Pic of the week: horse tails


Photo by Dave Hamster

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5 tips on how to have a happy stallion


Uron M

Dutch warmblood stallion Uron M is one of the happiest horses I know. I got to know him when had stabled Triple Fire in the same yard as him for over a year. Uron is a prize winning elementary- medium dressage horse and show horse and a sought after breeding stallion. What’s so amazing is that he is an absolute gentleman, he has a tangible bond to Mandy and he almost seems to glow with glee. I asked Mandy Schroder, his rider and care giver, and a professional horsewoman, how to keep a stallion happy. She gave me the following advice:

1. Routine
Your stallion must know what to expect each day. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be done at exactly the same time each day. It does mean that he should expect consistency in activities. For example feeding times, to be groomed and worked once a day, he can expect to go to the paddock each day.

2. Socialize
Stallions need to socialize with other horses. They need to touch, see and smell other horses and not just in a breeding sense. Uron does not go into a paddock with other horses as the risk of injury is too high. He plays over the very high paddock fence with an old retired pony. He also has a window between his stable and the stable next to his so that he can socialize with the gelding next to him. Lastly he hacks out with other mares and geldings.

Mandy warns that this isn’t possible with all stallions though. Stallions all have their own personalities and libidos. It’s important to work out what’s possible for each one.

3. Work
Stallions have a huge work ethic. They are naturally the drivers and protectors of the herd. To keep your stallion happy you should give him work to do. This could be dressage, in hand work, hacking, jumping, whatever you want. Uron works six days a week. While he is a competitive dressage horse, his work routine is varied and includes dressage, hacking and jumping.

4. Consistent rules
Consistent behavior and rules are required from the rider and handler at all times. This way the horse knows what to expect at all times. Mandy explained: “I have a wide black line on one side is good behavior and the other is bad. One toe on it is not acceptable. If he goes onto the black line I’ll give a verbal reprimand.” When asked for an example Mandy explained: “If we are walking and a stallion wants to bulge a shoulder, I never allow it. That way I don’t have to deal with a bracing neck later”.

5. Love
Mandy ascribes having a happy stallion to loads of love that she showers on him. If anyone sees them together the bond between them is clear. I asked her to tell us how she built that bond with Uron. She said “I spend loads of time with Uron. I groom him myself, tack him up myself and walk him cool myself. I’ve made sure that he is not just a number to me. I sometimes just stand and lean against him and talk to him. He knows my voice and my touch.

While I know what Mandy spoke to me about works for her stallion, it also seems to me to be very good advice for horse owners in general. I’ve been putting it into practice and seeing very positive results.

If you want to see more on Uron, who is a really wonderful horse and very easy to fall in love with; and if you want to read more about Mandy who is the ultimate professional you can look them up on on facebook on Uron M.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

The value of grid work in training show jumpers


Photo by Thowra_uk

Every show jumper should use grid work in training. The benefits are enormous to both horse and rider. Just be sure to pitch the level of work you ask to the level of experience the horse and rider can reasonably do.

For the purposes of this blog I’m going to define grid work very broadly – from a related distance of two poles on the ground a series of obstacles in a line or in a circle on a related distance. Examples of given below of different exercises (although the distances are not given). Note that both these exercises are not for beginners.

So what are the benefits of grid work? They include:

  • Improving a riders balance
  • Improving the riders seat
  • Improving the horses technique e.g. sharpening it up in front, improving its bascule, helping it lengthen or shorten between fences
  • Improving the horse’s balance
  • Improving the horse and rider’s confidence
  • Allowing you to correct specific areas through specific exercises
  • Allowing you to practice straightness and riding through lines accurately
  • Teaching riders to ride with finesse and allowing the horses to jump without hindering them
  • Adding variety to training

In order to really benefit from grid work it’s important to:

  • Start slowly and correctly, and then build up the exercises
  • Make sure that your distances are correct!
  • Don’t overdo it. It’s hard work for the horse both mentally and physically
  • Have someone on the ground to assist or advise you. It not only helps with poles but it’s critical for advice on your position and how you ride the exercise. Remember if the rider is correct, the horse will be correct

If you found this interesting you may also want to read:

Jumping your horse in balance: 3 training exercises for the horse rider

Exercises at a walk with a show jumping pole to increase your horse’s flexibility and obedience

Circle grid work exercise for training a show jumper

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Just for fun: the dressage test


I saw the following on a friend’s facebook page and thought I had to add it to the blog. I think its fabulous. I’m not sure who the author is so I’m not sure who to credit to. If anyone knows please let us know so we can give credit to this really talented person.

