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

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.

Footwear

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?

Shirts

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

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.

Buttercup_MorganMy young rider and Buttercup have a great working relationship. Buttercup is no push-button horse, but she knows when her rider means what she it and usually doesn’t put up a fuss. But today something was wrong.

Our warm-up exercise went well. It was a new pattern, but the rider had no problem with it and Buttercup complied. Last week we started going over a low jump. The rider is ready to learn how to canter, has great form, and had enjoyed going over ground poles. She did fine last week, so I thought we’d do it again this week.

As I was getting the jump ready, I asked her to trot Buttercup. She did, but Buttercup didn’t trot the distance. She broke trot after a few steps. So we tried again. This time, she didn’t even attempt to trot.  She stopped instead. Really? Stopping instead of trotting? This is not acceptable behavior. I’m studying the rider and the horse. I don’t see anything wrong with the rider. The horse is moving properly but refusing to trot. Stopping. And when she stops, she is not square, but extends her back legs a bit. I’m wondering if she needs to urinate, but isn’t doing it.

My first impulse was to get after Buttercup for not being responsive, but my gut feeling said not to. So I changed the lesson and we worked on leg yields, which were done quite nicely by both the rider and the horse.

Class is over and I make a mental note to work with Buttercup later in the day to try and figure out what happened in that lesson.

A half-hour later I get a text from the rider’s mother. They may have to cancel the afternoon plans because she is running the girl to Emergency. I’m stunned. It seems the girl had fallen the day before and hit her head. No lumps, no bumps, not even a mark. She seemed fine that evening and didn’t complain about not feeling well in the morning.

Being the avid rider that she is, she came for her lesson, but on the way home told her dad that the ride home was making her sick to her stomach and dizzy.

The next text was – she had suffered a concussion.

Was she not feeling right but hid it well for her riding lesson? She says she was fine until the ride home. Did Buttercup know that she wasn’t well and shouldn’t be trotting (actually shouldn’t be riding!), Buttercup is not saying. But what she is saying loud and clear – I do know what is happening with my rider and will act accordingly.

And I will always trust my horses and my gut.

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 fun things to do with horses is to teach them tricks. So at our March Golden Pony Club we did that.

There are some tricks that we would never teach our horses for safety reasons – like rearing or kissing on the lips. But there are so many others that are fun and very teachable. All tricks are actions that a horse will normally do. So the only thing that is tricky is getting the horse to do the action on command.

To really teach a trick, you need to repeat the action over and over a period of days. Since our club only meets for two hours, each member did the action with the horse three times. Rewards are also important. We give a small carrot as a reward if the horse at least “tries” to do the action.
We started with the one trick that everyone loves to see – Smiling! This is a relatively simple trick. The horse will naturally raise its upper lip to get a better smell of its surroundings. It will also lift the lip when it’s in pain. Lifting the lip is called flehmen (flay’-mon).

Smile Leslie_2 r25r50We teach it one of two ways: either by tickling the nose with a string – baling twine works just fine, or dipping the baling twine in a liquid that has a strong scent to it – like a perfume. We tried it both ways during our session and got some results.

 

 

Hug Buttercup_1 r25r50

The second trick was teaching the horse to give a hug. This one was a little more difficult for the girls. You need to hold the treat – in this case a carrot on a Frisbee – behind your back so the horse looks over your shoulder to get it. The girls arms a much shorter than an adults, so they had the treat closer to their waist and the horse simply went behind them to get the reward. We’ll have to work on this one a little more.

The last trick was shaking hands/hooves. This is on my questionable trick list, but it is a fun one, too. I place it on the questionable list because we don’t want to teach the horse to paw or strike forward with a hoof, but the horses that I taught it too, never picked up either habit, so I will teach it.

 

Shake Leslie_1 r25r50The cue word is “shake” and we start by putting a lead line around the fetlock and on the cue “shake” put some pressure on the rope to encourage the horse to pick up the hoof. If the horse shift weight to the other hoof and just moves the hoof that we want lifted, we reward to the horse. This trick takes longer to teach than the other tricks, but, like any trick, everyone enjoys seeing the horse “shake” hands/hooves.

To see more pictures of teaching the horses tricks go to our Facebook page.

