Behavior Bummers

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Does your trail horse paw, walk off when you mount up, or go at an inconsistent speed? Correct these behavioral woes with these techniques from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

BY JULIE GOODNIGHT WITH HEIDI MELOCCO 

Horses behave in the way they’re most motivated to act at the moment. Sometimes, what we might call “bad” behavior is simply what your horse has been trained to do — or what he’s been allowed to get away with.

If your horse thinks he’s in charge or that there’s no penalty for behaving badly, his behavior may turn from annoying to dangerous.

When I’m trail riding, I want to relax and take in the scenery. I want a horse that’s calm in his new environment and isn’t pawing as we get going or taking off too soon when I saddle up.

I also want a horse that goes at the speed I choose. I may want to relax and ride slowly, or pick up speed and have a little fun when the terrain allows.

You have to be a strong leader for your horse to act as your partner, and follow your lead and expectations. You have to teach him what you expect and be consistent with your rules so he knows how you expect him to act on and off the trail.

When your horse knows you’re the leader, you won’t have to micromanage him on the trail. You’ll gain confidence, knowing he’ll be a patient, willing trail partner.

Here, I’ll explain my three top pet peeves when it comes to trail-horse behavior. I’ll tell you what caused the behavior, why it’s annoying, and how to avoid or fix the behavior so that it doesn’t detract from your riding enjoyment.

 

Before You Begin

Don an ASTM-approved, SEI-certified riding helmet. Practice these skills at home, on a flat area with good footing. Set up productive training scenarios geared toward success on the trail. When you’re ready to test your horse’s skills on the trail, go alone, without riding buddies, so you can concentrate on reinforcing good behavior.

Behavior Bummer #1: Impatient Pawing

What caused it: Pawing is a gesture that horses use to communicate that they’re frustrated and wish they were moving. Many horses get frustrated when they’re asked to do something that they don’t want to do. Your trail horse might paw when you hold him back from moving on with a big group of horses. He wants to get moving and stay with the herd. He might also paw when he’s bored, and you’re not paying attention to him, such as when he’s tied inside or to your trailer, or during a riding break.

Why it’s annoying: If your trail horse is highlined, his pawing can harm the terrain. Inside the trailer, pawing is loud and distracting. He can injure himself if he’s allowed to continue and throw a fit.

How to avoid/fix the behavior: Using the technique I describe below, teach your horse to stand tied without showing any signs of frustration or impatience. Teach him to stand quietly as you groom him, tie him to a post, and during your designated training time.

Your horse will soon learn that there’s no sense in getting frustrated or showing impatience — pawing doesn’t lead to a release or a reward. He’ll learn not to waste energy if pawing has no reward.

To teach your horse to stand tied, start teaching him to ground-tie every time you work with him. Outfit him with a rope halter and 15-foot training lead. Holding the lead in one hand, turn and face him. Give a verbal cue to “whoa.” If he stands quietly, lay down the middle of the rope. (Maintain your hold on the end of the rope if you must correct your horse often.)

If your horse moves a hoof or turns his head too far to the side, correct him by moving the rope in a snapping motion toward the halter, and return him back where he started.

When your horse knows he must stand still, lay the rope on the ground to test him even more. (Note that this process takes time to develop.)

When your horse understands that you have authority and that he must follow your voice command, the cue to stand still can carry over to any time he’s tied. Tie him, tell him “whoa,” and walk away. If he paws, avoid approaching him to give him any kind of attention. You must expect him to do what he knows how to do — stand still.

If your horse paws often, make sure he spends time tied at home in a safe environment before expecting the behavior to diminish on the trail. He should stand tied for up to an hour (making sure he’s in the shade and has access to water and before and after).

During the time your horse is tied, leave him alone; don’t approach him if he paws. Attention of any kind would reward him for the behavior. If you run back to your pawing horse, and give him attention, he’ll think his pawing caused you to come back.

If your older horse has an ingrained pawing problem while standing tied, ask a professional trainer to help you train your horse to stop pawing by using soft, rebraided cotton hobbles. Use caution, and make sure your horse is monitored by someone who’s done the process many times.

Note: If you’re under saddle and your horse begins to paw, you mustn’t hold him still. He’s having an emotional meltdown and won’t be able to keep his feet still. Instead, move him in turns from right to left to keep him moving but focused on you. When he seems calmer, ask him to stand again. If he doesn’t stand still, turn him to the right and left again — making it a challenge not to listen and easy to stand still and be patient.

Behavior Bummer #2: Walking Off as You Mount Up

What caused it: A horse should learn from the very first time that he’s ridden that mounting doesn’t mean “go.” Most horses that walk off without a cue either never learned the skill as a colt or have been untrained by the rider.

This movement without a cue annoys me, because I want the horse to see me as the leader. If he steps off without a cue, he thinks he’s in charge from the first step of our ride. I don’t want that first interaction to be one of disrespect and disobedience.

Horses constantly look for patterns in your cueing and, if allowed, may come to their own conclusions about what they should do next. If you never require your horse to stand still when you mount up, he’ll quickly learn a new pattern — a person sitting in the saddle means “go.”

Why it’s annoying: Your horse soon learns to step forward as soon as you sit down or put your foot in the stirrup. The trend worsens until you have trouble stepping into the stirrup without your horse walking off.

How to avoid/fix the behavior: This problem is easy to prevent. Don’t allow your horse to step forward at all until you actively give a cue to step forward.

If your once-well-trained horse suddenly decides that he should step off without a cue, go back to ground work, and ask him to stand perfectly still with a rope halter and long training lead (similar to the ground-tying lesson described earlier).

Ask your horse to stand still by pointing your toes toward his shoulder and giving a verbal cue to “whoa.” Then correct him every time he takes a step or moves his nose to the side. Wave the lead rope toward the halter as a correction.

When your horse will stand still on command with a halter and lead, saddle up, and place his bridle under the rope halter with the lead attached. (Never correct your horse by pulling on the bit or bridle reins — the pressure from the halter and lead is enough and prevents you from harming his mouth.)

Keep your expectation that your horse will stand still as you start to mount up. Mount slowly, with the lead line in hand. Watch for the moment he begins to move. If he takes a step, step down, and correct him, requiring him to stand still.

If you get so far as to sit in the saddle, your correction switches to controlling your horse with the reins. Keep your reins short enough so that you can control him immediately if he takes a step. If he does take a step, sit back and pull back on the reins, and require him to stand still.

If your horse is agitated and anxious, and continues to move his feet, put him to work. Circle to the left; circle to the right; circle again to the left. Then allow him to stop and take a break. Reward him if he stands still. If he wants to walk off again, repeat the circling exercise. Show him that standing still is what you asked for and is the easiest option.

Sometimes a horse that won’t stand still may be uncomfortable because of the rider’s static weight (horses are built for strength while moving, not while standing still) or because his saddle doesn’t fit. He may shift from side-to-side and fidget. You might get the impression that he’s attempting to stand still, as he’s otherwise not showing impatience or seeming to want to do something different.

If your horse fidgets from side-to-side rather than walking forward when you ask him to stand, consider checking saddle fit and consulting a veterinary chiropractor.

Behavior Bummer #3: Going Too Slow or Too Fast

What caused it: You’re not in control of your horse’s speed, and therefore, not in control of your horse. In the saddle, there are two things you should control — speed and direction. If you don’t control how slowly or quickly your horse moves, you aren’t the one in charge. If he hasn’t been trained to follow cues to go at the speed you

dictate, you need to train him now.

Why it’s annoying: Riding a trail horse that only moves slowly or takes off at full speed (with no middle gears) is annoying for you and for anyone riding with you. Other horses have to work to keep up so the group can stay together. A horse acting badly can get the whole group amped up to go at a fast speed that no one really wants. If you’re dealing with a speed demon, you might feel frantic and out of control.

How to avoid/fix the behavior: If your horse ignores your speed cues — and takes off at a pace that you don’t want — first make sure you know how to perform the emergency-stop cues. (To learn how to safely use a pulley rein, and perform the one-rein stop, go to TrailRiderMag.com.)

Practice a one-rein  slow-down  technique at home in a flat area with good footing. Turning a horse quickly with the one rein stop on the trail can cause him to lose his balance and fall. Also, not all trails have the space needed for a horse to turn. When you practice this turning technique at home, you’ll soon teach your horse that he can continue to move forward, but at a slower pace.

When your horse speeds up, pick up one rein, and pull it up and back toward your opposite shoulder. This will cause him to turn and disengage the hindquarters.

Any time your horse speeds up without a cue, slide your hand down one rein and start to pull up and back. With enough repetition, you can teach the horse that when you slide your hand down the rein, you’ll be slowing or stopping him, and he should slow down. He doesn’t have to make a full turn. He knows what’s coming next and will learn to slow his gait while moving ahead. Soon, your horse will slow down easily when you pick up slightly on one rein.

You can also  check and release  your horse. Pull up and back on the reins as you sit deep into the saddle, then immediately release when your horse slows. He’ll learn that you want to slow down.

Be very careful not to pull on the reins with constant pressure — that will actually teach the horse to pull against you and continue to move fast. If you don’t release at the first hint that he’s slowed, you’ll cue him to fight against you and cause a tug-of-war.

Horse Illustrated Julie Goodnight Q&As – Bit Tips

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Q: I just purchased a seven-year-old gelding. The previous owner was riding him in a single-jointed snaffle bit. Now, I’m looking for a bit for him and he has responded badly to a D-ring snaffle, O-ring snaffle, and a Tom Thumb. He avoids begin bridled then gapes his mouth, yawns and rubs his face on his leg. He won’t bend well to either side and he has even threatened to buck when I ask him to turn. His teeth have been checked. Is he a good candidate for a hackamore? Or what bit would be best?

 

A: With bits, it’s important to remember that the mouthpiece is what the horse feels, the cheek piece is about how you, the rider will give cues (and how subtle your cues need to be). More simply put, the sidepiece is for the rider and the mouthpiece for the horse. From your question, it seems that you have changed the sidepiece but not the mouthpiece when testing different bits.

 

The single-jointed mouthpiece can be very unpleasant to many horses. With the snaffle sidepiece (snaffle simply means direct pressure), the single-jointed mouthpiece pinches the jaw and squeezes the tongue. In general, horses hate tongue pressure. Most horses gape open their mouth with the Tom Thumb (a bit that is often mistakenly called a snaffle). The Tom Thumb has the same single-jointed mouthpiece but has a curb-style sidepiece. That means it has more force (leverage) on the horse’s tongue when you pull on the reins.

 

If this horse has lots of training in the past, I’d look for a mouthpiece that relieves pressure from the tongue. It could be that he is fighting the bit because there is too much tongue pressure with all the bits you have tried. The sidepieces may have made the bits look different, but to the horse, all those bits would feel the same.

 

Find out what professional training your horse has had. Remember that a bit can’t train your horse or create the movements that you want. Your horse needs to be trained to flex and give to pressure no matter what bit he has in his mouth. Make sure that you’re releasing pressure as soon as he gives at all during lateral flexion work. You’ll need to reward the slightest try when working in any bit.

 

Since your horse is prone to occasional bouts of disobedience, I’d probably have a bit in his mouth instead of moving to a hackamore. I would be unlikely to use a hackamore on a horse that had refused to turn and tried or threatened to buck.

 

When getting to know any new horse, it’s great to do some basic, rudimentary training from the ground and the saddle. This time will help you establish leadership from the ground and from the saddle and will help your horse understand how you cue. Take time to make sure the horse understands how to respond correctly to the cues you give.

