|Diane and her horse, Book.|
Introducing Diane and Book
2003: What my Horse Means to Me
Selecting a Riding Instructor PART I
Selecting a Riding Instructor PART II
Leasing a Horse
How to Cope with Practice
Did You Say "Kerlock"?
Diane Nafis- diane@NAZLO.com
In my entire life I had never been around horses or ridden and had only
been on a few nose-to-tail trail rides as an adult, but I had loved horses
from afar since I was a young girl. When I was a teen I spent my
babysitting money to join the Arabian Society (the only horse organization I
could afford.) and I dreamed. Then I grew up, raised a family and started
a computer consulting company but never really lost that dream of horses.
About three years ago I answered a barter ad in a local throw away paper:
clean 11 stalls two days per week in exchange for a riding lesson. The
first thing I learned was how to clean a stall. Then by observation I
picked up how to lead the horses, mix feed, groom and put on a saddle and
bridle. I volunteered to do extra work around the horses and was taught to
groom, take care of wounds and clean tack. This barter arrangement worked
well for 4 months. Then the horse I was riding in my lessons (my dream
horse) came up for sale when the girl who owned him went off to college. I
was heartbroken that he was going to leave. THEN my husband Don went
"behind my back" and I got my first horse as a surprise anniversary gift
when I was 47 (two years ago) and our children were grown. Guess I had to
learn to ride and to take care of the horse! This is my childhood dream
coming true and I was scared witless of the awesome responsibility. I
cried. I could not sleep for a week.
For the past two years I have concentrating on learning, learning, learning.
There is not just the art and skill of riding - and oh, by the way, what
discipline? - but horse care and feeding, tack fitting and care plus so much
more a young girl does not even consider when she dreams of having a horse!
I knew nothing! And here I was with an 11 year old thoroughbred gelding who
stands 16h 2" and who only came with a ratty nylon halter. Luckily, he was
at a private facility where I could continue - for a few months as it turned
out - to exchange barn work for a weekly lesson. I paid board and Book was
cared for exactly as he was before I owned him. The barn owner clued me in
on things as she saw fit. There was no plan to her teaching. She told me
when the farrier was coming and what it would cost. She told me that the
dentist was coming and what that would cost. She told me that the horse
needed immunizations and what that would cost. She let me borrow tack.
Then she had to tear down her 5 stall barn to make way for an indoor arena.
Book had to be moved and moved now!
I called the vet and asked for a recommendation. She put me in touch with
someone who had some stalls open. This person had a trailer to move Book
but no truck. My husband bought a used truck for me and we decided to move
Book. This was when I learned I could not move a horse that did not have
something called a "current coggins" which was issued by a vet who had to
come out and take some blood from the horse. Called the vet. Done.
Negative - this is good - coggins. I moved Book to a small private facility.
There I learned quickly the worst ways to treat, feed and care for horses.
Book lost weight. I had no guidance but no one seemed to care. About this
time I fell off and broke 3 ribs! Luckily I had made friends with someone
who worked at this barn, took lessons there but did not have a horse of her
own. She looked after Book while I sat home for 8 weeks.
Once able to drive and ride again I looked into courses in feeding and
caring for horses. I read everything I could get my hands on. I subscribed
to magazines. My horse was not thriving and I had only an inkling why.
Again luck was on my side. One of my instructors from school told me to
call his wife. The facility where she had her horse had a stall open for a
lesson horse, and maybe my horse would qualify. I called her and she took
me on a tour of the most beautiful horse farm I had ever seen! I wanted my
horse there and made arrangements for his "interviews." I was asked to ride
him, then the owner of the new facility had a student of hers ride and then
her daughter ride. Book was accepted and we moved him. He is now in horse
Here he was slowly changed over to an all-natural diet with a good vitamin
supplement. He gained weight and found his place among his pasture mates.
The lesson program was not (and is not) hard on him, the vet care is
excellent, I have a terrific farrier and I am learning to ride effectively.
End to story? Absolutely not. Only the beginning, in fact.
