Horses In The Morning: Exercises for Lengthening and Collecting with Julie Goodnight and JoAnne Young

In this Certified Horsemanship Association episode we’re covering exercises for lengthening and collecting with guests Julie Goodnight and JoAnne Young. Listen in.

Check out more episodes of Horses in the Morning here:

Horses In The Morning: Julie Goodnight Talks About Riding Instruction

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In this Certified Horsemanship Association episode we chat about exercises for more advanced riders with Anne Brzesicki of MTSU, Julie Goodnight has some advice on schooling your school horses to keep them in top form and we also learn all about the Interscholastic Equestrian Association.  Listen in…

Building confidence

Exercises that create understanding vs. exercises that create skill

The rider’s tendency to blame the horse and not consider their own contributions to the problem

Teaching riders on school horses vs their own horse


Reviews of this recording:

Horses in the Morning is awesome this morning! Loving it! Hope everyone tuned in! Julie Goodnight is talking with Christy Landwehr about different levels of understanding and how that each day (even after over 50 years in the Horse Industry) she gains a greater understanding of herself and her horses. Growing our minds, hearts & bodies has to continue throughout our career with horses if we want not to stagnate – or go backwards. SO much good stuff… love her discussion about how riders tend to place blame on their horses and not look at our own performance issues first. ROFL on her comments about how instructors and school horses interact during lessons with students. WOW!!! Love the discussion about how building confidence in riders is personal – not the same for everyone. It’s the JOB of the Instructor to create success for the horse & the rider and acknowledge the success for both horse and rider. I say this ALL the time! “YOU GOT THIS!!!”
If you missed it, you can listen to the recording at your convenience later. Take the time! It will be worth it!!!

What is CHA?; Why to Become Certified; Safety Tips; Behind the Scenes of Horse Master; When to Sell a Horse (Rick Lamb with Julie Goodnight)

Certified Horsemanship Association–reasons to become certified and what the association does to teach the theory behind the skill; Improving Horsemanship; Safety Tips; Why to Ride with Your Heels Down; Behind the Scenes on Horse Master and on Rick Lamb’s TV Show for more radio shows.

The Draw Of Horses After An Accident Logo

Horses have their own gravity. If you’ve loved them in the past and been pushed away because of an injury or accident, it’s possible you’ll be drawn right back to their beautiful, sleek, powerful sides. Gravity pulls you back even if your worries or fears make you wonder why, even when our biological responses to fear tell us not to go back to a dangerous situation. Here’s a look at why I think horsemen want to overcome the very natural fears that enter in after accidents with horses.

I often wonder why we want to be around horses when horses step on your feet, bite, kick, and buck you off. Have you ever had your foot stepped on by a horse? Been bitten? Been kicked? Have you ever fallen off or gotten bucked off your horse? Have you ever started out on a ride and ended up at the Emergency Room? I ask these questions to rooms full of horse people and just about all raise their hands.

Why do we do this? Gravity. Horses have a power to draw us in, make us learn from our mistakes and prompt us to keep trying.

Safety First
I hope that you are never hurt by horses—physically or physiologically. I do believe that if you are conscientious, systematic and methodical about safety, the chances of getting hurt are greatly reduced. I’ve worked with many large riding operations through the Certified Horsemanship Association (a nonprofit organization focused on horsemanship safety and excellence) and seen many of them that have almost zero incident rates. That’s not luck— that’s by design. But I realize accidents do happen. Horses are powerful beings with their own minds and strong bodies.

Let me go on record here: I DO NOT believe that getting hurt should be an expected or accepted outcome with horses. I DO believe that most, if not all, accidents are preventable and no matter how wild and unpredictable we think horses are, if you really analyze an accident, you’ll find a way you could’ve prevented it. I know for myself that when I look at the horse wrecks I’ve been in, they all started with me doing something stupid or going against that little voice in my head that tried to warn me.

Still, even when we make a commitment to safety, things happen. Horses are big and flighty animals and it’s a given that bumps, bruises and scrapes will happen–even in the best of circumstances. And when you are perched on top of a half-ton of live and somewhat volatile horseflesh with a balance of its own and–more significantly–a will of its own, you will on occasion have an unscheduled dismount. I’ve sure had my share, but fortunately I’ve never had more than a few broken ribs to contend with. But that was enough to mess with my head. With my chosen profession and my love of horses, I had to work through the worry.

Biology of Fear
I’ve known plenty of riders who have had incidents with horses that resulted in serious injury– I’ve heard stories that are so horrific that I wonder why the person would ever want to ride again. But amazingly, they do. Gravity.

Our hard-wired biological responses after a traumatic event can be hard to overcome, but overcoming is possible. Our love of horses makes us want to overcome. When an accident or injury occurs, a “fear memory” is lodged in your mind; it’s purpose is to remind you of this injury so it doesn’t happen again. Fear memories are supposed to prevent us from doing a stupid thing again, like reaching out and touching a hot wood stove. But when coming back after a riding accident, sometimes fear memories get in our way of hopping back into the saddle.

