just like us!). Let them out to graze the pasture or take them on an easy trail ride.

Constantly working a horse hard will actually end up causing more harm then good. Will they adapt? Sure. Will they be happy about it…probably not but it does depend on the horse and what you’re asking.

The biggest reason not to always do hard sessions back to back is because injuries will become more prevalent. (Huh, weird. Just like people)

It is much easier to detect an injury in its early stages if the horse is given proper recovery time and is monitored well. Always checking the legs for any heat or swelling and watching the movements of the horse as they walk, trot and canter. Checking for any sore spots on the body, especially the back, is a necessity.

Would you wanna go do some barbell squats if your lower back hurt? Or run if your ankle is sore?

Horses will also be stronger on one side then the other. Making a horse supple and equal strength on both sides is something we always are trying to achieve. We as riders should strive for that in ourselves as well.

I bought a TRX so I could workout anywhere and it quickly became even more apparent that I’m extremely weak on my right side compared to my left. I can focus on building up my right side so I even myself out. If my muscles are balanced my aids will be much more effective and less confusing for the horse!

So while I believe its a great idea for us to workout just for the health benefits I think it helps keep in perspective what we are asking our horses to do and how much to push our horses especially in the beginning!

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Loving The Hobby Competitor!

My wonderful mare Shay and I at my first ever horse trial!
My wonderful mare Shay and I at my first ever horse trial at Spring Gulch, CO 

I will admit I have never been an avid competitor. I have always preferred training to competing. I love a fun competition from time to time but its not something I just HAVE to do.  I’ve considered myself more of a hobby competitor and thankfully I’m not alone!

Many of my friends are hobby riders who will probably never aspire to do anything over novice, if they compete at all. Most of them love just having fun and taking a weekend every now and then to see how they rank, or just some friendly competition against to get some bragging rights. I don’t look down at anyone who chooses not to compete or competes a few times a year A.K.A. The hobby Eventer. Heck I am one!

Eventing competitions, in the lower levels, is mostly comprised of the hobbyist Eventers. Very very few will ever go above the ranks of Training and into CCI/CIC * and above competitions. Many of us don’t have the money to do it, the right horses or the time to not only train a horse that high and time to travel for the competition. Most of us will dream about Rolex and happily sit back and watch the pro’s go at it.

I’ve also found competing at the lower levels to be much much less stressful then what I’ve seen at the higher arenas (Though I have yet to actually compete there). While you still have to braid, and spiff up all your clothes, make sure all those manure spots are cleaned out, and of course clean/oil the tack,   I think the scene is more about building confidence and having a good round then appeasing sponsors and owners. A groom and entire team is not necessary to keep every thing going, Though I wish I had one sometimes! We can and happily do it all our selves.

There will always be those people who are obsessed with winning a ribbon of the blue variety, but most of us seem to be happy that we made it out alive, our horses are sound and that we had a good time.

The Eventing community as a whole seems to be a very large family. It’s one of the few sports I’ve seen having no qualms helping someone out, especially someone you may be competing agains. We don’t seem to mind loaning a saddle pad to a complete stranger because the forgot theirs, asking if they’d like a sandwich and a glass of water on a hot day, or if they’d like us to dust their boots before they enter the ring. There is always support and encouragement when someone falls off or gets eliminated or just seem to be having a bad go of it.

This is the community I love and why I hope I can help and inspire future horse enthusiasts and lovers even if I never make it to the upper echelon and remain a hobby competitor!

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Mares Vs. Geldings

My mare Shay meeting her son Cash for the first time since he was weaned.
My mare Shay and her son Cash

Mare…gelding….mare…gelding….which one to choose? Which one is better?

Such a hard decision for many people!

Mares are reputed to be stubborn, opinionated and especially evil when they are in season. (Interesting the guys I work with say the same things about their wives and girlfriends!)

Geldings are reputed to be gentle, level headed and over all easier to handle. (These people have obviously never met Cash!! hahah)

This is a hotly debated topic throughout the horse world and I don’t foresee the end anytime in the next millennia. I must admit there is some truth to these reputations but sometimes people base too much on these reputations when looking for a good horse!

So what do I prefer?

