It’s that time of the year again, when the days are getting shorter and the horses’ coats are changing colors as they shed once again.

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Parents ask about the changes in the colors and the shedding. They are confused because they know about the BIG shed out in the spring, but are surprised when the horses start shedding at the end of summer. Not sure about other mammals but, horses have two distinct coats – one for winter and one for summer. And they typically shed about the same time every year.

Shedding triggers

More than we realize the change in season is governed by two elements in nature – sunlight and temperature. As the days get longer, the temperatures rise. Some of us would like it to get warmer sooner, but, the fact is, more sunlight = warmer air.

It’s the amount of sunlight that tells the horses when to start shedding. I’ve been out in the barn many a February or March, shivering as my horse’s winter coat blankets my feet while grooming her. Likewise, come August, the summer coat is shedding out for the new growth for the winter.

Indicator of the future?

I hear this all the time. If they are shedding out this early, does that mean that we will get an early winter? If the horses are getting a heavy winter coat, that that mean that we are in for a bitter winter? No! Well, I really wish the horses or other animals could predict the future with more accuracy than the weather station, but, the truth is, they can’t. But, what they can do is “remember” the past weather. People who purchase horses from a warmer climate often say that the first winter is brutal. The horse doesn’t get a good winter coat. But wait until the second and third winter – they certainly grow a coat after that first cold experience!

Change in colors

The horse’s coat often lightens in the summer depending on how often the horse is outside and in the sunlight. The sun lightens most colors, even the horse’s coat. Once the days shorten and the amount of sunlight lessens, the coat goes back to a darker color.

Dapples are not dependent on the amount of sunlight. The circular areas on the horse’s body that change in shade are caused by nutrition as well as genetics. Horses on high quality hay tend to have more dapples. All horses do not dapple. Gray horses tend to be dappled as well as bays and chestnuts.

It seems the horses, like many animals are in tune with Mather Nature and the change of seasons. But even so, they cannot predict weather any more than we can.

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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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.

Shovel and bucket game

Most of our riding lessons end with a game that improve the rider’s skills. Some work on their riding ability, but others reach into their ability to learn as well as their social communication skills.

The game

Put and take games, like putting the shovel into the bucket, work on hand-eye coordination as well as color recognition. The students are handed a shovel. Their task is to recognize the color, find the bucket that matches the color of the shovel, and place the shovel into the bucket. They love it!

But what they don’t realize is that this game actually improves their ability to read and write. Hand-eye coordination is the eye following the hand in a particular task. In this case, putting the shovel into the bucket.

How it helps

The rider’s eyes follow the shovel until it reaches the bucket, then releases it. In reading and writing, the eyes follow the words on the page or the hand writing the words. The better the coordination the better the reader or writer. By practicing these movements with an object, the eyes and brain are being trained to follow an object in a particular pattern. Following the object in the hand is a spatially precise exercise. Once mastered, it can be easily adapted to both reading and writing because these following skills become automatic and the child does not have to think about it.

As more research is being conducted into the importance of hand-eye coordination in youngsters, we will continue to play games on horseback that will improve their ability to follow an object from their hand into a receptor.

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.

Drill_Team_heart

When people visit our facility, we often hear comments that sound like – “These are ponies. Aren’t they too small for my 13 year old?” or “You call yourself Pretty Pony Pastures, but these are horses, not ponies.”

There are a lot of misconceptions when we talk about horse and ponies. And to make it even more confusing, some words are used interchangeably. We talk about the “polo ponies” but they are typically Thoroughbreds, which is a horse breed.

So, if a Thoroughbred can be called a “pony” then what is a pony and what is a horse?

Pony

Looking at height, a pony is 14’1” hands high or 57 inches tall or less. And it’s the less part that confuses most people. At the fair, kids ride ponies in a circle. These ponies are often smaller Shetland ponies which can be as short at28 inches. That’s half the size of our Haflingers! If that is the size you think of when you hear “pony” then you will think our horses are truly horses.

Ponies also tend to have a thicker mane and coat which makes them more resistant to cold weather.  They look stockier because they have wider chests, thicker necks, and shorter heads. These features make them very suitable to doing work around the farm. Many ponies can be used to pull a wagon as well as being ridden under saddle. Ponies can be playful and tend to be intelligent, so people often think they are stubborn. Even though some horses can be a smooth ride, many have a very choppy gait.

Because of their short stature, most people consider them a child’s mount thinking that if they fall, a short fall is better than one from a higher horse. That is not always the case. But, I do agree that it is easier to work with the child on a pony, provided that the pony is properly trained. Many aren’t because they are too small for an adult to sit on them and they aren’t properly ground trained to be safe for a child.

Horse

A horse is over 14’1” hands high (57 inches) if we are going strictly by height.

