Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

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!)

Five tips for confidence…

Confidence seems somewhat elusive to those who doubt themselves. We have all been there, looking round thinking of all the things that could go wrong and all the ways we could fail, until we render ourselves completely incapable of doing anything!

But confidence is just another skill, and you can learn to do anything. So here are five tips to help you build your confidence.

  • Be positive. Spending your time thinking “what if my horse spooks?” will not help your confidence. Instead visualise a positive outcome. Rather than visualising your horse spooking, visualise yourself trotting confidently around the corner.
  • Small steps. If you become nervous in certain situations, break down the situation into bite size chunks. Are you nervous at a show? Break down the day into pieces. Are you nervous of loading your horse, or getting on in a strange place, or maybe even finding your way somewhere you haven’t been before. Once you have broken the day down, you will be able to identify what is causing the nervousness and then work with that area.
  • Be kind. Don’t be self-critical, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself how far you have come, praise yourself for every step, even if it is simply that you were a little less scared than yesterday, remember to praise yourself!
  • Set yourself up to succeed. Don’t over face yourself. If you enter a class above your ability and don’t do very well, you will enter into a negative mind-set about it. Why not enter a class below your ability, then you will have a rewarding experience before you start to push yourself.
  • When we are nervous, our muscles tighten and we don’t breathe properly. Our brain requires oxygen to function, you cannot think when you are scared!! Take a deep breathe, and another, and another, and off you go!

5 top tips for riding in collecting rings

How to ride safely in a collecting ring.

 

It’s showtime! Which definitely means having warm up in busy collecting rings, but also for anyone who shares an arena at a yard, here are our top tips for having a nice ride in the company of others.

1: Pass left to left – the oldest and simplest of the rules. Always pass left to left when working on the outer track. If you struggle with left and right, write an “L” and an “R” on the back of your gloves.

2: Walk on an inner track – this allows riders travelling at a faster speed to continue around the outside, without you getting in their way. Likewise when transitioning down to a walk check there is not someone cantering up behind you, who might not be prepared for you to slow down.

3: Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horses can often nap leaving or entering the collecting ring or arena, so it basic safety to keep it clear for people who may be having a difficult time persuading their horse to enter or exit.

4: Look up! – do not ride round staring down. Firstly it will tip your centre of gravity forwards, causing your shoulders to round and straining your neck, and secondly you cannot see where you are going! Simply being observant while riding with others will make you safer in the arena. It is always good to notice that there is a horse out of control at the other end, giving you plenty of time to come back to a walk and calm your own horse down.

5: Red flag on right, white flag on left – if there are flags on jumps, be sure to follow this rule, thereby preventing head on collisions. Do not cross in front of jumps without being very sure that no-one is approaching and certainly do not loiter around in front of the jumps.

If everyone can follow these tips for good arena and collecting ring use, we will all have a more enjoyable time. Remember a smile goes a long way, riding and competing are meant to be fun! Also, we are all human, mistakes happen. It is very easy to get engrossed in what we are doing and forget to look around and nearly crash. But most people will be forgiving as long as you apologise. A simple “sorry” goes a long way and can prevent a small incident escalating into a massive row. Do put a green ribbon on a young horse, and a red ribbon on a kicker, so that other people are aware of your horse’s behaviour. If we all act responsibly and politely we will all enjoy ourselves.

 

5 top tips for hacking

Hacking should be a deeply relaxing, pleasurably activity to do with your horse. Enjoying the beautiful countryside in the company of your four-legged friend can be the perfect way to start or end your day, or indeed spend your whole weekend doing! It conjures up feelings of freedom and unity with your horse. It removes us from the trials of everyday life – the bills, your boss, your housework!

However, as with everything, hacking comes with a price. Other than the very fortunate amongst us, we will all invariably have to venture onto the roads in order to access the delights of off-road hacking. The problem with the roads is to do with speed. Everything has become faster, our phones, our computers, our cars…Barely a day goes by without some horror story in the press of accidents involving horses on the road. If we read them all we would never put a foot in the stirrup!