I must say, even though I own two geldings, I actually much prefer mares. I think part of it is because I just feel a bit closer to them being female myself but the other part is being able to breed them should I choose to. I’m sure being raised riding mostly mares didn’t help my bias much either. Many of the mares I rode where great horses. Did they have their off days? Of course! Have they been excessively over bearing and over emotional? Not that I’ve noticed. I’ve met a mare like that and in fact my parents own one. Unless you’re my dad she tolerates you but she doesn’t like you. Though she happily does anything and everything my dad wants, if I asked for the same thing I’d get the attitude for sure! But the majority of mares I have ridden are very good and very responsive despite their hormone changes.

I must say my plunge into the gelding world was a bit of an accident.  I never meant to have only geldings to ride but sometimes that’s how things fall and I don’t have anything really negative to say about the geldings. They have been an interesting and new twist in my training program! Are they level headed and easier to handle? Jack maybe. Cash defiantly not!  But I have known geldings who are very much the ideal gelding. For me personally I don’t prefer that. I like a little spunk and spark with all my horses mare or gelding.  Are they easier to train and handle? I really can’t say that they are as a whole. For the most part I’ve met horse that were individually harder to figure out, but as per mare or gelding its been about the same.

Now the question is do I have an answer for the topic? 

Not one that I can plausibly say will be fool proof. I know what I prefer as a rider but I also know that each horse is special and my geldings might take me farther then I’ve ever been before.  So I must say it really is up to rider preference and what is available at the time!

I know, I know this probably didn’t help you at all but hopefully it gave you something to think about! 😀

Do any of you prefer mares to geldings? Why?

Let me know in a comment below!!

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Knowing When To Go To Plan B

Plan B

Have you ever had your heart set on something so badly and somewhere along the line realized that It was not gonna work out?

I have with several horses over the years. My most recent case has been my horse Cash.  Cash is the hardest horse to place. Will he make a great Eventer? I surely hope so, but I also know that not all his talents lie on the Eventing field. He absolutely LOVES show jumping! I think he loves the challenge that the jumps provide. He’s that kinda horse and he loves speed. He has very little patience so dressage is his worst subject. He’s learning to be brave on the cross country course but hasn’t quite conquered that either. He has the sweetest heart and will baby sit a beginner on a lounge lesson or play with a new born foal through the fence just to have fun.

I will continue to train him for all three disciplines but when is it time to throw in the white flag? I believe its when a horse obviously hates their job or has such low drive it’s extremely hard to work them through a particular area. I’m not talking about the lazy horse. I mean the horse that you look at it becomes lifeless when you work. Theres no presence or excitement. Theres no happiness. They do it because they have to and theres no other choice. (Or in Cash’s case he’ll probably put his hoof down and adamantly refuse or fight about it. He’s an opinionated sort!)

I mean really, who wants to stay in a job they hate? If it turns out he just doesn’t like the other two aspects of eventing I have no problem showing him as a jumper.  Thankfully we are not currently at the point where eventing becomes more hassle then its worth with him, and he may come to love it. Sometimes though its better to decide when enough is enough and change plans.

I’m in to horses for their companionship. Yes I compete (albeit not as much as I probably should) But thats not what I’m in it for. I want my horses to be happy. When my horses are happy I am happy. Training horses is a individual challenge for me to bring the full potential of each horse out, and finding what truly makes them tick! If it turned out that Cash just loved to walk down the trail then walk down the trail we would!

Horses are as much individuals as we are. Sometimes what we think they will excel at turns out to be the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter if the horse has perfect conformation and sits 16 hh. If the horse has no drive or heart for his job it will just be a constant heartache and headache for the rider, the trainer and especially the horse. When a horse has heart, it doesn’t matter if their conformation isn’t perfect or how tall they are or even what breed. Heart can make up for qualities lacking in other areas!

If you’ve seen a horse that absolutely loves his/her job then you know what I’m talking about. They have this presence about them, a twinkle in their eye and a set to their ears that just lets you know that they can’t wait to do it all over again. To ride a horse like that is truly intoxicating. Theres nothing more enjoyable in the world!

Sometimes we have to enact Plan B and I really do think everyone should have one. It’s not fair to the horse just to throw it away because it didn’t follow our plans, and sadly I have seen it done. If worse comes to worse try to re-home the horse to a good home and not throw it on the auction block! The horse deserves that much!

Don’t be afraid of a Plan B or to even try something new with your horse. Ya never know both you and the horse might have a blast!

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Side Reins

Side reins

This is a tool that has been used for many many years especially in the english world. I myself have used them on several horses. It wasn’t until recently when I compared my young horse Jack to some of the other horses I had worked that I kinda had an epiphany.

What are the side reins supposed to teach a horse?