If you came to me for help, I would use a Myler 3-ring Combination bit with the MB04 mouthpiece. This bit takes pressure off the mouth and puts it on the nose, giving the horse the opportunity to respond before he gets mouth pressure. From what you describe, the horse does not like mouth pressure and needs a relief. The mouthpiece on this bit is double-jointed (so it doesn’t collapse in the middle) and has a very low port, giving a small amount of tongue relief.

 

Once the horse is responding well and is obedient to my light aids, I would move him to a medium-low ported bit (in the combination format or a snaffle or curb), to give him even more tongue relief. You can change the sidepiece later, but your horse will continue to feel better with the tongue relief.

 

A side note about hackamores: While many feel that a hackamore is less severe because there is no bit in the mouth, not all hackamores are created equally. There are many different types of hackamores and like bits, they may work either off direct pressure or leverage. The side-pull is a type of training hackamore, like the bosal and is a direct pressure device like the snaffle. It can be used with great effects for horses who are willing and trained. The mechanical hackamore has leverage (like a curb bit) and can be quite severe. The mechanical hackamore is not very useful in training the horse to bend, as you need to be able to work the sides of the horse’s mouth independently as you lift the shoulders.

 

 

Stop In An Emergency

 

 

The Trail Rider ~ May/June 2016

Riding Right

 

Stop in an Emergency

The one-rein stop is often taught as the go-to aid for slowing and stopping a rowdy horse. But on a straight and narrow trail, turning may not be a safe option. Learn the pulley rein stop with top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight and stop any horse who is truly bolting and out of control on the trail. 

 

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco ~ Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

Have you ever ridden a horse that spooked and bolted—and was ready to run fast and far? Bolting is a normal part of a horse’s flight response after he has spooked. To safely control the horse, you have a fraction of a second to choose your cues. If you are on a narrow trail without room to turn, it may be best to employ the pulley rein stop. This stopping cue is extreme and not meant as an every day method to halt—but in an emergency on a narrow trail, it just may save your life.

“What’s a true emergency?” trainer Julie Goodnight asks. “There’s a distinct difference in an emergency and a horse that just goes a little bit too fast. The pulley rein stop isn’t to be used when your horse is just going faster than you’d like. To me, an emergency is when the horse is out of control or the rider has lost their balance and someone is in danger of getting hurt. If you need a last-resort way to stop, knowing the pulley rein can help you stop any horse–no matter your size or the horse’s size.”

Goodnight says most riders are first taught to sit back and pull back on the reins to stop. That simple cue can be fine if your horse just needs to slow down. But if your horse is bucking and running off, simply pulling back is not going to stop to the emergency. A horse that is running off may brace his neck, pull back against you, grab the bit and continue to run off in response to your two-handed pull. “You can’t win that tug of war with a 1500-pound horse; the horse will ‘run through’ bit pressure alone if he is panicked and bolting,” she says.

Goodnight says many riders are also taught the one-rein stop. That is a great tool to help your horse slow down if you have the space to allow him to turn. However, the cue isn’t always the best option if your horse is moving at a great speed—turning a horse that is truly running off can cause the horse and rider to get off balance and to fall. If the trail is narrow or along a ledge, you don’t want your horse to turn.

“The one rein stop is something I teach in every clinic and it’s a great tool to teach your horse,” she says (see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding for how to teach the one-rein stop). “With practice, you can teach your horse to stop off one rein without turning—to respond to your one-rein cue to stop while staying on a straight line. But out on the trail, I may not want to take the chance the horse won’t turn–when stopping promptly is critical.”

“I’d like to teach you a rein aid that is only used in emergencies and that can stop any horse—trained or untrained to the cue. It is not the stop you should do every day. It is a rein aid to know to help save your life and your horse’s life if he is truly bolting and you are on terrain that does not allow you to turn or move to the side. ”

Practice Preparation

          If you’ve had an accident, need a confidence boost or ride on narrow trails, it’s important to know this skill. It boosts confidence to know that you can stop any horse. However, practicing this stop can be hard on your horse because you pull on the mouth to stop. Instead of teaching this skill while riding fast, Goodnight recommends learning while sitting still on your horse. Learn the hand motions without pulling hard or at all. You do need to practice on a horse, as your hands need to be in specific position on the horse’s neck.

Goodnight says that when she’s teaching the pulley rein, she teaches riders at the stand still, then, “once the rider knows the hand movements, we’ll move out into an open space where any horse may feel strong—especially when pointed back toward the barn. I watch closely to make sure that no one is excessively hard on the horse and is only practicing enough to get the hand movements memorized.”

 

Step 1. Shorten the First Rein

Put your hands out in front of you while riding with two reins. You can choose which hand moves first, but for illustration purposes, we will start with

 

the left.  Shorten the left rein by sliding your hand down that rein until it is quite short. Keep holding the rest of the reins if loop reins) or your opposite rein (if split reins) with your right hand.

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Caveat: Get the first rein short enough. This first rein must be short enough to stop the horse from turning his nose right, when you pull the right rein. Make sure your hand is directly over the horse’s neck. If not, the horse will pull your hand down. You must be centered so that you have a place to push into the horse’s neck.

 

Step 2. Plant your Hand

 

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With your shortened rein in your left hand, push your knuckles down into the center of horse’s mane—at the notch just above his withers. Your left hand will stay braced against the horse and continue to push into the horse’s neck. Imagine that this arm is the forward hand if you were holding a bow and arrow. It pushes forward and keeps your horse from turning his head.

 

Step 3.  Shorten the Second Rein.

 

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plant

 

Grab the tail of your second rein with your right thumb and slide your hand down the right rein.  Keep your left hand pushing forward into the horse’s mane.

 

Step 4. Pull Back, Sit Back.

 

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Pull back and up with your right rein while your left arm pushes forward. Your arms must work in opposition. Pull back with your right hand like an archer pulls a bow just before he shoots it; push forward with your left arm to create opposition. As you pick up and back with your right hand, sit back with your whole body weight. If you are using this aid, you are in an emergency and you need to put your whole body weight into the stop. Release the cue immediately when your horse stops. Otherwise, the horse may go backwards or could rear.

Caveat: Many times Goodnight says she sees riders pull the left rein while also pulling the right rein. You must keep the left rein pushing in and the right rein pulling back.

Watch this emergency stop in action with Goodnight’s free Certified Horsemanship Association video: JulieGoodnight.com/search and type in “pulley rein video.”

Please note: Practicing the pulley rein is hard on your horse so only practice to help yourself learn the moves–without applying full force. Be gentle and don’t practice often. When you get it right, you will immediately feel the power you have. You’ll boost your confidence when riding in open spaces or on unfamiliar horses—as you have the means to stop a horse in an emergency.  [BUG]

For video how-to lessons and tips from Julie Goodnight, visit juliegoodnight.com/search.

 

For more information on equine behavior, including how to perform the one-rein stop, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from HorseBooksEtc.com. Thanks to Melissa Arnold for demonstrating the techniques.

 

Emergency Dismount

When should you stay on and stop the horse with the pulley rein versus dismounting and getting out of harm’s way? The risk of injury to the rider makes the emergency dismount a questionable skill for some to practice. Jumping from a horse can cause sprained ankles or falls. While children love to learn this skill while jumping from short ponies, those with joint pain may find practice difficult or dangerous.

Goodnight says that often, out on the trail, it is safer to stay on the horse than to dismount from a tall and fast horse onto unknown footing. However, she says the emergency dismount is great to know and there may be an instance where you choose to dismount safely instead of staying with the horse.

“I only want to jump off in a scenario where I will be safer if I am not with the horse–if a horse is running off with me and heading toward a barbed wire fence or a cliff, or some other instance where staying on the horse is more dangerous than the risks of falling as you vault off. I put this teaching—as well as teaching the pulley rein—in the category of ‘good to know, good to practice, hope you never need to use it.’”

If you need the skill, here’s what to do. For safety, consider practicing on a vaulting dummy or stack of hay bales instead of from your tall horse. Practice the rhythm of the vault so you know exactly what to do in what order.

  1. Kick your feet out of the stirrups. That seems obvious, but it is not your first instinct when you are panicking. kick

2. Place your hands on the pommel or on your horse’s neck. Use one hand to protect your stomach from the horn if riding in a Western saddle.

 

kicks

3. Let go of the reins and kick your right leg high up and over the saddle’s cantle. Be careful not to kick the horse in the back. If your horse is out of control and you’re dismounting, you don’t need to hold on. Holding onto the reins while dismounting could cause your horse to fall over onto you as you land.

lands

 

4. Swing your legs together and land facing forward with your knees bent. The more you can move in a sweeping, athletic, flexed vault, the more likely you are to land on your feet without pain.

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The Pully-Rein Stop

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The Trail Rider ~ May 2016

Ride Right with Julie Goodnight

 

To watch Julie Goodnight demonstrate how to perform the pulley-rein stop, go to TrailRiderMag.com.

 

The Pulley-Rein Stop

Learn how to stop a bolting horse on a narrow trail using a pulley rein with top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight’s four-step technique.

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco ~ Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

If you’ve had an accident, need a confidence boost, or ride on narrow trails, it’s important to know the pulley-rein stop. Read on to learn Julie Goodnight’s four-step technique.

Have you ever ridden a horse that spooked and bolted — and was ready to run fast and far? Bolting is a normal part of a horse’s flight response after he’s spooked. To safely control a spooked horse, you have a fraction of a second to choose your cues.

You might be familiar with the one-rein stop, in which you use one rein to turn and stop. (For how to perform the one-rein stop, go to TrailRider.com.) However, if you’re on a narrow trail with no room to turn, or the horse is truly running away with you it might be best to employ the pulley-rein stop.

You won’t use this extreme stopping cue as an everyday method to halt your horse, like you would the one-rein stop, but in an emergency, with nowhere to turn, it just may save your life.

“There’s a distinct difference in an emergency and a horse that just goes a little bit too fast,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “Don’t use the pulley-rein stop when your horse is just going faster than you’d like. The one-rein stop is for that.

“To me, an emergency is when the horse is out of control, or the rider has lost her balance, and someone is in danger of getting hurt. If you need a last-resort way to stop, knowing the pulley rein can help you stop any horse — no matter your size or the horse’s size.”

Goodnight says most riders are first taught to sit back and apply backward rein pressure to stop. This technique can be fine if your horse just needs to slow down. But if your horse is bucking and running off, simply pulling back isn’t going to stop him. A horse that’s running off may brace his neck, pull back against you, grab the bit, and continue to run off in response to your two-handed pull.

“You can’t win a tug of war with a 1,000-pound horse,” notes Goodnight. “The horse will ‘run through’ bit pressure alone if he’s panicked and bolting.”

And, as noted, the one-rein stop isn’t always the best option if it’ll cause your runaway horse to lose his balance and fall, or if you’re on a narrow trail.

“With practice, you can teach your horse to stop off one rein without turning,” says Goodnight. “But on the trail, you might not want to take the chance the horse won’t turn, especially when stopping promptly is critical.”

If you’ve had an accident, need a confidence boost, or ride on narrow trails, it’s important to know the pulley-rein stop. No stopping technique will work in every single emergency situation, but it’ll boost your confidence to know that you’ll likely be able to stop any horse, when you master this skill.

 

Before You Begin

Practicing the pulley-rein stop can be hard on your horse, because you’ll pull on the mouth to stop him. So you’ll practice this technique while you’re sitting still on your horse’s back. In this way, you’ll learn the motions without pulling hard or at all. You do need to practice on your horse, as your hands need to be in a specific position on his neck.

