Holiday Gift Guide for the Equestrian in Your Life

To be honest, it’s quite simple to shop for any horse-lover. If you stay along the lines of anything equine-related, you will usually be in a good place. But to get the creative juices flowing, here are a couple of ideas to get the equestrian in your life during this holiday season.

If your budget is $25 or less…

It’s not that you’re SOL, but the horse world is expensive. A smaller budget means less you can work with. With that said, there are still a ton of gifts that will still benefit your horse-lover.

  1. Socks. I know, this is silly, but socks are incredibly important for any equestrian. Socks come in all shapes and uses, so the possibilities are endless. Check out all these choices here
  2. If socks aren’t your thing, try looking into horse treats or other horse toys. These are incredibly useful tools for any horse owner, therefore your gift will go a long way.Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 8.02.59 PM.png
  3. For someone that doesn’t own or ride a horse, but is still an equine fanatic, I would recommend anything from a book about horses to a stuffed animal. There are so many choices of books and find a plush toy is as easy as walking into a toy store. Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 8.04.29 PM.png

If your budget is under $50…

  1. Polo wraps are a piece of tack that nearly every rider needs. You can never have enough polo wraps! Polos also come in fun colors, so they add extra flare to your gift.
  2. Speaking of horse wear, a nice nylon halter or a saddle pad is definitely in budget and can easily coordinate with new polo wraps!
  3. Although breeches might be too expensive in this price bracket, riding attire is never out of the question. Plenty of stores have stylish shirts, riding accessories, and jackets that are under $50. An equestrian can never have enough belts or UV riding shirts!

If you have all the money in the world to spend…

  1. This is where it gets fun! If I could ask for anything this holiday season, it would definitely be a tailspin (or horsehair) bracelet/keychain. These items are made from your horse’s tail hair and are hand made. I think these bracelets are stylish and are very sentimental. Honestly, any personalized jewelry for them and their horse will make their holiday season even better.
  2. Home decor. If I had money to spend, I would get each one of my horse friends a giant canvas of their horse to hang in their house. Just think, wouldn’t that be a dream come true? You could also get unique items like a horse shoe boot rack or some fun bookends.
  3. A photoshoot for them and their horse. Have you seen those gorgeous black backdrop photos? Or those beautiful photo shoots where the girl is kissing the horse’s nose? Well I have, and I know right now that I would DIE if someone bought me a photoshoot with my heart horse. Having pictures to cherish for the rest of my life about one of my favorite things would mean the world to me! 
  4. Depending on their discipline, breeches or riding jeans are always a good go-to. Since these can get expensive, buying a pair of riding pants will go a long way in an equestrian’s life. For that matter, buying higher priced items like a helmet, boots, bridles, and other necessary (but pricey) items will be the perfect gift!
  5. And how can I not add this? The best gift of all is a pony. 🙂 

In all seriousness, an equestrian will love whatever you give them. I wasn’t kidding when I talked about socks! I go through these things like nobody’s business, so a nice pair of riding socks are a lifesaver! And if you can’t afford a tailspin bracelet, a key chain with a horse figurine on it will do no wrong. Just remember, giving something from the heart will make it the perfect gift.

And don’t forget to take holiday shopping one stride at a time!

 

*I do not own any of these pictures

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Exercises to Improve Your Riding (Without Riding)

It’s no-stirrup November! But if you’re like me, and have a horse that can’t do more than 5 minutes of trot, you might need more to strengthen your legs. Cue my expertise with crossing training! Utilizing multiple sports to create an exercise regimen honestly helps your riding and you will only benefit.

It all started 10 years ago. When I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly in the best shape. I wasn’t overweight, but I had a nice layer of fat in all of the places where I didn’t want it. Riding made me feel fit, but not when it counted. Whenever my trainer would make me do a no-stirrups lesson, I would always be exhausted after. After the lesson, I would always ask her how to improve my riding and get stronger. Her response, as almost any trainer says, was to keep riding and it will get better.

This didn’t sit well with me. I know where she was coming from. As a trainer, you easily have 4 horses to ride each day. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have multiple horses to practice with and I cannot get excited about doing no-stirrups for 30 minutes once a week. I need something more. So, in college, I decided to make myself a nice fitness regimen. Cross-training, or using multiple disciplines to obtain fitness, was (and still is) heavily featured in that regimen.

