My horse won’t canter on the left lead…

Your horse can only communicate his distress or discomfort to you via his behaviour. It is very unlikely that he is being “naughty” by not cantering on the left lead when he will do so on the right lead. Horses, in general, do not wake up in the morning thinking of ways to wind you up.

If your horse cannot canter on either leg, then he is most likely confused about the canter aid, and will need more training in order to help him to understand. But if he can canter on one leg but not the other, the problem is most likely to be physical.

Our horses, like us, can be stronger on one side than the other, so it is easier to pick up one canter than the other. Or there could be weakness or pain that is preventing him from picking up the correct lead.

Equally, it is worth checking with yourself that you are asking for the canter aid in the correct way on both reins and are not inadvertently confusing him.

Start by watching your horse walk and trot away and towards you in hand, and see if you can see any difference in movement between the right and the left side. Carrot stretches to both the left and right are a good way to see any imbalance between the two sides, making sure you stay safe while performing them. It can be advisable to seek professional advice, either a physiotherapist or similar, will be able to assess and treat your horse. They should be able to offer exercises to help you and your horse.

Once you are confidence that your horse is physically able to carry out what you are asking, you should find that he is happy to canter on both leads. There may be some initial reluctance as your horse may remember that it used to be uncomfortable, but this should soon pass, as he realises that he is now capable of cantering on the left and the right.

Simply the best!

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Narelle Stubbs is the official Australian Equestrian Team Physiotherapist, treating both horse and rider in many forms of equitation at the World Equestrian Games (1998, 2002, 2006) and the Olympics (2000,2004 and 2008). Narelle regularly lectures internationally at Veterinary and Physiotherapy conferences and special teaching engagements. Narelle’s research interests include: biomechanics of locomotion, back and neck dysfunction, rehabilitation techniques, and the horse / rider unit and athletic performance.

 

Ethical Horse Products is delighted to be able to offer the DVD and laminated handbook ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’ by Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs. This book and DVD provide a series of exercises which have been shown in field trials to increase the cross-sectional area of the multifidus muscle, i.e. to improve core muscle strength. The exercises are broken down into three areas; dynamic mobilisation exercises (i.e. baited stretches), core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises.

The effects of the dynamic mobilisation exercises have been studied and the results have been evaluated. The results show that the size of the deep spinal stabilising muscles increases after sustained use of the dynamic stabilisation exercises taught and clearly demonstrated in ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’. The muscle size was measured using ultrasonography in three separate studies, across three countries, with the duration and frequency of the exercises being different in each study.

The deep spinal stabilising muscles are responsible for the stability of the back and neck during locomotion. These muscles can become weakened through injury and can benefit from targeted exercises to strengthen them. Your horse will benefit from increased mobility and stability in his back and neck, no matter what his age or condition. These exercises can be used as part as rehabilitation (please check with your professional if you have any concerns whether they are appropriate for your horse) or simply as part of your daily warm-up routine.

The better chance we give our horses to perform to their optimum, the more enjoyable our experience with them will be, and theirs with us. Regardless of whether you are competing professionally, or enjoying a sunny hack, these exercises will help your horse to build and maintain a healthy core, meaning he finds his work easier.  Increased levels of comfort lead to less ‘bad’ behaviour as well as improved performance.  Take the time it takes, put the effort into helping your horse to physically be his best, and both you and he will reap the rewards.

To help your horse today, buy “Activate Your Horse’s Core

 

Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

Guest blog by Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!!

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

With thanks to Jane Broomfield

The Importance of Praise

I read this great story the other day about a teacher. The teacher wrote 20 sums on the board in front of a classroom full of teenagers. One of them was wrong. The teenagers started laughing. The teacher asked them why they were laughing, and the teenagers said “because you made a mistake.” The teacher said, “You laughed at me for the one sum that I got wrong, but you didn’t praise me for the 19 sums that I got right.” The teacher continued, “this is what will happen to you all during your working life, you won’t get praised when you do well, only criticised when you do badly.”