Horses tend to have a sleeker body, some have a thinner mane, and some need to be blanketed in the winter. Horses come in different categories. The draft horse can be 16 to 19 hands (64 to 76 inches) tall. A sport horse is typically 15 to 17 hands (60 to 68 inches) high. Each breed has its own standard as to the ideal height of that breed. Most people enjoy riding a horse that is around 15 hands (60 inches) high.

Because of the horse’s build, its gait can be smoother than a pony. Horses come in different temperaments and personalities. Some make better driving horses and some should only be ridden. Most can do either depending on their training and the owner’s preferences.

Big horses tend to be gentler than shorter horses. Most people would not feel comfortable putting a child on an 18 hand draft horse because they are further from the ground. True, but that draft is probable calmer and less likely to run or buck than the 12 hand pony!

Haflingers

So where do our Haflingers and other similar breeds like the Paso Fino, Fjord, and Icelandic fit in? They are considered horses. All of these breeds fall into the high end of the pony height. But their build, their movement, and their disposition make them a horse. They can carry an adult as well as a child and are shown in a variety of competitions including dressage and jumping.

So you might just say, we have to best of both worlds. Horses that a small enough for a child to feel comfortable but with the strength and ability to be ridden by adults.

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.

Stella’s Legacy

Saying good-bye to a loved one, whether human or furry, is never easy. And with Stella, it was an event I didn’t want to face, but knew it was inevitable, since she was now 28 years old.

The early years

We purchased Stella in November – Thanksgiving weekend to be exact – in 2003. We had just completed the pilot for our therapeutic riding program, and although our young, energetic horses were willing, I knew we needed what I lovingly called a “grandma” horse. Tom started by calling members of the Haflinger Association that we belonged to and stumbled across Stella. He checked her out, said she would be a good fit, and we purchased her.

tyler-scratching-stellas-ears-christmascamp2003She was about three inches shorter than the rest of the herd, and a little more drafty. To be honest, a lot draftier and about 250 pounds overweight. But, she was gentle, accepting of our riders, and eager to please.

A therapeutic horse has a big responsibility. The horse has to be able to accept riders with anxieties, or no balance, or sudden outbursts without reacting. It really goes against what we know about the fight or flight instinct that every horse possesses.

One of Stella’s first riders was a young boy who was terrified of moving on the horse. He would mount up, but his anxiety was so high, that it took almost the whole class to get him to walk two or three steps. Stella stood, and stood, and stood, barely moving her muscles so he wouldn’t panic. And when she did move, it was a small step.

Another rider came for her first “try” at riding and did not want to get on. So we brushed, Samantha demonstrates riding bareback on Stellaand brushed, and then brushed some more. Finally, the very young girl got on and took a stroll around the arena. Decided she liked it and rode for the next six years – strengthening her core, balance, and muscles. This same young girl could not ride a bicycle. After a few years of riding, she not only could ride, but eventually was able to do 25 mile rides to raise money to cure Juvenile Diabetes. Thanks Stella!

My husband swore Stella tiptoed around the arena whenever we had a more fragile child on her back. She was so totally aware of the passengers she was carrying.

The diagnosis

One of the things that I noticed early on with Stella was her lack of energy. Yes, she was calm and easy-going with the riders, but, it seemed that she was run out of energy and drag around the arena before the day’s lessons were completed. I wasn’t sure if it was her weight, diet, or something else. But, she appeared healthy and the vet didn’t seem over concerned.

Quinn uses the surcingle in his riding class.About four years later we lost a young horse and discovered she had Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM). We did our due diligence and had our entire herd tested for this disease. Stella came back positive. The horse we lost was 8 years old, Stella was 18! We worked with our vet and put Stella on a diet that would, at best, keep this disease in check.

Within a week Stella’s energy level changed. She did not drag herself around the arena and was eager to trot with the riders who were capable. I was concerned that her new energy level would change the way she handled our therapeutic riders – but it did not. She was definitely a steady-Eddie for our youngest and more fragile riders.

The last few years

I always felt that if a horse reached 25 years, every day after that is a blessing. A few years ago we had a winter of non-stop below zero weather. We do not stall our horses and I was concerned that we would lose Stella in the brutal winter. But her thick golden coat kept her warm enough.

Stella's last lesson.Then, two years ago she started losing weight. Our vet suggested feeding her separately and offer second cutting hay instead of first. She regained her weight and muscle in a very short period of time. Sometimes we think she enjoyed her special treatment. Nickering to us when we came into the barn as if to say, “I’m ready for breakfast, let me in!” We could open the door and she would go to “her” eating stall automatically – no lead line required.

But last fall, probably November, I noticed that although she still enjoyed coming to the arena for lessons, she was not willing to trot her young, light riders. She was definitely slowing down – not dragging – but a little slower than normal.

And so, as we said good-bye this past weekend, we ended the legacy of a horse that captured the heart of every rider she had as well as the parents of those riders. But her spirit will live on forever in our hearts and memories.

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.