Once I started working out regularly, while riding as often as I can, and sometimes dropping my stirrups because I know how important that is, I noticed a huge difference. And because I want everyone to be the best rider they can be, I thought I would share some exercises I do to improve my riding.

  • Plank. I know, literally everyone shares this exercise as a must for horse people. But there is a reason! Doing plank strengthens your whole core and works your back muscles. This exercise works all of the muscles that you use while riding…and helps you tone! To do this exercise, simply start on your hands and knees, then move to either your forearms and toes, or your palms and toes. There are also multiple variations of plank that you can do it you want to challenge yourself, or if you just get really bored while doing the plank. Try rocking your waist side to side, or moving your hips up and down to work your core. If you want to work your arms more, go from your forearms to your palms, then back to your forearms. If you want to tone your legs, try balancing on only one foot and use the other leg to pulse in the air, or simply hold it up. There are many variations of plank, and they all work wonders for your riding.
This is the typical stance of the plank position.
  • Yoga. While this isn’t exactly a workout exercise, doing some form of yoga works wonders. A couple of years ago, I HATED the thought of doing yoga. I found it completely useless and boring. Since then, I’ve converted and would proudly consider myself a yogi. I love that yoga not only works your body, but is also good for your mental health. On top of that, it stretches your body in ways that you never knew you needed to do, strengthens your balance, and creates muscles that will only help you while riding. If you want to learn more about yoga, or even try it, I recommend finding a yoga studio close to you or using an app for guided practice. I personally use Gaiam Yoga Studio for yoga and I love it! This app has tons of options for all levels, as well as targeting areas like relieving back pain (which we know all riders have). Before you totally hate on yoga, honestly try one of the many different styles of it. You might end up loving it!
  • Squats and lunges. We all know to never skip leg day. While our legs will forever be strong due to the fact that we hold onto the horse with our legs, its also important to keep that strength by toning other areas of muscle that us riders don’t use all of the time. Walking lunges, squats, sumo squats, jumping lunges, or any exercise working your legs will only help you in the saddle.

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  • Hiking. Now onto my second favorite sport! While finishing a course is my one true love, summiting a peak also gives you the most badass feeling. Hiking is great cardio, but also works your legs like nobody’s business. Plus hiking will give you great views of nature! So log on to all trails or another hiking app to see what hikes you can do in your area.Processed with VSCO with m5 preset
  • Running. This is another exercise that is good, but is probably one that almost no one wants to do. First, let me explain that there are two types of cardio: weight bearing, and non-weight bearing. Riding is non-weight bearing, since we are not “bearing the weight” of gravity while we’re working out. This is good cardio, but in order for you to properly work your heart in a healthy way, weight bearing cardio should be considered. I took up running because I wanted to stay heart-healthy, but I didn’t have the time to walk 3 miles a day. Running works for me because I can knock out a couple of miles, while working up a sweat, and staying fit.
  • Arms and Back. This area of the body is crucial for riding. While I usually knock out some arm exercises by lifting hay bales, exercises in the weight room can also do the trick. I’ve found that focusing on triceps, lats, forearms, delts, and pecs help with riding. They all strengthen your arms, while keeping your back strong so that you can maintain a good posture.

I know these exercises basically target all the muscles in your body, but if you want more specific workouts, I am happy to share what I do at the gym and for other workouts. What do you do to stay fit for riding (besides riding)?

And if this is the start of your journey towards a more active lifestyle, remember to just take it one stride at a time 🙂

The Golden Rules of Rehab

 

Remember when Raven was so lame that I took her to a specialty veterinarian, and he told me that she needed to be retired? Well, after 3 weeks after that moment, she was sound. So thank you, Raven, for always keeping me on my toes and never knowing what my life will give me.

…And that’s the first lesson of horses. And the first lesson of rehabilitation. Horses will never let you off easy. If they keep things interesting for us, might as well make it so we can keep it interesting for them…during their “off” season.

As a continuation of a post I wrote about combatting stall rest, I am continuing the conversation about rehab. Since that’s apparently something I am well-versed in (thank you, darling horse).