The side reins are to teach a horse to work more correctly over the top line and to keep the horse relaxed and moving forward happily while accepting the contact of the bit.

What does the side rein usually teach the horse in its most common uses?

Now when most people use side reins they adjust the side reins to short, which is very easy to do I might add. (I’ve done it myself!) Side reins should be adjusted where the head is straight out from the shoulders, and slightly forward of perpendicular to the ground while standing. But many times they are shortened so we see the nice curve in the horses neck of an “ideal” headset.

Now even proper use can cause the following: with young horses and very nervous horses, especially, they will often duck their head behind the vertical or will learn to lean on the bit.

Why does the horse learn to do this?

The side reins have no real give. Even the ones with elastic and the rubber donuts. The horse has to lean on them to extend his head in anything other then a trot. When walking and cantering the horses head naturally moves in a more in and out motion. When a horse attempts to do this with side reins on they will hit the end of the side reins and cause a jerking and painful motion on their mouth.

To combat this, they either duck they head behind the bit to avoid hitting the bit or they learn to lean on the bit  so there is no loosening of the reins. Both situations effectively create a horse with a “hard” mouth. They are already pre conditioned to ignore a lot of the signals from the hands.

Another reason the horse might duck behind or lean on the bit is purely exhaustion. Especially with young or inexperienced horses, they can’t hold the positions we put them in for long. It’s common to unconsciously work the horse longer then their muscles can handle. Horses aren’t like people that will let you know the exact moment they are tired. They will go as long as they can physically handle and even then some. The more tired they get the more they will lean, or the more they will lower and duck their head.

What actually transfers over?

This is a big one for me! When riding in the saddle our reins, and subsequently the contact with the horses mouth are at a completely different angle then the side reins. Because of the change in angle horses won’t correlate between what happened on the side reins to what you’re doing in the saddle. You are sending completely new signals even if you don’t think you are. This is all new sensory input with any horse. Eventually they will learn to listen to the hand, but it can make things much harder if the horse already has learned to ignore any signals.

I’ve seen horses ridden with side reins. While this is a style used to help the horse learn, I don’t recommend it. For me there are way to many bad things that could happen, the worse is when a horse panics. They can easily flip themselves over trying to fight the side reins (this can happen on the ground as well but more likely with a rider) because they feel trapped.

Now am I saying never use side reins?

Absolutely not. I think any training aid can be helpful in the right situation with the right horse BUT I see the side reins misused way more then I see it used correctly (myself included when I first started using them) It’s easy to rush a horse in their frames and balance with side reins (like draw reins but thats another topic for another day!) so you are getting a false frame and a horse that is being ridden from front to back instead of back to front.

Do I use side reins now?

I have a pair in my tack room incase I have a horse I think will benefit from them but I have retired my use with my own horses.  I find my horses respond better to lungeing and to my rein aids when they haven’t been used.

When training horses the biggest thing to remember is to take our time!  Patience is a necessity, at least if you want them taught correctly and you want your horses to last many many happy years!

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A Wee Bit of Sports History

 

The famous Army bred, 15.3 hh eventing mare Jenny Camp. One of only three horses to win individual medals at consecutive Olympics
The famous Army bred, 15.3 hh eventing mare Jenny Camp. One of only three horses to win individual medals at consecutive Olympics

So while I slowly await the end of my class and the day I will be reunited with my horses I have a chance to sit back and reflect on where our individual sports have come from and how they have changed throughout time. So I thought I’d share with you some fun information I have learned (just a tad bit mind you)!

Dressage: Literally means training  in French. It was started in its earliest known documented form in Ancient Greece which we know from books written by the ancient Greek Xenophon (some of his books are still available today) and presumably long before him. It was originally used to teach and demonstrate a horses ability to preform maneuvers that could potentially save the rider in battle. Each movement was meant to maneuver the rider to better attack the enemy or evade the enemies weapons. It appears to have been highly effective through the many ages and empires until the Medieval times when armored knights and armored horses took center stage. Dressage made its comeback in the Renaissance and evolved from the battle field to the sports arena with the appearance of the mechanized militaries around the world.

Show Jumping: Even though the beginnings of show jumping are not known it has been a world sport since the 1900’s. Show jumping has become one of the most widely known and watched equestrian sports a crossed every continent. (My guess to its origins: someone, somewhere said “Hey my horse can jump higher and more jumps, faster then yours!)