“After you know the hand movements, you can move out into an open space where any horse may feel strong — especially when pointed back toward the barn,” says Goodnight. “Make sure you’re not being excessively hard on your horse and are only practicing enough to memorize the hand movements.”

Before you begin, don an ASTM-approved, SEI-certified riding helmet. Tack up your horse in his usual bridle and saddle. Find an enclosed area with good footing. Mount up, and take a rein in each hand.

Step 1. Shorten the First Rein

Riding with two reins, put your hands out in front of you. You can choose which hand moves first, but for illustration purposes, we’ll start with the left hand (Photo 1A).   Shorten the left rein by sliding your hand down until the rein is quite short (Photo 1B). With your right hand, hold the rest of the reins (if you’re riding with loop reins) or the opposite rein (if you’re riding with split reins).

Caveat: Be sure to shorten the left rein enough to stop your horse from turning his nose right when you pull the right rein. Also be sure you position your hand directly over his neck. If you don’t, he’ll pull your hand to the side. You must be centered so that you have a place to push into his neck.

Step 2. Plant your Hand

With your shortened rein in your left hand, push your knuckles down into the center of your horse’s mane, at the notch just above his withers (Photo 2). Your left hand will stay braced against your horse and will continue to push into his neck. Imagine that this arm is the forward hand if you were holding a bow and arrow. It pushes forward and keeps your horse from turning his head.

Step 3. Shorten the Second Rein

Using your left thumb, grab the tail of the right rein, and slide your right hand down the rein. With your left hand, keep pushing forward into your horse’s mane .

Step 4. Pull Back and Sit Back

Pull back and up with your right rein while your left arm pushes into the neck. Your arms must work in opposition with each other. Pull back with your right hand like an archer pulls a bow just before she shoots it; at the same time, brace into the neck with your left arm to create opposition.

As you pick up and back with your right hand, sit back with your whole body weight. If you’re using this aid, you’re in an emergency situation, and you need to put your whole body weight into the stop.

When your horse stops, release the cue immediately. Otherwise, he may backup, rear or even go over backward.

Caveat: Don’t pull the left rein while also pulling the right rein. You must keep pushing in the left rein and pulling back on the right rein.

Practicing the pulley rein is hard on your horse, so only practice to learn the moves and don’t apply full force. Be gentle, and don’t practice often. When you get it right, you’ll immediately feel the power you have. You’ll boost your confidence when riding in open spaces or on unfamiliar horses as you have the means to stop a horse in an emergency.

For more information on equine behavior, including how to perform the one-rein stop, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from www.equinenetworkstore.com.

 

SIDEBAR

The Emergency Dismount

When should you stay on and stop your horse with the pulley rein versus dismounting and getting out of harm’s way?

The risk of injury to the rider makes the emergency dismount a questionable skill for some to practice. Jumping from a horse can cause sprained ankles or falls. While children love to learn this skill while jumping from short ponies, those with joint pain may find practice difficult or dangerous.

Julie Goodnight says that on the trail, it’s often safer to stay on your horse than to dismount onto unknown footing. However, she feels the emergency dismount is a key skill to learn, as there may be an instance where dismounting is safer than staying with your horse.

“Only jump off your horse when it’s safer to jump off than stay on,” says Goodnight. “An example might be if your horse is running off with you and heading toward a barbed-wire fence or cliff.

“I put the pulley rein and the emergency dismount in the category of ‘good to know, good to practice, hope you never need to use it.’ ”

Here’s how to perform the emergency dismount. For safety, wear an ASTM-approved, SEI-certified riding helmet, and consider practicing on a vaulting dummy or a stack of hay bales. Practice the rhythm of the dismount, so you’ll know exactly what to do and in what order.

Step 1. Kick your feet out of the stirrups. That seems obvious, but it’s not your first instinct when you’re panicking.

Step 2. Place your hands on the saddle’s pommel or on your horse’s neck. If you’re riding in a Western saddle, place your right hand behind the horn to shield your stomach from the horn.

Step 3. Release the reins, and kick your right leg high up and over the saddle’s cantle as you push off with your hands. If your horse is out of control and you’re dismounting, you don’t need to hold on. Plus, holding onto the reins while dismounting could cause him to fall on you as you land. As you vault off, be careful not to kick him in the back.

Step 4. Swing your legs together, and land facing forward with your knees bent. The more you can move in a sweeping, athletic, flexed vault, the more likely you are to land on your feet without pain.

Q & A – How To Introduce Kids To Horses And Riding

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Q: What are safe tips to introduce my kids to horses and riding? I want them to love riding but don’t want to do too much too soon and end up pushing them away. –Mya Web, via email

A: The great thing about riding is that it is a lifelong sport. However, it is not a great sport for very small children. To ride safely, your child needs to be big enough and strong enough to carry the weight of a helmet and needs to be old enough to follow instructions and pay attention. Usually organized lessons start for riders at least five years old and some stables require children to be seven or eight. If your children are younger than five, make sure that all experiences with horses are fun, highly supervised and safe, and short enough to match their attention spans.

Remember that no horse is bomb proof. If you start too soon or trust a horse too much, you may inadvertently set your youngster up for an accident. If a child learns to fear horses because they seem so big when they are so small, it can be difficult to reignite the riding bug later. The danger of falling is directly proportionate to the height of the fall. Matching a smaller child to a pony is an important safety consideration.

All that said, there’s plenty you can do to make horses and ponies fun and safe for kiddos. I started lessons when I was six years old. When my father saw that I had a passion he made sure that I got the best education possible in the sport of horses. I can attribute a big part of the success I’ve had in my career to the great horse and riding education from classically trained instructors when I was a child, as well as the life lessons learned from horses.

Speaking as a mother who hoped desperately to have a horse crazy child, I found that it was important to have an appropriately sized horse (pony). Brushing and picking up feet and being able to do things yourself can be really important to a child—especially a horse-crazy kid. If they feel they can take part, they’ll want to do it more.

When my son, Hunter, was young, I first thought of riding as a privilege for him. “You can ride as soon as you clean stalls or earn this right.” I rethought that parenting strategy rather quickly. I was the one that wanted him to love horses and riding. I changed my thinking to make riding fun. I rearranged my schedule so that I’d have time to ride with my son. If a friend was coming over, I made sure to saddle up the pony and make riding a fun treat for the visiting children. I packed picnics and ponied my son out to a favorite lunch spot.

Don’t confuse your agenda with your child’s horse agenda. You may love dressage but they may want to go fast and barrel race. Hunter thought that picking out the horses’ feet and hanging out with the farrier was fun. I got him farrier chaps and a farrier’s tool box and allowed him the time to do that I loved that he wanted to be around the horses so supported whatever interest he showed.

Q & A – How To Make Picking Hooves Easier

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Q: Sometimes when I’m picking out my horse’s hooves, she pulls it down onto the floor. If I hold it tightly, she tries to jerk it away. How can I make picking out feet easier?

A: Picking a horse’s feet up is not the hard part. Training him to hold his feet up as long as you want him to is a much bigger challenge. Many people focus so much on the picking up that they don’t notice they are inadvertently training the horse to jerk his foot out of your hands whenever he feels like it. Handling a horse’s feet properly takes skill and experience and it is easy to make mistakes.

Start by making sure your horse is standing square and will shift his weight off whichever foot you intend to pick up with a light cue to the shoulder or hip. Then run your hand down to the fetlock, breaking it forward as you lift the foot. Then, make sure you point the hoof toe-up– this is the mistake many people make. If the tow is pointed toward the ground as you are holding the foot up, it is very easy for him to pile-drive his foot to the ground. You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t stomp on your foot at the same time.

Always keep the toe of the hoof curled up toward the sky as you hold the leg. Make sure you are stabilizing his balance with your whole body, but do not let him lean on you. Picking the foot up too high can cause great discomfort to the horse if he has any arthritic changes to his joints– it’s not a natural position for him. So try to keep the foot closer to the ground (toe-up) if your horse seems uncomfortable.

When training a horse to have his feet handled, it’s critically important from the very first time you ask him to pick up his feet (even with foals) that you teach him to hold his foot up in a relaxed manner, letting you have complete control of the leg until you gently place it back to the ground. Every time he succeeds in jerking his foot away, he is instantly rewarded and has learned the wrong thing. Mature horses that have not had good handling can be very challenging to retrain, not to mention the physical risk, and may require someone with the skill and experience to tackle the job safely.

Extended Trot Instead Of Canter Cue

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Julie Goodnight Q&A

Q: How do I get my horse to move out at the trot without breaking into a lope? He’s a western horse learning dressage and the extended trot is part of the pattern we are working on. — Jen Vieira via Facebook

A: Horses differ in their physical abilities. Remember that a horse can only extend the trot as much as his physical conformation and athleticism allows him. How far the horse will extend differs with each horse. You’ll need to find out how much you can extend the gait. You’ll push him to the limit of what he can do to extend then you’ll need to back off on your cues and not ask him for more than that. You’ll only find out how far your horse can extend if you push him to the point that he feels the need to canter. In that process, you’ll find the defining moment. When he does start to canter clarify with a half halt (a momentary application of all the aids to rebalance the horse) then immediately go back to the trot. Ask for the extended trot once again.

What’s the cue for the extended gait? To ask the horse to move into an extended trot, start from the slow sitting trot. Reach forward with both hands to give the horse somewhere to go. Your center of gravity comes slightly forward as your legs move back and close on the horse’s sides. Move into a posting trot to drive him forward with your seat. You’ll be pushing as you rise in the trot and as you sit, your legs will close on his sides to ask him for more impulsion. As you reach forward and drive him on, he’ll extend. It’s your job as a rider to find out how much you can extend the trot gait without cantering.

Keep in mind that all training occurs in transitions. Once you find out how much you can extend the trot, alternate between a slow sitting trot and an extended posting trot. Over time, you’ll ask him to hold the extended trot for longer and longer—conditioning him to hold the new gait.

Be sure to use the entire arena. It will be easiest for your horse to move out on the long sides and diagonal lines of the arena. Practice your extended trot on the long lines of the arena then move to a slow sitting trot as you round the corners of the arena.

Q: I’d like to work my new gelding in the round pen and have him focused on me. Instead, when I turn him loose, he begins trotting or cantering around quickly before I even give a command. Why does he do this and how can I help him slow down and tune in? –Tammy Buffing, via email

When it comes to horses that are speedy or downright out of control in the round pen, there are two common reasons for the behavior. Either the horse doesn’t want to be there and is herd bound—he looks outside, kicks out and carries on to show you that he really wants to get back to his herd. It’s also possible that before you got this horse, someone inadvertently trained him to run. Some people think round pen work is simply a time to run a horse around in circles– to wear him out before riding. But the truth is, there is a lot more to round pen work than that. In that scenario, the horse may learn to run around in circles as soon as he’s turned loose. He thinks that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Either way, you have a horse that is not paying attention to you and probably has no regard for you. . First in the round pen, I want to control the horse’s direction and speed. To control the horse’s movements, you need to understand the horse’s driveline. Imagine a plumb line down from the horse’s withers. If you look or step in front of that vertical line, you cue the horse to stop and or turn around (because you are blocking his path). If you aim your eyes or body behind that line, you’re pushing the horse forward. You use your position to either drive the horse forward or cut off his direction..

