Master Each Gait

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TTR JULY/AUGUST 2015 ~ FEATURE

Master Each Gait
What can you do to speed up a slow-walking horse and slow down a horse that’s too fast at the trot? And should you ever canter on the trail? Follow top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight’s advice to master each gait and ensure that your horse is responsive and always travels at the speed you choose.
By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight — Photos by Heidi Melocco

You and your horse should be prepared to walk, trot and canter when you’re riding on the trail. While the walk and trot will be your primary “go-to” gaits, it’s important to know that you can feel confident and in charge no matter the speed.
“The walk is your primary trail gait when walking in unfamiliar terrain and tumultuous footing–and to cover long distances, the posting trot is the best way to ride,” Goodnight says. “You may canter on some flat and well-groomed trails and you want to know that you can control the faster gaits in case your horse does spook and bolt.”

Here, Goodnight provides tips to help you stay in control at each gait. She’ll help you understand how to
cue your horse to travel at the speed you dictate and to listen to your body cues no matter how fast you choose to travel.

If you’re helping young children learn to ride, Goodnight also shares teaching tips. She’ll help your young rider learn to walk and trot on command using patterns to help prepare for the upward transition to the trot.

Walk Out
Your horse is packing you around at this slow but most-used gait. Make sure that you are balanced in the saddle. Double check that your saddle’s horn is aligned with the middle of your horse’s neck and back and that your weight is equally balanced from side to side.

Make sure to sit up straight and avoid riding with your legs out in front of you. You may be comfortable at this gait, but you’ll make it easiest on your horse if you are balanced as he carries you over the trails.

When it comes to how fast your horse walks, there are two kinds of horses: those with too much whoa and those with too much go.

“If your horse walks like he’s going to his own funeral, you want to speed up,” Goodnight says. “If the horse is ready to go all the time and prances and is jiggy, you need to know how to slow him down. Either way, if your horse isn’t going at the speed you dictate, he’s being disobedient. You need to set the speed and take charge.”

Too Much Slow: Goodnight reminds you that you can’t make a slow and steady Quarter Horse keep up with a Tennessee Walking Horse that walks faster than he trots. That’s an unrealistic expectation.

However, if you are walking with other horses that should match your horse’s speed and only your horse is walking too slowly, it’s time to evaluate your cues and make sure that you’re in charge.

“Horses are clever,” Goodnight says. “If it’s a horse who already is on the lazy side and he’s pointed in a direction he doesn’t want to go, he will walk slower and slower until he’s almost halting between every step.”

That’s the horse that can train you to “pedal” or constantly re-cue for the gait you’re already riding. When a horse has trained the rider, he continually threatens to stop and the rider continually cues him to go. It’s a workout for the rider and it is a disobedient and manipulative act on behalf of the horse.

“That’s not a healthy relationship—he’s threatening disobedience and you’re enabling him by constantly re-cueing,” Goodnight says.”

An obedient horse goes at the speed you dictate when asked and until another cue is provided. If you have already asked for the walk, your horse should keep walking without prompting. If the horse slows down, it’s time for a verbal admonishment or a tap with the bight of your reins or a crop.

Often one admonishment and a reminder to “straighten up” is all it takes for a trained horse to move out and know that you are in charge.

“Keep in mind that one firm correction with the reins or a stick is much kinder to the horse than constantly nagging him by kicking and cueing after each stride.”

If you want to increase the speed of the walk, increase the rhythm in your seat and legs, reach forward and drive the horse forward. Once you have reached the pace you want, he should maintain that speed without prompting. It’s up to you as the leader to decide what the best and possible speed is. If he does slow down on his own, address that with admonishment instead of simply cueing him to move forward again.

Too Much Go: If your horse walks too fast and often steps into the trot on his own accord, that is also an act of disobedience.

“Many times, I see riders who just start to ride the trot if the horse chooses the gait on his own,” Goodnight says. “As soon as you start to ride the trot, you’ve told the horse that his actions are OK.”

If your horse speeds up without a cue, you must immediately and abruptly correct him and slow him down to the speed you have dictated. Take hold of the reins hard, sit back and verbally admonish your horse for breaking gait with a “whoa.”
Trot On

You can ride the trot sitting, posting or standing with weight in the stirrups. Most of the time on the trail, you’ll want to post or lift your seat slightly by transferring weight to the stirrups. A slow, sitting jog trot isn’t useful on the trail as it’s harder on your horse’s back and it isn’t the form of the gait that helps you cover ground quickly. If you’re trotting on the trail, you’re probably trying to get somewhere!

The posting and standing trots are the most comfortable for your horse. As you post or stand, you are balanced over your horse’s center of gravity and it allows your horse to move easily beneath you.
Posting is not just for English riders—all riders should know how to post. Posting is the best way to ride the long trot, the extended, ground-covering version of the trotting gait.

How should you post? Posting is a forward and backward motion, using the lift in your horse’s back. It’s the same motion you need to start to get up out of a chair. Notice what it takes to move up and out of a chair (without support from your arms) then sit down immediately. First you rock forward, then back to sit down once more. That’s the same motion you’ll need in the saddle.

Make sure not to post by pushing off the stirrups; the motion comes from rocking your pelvis forward and rise from your thighs, not from pushing off the stirrups.

If your horse has a rough trot, standing slightly to lift weight off yoru seat bones, while keeping your joints and muscles relaxed will be most comfortable for you, too. Standing the trot is commonly seen on endurance rides. It helps your move easily and it is a great test of your balance.
Trot Troubles: Your horse should only trot when you ask for the gait—not because the other horses you’re riding with are starting to trot. If your horse speeds into the trot without your approval and without a cue, immediately correct him and start over.

Canter and Whoa
Cantering will cover ground quickly, but a horse can trot greater distances than canter. Plus on some trails, cantering isn’t an option because of the steep or rocky terrain.

“Here in the Rocky Mountains, I can’t imagine cantering on some of our trails,” Goodnight says. “It’s too rocky and steep.”

That said, Goodnight recommends that all riders know how to sit and control the canter—even if it isn’t a gait you would usually use on the trail.

“Any horse is capable of spooking and bolting when you’re on a ride. If you’re riding in an uncontrolled environment, you should have the ability to ride every gait—in case you do need to control a horse who canters away when spooked.”
If your trail is level and well groomed or you know of a flat and low-cut meadow where cantering can be safe, it can be a fun choice to canter on your ride. Check out the footing and conditions before you ask for this gait.

If your group decides to canter, make sure to have an established signal so that all riders know when the group will start and stop the faster gait and that the groupd stays together. No single rider in the group should canter without approval from the entire group. All the horses will want to canter if one begins. If even one rider doesn’t want to canter, no one in the group should speed up to the faster gait. Always ride to the level of the least-skilled irder in your group.

Canter Concerns: Make sure not to canter down a hill and make sure not to canter back toward the barn. Cantering downhill makes it too difficult for a horse to control his balance with a rider aboard.
Cantering away from the barn can help control speed because a horse most likely won’t want to move quickly as he heads away from home. If a horse knows that he’s headed for home and becomes spooked, he can increase speed easily and make the gait too difficult to control.