 

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

 


There is a lost art in horsemanship – ground tying. The cowboys had to have horses that would stand when the reins were dropped so they could dismount and do their work, knowing that the horse was not going to wander off. Today we have cross-ties, tie-rings and a gamut of devices to keep our horses from wandering off. But how many horses will stand when the reins or lead-line is dropped?

At our barn, ground tying is one of the skills that we insist our horses learn. It’s not hard to teach. Most horses would rather stand than work, so we use that to our advantage.

Last week, I was so pleased to see two of our green horses just standing while their young trainers walked around the arena. Not only did the horse stand while the young lady moved away, but, each of the young ladies were able to circle the horse, then the arena, with the horse only moving her head to see where her leader was.

Talk about establishing a bond! The girls were very proud of their horses as well. Carrots for everyone for a job well done!


Having and training horses for the past several years, in addition to  being a teacher, has really shown me that there is much similarity between all living beings.

When we train our horses, we follow the three C’s – Clear, Concise, Consistent. Let me show you how this would work with a simple task. At our barn, we want the horse to stop at a doorway when it is on lead line. It doesn’t matter if it’s the gate from the arena to the barn or the stall door. We want the horse to stop, let the leader through, then the horse walks through when asked.

Clear – Be exact about what you want the horse to do. In this case we want the horse to stop at the doorway. Not just slow down so the leader can get through the door first, not stop three feet or more from the doorway, so the leader has to extend the lead line, but at the doorway. This means the leader doesn’t ask the horse to stop until it is in the correct position.

Concise – How few words can you use when you ask the horse to stop? At our barn, say “whoa.” No explanation, no extra words, just “whoa.” Then the leader’s feet stop moving. If the horse insists on continuing through the doorway, apply a quick tug on the lead line to remind the horse that it’s suppose to listen to the direction.

Consistent – This, in my opinion, is the most important part. We stop at EVERY door, EVERY time. No deviation, ever. In a hurry today, so we skip the stop at the doorway? That tells the horse that the rules do not apply all the time. Horses learn fast. They know which leaders follow the rules and which don’t. Then they try to convince other leaders that the “rules” do not apply to them.

Think about it. Then think about your kids or other people you know or work with. Would the three C’s work with them as well?


Trust is such a big issue when it come to horses and riders. You will hear one person say, “I trust my horse’s judgement better than my own on the trails.” Another may say, “I could never trust my horse in a new situation.”

When there is a strong bond between the horse and rider, it seems all is well; when there isn’t – the picture isn’t pretty.
I just read an article that was published in two different magazines showing how the horse and rider or leader are intertwined. According to the article, there was an experiment with 10 horses and 20 people. The first group of 10 people were to ride the horse. Both the horse and rider were wired to pick up the heartbeat. The riders were told to ride the horse past a group of people four times, but on the fourth pass, several of the bystanders would open an umbrella. Watching the monitors, the persons who were conducting the experiment say BOTH the riders and horses heart rates increase on the fourth pass. Some of the horses were getting fidgety. Why? Only the riders knew about the umbrellas, which, by the way, we never opened! But, the riders anticipated and the horses responded to the feeling they were receiving from the rider.

Next group only led the horse with a halter and lead line. They were told the same thing. Walk by the group of spectators four times, on the fourth time some on the people will open an umbrella. The results were identical! The horse not only feels our energy when we are on their backs but when they are being led as well!Copper Boy kisses ghost cropped

At our arena, we tell the parents and riders that we will dismount if there are severe storms or thunder storms.  The parents always question whether the horses are afraid of thunder.  Our answer has always been, “No, but if the rider gets scared, the horses wil  get scared as well.  No matter how much we try to desensitize the horses, they will still respond to the rider or leader.

We witnessed this just the other day.  We had three adult riders in the arena.  Two were on lead line, one was riding independent.   It was not a particularly windy day, but, in the middle of the class, a tree in the woods behind the arena decided to fall.  One of the riders on lead line head the rustle, tensed up, then decided it was nothing.  Her horse did a little jig for one or two steps and immediately quieted down.  The second rider on lead line was in deep conversation with the leader.  Neither of them were aware of the noise; their horse did nothing.  The third rider saw the tree as it started to fall and began to react to the anticipated noise.  Her horse reacted to her anticipation and trotted out about 30 feet.  The rider was able to regain composure and bring the horse to a walk.  The horse that did nothing is our newest horse and has had the least amount of desensitizing.

Which makes me wonder – how important is it for the rider to trust the horse and the horse to trust the rider?