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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Driving on country road

I have often joked with my students, when their horse “runs over a cone” that they will be driving on the curbs when they get their driving license. But, all joking aside, learning how to ride a horse is a lot like driving a car, and can prepare a young rider for taking the wheel.

Focus your vision

Whether you are driving or riding, you focus needs to be down the road or down the trail/wall. If you are focused or distracted by something close, your hands on the reins or wheel, the speedometer, the horse’s head position, or a myriad of other things, you may miss something in the road or that cone, barrel, pole in the arena.

Don’t tailgate other vehicles or horses

A sudden stop by the vehicle or horse in front of you is never a good situation. Maintaining a safe distance when driving is important, especially if the road are bad. If you can’t see the bottom of the horse’s hoof that’s in front of you – you’re too close. And the collision could be more severe than a bent fender.

Be aware of your surroundings

The person who is biking, the ball that’s going to end up in front of your car, the driver that doesn’t see the stop sign; or the deer in the woods, the person who is biking, the flag the is fluttering. All these and more can cause an unexpected incident.

One of my riders was recovering from a stroke. As she was learning to ride, I noticed that she did not move her head when going around a corner or making a circle. We spent several weeks practicing looking where you are going, then make the turn. About a month later she told me that she keeps hearing me telling her to turn her head when she’s driving. She did not realize until now that she didn’t turn and look before going around corners. Now she does!

Skills learned in horseback riding are definitely transferable to other areas of our life.

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.

That’s “riding” – not “writing”

Daniel_Buttercup_the_reFor the longest time I’ve used my dressage cones to teach letters and to give the riders a marker to either stop at or make a circle.  As the riders progressed, I’d ask them to stop their horse at a letter, then tell me a word that started with that letter.  All part of the fun of therapeutic riding.

 

 

Jasmine_Lu-Rain_likeLast week, Mrs. Danneker, the teacher who brings her students for therapeutic riding once a week, asked if we could do words instead of letters.  Why not!  So sent me the sight words that the students were learning that week and I printed them out, put them in plastic holders and placed them on the four corner barrels.

 

Kyla_Slick_can_reThe riders thought it was great to circle a word PLUS it reinforced their vocabulary words for the week.  They were so proud when they found their word, too!