Eventing: Originally designed by the cavalry to test their mounts.  Dressage was used to test their maneuverability and responsiveness. Cross country tested their endurance and courage and show jumping tested their agility and precision! It eventually evolved from a test into competition. If you go back and look at the videos of the earliest olympics you will see military men competing. (Proof in the image above!) It was originally for the military only on military mounts. As the cavalry slowly faded out of use, it was opened, gradually, to the everyday man and eventually to women. Eventing used to be exclusively run on the classic format (Roads and tracks, steeple chase and cross country) but eventually cut down the course to just cross country (a still hotly debated topic) into the style we know of today. In the U.S. some courses still do a “Classic” format so it has not completely left the scene yet!(which I would LOVE to do….just saying)

Reining/Roping/Cutting: These sports hold their roots in the good old American west! Horses had to be quick and agile while also being able to work long days as they herded cattle crossed the US. As the age of the cowboy came to a close a crossed much of the United States these sports, along with rodeo’s, have kept the western life thriving and has even taken off around the world!

I hope you have found something interesting here today. I think it’s great to research where our sports have come from. When you know why and how something was originally used, it seems to make it easier to understand(at least for me). There are quite a few references about each sport and I have listed several of the main websites if your interested in their history as well as their modern applications. I wish I could list all the wonderful books I have read (a project for another day!) But just know that there are many, spanning back hundreds if not thousands of years (Think Xenophon!)

If you have any questions or would like some reading recommendation please feel free to shoot me a message or post below! 😀

 

Some links if you’re interested:

www.fei.org

www.usef.org

www.usdf.org

www.nchacutting.com

 

 

Also if you would like to read the works of Xenophon you can get a kindle version of it for free on amazon HERE.  Its not the best version but its free so who can complain? If you want a more updated and recently translated version check out THIS BOOK. Its not free unless you have kindle unlimited.

(The links are a bit hard to see but if you scroll over the words you’ll see the link. I’m still working this little gremlin out!)

 

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To Send My Horse Out For Training Or Not….

It was relatively recently that I had to decide whether or not to send my horse, Jack, out to another trainer. This was a big struggle for me! I think I’m a competent trainer. I by no means know everything but this was a topic that was a bit sensitive for me.

Jack is literally just beginning his career as he is now three. Now I REALLY REALLY wanted to be the one to ride his first ride. But those first few rides can be really rocky. By rocky I mean full of bucks, rears and various arial feats trying to dislodge you from their back.

I had to sit down and ask myself if I could handle that. I had a pretty serious back injury a few years ago. It’s an injury that has never fully healed (I swear I listened to the doctors advice! all of it…uh huh…right) and I had to ask myself if I could handle the possible rodeo that could happen.Of course my argument with myself went something like this:

“You bet I can!!! Hes a great horse!!!”

“Nope not a good idea…what if I get hurt again?”

“Nah It’ll never happen!”

“I don’t bounce like I used to”

“Thats why your using a western saddle to start!”

“But that ground is really hard these days!”

It was about a solid month of me debating with myself like this!

I finally admitted to myself that putting him in training with another trainer was a good idea. All young horses can and will be unpredictable, like any horse, at any age, really depending on the situation, and it would be best if I didn’t re-injure myself trying to boost my ego. So off he went!

He is now in his second month of training. I must admit I have been fiercely jealous many times with the wonderful updates I’ve been given! So far there has been no grand rodeos under saddle (knock on wood! throw some salt over your shoulder and what ever other superstition you can think of!)  and he has really minded his manners. He has made me so proud to be his owner and my family his breeder!

The timing has worked out that he’s getting his basics down and when I get back home, I’ll have time to ride and generally just get to know Jack again before we make the big move to Washington.

For many people its not as complicated of a situation! Sometimes its just whether or not it’s time for a change. Sometimes we can outgrow our current instructors capabilities or our ideals and our trainers come to a cross roads. Other times it’s just looking for a fresh perspective or what we are thinking of training is just outside our scope of knowledge.

There is nothing wrong with seeking a new trainer, or sending out a horse for training!  Just make sure that you and your new trainer have the same ideals in mind. Don’t be afraid to watch their lessons, and make sure you’re always welcome to come see your horse.

Lizabeth Latham has been fantastic in posting videos of Jack as he’s progressed through training from walking on and near a scary tarp to being sat on for the first time and now conquering the trot. She has allowed my mom to come over at watch her sessions since I am currently in a different state.  As you can tell from the video of the  ride below, she’s done a wonderful job of instilling confidence and trust in Jack. She keeps every thing calm and you can really see Jack figuring everything out! He’s just learning to trot with a rider and I can’t wait to see how he progress these next few weeks!