Before this year, Raven’s injuries were mainly hard tissue. This year, though, she hurt her lateral collateral ligament in her left front hoof (aka soft tissue) and something I’ve hardly dealt with. So cue my frustration because my horse literally never gives me a break.

To continue the story about rehab, lets start at the end of summer. So after she had about 6 months off, I moved her up to my new town, then we went lame again (yay love you Rae). Basically, my life is a bunch of I-dont-know-whats-going-on moments. But I think this is the second lesson of rehab. You honestly never know what is going on with them. We make these giant, beautiful creatures jump things and put their head in weird places, and guess what? Sometimes that makes them lame. So sometimes they’re sound; then they’re not. It could have been my fault, but it also could have been Raven…

When you have a horse, chances are you will spend a great deal of time hand walking them and praying to the soundness gods that your horse is magically sound. But, trust me, there are some golden rules of rehab.

The first is to make a plan…and stick to it! You know your horse, but your vet knows their physiology. LISTEN TO THEM.

The second is to make sure you don’t go crazy with all of this time off. I’m weird and go to the barn everyday, even if my horse is off, because if I don’t get to at least touch one horse a day, I go crazy. So do whatever floats your boat. Lease another horse, take lessons on the school horse, create silly obstacle courses for your horse to do, make them learn a trick. Honestly there is so much to do! Little activities you can do with your horse will keep you sane while also keeping their life interesting.

The third is to create a plan going forward. When Raven comes back from this injury, I know that she will no longer be able to do what I want. Knowing that I won’t be able to compete her kills me, but c’est la vie, right? Know your actions going forward with your horse, because that can also determine your rehab plan. If your horse hurt their suspensory for the 7th time, then maybe don’t let them continue hurting themselves and give them another job.

The fourth, and hardest rule, is to know when to stop. Sometimes horses have a funny way of telling you that they’re done. For Raven, it might be right now. For others, it might be throwing their rider over fence after fence. Being able to listen to your horse, and not your head, is the hardest part about rule number four.

Horses can be hard on us, but they’re cute, so its worth it. I will always treasure my competition horse-turned companion. I hope that one day I can have an easy ride on her, and I hope one day I can have another competition horse that won’t be so structurally flawed as she is so that I can actually compete. Maybe Raven will return to normal; maybe she’ll have a baby. There are so many opportunities when one door closes!

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But for now, I am going to take it one stride at a time and pray for a miracle!

Staying Cool When It’s God Awful Outside

It’s averaging about 107°F in my town right now and we’re expecting a major heat wave this weekend. There are no words to describe this type of heat, except for unbearably crazy. The are a couple good things about the weather, though.

  1. It gave me inspiration for this post, and
  2. I have a new appreciation for air conditioning

But for those days that you can’t spend 12 hours inside an air controlled building, I thought it would be a good idea to bring up some ways to beat the final days of drastic heat before it is fall and then we have to worry about how we will ride in 29°F weather!

First things first, invest in a huge, durable water bottle. I have a Nalgene and a Hydroflask, but my Hydroflask is smaller and I have to refill it about 5 times a day. If you’re going to be outside for long periods of time, the bigger the water bottle, the better. I’ve noticed that after awhile, water will taste good when you’re hot and sweaty no matter the temperature. If you want to spend $50 on a water bottle, get a 40 oz. Yeti or Hydroflask. If you want to spend $12, get a Nalgene. The most important thing about riding in the heat is to stay hydrated!

Another thing that helps with the heat are the long sleeve, UV protecting, sun shirts that you can buy at almost any horse supply store. Ariat, Kerrits, Noble Outfitters, Goode Rider, Kastel, Tuff Rider, and the list goes on, all make these shirts so there is no trouble finding what you need. It seems counterintuitive to wear a long sleeve shirt outside when its triple-digit heat, but these shirts are life savers. They’re made with cooling fabric and have a couple vents in them, so it feels like you’re riding with a tank top on. They also eliminate the need for sunscreen on your arms! I personally love riding in these shirts no matter the temperature.