Fear memories can not be deleted, but you can learn to manage them. If you were bucked off and hurt one day when you asked your horse to canter, the next time you canter (or even think about it) that fear memory will surface— it’s a biological fact. So don’t let it surprise you and don’t let it take control. Expect the fear memory to surface and have a plan to keep it at bay.

I think it is really important to “intellectualize your fear” after an accident. When enough time has passed and you have healed both physically and emotionally, it is important to thoroughly analyze what happened. What went wrong and what you might have done to prevent it from happening?

Learning from your mistakes and understanding the situation better should help diffuse your fear. If, for instance, you ignored an earlier warning sign, then you can make up your mind to never do that again. Knowledge and understanding of how an accident may have been prevented—and establishing concrete actions you can take in the future to prevent a repeat–will lead to more confidence.

Fear is a powerful emotion and it is generated from a subconscious part of the brain. But you can learn to control your fear. It’s not always easy; it’s something you have to work at, but it can be done. Coming back after an accident will require some work and self-discipline on your part, but I know many, many people who have done it. Their love of the sport, the way of life and the love of their horses seems to drive them to face that fear and create a plan to overcome.

Answer this: Why?
After you’ve had an accident or mishap, it is critically important that you do some serious introspection to determine why you are doing this horse thing. Why are horses important to you and why do you want to keep riding? These are not easy questions to answer but the answers are critically important to your comeback. You have to decide if horses are pulling you back. You have to know if you are being pulled by their gravity or just think you “should” ride again.

“Why?” is always the most difficult question to answer; how and what are much easier. But there are reasons why you are committed to coming back to riding and it is important to get in touch with those reasons, because of this simple fact: purpose leads to courage. If you can really come to terms with why you want this so badly, then you remind yourself of that purpose when things get tough, your purpose will give you courage.

Plan of Action
Your fear can come back to you like gravity just like your love of horses. Fear has a way of finding its way in—especially if you don’t have a plan to subdue it. When coming back after an accident or injury, it is important to practice mental control. Know that your fear memory will surface— don’t let it take you by surprise or dictate your actions. Your thinking, your body language and your emotions are all connected: mind, body and spirit. When the emotion of fear takes over, your mind devolves into negative “what if” thinking and your posture starts to reflect the emotion too.

Here is the secret key to overcoming your fear– keep your mind operating in a proactive and positive way (plan ahead of time what you will think about or what song you will sing; disallow negative thoughts and replace them quickly). If you think of falling each time you mount up, make a list of all the wonderful rides you’ve had and focus on those memories. Feel those wonderful rides. Make that memory a reality in the present. Make sure your body language shows confidence (sit up straight, square your shoulders– look tough!). By keeping control of the mental and the physical aspects of your being, the emotion doesn’t stand a chance.

A recap and to-do list: Analyze what happened to cause your fears, know what lessons can be learned and make a commitment to safety. Gain a better understanding of why you are doing this; the ‘why’ is your purpose, your “gravity. ” Purpose leads to courage. Finally, make sure you have a plan of action when you ride: practice deep breathing, keep your eyes focused and your mind engaged in a positive direction, and keep your body language strong and confident.

You can do it! I hope your love of horses pulls you back to the fun of the sport.

Enjoy the ride,

Buying A Horse Logo

In “Shop ‘Til You Drop,” the Horse Master episode taped at my ranch in Colorado, I helped my friend Sddita Fradette begin the horse shopping process. She’s a skilled rider and NARHA riding instructor but doesn’t have her own horse at the moment. She wants to make sure she has the know-how and strategy to start shopping with confidence. We talked about the importance of conformation, breeding, size, temperament, training, sex and more during the show.

Be sure to watch the episode on RFD-TV, log on to watch the extra footage at then read on to find out more about finding your own perfect horse. The show is part of a new series of episodes shot at my ranch (we’ll shoot in Colorado again in late summer 2010 if you’re close and would like to apply to get help for you and your horse: In the new shows, there’s help if your horse refuses to approach obstacles, if you’re a new rider and want help learning how to work with your new horse, if you’re horse shopping, if your horse won’t accept a bit and bridle without raising his head, and if you want help finding the proper bit for your well-trained horse. Here’s more about horse shopping….

