Getting in Shape

As the weather starts warming up, and it continues to stay late longer, many riders are going to pick up riding again after a long winter break.  It is tempting to just go out and ride all weekend when the temperatures rise, but remember if you haven’t ridden all winter you as well as your horse are probably a little of condition for a long ride.  For this reason it is important that you and your horse ease back into a riding routine.

Horses are natural athletes; however, when we ride them, we ask them to exert themselves more than they normally would.  If you just pull your horse out of the pasture and ride him hard for hours, it can leave him sore.  This in turn can make him grumpy the next time you go to ride.   I like to start getting my horses in shape with short 40-45 minute rides the first week.  During these rides I do a lot of bending, flexing, walking and trotting with a little loping thrown in.  Over the next few weeks I increase my riding time and increase the amount of time I spend working on loping, lead changes and other strenuous maneuvers.  I may even allow my horses a day off here and there after a particularly hard workout.  The day off would consist of some light ground work and maybe a little riding with only flexing, bending and walking.

It is also important to get yourself in shape for riding.  An overweight rider is more of a burden to your horse.  And if you are already in pretty good shape, riding requires the use of muscles that aren’t necessarily used in other exercise routines.  Riding requires a tremendous amount of core strength to help maintain your balance.  Also if you haven’t ridden in a while a long ride will leave you stiff and sore.

After winter filled with cold days and little activity, you need to start your horse off slow in the spring.  Begin conditioning your horse with short rides to start, then build up to longer rides.  By doing this you and your horse will be less likely to suffer injuries or soreness.  You horse will then find your riding sessions more enjoyable, and he will be more willing to do what is asked of him.

Be A Good Leader

All herds have a leader.  The herd leader is one that they trust to lead them safely where ever they go.  It’s the horse that the other horses respect and will follow any where.  To your horse you are part of his herd.  If you want your horse to go where you tell him to he must accept you as a leader.

There are three basic ways to get your horse to do something.  The first is to force your horse to do what you want.  You use intimidation as a tool and whip or beat your horse into doing everything.  The second way is to bribe your horse.  You use a bucket of grain on the other side of an obstacle to get your horse to cross.

Then there is the way that falls in between.  You are nether overly aggressive nor overly wimpy.  You earn your horse’s respect by asking them to do something, then applying enough pressure to get your horse to do the task at hand.  And as soon as your horse makes an effort in the right direction, you release pressure.  This person must be assertive so the horse will know exactly what is wanted from him.

If you watch your horses interact in their pen, you will see which one is the leader.  He will get first pick of the food, and if he goes somewhere the others follow him.  Now to get his buddies to go with him or do what he wants does he beat them or bribe them?  Of coarse not.  He may bite one of his herd mates to get a point across, but most of the time he will just lay his ears back and move his head to get the others where he wants them.

Pictured to the right is Mirandah and Dollar in a trail class.  The object of this obstacle is for the rider to dismount and lead the horse over the post.  If you’ll notice Dollar isn’t paying any attention to Mirandah.  And Mirandah is pulling on him to get his attention.  Now Dollar isn’t afraid of this obstacle .  He’s just pretty sure Mirandah isn’t his leader.    If she was just practicing at home she would have several options.  One would be to get a whip and smack Dollar around.  Another would be to get some grain and walk over the log and coax him over.  But perhaps the best way to get him over, would be  to stand at the log with her reins in her left arm extended over the log.  Then swing a rope (or stick and string or whip) with her right hand towards his rump till he decides to move forward.  She would start swinging pretty far away from him to start and continue to get closer.  He may even require a tap, but as soon as he starts to go she would quit swinging the rope.

The same would be true if she was mounted.  She could start by swinging the reins back and forth over the saddle horn.  Progress to snapping them on the leather of the saddle.  And if that didn’t work she could pop him on the rump.

It’s a little different if the obstacle is something that frightens the horse, such as a water crossing.  With something like this, I like to approach and retreat from the obstacle while progressively get closer. Eventually you will get close enough for your horse to check things out, and eventually he will cross.

Being assertive with your horse can help establish you as his leader.  Respect and trust are also major components that you must earn from your horse for him to look at you as his leader.  Once it is established that you are a good leader your horse will be willing to do almost anything for you.