 

 

Thanks Lizabeth for all the great work your doing with him!!!

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Pedigree vs No Pedigree

pedigree

I had a friend recently come up to me asking me whether or not she should buy a horse with a pedigree or one that she really liked but had no papers at all. I thought I’d share my points of view on pedigrees for everyone in case some of you are also debating this.

In the world of horses, the pedigree of a horse seems to be mandatory when buying and selling these days. There is a good reasoning for this. If it’s a mare, or stallion, the progeny can be marketed and that famous dam or sire’s line can be flaunted even with foals many generations down the line (Think Three bars, Secretariat, and Ferro) It makes marketing the foal so much easier. You can also do studies with bloodlines to see which bloodlines are doing the best, or which bloodlines work well in specific areas (cutting vs trail, Dressage vs jumpers and so on) But with these blood lines usually comes a hefty price! The “better” (more famous) the horses in the pedigree, the higher the price tag!

What about the amateur rider looking for a horse?  Many of us, or the parents providing for their kids, don’t have a ton of money to throw around. That $30k dollar warmblood is just a dream. Don’t discount that horse with no pedigree or one with a pedigree thats not very remarkable! It may not be as fancy to talk about but sometimes these are the horses that end up being some of the best horses we can ask for, especially as we learn and grow. As an added bonus they are usually much nicer to the pocket book! Just because they don’t have an amazing pedigree doesn’t mean they are any less of a horse.

One of my favorite sayings I learned from my dad:

“It doesn’t matter what’s on the papers.

It’s what’s between the ears that counts.

I don’t ride the papers!” ~J.D. Bakke

The two best horses I have ever ridden were a grade horse named Miles and my wonderful (though unremarkably pedigreed) mare Shay.

Miles was my dads horse and he always said “When I got him he needed lots of miles, now he’s got lots of miles, so Miles is just a great name for him” This horse hauled me and my brother around and never put a hoof wrong.  He was a grade quarter horse. No papers to speak of but he was the kindest and calmest horse on the property. He would jump any jump, go down the trail, let us dress him up and even throw him in a parade without batting an eye. He was absolutely wonderful! And he tolerated all my blunders as I grew. Even the terror of my first cross country ride.I broke down n tears at one point… oh yes… and he just waited patiently until I had gathered my courage and continued on!

Shay was (and always will be) my best friend growing up. While she had papers there was nothing special about them. She hauled my butt around cross country and stadium courses, and suffered through dressage and gleefully went down the trail or up a mountain. I dressed her up for halloween and even shaved funny patterns in her coat. She taught me to be humble but confident. I never competed over novice with her but that was due to my own fears not her willingness to try (and eventually arthritis once I was ready)! She was my shoulder to cry own, and my comfort when I moved away from home (she went with me!) and finally she gave me Cash!

One of my acquaintances in California successfully competed a standardbred cross that had no papers at all. He was started late, and was picked up for the back board that was owed on him. He was a brave horse that would try his heart out for her! He just happened to be the back yard “oops” that caught her eye and turned into a dream! (He’s still going well last I heard)

These stories aren’t here to make you go out and get a grade horse. If you can find a well pedigreed horse that fits your budget and passes the vet check and your personalities match then by all means write that check! But don’t let the appeal of a well pedigreed horse make you over look the grade horse right in front of you, that is actually a better match for you.

Who wants to ride a horse with an amazing pedigree but every time you get on you wanna shoot it?

Registration papers are the absolute LAST thing I look at. Anyways this is my two cents on just one tiny aspect of buying a horse! More posts are in the works on what I look at when buying, or helping a friend buy, a horse.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns just shoot me a message or post below!

 

( image by ROCKCREEKRANCH )

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Time To Party!!!

WOO HOO!!!!!

CRANK THOSE TUNES!!!!!

*satisfied sigh*

Now time to sit down with a cuppa coffee/tea/alcohol (depending on my mood), my little stuffed horse (oh yes this pony’s been with me everywhere…seriously I’m not joking!!) and catch up on some reading!

WHAT?!?!

You expected crazy parties with alcohol induced coma’s and fancy clothes?

Bah hahahaha You make me laugh!

I have 2 horses to support!  I’m lucky if I have enough free time as it is. Even when I’m away from my beasties!

