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.

homecominghawaiieapuna 052

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.

Combatting Stall Rest

We’ve all been there. When your vet mutters the dreadful words that your prime competition horse is lame and needs time off, a little piece of soul dies. Recently, Raven somehow hurt herself and needed a couple of months off. This wasn’t our first rodeo, so I came up with a couple tips I’ve learned from her multiple injuries.

  1.  Listen to Your Vet. This is obviously a no brainer, but your vet really knows what he’s talking about. Not only did they go through nearly 8 years of school to be able to diagnose ol’ Buddy, but they probably have many more years of personal experience with lame horses. If they advise you to only handwalk for a certain period of time or insist on re-evaluating your horse every couple of months, it’s because they want what’s best for your horse. (Although, try to avoid crazy ass call fees as much as possible — it can really do a number on your wallet.)
  2. With that said, you know your horse better than anyone. When Raven was 6 years old and she fractured her coffin bone, I knew there was no way that she could survive 6 months off without drugs or some type of stimulation. I pointed this out to my vet and we were able to come up with a plan so that she wouldn’t try to kill herself in her stall from boredom. Talking to your vet to work out a plan that fits both you and your horse will only make things better. If your vet recommends that your horse should be handwalked, make sure you and your horse can do that while being as safe as you can. The purpose of stall rest is for them to heal. You don’t want them making silly decisions that only cost you more time and money.seniorpicswithraven 067
  3. Sometimes drugs are the answer. The first time Raven was off, Ace was my life-saver. I administered it in a cookie before I groomed or walked her and it really helped. If I didn’t use drugs, I would have a horse for a kite every time I had to do something with her. The second time around, I tried to go without Ace (she was about 5 years older), and it worked beautifully! I simply used a rope halter for more control (see this post on how rope halters can help with ground manners) while walking on the flat. Before you make any decisions, it’s best to talk it over with the vet, whomever is around, your trainer, or the knowledgeable gal at the barn.
  4. Alter their feeding regimen. Because your horse will no longer be able to work or go to turnout, they will have to spend a lot of their day doing nothing. I can’t speak for everyone’s horses, but mine gets fat…and gets fat quickly! By changing their grain to a low starch formula, nixing grain completely, or cutting their feed down, you can delay the side effects of stall rest. Also coinciding with my next point, switching your horse to a slow feeder can help ease the stress of staying in a stall while also preventing them from over eating.
  5. Mental stimulation is just as good as physical stimulation. Even if Raven isn’t on stall rest, I still like to play games with her to exercise her mind. Sometimes I will set up a walking obstacle course where she has to go over poles or weave cones while I’m walking her on the ground. This is good to do on stall rest too! You can also hide cookies and make your horse find them. For this exercise, I usually end up placing treats in cerIMG_1810tain areas and make Raven sniff them out. Since she’s not a dog, it’s hilarious to watch her try and find these!
  6. Stretch! Since your horse can’t work, they can lose a lot of muscle. Many studies have shown that a horse won’t start to lose their fitness for up to 3 weeks, but that doesn’t really help if your horse is off for 6 months. However, stretching their muscles can help them from getting stiff. Aside from walking, performing neck stretches, leg stretches, hip stretches, and overall massaging them will really help.
  7. Groom. Everyday. Grooming helps for a world full of reasons. Not only will it help maintain the bond with horse and rider, but it will provide some mental stimulation for your horse. They will also appreciate it to be groomed as much as possible. And even though they will be stuck in a stall, they can still get hooves full of crap that need to be picked everyday. Plus, doting on a horse is ridiculously fun!!
  8. Lastly, make sure to stay up with your health, too. This last go round, I became so bored from not riding that I took up running (idk why tho, running sucks, lol). Maintaining your physical fitness and nutrition is important so that you will be able to handle your horse at all times. Not only that, but it’s healthy for you to maintain some form of exercise as often as possible. So, make sure to take care of your body while taking care of your horse.

Having a horse on stall rest can provide some benefits, too. You can always put yourself out there to ride other barn mate’s horses during the free time that you allocated to riding yours. You also have more time to do other fun things and pursue other interests, like hiking or reading or vegging out and watching Netflix! Just remember to take stall rest one stride at a time and that it can be a good experience!!

What other tips do you have for stall rest?