I have chosen dressage as my discipline and centered riding as the tool but
there are other choices I considered: balance seat and hunt seat, jumping
and cross country, games and trails, gymnastics and exercises. I am still
learning about feeding and fitness, grooming and maintenance, tack fitting
and refitting, bitting, trailering, etc. This list is extensive and even
includes such things as riding apparel for me, showing and training.
Meanwhile, through others I have been exposed to the problems of buying a
horse (gosh was I ever lucky).
After almost three years Book and I are beginning to get somewhere as a
partnership. Sure having other people ride him is slowing our progress but
we trade that for being part of an excellent facility. I know what "leg" is
and sometimes I can use it effectively. I am serious about entering some
schooling shows in order to learn how to show. I have been fortunate in
that I can devote time to my riding and I get out 5 or 6 days a week (two of
those are lessons with a terrific trainer).
For discussion I think that choosing a riding instructor is one of the most
important decisions a rider must make whether she owns a horse or just takes
a lesson a week at a riding school. Riding apparel is important even for a
once-a-week rider. More advanced topics are buying a horse, and choosing
a boarding facility and learning to handle the horse on the ground for safety
of both the human and the horse.
Whether someone owns a horse, just wants to learn to ride or wants a child
to learn to ride choosing the right instructor is paramount. There are
different considerations for the person who owns a horse than for the
non-horse owner who wants to learn to ride. I will address the latter first
since it is probable that the majority of prospective riders reading this
will fall into this category.
Let's assume for the sake of discussion that you are the prospective rider
and you have done some reading and have chosen a discipline. It does not
matter which discipline catches your fancy for this discussion. Most people
try several before settling on one that they want to master. The best
initial source of information is, believe it or not, the yellow pages. My
telephone directory has "Riding Academies," "Riding Equipment and Apparel,"
"Horse Furnishings," "Saddlery and Harness," and "Western Apparel." Yours
may have more headings.
Using these listings as a guide, go visit the tack shops listed. I have not
been into a tack shop yet that did not have a bulletin board filled with
everything from lessons to massage therapy and from horses for sale to free
cats. The people who work at the shops will probably be able to add their
recommendations to your list of prospective schools. There are many private
farms that offer limited lesson programs and these would not be listed in
the yellow pages. Don't overlook this valuable resource, especially if you
are looking for one-on-one instruction.
Now, sit down with your expanded list and the telephone, pencil and paper.
Usually you will have to leave a message on an answerphone machine since
horse people are always busy with the horses, the barn, the lessons and the
chores. When you get a message machine leave your name and number, the age
and experience of the student and mention a convenient time for the school
representative to call you. The latter will help avoid a frustrating and
time-wasting round of telephone tag.
When you do speak with someone from each school be prepared with a list of
pertinent questions. Some of the important questions are:
1. What type of riding is offered? In "english riding" there are many
disciplines from hunt seat to centered riding! In "western riding" there is
a wide range from barrel racing to pleasure riding. It helps to have some
idea what it is you want to try but, if you are not sure, ask what each
discipline offered is about and take notes!
2. What training/certification does the instructor have? What experience?
There are many very good instructors out there who hold no certification but
it is good to note when there is some formal training and recognition of
3. What are the durations of the different types of lessons? If "group"
lessons are offered and are more within your budget, ask how many riders are
in a "group." If "semiprivate" lessons are offered, how many students in
each lesson? In either case the smaller the group the better. At first, if
you are new to riding and/or horses and if you can at all afford it, take
private lessons. This will give the instructor a chance to take you through
the basics at an easy pace. The expense of the initial individual attention
will pay off in the long haul.
4. What is the price of each type of lesson? Are there packages where you
pay in advance for a certain number of lessons? Sometimes there is a slight
discount for this.
5. If you can only afford group lessons, do the classes mix adults and
children? For some adults this is a problem. If it is a concern for you
6. What equipment must the student provide? What are the apparel
requirements? Most teaching facilities will require the student to have and
wear a well-fitting ASTM/SEI approved helmet and a pair of shoes/boots with
heels to prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup.