So yes I’m the non-clubbing type, but thats how I like it. Besides I get some great ideas(and relaxation)  just sitting down and reading some good books!

A small sampling of books from my list to read/finish reading:

Workbooks from the Spanish School by Charles Harris

Dressage 101 By Jane Savoie

Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists by: Paul McGreevy BVSc PhD

Biomechanics and Physical Training of the Horse by: Jean-Marie Denoix

I do plan on doing some book reviews…. eventually… as I finish these books. Though to be fair it might take me a bit to get through them so please don’t hold your breath to long!

I mean really there’s only so many hours in the day and I do have to sleep sometime though I must say sleep is highly over rated! Its what coffee/caffeinated products are for!!!  (Besides what horse woman isn’t chronically sleep deprived?? Please introduce me to her if she’s real!!)

 

party time

(My glorious set up for now! muh hahahaha)

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Overcoming Fear Of My Own Horse

Have you ever been scared of your horse? Not the “oh please don’t step on my toes while wearing something other then boots” scared. I mean truly scared bordering on terrified of your horse?

I have. Yup…you heard that right…I have literally been on the boarder of scared and terrified of my own horse. Its not a fun place to be.

For me it was an utter loss of confidence in myself as a rider after a really bad fall off my, at the time 3 year old, Cash. I was slightly nervous to start. He was young, and easily excitable and there was another rider in the ring. We were working on some easy trot and canter transitions when the other rider in the ring decided to pass us.

Cash, being young, wanted to race the horse that had just passed him. He wanted to play. When he went to go after the horse I told him no (and probably used to much bit pressure) and Cash started bucking. Boy oh boy can that horse buck! I managed to stay on two or three really good bucks before the final one caused me to slide over the pommel of the saddle and onto his shoulders. It felt like ages as I saw the ground coming towards me. I attempted to tuck and roll but I landed horribly wrong.  Cash took off for a lap around the ring while I curled up and tried to make sure everything was still intact. Thankfully I always wear a helmet with him so my head was fine. After a quick inventory everything else seemed to be in order. Adrenaline was pumping and I was a little shaken but not to badly.

The other rider had caught Cash and with shaky legs I got back on.  I didn’t ride long. Everything already hurt so with a quick few circles and a little trot I ended it on a good note. I carefully untacked him and put him away. I thought I was fine. I really truly did. I have fallen off many times in a variety of untimely dismounts but had never gotten seriously injured. I went home, took some pain meds and a hot shower and called it a night.

It wasn’t until two days after my fall that I found out just how badly I had hurt myself. I went to go to work, and bent over to pick up a backpack when my entire back spasmed and I couldn’t move the pain was so bad. I was taken to the hospital by a good friend where after X-rays I found out I had slipped a disk and twisted a vertebra in my lower back due to the impact from how I had landed.  It was months before I could walk well, much less ride again. As I got better my fear of riding got worse.

When I was finally able to ride I became terrified to go any faster then a trot. I was scared that I was gonna fall again and re injure myself.  I had lost every bit of confidence I had in not only myself but in my horse. Cash knew of my fear, I can guarantee it, and those moments I rode him he really did try his hardest to be good. Being so young he was a super star with me. Which naturally made me feel even worse about being scared to ride him. Working with him on the ground great. I loved playing with with him and working on the moments like turn on the forehand and haunches. Even free jumping him! If only I wasn’t scared to get in the saddle!

Then I had to leave the state for work so my horses went back to my parents ranch. Obviously I love horses, even if I was scared to ride, it didn’t take long for me to find a place near my job where I could take an occasional lesson. I will forever be grateful of those lessons. Slowly, as my riding muscles got stronger, and the lessons pushed my comfort zone, I began re-gaining my confidence.

It wasn’t until I began jumping with my lesson horse that I finally regained all the confidence and then some, that I had lost from the fall. With being confident in myself I was able to trust Cash and our partnership was reformed. But it wasn’t an over night thing. It took me nearly a year to regain all my confidence and trust my horse 100% again.

There is nothing wrong with being scared. Its a natural reaction to situations we cannot control (and we humans love our control!) But everyone will come to a point in their riding career where their confidence is shaken. Some will choose to push through and carry on. Others will hang up their boots and move on to something else, leaving horses as a fond memory. There is nothing wrong with either approach if thats the right thing for you. But don’t let go of something you truly love deep down in your soul because of fear! Some of our greatest accomplishments are over coming our fears no matter how small they look from the outside.