Improving your relationship with your horse for improved riding


Off Guard grazing with my daughter and me

One of the wonderful things about riding is that it offers us the opportunity to learn for a lifetime. There are always new techniques to master. We can always gain new insights into ourselves. Our bodies adapt wonderfully to the demands of physical work and stress. And there are the challenges of our horses and the partnerships we develop with them.

For Pat Burgess a partnership is essential.  I read some of her philosophy recently and felt quite inspired:

“At the heart of my philosophy is the partnership with the horse. It is so important. The horse must know that you are the boss and he must develop trust and confidence is you, and respect for you. People try to establish dominance with whips, strong bits and so on, but it is not that at all….

The partnership must be built on trust, mutual respect and discipline. You must have an affinity with the horse – a love and understanding of him. A true ‘horse-man’ achieves the perfect partnership by becoming one with the horse on every level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. To achieve that bond you must be finely tuned to each other, using your body language and thoughts to communicate instinctively. That harmony is the difference between mediocrity and brilliance. The horse has to want to jump, it has to be his choice – but you have to make it his choice though your intention becoming his intention. This will only happen if you progress slowly so that the work is easy and you build his confidence – it cannot happen by force”. (From Celebrity Jumping Exercises compiled by Caroline Orme and published by David and Charles 2009)

I’ve been lucky enough to be riding my new horse for the last 2 months. In doing so I’ve had time to reflect on how to build a new partnership and been building a new partnership. In doing so I’ve worked much to the philosophy Pat describes above. The kind of things I have been doing include:

  • Spending time with my horse – tacking him up, untacking him, taking him out to graze and talking to him;
  • Having good contact with him that he enjoys and has begun to seek out – grooming him (he was scared before), just standing next to him and stroking him (he now moves to me for it);
  • Maintaining discipline on the ground – he is not allowed to rub his bridle, he is not allowed to just walk off when I have dismounted etc;
  • Being consistent in my aids and demands when riding as well as my praise;
  • Being reasonable in the demands I make on him and placing him in the best possible position to meet those demands. For example I ask him to jump positively and I always have an instructor on the ground that I have enormous faith in to assist and advise me.
  • Flatwork, flatwork and more flatwork.  Then just having some fun on outrides.

These have definitely helped me mesh with my new horse. They also help me with Shangai Affair. If you have any other advice you would like to offer us that works, or any feedback on my ideas, please let us know.

 

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Training your horse: What’s in a walk?


Photo by Bob Haarmans

I’ve been reprimanded by my coach on more than more than one occasion for not walking on my horse correctly. ‘You are not walking with purpose from the stable to the arena’. ‘You walk round thinking about work’. ‘Remember walk is one of the paces’. Well, I have to say, at first I thought I just wanted to be left alone. I quite like walking around on my horse – dreaming and relaxing if you like. She was quite correct. My dressage score reflected a weakness in my walk. But now, well, something has changed. If you have to use Oprah’s language – I’ve had “a light bulb moment”. I can’t say quite when and how the light came on. But I can say that my view regarding walking has shifted. The following motivates me to take the walk more seriously:

  • If you don’t have control in the walk you won’t have it in the trot and canter.
  • It’s a bit easier to master other challenges at the walk because you are not dealing with suspension and it’s slower.
  • If you don’t have your horse working through its back at the walk and taking the contact, it won’t in the trot and canter. You have to be able to show that the rider gives and horse understands the correct aids at the walk.
  •  You show the horse that your require activity and obedience at all times and with no exception. The horse should go where you want it to go in an active and relaxed manner as a matter of course. Requiring an active walk helps build trust, partnership and a work ethic.
  • Lastly, it reminds me that as the rider, I can be relaxed but I must still be the leader in the partnership. I must still be mindful of what I am doing for both my and my horse’s safety. And that riding is always a learning experience. We can reinforce bad habits or good habits if we are not careful.  If I’m just walking along to the arena – I’d rather enforce the good.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Ride your horse with a plan


Photo by DVPonyClub

I always think that riding isn’t difficult, but riding well is extremely difficult. A good example is an article I was reading on how to ride a straight line. My husband (a non-rider) thought it was easy and offered the following advice “doesn’t it mean you don’t drink before you ride?” Alas, as you may well know he was horribly wrong. The article informed us, in 20 points what a rider has to do to ride a straight line.

