horseback riding



Drill_Team_heart

We don’t always think about horseback riding as teamwork, but it really is. As the rider, we are directing the horse to do certain things. Whether it’s the gait or the direction or even the movement, we are requesting that the horse follow our cues. The horse, tries to respond to your cues the best she can. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not.

The horse has her own personality and training. Horses, because they are living beings, can have off days. They can, as they age, become arthritic or tire easily. They play hard and can get hurt. As a rider, we need to be sensitive to our horse. And, yes, some horses have learned to act up so they won’t get ridden. Can you tell the difference between a horse that is having an off day and a horse that wants a day off?

Many of the horses we ride have also had previous training. They may have been taught that a tap means to trot and the rider was taught that a squeeze with for legs is the cue to trot. This is where understanding and teamwork comes to play. Should we retrain the horse or ourselves?

As a rider, we need to keep our emotions in check. If we get frustrated, those feelings will be telegraphed to the horse and the horse will respond accordingly. When we get upset, we typically stiffen up. The horse does not respond well to a stiff rider. Stiffening up and getting frustrated are normal reactions when things do go the way we expect them to, but, if you were on another sports team, it would be bad sportsmanship to yell at your teammate. We need to think about our horse the same way.

By riding our horse calmly and asking patiently, we win the trust of the horse and the horse will continue to try to please us. When it all comes together, the rider and the horse appear to be moving as one with grace and ease. All because of great teamwork.

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. She is the author of the forthcoming book Fifty Blades of Hay.
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crossed stirrups

Several years ago, someone decided that November should be “No Stirrups” month in the equestrian world. No stirrups? How will I ever balance myself? I could slip off!

Well, stirrups aren’t there to balance you and I’ve seen riders slide off even though they were using stirrups. But, riding without stirrups does take some skill and should not be attempted alone unless you are an experienced rider.

How long?

When I say “no stirrups” most of my students think they will be riding that way for the entire lesson. Not so. We usually start with only a few steps and work up to five or ten minutes.

The good news is, once you’ve ridden without stirrups, you will actually look forward to doing it again. Many of my riders ask to ride without stirrups during the cool-down part of their lesson.

But why????

Riding without stirrups is a great way to help a rider’s form or posture, strengthen core muscles, and becoming aware of your and your horse’s movements. You can walk, trot, and canter without stirrups, but only do as many steps as you are comfortable with when you start. Make a goal to increase the number of steps or the length of time you ride without stirrups each time you ride.

You may find that after a few times of riding this way, you will need less rein for downward transitions and less leg to upward transitions. You may find yourself more in tune with your horse and your horse will almost read your mind as you work your patterns.

If you are not comfortable riding without stirrups, your instructor may put you on a lunge line until you have more confidence in yourself and your horse. Once you have the feel, you can continue your lessons independently.

History

Actually, in Germany, most riding lessons begin with vaulting classes and the classical riding schools of Europe require three years of riding without stirrups. Now, that’s dedication. But, look at the finished rider – beautiful form and balance.

So, this month, let’s cross those stirrups over the pommel of our saddle and ride. At least for five minutes each lesson.

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.

parentwatching

Horseback riding is a very physical sport that requires both mind and body coordination. And although many young children learn to ride, like many sports, the progress is slower than we’d like. But each lesson shows improvement even if it is barely noticeable. I’ll admit, watching the same repetitive movements every week can be less than thrilling, but, watching is important to the rider.

I can predict a rider’s progress by the interest of the parent.

Oh, wow!

One parent thought every step her child made on horseback was wonderful. She sat on the edge of her chair and cheered because her daughter kept the horse between the cones and the wall all the way around the arena. A little overboard? Maybe, but, this child progress quickly from controlling the horse at a walk to controlling the horse at a trot, and soon left to pursue jumping. Successful rider, yes. But, more importantly, interested parent.

No he won’t

Another rider had a great dad. He’d come in with her and help with the grooming and saddling. My thought was they had a great bond. They did – for the ten minutes that it took to get the horse ready. Once she was ready to take her horse to the mounting block, he’d say, “Have a great ride. I’ll be back right after this phone call.”

She looked up at me with puppy-dog eyes and said, “No he won’t.” And she was right. Her progress? Barely there. She says she enjoys riding, and I think she does, but she’d enjoy it more if dad would watch.

Did you see that?

Another rider was learning to trot. She could trot a few steps before the horse would break to a walk. She kept trying to keep her horse trotting. The goal was to trot the long arena wall. One lesson she made it half-way down the wall. She was ecstatic! She looked at mom for a reaction, but mom was staring at her phone. “Did you see? I went farther”, she cried out. Mom looked up and smiled and went back to her phone.

We worked on trotting the long wall for months. We never got further than half-way. Then a grandparent came to a lesson and watched her groom the horse. Watch her warm up the horse. Told her she was quite the rider. Then came the trot. And trot she did – all the way around the arena! Not once, but twice so the grandparent could video it. She was so proud of her accomplishment and so was the grandparent.

At the next lesson Mom said that she understood her daughter trotted the previous week. I was hopeful for a repeat performance. But mom stared at her phone and the daughter barely trotted to the half-way mark.

