Pre-ride Equipment Check

A pre-ride tack check is something every rider should do before mounting up, but even some of the most experienced riders have tack mishaps because they missed something before mounting up.  Growing up I had my share of tack problems, most of which could have been prevented if I had only taken a few extra minutes to make sure my tack was in good working condition and put on properly.

ribsJust recently I had an accident where I was riding a young horse with a saddle that I failed to tighten up all the way.  The saddle slipped, the colt freaked out and I ended up with a few broken ribs and a banged up knee.  If I had only double checked to make sure my cinch was tight before I had gotten on, I could have saved my self a lot of pain and money.  The picture to the right is of my underarm after I landed in the panels when my saddle slipped. The video link here is a case where a loose saddle slips off, and the rider, Mark Lyon, takes a spill.  This was during a 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover.  Mark actually got back on the horse and finished the ride to finish first in the event.  And neither Mark or his horse suffered any injuries.  2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover Winner Mark Lyon and Christian

Checking Your Tack

Saddle Pad

The saddle pad is pretty easy to check before putting it on your horse.  Just make sure it is free of any objects that can irritate your horse such as stickers or a piece of hay.  Also if I notice there is a lot of hair built up on the underside of the pad I will take a curry comb and brush it off.

Saddle

Your saddle has so many parts to check.  I start with making sure my  cinch straps or billets are in good working condition.  Make sure there is no uneven wear on them.  Also make sure they are not cracked or dried out.  A couple times a year I will oil my straps with Neatsfoot oil to help keep the leather soft. Make sure your cinch is fairly clean and there are no broken strands if it is a rope cinch.  Also check to make sure all the parts of your stirrup fenders are in good shape.  Make sure they are not split, thin or cracked.  Then before you mount your horse double check your cinch and make sure it is snug.  I usually will saddle my horse and only cinch them up half way tight.  Then I will do a little ground work and tighten the cinch a little more.  And I will then bridle my horse and finish tightening up the cinch.  By cinching in three steps it helps prevent my horse from becoming “cinchy”.  Also make sure to have your rear cinch snug enough that it isn’t hanging down.  If you leave that rear cinch hanging down, it really isn’t doing anything but hanging there.  Also it leaves a place for a horse to catch his foot if he happens to kick at a fly. It doesn’t need to be tight, but don’t leave it hanging clear down.

Bridle

When checking your bridle you need to make sure all the leather is in nice condition, free from any cracks and not dried out.  If your bridle has Chicago screws make sure they are all securely fasten.  Chicago screws have a tendency of becoming loose after a while so it is good to check them every time you ride.  If the Chicago screw is in a place that I don’t need it to ever come out, I will put a dot of glue in side the screw before fastening it.  Make sure your reins are securely fastened to your bit, and also be sure your bit is adjusted correctly in your horses mouth. I like to have the bit so it is just starting to make a wrinkle in the corner of my horse’s mouth.  Other people adjust their bits looser, and others adjust it tighter.   I have found that the start of one wrinkle works best for most horses.

Well hopefully before you hop on that pony of yours next time you will take a peek at your tack just to make sure it is all in good working condition.  You never know it might just save your life.

 

Never Enough Desensitizing

In my opinion, you can never desensitize your horse enough.  There will always be something new you can introduce your horse to.  And even with massive desensitizing there is still no guarantee that your horse will not spook. No matter how broke or old a horse is they still can spook.  However, we can  lessen the chances of your horse spooking by desensitizing them to many different “scary” things before we start riding.

After my colts are leading well, are comfortable with me brushing them everywhere and will let me touch them everywhere on their legs and body with the rope and a blanket, I break out the scary stuff:  plastic bags and tarps.

First I will work with the plastic sack because it is smaller than a tarp and easier to handle.  Begin with it wadded up in your hand and only a small portion sticking out.  Let your horse see it, and then crinkle the plastic a little so the horse can hear the noise it is going to make.  Warning:  this make spook your horse, so be sure to have a good hold on him.  Let your horse sniff the sack, then starting on your horse’s neck rub the bag all over his body.  Take your time.  If you rush you may cause your horse to get uncomfortable or to spook.  If he starts to get a little antsy, back up to a place where he was okay being touched with the sack.