So what should we do? Never hack? Resign ourselves to the arena? The problem with this is, hacking is brilliant for both our own and our horses’ mental states, even top class competition yards regularly hack their horses to allow them a chance to unwind. You may not want to simply trot in a circle for 30 minutes after a whole day sat in the office. However if you take sensible precautions hacking can still be relaxing and rewarding.

Top five tips for hacking:

1: Be sensible. Riding is risky, but you can reduce the risk by making sensible decisions. Should you hack your 4 year old alone on a windy evening? – no, wait till the conditions are right and you have an older horse to go hacking with.

2: Make sure your horse will follow basic commands. Ensure your horse will stand when asked, will move easily forwards and will take a few steps sideways. If you are unsure how to teach your horse to move sideways ask your instructor. A few lateral steps can move you quickly from the middle of the road to the side.

3: Teach your horse to stand while you mount and dismount. If your horse is nappy, or scared, it can be safer to simply dismount and lead your horse past the obstacle. This is not allowing the horse to win, it is teaching the horse that you are to be trusted. Please make sure you can find somewhere safe to remount once you have passed the obstacle.

4: Stay alert. Do not use your mobile phone while riding. Do not ride on the buckle. Listen to the traffic, you can often hear how fast a car is coming long before you can see it. Wear hi-viz gear to ensure you are highly visible to other road users.

5: Be courteous. If someone slows down for you make the effort to thank them. A smile and a nod of the head is all it takes. If you don’t that car driver will remember that the next time they meet a horse and could be less likely to slow down. We all use the roads, we cannot expect courtesy from others if we do not behave accordingly.

 

Stay safe and make the most of the British Summer!

 

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?

 

Getting started

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Recently I received an email from a lovely lady asking for help with her horse.  She bought him just a month ago, and everything was going great, but over the past week he’s misbehaving in his ridden work.  The lady suffers from anxiety, and she’s really worried that she’s going to ruin her lovely pony.  I reassured her that actually, it’s very difficult to do that.

 

There’s so much advice on the internet and on the yard that it can be difficult to decide who or what to listen to.  Science says one thing, the book you just read says another, your coach says something different, and the person who owns the horse in the next stable says another thing altogether.  Where do you start?  One suggestion is to start by avoiding analysis paralysis 🙂  If you’re like me, you’ll know someone who has literally given up and sold or retired their horse because they just don’t know what to do.

 

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” Wikipedia July 2018

 

Here are a couple of articles, if you like reading around a subject (one of my favourite things to do!), please note I have no links with any of these sites and am not specifically recommending them, I just picked them from a google search:

https://www.success.com/stop-overthinking-it-9-ways-to-make-decisions-with-confidence/

https://personalexcellence.co/blog/analysis-paralysis/

https://psychologenie.com/what-is-analysis-paralysis-how-to-overcome-it

 

Sometimes I find the best thing is just to get going.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  But when it comes to my horses (or my child, or my work, for that matter), I often feel as though I’ve only got one chance, and I’ve got to get it right.  It seems like ‘right now’ is the only time this opportunity will ever come up, or if I don’t make the correct decision ‘this time’, then it’ll be a downwards spiral from then on.  This feeling is rarely accurate, and looking back, it seems that we usually have a second and third shot at things if needed.  If it takes so long to train a horse to do something we do want him to do, why do we think he will learn something we don’t want him to do so quickly?!

 

My latest project is to familiarise myself with the science that already exists on pain related performance and behaviour in horses, and to share that knowledge with you as I learn through my blog at www.patreon.com/thehorsephysio. I struggle with always being able to see ‘both sides of the fence’, and having some science to support a decision definitely helps me. The science I’ll be sharing is from peer reviewed published papers, but I’ll also be sharing anecdotal evidence through blogs and case studies. I’d love for you to come on over to the site and take a look, plus of course feel free to share if you know others who might be interested 🙂

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