On the subject of clothing, investing in some riding tights or breeches made of cooling fabric is never a bad choice. Actually, just buy everything in technical fabric. The magic moisture-wicking ways of these garments are by far the most amazing thing of the 21st century. You can buy socks, underwear, breeches, boots, bandanas, almost anything under the sun containing this awesome fabric.

There are also cooling vests, bandanas, headbands, and neck coolers that you can buy if you’re riding for long periods of time in crazy heat. You can soak these in cold water for a little bit and they will stay cool for hours! These are great investments if you’ll be spending the whole day riding outside.

Aside from cool clothing, there are a couple other things I swear by when I’m riding in the heat. First, never, ever, ever, take the heat as an excuse to not wear your helmet. The heat can bring on exhaustion faster than anything else, so you don’t want to be fainting on your horse with no head protection. Also, if you don’t feel well, don’t ride. Simple as that. Your horse is probably warm as well and can handle another day off.

If you do ride in the heat, try to choose the coolest hours of the day. Aka, the early morning or late evening. It’s also a good idea to properly cool yourself and your horse down. Obviously hosing them off is a good choice, but take extra care to walk them out as well. When it’s really hot outside, administering electrolytes to your horse (and you!) will help them combat any heat stress they have.

These are just a couple of thoughts for combatting the heat and still riding! If you want some more thoughts, let me know! Remember to just take your exercise one stride at a time, and stop if you or your horse doesn’t feel normal!

Discovering Other Disciplines

I am beginning another segment on my blog because I feel like it and it’s fun so here we go yay! It’s called latte horse talk. My attempt is to make it similar to coffee talk, where you just discuss interesting topics and see what happens. Today, I want to talk about different disciplines.

I started out my riding career as an event rider. I swore I thought I was so good at riding. When I started competing, I was 10 and I knew that I had a long way to go and a lot to learn before I was riding some serious fences, but I figured that staying with event trainers would land me there quickly. Boy, I REALLY had a long way to go, but it seemed completely doable. Honestly, it would have worked out. Staying in one discipline usually works just fine, but I had a bit of a different path.

Instead, I tried different things. Most of this happened when I went away to college. Not only did I experiment with jumpers, hunters, and dressage, but I also took classes about conformation, judging, and beginning western riding! I also took a halter breaking class (which I talk about in this blog post) and I learned a lot about horse behavior. Each class/experience I had gave me a bit to take into my own riding. I’d like to think I became a better rider because of it.

Even if you don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and do another discipline, try taking a lesson with another trainer! Sometimes they give you a solution to a problem you’ve been having forever. One of the first times I rode with a different trainer, I asked why my horse kept doing running after the fence over and over again and I felt like I was falling forward whenever I would try to half halt. I swear it seems like the simplest solution now, but she casually said try keeping your leg on. I know, I know, it’s like the easiest thing to do and for years I didn’t have it in my head to do it. But now, I will never forget that and my half halts are so darn good it’s insane!

If you’re looking to get better at your riding, or looking for a fun adventure, try other disciplines. Compete in a jumper class if you’re a dressage person. Sit on a reiner and try a spin or two. Heck, just take a lesson from a different trainer. Trust me.

Because you learn amazing things along the way!

Okay cool, well I hope it works out then. Just take your learning experience one stride at a time and it will all work out!

 

 

Jump Into…Life

Hi.

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So, its currently Friday morning and this week has been a whirlwind. I can officially say I’ve been out of school for one month and been inconsiderately shoved into the real world. And with this one month, it’s been really hard. But in so many ways, I can reflect on it and honestly I blow myself away with what I’ve accomplished.

This just goes to show that life doesn’t gives you what you make of it. It will be all up in your face, criticizing you and constantly telling you to do something different. But it also gives you unbelievable opportunities. Just from one month, I can’t believe that I have done all the things I did. The crazy thing is, it didn’t feel like a crap load at the beginning. In the middle of it all, yes, it was a lot to take on. But after, after it’s all been done, I can actually see the amount I’ve tackled. But I can never see the depth of my accomplishments until I reflect on it later.