I’m not scared to admit I feared my own horse. It was a huge learning curve for me but one I am glad I had because if I can overcome my own fear then I can overcome anything anyone else puts in my path!

Have you overcome any of your fears? are you still working on it?

Let me know in a comment below!

 

spirit jumping

(Now I just feel like this every time I think about what I’ve overcome! whoohooooo)

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How Training Dogs And Horses is Surprisingly Similar!

Koda

(This is a bit lengthy so I shall warn you: Grab that coffee or beverage of choice and a bathroom break before you start!)

Dogs and horses are on different ends of the food chain. Horses are prey and Dogs are predators and yet despite these differences training them is not so different from the other.

One of the biggest training issues I have noticed, and I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, is how our emotions really play a vital role in training. Animals are keenly aware of body language and what your temperament is just by looking at you and judging your posture. How your animal perceives your mood will influence how they work for you. Now dogs and horses body language, and how they understand it,  is different in the finer aspects but similar in the big picture.  To see the difference and similarities try the following:

We will start with horses. Stand near your horse, cock a leg and take deep breaths. You’ll notice your horse relax, lower his head and possibly start to dose and/or even mossy over and nuzzle you. You’re giving him the “everything is alright. It’s time to relax” signal.

Now take that same horse walk towards him with long/quick strides, your shoulders back and squared and stare at him as you close the distance to him, even bare your teeth a bit. Your body language is saying “You’re in my way MOVE!!” You’ll either get the submissive horse who who moves away from you, sometimes rather quickly or the alpha horse that pins his ears and threatens to kick saying “NO! You back off!”

With dogs you can repeat the same exercise. When near your dog, relax your shoulders, cock a hip and don’t stare at your dog and don’t react if he comes near. Your telling the dog that “I’m chilling out,” and its ok for him to come close and greet you and your dog might even try to initiate playing.

Now Square your shoulders and walk toward him with quick/long strides while looking him in the eyes and bare your teeth a bit. This signals to the dog that “I’m boss!” and a few things might happen. Either the dog will not hold your gaze, droop his ears, hunker down, tuck his tail a bit, and turn sideways to you(at least a little bit), sometimes even laying down in complete submission, or will shy away from you. This is the submissive dog signaling “you’re boss. I didn’t mean to offend”. Or you’ll get “oh no you didn’t! I’m boss” and the dog will puff up, hold your gaze, lift his lip, continue to watch you and if you continue forward the dog will most likely attack. Don’t always expect a dog to growl and bark. The more confident the dog the quieter he will be.

In both instances the dogs and horses will respond to your more relaxed or aggressive stances.  Which would you be more responsive to: The instructor that is calm, relaxed and takes a mistake in stride or the instructor that is breathing down you neck with his hands balled into fists just waiting to yell at you, the instant you make a mistake? (Calm all the way for me if I do say so! and I’ve had plenty of experience with both kinds of bosses!)

The same similarities with body language is also true for how they react to training in a positive enforcement training session. Positive enforcement meaning the animal is given positive reenforcement, the treat and/or praise, for doing something correctly and the incorrect response is ignored/not reacted to.  The animals specific reactions might be a bit different depending on the stimuli but with the basics of how they learn is not so different.

Now granted you will never ride a dog (Unless you’re a kid of course. How I miss those days!) but when you teach a dog the basic commands, like “down” for instance, you typically use a reward, either food or a toy, to let them know exactly when they did something right and a high praise voice saying “oh good boy/girl!!” and lots of petting to reenforce the reward.

When first starting to teach “down,  you may say “down” and the dog thinks about laying down, that little lean forwards but no actual movement to the down. You give the dog the reward for the effort in the right direction. Next time you give them the word “down” and give him just a little pressure behind the shoulders repeat “down” and give him the reward when he starts to go down, and you repeat the process, progressing until the dog correlates the word “down” with putting his elbows on the ground. Once he knows this he won’t get the reward unless he does it correctly.

How different is this from horses? When working on the ground and teaching a horse something for the first time, like turn on the forehand, it’s not very different. You put your hand behind the girth roughly where your heel would be to cue from the saddle. You put pressure on the horses side and when the horse leans or shifts its weight, you praise and give a treat and usually say “good boy/girl” in a happy but calm voice and pat or stroke the horse to reinforce the reward.  The process will repeat until the horse easily moves his haunches away when given slight pressure in the same spot. Then you do it all over again from the other side and from the saddle until he knows whats expected every time. Then the reward isn’t given until he does it 100% correctly.

