Did you ever wonder why a horse responds perfectly, or close to it, for one person and not another? It’s all in the way they ask.

When I’m teaching the young riders, I will say, “Ask the horse to ___________.” You can fill that in with walk, stop, trot, or canter. And the rider will usually respond with the aids I have taught and the verbal command. But, a funny thing happens as they are learning. The horse sometimes does what she is asked, and sometimes doesn’t. So I coach the rider on how they are giving the cues and how they are sitting on the horse. But then, I hear the parent coach – you didn’t say it LOUD enough. So, the lesson progresses from trot to TROT! Wrong!

Now, you will hear me say to a rider to repeat the command so the horse can hear it. Often, in one of my therapeutic classes where we are working a speaking as well as riding. But never in one of my regular riding classes.

Ears_forward_listening_3cThink about it. The horse’s hearing is very unique. Did you ever watch her ears? One ear will swivel, then the other. They are very sensitive to sound. After all they are prey animals and they need to hear if a predator is nearby. They can hear a wider frequency of sounds – like the ultrasonic squeaks of a bat. They can also hear a greater distance. It is estimated that horses can hear another horse 3 MILES away!

So why the need to shout at your horse when you want her to move?

Horse respond readily best to low, confident tones but not high pitch shrills. They also respond to the “way” the command is given. When we want the horse to go faster, we make our voice go up. When we want the horse to go slower, we keep the tone low and drawn out. Even a simple command like “walk” can be said too different ways. Walk! Said quickly with the voice going up in pitch is very different from waaaaalk, with the voice dragging the word out and the pitch going down.

Now, look at your body when you say these words. With a quick “walk” not only does your pitch go up, but so does your entire upper torso. And that’s the language your horse is responding to. Drag out the word “walk” and your body sinks down as well.

So the next time you ask your horse to do something, think – am I asking my horse with my whole body or am I yelling at my horse and expecting her to listen.

Your horse will thank you for the softer voice and the louder body language.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.


linda:

This so reflects our barn and lesson horses…

Originally posted on The Poor Amateur's Almanac:

Before riders are jumping 3’6″ and riding Prix de St-Georges, before they are working horses that cost a year at Yale, before they are showing for weeks in Florida and New York and California, equestrians must ride a lesson horse. Every single horseback rider on the face of this earth has that one pony ride, that one led ride around an arena or on a hot walker or through a pasture that hooked them on this sport. Every rider can attest their passion for riding to that one old horse who had the patience of a saint and carried children as though they were faberge eggs.

Riders competing at the top level can turn horses with their legs and their seat. They can ask a horse to extend their canter stride to fourteen feet and collect it down to nine. They can lift the horse into a proper frame so…

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Copper Boy_Sean gets mail 520If I had a dollar for every time one of our students was surprised that the lesson was over, our horses would never be out of carrots!

Especially with the therapeutic riders, I try to keep the same rhythm or structure for every lesson: groom, lead, warm-up, lesson, game and cool-down.

Now, admittedly, there are very few times that I’ve had an over-heated horse at the end of a class, but, the cool-down is as important as the warm-up for both the horses and the riders.

It gives them both a time to relax and get ready to complete the class. Most of the time we end the class with a game. It could be a ring-toss, bean-bag throw, scavenger hunt, or just a stop/start game like red-light, green-light.

Why games?

When I took lessons, our cool-down was just walking the horse. In circles, or down the path after cantering around the field. Five or ten minutes of slowing down and, if we were really running the horses, cooling them off. Boring!

Games, to me, is when everything comes together. It gives the rider a chance to relax after learning and practicing a new skill. Gives the horse time to regroup before the next riders come in. But, more importantly, it distracts the rider from the task of riding.

This is not counter-productive. This is often when everything comes together for the rider.

The game is now the focus, not the horse, not the skill. Even if the game practices the new skill, it is still not the same as the “lesson” itself.

Horse-rider skills

So one week I notice that the riders are having a hard time stopping their horses. Another time, the riders need to work on keeping their horses going straight. It’s game time! Nothing like ending with red-light/green light to get the riders to focus on stopping their horse. And yes, there is a three-step backward penalty if you can’t stop your horse! Funny thing, every rider can stop their horse within two steps of the call. A relay-type game of taking an object to the other end of the arena and returning is great for practicing keeping the horse on a straight line. The focus is on the target, not the skill.

Rider self-improvement

The riders improve their hand-eye coordination with a ring or bean bag toss game. Not to mention motor skills when they pick up an object and move it to another part of the arena. One of the attributes we look for in a rider is fluidity. Can the rider move one part of the body without moving the rest of the body, or move the body in a manner that would cause the rider to loose balance? We teach this with games where they have to grab something like a flag without stopping the horse and placing it in the target area.

So, in a sense, it’s all fun and games, and the lesson is over quickly. And the rider is gaining skills without even realizing the learning that is happening!

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.


Horses eating hay

Keep your horse well fed during the winter.

It’s almost here again and we look into the barn and wonder if we have enough hay to last our animals.

How do you figure out how much hay you need? Do you track how many bales you used from year to year? What if you increase or decrease your herd? Did you switch your hay supplier? Are the bales heavier or (gasp!) lighter than the previous years?

Depending on the age and activity level of your horse, he will consume between 1.5% and 2.5% of his weight in hay/grain.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say our horse weighs 1,000 pounds and is lightly worked, even in the winter. So, that horse would eat about 2% of his weight or 20 pounds of hay/grain every day. If your hay bales average 40 pounds, you would feed this horse a ½ bale of hay a day. We are making the assumption that the horse is not getting any grain. The amount of hay would, of course, be decreased based on the amount of grain fed daily.