I think this is a weakness, but there is also some beauty in it. This means that I need to take more time to reflect in my day, and hopefully this will lead to me understanding my actions and, hopefully, understanding life a bit more. Everything that I’m thinking and writing about write now ties back into patience and perseverance. (Maybe I should rename my blog patience and perseverance because I swear I keep talking about those two things.)

So if you’re riding a youngster and they, for the life of them, won’t give into your contact, or if you’re like me right now and struggling to find your passion and purpose in life, just remember to take it one stride at a time. Also, have patience and perseverance. There’s so many other things that I could say as advice right now, like always be yourself or always trust your instinct, but honestly, I don’t feel qualified to say those. Right now, I am unsure of who I am. I’ve always been an equestrian and a student. Now, I don’t have that student part. It makes me feel lost, but I can trust myself that I’ll figure it out. I also always know that being an equestrian will never leave. And that’s the part that I hold onto right now!

Life is hard. There’s so many forces always pressing down on us, but that’s just an excuse. With all of this rejection from unanswered job applications that’s destroying my self-esteem, it emphasizes that life gives you absolutely nothing. And in that moment, you find out who you are and what you are all about.

Okay, enough rambling. But seriously, take things one stride at a time. Every one of those strides is a small accomplishment. Every one of those strides shows the amount of strength you have. Every one of those strides gets you closer to your goal.

Jump Into…Packing!

I’m kicking off this new series a couple of days early. I felt like it needed a to happen now and not later so here we are. Without further ado, welcome to the new series…Jumping Into! What better way to track the progress of moving than beginning with packing (yuck).

the best

I was laying on my floor last night, drinking a beer, and taking a break from packing up our apartment when I just got this crazy feeling. I’ve been so anxious about this move (for obvious reasons), but I felt oddly calm.Besides the time that I moved from home to college, I’ve never moved by myself to a new city.  In what is supposed to be such a hectic and disorderly moment, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was such a great feeling. It was one of those moments that you cherish forever because you can never forget that raw happiness and excitement.

And I think there’s an important thing to remember about this. Even though change is scary, it is absolutely necessary. Not to say that I was fighting all of the change that was in my life in the past couple months and now, but I certainly wasn’t welcoming it. That mindset, though, didn’t allow me to grow with this change. That mindset didn’t allow me to become better.

Change is in everything, not just the typical examples of moving towns or graduating from a school. It’s also true that basically every living thing resists change. Raven hates when I give a command a different way, when I’m late with her dinner (or even worse…her grain!), or just anything that deviates from normal routine. And while this all seems trivial, it makes a big difference in our lives.  Think of it this way: If I don’t do things slightly differently, or give her the change to experience new things that changes her routine, going to a show or learning something new will be over-dramatic and will probably lead to an uphill battle.

So, it’s better to just embrace change, because it’s inevitable. Another good way to think about change is that we are growing, learning, and striving to be something better than we once were. I’m trying to take this mindset over everything else, and I think that it’s working!

But then, all of my positive mindset went away when I remembered all of the packing I had to do and how I still need to clean everything before we leave. Uhhh my to-do list is so long….

 

Moving Barns

In exactly 2 weeks I will have an MBA in general management. In exactly 2 weeks, I will leave the town I’ve called my home for 5 years and relocate to a city I’ve never lived in and be pushed entirely out of my comfort zone.

On top of that, Raven isn’t coming with me. Well, she’s going up to the new area eventually, but I just haven’t found a place for her yet. I’m hesitant to move her to a barn without seeing it first and talking to the people that board there for a very important reason. Most barns will grossly fall short of your expectations.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but unfortunately many establishments have major cracks in their business. Sometimes the footing isn’t right, the barns have old wood that look on the verge of falling apart, the hay is bad, there’s no pasture space, the list can go on. So, while I go on this journey, I thought it is important to remind myself (and whoever is on the same quest for a perfect barn) of what to look for in your new horse’s home.