While some of us are more goal oriented as people than others, it’s still important to have a goal or a plan when working with horses and riding. That’s because we work in partnership with a horse. Its part of our responsibility as a horse rider to help ensure the horse does not learn bad habits (at worst) but develops and thrives (at best). This is true no matter what the age of the horse. This does not have to mean that the horse develops into a competition horse. It can mean that the horse improves its balance, or builds muscle, or gains confidence, and/or increases suppleness.On the ground it can mean that the horse maintains or improves stable manners, or becomes easier for a farrier to work with or remains a real gentleman.

Horses learn from repetition. Each time we are lax or sloppy in our habits, or each time we let our horses get away with something, we allow them to learn something ‘new’. This may be something we don’t want them to be learning because we are not paying attention or not challenging them. Planning what we want out of each ride – even if it’s just a hack on our hack, helps us ensure we maintain discipline.

It’s a bit easier to work to a plan if you are a competitive rider and you have a competition programme set out. The key things to look out for are the dates of your shows; the level of fitness required of you and your horse; the condition your horse should be in; and special areas you should be working on well before the show. Show preparation takes a huge amount of work and cannot be done in the last week or two.

Given the importance of planning, it’s also important to set a goal for the year as well. Setting goals helps focus the mind and provide a context for the plans you make. It also helps keep you motivated. Goals are deeply personal – so choose what is important to you. You and your horse will be living it out in 2012.

My goal for 2012 is “to consistently jump technically good rounds on happy and confident horses.” Hopefully Off Guard and Shanghai Affair will appreciate it.

Wishing you and your horses all the best for 2012.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

5 tips for good show jumping jump offs


Photo by cartese

There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping a really good jump off. I always want to be the horse and rider combination that jumps a good time, consistently using good technique, with a happy confident horse. I don’t want to be the person galloping round and thinking I’m lucky I made it. It’s not sustainable and it’s not possible over larger courses.

So what does it take to jump a good jump off?

1.  Shorter lines

Look for the shortest lines that are reasonable for you to take.  Remember that you should consider how supple your horse is and how experienced both you and your horse are. If you aren’t able to angle a fence then don’t. Practice at home first.

2. Start and finish

Remember to cross the start and finish lines as close to line or the jump as possible. This may mean that you alter the most obvious line to the jump.

3. Don’t lengthen or gallop

Remember that shorter lines and clear rounds win. Don’t go faster and longer on an ordinary track. You risk lengthening your stride and flattening into fences. A stronger stride into a fence also makes it more difficult to make a tight turn afterwards.

Make sure that you are keeping your horses hocks underneath him or her and that you are riding your horse forward into your hands. This is especially important through your corners!

4.  Let your horse jump

Keep your body as still as possible over the fence. Keep a supple hip let your horse determine the amount of forward bend you need. This will help your horse lift through the shoulder and lessen the chance of a knock in front. It will also allow you a quicker recovery for a quick turn. Look in the direction you are going to turn when you are going over the jump. This will help you land on the correct leading leg.

5.  Be organised and prepared

Plan your jump off course in advance. Go through it in your head time and time again. When you get into the ring you shouldn’t think – you should just do. (See our blog on using visualisation for improving performance).

Good luck – jump and enjoy.

 

You may also be interested in  reading our blogs:

1.  Jumping your horse in balance: 3 training exercises for the horse rider:

https://thehorseriderblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/jumping-your-horse-in-balance-3-training-exercises-for-the-horse-rider/

2.  Visualization for better horse riding performance: https://thehorseriderblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/visualization-for-better-horse-riding-performance/

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

5 things to consider when naming your new horse


Photo by arjecahn

Choosing your new horse’s name is fun and exciting. It can also be quite daunting – there are so many names to choose from. And of course you will want a really nice name that suits your horse. So what should you take into account when choosing a name?

1.  Sex

Some names are only suited to mares. Other names are only for stallions or geldings. You may want a sex related name – especially if your horse is really ‘lady like’ or ‘quite the man’.

Examples of good names for:

  • male horses are King’s Ransom, Knight’s Honour, Magic Man, Hunter
  • female horses are Lady Luck, Sherry, Princess’ Pride, and Honey Girl

2.  Size

Small ponies just cry out for certain names that large horses can’t be called. Think of the horses in the photo above when looking at the examples of the names below.