JUST FOR KIDS
Trot Transitions
When you’re teaching a young rider to cue the horse for a trot, make sure that your teaching is precise and the rider and horse learn to do the right thing. Here, we want to teach a young rider to trot for the first time. You’ll teach the trot by talking to the rider about the cue—what she’ll do when she asks for the trot. Then you’ll help the rider understand that the horse must keep the new gait until he’s asked to do something else. Finally, you’ll help her slow the horse down after a short trot.

Use cones or some visual marker to help the rider know where and when to cue for the trot then the walk. Set up two cones about 20 feet apart. With a halter and lead line under the horse’s bridle, the young rider will have control and you can lead the horse loosely to make sure all goes smoothly. You don’t want the young rider to stop the horse inadvertently by pulling back on the reins too soon.

Teach the Cue
First you reach forward with your hands and say “trot”…
Then you shift your weight forward…
Then bump with your legs…
At the Cone
When you reach the first cone, it’s time to apply the newly learned sequence.
Ride the Trot
Encourage the rider to keep her hands forward and her eyes forward so that she doesn’t inadvertently cue the horse to stop before the second cone.
End Cone
When you reach the end cone, sit back, relax and allow the horse to walk.
In this simple exercise with just two cones, you’ll teach three great skills: cueing, maintaining speed and the downward transition.

Stupid Human Tricks

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Relationship Rescue with Julie Goodnight
Stupid Human Tricks: Unsafe Mistakes We Make Around Horses

If you get too comfortable around a horse (even one that you have a great relationship with), you may put yourself in an unsafe zone. The result? What I like to call “Stupid Human Tricks.” These are the moves and injuries that could end up on America’s Funniest Videos, but really didn’t need to happen at all. While you’re more likely to be safe around a horse that you know well, it’s also easy to forget your manners and do things you would never do around a horse that was new to you.

If you operate with awareness and with safety in mind, you’re less likely to be hurt. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a horse without a flight response. Something can spook a horse that you may have no control of.

If you ever have the voice of consciousness in your head asking “Should I do this?” you probably shouldn’t do it. It only takes a few added seconds to do things the right way—and if you choose the safe way you’ll have an overall and longer relationship with your best buddy.

I’m not naïve enough to think that you will never again do anything on this list. However, it’s important to know that these moves are risky. It’s up to you to know the possibilities and choose how much risk to take. Here are my top “Stupid Human Tricks” and details about why you really shouldn’t perform them….

Ducking Under: Don’t duck under a lead rope when a horse is tied and never lead another horse under the cross ties beside a horse that’s tied. If you duck under the horse and the horse spooks or pulls back, it’s easy to get trapped between your horse and a wall. Why do we do it? It’s just an instance of being lazy. You’re in his blind spot when you are under his neck. Even a horse who usually minds his step might not know where you are. Plus, if the horse is tied loosely, he could drop his head quickly and bat into you when he moves. You don’t want to be so close to a horse’s head and in a compromising position.

Not Taking Time to Halter: Just because your horse will stand still while you put on or take off a blanket, it doesn’t mean that it’s good to do. If at any time the horse is startled while you’re in the middle of a task, you have no way to control him. What happens? He gets caught up in the blanket, tears the blanket, or just learns that he can get away whenever he wants to. If what you’re doing could remotely be uncomfortable to the horse, he may learn that he can run away when he wants. That is a hard lesson to un-learn. Personally, I’d rather spend time riding and doing fun events with my horses instead of working through a behavior issue that I caused. Take the extra time to confine your horse with a halter before you pick his feet, put on or take off a blanket or before you get to work.

Sitting or Kneeling: It’s easy to put a knee down when you bandage a horse or if you’re just waiting. Don’t do it. This one is near to my heart. When I was 14, my friend sat down in the pasture after our ride—just to watch the horses eat. My horse came up and tried to take the grain away. The horses picked a fight and she was in the way—and sitting with her legs crisscrossed. She couldn’t get out of the way in time and was kicked in the abdomen. She bled to death. There is a tried and true rule for this—you should be at least two horse lengths away from a horse before putting a knee down. The average horse is 8 feet long—so that means no sitting within 16 feet. It’s all about how fast you can get up. If you can’t get to your feet, you can’t get out of the way. It’s just a lazy move and it’s not worth it. I might be guilty of ducking under a lead rope now and then when I trust the horse, but this isn’t one that I ever put up with.

Holding the Halter: If you’re leading a horse with a halter on, there should be a lead rope attached. A horse can toss his head quickly—think of how quickly he can reach back to bite at a fly. If your hand is in the halter and he shakes his head, you may not have time to let go and you’ll injure your fingers. Your arm is up and in an awkward position when you grab a tall horse’s halter—it’s too easy to dislocate a shoulder or get pulled on and cause a severe shoulder injury. Worse, your arm could be pushed through the halter and then you’ll be attached to a horse that will likely spook at having you move with him. People lose fingers when the strap or dee-ring on the halter suddenly is tight (as a related safety note, when you do use a lead line, make sure that it never wraps around your hand). Plus, if you could let go of the horse when he jerks away, you have no way to confine him and you’ll teach the horse that it’s easy to pull away from you. This move can mean losing a digit or facing a long re-training session for your horse.

Dropping the Reins: Single loop rope reins may not break if the horse steps on them. You should never allow your rope reins to hang down from your horse’s bridle. If you’re saddling up, lay the reins over your arm. If you’re planning to ground tie in the middle of a ride, leave the loop reins over your horse’s neck; use a halter and lead if you need a line on the ground. You can ground tie your horse in split reins with the reins hanging down, but never with loop reins. If the horse steps through the loop, he’ll get tangled and hurt his mouth. You hurt your horse’s mouth and you’ll probably break your bridle. With a loop rein, keep the reins over your horse’s head and secure around the saddle horn (in a Western saddle) or through a stirrup leather (in an English saddle).

Flip Flops at the Barn: When I see people leading a horse in flip flops, I think “clearly that person has never had their foot mashed by a horse before.” In the best circumstances with the best horses, it’s just too easy to get your feet close to the horse’s feet. It’s not hard to fix—go put on shoes. Tennis shoes are OK if you’re on the ground around a horse but I choose a smoother and more protective covering like leather. And when you’re riding, there’s no choice except boots and a smooth sole and ½ or 1” heel. How many of these “Stupid Human Tricks” have you done in the past? Now that you know the risks, take a moment and do things the right way. You’ll spare yourself and your horse pain and you’ll be ready to go have fun!

Julie Goodnight shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her Monday night RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at http://tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and horse expos.
Heidi Melocco (www.whole-picture.com) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.

Saddle Fit Guide

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RIDE RIGHT WITH Julie Goodnight

Saddle Up

By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight — Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

When did you last check your horse’s saddle fit? Many horses change body shape and therefore saddle fit frequently; changes in your horse’s fitness and shape can make a saddle that fit at the start of the season be ill-fitted just a few months later. Make sure to check your saddle’s fit often with these tips from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

 

Trail horses often log many miles and work hard as they travel up and down hills. Saddle fit is so important for trail riders because that hard-working horse needs to feel comfortable and have optimum weight distribution throughout those challenging rides. Saddle fit isn’t just about your comfort in the saddle’s seat—be sure to think about the top (your side) as well as the bottom (the portion that fits your horse). The saddle must fit your horse’s back first and foremost.