  1. Price of board and services. This is a perfect time to dust off the ol’ computer and do some research of the area. When I lived in Sonoma County, it was unheard of to have board under $600, but SLO has board priced around $400. This drastic difference can severely limit your options, especially if you don’t want to pay more than a couple hundred. It’s important to get some number on cost of living and average board rates in the area.
  2. Types of horse housing. It’s also important to know the options you have to board your horse. For instance, some only include pasture boarding, but my mare would most likely kill every other horse if she had to be in a pasture. Knowing the housing situation will also help you determine what you can afford.
  3. Quality of feed. This is probably one of the most important things. Bad quality hay means an angry colon which leads to a colicky horse. No one wants a sick horse, so make sure the food is good. If you still want to board somewhere that has bad hay, be willing to haul in your own.
  4. Additional services. When I had my horse at the first barn I rode at, blanketing and turnouts were included. I moved, and everything changed. Most barns don’t include services like that in the normal rate. Figure this out in order to know what services you need and how much you’ll be paying.
  5. Training policy. Some barns don’t allow outside trainers to come work with you. That means you’ll have to trailer your horse to your coach’s facility.

This is a working list and is definitely not exhaustive. I try to be open to looking at barns, especially when I don’t know the area and if the website looks outdated. It’s important to remember to communicate with people, too. Talking to the barn manager, talking to the trainer onsite, and talking to the boarders will really help you get a feel for the barn. Also, remember that you can say no and if you make the mistake of barding somewhere that you end up not liking, you can leave at any time. While the horse business is more like a community, it can be difficult to leave. However, remember that these facilities are businesses and there will be no hard feelings. Just do what’s best for your horse!

 

Happy searching! Remember to take things one stride at a time!

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Taking a New Direction

Over the weekend, I received horrible news.

Raven needs to be retired from show jumping.

I knew this was coming. My horse has a significant pigeon toe (her hooves are turned in) and I’ve always known her performance days were numbered. She was always on-again, off-again lame. If I had a penny for every show we had to miss because she was lame, I might be significantly less broke than I am now.

Even with my knowledge of her poor hoof conformation, I am still mad about the situation. I’m mad that NO ONE ever warned me that this would happen. People occasionally mentioned that her imperfections might be a bump in the road, but no one ever told me that her hooves would create such heartbreak to retire my beloved mare at age 12.

While I needn’t blame anyone for my mistakes, I can certainly look to the horsemen and women in my life for never initiating a conversation. I know I should be bigger than this, but because no one spoke up, I have to decide what to do with my horse for the next 15 years because no one wanted to let me know it might be bad to have her as a competitor. Honestly, someone should have said that poor structural conformation will lead to injuries and she should not be a performance horse.

Her conformation sucks, I know. What sucks even more, though, is that she may never fully heal. This breaks my heart even more because she LOVES to work. Her ears are always pricked forward while jumping and she gets excited when I start tacking her up for a ride. It absolutely breaks my heart that she never gets to jump another course in her life.

I just received the rehabilitation plan for Rae, and while there is some home she will get better and we can do some fun stuff, there is a huge chance this injury will be recurring. Basically, her feet are tearing her away from her favorite thing to do.

So, folks, know your horse conformation before you take a risk and purchase a horse. Or, if you don’t know, ask someone experienced. Conformation is a big deal with horses, especially performance horses. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask me. While I may seem like the wrong person to go to because I made this silly mistake, keep in mind I got Raven when I was 13. I’ve had multiple physiology and conformation courses since then and I’ve competitively judged numerous halter classes. So don’t be afraid to ask! I can do a series about conformation, too, if that would help.

And don’t forget to take things one stride at a time! Especially when everything around you feels like it’s changing.

It’s Simple.

Whenever I have a lesson, it always goes the same. I start by warming up. Raven always feels good, with some room for improvement, but that’s what a lesson is for, right? We start warming up over jumps and it’s easy to see that we only jump once a week. We’re slow to remember everything we have to do to have a good jump. My mind starts telling me to pay attention to my leg, then my seat, then my upper body, but I also need to keep Rae straight to the jump otherwise her shoulder pops out…the list goes on. Soon, I get frazzled by everything I need to do and then I just become a mindless rider because my brain is too preoccupied with what I need to do instead of what I’m actually doing.

But this probably happens for 10 minutes, and then my trainer comes to the rescue. She always says the simplest things to get me back on track. If my shoulder start slumping forward, she simply tells me to focus on my lower leg. I don’t understand how it works, but soon my whole body is doing what I want it to do as soon as I just focus on my leg. Then, she’ll mention the outside rein and voila! Raven is straight and perfect over every jump. My lesson ends perfectly with things I need to work on before next week.