Horse Shopping 101
When it’s time to look for a new horse, you want to be an educated buyer—understanding what to look for and what questions to ask as you shop for your dream horse. You’ll want to find the safest and best-trained horse that your money can buy. You will love a horse that makes you feel safe; get one that you can build confidence with instead of constantly re-building.
It’s very important to identify exactly how you plan to use your new horse because you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Spend some time thinking about what your short and long term goals are; be realistic in terms of your time commitment and physical ability. If your time commitment is limited, you’ll need a very well-trained and seasoned horse that can stand around for days or weeks and still ride easy, not a “project” horse that is young or poorly trained. If your goals include competitive riding, you’ll need a horse that is the right type, with good athletic ability and solid training. The more demanding the competition, the more type, pedigree and training play a role.
It may be that you want an all-around horse that you can do a variety of things with, from casual trail riding to dressage, both English and western. If so, realistically rank all the activities you plan and what is most important to you and set up a list of priorities so that you can evaluate individual horses and rate their best qualities.
Realize that one horse may not suit your long-term goals and you may out-grow this horse, particularly if you plan to compete regularly. If you are just starting out as a beginner, you need a steady, solid mount that has a lot of patience; these horses are typically not the sharpest athletes. As you reach higher levels of riding, you’ll need a horse that can move up the levels with you. Maybe you’ll need a starter horse and in a few years you’ll be ready to move up to a highly bred and trained performer that will propel you to the highest levels (start saving your money now!). Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’ll keep every horse you have for the rest of its life; horses are not like dogs. While it is possible that you may keep one horse forever, you may find that the horse you buy does not turn out to be the best horse for you in the future and you may need to sell him and move onto another.
In a booklet I wrote for the Certified Horsemanship Association (a non-profit organization that promotes safety in the horse industry, called Ready to Ride, I cover when to buy a horse, purchasing vs. leasing, and the many and varied breeds and disciplines to consider. I also cover finding a riding instructor and trainer, setting realistic goals, etc. If you haven’t owned your own horse before or are looking for a horse for a young rider, the booklet helps you consider all the aspects of horse ownership—costs and extras you might not have added to your budget and plan. Here’s information from Chapter 10, “Should You Buy a Horse:”
“When you consider the purchase price, boarding, health care, and equipment needed, owning a horse is clearly more expensive than simply riding school horses. Owning a horse requires a substantial investment of time and energy and a serious long-term commitment.
Owning or Leasing a Horse Many stables offer leases and half-leases on horses, which gives a good introduction to horse ownership, without the capital investment. Often leases are available for the cost of board and maintenance, so it is a more affordable first step to horse ownership, without the long-term commitment. However, the purchase price may be the least amount of money you will spend on a horse; the maintenance costs can be considerably higher in the long run….
Many naïve horse lovers make the devastating mistake of buying a young horse for their first horse. Horses are not like puppies; you cannot effectively train a young horse without years of experience and a young horse is much more dangerous than a little puppy. Between the horse and the rider, it is imperative that one of you knows what you are doing. Unlike puppies, horses can become big dangerous animals in a heartbeat; it requires a competent and experienced horse person to raise and train young horses.
Horses are not really mature until they are about eight years old and they are in their prime in their teens. Most good beginner and novice horses are 14 or older, although some may be younger. The older a horse gets, the more he has learned about life, humans and his job. You want a horse that can teach you; not a horse that needs an education.
Look for a stable with a program that teaches good horse care and knowledge as well as riding skills. Volunteer for horse chores at a stable; allow your child to take advantage of the opportunity for character development. Horses are not machines and one of the most important things a child can learn is personal responsibility.
Some stables offer full care only, while others give you the choice of providing some of your horse’s care yourself. There should be a regular schedule for feeding, watering, stall cleaning/manure disposal, farrier, and veterinary visits….”
It’s crucial to consider all the costs and think through where you’ll keep your horse and how you’ll keep him safe and healthy before you buy. And no matter if you’re shopping for your ultimate dream horse or your first horse, take the time to research your purchase and seek out support for your shopping trips. Find a trainer that specializes in the discipline you’d like to work in or seek out a friend that has more horse experience than you do to help you weigh your options throughout the process. There are seller’s agents and buyer’s agents. You need a buyer’s agent that you can pay his/her regularly hourly fee to look at horses with you. Or you could engage a trainer to look for horses for you for a finder’s fee (be wary of commissions for buyer’s agents since that encourages the trainer to look for an expensive horse). Most often what you encounter is the seller’s agent (like with real estate), who is receiving a commission on the sale (usually 10%); therefore you may not get all the info you need about the horse. Be very leery of double-dipping agents (taking a commission from both buyer and seller). It’s best to have an objective third-party agent who has no motivation other than to give you his/her honest opinion.
Check out even more horse shopping tips and strategies in my Horse Buyer’s Guide PDF available free at And visit the horse sales page on the site:
–Julie Goodnight

Horse Afraid of Mounting Block Logo

What To Do With a Horse Afraid of His Rider

Question: Hello Julie, I have a 4 year old registered paint gelding, Zippo Pine Bar bred, tall and gorgeous that I have had for just over a year! But, he is terrified when I step near or into the saddle. I bought him knowing he had a troubled past, but I can’t seem to make any new progress with mounting. I have done a ton of groundwork and desensitizing which he does great with.

The problem comes in when I am on the mounting block. His body gets very tense, his lower lip will quiver with concern and his eyes look terrified. I usually stand on the mounting block doing stretching exercises and touching/patting him all over until he relaxes, which sometimes doesn’t happen! If I get on without using my stirrup he is OK, still nervous but stands fine. However, if I even start to put weight in my stirrup he will bolt away from me, and once that has happened I will not be able to mount that day (he gets way too freaked out).

Strangely enough though, once I am on you would never know he is such a challenge to get on. He rides like a dream, still green, but a wonderful 4 yr old! I have all the time and patience in the world for this horse, he truly is an amazing animal that was damaged by an uncaring human by no fault of his own. I just want some direction on where to go with him!

Thank you so much!