Over the years I have seen that giving your child genuine attention and encouragement, whether is horseback riding or playing checkers, is what they need to become successful at “their” sport. SO, put down the phone, don’t make calls or text, and watch. Boring? Sometimes. Encouraging for the child? Always!

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.

Adjusting Stirrup Leathers

Athletes need to be mentally and physically prepared for their sport. Some people meditate; other exercise; and some even psyche themselves up for the event. What every athlete has in common is the need to prepare through training for their chosen sport.

Horseback riding is a sport that requires total focus and concentration from the rider in order to connect with the horse. Horseback riding is also one of the few sports where another being, a powerful animal, is a teammate. So, as we are on our way for our horseback riding lesson or ride, what can we do to prepare ourselves to make this ride the best ride ever?

Quiet time

Use the time getting to the barn as quiet time. A time to regroup and think about how the ride will end. This is a time to visualize goals. Focus on what would make this ride great. Will we learn a new skill, practice a pattern, or have a relaxing hack with our horse? Focus on words that can help you achieve this goal. Think – energy, effort, positive attitude.

Set the tone

Once we are at the barn, we clear our mind from distractions. While walking through the door imagine the day’s frustrations and obligations leaving. Oh, they can put on a bench or fence post to be picked them up on the way back to the car. But these thoughts do not belong in the barn.

Stretch

Like other sports, riding is physical and most of us do not get enough exercise. The first few minutes in the part can be used to do some stretches, Pilates and yoga can both be helpful to get our mind and body ready for riding.

Imagine

As we get our horse ready for the ride, we used our imagination to “see” our best ride ever. We see ourselves posting perfectly, clearing fences, or going on a hack with a calm horse. Our calmness and attitude is often transferred to the horse while we ae grooming and tacking. The calmer we are, the more receptive the horse is.

We are now ready to mount and really have the best ride ever!

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.

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.

Elizabeth_Poppie_trotting_posture

There are a lot of terms trainers use when talking about how a person sits on the saddle and how the rest of the body moves in relationship with the seat.

Whether it’s called an independent seat, fluidity, balanced seat, or any other term, it means how the rider moves with the horse and influences the movement of the horse. The goal is to be balanced in the saddle.

Proper position

The correct posture is to line up the ear, shoulder, hip, and back of the heel in a straight line. In this picture, the rider has the proper position in the saddle. (Note: the picture is on an angle, so it appears that the ear is in front of her shoulder, but in reality, it is not.)

The rider is also relaxed; her elbows are at her waist. With the exception of her looking downward, this rider has a good position.

Moving with the horse

When the rider is relaxed and in the proper position, she is moving with the horse. As the horse takes a step forward, her hips and pelvis moves with the horse without creating and resistance. If the rider is tense, the pelvis cannot move freely and the horse cannot move freely.

This causes a chain reaction or vicious circle between the horse and the rider. The rider asks the horse to move, but is stiff or tense in the saddle, the horse may move slowly or not at all, the rider gets frustrated by the horse’s lack of movement and gets even more tense as she tries to drive the horse forward with her seat. The horse feels the cue to move forward but the tension, now in the back, shoulders, and hands of the rider creates resistance and the horse doesn’t respond to the rider’s cues.

Sitting tall

This is one of the most difficult concepts in riding. Most of the time when we are told to sit or stand tall we throw our shoulders and hips back which causes our back or spine to arch forward. Now we are out of balance. Sitting tall means the spine is aligned as straight as possible. The rider’s back is neither arched forward nor hollowed, nor is it hunched over causing the shoulders to move in front of the hips.

One of the exercises that I give my students is to stand with their shoulders and hips against a wall, then move the small of their back toward the wall. To do this, they need to engage their core muscles. By strengthening their core, they will have proper posture in the saddle and ultimately be able to ride in harmony with their horse.

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.

Lauren is riding Leslie with a bit.

We all remember that from Disney’s movie, Snow White and may have even said it to the mirror in our room. But, did you ever consider that a horse can be the best mirror of all?

Horses respond to the person riding it. But horses have their own personalities too. So how is a horse a mirror of its rider?

At our riding facility we hold our weekend classes in the morning. Riding starts at 9:30 am. Not a bad time – a little later than school starts for some students – but early enough, especially if your drive time is more than a half hour.

As the riders mount up, I observe both the horse and the rider. “Shirley, did you have a sleepover last night?” I ask one rider. She looks back at me, and responds, “Yes, how did you know?” It’s simple, the horse that she is riding usually walks energetically, and this morning the horse is dragging around the arena. Mom tells me that she couldn’t settle the girl down until well past midnight. I look at the rider, she looks tired, she acts tired, and the horse reflects her energy level perfectly. In the next class another rider is bouncing off the walls, and the same horse is filled with energy and ready to move.

Similarly riders who are distracted by things that are happening in their home life, good or bad, may have time focusing on their riding skills. They miss a turn or have a difficult time getting the horse to trot. Mom tells me the horse is acting stubborn; I smile and ask what’s going on this week.

I will admit, not all behaviors reflect the rider. The horse may have an off day. Heat and cold can affect a horse’s disposition just like it affects ours. A sudden cold snap after several miserably hot days will make the calmest horse livelier. Older horses, with arthritis, will not want to move on a cold, rainy day. So these factors need to be taken into account.

But overall, the horse you ride and the way it acts says a lot about you!

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.

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