Use caution, the round pen can be a pressure cooker for the horse. You have him confined, but you’re chasing him as if he was out in the open. That can cause a horse to be emotional, to kick out, to try to jump out of the pen, or to simply feel uncomfortable until he understands what you’re asking for and accepts your authority. Be careful; it’s easy get kicked or run over in the round pen.

Any time you’re in the round pen, make sure to have a flag or stick with you to help you pronounce your cues and to defend your space. If you’re working a horse in the round pen, it’s probably because you need to get his attention and establish that you are in charge. The flag will help you get your horse’s attention and if he disagrees with your leadership, it’s possible he could charge you; make sure you have a tool to defend your space if needed.

I like a flag so that I can wave it and I have a way to signal the horse visually without touching him. If the horse were to become aggressive, having the attached stick helps me defend my space. I have been charged in the round pen by a several horses. Sometimes it is predictable, sometimes not. You can’t predict how a horse will react when he is learning to follow your round pen cues. Kicking and charging are normal horse behaviors and you need to be prepared.

Your speedy horse is probably looking anywhere but at you. To slow a speedy horse, you’ll need to change his direction a lot. And to change his direction, you’ll need to visually block his way and get him to notice you. You’ll need to cut him off and send him in the opposite direction. You can’t just step directly in front of him or he may run you over. Plan ahead and visualize where the horse will be when he continues three quarters of the way around the pen. Then walk to that point of intersection. That gives him plenty of time to see you and stop and turn.

If you start turning the horse around every time you lose his attention, he will start thinking about you more. Turning around is extremely difficult. When the horse turns into the fence, he has to stop abruptly, roll back onto his haunches and launch forward—that uses lots of energy. If you turn him and after a few strides he starts going too fast again, turn him around again. Soon, he’ll get tired of turning. He’ll start to focus on you to see when he’ll have to turn around again. If he seems tired, see if he’ll stop instead of stop and turn.

If he’ll stop, I’ll walk to the fence that is away from the horse and talk to a friend. If your friend is close enough to watch, it’s interesting to hear about what the horse does as your back is turned. As long as he’s looking at you, allow him to stay still and rest. If your friend reports that he has looked away, put him back to work.

As soon as he looks outside the pen or speeds up, turn him around. You’ll see results in the first session. If he starts benefitting from looking at you—by being allowed to slow down or to stop and rest—he’ll give you his attention for longer and longer periods.

There’s a whole lot more to round pen work than a casual observer would ever see or understand. There’s so much communication and purpose in this complicated work. There are specific steps to take in the round pen—first drive the horse away, then control direction, then control speed. Even people who own horses don’t always realize how much is going on and may think that a round pen is just a place to chase a horse around to wear him out before a ride. Make sure to study the body language of horses and to learn all the ways you can communicate with your horse in this setting. If done correctly, the round pen can be a place where you establish your leadership and show the horse great rewards for listening and seeing your cues.

–Julie Goodnight

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Cinching Up Just Enough – Julie Goodnight Q & A

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Q: How tight should I tighten my horse’s cinch—and what is the right process. I don’t want to hurt my horse and I want to make sure he never becomes cinchy. –Pam Friend, via e-mail

 

A: How tight the cinch needs to be depends on the shape of the horse, the type of riding you plan to do, and the skill and size of the rider. The cinch and girth are interchangeable terms—depending on your saddle type. If you ride English, you probably say girth and if you ride in a Western saddle, you say cinch. The girth is also a term to identify the horse’s body part.

 

The cinch needs to be tight enough to allow you to mount and dismount without causing the saddle to shift. You want to keep the saddle balanced, but you don’t want to tighten a cinch more than needed—that can cause discomfort to the horse and can cause the horse to resist the saddling process.

 

A less experienced, or out-of-balance rider may need a tighter cinch. If they shift when a horse spooks or turns quickly, they may torque the saddle and cause it to rotate. A small and unbalanced rider may not be able to move the saddle that much, but an adult who is off balance can easily move a saddle that is not adequately secured with the cinch. If you are cutting or rounding barrels, you want to make sure your saddle doesn’t shift as the horse performs tight turns.

 

The horse’s conformation plays a role, as well. If you have a round horse with low withers, you may have to tighten the cinch quite a bit. Higher withers can help keep a saddle in place. The type of pad and the material the cinch is made of can also affect how tightly you’ll cinch up. If the material is smooth or shiny, it won’t help the saddle stay in place.

 

Let’s talk about the process. It’s best to untie a horse before tightening the cinch. Your horse doesn’t have to be totally loose, but if he becomes uncomfortable during the process, you don’t want him to be tied hard and fast to a hitching rail or cross ties. He could pull back and panic, which may lead to tying problems later on. Lay the lead over a rail so that he knows not to move, but perceives he is tied and will stand still.

 

I like to rub the horse’s girth area before I bring the cinch into place. With my head facing the horse’s head (to keep it out of the kick zone), I bend to reach for the cinch and attach the cinch with the buckle. At this point, I only attach the cinch enough so that the saddle will stay in place. Then I’ll move the cinch up one hole, wait a moment and cinch up one more hole. Then I walk the horse a minimum of five steps to allow the saddle to settle on to his back. Then I’ll tighten the cinch enough so that I can get on. If the saddle slips as I get on, the saddle is too loose. As my horse warms up, the tack will settle onto his back again. Check your cinch again 10 minutes into your ride or before you canter.

 

To check the cinch, reach between the horse’s front legs and check at the horse’s centerline. You should be able to put one index finger in to your finger’s first joint. If you can reach in at the back of the cinch more than that, it’s probably too loose. If you can’t fit a finger in at all, it may be too tight. Checking the cinch behind the horse’s shoulder may not give you an accurate reading. Most horses are concave there, just below your saddle. The cinch will always feel loose there. Tip: don’t expect your horse to always use the same hole on your cinch or latigo; it will change somewhat as he changes in age, fitness and hair coat. Go by what you notice and how it feels, not by a counting the holes.

 

Q: How do you train a horse to go from direct reining (two hands) to neck reining with one hand? Kim Ridgeway, via e-mail

 

A: When I start training a young horse, I lay the groundwork for neck reining later. I believe that all horses should be able to neck rein—English and Western. You never know when you need to ride with one hand. The training for one-handed riding starts by practicing with two hands.

 

To start, you’ll keep both hands on the reins and make sure your hands are in front of the pommel. Keep your hands to the sides of the horse’s neck—so that your hands are far apart with about a foot of space in between. For proper position, imagine a straight line from your elbow to the corner of the horse’s mouth. Start cueing for a turn with the leading rein. Many riders learn on trained horses and first learn the direct rein—when you pull back in the direction you want to go by pulling the rein toward your hip. The direct rein is a “rein of opposition” and interferes with forward motion. You cannot use a direct rein when you are riding a young horse—or you will stop him from moving freely forward. When you’re riding a young horse you want him to learn to move ahead. You don’t want to train him to get “sticky feet” and stop too often, so forward motion is critical.

 

Instead, you’ll use the leading rein. Instead of pulling back, you open your hand out to the side in the direction you want to go (imagine a hitch-hiker’s thumb). It helps the horse know to turn without stopping his forward motion. That’s the movement you’ll do with your inside hand. As a secondary rein aid, you’ll close your outside hand against the horse’s neck. Move your outside hand toward the horse’s neck, but never across the midline of the horse.

 

Step 1: When I’m starting a young colt, this is exactly how I cue him to turn from the very first ride. With the leading rein, I can direct the horse by opening the rein in the direction I want to go and I’m reinforcing what will be the neck rein with my outside hand. I lay the groundwork for the neck rein from the start and he begins to associate the feel of the rein on his neck with a turn.

 

Step 2: I continue to practice turns by starting with the leading rein and adding the neck rein as the secondary cue. However, when he begins to turn, I release the leading rein (moving my hand back toward the midline of the horse) while keeping the neck rein in place. My goal is to hold the horse in the turn with the neck rein. At any time (still holding the reins with two hands), I can reach down and bump (do not pull or hold pressure) with the leading rein to help him know to continue turning. That’s the second stage of training. After practicing this stage for a week or more, I’ll see if I can initiate the turn with the neck rein.

 

Step 3: Next I will start the turn with the neck rein. If that doesn’t cause the horse to turn, I’ll immediately bump with the leading rein to remind the horse of what I’m asking. I’ll continue asking my horse to turn with the neck rein first and then reinforcing with a bump of the leading rein until he turns consistently off of the neck-rein cue.

 

Step 4: Once you’re initiating and holding the turns as long as you want with the neck rein—and the horse is moving lightly off of the neck rein—you’re close to riding with one hand. At this point, I continue to ride with two hands, but I move my hands closer and closer together. Soon, I’m holding my knuckles together so my hands are together as one. The horse feels what he will feel when I move to one hand, but I can quickly reinforce if needed. I then move to a trainer’s hold on the reins—where there’s a bridge of the reins. Then I’ll switch to the pistol grip on the reins—riding with only one hand.

 

Depending on your horse’s age and experience, your level of skill and the amount of time you have to ride, this process can be taught in as little as three weeks or as long as several months. A colt that has just started learning any cues will take a long time to learn the different rein aids. He needs to stay at the beginning levels for quite some time to make sure he has all the fundamentals. If you are riding a trained horse that knows the leading rein well and just needs a reminder of the neck rein, you may be able to work through a step per week. If at any time you need to step back and remind the horse of the new cue, switch back to two hands.

 

A note about timing: A reinforcement or reward (release) must come within three seconds for the horse to learn, but the sooner in the three seconds, the faster the horse learns.

 

For instance, if you lay the neck rein on the horse and wait too long for him to turn before reinforcing with the leading rein, he won’t learn the neck rein as fast as if you reinforce that cue immediately. If the release or reinforcement comes within a second, the horse will learn quickly.

–Julie Goodnight

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My Horse Consistently Breaks Gait From A Lope To A Jog On The Right Lead. Q & A

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Q: My horse consistently breaks gait from a lope to a jog on the right lead. What may be causing this? –Haley White

A: This is an interesting question—and I wish I had a few more details. If the horse only breaks gait on the right lead and not on the left lead, that makes me suspicious that there may be a physical problem. If a horse breaks gait on both leads, that makes me think that the horse is lazy and disobedient.. However, an obedience issue doesn’t usually happen only on one lead.

By and large if you’re cantering and the horse breaks down to the trot, it’s an obedience issue. The horse should not be allowed to choose the speed and direction—that’s the rider’s job. Many riders just re-cue for the canter and don’t admonish the horse when he breaks gait. So the horse doesn’t know that wasn’t right, he just thinks that if he slows down, he’ll get a break then canter again. You have to break that cycle by adding an admonishment to let him know that breaking gait was unacceptable.

Since Haley writes that it’s only the right lead she’s having trouble with, it makes me think that disobedience may not be the only problem and there may also be a physical component. Plus, it seems that the horse will pick up the right lead and just not maintain it, which would be unusual for a horse that is in pain But, the horse may feel some pain on a leg that is prominent when traveling that direction or may lack conditioning and coordination on that side. Think about the motion of the canter: The legs work unevenly at this gait. On the right lead, the left hind and the right foreleg are enduring the most stress. If the horse is picking up the right lead then not wanting to sustain the gait, he may not be conditioned on that side or he may be feeling pain after the initial canter departure.

I wonder if Haley’s horse has an old injury. After an accident, there could be a coordination or a conditioning issue affecting one side for some time. I’d want to see the horse’s movement in the pasture—will he move on both leads without a rider present? That can tell you what the horse’s preferred lead is and if the horse does pick up the right lead, it would be interesting to see if he keeps the right lead on his own.