Once he is comfortably being rubbed with the sack wadded up, unfold it a little and go through the process of letting him see it, sniff it and then rubbing it over his body.  After you’ve done this you can attach the sack to a stick and repeat the process once again.  Make sure to take your time.  If he is ever uncomfortable go back to a place where he is calm then work from there.

Desensitizing your horse to a tarp can be slightly more of a challenge, mainly because the tarp is a little more awkward to work with.  Also because it is a little bigger it can seem more threatening to your horse.  I start with a tarp that is around 8 X 10 feet in size.  When I first start introducing it to my horse, I fold it up so it’s a pretty small square.  Then I preform the same steps I use for desensitizing my horse to anything:  First I show them the tarp;

Next I let the horse sniff the tarp;

Then I will touch my horse’s nose with the tarp;

I then proceed to rub the tarp on the horse’s neck;

You need to be aware of your horse’s body language.  In the following photo you can see by Cobain’s body language that he is becoming extremely uncomfortable with the tarp.

When my horse starts to get nervous like this, I back off and let him sniff the tarp again and start the process over.

After your horse lets your rub one side of his body pretty easily with the tarp, repeat the process on the other side.

Notice in the last picture above how Cobain’s head is lower.  This is a sign that he is starting to relax.

Once I am able to rub the folded up tarp all over my horse on both sides of his body, I partially unfold the tarp and repeat the process on both sides of the horse’s body.

The ultimate goal here is to get your horse comfortable with the tarp touching anywhere on his body.  Eventually you will be rubbing your horse with the tarp completely opened up.  You are not done with this process of desensitizing until you can have the tarp opened completely and pull it over your horse’s back, head and through his legs.  It may take you several days to accomplish this.  Take your time.  Don’t get in a rush and skip desensitizing your horse thoroughly. After you’ve moved on to ground driving or even riding your horse, you may want to come back and work with the plastic sack or the tarp just to help keep him trusting you and well desensitized.  Remember you can never do enough desensitizing.

 

 

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.

Safe Winter Rides

If you are like me and don’t have a heated arena to ride in, you may not get much riding done over the winter months.  But when there is a nice day, it’s great to catch a few hours in the saddle.  Winter riding can be dangerous.  Here are a few tips to keep you and your horse safe.

Check the Footing

Footing is a major problem in the winter.  A nice layer of fresh snow will provide nice footing for a bare-foot horse, provided there isn’t any ice under it.  Of coarse ice is dangerous for both the horse and rider.  A horse carrying a rider is more likely to slip.  Mud can be just a dangerous as ice.  Many times only the surface is muddy and the ground underneath is frozen, creating a very slippery surface.

Dress for the Occasion

This is important for both you and your horse.  If your horse is typically stabled or blanketed, you may consider a rump rug or quarter sheet to help keep your horse warm.  For yourself it is best to dress in layers.  Make sure to have gloves and a hat along.  Even if it seems warm, the temperatures in the winter can change suddenly.  Bulky snow boots are probably not your best choice for foot wear.  It is important to wear boots that won’t get wedged in your stirrups.

Warm the Bit

We all remember the scene from The Christmas Story where Ralphie gets his tongue stuck to the flag pole.  If you don’t warm your bit your horse is going to feel like Ralphie.  Even if your horse’s tongue doesn’t stick to the bit, it isn’t comfortable for him to have a frozen chunk of metal in his mouth.  I try to keep my bridles in the house, or warm the bit with my hands before bridling up.

Stay Close to Home

When riding in the winter, it may seem warmer than it actually is.  For that reason I like to ride close to home.  I try not to  ride far enough away that I can’t make it back to the barn in a half hour.  Usually I make several short trips out, instead of setting out for one long trip.  That way if my horse happens to pull a muscle or I get cold, we aren’t too far away.

Familiar Ground

To avoid any unforeseen riding hazards, I try to ride in an area that I am familiar with.  Snow covering can hide holes that your horse can step in and injure himself.  It is best to ride on paths that you know.

Pedicure Please

If you plan on riding often in the winter months you may consider horse shoes with pads and ice caulks.  If you are an occasional winter rider you can help prevent snowballs from forming in your horse’s hooves by coating the sole of his hooves with petroleum jelly.  Also it’s not a bad idea to take a hoof pick along and occasionally check your horse’s hooves for packed snow.