7. Is there an indoor riding arena or are lessons cancelled in inclement
8. Is it permissible to come and watch a lesson or two? If this is NOT
allowed look elsewhere. You can not make an educated decision if you have
not been able to go to the barn and observe. Much of the training requires
a rapport and trust between the student and the teacher. A good teaching
facility will welcome your visit and, if you make an appointment, someone is
likely to take you in hand and show you about. (We will go into what to
look for later in the discussion.)
9. What are the hours of operation either to schedule a visit or lessons?
Make an appointment right then for a visit if you can. This will save some
time and more telephone tag.
And keep in mind that an instructor will have some questions for you. Be
honest about your ability and goals to give the instructor the knowledge to
select a mount and a starting point for the lessons.
People who own their own horses are usually looking either for someone who
will come to their farm or for somewhere to trailer the horse. If you are
one of these lucky few, there are some additional things to consider:
Does the horse need training in the chosen discipline? If so, can the
instructor provide both training for the horse and instruction for the
rider? Usually, but not always, the training of the horse is separate from
the riding lesson and is scheduled on another day. Whether there is formal
horse training involved or not, often the instructor will "hop on" the
rider's horse in order to assess the horse's ability in order to adjust the
instruction to the pair. Most "lesson horses" in teaching facilities are
there for certain talents that the instructors know quite well. There is no
need for the instructor to ride the horse other than to show a student the
form. With an unknown mount it is a good idea for the instructor to ride
the horse before or during the first lesson.
Frankly, I believe that the person training the horse should also be the one
instructing the owner. This will avoid the possibility of the horse getting
mixed signals and the rider getting frustrated at using an aid that the
horse does not understand. Sometimes the combination is not possible, but
it is to be hoped for and searched out.
These points should be discussed between you and the prospective
trainer/instructor before there is an agreement. If the trainer wants to
ride and evaluate the horse and evaluate your ability before making a
commitment, this is an added bonus. This should not cost you anything. It
is part of the proper form for matching the rider and the trainer.
All of these questions and discussion points will narrow your original list.
It is time to visit the facilities that remain on your list.
By now you have a list of farms and riding schools that have passed your
initial telephone interview(s) and seem to be worth a visit. You have
requested permission to visit and have been given convenient times for
observing lessons taught by your prospective instructor and touring the
facility. Now what?
If you are the prospective student and you are not certain you will be able
to adequately evaluate the lessons you will observe, try to enlist a friend
with some riding experience to go along. The caveat in the case of a
second opinion is to be aware that horse people are opinionated and most
seem to think that their way is the best (if not the only correct) way to
ride/train/instruct. Trust your own judgment.
If the student is a child, take the child with you on the visits. The
feedback from the student is critical when choosing the instructor. There
has to be some rapport between the two. Much of riding is in the feel. It
is best to start out with an initial good feeling between rider and trainer.
Don't expect to be offered a trial lesson but certainly dress for the
possibility. If britches or chaps are not in the wardrobe then wear
comfortable pants that do not have a thick inside leg seam. Do not wear
loose clothing that will flap around and possibly bother the horse. If
boots are not in the wardrobe then wear sturdy shoes with a small heel to
prevent the foot from sliding all the way through the stirrup. Believe me,
hanging from a stirrup by your ankle is painful even if the horse is
standing still! Sneakers are usually not allowed; sandals and clogs are
never allowed. If sandals or clogs are allowed it might be best to look
elsewhere for a riding school. Bring a helmet if you have one (even a
bicycling helmet or a rollerblading helmet is better than no helmet since
you will not be allowed to ride without properly fitting protective head
gear). If your hair is long, catch it in some sort of barrette or
scrunchie that will feel comfortable under a helmet.
Some things to consider bringing along with you in addition to your list of
questions, directions, telephone numbers and your water bottle are a
camera, paper and pencil for notes, sunscreen and/or a hat, sunglasses and
some horse treats. For treating equines, apples cut into quarters or raw
carrot chunks are best. Sugary treats are frowned upon by some owners. In
any case, with any treat: never EVER give a horse a treat of any kind for
any reason without permission.
Arrive on time. If you are not certain where to park or where to go to
meet the instructor ask someone. Lesson days in large facilities can be
hectic. You want to be safe. At small farms you want to be safely out of
the way so you are not interfering with horses or traffic.
