Monday, June 26th, 2017

Demonstrating how to look ahead when riding a horse.

Your posture on your horse is key to how you ride and how your horse responds to your cues. In our last blog, we discussed the importance of a good seat. This blog and several of the following blogs will look at each element of good posture.

Your Head

The average adult head weighs about 10 to 11 pounds. The average child’s head would then weigh about 5 or 6 pounds. You may think this is not a significant amount of weight, but, when you think about balance, a shift of a few ounces can cause an off-balance situation.

When we ride, we are told to look ahead – look where you want your horse to go. The horse can feel your head move as well as the direction you are looking. Here’s why…

Demonstrating looking down while riding a horse.

Looking down

Take a moment now and look down. What do you feel? You should feel the muscles on the back of your neck stretching. You may also feel movement in your shoulders and possibly down your back. That’s a lot of movement!

When you are riding and you are looking down at your hands, at the path, at the horse’s feet, you are moving all those muscles and more. And the horse feels it. Some horses are more sensitive to the rider’s position and will react to this movement by breaking trot, slowing down, or drifting to the right or left depending on where the rider is looking.

Looking up

Looking up can change your balance by shifting your shoulders behind your hips and causing you to lean back – even if it is ever so slightly. This shift affects your seat and your horse’s movement. Some horses may take this as a driving cue and speed up!

Demonstrating how looking to the right changes the body position on a horse.

Right or Left

Yes, we want to look to the right or left when we want our horse to go in that direction. Turning the head also turns the shoulders, torso, hips, and legs. This tells the horse to move in that direction. We see our horses drift with our riders when they are looking at their parents – who are taking pictures, or are watching the other riders – especially when we are playing games. When asked “why did your horse go there?” the response is usually “because she wanted to” but rarely, “because I was looking that way.”

Once our riders have learned that the horse will follow the movement of their head as well as their seat and reins, their riding improves dramatically.

The next time you ride, think about it – where are you looking?

Linda Watson-Call 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.


One of the most frequent goals I hear from the parents who sign up their child for horseback riding lessons is “I’d like her to get some confidence.” Typically the child is five or six and excited to be with horses, but neither the parent nor the child know what is involved.

For me, it is so fulfilling to watch a child blossom from unsure of what to do with the horse to having complete control, or as complete control as possible, of a thousand pound animal who doesn’t have to listen if she chooses not to.

It starts with grooming. Some horses are wall huggers, so the child learns early on that she has to make the horse move away from the wall or that side will not get groomed. It may take a few weeks of learning how to talk “like you mean it” with the horse, but it happens. The rider soon learns the difference between firm, questioning, and mean tones.

The rider learns how to lead the horse around the arena. This is not taking a puppy for a walk. The horse may decide to stop. The child needs to learn the difference between stopping because the horse does not want to walk and stopping because it’s potty time. This involves learning how to read the horse. Great skill not only with horses but with people as well.

Once on the horse’s back, the real challenge is presented. Make the horse walk, stop, turn, zig zag through a maze of ground poles, and other actions that teach riding skills and increase the rider’s confidence in their ability to control the horse. The rider learns that the horse mirrors her feelings and energy. If you feel tired, the horse drags and doesn’t want to cooperate. Feel energetic and the horse is ready to do anything you ask. Lose focus and the horse goes in the other direction.

In most cases, because of the rider’s age, ability, and size, the parent assists with the grooming, saddling, and leading of the horse. We encourage the parent to gradually step back as the child’s skills increase. One rider in particular was young and very small for her age. I could tell that her mother enjoyed interacting with the horse as much as her daughter did. It only took about six months when the rider looked at her mother and said, “I can do this by myself.” She did ask for help saddling the horse, but otherwise, she displayed the confidence that her mom was wanting her to gain – both in the barn and in school.

Horses – building confidence in young children that can be transferred to other areas of their life.

Linda Watson-Call 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.

Morgan riding Desiree over poles.

Morgan riding Desiree over poles.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~ Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

One of the most frequent questions we hear at the barn is, “How often should my child take lessons?” Our answer usually is, we expect the rider to ride weekly. Our lessons are scheduled on the same day, same time for your convenience.

Some parents are satisfied with that answer, others wonder if riding twice a week would be beneficial, and others start to explain why weekly lessons aren’t doable.