Slow and Steady

Because your horse has extra fur (and maybe some extra pounds), it’s best not to work him too hard and get him sweaty.  A sweaty horse can cool too quickly and become cold.   If it is necessary to work your horse up to a sweat, make sure to take the time to properly cool him down before turning him out.

Getting out for a winter ride can definitely help fight cabin fever. Just make sure to play it safe. Consider your horse’s health and safety when deciding when and where to ride.

One Rein Stop

So imagine, it’s a beautiful October day. You are riding your horse quietly down the road along a corn field.  Suddenly, without warning, a couple of deer run out of the field in front of you.  Which spooks your horse.  His spins around and takes off in a dead run.  Of coarse you want your horse to stop, but no matter how hard you pull back on the reins your horse won’t stop.  Now what are you going to do?  In an instance like this, it is important that you know how to perform an emergency stop or one rein stop with your horse.

The one rein stop is a fairly simple idea.  You use one rein to stop your horse while disengaging your horses hind quarters.  This is one of the most important maneuvers you should learn how to do with your horse for the simple reason that any horse can spook or buck, no matter how broke they are.

There are basically two parts of the one rein stop: lateral flexion and disengaging the hindquarters.

Lateral Flexion

By lateral flexion I mean, bending your horse’s head to the left or right with a single rein. By being able to do this you can control what his body does. So how do you teach your horse to flex?  First, I found it is easiest for your horse to learn to flex in a snaffle bit.  Snaffle bits work off of direct pull on the corners of your horse’s mouth making it easier for them to follow pressure.  While sitting on your horse pick up one rein, making sure the other rein will be loose enough for him to bend his head around. Pull the rein back toward your hip till there is pressure on the bit and hold. Now this is important: you don’t want to try to pull your horse’s head around.  You just want pressure on the bit.  At first your horse may move around or pull against your hand.  It is important to not release any pressure until he stops and tips his nose slightly to you.  If you do you will teach him to pulling against you will get you to release pressure.  Be patient, eventually he will quit moving and tip his nose.  When teaching your horse to flex you have to have good timing.  The second your horse tips his nose toward you, no matter how little, release all pressure.  That is his reward for doing the correct thing.  Now you pick up the rein and repeat, repeat, repeat.  As your horse figures out what you want, he will get better about not moving around or pulling against you.  After his is flexing well to one side, work on the other. If you notice in the picture, Dollars head comes around and down.  This is what you want in a good flex.  Flexing is one of the things I make my horses do ever time I ride.

Disengaging the hindquarters

The second part of  your one rein stop is the disengaging of the hindquarters or yielding the hindquarters.  This simply means your horse moves his hind end around and crosses his back legs.  Your horse’s power  to run or buck comes from its back legs. Making your horse cross his hind legs you take away that power to run or buck. To get your horse to yield his hindquarters you must first tip your horse’s nose one direction. Then with your foot on the same side as his nose is tipped, cue him in foot position three.  When you first start working on this, you only want to flex his nose over slightly, then cue with your foot hard enough to get him to move.  To start I walk my horse in a big circle. Slightly turn his nose in and cue with my foot.  As soon as he turns and crosses his hind legs once, I release him and let him walk forward.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat. After he is taking one step well, move him up to two. Then three, four, five, ect. Pretty much till you can get him to turn in a couple of circle for you without any problems.  When one side is going good, work on the other.

Now that your horse is flexing and yielding his hind quarters well we can put it together.  Walk your horse forward. Slide your hand down the rein (around 18 inches to two feet from the bit depending on the horse), and pull back to your hip while cuing your horse with your foot (remember rein and foot on same side of horse).  Hold until your horse flexes, disengages his hindquarters and stops.  Repeat at a walk till you are comfortable, then move up to a trot.  After you are comfortable at a trot, work on stopping at a lope or canter.

Practicing and mastering the one rein stop can be a life saver.  I know that there are many times I’ve been out on the trail and have had a horse spook, and the one rein stop has proven very useful and effective.  Knowing your horse has emergency brakes can give you peace of mind as you ride.  The more you practice the one rein stop, the better your horse will respond if he becomes frightened.  Also practicing will help you become familiar with the movement it takes to cue the stop.