Firstly, he was quite right! The importance of praise in the workplace seems to be a foreign concept to many employers or managers, yet people will work so much harder for you if they feel appreciated. It’s not simply a question of being paid, people want to feel valued. Great employers have the ability to make everyone from the floor workers, to the managers, feel appreciated, it is one of the hallmarks of a good business.

Exactly the same thing applies to our horses. The good riders make their horses want to give that extra bit. Like the good employers whose staff will stay late to help, the horses of good riders will make that extra effort. If you praise your horse for all the things he gets right, he too will feel valued, and will understand what you want him to do. We forget to praise, we remember to criticise.

How often do you tie your horse up, groom your horse, tack-up and then your horse starts to fidget and you tell him off? But did you praise him for standing still all that time? Probably not! Exactly the same happens in our ridden work, we criticise our horses when they make a mistake (despite the fact we were probably responsible for it!) and forget to praise.

Interestingly the ratio between praise and criticism was subjected to academic research and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal ratio is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. So the next time that you ride, or even handle your horse, try this. Make sure you have praised 6 times, before you criticise, and see what effect it has on your horse (and yourself!)

Off horse exercises!

By Amy Craske

A good part of the work I do is as a riding instructor, both at a local riding school and freelancing with people’s own horses. I’m training with Mary Wanless and Ride With Your Mind to become a rider biomechanics coach, so I do focus a fair bit on people’s position and how the horse is responding to it. If you ever get a chance to have a that kind of lesson, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’m sure you will have been surprised at the huge difference making small changes to your position can make to your horse’s way of going. The thing is, often riding in a more balanced and effective position is hard work – it requires you to use muscles that just don’t get used very much on a daily basis! Sitting in an office chair, or whatever your daily job entails, rarely requires you to keep your balance on a moving object! And this is without even thinking about undoing any bad riding habits your body may have gotten into.

 

Adding to the problem of fitness is the fact that many of us are slightly divorced from what is going on with our bodies; our proprioception is not very good. If you haven’t heard the term before, lift your hand up and touch your ear. Did you need to be able to see your ear to be able to touch it accurately? That’s because you are using your proprioception. Unfortunately, most people have more difficulty working out what their lower leg is doing than finding their ear! Given all this, I’m often asked what people can do out of lessons to keep the good work going. Obviously the ideal would be to ride lots more! But with how busy most of us are this is difficult, and if you are going to a riding school may require remortgaging!! Lots of different riding methods have their own exercises to help with specific issues, I know RWYM. But for a general work out which will TONE your muscles, give you greater control and proprioception I personally think Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais are brilliant. They both, with a good instructor, also have an element of helping you control your breathing, practice mindfulness and get better at centring yourself, all of which are enormously useful skills around horses. So, do you have any other recommendations?

 

I wouldn’t start from there…

I’ve had a phrase echoing around in my head recently, and I can’t completely remember where I got it from. I was convinced it was Mark Rashid, but I have googled and googled and can’t find it! Perhaps I’m probably completely wrong, and I actually heard it on an advert for toothpaste. Anyway, here it is:

“I wouldn’t start from there.’

Doesn’t sound all that promising, does it. But it did resonate; to me it means the place to start solving a problem isn’t always where you first think it is. To take a personal example, in the first few years of owning my lovely big mare Steffi, I was a big jumping fan. She wasn’t the most confident of mares, and it took us quite a while to get going. One problem that we struggled with for a LONG time was running out when she was overfaced by the height of the jump, or a spooky filler; if she wasn’t 100% sure she would nip out to the right at the last minute. I had a few lessons with some local instructors, and they all generally had two answers. One, just ‘keep her straighter’. Or two, to put up a guard rail on the right hand side of the fence, to physically prevent her going that way. Which was fine, but I didn’t know HOW to keep her straighter, and as soon as the guard rail was removed we went sailing past again!