Once you are out of your vehicle, observe. Use your eyes and your sense of
smell. Listen. Use common sense.
In all cases note any safety concerns:
Saddle racks should be stored when not actually being used.
Halters, leads and tack should be hung up or well out of the way of hooves
Ditto with brushes, hoof picks and other grooming tools.
The students should be calm and quiet, moving at a walk, talking not
Horses should be attended at all times.
Safety rules and/or barn rules should be posted and enforced.
Visiting canines should be on leashes.
The facility should be clean (cluttered, maybe, and sometimes not neat, but
definitely CLEAN.) Your sense of smell will help you discern normal barn
odors from stale, hardly-ever-clean odors.
For a small farm or private facility:
How does the barn smell?
Are the stalls fresh and do the horses have plenty of water?
Is the riding area enclosed (fenced or surrounded by a stout hedgerow),
free of hazards and safe?
Are children being properly supervised?
Are the horses being handled in a manner safe for humans and horses?
Is the place generally in good order and in good repair?
For a larger facility or commercial school: Take into consideration
everything you would concern yourself with for a small facility but note
the general deportment of the students.
What is the noise level?
Is the equipment safely stored where horses can not get entangled?
Are horses left tied and alone or are they properly looked after?
Is the tack well maintained, clean and in good repair?
Are the instructors professional in their behavior and demeanor?
And what about the horses? How can you tell if a horse is fit and healthy?
That is not easy to discern for the casual observer or the budding
equestrian. You might be shocked to see a horse that seems positively thin
working quite hard. Some old "schoolmeister" horses are old and wise and
love their jobs. These horses are used in schools because they are older
and "bombproof" for beginners who might prod them inadvertently, become
unbalanced, pull on their mouths or let out a scream the first time it
doesn't feel safe. Don't be misled. Watch to see if the horse is
breathing hard or just cruising along. You should be looking at the
general fitness of the horses. Keep in mind that all horses have a knack
for getting into situations where they can and will get hurt, so seeing a
horse with a gash or a bite mark or a cut is not necessarily an indication
of a poorly run farm, however, wounds should be clean and seen to. Horses
also love to be dirty as protection from biting insects, so on a generally
dusty horse look to see if the saddle area has been thoroughly cleaned
before the horse is tacked up. Be aware of any signs of improper fitting
of equipment such as sores under saddles or girths. Notice that the
horse's hooves are shod or trimmed. Hooves should look neatly trimmed and,
if the horse wears shoes, the horse should not be ridden if it has lost a
shoe. Look for horses that have "happy" expressions and bright eyes, nice
coats and good health. Since horses nap standing up a horse with its head
hung low or eyelids dropping is likely to be napping.
What is "safe handling?" Look to see that leads are used when horses are
being moved about. It is not safe to lead a horse by grabbing its halter.
If it startles or pulls away the horse will be loose! Horses should be at
a walk when being led. If a horse does act out discipline should be
instant and appropriate to the misbehavior. Horses should not be tied or
put in cross ties (lines that go from the barn walls to the horse's halter
one from either side) then left unattended. Horses' heads should be
attended when one horse is passing another in an aisle.
And the lessons themselves:
For the horse:
At the beginning of the lesson is the horse properly warmed up at the walk
and/or trot? Usually, a horse that has
been in a stall for a while needs some time at the walk and trot to
loosen up while a horse brought in from a
field needs less time to warm up.
In lessons of an hour or longer duration is the horse given breaks to walk
and relax, perhaps while the instructor
is explaining what the rider is to do or feel?
Is the horse given about 10 minutes at the end of the lesson to walk and
For the student:
Is the lesson instruction or correction? All good lessons from beginner
to advanced include instruction plus
correction. If all you hear is "do..." and "get...." and "move..." and
"make that horse..." without hearing
some description then perhaps this is not the instructor for you.
Does the instructor's manner seem comfortable to you?
Can you understand the instructor and the instruction?
What is the instructor's reaction to problems?
Is there a summation? Time for questions? Is there interaction between
student and instructor?
In a group lesson:
Does each student get instruction and attention?
Is there proper traffic control?