I swear, this happens every time I have a lesson. And my trainer isn’t telling me things I don’t know, she’s just reminding me of things to do that I temporarily forget. But this is what I want to talk about today: simplicity.

Simplicity while riding is a life-saver. I get so bogged down trying to remember to keep my body a certain way and to keep contact like this and to make sure my toes are pointed forward at all times and to basically be a perfect rider. I have honestly struggled with this for as long as I can remember.

But recently, I’m trying something new. Each ride, I focus on only one thing and try to work only on that. Or if I’m struggling with the right lead change, or Raven’s shoulder is popping out, or I can’t get my left leg yield, I simply exhale and start from scratch. Honestly, this has helped tremendously. Focusing on one aid at a time can significantly improve your ride. This is because both you and your horse will be more relaxed, and you will become a more effective rider.

I can provide a list of examples for this. One while ago, my horse was not listening to my half halts after a jump. Whenever I needed to get her back to her collected canter, she would just ignore me for about a second too long and then our next jump would be ugly. It was so frustrating! Finally, my trainer told me to engage my core and keep my upper body back. It worked phenomenally. Not only was my horse more responsive to my half halts, but our canter was more balanced. Or last week, my horse WAS NOT listening to my leg. She wanted to go, by all means she was basically galloping, but she just wanted to go her own speed. Then, I just repositioned my leg so my toes were straighter and my heels weren’t in her side, and there was a 100% difference. These little changes ended up making a huge impact on our ride.

Let’s also look at what happens when you don’t focus on one thing. (I have a lot of examples for this, too.) We’ve all had those rides where, for the life of you, nothing is going right. Just everything you do leads to more frustration and your horse isn’t listening, and you’re just sitting there like omg Raven, just get your life together. Well, most of the time, it’s completely my fault. I’m usually leaning forward, with my spurs dug into her (accidentally!), and somehow gripping with my knees. At this point, I usually realize what’s going on and try to fix all of it at the same time. But then I’m so focused on these three things, I don’t realize that my horse is going down the side of the arena as crooked as can be and that’s why we’re not getting our extension. If I would have just changed my leg, then worried about everything else later, it’s simpler to catch your faults early on.

Raven also suffers if I try to change everything because I’m preoccupied with things I need to work on and stressed out that we’re not doing anything right. If I just focus and simplify, I can relax. Not only will she relax because I am, but she will be relaxed because there isn’t an abrupt change.

Simplicity doesn’t just affect your riding style; it can also affect your tack. I had this friend at the barn a while back that would constantly change her bit. These would be drastic changes, too, like a hackamore to a snaffle, to an elevator, to a myler. Her poor horse had no consistency and their riding immediately suffered. Her horse would throw her, toss his head, just about anything tracing back to the complexity of her tack. It was terrible to see, mostly because it was easy to tell how frustrated the both of them were! Finally, when she came to her senses, the horse calmed down.

I’ve done this, too. Raven used to flat out drag me around the cross country course. We quick jumped from a snaffle to a Pelham within a month after I got her. Around the same time, we also had a problem with her opening her mouth, so we obviously thought a flash would help. Fast forward a couple of years, and the Pelham works wonders! She’s also not opening her mouth, but she’s having a hard time relaxing while I’m riding. We could never figure it out, until I had an epiphany and decided to take the flash off. She was suddenly a different horse.

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We tried a snaffle for our first jumper show and it did. not. work.pictures1 307

So, we moved to the Pelham. (You can see that we had the flash in both cases, so we made it a simple transition.)

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for about half of horses. Having a running martingale with a flash and a 3-ring with spurs might not be the best choice for your horse. Sometimes, a simple bridle, a bit, and one pair of reins is all they need.

So, just try to take a deep breath, simplify your aids, and don’t worry about being perfect. Your horse will be thankful that you try to improve and will also be more relaxed that you make tiny improvements. Simplicity also comes from focusing and relaxing. If you feel overwhelmed, half of the time you probably feel that your ride is becoming to complex. Rides are simple, just take things one stride at a time.