This could also be a training issue. Team-roping horses always come out of the box on the left lead because they will eventually turn to the left. Racehorses may only pick up the left lead as they always bend around to the left on the track. I find that many horses also prefer the left lead naturally. So if a horse is trained that the right lead is wrong, or if a horse has never been trained to pick up a specific lead, he may just pick the lead he wants. Horses that were trained for the trail often aren’t taught to pick up specific leads—they just canter on their favorite lead. If the horse has never worked his muscles and been conditioned to work on the right lead, it may take some conditioning and riding at a full gallop to help the horse develop strength and balance in that gait.

Keep in mind that the gallop is the natural gait and the canter is the collected, man-made version of the movement. If the horse has never had to hold himself with a rider while cantering to the right, he may be willing to pick up the lead, but may not be conditioned to keep the lead.

All those thoughts considered, this could be a physical issue or a training issue. My gut tells me that we have to rule out pain first. I’d want to have this horse evaluated by an equine chiropractor who is also a veterinarian. I have seen horses that have a rib or spinal issue not want to canter or just seem “off.”

If the horse doesn’t appear lame on one leg, but isn’t moving how he should, a few treatments may help. Starting with this step would rule out the pain. If it still happens after chiropractic treatment and conditioning, it’s time to go back to basic obedience. If you have asked the horse to canter, he should stay in that gait until you give a different cue.

I’m curious to know what Haley finds out. It’s a curious question and one that’s interesting to think about!

–Julie Goodnight
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Feed-Time Aggression Q & A

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Julie Goodnight Q&A
Feed-Time Aggression; Maintaining the Right Lead

Q: Why do some horses feel threatened when it comes to their food, and in return behave in an aggressive way at meal times? What can I do to prevent food-time aggression and stay safe at feeding time? –Chloe Martin

A: A horse’s aggression at feed time may be as major as pinning his ears, baring his teeth and charging you or as minor as grabbing the hay out of your arms when you arrive to distribute dinner. Horses may behave this way to establish who’s dominant in the herd—and if you are present with food, you’re part of the herd for the moment! When horses establish who’s in charge in the herd, they show they are dominant by controlling space and controlling resources. The resources are food, water and shelter. With food aggression, the horse is often simultaneously invading your space and taking away the food. That’s his way to control space and resources all at once. Keep in mind that he doesn’t know the difference between horse food and people food—he doesn’t know you won’t eat it. He knows he wants it and he can take it from you.

Why does your horse think he’s dominant over you? Hand feeding treats can lead to the horse thinking he is in charge and allowed to take food from your hand. He also learns that by pushing into you he can control where you stand and where you’ll go. Sometimes horses develop food aggression just because their dominant behavior has been tolerated in the past; it becomes worse over time. Sometimes aggression develops when feeders don’t go into the pen with the horse at all. When horses are fed only twice a day (instead of eating all day long like nature intended) there is a lot of stress and anxiety over when the next meals comes.

Some horses will be so anxious that they start acting out, like pawing, pinning the ears or baring teeth, then when the feeder dumps the hay in, the horse comes to believe his aggressive gestures are causing you to feed him. Even though you aren’t going into the pen so his gestures don’t concern you, to him it is as if he intimidated you into dropping the food and leaving, so his aggressive gestures were rewarded.

There is also herd stress if you’re feeding in a group and only feeding twice a day—horses may be worried about getting their food and also worried if another horse will allow them to eat. Those two factors—the herd and the limited food resource—may make the horses aggressive toward one another and just agitated to anyone present at feed time. That kind of stress in addition to only being fed twice a day causes a competition for the food. In that case, I would recommend separating them for feeding to reduce the competition for food. Or feed more often. Giving horses free access to hay 24 days, seven days a week will virtually eliminate all food aggression.

If a horse is acting out against you as you bring the food, that’s easy to fix. I would use a flag whenever I approach the horse’s pen, whether I intend to go into it or not. Wave the flag at the horse to back him up. Once he yields his space, he will then look forward at you to see what is going to happen next. While his ears are forward and after he has backed up, drop the food and walk away. If his aggressive antics don’t get him what he wants, he will stop acting that way. Make sure you have a flag or stick to make sure you can defend yourself.

Remember, he doesn’t have to act well for long—just has to be acting right at the moment you feed him. It’s not that the alpha horse never lets the other horses eat—they get to eat when she walks away from the food.

3 Leadership Activities

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By: Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight

Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight gives you three fun activities designed to enhance the bond you have with your horse and solidify your role as herd leader.

During cold winter months, you likely trail ride less frequently than you do in warmer months. You might even turn your horse out on winter pasture. And all year long, there are times when you just can’t get out to ride as often as you’d like.

You can take a break from riding, but you still need to keep your horse tuned up so he maintains his respect for you as his herd leader, especially if he’s pastured with other horses.

As a prey animal, your horse instinctively looks for safety and comfort in a horse herd. If he doesn’t also feel safe and at home with you, he’ll feel unsafe, insecure, and alone when you pull him out of his herd.

“Unless and until you can replace those feelings of safety and comfort that your horse gets with his horse herd, he’d rather stay with his buddies,” notes top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

“Your horse will leave with you only if he thinks you can give him safety, security, and comfort. You have to be a herd of two.”

If your horse doesn’t feel safe with you, he might become herd-bound, barn sour, buddy sour, and even appear to forget his training.

It may be tough to ride your horse every day, especially in the winter. But you can make sure that each interaction you have with him is meaningful and shows him you’re his herd leader.

“It’s all about relationships,” says Goodnight. “You have to consistently work with your horse to maintain a good relationship. Some horses need to be handled every day. The good news is that helping your horse feel safe with you can be fun.”

Here, Goodnight will explain the importance of tuning up your horse’s training all year long. Then she’ll give you three fun activities designed to foster your relationship and bond with your horse so he’ll look to you as his trusted leader.

 

Tune Up His Training

First, understand how your horse thinks. He understands authority and leadership. He’s always testing you. If he finds he doesn’t have to follow the rules with you, he won’t.

Every time you handle your horse, you’re training him to do something, either acceptable or unacceptable. Over time, tiny inconsistencies can erode your authority with him, but you might not notice that you’re no longer the leader until something big happens.

Consistently keep up your horse’s training, whether you bought him trained or trained him yourself. If you allow him to break the rules, and abandon the structure and routine he’s learned, his training is likely to unravel. He’ll lose his respect for you as the herd leader, and may even resist leaving the pasture.

For instance, let’s say you’ve trained your horse to stand still during grooming. Over time, he starts taking a step or two toward you as you brush him. You don’t bother to correct him. Then one day, he takes three steps and actually bumps into you.

You thought those small steps were little infractions not worth correcting. But your horse took your inaction as a sign that you’re not in charge and not even worth noticing.

Teach your horse to respect your personal space. Every time you lead him, make frequent stops and starts, requesting obedience. Remind him where he should be. Don’t allow him to get ahead of you. Make sure he stands still when asked. Correct him if he bumps into you or takes a step away from you.

Another example: You’ve trained your horse to ride out alone. But then you start allowing him to turn his head to look back toward the barn. Left uncorrected, he soon attempts to turn back toward the barn, and balks when you turn him toward the trail.

To keep up your horse’s training, correct him with confidence every time he looks back toward the barn. He’ll remember that first-trained skill.

Goodnight says that in her experience, middle-aged horses, no matter how well-trained, are more likely to become herd-bound than other horses. There are variables in personalities, but that’s a time to make sure you interact with your horse and maintain your leadership.

Five minutes of training here and there can go far to help you maintain your relationship with your horse, especially if the relationship is firmly established.

And the more you spend time increasing your leadership and enhancing the bond with your horse, the more relaxing and enjoyable your trail rides will be. When your horse trusts you and sees you as his herd leader, he’ll more readily follow your cues, and you’ll have a more productive and relaxing time in the saddle.

Following are three short, fun activities you can do with your horse to help keep up his training and enhance the bond you enjoy with him.

Activity #1: Find His Sweet Spot

A fun activity to do with your horse as you groom him is to rub and scratch his “sweet spot.” When something feels good to a horse, he’ll pucker his lip and even raise or stretch out his neck to show you his appreciation. This reaction is related to allo-grooming(mutual grooming). When two horses stand facing one another and groom one another with their teeth, they’ll pucker when the other horse has found the “sweet spot.”

Only horses that are bonded will participate in mutual grooming. In that pair, one is still more dominant; the dominant horse will start and stop the process.

To find your horse’s sweet spot, start at his withers, and rub in a circular motion up his neck with a deep massaging or scratching motion. When you find the sweet spot, he’ll move his lips or even stretch out.

Scratch your horse’s sweet spot after you’ve asked him to perform a maneuver, such as stopping, backing up, or taking a step to the side.

Be aware that you’re working to maintain your leadership within the herd. By initiating and stopping this routine, you’re showing him you’re the herd leader.

Sometimes horses that are allo-grooming will bite each other, so you’ll need to thwart any mouthy behavior. Your horse should never put his lips on you. If he does reach out to groom you in return, acknowledge the kind gesture, but gently push back his nose back to stop him.

And don’t allow your horse to become rude or demanding of the grooming or reward. If he becomes demanding, be demanding back, and tell him that it’s not the right time. Never reward this behavior.

Activity #2: Play the Bravery Game

Ground work builds your relationship with your horse. One fun groundwork activity is the “bravery game,” which teaches him to replace his flight response with a calm alternative.

This is a great skill to have when you’re on the trail. If your horse sees something that scares him, he’ll know that he’s brave enough to stop, turn, look, and draw closer to the scary object.

For this activity, you’ll work with your horse’s instinctive behavior. By nature, he’s investigative and curious. If he sees something new, and he’s unafraid, he may seek to touch the object with his muzzle and even lick it. Your horse is also instinctively a flight animal. However, he can’t act on both of these instincts at the same time.

Here’s how to replace your horse’s flight instinct with investigative behavior when confronted with a scary object.

Step 1. Find a novel item. Once a week or so, find a novel, noisy, visually stimulating item to present to your horse, such as a pinwheel, pom-pom, or plastic toy with moving parts. Place the item behind the barn or next to an out-of-the-way building, where it’ll surprise him.

Step 2. Lead your horse. Outfit your horse with a rope halter and training lead at least 12 feet long. Ask him to walk obediently beside you, stop, back up, etc. Then lead him past the item.

Step 3. Ask him to face the item. As soon as your horse sees the item, ask him to stop. If he moves, correct him with the lead rope. Then ask him to face the item.

Step 4. Praise him. As soon as your horse stops and faces the item, praise him with long strokes of your hand and with your voice. Such praise will calm him. Just relaxing near the novel stimulus will help eliminate his flight instinct.

Step 5. Ask for a step or two. If your horse stays calm, ask him to take a step or two toward the item, then ask him to stop again. If he stays put, praise him for his bravery. Continue to ask him to take one or two small steps forward, but don’t let him walk far. Stop him after he goes only a short way.

Step 6. Encourage investigative behavior. The moment your horse pricks his ears forward and shows forward interest, ask him to walk another step, then stop him again. Going slowly and stopping him piques his investigative instinct, and gives him a chance to take in the new stimulus. It also gives you a chance to praise him and help him to stay relaxed.

This activity is a game as well as a training session. It’s fun for your horse, because he wants to be told he’s good. He doesn’t like being afraid, so when you help him replace fear with bravery, he feels good.