“As riders, we often think most about how we feel—and have to make time to think about how the horse is feeling on the trail,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “When it comes to saddle fit, your horse is a silent partner; it’s your job to remember to check out his saddle fit and make sure he is moving in comfort. Each year your horse’s body shape can change as he matures, changes condition or gains or loses weight. Your horse can’t tell you in words if he has a problem with his saddle. It’s up to you to be a detective and make sure that your saddle fit is a good fit.”

Saddle fit is something to check constantly. If your horse has not worked for a while, he may be out of shape, not toned and have excess fat. Your usual saddle may not fit a horse that is currently out of shape. When the horse gains muscle during the riding season, he loses fat and changes shape. With these fast changes in body type, a horse’s shape and therefore saddle needs can change within the riding season. Saddle fit also changes as a horse ages. Just as you probably don’t wear the same clothing and belts you wore in high school, your horse’s body shape can change over time.

What can you do to ensure good saddle fit when your horse is constantly changing? Here, Goodnight will explain what your horse’s body may be telling you about his saddle’s fit. Then she’ll help you analyze your saddle fit and provide tips to help fix common saddle fitting struggles.

 

Bad Fit Signs

Your horse may not speak, but his body can give you clear signs of his saddle fit woes. Start by looking at your horse’s back while he’s resting or in the pasture. Have you ever seen a solid colored horse with white marks on his back? Some people think those are color markings, but they’re really formed from pressure points that cause the hair follicles to stop producing color. Those white spots can appear quickly if there’s a saddle fit issue. If they just appeared, you may be able to correct your saddle fit before the hair permanently changes color. If the horse has had a pressure point for many years, it’s possible that the hair will stay white –even with a saddle fit change. Worse, those permanent white marks may mean that the horse has experienced pain for long periods.

Look at your horse’s back after he’s been ridden. If your horse was sweating, you should see an even sweat mark from front to back in the area where the saddle tree contacts the back. Make sure that there’s a dry area over your horse’s spine—that area should have airflow as you ride. If you see dry marks under the tree, it indicates that there was pressure in that place. Also, if you pull the saddle after a ride and see that the horse’s hair is roughed-up, note that your saddle may have been moving around more than it should. That’s another sign that the fit isn’t right and the saddle is rubbing.

Goodnight says she sees horses “speak” with their bodies through these visible marks and by making agitated movements.

“In my clinics, I often see horses that should be standing still and resting with a rider on their back. The horses that aren’t comfortable with their saddle fit will begin shifting their weight and rocking from side to side–attempting to move the saddle’s pressure points,” Goodnight says. “In the worst cases, horses try to communicate their pain by acting out. I’ve seen horses bolt, spook and buck because of poor saddle fit. If your horse is in constant pain as you ride, he will be spookier. He’s already at his limit so he’s on guard to spook more. Almost any behavior problem could be attributed to saddle fit. If the saddle doesn’t feel good to the horse, he won’t be able to do his best and move his best. It’s always good to check saddle fit and rule that out before addressing any training issue.”

 

Frequent Check Ups

Goodnight says there are two types of horses when it comes to saddle fit—the average horse that is easy to fit and the horse you know will be a saddle-fitting challenge.

For both horses, you’ll need to check the saddle from front to back and top to bottom—ensuring that the horses have room to move and clearance from the tack in all places except where it should conform to the back along the bars of the tree.

First, make sure that there’s enough clearance under the saddle’s pommel—allowing your hand to fit above your horse’s withers and below the pommel. This area, called the gullet, shouldn’t sit down on your horse’s withers. If there is only room for one finger, or the bottom of the gullet is touching the horse’s withers, the tree may be too wide to fit the horse.

By the time you sit in the saddle and compress the pad, the saddle will move down onto the horse’s back. Make sure there’s plenty of clearance to allow for this compression while still leaving room to clear the horse’s withers.

Also check the horse’s shoulder blades. Make sure that the forward point of the saddletree doesn’t interfere with the horse’s shoulder. If the saddle’s tree digs into the horse’s shoulder, he won’t be able to move forward without pain. Feel beneath your saddle’s skirt at the horse’s shoulder.

Behind the shoulder and below the wither is called the “pocket” in saddle fit terms. That’s where you want the saddle to sit to avoid impeding the shoulder’s range of motion.

There’s a screw in both western and English saddles below the pommel that shows where the forward point of pressure from the tree of the saddle is. When you place the saddle on your horse’s back without a pad in place, you can tell where that screw is and make sure it’s behind the shoulder blade, in the pocket. This is a common area to see white marks on a horse—that happens when the tree places pressure onto the shoulder.

Also make sure to look at the rear configuration of the saddle. Make sure that the horse’s spine is protected from pressure from the saddle. The saddle’s skirt shouldn’t put pressure into his loins or cause the saddle to dig into his hip as he moves. The back of the skirt should sit in front of his hip, with enough room for the horse to bend and turn without his hip running into the skirt. You can opt for a saddle, such as Circle Y Saddle’s Wind River, that has a rounded skirt to keep the saddle from hitting the hip. If your horse is very short backed, you may opt for a gaited horse saddle or an Aussie saddle that is made with a short tree.

Now step back and note the saddle’s position and levelness. The saddle seat should look level to the ground while on the horse’s back. If the saddle looks uphill, it may be too far forward; if it looks downhill, it may be too far back.

 

The Challenges

If your horse is a known saddle fit challenge, he may have conformation issues that affect saddle fit. This doesn’t mean that your horse has bad conformation, Goodnight says. Many great horses have conformation that makes saddle fit a challenge. If your horse has asymmetry in his shoulders or hips, has a short back or has a slight sway in his back, you may find saddle fit more of a challenge.

With these conformation types, bridging is a common problem. Bridging happens when there’s excessive pressure on the front and back of the saddle and no pressure being applied in the middle of the horse’s back. That creates pressure and white marks below the withers or chafing at the horse’s hip. That means that the saddle’s tree isn’t touching along your horse’s entire back.

Custom saddles can be wonderful for some horses and riders, but many horses change shape so often that a custom saddle won’t fit for more than a season or two. In general, saddle trees are made to fit average horses. If your horse is not average or has asymmetry, no saddle is made to fit that body type. That’s when you find the best fit you can and pad out the best with specially made bridge pads.

 

Tree Size and Shape

When you have a bigger seat size in your saddle, you also have a longer saddle tree. That means that there’s more room to distribute weight along the bars of the tree. If you are concerned about the amount of weight your horse is carrying (with the saddle, bags and the rider), make sure that you chose a seat size that is correct for you and made to distribute weight.

Western saddles offer more weight distribution for a horse than an English saddle or a saddle with a short tree. If you start a young colt with a Western saddle then switch to an English saddle, you often see a little crow hopping when the horse feels a higher concentration of pressure on his back.