Answer: Nichole, Sounds like your horse was lucky to find you! It is not hard to make drastic mistakes in the process of starting a horse under saddle. There are many steps at which things can go very wrong and there are many stupid mistakes to be made by people in the complicated process of training a young horse to be ridden.

Who knows what happened with your horse in the past, but chances are it was entirely preventable. That’s why I always encourage people to hire a professional to put a good foundation on your young horse—it is a time that can make or break a horse’s riding career. In your case, it seems like his previous training left him broken, but not broke.

During the process of introducing a horse to the saddle, to mounting, to balancing the weight of the rider, to taking cues from the rider, there are many crucial steps that, done wrong, can turn into a very negative training experience for the horse which may cause problems for the rest of his life. Something went wrong with your horse—either something hurt him physically like an ill-fitted saddle or something scared him so badly that his reaction caused him to get hurt (a self-fulfilling prophecy to the horse).

So now you are left to undo the damage that was caused when the horse was “broke.” Good training and many, many repetitions (until the good experience far outweighs the bad) will fix this horse. The good news is that he is young and still impressionable. It’s really good news that he is working well under-saddle—it tells me if you find the right technique, he will be entirely fixable.

It’s critical to make sure your saddle and/or poor mounting technique is not causing the problem. If it is digging into his wither or shoulder when you mount, he has good reason to react poorly. Unfortunately, the fear of pain may have originated from his previous training so even if your saddle is not currently causing a problem, in his mind, he may think mounting will always hurt him.

After you’ve ruled out a physical problem, only time and patience will reprogram your horse. You need to retrain the mounting process as if you were starting from the beginning, only it will take much longer. It always takes much longer to undo training mistakes than it does to train a horse right to begin with. Wouldn’t it be nice to know about all the potential mistakes you could make in training a horse before you actually do it?

We have four new episodes of Horse Master coming out in February 2012 about starting a young horse under-saddle—each step you take, how to do it right and what mistakes to avoid. This same info is also available in my full-length training DVD, Ready to Ride. One whole section is on mounting and I would use the same process on your horse. It is my hope that this information will help people avoid making the mistakes that were made with your horse.

Based on the info stated in your question, the first thing I would do is get rid of the mounting block. It is possible that it is contributing to his fear and I would want to see what his reaction to mounting was without it. I’ve seen a lot of training problems that involve a mounting block.

Of course, this means you have to be very good at mounting from the ground and getting your weight centered over the horse’s back as soon as possible, so as not to hurt his back. I have also seen many mounting issues caused by poor mounting technique on the part of the rider.
Next, you’ll break down the mounting process into tiny steps and then use a process known as pattern conditioning, where you repeat a certain pattern over and over until the horse has a conditioned response that is relaxed and accepting. Your horse already has a conditioned response to being mounted, but it is not a good one. Breaking it into small steps, releasing the pressure on the horse when he responds correctly and repeating this pattern again and again, will fix your horse.

There are a lot of articles in my Training Library,, on desensitization and dealing with fearful behavior. You may want to read some of them—even if the articles are not exactly the same as your horse, you will likely find some info that helps. It is important that you fully understand the process of advance and retreat desensitizing and when you give the release.

Also, be sure to tune in to Horse Master on RFD-TV in February to see the episode on first mounting. If you don’t get RFD, you may want to order the DVD, Ready to Ride. It is the fourth DVD in my “From the Ground Up” series and covers the very critical stage in a young horse’s training when you first begin riding him. BTW- the previous three videos in the series are pre-requisite to this stage and cover round pen work, lead line work and training the horse to respond properly to bit pressure.

Take your time, have lots of patience and you will get past this problem with your horse. He sounds like a good egg—he just needs some reprogramming.

Enjoy the ride!

Safety Concerns: Bicycle Helmets For Riding Horses–Is It OK? Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Are bicycle helmets as safe as riding helmets? I saw a news program that said they are safer than riding helmets, is that true? Some parents don’t want to purchase a helmet until they are sure the child is going to stick with riding. I was told that I could be arrested for letting the student ride with a bike helmet.

