Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Signage at Petty Pony Pastures

Signage at Petty Pony Pastures

This sign is posted at the entrance to our horseback riding arena. Parents glance at it; no one questions it.

But now that it’s summer, we need to define proper.


Riders need to wear boots with a small heel. Here are some good and bad examples:

Paddock boot  – perfect with or without chaps – or tall riding boot . Flat, not ribbed, soles please.

Hiking boots, although they do protect the feet, are not acceptable for riding because the thick, ribbed sole can get stuck in the stirrup and the this leather does not allow the flexibility required to move the heels up or down in the stirrup. Fashion boots have too high of a heel.

Always cover your feet – please! Even if you are a spectator, you need to wear tennis shoes or boots. These may be called boots – but they offer no protection at all!

Cowboy sandals

Cowboy sandals

Breeches or jeans

Pants must be long. Breeches are tucked in the boot or covered with chaps; jeans fall outside the boot and be ankle length.

Wearing capris, shorts, or other pants that expose the skin can cause the rider problems. If you look at the picture below, notice that the leg is against the horse and the stirrup leather.

Leg contact with the horse

Leg contact with the horse

This means the rider runs the risk of chapping or irritating her skin. The horse get hot and sweaty during a good ride and their coat will rub off on the leg. Stirrup leathers collect the dirt from the horse and can be very uncomfortable rubbing on the skin. In shorts, the rider’s thigh is on the saddle. Ever sit on leather car seats in the summer? Comfortable, right?


Even though we don’t ride outdoors with the sun beating down on us, spaghetti strap shirts are not acceptable for riding. A light-weight t-shirt with short sleeves works. Nothing fancy, nothing too heavy. Be comfortable and safe.


Helmets are always required. In the winter we have the option of helmet covers to keep our heads warm. I search the internet for a solution – Dover sells a liner for the Ovation helmet that is reported to wick away the moisture and can be washed after every ride.

helmet liner

helmet liner

I can’t recommend these because I haven’t tried it. But if your rider complains about the helmet being hot, you just might want to try one.

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.

Test_Ride_1Once our horses are groomed and tacked up, we walk our horse around the arena – usually twice, and then mount up. We walk our horses around until all the riders are up, then we begin a pattern – at the walk. It seems that we do a lot of walking at the beginning of the lesson but there is a reason for it. We are warming up. That is – both the rider and the horse.

Warm up? Think about baseball, the pitcher warms up his pitching arm in the bullpen for quite a few minutes before being put in the game. Runners may jog before a run, footballs players may do a forward lunge, every sport has its own warm-up routine. And so do equestrians.

Studies have shown that athletes who warm up before playing have fewer injuries. Horses, as well as the riders, are athletes. Keeping them fit is part of the responsibility of riding.

Walking the horse around the arena prepares the horse Serpentine_reand rider mentally for the class. I often ask the rider, “What mood is your horse in today?” Most of the time I get a giggle, but there is a reason I ask. In those few minutes, and in the time that the horse was groomed, the rider should know if the horse is relaxed or tense, listening or distracted. This will affect the lesson so paying attention to the horse give the rider a clue to how the lesson will go. This is also the time to get the horse’s attention. If the horse isn’t listening on the ground, it certainly will not listen once the rider mounts. If the rider isn’t paying attention to the horse, we could have a disaster in the arena.

After mounting we walk the pattern. This is not a walk in the park. This exercise raises the horse’s core and muscle temperature. It also warms the rider’s muscles too. The pattern also helps the horse and rider focus. A good warm up should last about 20 minutes. The first 10 minutes should be at the walk, then 10 minutes at a trot before any cantering or jumping. You want your horse’s joints moving before any hard work.

Jenna trots Buttercup eNow we can start our lesson. Since most of our riders are at different levels of trotting, our warm up is right around 10 minutes. By that time, I can tell what mood everyone is in and how hard we can work that lesson.

Warming up is an essential part of your ride and your horse’s health.

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.

One of the reasons the teacher at Patterson Elementary School in Holly likes to bring her students here for therapeutic riding is because we work together to incorporate her classroom lesson plans into the riding lesson.

Finding YellowThis week we were working on colors. Not to confuse shapes and colors, or to remember that the square is blue and the triangle is green, all the barrels had a picture of a color circle.

Since we are also working on learning how to stop a horse, it was just a matter of combining two tasks – recognizing a color and stopping the horse – to devise the Color Game!

Each rider was given a different color. When they found their assigned color they would stop their horse. Once they got good at finding their color and stopping their horse we added another dimension. Name something that is that color. It was interesting to see how many riders would look around the arena to match an item to that color and how many would “think” of something – usually food.

Everyone was a winner, reinforcing concepts they were learning in the classroom.

As we begin Volunteer Appreciation Week, I think about all the different ways we can serve each other and have an effect on a life. Sometimes it’s a person we know; sometimes a person we don’t; but always the person within.

At our farm, we appreciate the time our volunteers take to work with our riders. We all have seen different ways the horses have made improvements in the lives of our riders – increasing muscle tone and coordination, gaining confidence by controlling a 1,000 pound animal, and just having fun.

There have also been positive improvements in our volunteers as well. Blood pressure lowered, weight loss, increased confidence and finding a new joy in living.

As Tom Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”

So to all the volunteers, men and women, young and old, who take the time to make a difference in the life of someone else, we, at Pretty Pony Pastures, salute you.