In addition to having room to distribute weight, the saddle must have bars angled to match the angle of the horse’s anatomy. You’ve probably heard of a “regular” or “wide” tree. The different tree sizes refer to the angle of the tree’s bars that sit under the saddle skirt and along the horse’s spine. The difference between a regular tree and wide is only 2 degrees, but that difference in angle can mean a totally different fit for the horse.

If the saddletree is too narrow for the horse, it cannot be helped with pads. A tree that is too narrow for a horse will perch on top of the horse’s withers and cause pinching to his withers and spine. A saddletree that is too wide will sit down too far on the horse’s back and cause pressure to the horse’s topline.

Possible Solutions

“Switching to a saddle that fits is an instant relief for the horse,” Goodnight says. “If I found a saddle that fit, I would never ride the horse in the ill-fitting saddle again.”

But how do you find the best saddle and fit for your horse? If you checked your horse’s saddle fit and found that his current saddle isn’t fitting, consult a professional. Your local tack shop may suggest a professional saddle fitter who can try several saddles on your horse to see what fits best.

If a new saddle is out of the question or your horse usually fits in his saddle but just had time off, adding a bridge or shim pad can be a helpful answer. Asymmetry or bridging issues can be helped by adding a special pad that is designed to fill in areas where the saddle tree needs support. It means adding a therapeutic pad in a precise area—not adding a bulky pad under the entire saddle. Too much padding is never good and only accentuates saddle fit problems when horses are pinched beneath an ill-fitting saddle and a thick pad.

Choosing a saddle with a flexible tree (a current model instead of the first “trial” models of this unique tree) can help alleviate pressure points and help a horse move easily beneath a tree that is strong yet slightly flexible. For horses with a slight bridging problem, often the flexible tree is all you need.

“My horse, Dually, performs much differently in a Flex 2 tree versus a solid tree. With the flexibility of the saddle, he relaxes his back and uses his hindquarters more. He doesn’t keep any discomfort a secret. He is much more fussy in a rigid tree saddle. You can ride him, but he is more fussy.”

You can also affect your saddle fit by changing how you “rig” it to the horse. The saddle’s rigging is how the saddle is strapped on to the horse. The dee ring where the latigo attaches can be positioned in different ways. A “full” rigging is attached directly under the pommel. A 7/8th rigging brings the pressure slightly farther back along his spine and a ¾ rigging attaches the farthest back, closer to the center of the saddle. In a flexible tree, if you attach the saddle farther back the horse will have more room to move through his shoulders. If your horse is sway backed, attaching the saddle with a center fire rigging or a 3/4 rigging could help conform that saddle to the horse’s back.

Check your saddle’s fit often and learn more about fitting options at JulieGoodnight.com/saddles for more tips and PDF guides.

“We owe it to the horse to make sure that he’s as comfortable as possible when we ride,” Goodnight says. “Just by changing the saddle, you can see an instant difference. It is worth it to find the saddle that your horse feels good and moves well in.”

 

Sidebar

Should You Ride Bareback?

Riding bareback can be a fun balance exercise for the rider. It helps you feel how the horse move and improves your balance. However, on the trail, you may be asking your horse to move athletically over varying terrain. The saddle’s main job is to distribute weight over the horse’s back. If there’s no saddle, there’s no weight distribution. That said, if you choose to ride bareback, you probably won’t ride the horse as hard or ask as much.

If you’re just learning to ride, I recommend starting in a saddle. Riders who began riding bareback often have habits that are tough to break once they ride in a saddle. They often grip with their lower legs and perch forward. If you ride in a saddle first, you’ll learn to balance without gripping then can apply your balance skills to bareback riding.

 

Choosing A Children’s Saddle

You want the saddle that you’re teaching a child to ride in to help promote balance and life-long riding postures.

There are many kids saddles on the market—but buyer beware. Make sure that the saddle you choose has a tree that is made for the size of horse that will carry it. A saddle made for a pony may not fit a full size horse. Many small children’s saddles are made with inexpensive materials. You don’t want a saddle to sit down, flat on the horse’s spine—even with extra padding the tree must fit!

Make sure that the saddle you choose has a good tree that will fit your horse. Look for the best quality small saddle then mitigate the stirrup length for a child. A saddle with a 13-inch seat that is designed for a horse will fit your horse well and allow a child to use the saddle for a long time. Choosing a seat that is a little too big will allow the child room to grow and help with your saddle budget (rather than purchasing a new saddle every few years).

You may opt to add short stirrups (the saddle shown from Circle Y can be purchased with semi-custom short stirrup fenders that may be replaced later). You can also get kid’s stirrups that attach over the pommel with webbing or replace the Western stirrup fenders with English stirrup leathers that can be easily adjusted to a short length. That’s a great way to help teach balance.

Trail Tips: When To Water, Lead Across Obstacles, Don’t Allow Your Horse To Eat With A Bit

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Trail Tips: When to water, lead across obstacles, don’t allow your horse to eat with a bit

Take Water Breaks
Horses should have access to clean water at least twice a day. Normally, a horse will drink 8-12 gallons of water a day, but that can increase to as much as 20 on a hot day. Planning the daily riding schedule so that horses can drink along the trail will reduce the amount of time spent watering horses in camp.

Riders should not stop to water along the trail whenever they feel like it, thus holding up the rest of the ride. Other horses will want to rush to catch up. If possible pick a safe, designated watering spot with good footing. Excerpted from the Certified Horsemanship Association Trail Guide Manual (available at cha-ahse.org).

Get Off and Lead
It’s okay to dismount and lead your horse when you come to difficult situations on the trail. In fact, it’s the right thing to do when safety and control are at stake, such as when crossing a bridge. In a precarious situation, it’s better to have a safe, successful outcome than to fight with your horse, putting you both at risk of an injury.

You’ll have more confidence on the ground. And your horse will gain courage when he sees you crossing the obstacle safely ahead of him. As herd animals, horses naturally follow other horses and feel safer if another horse is in front of them.

By leading your horse, you’ll accomplish the immediate goal of safely crossing the obstacle. You can then address the training issue in a safe environment.

Lead your horse from the side, if possible, in case he rushes forward. If he’s skittish, use the lead rope to keep him from pushing into your space. He might try to jump into your space out of fear, thinking that the spot in which you’re standing as the only safe place.

Slowly lead your horse across the problem obstacle, one step at a time. Then mount up, and continue on your way.
— Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com)

Remove the Bit
When you stop for lunch along the trail, take an extra few minutes to remove the bridle and bit, and allow your horse to graze wearing just a halter.

Even if the bit you’re using allows your horse to swallow and relax as you ride, the bit isn’t made to allow him to eat comfortably. The forage has to get past the bit — and his tongue is already filling his mouth and palate.

Plus, your horse could step on the reins while grazing (if you ground-tie with a split rein), then pull up on the bit, damaging his mouth.

Have a halter underneath the bridle, take a halter with you in your saddlebags, or invest in a halter-bridle that allows you to drop out the bit, and you’ll avoid causing your horse discomfort.
— Dale Myler, Myler Bits

Fear Management

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Fear Management
By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

Top trainer Julie Goodnight discusses how to regain confidence and overcome fear to help you enjoy riding once again.

What do you do if you have ridden successfully in the past but a scary incident or injury replaced fun with fear? I hear from many riders who were once confident and after an accident or a life change suddenly have a new sense of fear around horses.