Answer: Thanks for your very important question, which will be an important addition to our website and magazine column. In fact, I just returned from Equitana USA, where I was doing several workshops for professionals, and this question was brought up there too. It is critical that the helmets your students use are SEI/ASTM certified FOR EQUESTRIAN SPORTS. The Safety Equipment Institute certifies all kinds of safety equipment for different purposes. They use detailed studies about the types of head injuries common to the sport for which they are certifying the product for and the specific types of impacts sustained. They certify equipment for safety in relationship to the specific activities and injuries common to that sport. As you may have noticed, a bicycle helmet looks quite different than an equestrian helmet, as they are designed to protect from different types of impacts. An equestrian helmet provides much lower protection on the back of the head, which is more commonly needed in horse related head injuries (basal skull fractures). Also, I believe riding helmets are made to sustain harder impacts, such as a kicking hoof, which may explain why riding helmets can cost more than bicycle helmets. From a legal standpoint, if you condone the use of a helmet that is not certified for riding, you are more liable than if you allowed the student not to wear a helmet at all. The same is true if you allow a rider to ride in an improperly fitted riding helmet. The way the legal system would view this particular form of negligence is to say that you clearly knew that the rider should have been wearing a helmet, so why didn’t you do it right? You should make this minimum requirement of all your students. You should have helmets on hand for the students that do not have their own. Let them use the riding helmet as a bike helmet 😉 Thanks again for asking this important question. Product Advice: If you want a discount on helmets, you can save 20% when you order through Julie Goodnight and have a CHA membership. Call 800-225-8827 to order by phone.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Safety Concerns: Advice For Parent Looking For Instructor Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: I am the parent of an 11-year-old girl who is serious about horses. She’s been riding for 5 years in California, and we just moved to Michigan. For two months now, I’ve been looking for a good stable and instructor. Her former teacher in CA was CHA certified. Should I be limited to finding a CHA certified instructor? I will review your web site to understand all that it means. What other questions should I be asking to insure her safety with a new instructor? My daughter is riding English with focus on Eventing. I’ve been asking what their level is (i.e. beginner, novice, prelim, intermediate, advanced). What level should they be to be an instructor?

Answer: Thanks for your question, it is a good one. While I would have to say that certification is important and CHA certification is probably the best (I’ll explain why in a minute), it is also important to realize that there are many good instructors out there that are not certified. Instructor certification is relatively new to the industry (even though CHA has been doing it for 34 years); the industry is just now getting to the point that certification is valued, in fact, required in some states. But still, the more established a person is in their career, the less likely it is that they are certified. This is because they have been successful for so long, they don’t view certification as something they need. If you think about it, why would I, as a successful trainer/instructor with a barn full of clients, take the time to go get certified? But more and more, people like this are beginning to take the time to get certified because astute clients like you are coming to expect it. Also, insurance companies are pushing certification. So, having said that, why is CHA certification better? Because it is the only hands-on certification process. That’s why the insurance companies like us so well. Other certifications only require candidates to take a written test and send in a video. We require instructors to demonstrate their ability with live horses and live students, for 40 hours of clinic time, and demonstrate their ability in at least four different lessons. This is why insurance companies view CHA certification as better, because it is a face-to-face, hands-on process. Also, interestingly, CHA is the only not-for-profit, board-run organization that certifies instructors, giving us the appearance of greater objectivity and stability. As for the level, that may depend more on the individual instructor. Certainly if your daughter is interested in eventing, you need an instructor qualified to teach jumping.

However, there are many instructors that specialize in the beginning and intermediate levels and although they might not have a real high level of certification, they are sometimes more effective at the lower levels than an instructor that is more used to teaching the highest levels of riders. This would be an instructor that your daughter might only work with a year or two until she is ready to move on to a higher-level instructor. Typically, these instructors are very upfront about how far they are able to take the student and when the student is ready to move on. One more idea that I will give you as food for thought. There is a theory in English riding that says that children should be focused on developing equitation skills, and thus they would do better to ride in Hunter shows as a youth rider and then pursue eventing as a young adult. I am a believer in this school of thought, as I recognize how much I personally benefited from this approach. I was an equitation rider until I was 18 (I started a little eventing at 16). By then I had such solid and proper riding skills that I could (and did) choose any number of disciplines to compete in. Eventing is a discipline that focuses more on the horse and the competition and less on the development of the rider. Certainly, riding and training in one area would not preclude the other, but just something for you to think about. It sounds to me like you are discriminating enough to ask the right questions and make the right observations of a potential instructor. I would recommend that you ask to observe a lesson or two, take a look around their facility and talk to existing clients. There are many little indicators about how safety-conscious the trainer is. Are there safety rules posted? Do all riders wear helmets? Are students thoroughly supervised? Is the place neat and tidy? Do the horses look content and happy? Do they require waivers and/or customer contracts? Are these documents professional and do they state safety concerns? If possible, you might be able to ask other clients about the safety record- do they know of any students that have had serious injuries? How many years experience does the instructor have? Are school horses owned or leased? Experience and knowledge of the individual horses in the program are important for operating safely. Good luck to you and your daughter. It is good to hear from a parent that recognizes the need to assess the ability and qualifications of an instructor. It always amazes me how rarely this happens. Let me know if you have other questions.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Preparing For A Career With Horses Logo

Question: Dear Julie:

I have a 13 year old daughter who has been in 4H since she was eight years old. She has become a great rider and is interested in learning how to become a professional rider of reining, cutting…or any western type horses in shows. What kind of advise would you give her as far as working towards that goal? She dreams of making it into the NRHA Reiner publications someday. She is also interested in becoming a clinician and has already begun training young horses with natural horsemanship. She would love to shadow someone during her summers. What would make her a better candidate for these types of goals?

Thank you for your time in this matter.
Mother of a horse-crazy daughter

Answer: Dear Mom,

First let me say that I admire your daughter’s perseverance, determination and passion. I think it is wonderful when a child has that kind of focus and drive; horses are such a wonderful tool for developing focus, responsibility and accountability in youth.