After the lesson:
Is the horse cared for?
Tack cleaned and stored?
Equipment put away?
If you can, talk with the student or parent:
How does the student feel about that particular lesson?
The lesson series?
Talk to the instructor if he/she has the time but do not take up time
within someone's lesson.
Watch several lessons to get a good feel for the instructor. It is hard to
judge by just one lesson since there is at least the possibility that a
horse or a student can have a bad day.
Gather all the information that you can and then make your decision.
From the author: Once you have chosen a school and an instructor, give
yourself some time to evaluate. Each lesson should represent some
progress. I am currently on my 5th instructor in 2 1/2 years. I ride 6 days
per week! Most of the changes of instructor were due to moving my horse
from one facility to another, but my last change was a judgment call when I
reached a point where I had not made significant progress in 14 weeks. I
can be reached for comment or discussion via e-mail at email@example.com
So you want to ride, ride, ride but you don't think you are ready to own a
horse? You are a young rider who is either unsure about which riding
discipline you will like best or you are growing and your parents won't buy
a pony you will fall in love with and then outgrow? Well, there is an
alternative to ownership! Read on..
There comes the time in the lives of many horse owners when they find that
they no longer have the time to ride but they do not want to sell their
horse(s). Or owners simply need financial help to afford to keep their
horse(s). Whatever the reasons, horse owners seek riders. A good place to
find owners looking for riders and riders looking for horses is through the
local tack shops. Almost every shop has a bulletin board
The arrangement between owner and rider is called “leasing” or “half
boarding.” And there are as many formal and informal contracts as there
are owners, riders and horses! To avoid problems a clear understanding
must be reached between the two parties. Usually, the rider pays half of
the board in exchange for specific riding privileges. Sometimes farrier
(shoeing) costs and vet bills are shared. It is absolutely imperative to
spell out the deal in no uncertain terms to avoid future misunderstandings.
Here are some points to consider in order to compose a proper leasing
agreement. This agreement should be written and it should be signed by
both parties with an original for each party.
For the owner’s part
1. Make it perfectly clear what the cost(s) will be to the rider on a
weekly or monthly basis.
2. Specify the length of the lease in weeks or months and the terms (if
any) for renewal.
3. Outline the exact privileges that the rider will have
a. number of days per week and amount of time per ride
b. tack and grooming supplies to be provided by owner and/or rider
c. schedule of days and times the horse will be available to rider
d. who (if anyone) may ride the horse other than lessor himself/herself
4. Specify the terms of the lease
a. days can/cannot be substituted if not used
b. horse can/cannot be trailered and shown
c. horse can/cannot be taken off the property
d. horse can/cannot be used for lessons
5. Financial responsibilities assigned to either rider or owner
a. regular dentist, vet bills and immunizations
b. farrier services
c. tack repair
d. grooming supplies
f. emergency expenses
6. Special considerations
a. (if the horse is boarded) inform the barn owner and get insurance,
releases, barn rules, etc.
b. provide emergency telephone numbers for owner, vet, farrier and barn
c. ability or training of the horse
d. (if horse is insured) procedure in case of emergency
For the rider’s part
a. be willing to demonstrate riding ability
b. explain your goals (pleasure, shows, jumping, barrels, dressage, etc.)
