Learn To Ride At Julie’s Clinic’s

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The Questions You Ask Most
This Issue: Will I be too afraid to learn at a clinic? I’m afraid of being judged…

Ride and Learn
Horsemanship clinics are a way of life for me. I’ve taught hundreds of them and I like to take them whenever I can. I enjoy taking clinics and it helps keep my teaching and riding fresh, rejuvenates my spirit and I always learn something about my horse. Knowing I have a clinic coming up where I’ll take my horse—whether I am teaching or participant, helps motivate me to ride more. I like having a goal to work toward with my horse—whether it’s personal, competitive or physical; it helps me stay focused and productive in our training sessions. Does that work for you? What are your current riding goals?

I’ve been very focused lately on planning my 2011 Clinic Tour. Along with my focus on clinics, I’ve been reviewing and updating all our information on clinics, what to expect, what to bring and how to get the most from the experience. I know from what people tell me—either before or after the clinic—that they were very nervous to ride with me. This always bothers me– although I’ve heard it enough to know it is a common theme—not just in my clinics but for everyone. It bothers me because I know how hard I work to make sure all the riders are safe, comfortable and satisfied during one of my clinics and I think that most people who have ridden with me would agree that there’s no point in being apprehensive about riding with me.

I always tell the riders at the beginning of my clinics that nervousness is a wasted emotion, because I’m here to make sure they have fun and learn something and no one is under any pressure to perform; do as much or as little as you want. But still, I know people are reticent and I know there are some that will never sign up to begin with because of it and I wish I knew how to alleviate those fears. So what is it about taking a horsemanship clinic that is so frightening? Is it fear of the unknown? Fear of riding around other people? Fear you’ll lose control of your horse? Fear of riding in an unknown place? Based on a previous bad experience? Horror stories heard from others?

When I teach a clinic, my main goal and focus is to keep the rider safe, both physically and emotionally, and make sure they have fun and leave the clinic feeling good about themselves and having learned something. I’ll pretty much do whatever it takes to make sure that happens for each individual and for everyone that is something different. I think the first part of being a good instructor is being able to analyze the horse/tack, the rider errors, the personality and confidence level of the rider and the temperament and training of the horse. Then you have to be able to put all that together to discern what the most important thing to work on first is. And that’s the tricky part—because a person can really only work on one thing at a time. The next step, and the one that some trainers don’t do so well, is to be able to effectively communicate to the rider what he/she needs to work on, the why and the how. This must be done in a kind and supportive way that makes the rider want to try harder.

Too much of any emotion–be it fear, humiliation, anger, etc.–blocks us from a state of mind to learn anything, let alone mull over complicated concepts. Therefore, taking care of a rider emotionally always comes first. I believe that although you have to point out people’s mistakes as an instructor (that’s why they are there) it has to be done in a tactful and supportive way, in safeguard of the individual’s emotional well-being. I believe strongly that you also have to make an effort to find someone doing something right and then give them copious praise. That praising others, inspires all riders to work harder (“Amber, good job using your eyes as you went around that turn” can only lead to every rider in the arena looking up and where they are going). I also feel a strong responsibility to the well-being of the horse and sometimes this can be touchy—pointing out that the horse’s “problem” is actually caused by the person.

In this instance, I find that although it sometimes takes a little more work on my part, I can almost always address the situation and still take care of both the horse and the rider’s emotional well-being. I consider myself very fortunate that the type of riders that come to my clinics are almost always fun, interesting, open-minded and keen to learn. This makes them pretty easy to teach. I can count on one hand, and still have fingers left over, how many caustic or toxic people I have encountered in the thousands of people I have taught at clinics. I am so thankful that my clinics tend to draw great people. Although I have heard the occasional horror story from other clinics, I think most people learn and grow at clinics and I know they will at mine.

On one level, I totally get it—riding in front of a group with a bunch of strangers can be nerve wracking. Riding horses requires such a voluminous amount of information to master that it can be overwhelming at times. The unknown quantity of how your horse will respond in an unknown situation is a little intimidating. On the other hand, the opportunity to learn, grow, explore new concepts and master new skills is quite compelling.

What about you? Do you like to ride in clinics? What do you get out of it? Does it make you nervous? Why? I’ll be interested to hear. Come share your thoughts on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/horsemaster.tv
Until next time,

–Julie Goodnight

Safety Concerns: Should Toddlers Be Riding?

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Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: My niece is 4 years old, and small for her age, but loves horses and riding. We would sit her on a horse from the time she was able to sit up, being held by an adult for a short lead-line ride. When she was two we got her a toddler helmet and adjusted it to fit her head well, and someone would lead her around while I taught her how to hold her reins, correct leg position, and steering. At three she began competing in shows, assisted, of course, did well and won some ribbons. My question is this: Was doing this unsafe, and should I stop? I hate to make her stop riding now that she is addicted; nor do I want to do risky things.

Answer: I think what you are doing is just fine. While I cannot go so far as to say there is no risk or that it is a safe thing to do, you are mitigating the risk as much as possible and therefore doing it as safely as it can be done. You are knowledgeable and experienced and have looked at every avenue you can control and made the best decisions on horse, equipment and support.