Now the question is, is your horse on hay all year or do you pasture you horse during the warmer months. This is critical in figuring out how much hay you will need.

If you feed hay all year, and you feed a half bale a day, you would need 183 bales of hay per horse. However, this does not take into account cold winters nor other factors like wind chill or the winter coat your horse may or may not have.

Using 400 as a base temperature, we would add about one pound of hay for every 10 degrees below this base temperature. So at 300, you may want to add one or two pounds of hay, depending on the winter coat. But, if it’s raining, you may need to add three to six pounds of hay and if the wind is at 10 to 15 miles per hour, you might want to think about adding 10 to 14 pounds of hay!

So now, how do you figure out how much hay you really need?

Since we have determined that a 1,000 pound horse would need 183 bales of hay if the horse was not on pasture, we now need to calculate how many days of cold our region has. Again, to make the math simple, let’s say we could have 100 days of temps at or below 300. Of those days, 30 would be at or below 00.

Coat 70 days at 300 – 00 30 days below 00 Total pounds
Heavy 70 x 3 pounds = 210 pounds 30 x 8 pounds = 240 pounds 450 pounds = 11.25 bales
Light 70 x 6 pounds = 420 pounds 30 x 14 pounds = 420 pounds 840 pounds = 21 bales

If your horses are stalled and out of the elements, you may be able to give them less hay, but, always do a check of your horse’s weight during the harsh winter months. Winter coat can be deceiving, so feel for your horse’s ribs as well as a visual inspection to see how he is wintering.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.


linda:

And the more twists and turns, but sweeter the success.

Originally posted on outoftheboxstall:

I bought a Reining horse this summer. After 35 plus years of All-Around events, Showmanship and the like, I bought a Reining horse. I was looking for something new, something different, and something that I would have to learn more or less from scratch. Fortunately, I have great help about an hour away, so weekly lessons were on the schedule for much of the summer (which may be why I didn’t have time to write a blog post. Or not.)
Anyway, on the way to one of these lessons, Virginia (the Reining horse) and I were traveling through a small town and suddenly came upon a detour. But not just any detour…the Mother of all Detours. Before it was all over I went in several circles, changed directions a few times, and wound up…you guessed it, right back where I started. For a minute it felt like this detour was…

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Buttercup_Becca_framedThere’s an old horseperson’s saying that goes, “Every time you do something with your horse, you are training him.”

So, how does this fit in with a riding lesson where you are the student, you have an instructor who is coaching you and you are on a horse.

The Instructor

Your riding instructor should know the horse you are riding. If not, the instructor should know how horses react to different cues. Horses don’t have push buttons, although some would disagree with me. But most o react the same way when they feel pressure, when they are startled, when the rider is off-balance, when they are having a bad day. (Yes, horses can have bad days, too.)

Your instructor’s primary responsibility is to transfer that knowledge to you, the rider. If you have a good instructor, you will be told the “why” along with the “what” when you receive an instruction. Heels down – secures your seat in the saddle. Hands together – keeps the reins alongside the horse’s neck to go straight. Each cue is given for a particular reason and the horse, if properly trained, will respond accordingly. Or at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen.

The Horse

Yes, the horse can teach you how to ride, too. Did you ever notice that you think you are doing everything the instructor is telling you to do, but the horse isn’t responding? Our first impulse is to blame the horse! Old Red just doesn’t feel like trotting today. Goldie must be in a bad mood, she doesn’t want to go over the poles. But wait! The rider in the next class has Old Red trotting around the arena and you never saw Goldie jump so high before! What changed? Well, the rider.

The horse, even if he knows the cues, may not be doing it because the rider is not asking properly. Yelling “trot” is not the correct cue. Yes, there is nothing wrong with saying “trot” or clucking, but you need to say it with your body as well. Slumping, sitting heavy, or having no energy does not give the horse incentive to move. Next lesson, you are more awake, you are sitting better and you are balanced in the saddle. The horse responds with a touch of your leg!

The horse has just become your teacher, rewarding you with the correct movement when you give the cue properly.

The Rider

You probably don’t feel like you’re a teacher, but you are. The time you took your horse on a trail ride and let him graze while you talked to your friend. The taught your horse that it’s okay to eat along the trail. Do it twice and you just reinforced that it’s okay to do it. Next time you ride, it becomes a habit and now you’re frustrated. Why won’t he go down the trail like he used to? All he wants to do is stop and eat the grass!

Or the time you were working a new pattern in the arena and the horse tried to go the opposite way. You were surprised and let him. Pretty soon he starts to test you every time you try something new. The next thing you know, you are calling him stubborn or bull-headed. But, who gave him permission to not listen the first time?

And so the circle goes, from trainer, to horse, to rider. Every time we interact with the horse, someone is learning. Let’s just hope we are all learning the proper way to do things.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.


linda:

Some good thoughts to ponder as we prepare for our “fun show” this Saturday.

Originally posted on outoftheboxstall:

246507_309397709150429_2062996370_nWhile judging a recent horse show, the following thought occurred to me. “Just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean you’re not good.” I was in the middle of trying to sort out a very nice western pleasure class (settle down folks. It does happen.) and I realized that even my potential bottom horse had a lot of things going for it. Sure, he didn’t appear to want to “play ball” so to speak, but he was a high quality mover that I could tell had won quite a few classes before. The same was true for places 1-5, to be honest. Every one of them was using their hocks, was consistent through their topline, and minded their manners. I ultimately went to the amount of knee demonstrated (less was more, for this breed), and stride length, to separate them. It was a judge’s dream class in many respects.

While driving…

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