In moderation, fear can help keep you safe and know your limits. But if fear is keeping you from doing what you like to do, it’s time to make a mental shift and return to riding with goals that allow for small, but meaningful changes.

It’s easy to feel a sense of loss when an activity that you once loved is suddenly a burden to even think about. It’s a grieving process. Grief leads to guilt that you should be doing something more—riding more, visiting the barn more.

Grieving the Fun
If this sounds like you, you have not permanently lost your ability to enjoy horses. Your sense of grief may be unfounded because you still have the ability and knowledge you once had (of course, once healing and doctors’ orders are obeyed if you had an accident). You haven’t lost the skill, you’ve just temporarily misplaced it because fear is overwhelming.

Psychologists often say that fear plus grief equals debilitation. It’s too much to handle the emotions of fear and grief. Remind yourself of what you have done in the past and what you are capable of doing. Read some books about riding or watch videos—say to yourself “I can do that!”

The Plan Against Fear
Fear can be overwhelming and can make you feel like you have lost skills. I know hundreds of riders who say they have worked on their fear and overcome it. To be successful, you have to have a plan, think ahead and work slowly and meticulously on your plan.

How do you put a fear-conquering plan into action? Control your thoughts. There’s a mind-body-spirit connection. One part of the trilogy affects all the others. Once the emotion of fear takes over, there are physical affects in your body and your mind devolves into negative thoughts.

If you allow yourself to think “what if he falls,” or “he’s going to spook,” you’re focusing on the negative. That’s allowing fear to take over. Instead of allowing your mind to pollute, sing a song, or visualize what you want your ride to be like. If you have video of yourself riding in the past, watch that. Or watch a favorite rider and notice how confidently they sit the canter. Get those wonderful images in your mind to replace the negative.

Once your mind is in check, you’ll have more access to consciously direct your body. If your body is stuck in fear, you may subconsciously ride in a forward, hunched and gripping position. Once you can calm your thoughts, you can choose to take a breath and control your posture. If the fear can’t control your mind or your body, it can’t affect your whole life.

Comfort Zone
When you visit the barn, target the exact moment you become fearful. Start to notice your body’s reactions to even the idea of riding. You may think you’re fearful of cantering, but do you really feel your body shake when you saddle up?

Once you know the point that causes your fear, also identify your comfort zone. You may feel peaceful when you catch your horse, but when you saddle him, that’s the moment fear enters. Stay in the comfort zone as long as you need–for days, weeks or months. Repeatedly walk out to catch your horse then groom and let him go.

Soon you’ll be ready to do a little more—maybe saddle and walk. Just do a little more when you feel like it and celebrate your successes. Small ventures outside your comfort zone will help you move on. Don’t push and always feel okay about staying within your comfort zone to build confidence.

If you have a setback, go back to a known comfort zone and start creeping ahead again. Soon, you’ll find that you want to do more as long as you build up to it in small increments. At some point, you’ll feel your old comfort level and your old confidence pop back in and your desire to ride will return.

Don’t let anyone else prompt you to do more than what you want. Don’t push yourself because of peer pressure.

Healthy Habits
When you do reach a new level, share with friends and take a moment to praise yourself. Mastering fear is a lot of work; make sure to treat yourself well. Eat right and get in better shape—it will really help! What you do to make yourself healthier, build strength and improve balance, will help your confidence in general.

Pay attention to how you’re feeling emotionally before you approach your horse. If your day is already going downhill, don’t push yourself on your fear-mastering plan. On those days, take your horse on a walk or do some groundwork. If you’re feeling good and the weather is great, those are the days to push yourself a little more and consider stepping out of your comfort zone—and toward your long-term goal of enjoying your horse once more.

Surviving First Canter Lessons

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Teaching Techniques

Surviving First Canter Lessons
By Julie Goodnight

Canter: Sometimes, the mere mention of the word is enough to send riding students into panic and cause high blood pressure in the instructor. And it usually isn’t much fun for the school horses either. But there is a great allure to cantering, whether the rider is mortified of it or not, and it is the stuff of their dreams– cantering off into the sunset with their trusted steed.

Before even thinking about introducing your students to the canter, consider this age-old wisdom of classical horsemanship: the best way to improve the canter is to improve the trot. I tell this to riders in my clinics all the time. Don’t get in a hurry to canter; keep working at the trot until you are ready. When the rider can ride the trot well; posting, sitting and standing; circling and going straight; making effortless transitions up and down; it is time to introduce the canter.

There are many different opinions on how to teach the first canter and there is no one right way (although there are many wrong ways, like starting them all at the same time). After 30 years of teaching and working with thousands of riders, I have come up with some dos and don’ts that have served me well over the years.

First and most important Do–always check the cinch or girth before starting any canter work. In normal circumstances at the canter (with an experienced rider) the rider’s weight shifts into the outside stirrup (when the horse is on the correct lead) and the saddle can get crooked. Add to that equation a loose cinch and an off-balance rider and it is highly likely someone is going to eat dirt.

Although I know of instructors that have had success teaching the canter on a longe line, personally I would never do it that way. learning to ride the canter on a straight line is much easier than turning. Where you tend to lose riders is in the corners or on the turns. Even on a straight line at the canter, the rider’s weight is shifting to the outside if the horse is on the correct lead. The centrifugal energy created by putting the horse on a longe line exacerbates his problem. Many beginner school horses don’t have the training and conformation to canter a small circle in a balanced way, making it ever harder for the rider to learn. It’s not to say that it can’t be done safely; it can– with the right horse and a suitable environment. But for me, I like to keep them on the straight away at first.
I think it is really important to prepare your students well before their first canter. I like to talk about how it is different from the walk and trot, talk about what suspension is and how the gait feels and how your body moves at each gait, particularly the differences between the trot and canter (more vertical–up and down movement at the trot and more pumping/circular motion at the canter).

“I like the beginner riders to only canter the long straight line of the arena and to bring the horse back to trot before the corner.”

The single biggest mistake beginner riders make is leaning forward and closing the pelvis at the canter, causing them to get thrown up and out of the saddle in a posting motion each time the horse comes into suspension. So I really emphasize sitting back, even slightly behind the vertical. This is why “pushing the swing” is such an effective analogy for the canter.

I think it is critically important to have a good demonstration of what it looks like to ride the canter, before they do it, so they have a good visual image of how to ride the canter. I also think it is important in the demonstration to show what happens
to the horse’s head as he canters (moving down with each stride) and especially how far he drops his head on the very first stride as he is launching his entire body weight off the ground. I spend a lot of time explaining what happens to the horse if the rider does not give an adequate release and causes the horse to slam his mouth into the bridle. This is a particular concern for fearful riders who may flinch and suck up on the reins when the horse first starts to canter. When this happens, the rider is punishing the horse for doing something she asked the horse to do. That is very unfair to the horse and at best will prevent the horse from cantering and at worst will make the horse fear the canter departure and distrust the rider.

How you set up your riders for the first canter depends a lot on the number of riders in the group, the horses, the size of arena, and how much help, if any, that you have. There are many acceptable ways to do it– each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Do you keep the horses in the middle and put them out to the rail one or two at a time? Do you line them
up on the rail and proceed around one at a time to the end of the line? Do you keep the line moving and play “catch up”?