After having a couple of lessons with a different instructor, I started to realise I had been trying to fix the problem from the wrong starting point. Steffi drifted to the right when not feeling confident because I TOLD her to; I rode quite asymmetrically due to an old shoulder injury, which I now began to realise meant that I took a much stronger hold on the left rein than I did on the right. Over time, she had begun to lean on this constant onesided pressure, over bend to the left, and effectively resembled a banana! Every time we approached a jump I held on to the left rein to try to keep her straight, and she obediently bent her neck to the left, drifted her shoulders to the right and around the jump!! Of course, fixing this problem was a lot more complicated than putting a guard rail on one side of the fence, but once I had relearnt how to ride straighter a lot of our jumping issues permanently disappeared. So, the next time you come up against a problem, can you work out where you really need to start?

Amy

With thanks to our guest blogger Amy Craske.

 

Practice makes perfect

By Amy Craske

Some of us are lucky enough to have our own horses and ponies to ride, and if you’re even more lucky that horse or pony will be fit and well enough to be ridden regularly! If you’re keen to improve your riding, then doing it regularly will obviously help. After all, if you wanted to get better at any sport, it’s a given that a lot of practice is needed. There is a well-known saying that to be truly expert at something you must have spent ten thousand hours practising; I wonder how many rides you’d need to rack that up! But if you only have time to ride occasionally, or have a share in a horse, or don’t have a horse at all and visit a riding school, you’re going to be at a bit of a disadvantage.

 

But there are definitely things you can do to help yourself, even if you can’t ride as much as you’d like. One useful skill is visualisation; imagining a perfect ten metre circle, or clearing that tricky spread with style. It feel a bit awkward doing it, but there is evidence that it works! There is one fairly well-known study done with basketball players, where visualising scoring perfect baskets was found to be just as helpful in improving performance as actually practising. The idea behind this is that visualisation helps to improve the neural pathways required to perform a task, just as effectively as real practice.

 

Another helpful tool is to practice elements of riding away from the saddle. If, for example, you are working on your position, an hour a week spent in the correct alignment may be undone by forty hours a week sitting slumped in your office chair! I spend a lot of time driving, and try to make the best use of it; I have adjusted my seat so I am sitting in near enough neutral spine, and I try to engage my core whenever I remember, and I hold the wheel with both hands to avoid twisting my torso. It has definitely helped my riding in periods where I couldn’t get on board as much as I’d like!

 

The other thing is to really make sure you ARE doing things properly; ten thousand hours of practice won’t help you become a better rider if you spend them being behind the movement, dropping your hands before jump, or tipping forward. Lessons with a good, supportive instructor are obviously going to help you improve your technique, but even a video of you riding can help you identify things which can be improved.

With thanks to our guest blogger Amy Craske, don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to the newsletter today!

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Do your clothes affect the way you ride?

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes from SoloEquine

 

You know how you feel like a million bucks when you put on your Sunday best? According to new research, you not only feel better but you actually perform better when you wear certain clothes.

Psychologists have now coined this effect enclothed cognition.

In a study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, participants were divided into 2 groups. Group 1 wore their normal clothes while Group 2 were told to put on a doctors lab coat. The group wearing the doctor’s lab coat made 50% fewer mistakes in a Stroop test than the participants wearing their normal clothes. In a second variation, Group 1 was told to put on the white coat but was told it was a painters cloak. Group 2 was also told to wear the coat but were told it was a doctors coat. The group which believed they were wearing a doctors coat performed significantly better than the other group.

A couple of interesting conclusions can be drawn from this study. What we wear most definitely affects how we feel, but also affects how we perform, as long as there is symbolic meaning attached to the clothing (ie. doctors coat, business suit, scrubs, sweatpants, etc..). In another variation of the above study the participants were told about the doctor’s lab coat, but instead of wearing the coat they slung it over the back of their chairs. Having the lab coat in close proximity did not enhance the participant’s ability to perform brain games. In order to have a competitive edge, the lab coat had to be worn.

Not surprisingly, this is not the only study that has been done on the subject. I came across a good number of similar studies that show dress affects performance in all aspects of our highly competitive world, from the military to high-performance sport.

Aren’t humans fascinating!?! These types of studies always intrigue me as I tend to ponder how they might affect my life and my performance, especially as a rider/trainer. I’ve started to wonder if I would perform better if I dressed better? If I looked like today’s top trainers would it help me ride like them? If my horses wear tack that looks similar to what horses are wearing at the top of the sport, would it give me a competitive edge? According to the research, the answer is yes!

