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.

Equitation D_E winners

It’s that time of the year at our barn. Our annual horse show will be held on Saturday, August 13th. For our barn, we only do one show a year and it is a fun show. We feel our riders should have the experience of performing in front of other people. It also gives them the opportunity to invite their relatives and friends to watch them perform on their favorite horse.

For some of our riders this is an exciting, fun day; for others, they are concerned they won’t do good enough.

Yes, there will be a judge. Yes, she will score your ride. Yes, there will be ribbons based on that score. No, no one will think any less of you because of where you place.

What we try to impress on our riders is that a score and the subsequent ribbon is based on that moment in time. Given another ride, your score might be higher or lower. The same is true of the other riders. So there is no reason to get upset if you did not get the color you were hoping for. And even if you got a lower place this year than you did last year, there are other elements that could make the difference.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The test

If you moved up a level in riding this year, the test will be more difficult or challenging for you. This is good. It will make you stretch to perform better.

If it is a new test, you may feel a little uncomfortable with it even though there is a reader telling you the next move. That’s okay too. In life you may find yourself in new situations. It’s what you make of the new situation that counts.

The score

The score is an accumulation of the points you received. If you rode the same test last year, compare your score against last year’s score. Did you improve? Probably. If you didn’t where did you fall short? Don’t compare your score against the other riders – even though the ribbon and placement are based on “the score” it’s best to compete against yourself.

The horse

How is your horse today? Your horse is part of your team. If your horse is having a bad day, it will reflect in your score. You could give your horse a pep talk, but chances are if her joints are hurting or if it extremely hot or cold, you aren’t going to get the same ride that you would under ideal conditions. You have to always take your horse into consideration.

The rider

You are the other half of that team. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, your horse will feel that you are tired and neither of you will perform well. The same thing if you are nervous, tense, or otherwise upset. If you can’t focus or concentrate, neither can your horse.

When you put all the pieces together the best way to approach you show is to relax, feel good about yourself and your horse, and smile – regardless of the color of the ribbon.

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.


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.


Nearly every Therapeutic and beginner riding class at our facility ends with a game. Sometimes even the more experienced riders want to play games on horseback.

I find games are an excellent way to reinforce skills that would be “boring” if we practiced them as part of a riding lesson. And once the rider gets the concept, we can advance to the next level.

Here’s a sample of some games and the expected results:

Red light green light. Played on horseback the same way we play it on the ground. Reinforces asking the horse to walk on and stop.

Egg and spoon is a classic. The rider holds a long handles spoon with an egg or golf ball in the bowl part of the spoon. The object is to get from point A to point B without dropping the egg. Skill learned – soft, steady hands.

Chaos is a favorite in our barn for all riders. We play it with the holiday pictures on the arena wall or with objects on the barrels. The rider tries to be the first one to take the horse to the item called and stopping the horse at that item. Skill – focus!

Ring game. The rider moves a ring from one cone to another. We start by stopping the horse at the cone to retrieve or place the ring and advance to doing it without stopping the horse. This game improves motor skills and special relations as well as stopping and walking the horse.

Focus, following patterns, spatial relations are all essential to good riding. Why make a lesson boring when games can be the way to learn!

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.

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.