When asked this question by youth or parents, I am not typically eager to encourage this career path. While there are many great opportunities in the horse industry, becoming a trainer means that you will work long and hard for very little pay (and even fewer benefits) and not many trainers make it to “the big time.”

What I would encourage her to do is to go to college and get a degree that could be useful whether she decides to be in the horse business or not, like a degree in business, journalism or animal science. There are lots of opportunities in the horse industry for people with these skills (and an interest/knowledge of horses), whether it be managing a breeding farm, writing for a magazine, or working in the nutrition, pharmaceutical, retail or marketing fields. With a “real” job, she can afford to continue to enjoy horses on the level she is now—as a participant, rather than as a worker.

I work closely with the Colorado State University Equine Program and they offer a variety of degrees and their curriculum is one of the best in the country. It is aligned closely with the CSU business school and in fact, you can get a bachelor’s in equine science with a minor in business, then come back and get a MBA in one year. If I had it all to do over again, this is what I would do. You can get your hands-on horse experience lots of places, but nothing replaces a college education. What makes most horse trainers fail is a lack of business savvy.
Becoming a trainer is a great career for some people, but you have to recognize that it is very physically demanding—long hours and hard days, not to mention hazardous. In the beginning you’ll be riding a lot of tough horses and the toll can be high. With hard work and determination she may get to a level where she can pick and chose the horses she rides, but not everyone makes it that far.

If she is determined to make a career as a horse trainer, I recommend that she get as much experience in as many different aspects of the industry as possible, in order to make her skills more marketable—English, western, racing, breeding, teaching, colt-starting, trail riding, etc., to round-out her experience. Working hands-on will help build her resume and get her the references she’ll need to get somewhere (it is very much a word-of-mouth business), but these positions can be difficult to attain.

Most successful trainers get constant requests for apprenticeships and many of those people are willing to work for nothing just to gain the experience. To get the attention of a successful trainer, you’ll need to be persistent, humble and willing to work hard in any role. Most trainers will initially say no, but if you are persistent, you may get a foot in the door. But what most trainers have learned is that few people have the work ethic and stick-to-it-ness to actually last. So you’ll have to be willing to pay some dues before you get anywhere.

One thing that will jump-start her plan is to get certified as an assistant instructor when she is 16. CHA offers a hands-on certification that will teach her a lot about how to teach lessons and keep people safe around horses and this could set her apart from the hundreds of other people trying to get their foot in the door as an apprentice. To read more about this process, visit
Your daughter will need to develop a realistic plan that will involve years of hard work at the not-so-glorious jobs like grooming horses, warming up horses and even doing basic chores like feeding and cleaning stalls. If she can prove herself in these areas, she may get some opportunity to ride some nice horses, but it will probably be a long time before she gets a chance to compete on those horses. It’s pretty easy to get to the “big time” if you can buy your way into the show scene; not so easy to get there based on hard work and desire—but not impossible.

Becoming a “clinician” is something that many young people strive for these days because they see the popular clinicians out there it seems like a cool job. Being a clinician is not really a career in and of itself, but an outcome or result of a career. A clinician is just a trainer or instructor that has years of experience riding hundreds or maybe thousands of horses and teaching hundreds or thousands of riders. A clinician is an instructor or trainer that travels to teach in different venues, instead of teaching regular students in one place.

It would be a great goal to have, to be a clinician, but there are many years of very hard work for very little pay in order to get there. The horse industry is one of the few lines of work where you are expected to work 6+ days a week—you can’t just shut down the barn on the weekend. All successful trainers have very strong work ethics, in addition to their strong passion for horses.

Right now, your daughter has only been involved in the fun side of horses. If she is serious about having a career in the horse industry, she’ll have to see the working side too—the not-so-glamorous side—and decide if this is really something she wants to do. If it is, hard work and determination will get her there—eventually.

I wish her all the success in whatever path she chooses.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Advice For Getting Into Training Logo

Question: I’m a high school student who would like to pursue a career in the equine field, particularly riding instruction. What would things could you suggest that would help me be better prepared for that field?

Answer: I admire your goals and your efforts to attain them. Here are a few things I would suggest. The first would be to get a college education. A degree will always open doors for you in whatever career you choose, including the horse industry. You could get a degree in Equine Science, which would specifically be in your area of interest, but I think a more well rounded degree like English, business, communications, education or animal science would be more useful to you and give you greater opportunity in the future. You can easily continue your riding development throughout college by working at stables or farms and maybe teaching lessons on the side.

As for preparing yourself to be a riding instructor, first you need to take lessons from different instructors in different disciplines. Try to get as well rounded an education in horses as you can. Even if you think you may not be interested in one area, you will benefit tremendously by gaining some knowledge and experience in many different areas. You never know what great opportunities will open in the future and some experience in that area could make the difference in opening a door for you. Volunteer to be an assistant instructor with an instructor you respect. Improve your own riding and study horsemanship theory and practice teaching others what you have learned.

It would be a great idea to attend a CHA clinic as an auditor. You would learn a lot about teaching and with a little practice, be much better prepared to take a certification course once you are 18. You could get certified as an assistant instructor between 16 and 18, but that would cost quite a bit more than just being an auditor.