The ultimate point in the game comes when your horse reaches out and touches the item with his muzzle. He wins! Praise him copiously with long strokes of your hand and your voice

If you only have five minutes, do a shorter version of this activity. Place a piece of noisy plastic in your pocket, then take it out, crinkle it, and show it to your horse. If he stays relaxed, praise him. If he becomes nervous, ask him to calm down and face the item.

You can also do the bravery game while you’re riding — even when your horse is accidentally startled. Simply follow the same steps you performed on the ground.

The more often you do this activity, the more often your horse will stop and look instead of thinking of bolting. He may still be startled, but he’ll learn to turn and look instead of taking off.

Activity #3: Ride With Friends

If you make small efforts to constantly improve your horsemanship, you’re horse will be happier, because you’ll learn how to better communicate with him. To keep on a regular schedule, set aside a dedicated time, and include your friends.

One way to do this is to start a once-per-month riding club. Rotate the leader who’ll prepare a lesson that’s fun and educational.

The leader needs to be aware of every member’s skill level so he or she can design exercises that are meaningful for all involved.

The leader will first show the rest of the group what to do. Then everyone else will follow. Afterward, you’ll all talk about what worked, what didn’t, and why.

If time is short, perform ground work, then hold a brief contest. For instance, see whose horse will ground-tie the longest. Give a fun prize to the winner. When you have time, serve after-lesson refreshments.

For more information on equine behavior and trail-riding tips, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available at Shop.JulieGoodnight.com

Choose The Right Reins

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RIDE RIGHT//NOV-DEC 2015

 

Online extra! For Julie Goodnight’s tip on using color-coded reins for kids, go to TrailRider.com.

 

Choose the Right Reins

Learn how choose the right reins, and use them safely on the trail, with top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

BY HEIDI MELOCCO WITH JULIE GOODNIGHT ~ PHOTOS BY HEIDI MELOCCO

 

On the trail, your reins need to be safe and functional, and help your horse quickly and easily understand the slightest cue.

And, your reins need to be comfortable. If your reins are too long, too much to hold, or are just uncomfortable, you’ll tend to shorten your trail rides. If they feel good to you, you’ll relax in the saddle and enjoy long rides.

Your horse is highly attuned to how you hold and cue with the reins. When you move along at a casual pace, he appreciates a long rein to give him room to move. Your reins also need to be long enough so that your horse can reach down to drink.

At the same time, when you speed up, you need to be able to easily shorten the reins to collect your horse and give a more direct cue when necessary.

Here, top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight will first cover rein quality, types, and attachments. Then she’ll tell you the best ways to attach your reins to the bit and how to rein your horse. Next, she’ll give you ground-tying safety pointers. Along the way, she’ll give you riding-glove tips for safety and control.

 

Overall Quality

“It’s all about quality,” Goodnight says. “The heavier the rein is, the easier it’ll be for your horse to feel what you’re doing with your hands and the more subtle a signal you can give.

“Plus, when the reins are made from quality leather or rope, your horse will feel the rein release right away, so he’ll learn to be more responsive.”

Riding with well-weighted reins will remind you to give your horse enough slack, because you’ll feel the downward pull of gravity. He’ll feel the rein’s weight, and your cues will be amplified because of the weighted drape.

If you use reins made from inexpensive, lightweight material that flops around, your horse won’t feel the rein and may have a tough time feeling your rein aids. This means you may find yourself pulling on the reins more than should be necessary (and therefore applying undue pressure to your horse’s mouth) to get a response to your cues.

To experience what your horse feels when the reins are weighted just right, stand up, and place your arms straight out in front of you with your palms up.

Imagine you hold a penny on your right index finger and a feather on your left index finger. Now think what it would take to balance the item on each finger.

You likely imagine that you’d be able to balance the penny easily, but need to shift your finger to keep it under the feather. The same law of physics applies to how your horse feels and balances himself within the weight of your reins.

If your reins are made from lightweight leather or nylon webbing, there isn’t much weight, and it becomes difficult for him to feel the reins and stay balanced.

With high-quality leather or a thick marine-type rope, your horse will be able to feel your hand movements and balance himself more easily. He’ll know what you’re asking because the weight of the reins echoes the slightest movement from your hand.

 

Rein Types

Here’s a rundown of common Western rein types and how to use them. Find reins that feel best in your hands and as you ride on trail.

* Split reins. If you opt for split reins, choose quality leather. Split reins are long and versatile — you can make them long or short, and use them independently or ride one-handed. Split reins can be great for trail riding, because you can easily ground-tie by laying the reins down on the ground. But some find them cumbersome and they can be easily dropped.

You can hold split reins in a variety of ways. You can choose how you hold them and where you hold them to cue your horse.

The traditional pistol-grip hold is the rein hold used for competition. Hold both the reins in one hand with your index finger in-between the two reins.

The trainer’s hold or bridge is made by laying one rein on either side of your horse’s neck, crossing the reins over each other, and holding one rein in each hand or both in one hand. Hold your hands as though you’re holding bicycle handles, while making a “bridge” with two pieces of leather as the reins cross over your horse’s neck. This allows you to ride with two hands and work each side of the bit independently. You can also use a bridge while riding one-handed.

When riding Western, the traditional rein hand is the left hand; it’s assumed you’ll need to use your dominant right hand to hold a rope, open a gate, rope, etc.

If you’re riding with split reins, make sure the bight (the tail of your reins) lies on the same side of your horse’s neck as your rein hand so his neck doesn’t interfere with your cues.

* Continuous-loop reins. If you choose to ride with continuous-loop reins, choose high-quality, heavyweight rope for trail riding. These reins fill your hand for comfort and control. They’re easy to use when you’re following a trail and don’t need to guide your horse’s every step. Rope reins are easy to hold onto, as well as to shorten and lengthen.

Hold rope reins right in the middle to ride on a loose rein. “The reins I’ve designed have a marker in the middle so you can easily check to see your reins are even,” Goodnight says.

Consider length. On the trail, your horse needs to be able to drop his head to drink and move in a relaxed frame. Most trail horses do well with a 9-foot rein. However, if your horse has a very long neck, you may prefer a 10-foot rein. Find a length that also helps you ride on a loose rein with a relaxed hand.

 

Rein Attachments

Traditional Western reins can also include a mecate or romal. Here’s what you need to know.

* Mecate. The mecate is a long lead on a continuous-loop rein that comes off of the left side of the bit. The reins are usually attached with slobber straps. Some trail riders love the convenience of the mecate; off the horse, there’s built-in lead line. But others find the extra rope bulky and a lot to handle.

“I prefer a halter and lead separate from the bridle,” Goodnight says. “I either tie my halter and lead onto the saddle or sometimes ride with the halter beneath the bridle.

The trainer’s hold or bridge is made by laying one rein on either side of your horse’s neck, crossing the reins over each other, and holding one rein in each hand or both in one hand. Hold your hands as though you’re holding bicycle handles, while making a “bridge” with two pieces of leather as the reins cross over your horse’s neck. This allows you to ride with two hands and work each side of the bit independently. You can also use a bridge while riding one-handed.

When riding Western, the traditional rein hand is the left hand; it’s assumed you’ll need to use your dominant right hand to hold a rope, open a gate, rope, etc.

If you’re riding with split reins, make sure the bight (the tail of your reins) lies on the same side of your horse’s neck as your rein hand so his neck doesn’t interfere with your cues.

* Continuous-loop reins. If you choose to ride with continuous-loop reins, choose high-quality, heavyweight rope for trail riding. These reins fill your hand for comfort and control. They’re easy to use when you’re following a trail and don’t need to guide your horse’s every step. Rope reins are easy to hold onto, as well as to shorten and lengthen.

Hold rope reins right in the middle to ride on a loose rein. “The reins I’ve designed have a marker in the middle so you can easily check to see your reins are even,” Goodnight says.

Consider length. On the trail, your horse needs to be able to drop his head to drink and move in a relaxed frame. Most trail horses do well with a 9-foot rein. However, if your horse has a very long neck, you may prefer a 10-foot rein. Find a length that also helps you ride on a loose rein with a relaxed hand.

 

Rein Attachments

Traditional Western reins can also include a mecate or romal. Here’s what you need to know.

* Mecate. The mecate is a long lead on a continuous-loop rein that comes off of the left side of the bit. The reins are usually attached with slobber straps. Some trail riders love the convenience of the mecate; off the horse, there’s built-in lead line. But others find the extra rope bulky and a lot to handle.

“I prefer a halter and lead separate from the bridle,” Goodnight says. “I either tie my halter and lead onto the saddle or sometimes ride with the halter beneath the bridle. This means there’s less to hold. And when you tie your horse, you aren’t tempted to tie with a rope that’s connected to the bit.”

* Romal. A romal is attached to the set of closed reins; the entire assemblage is called romal reins. The romal was developed to help a rider move cattle. Romal reins are held without a finger between the reins, so you have less ability to articulate with the reins than you might with split reins. You ride with two hands — one hand cues your horse, while the other holds the romal. These reins are best used on a well-trained horse that neck reins well.

 

Bit Connections

Goodnight advises against using a metal snap to attach your reins to the bit. Although convenient, the metal-to-metal connection can annoy your horse. The metals rub and vibrate, which he feels constantly.

A rope or leather bit connection gives you a better feel and helps you know when your horse moves or makes a change. You don’t need to change the bit or reins frequently; take a few extra moments to tie on your reins or otherwise secure without a clip.

“A leather or rope connection is fine,” says Goodnight. “Although I’m not a fan of decorative slobber straps — they’re too bulky and don’t allow me to finesse the reins. Plus, they’re cumbersome to put on and take off.”

The ideal connection for a continuous-loop rein is a corded quick connect, says Goodnight. “A corded quick connect allows you to put the reins on easily, and also allows the reins to drape and easily communicate with your horse.”

A split rein will usually have a tied-on connection — a kind of slobber strap made from the same leather as the rein. The leather piece is a breakaway and may save your horse from getting hurt if you drop a rein and he steps on it. If that piece does break, it’s easy to repair while on the trail.

 

Holding the Reins

Whether you ride with one hand or two depends on the type of bit you use, and your horse’s training level and his obedience.

Snaffle bits (bits without shanks) are designed to be ridden two-handed with a direct rein (applying pressure directly from rider’s hand to the mouthpiece of the bit). Riding in a snaffle bit with one hand causes the bit to collapse around the horse’s tongue and pinch his jaw in a nutcracker effect.

 

Curb bits (bits with shanks) are designed to be ridden one-handed However, if the bit is designed so that the shanks move independently from each other, you may also ride with two hands when your horse is in training.

 

Ground-Tying Safety

When you dismount and lay the reins on the ground, a horse trained to ground tie knows that means he should stand still. Laying the reins on the ground should only be done with a split rein, not a continuous-loop rein.

Split reins have no dangerous hoof-catching loop. In the worst-case scenario, your horse may break the split-reins’ leather, but he won’t get caught up or pull excessively on the bit with a material that won’t break.

Never drop loop or continuous-rope reins in front of your horse. Rather, hold loop reins in your hands or over your arm to keep the loop far from your horse’s feet.

If you want to ground-tie with a loop rein, keep the loop over your horse’s neck, or attach a lead rope to a halter beneath your bridle, and allow this lead to hang down. Or you can use the traditional neck rope for this purpose, known as a “get-down” rope.

For safety’s sake, make sure that some part of your reins, bit, and headstall is made of a breakaway material. For instance, if you have rope reins, connect them to a leather headstall. Something needs to give in case of an emergency.