For me, since I teach in the clinic setting, with 15 riders of varying ability levels, some very advanced and some having never cantered, I have certain parameters I must work within to keep all the riders active and happy. I like to keep all the horses on the rail, moving at a walk or trot, and ask two or three horses at a time to canter, coming to the inside track while all the other horses stay glued to the rail. I start with the advanced riders first so that the newbies can watch and so that their horses can see that horses are cantering and start thinking about it.

I like the beginner riders to only canter the long straight line of the arena and to bring the horse back to trot before the corner. This helps them stay better balanced and in control. Trying to canter the turn rarely works for the first time anyway because the rider tends to pull back with both reins to turn causing the horse to break gait. Cantering around the turn is a great next goal, once the rider is getting the feel of the canter.

Cantering short distances seems to work well at first. often you’ll see riders sit the canter pretty well for the first few strides then they gradually tense up and start bouncing, which leads to more tension and a downward spiral. Instead, I have them just go a few strides down the long side then come back to trot and get their composure back before trying it again. Besides, another important classical wisdom is that all of training occurs in transitions, so they are learning greater control at the same time.

“Always use gate gravity to your advantage.”

Riders that are nervous about cantering have a hard time convincing the horse that is what they really want. Their hesitancy and ambivalence is clear to the horse and since the horse probably doesn’t want to canter anyway, he’ll side with the part of the rider that says she doesn’t really want to canter. Also, most beginner horses have been hit in the mouth by the rider at the canter, so they aren’t all that enthusiastic about it anyway.

To mitigate this problem, I often set up the horses the first couple of times at the opposite end from the barn or gate, so at least the horse is headed in a direction he wants to go. If the horse is more energetic and eager to canter or might go too fast, I set them up to canter away from the gate. Always use gate gravity to your advantage.

If a horse has not been asked to canter in a while, he has long since stopped thinking about it and may be difficult to transition into the canter. In this instance, and in the instance of a fearful rider, it often helps if I get on the horse and ask it to canter a few times. This puts the cue and the thought of cantering fresh in the horse’s mind and is often reassuring to the fearful rider that the horse can indeed canter without the horse running off or pitching a bucking fit. But no good deed goes unpunished because sometimes I end up being asked to canter almost every horse in the clinic, which is time consuming, not to mention tiring!

The main things I don’t do at the first canter, is have everyone go all at once or push a rider to canter when they are reluctant. Even when I know most of the riders in my clinic are experienced and comfortable at the canter, I want to watch them each closely the first time to make sure all is as it should be. once I am comfortable that the riders and horses are in control, I’ll let them canter as a group. I also don’t worry too much about leads– that comes later, as we work on control at the canter and better cueing.

like all things with horses, the more experience you have, the easier it becomes. An experienced instructor can even keep track of the horses behind her back, unconsciously listening to the footfalls to let her know when the horses are traveling at a slow steady speed or when the footfalls sound suspicious.

As Mark Twain said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Proceed cautiously and learn from the mistakes of others, so you keep your bad judgments to a minimum.

On The Rail: Q And A

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Question:
I work as a therapeutic riding instructor at a facility that has about 20+ horses. We have all types of horse behavior issues that creep up before we know it. I’ve seen a gelding go from being sweet and easy to handle to now sour and ready to bite his leaders. Another gelding we have has a terrible habit of trying to bite his leader while he is trotting with a rider on his back. Another pony tries occasionally to cow kick the side walkers that walk alongside the riders. Several try to bite leaders while going through a mounting block for loading our riders. Then several are cinchy and try to bite during saddling. You can just imagine how disconcerting this all is to trying to teach therapeutic riding lessons, but we have eager volunteers and are trying to maintain a professional happy horse facility. Can you help? – Rebekah Holt

Answer:
Dear rebekah, thanks for your question. You have described in a nutshell the problems that most therapeutic riding (tr) centers have with their horses, the causes of these undesirable behaviors and the aftermath that occurs once the horses learn that there are certain times and places where they will not be corrected.

In 2010, I did a groundwork training session for tr horses at the national convention for PATH (then NARHA) in Denver. It was an interesting and productive session and I wish I’d had all day to work with the six different tr horses. they were all representative of the problems you describe and honestly, every tr center I’ve ever worked with has these types of problems. It is somewhat inherent in the equation.

why do these horses get so cranky? It’s not so much the clients on their backs they are bothered by, most tr horses love the clients and take good care of them.

Primarily, these problems stem from the hovering crowd of people around them all the time, eager volunteers that do not have good horsemanship skills, crowding the horse’s face, clamoring for the horse, pulling constantly on the rope held too tightly at his nose (as if the horse has no idea how to go around the arena), micro- managing every movement the horse or rider makes. Giving the horse his space and leaving him alone to do his job is what the horse wants.

Why do the horses begin to disdain the handlers? because it is a revolving door of people, most of whom know less about the therapeutic riding operation than the horses do, bossing the horse around when they have no relationship with the horse, interjecting authority when they have no standing. Pretending to be a leader, but in the horse’s mind, it’s all a sham. horses know true leadership when they see it. It cannot be faked.

When people (in any setting) try to assert authority when they have none, the horses begin to disdain that person. “who do you think you are, coming in here once a week and pretending to be my leader? then at other times showing a total lack of leadership?” horses cannot be fooled and they disdain fake leaders, usually getting increasingly aggressive. “You think you’re the leader? I’ll show you…”

Furthermore, horses are relationship oriented animals— they live in a herd where membership and standing are conditional. horses prefer to meet, greet, and get to know their handlers—know what to expect from them and trust in their leadership. respect and authority aren’t given carte blanche by horses. You have to earn it.

It’s hard enough on a regular school horse to always be changing riders—many horses cannot tolerate the constant change. but at least regular school horses have the consistency from the professionals that handle the horses. the therapy horses get handled by people that arrive out of the blue and know little about handling horses.

The biggest tragedy occurs when horses learn that there is a certain context in which they will not be corrected and so can get away with anything they want. unfortunately, this cannot be unlearned and once again, horses are not easily faked with “planted” riders. this may work once but rarely twice; horses are very discriminating. this can happen to show horses and performing horses too. the most effective key is prevention. If horses are handled appropriately, this should not occur. Sometimes horses that learn these things have to move on to a new career.

I do not know how to fix these endemic problems in tr except to change the very nature of the operation, using more permanent paid staff and fewer volunteers. horse handlers would have the same level of experience and competency that the instructors do; excellent leading skills, knowledgeable and competent at groundwork and training. the side walkers would have to learn good horsemanship skills too and start being sensitive to the horse’s claustrophobic nature; earn the horse’s respect instead of expecting it.

So perhaps doubling your budget for paid staff would solve your problems! Many large tr centers have learned the value of having professional horse trainers on staff, but many more do not have the budget for it.

In lieu of that, the best we can do is educate people about the nature of horses and their behavior and teach the volunteers natural horsemanship skills. Good luck and keep up the good work! Educating people and creating greater awareness of the horse will help.