Food for thought!

As always, happy riding!

 

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The reason motivation is going to fail you

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine

Its 5:45 am. I’ve set my alarm nice and early so that I’ll have time to get in a morning run before I face my day. The night before I watched a Cross Fit documentary on Netflix and decided I need to take my fitness to the next level. The problem arises 3 days later when I’m back at Tim Horton’s downing an ice cap and doughnut for breakfast instead of running. What the hell happened to my fitness goals? Why is my fitness regime so short lived? I decided to look for answers.

I realized that I have been relying much too heavily on motivation instead of self-discipline. The trouble with motivation is that it’s constantly fleeting, it’s shelf life is extremely short.

So whats the difference between motivation and self-discipline? Well, a lot. Motivation is feeling based while self-discipline circumvents emotions and does what it has to do based on logic.

When I threw myself out of bed at 5:45 am to the soundtrack to Rocky, I was doing so out of the excitement (feeling) of watching those cross fit dudes demolish physical challenges with ease. I want that too and I was excited. But days later the excitement has worn off,  I’m getting sick of the Rocky theme song and the Eye of the Tiger just isn’t doing it anymore. I want to sleep.

What I lack is self discipline. With self discipline, it doesn’t matter how you feel, you do what you set out to do regardless of your emotional state. Waiting for the right emotional state to accomplish a task is the epicentre for procrastination.

The very idea that we need to be in the mood for each task we do is not a good way to approach a goal-oriented life.

  “Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions.”  Stephen Covey

The most successful riders I know possess a high degree self-discipline. They are so focused on their goals that they are able to suppress their emotional state to the grandeur purpose of achieving their desired outcomes. Day in and day out they ride with purpose, whether they feel like it or not, knowing they will feel good after accomplishing their daily rides.

When you rely on motivation your relying on feeling good before setting about accomplishing a set of tasks while with discipline you rely on the fact that you know you’ll feel good after your tasks have been completed.

But lets not totally discredit motivation here as it can be an extremely powerful tool. According to Dr.Gro Joradalen, in her study, “Development of excellence in young Norwegian athletes: the interaction between motivation and self regulation“, she found that motivational and cognitive processes are interrelated and greatly influence one another.

Jordanlen found that over periods of 5 weeks of heavy training, national level athleses needed to rely heavily on self discipline. But during longer periods of heavy training, for those over 10 weeks long, motivation became a factor in determining how self disciplined you could become.

The takeaway is to be clear on your goals. Deciding ahead of time what it is you truly want to accomplish, realizing there are going to be many days when you have to rely on pure self discipline to work towards those goals. But the closer you work towards your goals, the more you can influence bouts of motivation to keep you in the game long term. Stay focused, your dreams await!

Happy riding!

 

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My horse is two different horses

By guest blogger Dr Renee Tucker

Some clients tell me their horse feels like riding two different horses–one horse in the front and a completely different one in the back. Sound familiar? 

Deanna found her horse a bit tricky to ride. I asked her why and she replied, “It’s as if Violet has two parts. The front and the back! Her front end seems to be listening to my riding cues, but her back end does its own thing. I can ask her front end to go left and she starts to turn left, but then her hind end may go right! It’s very frustrating.”

Many horse owners have similar experiences with their horses. Almost all of these types of problems can be attributed to chiropractic causes.

In fact, one time I had a trainer call me after I adjusted a horse of hers. This trainer told me that while the horse was being lunged she did the strangest thing! The horse actually looked behind at her own rear end when she was being lunged. The trainer said, “You should have seen the surprised look on her face.  It was like she never knew her butt was there before!”

Strange but true.  Totally fixable with chiropractic and/or acupuncture.

With thanks to Dr Renee Tucker, you can visit her website Where Does My Horse Hurt?

Dr Renee Tucker is offering a special discount to readers of our blog, visit our website and click on the Online Equine Body Class button to learn more about it.