Good luck to you!

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Heads Up! A Report From The Helmet Symposium Logo

Tucked away in a corner of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in South Florida’s elite horse capital, a small but impressive group of equestrians, physicians, researchers, manufacturers and organizational leaders gathered to discuss the current state of helmet-wearing among equestrians and consider what might be done to promote greater compliance in the future. I was glad to be invited and happy to be there representing CHA,, a non-profit organization that promotes safety in horsemanship.

The meeting was organized by a group known as, which was founded in 2010 after the tragic accident in February of a renowned dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye. Courtney’s FEI level horse stumbled and fell as she was warming up in the arena, causing a traumatic brain injury and placing her in a coma for a month. Courtney has survived her injuries and is undergoing a lengthy recovery to help return her life to normal. Courtney was supposed to speak at the opening of the meeting but unfortunately suffered a seizure the night before and was unable to attend. It was an ominous beginning to the meeting and really, nothing more needed to be said about the importance of it.

The meeting was moderated by Dr. Craig Ferrel, Head physician for the US Equestrian Team, and one of many impressive speakers we heard throughout the day. He started us out with a very illuminating fact that basically sums up the atmosphere of helmet wearing that currently exist in this country. In 1868, groin protection (athletic cups) was introduced into the National Hockey League, but it was not until 100 years later that helmets were introduced. Shows us where our priorities are! Although the hockey helmets were vehemently protested among the players at first, they quickly became accepted because of the protection they provided and the injuries they prevented and now, it is a given that all hockey players, at every level wear helmets.

There was a tearful and heart  wrenching story from Kemi O’Donnell, a mother whose 12 y/o daughter died of a head injury while wearing an old-fashioned velvet hard hat, after a fall-off from the walk into 4” of sand. Sadly the mother thought when she bought the hat that she was buying a helmet that would protect her daughter, and she’ll carry that guilt for the rest of her life. O’Donnell has lobbied hard for federal legislation to ban the sale of hard hats that look like a helmet. With the help of Senator Dodd (CT), this legislation has been introduced and defeated three times.

David O’Connor, the President of the USEF and a gold-medal Olympian, was next to speak and his points were short and sweet. He said that fashion and culture have been huge roadblocks when it comes to helmet compliance and that the velvet hard hat was invented by fox hunters to prevent sticks and branches from poking the rider’s head—it was never intended to protect from head injury. O’Connor said, “Not wearing a helmet is indefensible—if you have the technology [to save lives and prevent injury], you have to use it.” O’Connor described current trends in the show world where top riders refuse to wear a helmet in the warm-up pen, only putting it on when they enter the show ring and have to, often taking it off before even leaving the ring, sending a mixed message to younger riders. O’Connor is an outspoken proponent of rule changes that would require all riders to wear helmets any time mounted on a horse at the show grounds at any USEF or FEI sanctioned competition.

Next we heard from Dr. Allen Sills, a neuro-surgeon from Vanderbilt University who has a special interest in sports and in particular in athletes with an “athletic brain injury.” Dr. Sills reported that 12% of all sports related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are equestrian. Wow. That’s a big figure when you consider ALL SPORTS, many of which have much more participation than equestrian sports. Could it be that we have such a high percentage because of a lack of use of helmets? Dr. Sills also noted that younger people (under 18) and females are slower to recover from TBI. These facts are significant when you think of the demographics of our sport.

Rate of recovery is also affected by the number of previous concussions an athlete has had and Dr. Sills noted the importance of “back to play” rules and baseline testing of athletes in order to prevent athletes from going back to play too soon after a concussion. He stressed that the severity of the concussion is not directly related to level of consciousness; you do not have to be knocked unconscious to have a serious brain injury and an athlete that is eager to get back to his sport may hide symptoms from caregivers and coaches (and riding instructors).

Professor Dave Halstead, University of TN Sports Biomechanics researcher, who is also on the board for the ASTM Equestrian, which tests and certifies riding helmets, gave an extensive and at times startling and hilarious presentation on helmets and concussion. He elaborated on the high-tech research and testing techniques used. Much of the research into helmets regards football, since it is such a big dollar and ubiquitous sport, rife with blows to the head. Basically with the advent of modern football helmets, the incidence of skull fracture in football is now zero. The incidence of concussion in football players dropped from 950 to 250 million per year, but unfortunately there is one type of brain injury that helmets do not protect from.

Helmets protect us well from linear impact and other focal injury but do little to prevent rotational acceleration injury. It’s a great idea to wear a helmet when riding or on the ground around a horse because of all the potential for linear impact, like from getting kicked in the head or falling to the ground and hitting a rock or a fence post from 8-10 feet in the air. With the high risk and unpredictability of horses, combined with the height from the ground your head is when mounted, it definitely pays to protect your head.

Rotational acceleration injuries may occur with or without an impact to the head and it is a diffuse type of brain injury that occurs with rapid acceleration/deceleration, causing the brain to “slosh” in the skull, creating small tears and bleeds throughout the brain. Helmets cannot protect the head from rotational acceleration since the brain is basically floating in a pool of cerebral spinal fluid and moves inside the skull. The head jerking forward or back alone can cause this type of injury and when it occurs without an impact to the head, it can be easily missed at first.