By Julie Goodnight – CHA Spokesperson

Integrating New Horses Into Lesson Programs: Q And A

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Question:
The camp where I work mainly serves kids which have never ridden before, and some of our horses will have 15 different riders in a week between campers and horse lessons. Some of our newer horses are not ready for kids, and I was wondering what your thoughts are on how I can teach the new horses how they are to behave with a new rider on them, who won’t know how to discipline their horse.

Answer:
Horses in beginner group riding programs should be taught to adhere to a strict routine. Fortunately, horses are easy to train to a routine and pattern and in fact, they find it quite appealing. Think about how easy it is to train a pattern of behavior into a horse (for better or for worse). For instance, if you pick up a horse’s feet in the same order every day when you clean them out, in just two or three days, your horse is picking up the next foot as soon as you place down the previous one. Horses are very much creatures of pattern and routine and it gives them a sense of security when they know what to expect.

First, you need to thoroughly evaluate each new horse that comes into the program. Have a staff member assigned to each horse and make sure they have the time to catch, groom, saddle and ride the horse each day for at least a week. That should be enough time to assess the horse’s individual quirks, to learn its strengths and weaknesses and to make sure the horse is suitable for your program.

Consider the horse’s ground manners and work with the horse to make sure they are solid. Stands quietly, keeps its nose where it belongs (in front of his chest), is respectful of the handler’s space, picks up his feet for cleaning, compliant and relaxed while saddling and bridling, leads in a mannerly way (keeping a reasonable space from the person leading and does not try to get in front or lag behind too much). If the horse needs work on his ground manners, this is generally a very good investment of time. Some horses have just never been taught how to act properly and if he learns to follow rules from the ground, he will be much more compliant while being ridden.

As you are evaluating the horse, make sure you do all the obnoxious things that the horse might encounter from a beginner rider– jab your toe in his belly when you mount, put your knee in the flank, drag your foot over his rump, slam down hard in the saddle when you sit, bounce around, shift your balance, flap your arms, scream, drop a water bottle, etc. Don’t be too concerned if this bothers the horse at first. These things are easily desensitized.

Next, you need to teach the new horses the routine used in your program. From the moment the horses are fed or brought in each morning to the time the lights are turned out each night, make sure the new horses follow the exact routine you expect of them. The more consistent each aspect of your routine is, the better the horses will do. For instance, bring the herd into the barn in the same order, tie or stall them in the same place, groom and tack systematically, line them up to ride in the same order for each lesson. Do the exact same things in the same order every day and your horses will quickly acclimatize.
Have a staff member ride the horse in some real lessons, acting as if she were a student. Pay very strict attention to make sure the horse learns and follows the rules in the arena, whatever they may be– stay in line, do not pass, don’t fraternize or interact with another horse in any way. Teach them the regular pattern of your lessons, like standing in the middle for tack checks, lining up to trot one at a time, riding around the cones, etc.

The staff person will strictly discipline the horse for any infraction of the rules and that will help the horse learn what is expected of him. When not actively disciplining the horse, the staff person should ride very passively, as a beginner student would– floppy and sloppy in the saddle. Most horses will fall into the routine fairly quickly, assuming you are starting out with a suitably trained and tempered horse.

Most of the large group riding programs I have worked with, do not allow students to discipline the horses; it is doubtful that a beginner rider could effectively discipline a horse and allowing students to do so can often lead to more problems. Besides, if you have authorized a student to discipline a horse, you have publicly admitted the horse has a problem. That could easily come back to haunt you.

Therefore, the new horses should be fully assimilated into your program’s routine by a staff member and should not be ridden by students until the staff person is no longer making any corrections with the new horse and the horse has settled into the program.

In the last decade, behaviorists have reversed their opinion on whether or not horses learn from other horses. It was previously thought that this was impossible but now it has been demonstrated in many different experiments that horses can and do learn by watching other horses. So make sure your new horses are paired up with a seasoned school horse that knows his job well and let your other horses lead by example.

Julie Goodnight, CHA Master Instructor

On The Rail: Teaching Horse Behavior To Youth: Q & A

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By Julie Goodnight

Q: Dear Julie,
I am a big believer in natural horsemanship and how effective it is to handle horses with an understanding of their natural behaviors. I’d like to instill these principles into my teaching and I wonder if you have any ideas for getting my youth students interested in studying horse behavior? Seems like all they want to do is ride! ~ Mary

A: Dear Mary,
I applaud your efforts to instill good principles in your students and an awareness of what life is like from the horse’s point of view. I have found it fascinating to study horse behavior, even as a child when I had no idea I was studying it. Learning behavior through observation is a valuable tool; but I think there are lots of ways to stimulate their interest. One of my most popular demonstrations is about reading the language of horses and I think that once you give people (and for the record, I don’t teach kids much differently than adults) clues to look for in understanding and “reading” a horse’s language, they love it. Even non-horse people enjoy watching horses, when they have a basic understanding how they communicate.

Horses communicate primarily with postures, gestures and body language; however, some of their communication is an audible language. I find that once people become aware of this, almost anyone, regardless of their experience level, can start understanding the horse’s language. Just by pointing out a few basics, your students can observe a group of horses and start calling out the communications they see, “Back off! “Gee, that looks interesting.” “Warning, warning!” “Come here and feed me!” “Stay away from me.” “Do you want to be friends?” I have written much about behavior and the Training Library on my website has hundreds of articles that elaborate on both the instinctive and learned behaviors of horses. A few of the fundamentals I would teach before playing this basic observation game with your students include postures, gestures and audible expressions. A horse’s head is entirely indicative of his emotional state—when the head goes up he is tensing, when the head lowers he is relaxing. As you ride and as you observe horses, watch their head level for indicators how they are feeling. The same thing is true of his tail—all the way up shows excitement/flight/prideful behavior; a cowering horse will tuck his tail like a dog.

Horses have numerous gestures—some of them we may not want to know about! The head drop/bob shows submission; ears back shows anger; baring teeth is a threatening gesture. Horses gesture a lot with their feet— cocking a foot can be a kick threat; pawing means “I’m frustrated and I want to be moving;” stomping feet means “that makes me mad!” A toss of the head with the nose moving in a circular motion is a defiant gesture that teenagers would get in trouble for doing. Horses have many gestures that have meaning if you know what to look for.

Horses are limited to just a few audible expressions that they use to communicate: the squeal, whinny, nicker, and snort. Each has a specific meaning and I find students of all ages and even non-horse people are interested to learn about these behaviors and interpreting them as they watch horses.

Squeal: The squeal is a high-pitched outcry, which acts as a defensive warning or threat. It tells another animal to be ready for a stronger reaction if further provoked. Squeals are typical during aggressive interactions between horses, during reproductive encounters when the mare protests the stallion’s advances, and when a pre- or early-lactating mare objects to being touched anywhere near her sore teats.

Nicker: A nicker is a guttural, low-pitched pulsating expression that means “come closer to me.” It occurs most often just prior to being fed and announces the horse’s presence and anticipation. Stallions will also nicker at mares during a reproductive encounter and seems to signal the stallion’s interest in the mare. Mares typically give a third type of nicker to their young foals when the mare is concerned about the foal.