c. provide references
d. provide personal safety equipment (helmet) and proper riding apparel
e. make sure your tack fits the horse properly (with the owner present)
if you want to use your own
f. understand and sign all safety releases for owners and barn owners (if
horse is boarded)
g. understand the precise financial responsibilities of each party if
emergency occurs during a ride
a. pay amount due promptly
b. keep track of payments made
c. keep track of any extras that you are providing
3. Keep owner informed
a. if the horse has a problem
b. when there is anything different or unusual in the horse’s behavior or
c. if the vet or farrier has to be called
d. when there is a problem with tack
e. when supplies are low
f. of your progress and experiences
a. learn the barn rules and follow them
b. keep the owner’s tack scrupulously clean and properly stored
c. ride only when, where and how permission has been granted
d. blanket, groom, feed, muck and turnout as required
e. call the vet or farrier promptly in any emergency and inform owner
f. stick to the agreed schedule and terms
g. if the rider is a minor an adult is present during all rides
h. never let an unauthorized person handle or ride the horse
Before the lease is singed, for mutual understanding it is a good idea for
the owner and rider to get together for the first few times the rider is
using the horse so
1. the owner can observe the horse with the rider and can assess the
2. the rider can ask questions about the habits and preferences of the
horse and the owner
3. details can be ironed out (even such small things as what treats the
horse is allowed)
4. the abilities, training and habits (such as kicking or biting or
shying) of the horse can be shared
5. the owner can ride the horse and demonstrate training, aids, etc. for
6. tack fitting and adjusting can be accomplished
7. tack, grooming supplies, cleaning supplies, etc. can be located and
storage or replacement discussed
8. grooming and handling procedures can be taught
Leasing can be a wonderful experience for the horseless rider and the horse
owner. It all depends on a clear understanding of the agreement between
the two parties.
Let’s face it, whether you are trying to master a musical instrument, or a sport or a riding discipline, it takes practice, practice, practice to build and perfect the skills. Let’s admit that no matter how dedicated you are, practice can get boring and a bored mind wanders. When your mind wanders during a musical piece, you can play a wrong note. When your mind
wanders during a tennis match, you can miss a shot. When your mind wanders while you are riding a horse, you can be seriously injured.
And then there is the matter of the horse.
A trumpet does not get bored. Neither does a tennis racket. But a horse can get bored and a bored horse
will try to amuse himself or try to rebel. See the danger?
As soon as he sees you the horse can sense whether you are prepared to work or not and this sets the mood for the day. A horse responds better to hard work than to boredom.
So, when you go out to ride it is a good idea to have a plan. Think of something you would like to accomplish with the horse. This goal does not have to be a big deal. Just pick something to work for. For instance, you want your horse to halt and stay at the halt until you say to go. Or you want your horse to walk through a puddle (there will be a whole article
just on teaching your horse to do this) without getting upset. Maybe you want a nice smooth transition from one gait to another. What you choose as your goal for the ride depends upon your skill level and the amount of timeyou have to ride that day.
OK. Got a goal? Good. Now, before you get to the horse (even if he is in the back yard) think of ways to accomplish your goal. Have plans and alternates in your mind before you mount.
Let’s use the example of me and my horse Book and the exercise halt and stay halted. This sound pretty easy, right? Well, my horse thinks that the instant I take up the slack in the reins he can go forward without waiting for the seat/leg aid to say "go forward now." This simple task can illustrate the concept of riding with a plan.
I have an hour to ride. If Book is obedient I will reward him by riding for less than an hour.
If Book is not getting the message, I will have to
stay longer. I know that every ride is either "training" or "untraining" the horse because he will remember everything. I know and accept that I may have to stay longer than I really want to.
Halting over and over would drive Book (that really is my horse’s name) to distraction. So would standing at the halt and having me let the reins out
and take them back up over and over. Book would start to back up in protest or even buck if I kept insisting, and yet he has to learn this simple lesson for my safety and his own.
So, I start with a nice easy five minutes of walking. But this is not just walking. I ask him to walk forward smartly, not slog around. I walk him
in circles and half circles or do right angle turns in each direction. This not only keeps the horse from being bored but it keeps his attention on me, which is where it should be. I start the warm-up on a loose rein
and gradually take up contact. If there are poles lying on the ground I walk him over the poles. This is the time he has to realize that it is time to work. And this is the time to get the muscles warmed up for themore strenuous exercises.
Once Book is walking on and warmed up I ask for a halt. Usually, the first time I ask Book ignores the signal (called an "aid") and walks and walks and walks. I keep my body saying "halt" until he halts.
Whew! Seems like it takes five minutes! My muscles are screaming! Halt. Pause.
Then we walk five strides. Halt. This time he gets the message a bit sooner. I hold the aid until he does what I want. Five strides. Halt. I have already figured out that Book’s reaction time is two strides from the "halt aid" to "halt" so I give the signal on the third stride. It doesn't take Book long to figure the pattern and try to anticipate, so the next part of the plan is to vary the number of strides and the amount of time for each halt to last. If he moves off before I ask, we halt again immediately. Now he has to listen! Still we are walking on circles or across the riding ring. Each halt becomes more definite on Book’s part.
