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.

Why I Ride

I don’t ride my horse to be perfect at something. I ride because it’s who I am.

I was 6 years old when I decided that horses must be in my life. I had my mom, my dad, my teachers (basically a lot of people) tell me that I couldn’t do it or that I couldn’t afford it or that I wouldn’t have time for it. I had a lot of people tell me no, so why did I say, actually yes?

Honestly, I don’t really have an answer. Riding horses was always a no-brainer for me. I might not be the best at it, I might not have the money or time to quickly move up in show competitions, but I still persevere. I keep it in my life because the feeling of sitting on a horse is the most liberating feeling. You have control over a 1200 lb. animal with the ability to go anywhere and do anything.

I can also say that horses teach lots. There’s so much you learn about communication, responsibility, perseverance, discipline, and love that you can’t really learn from another sport, animal, or person. My horse taught me so much about interpersonal skills and the importance of humility. She also taught me that I need to be for her every single day, just like she is for me. She taught me that I need to take care of her, just like she takes care of me. We have created a team, and that is probably one of the best feelings ever.

So why do I ride?

I ride because it’s who I am. I feel free, I feel alive, I feel like myself.

Time for some spring cleaning…of bad habits

It’s that time of year again. The weather is better, horses can stretch their legs, you aren’t in the mud all the time. It’s also when your horse’s energy is sky high and their ground manners could probably use a good brushing up. I wrote a post similar to this (here’s the link), but let’s review the basics so your horse isn’t constantly dragging you to the nearest grassy patch.

Just like riding, horses benefit from assertive handlers. There is no need to be aggressive or try to “man-handle” them, but just emulate Beyonce’s confidence and you’ll be good. A horse with superb ground manners also respects their handler. Along with being assertive, create a give and take relationship. Allowing your horse rewards for their good behavior only leads to better things, so feel free to let up on the pressure, give them a cookie, or give them a pat whenever you think they are listening to you!

Now that you’re as confident as Queen Bey, let’s choose a method of training. While I cannot say enough things about Clinton Anderson’s Method, some horses will do better with other training. Versions you can use include other methods of natural horsemanship or just the good ol’ fashioned stud chain and whip. You can even mix and match these training forms; you don’t need to choose just one! Whatever you choose, allow room for some trial and error, because your horse might suddenly decide she doesn’t like it anymore when you use a carrot stick.

Practicing these methods can sometimes be the worst. I don’t know about you, but I’m almost as impatient for results as a dog waiting for a treat. But this is actually one of the most important parts. Consistency with your training is key. If you don’t practice, you won’t have a responsive horse. This means that you need to take your horse for a walk every single day and you need to make them back up every single time they don’t stop when you stop.

Ok so now we that we have the boring stuff out of the way, time to get into the actual training. No matter the method you choose, the fundamentals behind ground manners stems down to having a responsive horse. Doing different exercises with them using different tools will achieve this result. The bottom line is to keep your horse mentally and physically engaged, aka listening to you, so that they won’t feel like they can do your own thing.

  1. Start with the simplest exercise. When you’re walking your horse, stop and make them halt. The key here is they must stop with you. Don’t let them stop ahead, don’t let them stop when they feel like, don’t let them stop and whip around to eat grass, and especially don’t let them stop with their hindquarters facing you. If they don’t halt at or behind your shoulder, make them back up until they are in the desired location. This implies that they must work when you tell them, and work until they get to the place they are supposed to be in. As soon as they respond and do what they’re asked, give them rest, to signify they did a good job.
  2. Another exercise to do on ground is similar to the first: having them back up. Just making your horse back a few steps when you tell them to shows that you are assertive enough to tell them what you want. This is also a good tool if you feel like they aren’t listening to you. The trick to making this an effective tool relies on you keeping your feet planted, so that you don’t walk with them to back up. This is a serious learning curve, and might involve you breaking this rule to initially teach them to back, but it’s so freakin’ effective. By you planting your feet, and making them back, you’re telling them that you have the only control in this relationship.
  3. A good thing to teach them is your personal space. If they are too close to you, you can get in serious danger if they get scared of something. Make sure they keep about a 2 foot space away from you. You don’t want them giving you flat tires every 5 feet, anyway!

And of course, ask your trainer, read up on methods, or ask me for more information! There’s tons more exercises you can do to improve your ground manners, and your relationship with your horse.

 

 

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Now Raven can even ground tie!

 

Remember to just take everything one stride at a time and you’re golden 🙂