[

 

Riding-Glove Tips

————————————–

Well-fitted leather gloves are handy on the trail when reaching to ride beneath branches.

————————————–

When should you wear riding gloves? You’ll need gloves if you’re riding a fast-paced trail or endurance challenge, as you’ll hold the horse with contact and you’ll feel friction on your fingers. You may also want gloves if you’re riding in heavy brush and you’ll need to reach up and break branches.

“I always want gloves on if I’m ponying a horse or doing any kind of rope-pulling work,” notes Julie Goodnight. “I always make sure there are gloves in my saddlebag in case I need to help pony a horse in an emergency.

Consider glove material. “I like a leather glove for the feel,” says Goodnight. “The new technical fabrics are great, though, too.

No matter what the material, fit is key. “If the gloves fit well without extra fingertip length, you’ll be able to feel the reins better and not lose the feel of the reins as you’re shortening and lengthening them,” notes Goodnight.

 

On the trail, your reins need to be safe and functional, and help your horse quickly and easily understand the slightest cue. Here, top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight will help you choose the reins that are right for you. Shown are Goodnight (right) and Twyla Walker Collins riding with split reins.

 

[SPLIT REINS]

 

Leather split reins are long and versatile, and best for ground-tying. But some riders find them hard to use, and they can be easily dropped. (Note the leather-to-metal connection at the bit, rather than a metal snap, which would annoy your horse.)

 

[ROPE REINS]

 

If you use continuous-loop rope reins on the trail, make sure they’re long enough to allow your horse to ride in a relaxed frame, turn and bend without constant contact, and reach his head down far enough to drink.

 

 

Rope reins are easy to hold and convenient on the trail — especially if you’re worried about dropping a split rein. The reins can be held in one hand or two, depending on the bit and your horse’s training level.

 

The ideal connection for a continuous-loop rein is a corded quick connect, says Goodnight, who designed the reins shown. “A corded quick connect allows you to put the reins on easily, and also allows the reins to drape and easily communicate with your horse.”

 

[ROMAL REINS]

 

With romal reins, you ride with two hands — one hand cues your horse, while the other holds the romal attachment. These reins are best used on a well-trained horse that knows how to neck rein.

 

A Safe Handle On The Reins

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A Safe Handle on the Reins

 

By Heidi Nyland Melocco with Julie Goodnight

 

Learn how to safely use your reins on the trail with top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. She’ll explain how to hold and use both rope and split reins, plus how to stop and ground-tie.

 

When you’re on a long trail ride, you want comfortable and functional reins to hold. It’s important that the gear you choose helps you feel comfortable, keeps you relaxed, and helps your horse quickly and easily understand the slightest cue. If you’re dealing with reins that are too long, too much to hold –or are just not comfortable for you– your ride time may be impacted by your tight grip. If you find the reins you can easily shorten and lengthen and that feel great to you, you’ll relax in the saddle and enjoy your ride.

While your horse may not care if you have the trendiest gear, he does care about how you hold and cue with the reins. When you’re moving along at a casual pace, he wants to know you can easily lengthen the reins to give him room to move. When you want to speed up, you’ll also want a rein that you find easy to shorten so that you can give a more direct cue when necessary. It’s important to consider what material feels best in your hands. It’s also important to make sure that your reins are long enough to allow your horse to relax and reach down to drink.

Here, top trainer and clinician, Julie Goodnight will help you understand your rein options and talk about how to hold different types of reins. She’ll help you understand how reins work to communicate clearly to your horse and she’ll also give you safety pointers to help you avoid common mistakes when bridling and when stopping for a rest during a trail ride.

 

A Weighty Issue

“It’s all about quality,” Goodnight says. “The heavier the rein is, the easier it will be for the horse to feel what you’re doing with your hands and the more subtle a signal you can give. Plus, when the reins are made of quality leather or rope, the horse will feel your hands’ release sooner.”

Riding with well-weighted reins will help remind you to put slack in the reins because you’ll feel the downward, gravity pull. Your horse will feel the rein’s weight and also feel any movements of your hands amplified because of the weighted drape. When reins are made of inexpensive and light-weight cording that flops loosely, the horse doesn’t feel the rein and may have a tough time feeling your slight rein aids. That means you may find yourself pulling on the reins more than should be needed (and therefore applying undue pressure to the horse’s mouth) to get a response to a turning cue.

What difference does your horse feel when the reins are weighted just right? Goodnight suggests this visualization. Stand and place your arms straight out in front of you with your palms up. Picture a penny on your right index finger and a feather on your left index finger. Now imagine. What would it take to balance the item on each finger? Which is easiest to balance?

You’d probably be able to balance the penny easily and you’d shift and move to keep your finger under the feather. Goodnight says that the same law of physics at work with the penny and feather applies to how your horse feels and balances himself within the weight of reins. If your reins are lightweight leather or nylon webbing, there isn’t much weight and it becomes difficult to feel and balance.

When there is more material (such as a high quality leather or a thick marine-type rope) the horse will be able to feel the movements you make with your hands and will balance himself more easily. He’ll know what you’re asking because the weight of the rein echoes the slightest movement from your hand. No matter what type of rein you choose, this weight and quality consideration applies.

 

Rein Types

There are many variations of each rein type, but here we’ll stick to the traditional Western rein types. Split reins are commonly used for Western riding—and what you’ve probably seen for years on old Western movies. Today, loop reins, mecate, and traditional romal reins are all fashionable for Western events and on the trail. Here’s a little bit about each….

Split Reins

Today’s choice in Western tack is most often to ride with split reins. Leather reins are long and versatile—you can make them long and short, use them independently or to ride one handed. They can be great for trail riding because you can easily ground tie by laying the reins down on the ground. But while these reins are a common choice, Goodnight says some riders may find them cumbersome on the trail and they can be easy to drop.

Split reins can be held in a variety of different ways—that’s what makes them versatile for training or for showing. You can switch how you hold and where you hold to cue your horse in different ways.

 

The traditional pistol-grip hold is the rein hold used for competitions. Hold the reins in one hand with your index finger in between the two reins. The trainer’s hold or bridge is made by laying one rein on either side of the horse’s neck crossing the reins over each other and holding both reins in both hands or one hand. You’ll hold your hands the same position as if holding bike handles while making a “bridge” with two pieces of leather as the reins cross over the horse’s neck. This allows the rider to ride with two hands and work each side of the horse’s bit independently.

The traditional rein-hand is the left hand when riding Western—that’s because it’s assumed that you may need to use your dominant right hand to hold a rope or open a gate, shoot a gun, etc. If you are riding with split reins, the bight of the reins needs to lie on the same side of the horse’s neck as the hand you are using.

 

Romal

A romal is attached to the set of closed reins and was developed as an attached tool to help the rider move cattle with an aid. The romal is held without a finger between the reins and you have less ability to articulate with the reins than you may with split reins. You ride with two hands—but one is holding the reins to cue the horse and the tail of the reins (or the actual romal) is held in the opposite hand. These reins are best for a horse that is very well trained and knows how to neck rein without needing corrections.

Continuous Loop Reins

Holding a single loop rope rein is the easiest for most riders. This rein is easy to use and comfortable to hold when you’re following a trail and not needing to guide a horse’s every step. You can hold the rope rein right in the middle—to allow your horse to ride on a loose rein. The rope rein fills up your hands and is easy to hold onto. The rope is easy to shorten and lengthen (compared to split reins).

“The reins I designed have a marker in the middle so you know where the middle of the reins is and can easily make sure your reins are even,” Goodnight says. “A corded quick connect allows you to put the reins on easily, but it also allows the reins to drape and easily communicate with the horse.”

There are all different lengths of continuous loop reins for different jobs. A roper or barrel racer may ride with a continuous loop rein, but they ride with a short length—maybe only five or six feet. Out on the trail, you want your horse to drop his head and move in a relaxed frame so you want to make sure you have a longer rein than may be used in fast sports. Goodnight says that most horses do well on the trail with a nine-foot rein. If your horse’s neck is long, he may like a 10-foot rein—and this isn’t about how big your horse is, it’s about his neck length. That length allows the horse to reach down and drink and inspires you to make sure to ride on a loose rein and not have constant grip on the reins.

Mecate

The mecate is the long lead that comes off of the left side of the bit—and is attached to a continuous loop rein. The reins are usually attached with slobber straps. Some trail riders love the convenience of the mecate—allowing them to dismount and hold onto their horse, with the built-in lead. To others, the extra rope can be bulky and a lot to handle.

“I prefer a halter and lead separate from the bridle—I either tie my halter and lead onto the saddle or sometimes ride with the halter beneath the bridle,” Goodnight says. “This means there’s less to hold and when you tie your horse, you aren’t tempted to tie with a rope that is connected to the bit.”

 

One Handed or Two?

Whether you’re riding one handed or two handed depends on the type of bit that you’re using and on the training level and the obedience of the horse. If you’re riding in a snaffle bit, you should ride two handed. Riding with one hand in a snaffle bit causes a jointed snaffle to collapse in what’s called the nutcracker effect. The bit collapses around the horse’s tongue and pinches the jaw.

A curb bit is designed to be ridden with one hand. However, if the bit is designed so that the shanks move independently form each other, you may also ride with two hands for training scenarios.

 

Connected to the Bit

Goodnight says she does not like a metal clip on the end of her reins. It may be convenient to the rider to be able to click the reins to the bit, but the metal-to-metal connection can be annoying to the horse. The metals rub and vibrate—a vibration your horse feels constantly. A rope or leather connection to the bit gives you a better feel and helps you know when your horse moves or makes a change. You don’t need to change the bit or reins frequently; take a few extra moments to tie on your reins or otherwise secure without a clip.

“I like a quick connect, but one that isn’t metal,” Goodnight says. “Leather or rope connections are fine. Though I’m not a fan of , decorative slobber straps—they’re too bulky for me and don’t allow me to finesse the reins. Plus, they ar cumbersome to take on and off.”

A split rein will usually have a tied-on connection—a kind of slobber strap made of the same leather as the rein. The leather piece is breakaway and will save your horse from pain if you drop a rein and he steps on it. If that piece does break, it’s pretty easy to repair while out on the trail. .

 

Ground Tying Safety

When you dismount and lay the reins on the ground, a well-trained horse knows that means he should stand still. Laying the reins on the ground should only be done with a split rein, not a continuous loop rein. If your horse were to step on the long leather rein, he won’t step into a loop and get caught up. The worst-case scenario is that the horse may break the leather of a split rein, but he won’t get caught up or pull excessively on the bit with a material that won’t break.

Make sure never to drop loop or continuous rope reins in front of your horse—you should always hold loop reins in your hands or over your arm to keep the loop far from your horse’s feet. If you want to ground tie with a loop rein, keep the loop over your horse’s neck or use a lead attachment to a halter beneath your bridle and allow a lead to hang down there.

For safety’s sake, make sure that some part of your reins, bit and headstall is made of a breakaway material. If you have rope reins, connect them to a leather headstall. Something needs to give in case of an emergency.

 

No matter what rein material and type you choose, make sure you’re making the best choice for you—what is comfortable and safe for you and your horse. Only you know where you’ll ride and what configurations, tying, and riding you’ll need to do along the way. Opt for comfort for you and your horse over any perceived notion of what must look right out on the Western trails.