Notice in the beginning phases it’s kept as positive as possible. No negative consequences such as smacking, yanking, yelling or anything seen as a bad consequence for an action. There is a time and place for bad consequences but it should definitely not be when they are learning a new task. (No angry fire breathing bosses!)

To go with positive reinforcement you MUST be consistent! Ask the same way every time, progressively reward for all attempts until the task is known. Once the task is known reward after every correct completion of the task especially at the beginning. Once the task 100% known by the animal, then you can start using a more varied reward to keep the animals attention.

All animals(OK of the four-legged domesticated mammalian type that I’ve worked with) are very similar in how they respond to us. As long as we are the consistent ones, the animals will try to please. Of course you will have those master manipulators (My horse Cash for sure!)  who will try to be lazy and still get their reward without putting forth full effort, but if the training environment is kept positive and reliable, it just blows me away how quickly they can learn and are willing try to please(Alright I’ll say 99.9% since theres always that one exception). This willingness and from knowing they are rewarded instead of punished really seems to make it so they enjoy their job. And isn’t that what we are all after?

So now that I’ve potentially bored you to death or confused the living daylights out of you I will let you finish your coffee and what ever delicious morsels you are eating in peace!

Oh and before I go…Have you noticed any similarities in training crossed species? Is there any particular training methods that work best for you ( I always love learning new techniques!!!)

 

Questions? Comments? Concerns?? Shoot me a message or comment below!

(If anyone was wondering who the adorable puppy dog is in the picture its my good old Aussie Koda)

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When The Problem Isn’t the Horse

A lot of the time a problem stems from the rider! This is one of the things a lot of us, as riders, seem to overlook. It becomes so easy to think that the horse isn’t listening or that they just refuse to do what we want them to when in all reality its not the horse at all.

This was a concept that kind of hit me upside the head one day. I was riding a lovely TB named Monti, and I was having problems keeping him straight, down the left side of the ring. He kept drifting in towards the center. I would ask him to move back to the rail and he would, but before long we were drifting in again. Now he was an inexperienced horse. He was started late (around 5 if I remember right) and he had only been going a solid 6 months or so, so I just chalked it up being a bit unbalanced.

Later that week, I had a lesson on their mare Tess, a beautiful Friesian mare. Wouldn’t ya know it, going to the right she would drift to the rail sometimes to the point where my knee would meet the stone fence (talk about rough on the pants and my knee).

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized my horse Cash always drifted in towards the center of the ring when going to the left.  Just like Monti. Thats when it hit me. There was no way 3 different horses were having relatively the same problems. The problem was not the horses balance and education…it was mine!  Thats where I began really focusing on not only my horse but myself! Its a struggle every day but ya know what? I see improvements all the time! Eventually it will all become muscle memory!

Why is it so easy to blame the horse and forget probably one of the biggest factors the RIDER?  Horses are remarkably balanced and agile by themselves. Watch a horse being Long Lined (The Spanish School of Riding does some awesome demos) or even just good old lunging. The horse easily preforms the maneuvers. Now add a rider to the equation and it’s ALOT more work for the horse. Make that rider unbalanced and it becomes nearly impossible for the horse to elegantly preform any tasks.
(if you want to try how it feels to add a “rider” do a few exercises then throw on a 35-50 pound back pack and try to repeat the same exercises. Then once your good at that try with an unbalanced “rider”.  Have a friend behind you as you redo the maneuvers and have them randomly push or pull on one side or another…. not nearly as easy if not impossible to complete the maneuvers isn’t it?)
We are the biggest obstacle a horse has to over come. Horses are very willing and forgiving animals. They will try their hardest to do what they are ask (ok 9 times out of 10) but if we are unknowingly impeding them, then we are punishing them for doing what we ask and then punished twice as much if they can not do it and we get frustrated and ask more and more forcefully.

As a Equestrian, if a problem is recurring or there is no progress don’t be afraid of sitting down and evaluate yourself as a rider. Ask a friend or trainer. A lot of times its easier to see from the ground…better yet to start getting an eye for it by videotaping  your rides!

Don’t be afraid to admit that you might be the problem and work to fix it. After all we are only human. Its only fair to evaluate ourselves as well as our horses!

What was the biggest thing you found impeding you and your horses progress?

P.S. Check out my article on why riding more then one horse is a good idea as I feel it ties right into this baby!