horseback riding



sydney_buttercupx25

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.

I tied a client up last week.

Source: Bite Your Tongue.


helmet-fitting

Today, September 17, is International Helmet Day.

Wearing a helmet while riding a horse should be a no-brainer, but, almost daily I see a picture of a child or an adult riding a horse with no head protection. All I can do is shake my head and ask why? Why are you taking the risk of riding without a helmet?

Please don’t tell me that your horse is calm. The calmest horse will still spook under the right conditions – which would be the wrong conditions for the helmetless rider. Even the most experienced riders have been injured or killed when their horse did the unexpected. What makes you think your horse is any different.

The sad facts

Horseback riding is in the top 10 for sports that contribute to most of the head injuries suffered in sporting activities. The estimated number horseback riding head injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2009 was 14,466! 1

Head injuries can occur from falls that are only two feet from the ground. Depending on the size of your horse, you could be eight feet or more from the ground. 2

The good facts

Even though head injuries can still happen while wearing a helmet, the severity of the injury can be reduced by almost 85%. 1

You don’t need an expensive helmet to protect your head. As long as the helmet is SEI /ASTM certified, you’re buying a protective helmet. 2

Your decision

Wearing a helmet when riding a horse is a personal decision that you make for yourself or for your child. But why take chances?

Wearing a helmet could be the best decision you make.

Make sure, though, that you helmet fits properly and is worn properly. Then , you will have the best protection possible.

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.
  1. Sports-related Head Injury, http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Sports-Related%20Head%20Injury.aspx
  2. THE TOP 10 HELMET FACTS & MYTHS OF HORSEBACK RIDING, http://www.troxelhelmets.com/blogs/troxel/76914819-the-top-10-helmet-facts-myths-of-horseback-riding

Ella trots Leslie 2

I remember my first canter where I felt like the horse and I were moving totally in sync with each other. I can’t tell you how many previous canters felt like I was going to fly off the saddle because the rhythm and movement just wasn’t there.

Later I found out that there was an element missing – the feel. I had no idea what the canter should feel like – or the realization that although every horse performs the canter the same way, their movement, their swing, their lift, could be so different.

If wasn’t until I learned to listen to my horse through my body that I was able to ask for the canter, and get it on the correct lead, every time.

Learning to ride a horse is different from learning to read, or write, or even play the piano. But, is some ways it is very similar.

Most of our learning is based on our perception – what the marks on the paper mean, how to make marks that other people can read, how to press the keys in a way that makes a recognizable tune. But, with horseback riding, we are also learning how to interpret the movements and responses of another living being.

Each horse has its own way of moving. Yes, the walk is always a four-beat gait, but some horses may swing more from side to side where others rock from back to front. Some may even move one leg slower or faster than the other three. Some horses keep an even tempo; others speed up, slow down, or even stop.

As an instructor, I can see when a horse, let’s say if taking a stroll through the park instead of marching in a parade. I can explain to you how to wake your horse up using your aids, but it is up to the rider to be able to feel if the horse is responding and how quickly you are getting a response. It is up to the rider to feel the horse’s energy drop and keep the horse moving before he decided to slow down or stop completely.

Once one of my students understands how to use aids for riding, I may not even offer a suggestion if the horse is not following the cues. This is the point where the rider needs to figure out what to do so the horses responds appropriately.

Knowing the cues and using the aids is important, knowing how to apply them to a particular horse, that is knowing how to ride!

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.

Once the rider masters the open rein, we move to the direct rein.

The direct rein takes a little more skill to master. Unlike the open rein, the direct rein uses both hands and both legs to cue the horse to turn.

In this article, we will focus on the hands and reins, but remember, the legs play an important part so we will discuss that as well.

direct rein 1

We start by asking the rider to take the hand in the direction of the turn and move it to their back pocket and look toward the horse’s tail. This is very effective for our young riders because their legs hardly reach down to the horse! What this does is stabilize their leg at the girth and as they turn, their outer leg moves behind the girth. The horse moves in the direction of the rein movement.