Examples of good names for:

  • small ponies: Baby Shoes, Bubbles, Fudge, Shorty
  • larger horses: Big Red, Carry a King, Critical Mass, Neptune’s Trident

3.  Colour

You may want to think of choosing a name related to your horse’s colour or markings. Who can forget Black Beauty?

Examples of good horses names for:

  • black horses: Ebony, Black Velvet
  • grey horses: Silver Flash, Moon Dust
  • chestnut horses: Red Rover, Spun Gold
  • paint horses: Matchbox, True Colours, and Indian Feather
  • horses with socks: Socks, Three Socks

4.  Breed/ Origin

You may want to choose a name related to your horse’s breed or origin. For example, if your horse is an Arabian you may want to think of an Arabian name. A French name or Dutch name may suit a French or Dutch warmblood e.g. Amor, or Zolinder.

5.  Character

You may want a name that reflects your horse’s character. You certainly don’t want a name that is the opposite. Examples of names reflecting character are Braveheart, Shy Boy, Serenity, Be Happy, Best Behaviour, and Noble Cause.

Best of luck choosing your horse’s name.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Horse training: 5 tips to create impulsion


Photo by Bob Haarmans

Think of impulsion as the horse’s willingness and energy to go forward. Almost like a car – when you put your foot on the accelerator you want it to move forward immediately. Power would be great too. So how do you create impulsion when schooling your horse?

1.  Use transitions

Transitions can help get your horses hocks underneath him or her. They can help get your horse pushing off his or her hock. A good exercise is to trot, walk for one step and then immediately trot again. Repeat this at least 8 times on each rein. Do more if necessary throughout your session.

2.  Lengthening and shortening

Choose a pace e.g. trot. Then lengthen for 4 strides, shorten for 4 strides and keep repeating the exercise. The constant changes mean that you have to be quite demanding of your horse. You have to collect him or her on each shortening. If your horse is more balanced, do this exercise on a 20m circle.

3.  Pole work

Walking, trotting or cantering poles help make your horse think where her or her legs are being placed. They also help build strength and improve balance.

4.  Ensure you are giving the correct aids

Impulsion is created from behind and into the hand. You may need someone on the ground to check the balance and timing of your leg aids to your hand.

5.  Ensure your horse is listening to your aids

Don’t nag with your leg. You should not be closing a leg with each stride. If you are, your horse is probably not working with impulsion. Your leg should generally be at passive your horse’s side. Your horse should be working into your hands and you should be using your legs to instruct or correct your horse once in a while. Then you know that your horse is working with impulsion. If you are nagging with your legs your horse is not listening to your aids. If this is happening you should apply leg and give a tap with your whip to get a response.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Using visualization when you ride at shows


Photo by Dave Catchpole

Horse riding is as much a mind game as it is about technique and being physically fit. In fact, you can be as fit as you like, and have the best technique in the world – but if you are not mentally in the right place you won’t be able to perform at your best.

So what exactly is visualization and how can you use it?

Visualization, in the context of horse riding, involves imagining performing an exercise with your horse. If done in a specific way it can positively impact your behaviour. (See below for tips). I use visualization as a key tool to help me prepare for my show jumping competitions.

The night before a show I will, for example, recall my jumping in past shows where I did well. I will remember specific lines that I jumped in detail. I will remember specific jump-offs. I play them though my head like movies. I also access how I felt. Then I imagine how I will jump the next day. I imagine jumping in a rhythm, maintaining impulsion, feeling my horse light in my hands, meeting my jumps spot on, keeping my head up and my shoulders back etc. My visualization almost has a tick, tick, tick in my head for each canter stride to help me keep the rhythm in my head, especially as I go round corners and before and after each fence. I don’t change the beat in my head. I also have a positive feeling with this visualization – everything is smooth, controlled and confident. I also see my horse as happy and relaxed. In fact I feel her happy and relaxed.

When I walk the course at the show the next day I take a lot of time to transpose the visualization onto the course. I don’t just memorize the course – I visualize myself jumping it as I had prepped the night before. I run myself through the course very slowly, visualizing myself jumping it in detail, numerous times. If I don’t do this I can lose the focus that I need in the ring and you can see it in my performance.

Visualizing performance becomes even more important for jump-offs where you have less time to think as you jump. You have to ride the tight turns smoothly – almost instinctively. It helps to run through the course in your brain a few times in slow and deliberate detail. You almost have to take each stride in your mind – think how you will ride it and how you will feel when you ride it. Make it as life like as you can. When you do the course it should be as though you are doing it again and just perfecting it.