All this takes about ten minutes. I know because I look at my watch. It only seems as if we have used the entire hour. We rest and walk on a completely loose rein for five minutes. No pressure for Book but he still
has to walk on smartly. No slogging. When he has had his rest we trot in a pattern, (which I already have in my plan). Since Book likes this sort of exercise, this is a reward for him. We try different speeds of trot and wego back to the walk for periods of time during the exercise. We work in both directions, more to the right because this is Book’s stiffer side.
To prevent boredom when we start the halting again we play games. We halt at every quarter of a circle. We halt at every fence post. We halt before
walking over a pole. Sometimes I let the reins loose and then take up contact again. Still the message is getting across but each halt will come at an unpredictable time. Each halt is a different length of time. If Book stays at the halt during this process, we go on to something he enjoys or we quit for the day. Otherwise we go back to a halt/walk game taking time for a rest every ten minutes and never working for more than ten minutes at a time on the halt routine.
By the time Book and I are ready for the summer show season, we will have done hundreds and hundreds of proper transitions (and hundreds and hundreds
of not-so-perfect transitions) and we will have become a team. Until then, the planning keeps us working toward our goal and keeps us in focus. There is no time to get bored. Frustrated? Sure. But not bored.
So, my advice is work with a plan to make the most of your riding sessions.
And send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and experiences.
One morning you go to school or show up at work and find that your trusted
teacher or boss is gone. You get no explanation but there is a new
teacher/boss waiting to greet you. She seems nice enough and greets you
with a smile and a friendly manner. No problem, right?
After introductions are made she says "kerlock" and looks expectantly at
you. You know she wants you to do something but you have no idea what it
is that you must do. You want to make a good impression but you can only
stand there because you don't understand what to do.
She repeats "kerlock" firmly and gently touches you on your left
shoulder. Clearly she wants you to move. You turn toward her to the left
because she touched your left shoulder. You look at her with a smile
thinking you have done the right thing.
She frowns. Obviously you did not guess correctly. She uses a very
authoritative voice repeating "kerlock" and she prods you, this time
between your shoulder and your elbow. OH! You move away a step. Surely,
that is what she wants. You wait for assurance.
She scowls openly and seems really displeased. By now you are getting the
feeling she thinks you are either really dumb or you are openly
defiant. She repeats with a clipped tone and an increase in volume
"kerlock!" and she prods you hard nearer your elbow. Gee, you better get
it right this time. You step in and turn away. Certainly this is what she
wants you to do?
She shows her frustration with a loud voice and a poke with a pen, in your
left side this time. One last "kerlock!" This time you seem to please her
with your step forward but you can't be sure because she simply repeats
"kerlock" and prods you close to your shoulder.
Does this seems really unfair to you? How can you possibly know what she
wants? Does she want a different movement each time since she is prodding
in a different place each time? Does she want the same movement each time
since she uses the same command?
If this were to continue over hours, days or weeks you would start to
resent her, probably you would get angry and perhaps even go out of your
way to avoid her. Right?
Before you continue, go back and start reading this article again
substituting "the rider" in the role of the teacher or boss and "the horse"
in the role of you.
Each time any rider, sits astride a horse, that horse is being
trained. The horse will remember everything. Thank goodness he also seems
willing to forgive.
In light of this truth about training what can the rider do? What can you
do? After all, you are a beginning rider. You are taking lessons. How
can you be expected to train the horse when you are just beginning
yourself? And yet, you are training the horse.
There are many good books and many good trainers. This article is not
going to explain how to give an aid or when to give an aid. What follows
are some things you can do to advance in the sport of riding and
training. These are basic principles to training that apply to a rider of
any age and experience whether she is mounting for the first time or she is
an Olympic rider. These are simple principles which can and should be used
by every rider for every ride.