Unfortunately not everyone has this much judgment and experience, so you can see why we can’t come right out and say, “sure, it’s fine for your toddler to ride, you go right ahead.” There are many great instructors that specialize in riding and horseplay with young children. The most critical factor is that it is at least one-on-one and for children under five, there should be at least a two-to-one ratio of adults to child. At its best, riding is risky and for toddlers and children under six, it is even riskier because of their size and vulnerability and lack of coordination and judgment.

We take many risks daily around horses. What is important is that first, the risk is a worthwhile risk that we are benefiting from it in some way; and second, that we mitigate the risk as much as possible. For instance, while riding without your hands on the reins may be a worthwhile risk when certain safety considerations are met; it would be a pointless risk to not have a hand on the reins when you are standing around waiting for something. If there is not a direct benefit, don’t take the risk. And if you take the risk, mitigate it by riding a safe horse, securing the reins, wearing a helmet, riding in a confined area, etc. Riding without reins certainly increases the risk to a rider but if we address the potential risks first, the fact that it will make a better rider of you makes the risk worth taking. Having enough experience to have the judgment to determine what the potential problems are in the first place is the part most people are lacking.

I must confess that my son started as a toddler, well, as a baby really; but like you, I looked at every possible risk. Except there was that one time when he was about three and we carefully planned out his first “trail” ride. Two people tacking one horse is never a good idea…. Sure enough, whichever one of us was supposed to tighten the girth before we hoisted Hunter up, didn’t (and we routinely left the cinches loose when we first saddled, and waited until we were ready to mount the rider to tighten). With my trusted protégé ponying Hunter on his very nice older Welsh-Shetland cross, I was riding directly behind Hunter on my trusted mare, with the eyes of an eagle on its prey (or should I say, on its offspring).
Hunter squealed with delight on the ride and chattered and sang the whole way (one of the great joys of life is to watch a young child on their first ride bubbling over with joy). Approaching our first little hill, I ran my eyes over the pony to check the gear and to my horror, there was about two inches of daylight between the cinch and the horse’s girth. Luckily a steady, smooth gaited and balanced pony kept the saddle from slipping and I rectified the situation post haste. It was a stupid mistake that could of caused a wreck but we got away with it. Anyway, the short answer to your question is, yes, you are doing it right. Good job! Keep it safe.

Post-script: Literally five minutes after finishing this article, I received a phone call from a woman who was looking for a horse for her daughter and was told I might be able to help. When questioned further, I found out that the family had never owned or really ridden horses other than at a trail barn and that they were looking for a horse for their three-year-old daughter to start barrel racing on. No kidding. You can see why CHA has to stick with the statement that toddlers and small children should not ride!

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

Overcoming Fear: Too Old To Ride?

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Question: Dear Julie,

I’m a petite grandmother, have not ridden in nearly 50 years. In my teens I rode daily. Do you think I could actually get into real riding again? I’m in excellent health & would be so thankful for your wonderful guidance. I really admire your work and follow you on your web site.


Answer: Michelle,

Absolutely! In fact, right now the recreational horse is being fueled by people just like you. Although our balance, stamina and ability to bounce back from a fall is not what it was as a child, riding is a great sport for older people—as long as you follow a few simple rules.
First, only ride safe and reliable horses and get competent professional help—at least to get started. All the information you need to get started riding is in a book called Ready to Ride?, written by me and published by CHA https://www.cha-ahse.org/store/cart.php?target=category&action=view&category_id=250&pageID=2.

Secondly, realize that any time you are playing with horses; you’ll get banged around a little—it’s a contact sport. Make sure you are in good shape. I like using the exercise ball off the horse for strengthening and coordination exercises specific to riding (I have one at my desk and one in front of the TV). These balls are available through my website http://www.juliegoodnight.com/products.html, with my own exercise chart; or, you can buy the chart separately if you already have a ball. Be sure to use the high-quality, rigid balls. The cheap ones are too mushy to simulate riding.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!

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

Bra For Riders

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Question: Hi Julie, Do you have any recommendations as to brands, types of sports bras which are most effective for riding (minimizing bounce)? Thanks!

AH, Missouri

Answer: Hi Althea,

Thanks for the question, but I am afraid I am not overly qualified to answer it; if you get my gist 😉 I prefer to ride in an undershirt like they make for aerobics/workout clothes (with a sports bra built in). That is enough support for me and I do not have constriction around my ribcage, which bothers me when I ride.

But in my teaching, I repeatedly see riders whose equitation is compromised by collapsing inward at the sternum, causing a bracing in the upper abdomen and a rounded upper back. I see the riders trying to control the bounce with their upper arms and posture, which helps with the bounce but has a very negative impact on equitation. All riders, even big breasted ones, need to lengthen the upper back, lift the sternum and ribcage and open the shoulders for better position and balance, a softer ride and better communication with the horse.

The good news is that one of my best friends is a very serious competitive rider on the appaloosa circuit and she is much better endowed than I, and she has rendered her opinion of the ultimate NO bounce bra below.


Ah, the eternal question! I have indeed found the perfect bra for NO bounce riding. It ain’t pretty but it really does work. It’s made me much more confident about my riding in the show ring. This bra was actually recommended to me by another horsewoman. There is a company called Title Nine Sportwear for Women which offers a complete line of sports bras and rates them on a scale of 1 – 5 barbells, this bra is the only one that rates a 5 barbell. It’s made by Enell and is style #NL 100. 1-800-828-7661 is the number that is on the tag in the bra. Title Nine has a really nice website if you would like to check it out.

Best of Luck!

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