 

 

SIDEBAR

Reins for Kiddos

First and foremost, make sure that any rider—no matter their age—has reins to hold. If you’re giving a pony ride to a young child, make sure reins are attached to the halter or that you lead from a nylon halter beneath the bridle. Even though you are leading the horse, having reins present will help you teach the child to cue for directions long before they are ready to take full control of the reins—and you’ll empower any rider to make sure they feel in control, even when they’re being led.

Make sure that the reins you choose for a child are slim enough to fit easily in their hands. Also make sure there’s not too much extra rope to hold onto. Keep it simple! You may opt for continuous loop reins with a narrow diameter or rainbow training reins which allow you to give clear directions and allow the rider to easily visualize how to keep their reins even. You can say, “put your hands on the yellow section to shorten your reins,” or “make sure to hold on the green with both hands to make sure your reins are even.”

In any bridle, make sure there’s some breakaway component to make sure you don’t get tangled.

 

 

SIDEBAR GLOVES

When do you wear gloves? If you’re riding a fast-paced trail or endurance challenge, you’ll be holding the horse with contact and you’ll feel friction on your fingers. You’ll need gloves then. You may also want gloves if you’re riding in heavy brush—if you need to reach up and break branches.

Goodnight says “I always want gloves on if I’m ponying a horse or doing any kind of rope pulling work. I always make sure there are gloves in my saddlebags in case I need to help pony a horse in an emergency.

“I like a leather glove for the feel. The new technical fabrics are great, though, too. The fit is the key no matter what the material. If the gloves fit well without extra fingertip length, you’ll be able to feel the reins better and not lose the feel of the reins as you’re shortening and lengthening.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decoding Your Trainer, Part 1

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Understand elusive riding terminology to get the most out of your ride time

Concept and Written by Julie Goodnight ©2013

You know the feeling. You ride in a lesson and think you understand just what to do then suddenly the trainer throws in a phrase that just doesn’t make sense. The direction is restated as if you should know just what to do. “I asked you to gather him up. Lift his ribs. Get him supple.” You want to do your best and you know your trainer has your best interest in mind, but what do the phrases really mean? The concept is confusing and elusive.

You’ve heard the phrases a hundred times and you’re sure everyone else knows what it means, so you keep your mouth shut and proceed. The truth is, many horse-training terms and phrases are vague and confusing. While your trainer probably isn’t trying to confuse you or sound pious, the language commonly used in horse training circles can prove a difficult code to crack.

What if every term and directive you got from your trainer had a clear and simple definition and could be executed with clarity?In this series, we’ll look at often used, but seldom defined terms in horse training. You’ll make connections between riding theory and practical application.

Once you know the lingo, you can carry out the task. Top trainer Julie Goodnight helps you understand the elusive terms, explains exactly what you and your horse should look like, and teaches you to achieve the look or correct the problem your trainer/instructor first prescribed.

FRAME AND COLLECTION

What you’ve heard: “Gather your horse up.” “Frame him up.” “Lift his ribs. “Lift the shoulders.”

What it means: All of these comments refer to your horse’s profile as he’s moving. When your horse is in a natural and relaxed “frame,” his top-line is fairly level and his head is low. This is also called a “low and level” frame. For collection, your horse transfers his weight from the forehand to the hindquarters as he rounds his frame, brings his nose in toward his chest and lifts his back at the withers. This drops his croup and brings his hindquarters underneath him, while elevating the forehand.

Why you want it: The purpose of collection is to shift the balance of your horse onto his hindquarters–where his power is–and lift the shoulders to free them up for movement. In this “frame,” he has the potential for more power and athleticism. The posture is similar to what happens when you string an archer’s bow. You round the frame and suddenly there’s much more opportunity for power compared to when the bow was straight. Any time you need more power or responsiveness from your horse, you may need to ask for collection. The frame is desirable when you’re going down a steep hill, cutting a cow, jumping an obstacle or performing a difficult maneuver. In the show ring, the desired frame shows the judge that your horse has athleticism and is obedient to the rider.

How to do it (in simple terms): Ask your horse to collect by driving him forward with the rhythm in your seat and legs then gently restricting his forward movement with your hands. You’ll push your horse’s body forward then ask him to round his back in response to the bit’s pressure. When he’s collected, he will lift his back and shift more weight to the hindquarters.

Apply soft, pulsating cues with your seat, legs and hands in time with your horse’s feet. At the walk, sit back and feel the right-left swinging in your horse’s back—that’s the rhythm of his hind legs. As he pushes off with his right hind leg, the right side of his back muscles contract, causing your right hip to lift (and visa versa). When your hip drops, your horse is bringing that leg forward and that is the correct time to use your leg aid—when it you feel it naturally close on your horse’s side.

To ask for collection, use alternating leg and seat aids to drive your horse forward before you apply resisting rein pressure. While keeping track of the right-left rhythm in your head, add alternating rein pressure (slight sponge squeezes with your fingers), in timing with your legs. When your right leg closes on your horse, your right fingers close on the reins. Make sure you count the rhythm and feel when your leg closes because getting the rhythm wrong will make it nearly impossible for your horse to collect and in fact will interfere with his movement.

SUPPLENESS AND FLEXION
What you’ve heard: “Make sure your horse is supple before you attempt the next task.” “Your horse is stiff and bracing—supple him up.”

What it means: Suppling refers to the flexibility and bending ability of your horse and the willingness to respond to soft cues. You most often hear talk about suppleness as if it is something you train your horse to do, but in fact, all horses are very supple; just watch him swing around and bite a fly off his belly. Really the questions are can you bend and flex your horse on cue in response to light aids? Do you have total body control of your horse? Can you shape his body the way you want it and move him in all directions—forward, back and sideways? Does your horse stiffen and brace in response to pressure from the rider?
Why you want it: Your horse can bend and flex both laterally (side to side) and vertically (dropping his head and rounding his back). You want your horse to be relaxed and willing to stretch and flex so he can move his body in any direction or manner you ask. You also want your horse to yield (or give) to the slightest pressure of your aids (your seat, legs and hands).

How to do it (in simple terms): If you slide one hand about half-way down the rein and slowly lift, your horse should bend his neck around and bring his nose toward your foot, creating slack in the rein. That is lateral flexion and it is an easy cue to teach your horse with a little repetition. How quickly he learns this depends totally on the timing of your release.

In the beginning, as your horse learns to give to pressure from your hands, you may have to slide your hand down the rein then lock your hand on the pommel. With this static hold, he’ll feel constant pressure instead of the changing pressure of your moving hand. As soon as he voluntarily puts slack in the rein by flexing laterally, you’ll immediately release the rein and pet him on the neck. In short order, he’ll learn to give softly when you pick up one rein.

Lateral flexion leads to vertical flexion (such as used for collection). If you apply pressure with both reins, your horse should flex vertically and break at the poll and bring the plane of his face toward vertical. This is known as vertical flexion or “longitudinal flexion.” Typically lateral flexion precedes vertical flexion in the training process. Because of this training sequence, once your horse gives laterally to one rein, it’s easy to get him to drop his head and break at the poll when you pick up both reins out to the side, releasing as soon as he drops.

Use your legs along with your hands. When you apply seat and leg aid on one side of your horse at the middle position—right where your leg normally hangs, your horse should bow his ribcage away from you and arc his body from head to tail. Use your leg at the girth area to move his shoulder away from your leg and move your leg farther back to move his hip away from your leg. Remember that when you close one leg against your horse’s side, you should move the other leg away or “open” it to give your horse somewhere to move. Both legs closing on your horse means go more forward.

When your horse can flex both laterally and vertically in response to light rein aids and bend softly in his body from poll to tail and you can move both his shoulder and his hip to the side, he’s considered supple and responsive to your aids.

The language of horsemen can at times be cryptic. Never be afraid to ask, but don’t be surprised if the answer leaves you more confused! Understanding the theory behind skills of horsemanship takes study and persistence—it is a life-long pursuit. Join us on Facebook to let us know what terms you’d like to hear about next.

Horses Need Horses

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Relationship Fix Series

 

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

 

Top trainer Julie Goodnight discusses how horses gain a sense of calm and necessary interaction with the herd—and how their time with other horses can benefit your time together.

 

Horses Need Horses

Do you want your horse to be happy, relaxed and ready for your next ride? For your horse to feel his best, he needs time with other horses when you can’t be around.

Horses need the herd. They are social animals and they only exist in natural settings in a herd—horses are never alone for long in the wild. They depend on the herd for social stimulation as well as a sense of security.

Horses actually depend on the herd for a feeling of wellbeing. In the herd, they exist cooperatively: they stand head to tail to help keep pests away; they guard one another so that they can feel safe enough to sleep. If a horse is alone, he may never fully relax. He’ll always be the one that has to watch the horizon— constantly on guard.

When horses are alone, their behaviors can change and they are often depressed. They may begin repetitive stress behaviors—such as weaving or pacing in a stall.

While not all horses can always be with a herd, you can make housing and turnout choices to include his socialization needs. If you have a small property, a performance horse that needs to be kept safe, or a horse with health or behavior issues, you may need to keep alone for part of the day. That’s OK, as long as you do your best to provide natural elements.

A horse would rather be with other horses (envision how mustangs live in the wild as what your horse would choose for himself). A horse wants wide-open spaces so that at any moment he can flee from a predator. While humans think that a small, warm space with high walls is comforting, horses are comforted by seeing the horizon and accessing open spaces. Your horse wants turnout time outside with other horses. It’s time to think like a horse and think about how your horse wants to live.

Horses Home Alone

If your horse is an only horse, I think you have a responsibility to provide 24-hour-a-day companionship. At the very least, your horse will feel more comfortable if he can see other horses. If possible, make sure your horse shares a safe fence line with a neighboring horse. However, he will be most comfortable if he can touch another horse. Touching, nipping, grooming, swishing tails and even being able to bite is important to a horse’s overall well being.

If you are the only one your horse has, make sure to enrich his life. In addition to riding, stimulate his mind and occupy his time with long walks. You may also give him obstacles and novel items to interact with in his paddock.

Ideally, getting a buddy horse is the best answer. A miniature donkey or even a goat can be a great companion. I’ve even seen a horse bond with a duck or a cat! Your horse can even bond with a dog, but that doesn’t work if you take your dog inside. Your horse can get companionship from any animal and that companionship is best provided by another horse or a similar species.

Horse Boarding Choices

My horses are together outside all day then come into stalls with runs in the evening. That separation time works for us because that’s how we feed separately and manage their different supplement and diet needs. At that time, they can all see one another, touch each other through openings in the dividers and access their outdoor runs so that they can see the horizon. They are all ready to go out first thing in the morning. They don’t tend to stay in their stalls unless they are seeking shelter from rain or snow.

If you board your horse, the most ideal scenario is having your horse turned out with other horses. Choose as much outdoor access and herd time turnout as possible.

Horses can learn to like their stalls, but I say learn purposefully. If your horse is stalled, choose a stall with a window that allows him to see the horizon. New, high-class barns have indoor walls made of mesh so that horses can see one another and even touch through the walls. That is more preferable to a solid wall.

Choose an attached run so he can move in and out –to see other horses. That is preferable to a stall that is dark and inside only.  A long and narrow run is preferable to a square pen. A long run is designed for the horse’s benefit because he wants to play and act out his flight response and run in a straight line. A square pen that only allows him to run in a circle is not satisfying to the horse.

No matter where your horse lives, take a moment to evaluate his interaction with others and his ability to see the horizon. Build in as many natural views and interactions as possible and you’ll have a healthy horse—and a healthier relationship with your relaxed and calmer riding partner.