Whinnies or Neighs:  Whinnies or neighs are high-pitched calls that begin like a squeal and end like a nicker. It is the longest and loudest of horse sounds and is distinctive for each horse (you can learn to recognize the sound of your horse’s whinny). The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance. It’s a form of individual recognition and most often occurs when a foal and mare or herd peer companions are separated, or when a horse is inquisitive after seeing a horse in the distance.

Snorts and Blows:  Snorts and blows are produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound, but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicate alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses. The snort may also be given when a horse is restless but constrained; in this case, it should be taken seriously as a sign that the horse is feeling trapped and alarmed and may become reactive.

Getting your students started on understanding the horse’s communicative behavior is a good place to begin. Once they are engaged, the sky’s the limit on the lessons you can teach and the lessons that horses offer us every day. Studying their emotional behaviors, the seven categories of instinctive behaviors of horses, doing groundwork exercises to build a better relationship with the horse and studying the herd dynamics we see every day will be as interesting to your students, as it is to you.

Teach –Ride At Will During A Lesson

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Riding lessons are all about imparting information and developing rider skill, but sometimes students are over-loaded with information. It’s helpful to plan practice time in each lesson– either at the end of the lesson for about 10 minutes or after each topic or exercise. During this time, your students can ride at will, practicing the things you worked on in their lesson. Often this is when questions arise, as students process the information on their own. I always tell riders at the end of each session to practice on their own, ask questions if they have them and that I will just watch and offer suggestions as needed. I think this “soak in” time is really important in the learning process

Tack – Cheek Piece

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For many horses, particularly in the winter when the hair coat is very thick, pulling the bridle over the ears is a tight fit and can cause a lot of momentary discomfort in the horse’s mouth. If you drop the cheek piece down a few holes before you bridle, it is much easier to pull the headstall over the ears and then it can be adjusted back up to the right place. It only takes a few seconds to loosen then readjust the cheek piece but it can make a huge difference in the horse’s comfort and may help prevent bridling problems.

Herd – The Frog Sloughs!

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The frog of the hoof grows continuously and is an important structure of the foot. Traditionally, farriers would trim the frog back, keeping it very neat and trim, but increasingly farriers are leaving the frog natural so that it provides better cushioning and support for the foot and better circulation. When left natural, the frog will periodically slough off, either in many little pieces or in one frog-shaped piece. The sloughing is perfectly normal, but may be alarming to people that have never seen the frog in its natural state.

Tricks Of The Trade

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By Julie Goodnight

Lingo – Ventral Edema

A horse showing signs of ventral edema may have compromised health. Swelling is typically seen on the ventral midline of the horse’s belly and is characterized by puffiness, bumps or fluid build-up. Often in geldings, sheath swelling or puffiness can also be seen. These signs can be indicators that a horse is fighting infection (maybe from an unseen puncture wound), having metabolic issues– allergies, snake/insect bite, or toxic reactions, circulatory issues, parasites, Potomac Horse Fever and other issues.
Monitor the edema, check vital signs (checking for signs of fever) and look for other signs that may indicate the horse’s health and vigor such as appetite, soreness and alertness. Inspect the horse from nose to tail for signs punctures or sores. Exercise the horse lightly to see if the edema is reduced after exercise. If the horse shows signs of fever or other signs of sickness, if the edema persists over a long period or gets worse, call the vet.

Top Tips To Prepare Your Senior Horse For Winter

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What defines a senior horse? While there is no consensus among experts about what constitutes a “senior” horse, most agree that it is not based on chronological age but on physiological age. Some horses may start to slow down at 15, while others are still fresh and frisky well into their 20s. No matter what your horse’s chronological age, if he’s starting to show signs of aging such as stiffness, difficulty maintaining weight, or decreased immune response, it’s time to start thinking of him as a senior.

Cold weather can be hard on all horses, but it is especially challenging for seniors. Even if your senior horse has weathered previous winters without any trouble, he may need extra care and support to stay happy and healthy this year. Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to make sure that your senior horse is ready to take on winter.

Check His Body Condition
Help your senior start winter off right by making sure he’s at a healthy weight this fall. Experts recommend that senior horses get two physical exams each year, so your horse’s fall physical is a great time to ask your veterinarian to show you how to evaluate his body condition (if this isn’t something you already do). Once you know his body condition score, consider whether you need to make any adjustments to his diet now.

Schedule a Dental Exam
It’s important to monitor your senior horse’s teeth all year round, but it is especially critical heading into winter. If your horse can’t chew properly, he’s not going to receive the full benefit of the food you’re providing. Every horse needs an annual dental exam, and seniors may need one twice a year. Schedule a dental exam this fall to ensure that your horse’s teeth are in top shape before winter arrives.

Make Sure He’s Warm and Cozy
Even if you didn’t blanket your horse when he was younger, it may be a smart choice to start now that he’s a senior since older horses may have more trouble regulating their body temperature. Some older horses can benefit from the warmth and protection from the elements that blankets provide. Just don’t forget to remove the blankets for regular inspection of your horse’s skin and body condition, and to give him a good grooming!

Keep Him Going Strong
Making sure your senior horse moves every day is one of the best ways to ward off stiffness and discomfort in cold weather. Provide as much daily turnout as possible and consider hand-walking for additional exercise. If you still ride your senior horse, aim to keep him in consistent work year-round, as older horses have a harder time getting reconditioned after time off.

Get His Immune Defenses Up
Your senior horse’s immune system may not work as well as it used to. A healthy immune system is necessary for your horse to withstand stress in the environment, and a less efficient immune system means that seniors are more prone to illness. To make sure your horse’s immune system is ready to take on the stress of winter, consider adding an immune supplement to his program.

Weather the Winter
You want to share as many years with your horse as possible, so don’t let the worries of wintertime be a challenge for your horse. By giving your senior the right care and support, you can ensure he has everything he needs to brave the cold weather. You can find all the products you need to help keep your senior healthy at SmartPak.com.

NOTE: Thanks to SmartPak for these tips. SmartPak carries Nutramax Laboratories products including Cosequin.

Julie’s Tips On America’s Horse Daily

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Find Julie’s tips from the AQHA publication.
Tips about riding a rough trot, dealing with a head shy horse, links to safety videos, cantering tips, manners at feed time and more. Videos and articles await>> http://americashorsedaily.com/search-results/?cx=partner-pub-1087288201126887%3Ap6tzm8vgf3e&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=julie+goodnight&sa=Search&siteurl=americashorsedaily.com%2Fcategory%2Fhorse-training%2F&ref=americashorsedaily.com%2F&ss=1384j163318j15

Horseback Riding Basics: Using Your Aids, Part 2 from AQHA Daily

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Clear, consistent communication is the key to smooth transitions with your horse.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explains that your horse comes to understand how you’re moving with how he’s moving and that you can use this concept to have seamless transitions.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight in America’s Horse

In Part 1 of this series, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explained the importance of natural aids and focused on the seat as the most vital of the natural aids. In this final part, she moves on to cover transitions and keeping the attention of your horse. Read more>> http://americashorsedaily.com/horseback-riding-basics-using-your-aids-part-2/#.Vfm5O1oxORA