Try very hard right from the start to put the leg, seat and body in the
right position of balance (alignment) then struggle to hold this for as
long as possible with isometric tension but not fiercely holding tension
(the leg on the horse should feel to him like a very gentle hug.) I will
say from experience that in the beginning to hold the position for one
stride is a miracle and to hold it for two strides is positively worthy of
Give an aid in exactly the same way and in exactly the same place on the
horse's flank each and every time. This takes intense concentration on the
rider's part. After a while, consistency will become second nature. Start
at the halt and then go into a walk.
Take time to build muscle memory in the rider and confidence in the
horse. All this basic training may seem boring at the time but mastering
each small step in turn will pay off handsomely at the upper levels.
Most horses will not make the correct response to an aid the first
time. The rider will not be completely consistent each and every time she
gives an aid. Remember that the horse has feelings and a brain.
Each rider is different, each horse is different, each aid is different
and each day is different. It will take time (lots of it) for the horse to
figure out what is expected. Patience and repetition is necessary.
PRAISE THE HORSE!
When the horse gets even one small step correct, reward and praise
instantly and as effusively as if you had just won the Grand Prix.
Example: reward for a halt is a simple as taking the pressure off the
horse whether it is rein or leg or seat pressure. With most riders,
reaching to pat the horse will change position and balance so it is better
to use voice and other more subtle forms of praise. But do praise. Be
absolutely certain that the horse understands his response was correct.
Praise often. The horse will try to please. It is in his
nature. Praising the horse makes the rider feel good, too.
GIVE THE HORSE TIME TO LEARN!
Expect that the horse has a learning curve of 3 weeks to 3 months.
Within this time frame and within each work session allow the horse time to
assimilate a new aid before adding something else, especially for the
beginner rider who will not be consistent.
GIVE THE HORSE TIME TO LEARN!
Don't work something "to death." Go back to something the horse knows or
add a few minutes of relaxation for the horse then repeat the lesson or new
aid. A short but successful work session is best.
GIVE THE HORSE TIME TO LEARN!
Make the work fun for the horse and rider but never forget that it is work.
DON'T BLAME THE HORSE!
When something isn't going right it is easy to blame "the stupid
[stubborn, lazy, mean] horse."
DON'T BLAME THE HORSE!
Look to the rider first for inconsistency or imbalance. Chances are the
lack of communication is on the rider's side. A bad day at school or work
or home can affect the rider and therefore affect the horse.
DON'T BLAME THE HORSE!
Sometimes the horse will not want to work. He can't tell the rider if he
is sore or feeling off or tired. There will be "off" days for the horse as
well as for the rider.
Expect that the horse won't do things right each and every time.
Believe that the horse is trying to figure out what the rider is asking.
There will be times when use of a crop, whip or spur is necessary, but ask
first with the proper aid(s). Ask more firmly with the proper aid(s).
If it becomes necessary to use a stronger aid, make it swift and specific
and instant, but always make it a last resort. It is not desirable for the
horse to learn that he can wait for the crop before he must obey.
CONTROL FRUSTRATION and ANGER!
A rider will get frustrated. When the frustration comes, change the plan.
CONTROL FRUSTRATION and ANGER!
Ask for something the horse knows and praise the effort, then go back to
the new thing.
CONTROL FRUSTRATION and ANGER!
Get off and walk a bit, then remount and continue.
For each new thing start slowly. Spend quite a lot of time at the
walk. Doing a new thing at the walk gives the rider time to think and
react while allowing the horse to proceed at a relaxed pace. Even the top
riders will start a new movement or aid with a new horse at the walk. They
know that to undo a mistake is much harder than to take the time to start
slowly and build confidence.
REWARD THE HORSE!
End a riding session on a good note even if the only thing that went right
was the last halt. The horse lives "for the moment" and does not
understand that a rider can remember the frustration of a few minutes,
hours or days before.
After a working session find a way to reward the horse: a good, thorough
grooming, a shower on a hot day, hand walking or a treat.
Most of these principles for riding seem very basic and simple.
All together they outline a humane and kind way for the horse to learn and a
common sense way for the rider to work.
Questions and comments can be e-mailed to Diane at email@example.com
I hope this article has been of some help for both owners and riders who
have visited The Animal Channel.
Comments can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com any time.
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