Dr. Halstead has also done considerable research into the objections of athletes to wearing helmets and says you can basically sum up every refusal to wear headgear to one of these three reasons:

It’s not gonna happen to me.” (I am better than that or my horse is better than that)

I cannot do my sport with a helmet on” (it interferes with performance)

It has to pass the mirror test (I’ll only wear it if it looks good)

Making helmets more comfortable and stylish are important mandates for helmet manufactures—most of whom were represented at the meeting and helped sponsor the event, Troxel, Charles Owen, GPA and Tipperary. Dr. Ken Phillips discussed his innovative head protection system that could be incorporated into helmets to help protect against rotational injury. It involves a membrane on the outer shell that reduces rotational injury by moving on the helmet like your scalp moves across your skull. His technology has not yet been adopted by any equestrian helmet manufacturers and it is still in its early stages of research.

Dr. Richard Timms from Troxel helmets helped explain one reason why equestrian helmets lag behind other sports like bicycling and motorcycling (which has a head injury rate equal to equestrian sports on a minute by minute basis). Most riding accidents occur in the private domain while most cycling injuries occur on public roadways. Therefore more reporting is done and more data is available to researchers; no data, no research, no government involvement. According to Dr. Timms, whose career has been spent in researching injury prevention, equestrian helmets have the greatest reduction of deaths of all injury prevention products on the market.

Sara Ike from the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation), the governing body for equestrian sports in the US, formerly the AHSA (American Horse Show Assn.) gave an interesting synopsis of the history of equestrian helmets according to their rule books. Her timeline follows:

1981, US Pony Club passes helmet requirement

1986, helmets required for juniors

1992, helmet rules were relaxed

1994, rules said there could be no penalty for any rider electing to wear a helmet in any discipline

2000, combined driving requires helmets

2001, driving rule is dropped

2005, driving rule reinstated

2006, ASTM-SEI certified helmet required for jumping, equitation, and Paso Fino shows

2012, helmets mandatory at all levels for dressage and combined training (proposed)

There were other speakers and numerous testimonials from brain-injured riders and elite equestrians from the worlds of Polo, racing, show jumping, dressage and combined training, all of whom have climbed on the bandwagon of advocating the use of helmets at all levels of equestrian sport. But they were preaching to the choir because after hearing all the presentations, if not before, everyone there was on board.

This was the first of what hopefully will be a series of summit meetings about promoting helmet use in equestrian sports. Next, I’d like to see representatives from youth organizations, breed organizations, trail riders and yes, even Western disciplines. We’ll have to approach this from a cultural, generational and legislative (rules) approach and it may take years (or generations) to accomplish our goals, but perhaps this is the beginning.

If you are interested in the Riders4Helmets movement, visit You can view videos taken of the presentations made at the helmet symposium here,

Enjoy the ride!




Horses Are A Journey Logo

… not a destination. That was the title of a keynote speech I gave at CHA’s International Conference recently, in Lake City FL. CHA’s annual conference always has a ton of hands-on horse activities and they were held this year at The Oaks Equestrian Center, a David O’Connor signature facility. A lovely place and the conference had many great speakers and trainers. Although open to anyone, the CHA conference is attended mostly by riding instructors, trail guides, program managers and other horse professionals. As always, there are lots of good times and great opportunities for networking.

I always do several arena presentations at this conference and this year I also did the keynote speech at the Saturday night awards banquet. It was a reflective and introspective look at my journey with horses throughout my life and not the sort of thing I usually do. Here’s an excerpt,

“The first thing I learned from horses was a sense of freedom and empowerment. Believe it or not, I was a very shy and introverted child. My parents were worried that I did not have any friends and concerned that I chose to spend my time in my tree fort in the horse pasture instead of hanging out with the other kids after school. Riding gave me an incredible sense of power and adventure as a shy little girl.

I was never happier as a kid than when I was in the barn with the horses. I rode like the wind, usually bareback, in my bathing suit with no shoes, totally not CHA-sanctioned. I craved running the horses up and down the long rows of trees in the orange grove, the faster the better. I didn’t need any human friends because I was content to mingle with the herd and whisper secrets into my horse’s neck. This was far more preferable to me than slumber parties and hanging out at the park after school.”


One of the highlights of the weekend at CHA was the demonstration by Chester Weber with his four-in-hand Combined Driving team of gorgeous warmbloods. They were spectacularly turned out—just as they were recently at the World Equestrian Games—and gave a great introduction into the sport and it’s three phases. The Q&A session was awesome, with so many professionals asking astute questions. A good time was had by all!


Last weekend we attended the Equine Extravaganza expo. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was getting to make a surprise side trip to Washington DC to meet my two sisters for dinner at a top-rated DC restaurant. Staying downtown, seeing the monuments, and all the landmarks was cool (even if only from the window of a car) but getting to have dinner with my two sisters was a blast!  The six course dinner was indescribable; the service extraordinary; the laughter and story-telling huge.



Enjoy the ride!