The hardest part of this, is the release that is needed from the outside hand. If you move your inside hand in the direction that you want to turn the horse, and pull back with the outside rein, the horse will not turn and will stop. So, the outside hand needs to move forward slightly to give the horse the freedom to turn.

direct rein 2

As the riders progress, they can use less effort in the direct rein and presses back to the outer thigh. Notice that the outside hand and rein are released and, in this case, the rein is supporting the horse’s outer neck and shoulder.

When the rider starts to move her weight to the appropriate seat bone in the saddle, the horse will make the turn with less and less rein movement. At some point, the movement to turn the horse may only need a squeeze back from the rein and the shift in weight in the saddle.

In any case, the inner leg is always at the girth and the outside leg is just behind the girth.

One of the biggest errors that I see is when the horse responds with only slight pressure from the rider and the rider starts to move the rein toward the pommel of the saddle. This movement must be performed with coordinated leg aids. We’ll discuss this in the post about indirect reins.

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 first skills we teach a young rider is how to control the horse by turning left or right, making circles, and serpentining the arena.

The easiest way to understand how the horse moves in a new direction is by teaching the open or leading rein.

Leading the horse

When we lead the horse from the ground, our hand is on the lead line near the horse’s halter. When we want the horse to turn, we move the horse’s head to the left or right by moving the lead line in our right hand to the left or right. The horse moves in the direction of the lead line.

Scouts learning how to lead a horse at Hooked on Horses Day Cap

Scout learning how to lead a horse at Hooked on Horses session

The thing to remember is that we are not “pulling” to horse left or right. We aren’t pushing the horse either. The horse is moving away from the pressure.

Huh? What does that mean? Think about it. If you are moving the lead line to the left and the horse moves her head to the right, there will be tension or pressure on the horse’s face. To eliminate the pressure, the horse moves in the direction of the lead line.

Open or leading rein

Now let’s transfer the concept to the saddle.

Adia is demonstrating how to use the leading or open rein

This rider is demonstrating how to use the leading or open rein

This rider is asking Leslie to turn to the left. Notice, the rider’s left hand is moving the rein to the left. She is NOT pulling the rein to the left, she is opening the area between Leslie’s neck and the rein by moving the rein away from the neck. Leslie’s nose is moving in the direction of the rein, to the left.

This is exactly what the rider in the first picture did on the ground. Move the rein in the direction you want your horse to go in.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I will say “Pull right!” to a young rider as the horse is moving in toward me. That’s quicker, the rider understands it, and I don’t get run over! But once the rider is old enough to understand the concept of opening and closing the reins as if they were doors, we stop say “pull” and start saying “move.”

It isn’t long before the rider is ready for the next step – using the direct rein.

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

Drill_Team_heart

An amazing thing happens when we turn on the music is our arena. Everyone, including the horse, perk up!

Part of our riding is to get the horse to walk or march to a particular beat or rhythm. But what happens if we all hear the beat of a different drummer? We still have horses going slow as well as fast. Let’s add music – and everyone gets the same beat.

What is amazing is that the horses as well as the riders pick up on the rhythm or tempo of the songs being played.

We’ve had a drill team here for a number of years, so I’ve always known that the riders enjoyed practicing the patterns more when the music was being played.

Lately, I’ve been adding music for an enhanced riding experience. I’ve had a few riders who could not keep a rhythm with their horses, so I created a CD with marching compositions on it. John Phillip Sousa is great for this. Pop in the CD and suddenly the horse and rider are moving!

I also use music as a distraction. Our barn, like so many others, have birds in it. One of our special needs riders has an aversion to the birds. She hears their chirping and has a meltdown. But, she needs the benefits of riding as well. I found some kiddie music CDs. Not only did the songs distract her from the birds, but, she enjoyed singing the songs and had an excellent riding class. The other students in her class have started asking that the music be played, too. This is the singingest riding class ever!

So whether it’s used as a change of pace, a way to get the rider to feel the rhythm with the horse, or distract the rider, music makes a great addition to any riding lesson.

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.

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