This makes me wonder. If your child was taking music lessons, not only are the lessons usually weekly, but you would also have that instrument in the house and the child would be expected to practice daily. The same for ballet or any other skill that the child was learning.

Sports teams have games weekly or bi-weekly, and have practice almost daily. Swimmers try to get to the pool as often as possible to build skill and stamina for the meets.

So, why the reluctance to commit to a weekly riding lesson, especially when you do not have a horse to practice on?

Weekly lessons are designed to build on the acquired skills week after week. Horseback riding also uses core muscles that aren’t typically used in everyday activities. Muscle memory needs to be reinforced by performing the same activities over and over again. None of these will be accomplished by the occasional rider. Bi-weekly lessons can advance riding skills but not as much as weekly riding.

During the summer we have three weeks of day camp where everyone riders every day. The parents are surprised and pleased to see how much their child advances after one week of camp. The reason – practice, practice, practice.

So that brings us to the second question – would riding twice a week help. Most definitely, but we hesitate to have real young riders taking lessons that often. Although they would get better faster, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll advance twice as fast. There is a lot going on in the rider’s body and their connection is their horse.

If the issue with weekly riding is finances or arrangements, then, every other week is better than no lessons. But, if it’s scheduling or other activities are taking the priority, and the riding lessons would be once a month or so, then, maybe everyone should wait until a true commitment to riding can be made.

Commitment to regular lessons is what separates the “wanna be” from the person who really wants to do it.

Linda Watson-Call 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.

We added a new class to our Giddy-Up Go Horse Show this year – Mom (or Dad) and Me!  A Mom or Dad who had never ridden a horse could take part in the trail class – and be led by their daughter or son, if they chose.  This gave the parents a chance to see and feel what it’s like to be on a horse.

Leading Mom over the bridge.

Leading Mom over the bridge.


Our first rider was Carrie led by her daughter, Riley.  This was a big step for Carrie.  Riley has been riding with us for two years, but Carrie had never even been near a horse before her daughter decided to learn how to ride.  Because Riley was under six when she started to ride, Carrie needed to be with her in the arena.  It was a mother/daughter learning experience from how to groom to how to saddle and how to lead.  Riley is now an Intermediate rider and wants to learn how to jump!  Mom is happy that she overcame her fears and was able to walk Stella through the obstacles in the trail class.


Leading Dad over the pole.

Leading Dad over the pole.

Our next entry was Matt led by his daughter, Riley.  (No confusion or relationship here.  We have two Riley’s in our classes, both of whom had a parent riding.)  Matt claims that he didn’t even know he was entered until the day of the show.  He has always been very supportive of his two daughters taking riding lessons, but never knew what it took to actually ride a horse.  After completing the class, Matt remarked that riding was a lot harder than it looks and has to give his daughters a lot of credit for what they have accomplished.  Both Riley and her sister Callie are Intermediate riders in our riding program.


Both parents received participation ribbons for taking part in the class.  Perhaps next year a few more parents will want to try to ride!

I wanted to make today’s lesson fun, so, instead of drilling the riders in their posture and hand positions, I decided to make today game day and devised a barn version of streets and alleys.  On the playground, this is a game of tag, but in the arena, it’s a fun way to teach the young riders how to steer quickly and be aware of where the other horses are in the arena.

I set up three rows of cones, the long way in the arena.  Two rows were near the rail, where we usually have cones, the third row, which was really barrels since I didn’t have enough cones, ran down the center.  Between the rows of cones, I placed poles.  The cones going the long way were the streets; the poles going the short way were the alleys.  The riders had to weave when they were on a street, but not when they were in the alley. 

When I called “streets” or “alleys” the riders had to turn as soon as they could.  There was no correct way to turn.  Left or right, whichever way they chose, just as long as they didn’t run into another horse!

Everyone…the riders, volunteers, and parents thought it was a great experience.  Most of the time the riders are single file, keeping proper spacing between themselves and the other horses.  Never passing each other, and never going in opposite directions toward each other.  Today they learned how to navigate around the barrel with one horse on each side.  They learned how to ride along side each other when they both turned into the same alley.  They learned how to be aware of the other riders and stop their horse if another horse was crossing in front of their path.

But, most important, they learned they could have a lot of fun riding their horses!