Remember that proper visualization takes real concentration, time and hard work. But you will see the results.

Tips for effective visualization

  1. Imagine you are watching yourself achieving your goal e.g. watch the dressage test
  2. Imagine what you will be doing in detail  e.g. you have a sense of the horse’s hind legs engaging under you as you apply your inside leg
  3. Imagine how you feel and what you feel  e.g. you feel relaxed and focused; you are thinking that you are going to enjoy yourself
  4. Take time and concentrate
  5. Repeat the visualization at least 4 – 5 times, more if necessary.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Update on Horse Thought


Writing two blogs can be quite tricky. I’m always torn between which blog I should post on. I really should decide how I should differentiate between the two. At this point Horse Thought seems to focus a bit more on sports psychology, competing and training horses.

Readers of this blog – please don’t feel neglected! There are so many of you that I have come to know and I really value the comments that you make. I also appreciate the many of you that read the blog! Its so rewarding. If you want to catch up on a bit more reading and on what I’ve been up to please have a look at:

When your horse is scared on trails

Riding circles in a dressage arena

Caring for your horse at a show

Circle grid work exercise for show jumpers

 

Best,

Tanya 9 April 2012

 

 

 

Riders 4 helmets


I came across a fabulous campaign on Facebook called Riders 4 Helmets. The campaign highlights how important it is to wear a helmet.

It got me thinking to why I always wear a helmet and why I insist my daughter wears one.

Horse riding is a dangerous sport. We fall, we get kicked, horses stand on us, branches knock our heads and the list goes on. The trick is to reduce risk and minimize injuries. Make sure that injuries happen as little as often.  And ensure that when injuries do happen they are as minor as possible.

Head injuries are one of the most serious forms of injury you can get. This is because if you are badly injured the consequences are severe including concussion, seizures, skull fracture, coma and even death. If the brain is damaged it can take a long time to recover, and in some cases the damage is irreparable.  Remember – we only have one brain!

We ensure that we always ride with ASTM/ SEI certified helmets that are correctly fitted and strapped on every time we ride.

I just think that horses are living creatures – they sometimes feel ‘a little too well’, they get frights or panic, and sometimes they are also just ‘silly. It’s for these reasons that we also love them and love working with them. But it also means that we must just be careful. After all, we want happy and safe riding.

How do your values affect your riding?


Photo by Mister.Tee

The following is a list of some of the values that are critical to achieving excellence in equestrian sports:

  • Hard work and persistence even in the face of challenges and obstacles
  • A commitment to staying in top physical condition
  • A commitment to continuous learning
  • A desire to nurture excellence in the individual horse and the partnership with the rider
  • An appreciation for detail

We may not all be competitive riders. However, we can all learn from the list above.

Our riding values affect our riding behaviour. For example, if we value the welfare of our horses we will treat them with respect and care. If we value continuous learning we find it easier to attend regular lessons with our riding instructor.

It’s worth making an inventory of your riding values. Then see whether you are able to live each value. I’ll give 2 examples below – one for a competitive rider, and one for a non-competitive rider.

Example of some values and behaviours for a competitive rider

(Fill it in as though you hold the value and put in examples of the behaviour carried out or not)

Value Behaviour
A commitment to staying in top physical condition Ride, do gym, keep weight at right level
Desire to win Try and win at each show unless I am training an inexperienced horse
Commitment to learn Have lessons with coach three times a week
Appreciation for detail Not managing – must work on!!! Somehow can’t keep focused.

 

Example of some values and behaviours for a non-competitive rider(Fill it in as though you hold the value and put in examples of the behaviour carried out or not)
Value Behaviour
Spending time with horses Spend time grooming my horse, riding my horse, holding my horse while   he grazes, feed him carrots
Enjoy learning Have lesson once a week, watch my friends’ lessons, read magazine and   internet
Want to improve Identify areas for improvement and work on them
Doing what I love and am passionate about Anything to do with horses

 

Identifying our values helps us identify what we want out of riding. For example: Do we just want to be around horses? Do we want to just hack? What do we want from lessons? How seriously do we want to compete?

But riding also demands certain behaviours, even if our values are not aligned. For me, there are certain non-negotiables – behaviour regarding the safety and well-being of the horse and rider are most important.

 

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”