Foot Positioning: Where to Cue Your Horse


If you use your legs when you ride, it will be easier for your horse to understand exactly what you want him to do.  When training my horses my main objective is to teach them to move away from pressure or give to pressure.  I will apply pressure in some way (such as pulling on a rein, or tapping his body somewhere), and when my horse responds to that pressure, I reward him by releasing the pressure.  Leg cues are a form of pressure I use on my horse, and where I apply those leg cues will tell the horse to move in different ways.  I will refer to foot positioning in many of my training posts and videos.  When I ask my horse to do anything, I’m using a foot cue.

Okay the names of the foot positioning can be hard to remember.  Are you ready?  They are position 1, position 2 and position 3.  Okay maybe they aren’t that hard of names to remember.  First let’s look at neutral foot positioning.  Here you can see my legs hang down from my hips.  There should be a straight line running down from your ear, through your shoulder and hip to your heal.

In position 1 your foot will close to where the front cinch is.   When your foot is in this position you are asking your horse to move it’s front end, in turn crossing his front legs.  This is the position you will have your feet in if you are doing a maneuver like a pivot, spin or roll back.  Remember we want your horse to move away from pressure. Cuing here with your right foot will make him step toward the left.

With your foot in position 2, it will be in the middle of the barrel of your horse.  Position 2 is use to cue your horse to move both sets of feet at the same time.  This is use to preform moves such as side passing.  Pressing on the left will make your horse side pass to the right.  This is basically where they should sit when you are in a neutral riding position.

Position 3 is located at the back of your horse’s barrel where your back cinch would sit.  Cuing here tells your horse to move his hind quarters which will result in him crossing his back legs.  This cue is used when you want to your horse to perform a pivot on his front end or at times when you need your horse to disengage his hind quarters.  When you combine proper foot positioning with the right rein, movements you can literally get your horse to move in any direction you wish.  As you progress with your horse, you will find it easier to get him to do exactly what you want when using the proper foot positioning.  Remember these.  They will be referred to in many of my training posts.

Mounting Your Horse

Most horse owners know how to get on their horse; however, for many this can be an agonizing task.  Their horses move around while they are getting on, or their horse spooks or takes off as soon as their  leg is swung over the horse.  I’m going to give you some tips on mounting that will help eliminate these problem.

Probably the most important part of mounting your horse is making sure your horse is on level ground, there is nothing your horse can spook from or get hurt on, and that your cinch is tight.   Now we are ready to get on  our horse.

When I mount my horse,  I start out facing my horse.  I take hold of the left rein and ask my horse to turn his nose toward me.

With the rein in my hand I grab either my horses mane, the saddle swells or the saddle horn with my left hand and the back of the seat with my right.

I put my foot in the stirrup and pull myself straight up.

Standing in the left stirrup, I reach over my horse’s back and pet him on his right side.  This will let  him know that the rest of me is going to be coming over, and he will be less likely to spook when I throw my leg over.  (If you are riding an older horse or a horse that has been ridden countless times or a horse that you know and trust, this step is probably not necessary; however, on a horse that I’ve never ridden before or a green horse, I always test out the other side before getting on).

Swing your leg over your horse’s hindquarters taking care not to bump or spur him, sit down in your saddle and put your right foot into your right stirrup.  If your horse starts to move off while you are swinging your leg over or before you get your foot in the stirrup, you can pick up the right rein to stop him.  However, since you have his head flexed over, it is unlikely that he will try to walk away.

My horses are pretty good about standing still when being mounted, but it is not uncommon for a horse to move around when you put your foot in the stirrup.  The easiest way to fix this problem is to take your foot back out of the stirrup and  longe him with your reins in some small circles.  By doing this you are showing him that if he moves he’s going to have to continue moving.  Most horses would rather stand than work.  After a few circles, let your horse stop and try to mount again.  If he still won’t stand, run him in more circles.  Generally after a couple of tries, your horse will understand what you want and will stand still.  Some horses learn slower than others, and you may end up trying six or seven times before your horse stands still.

The following is a link to my video horse mounting.

Riding up and down hills

If you do much riding, you will eventually have to go up and down some hills. Maneuvering hills can be tricky, but with a few tips, you can make the trip a little more relaxing for both you and your horse.

First lets go down the hill.  Think about your body position.  As your horse descends down the hill you want to keep your body perpendicular with level ground.   Notice in the picture, Tracey is leaning slightly back.  Her feet then shift slightly forward so that they are under her hips.  This helps the horse maintain his center of gravity and makes him better able to keep his balance.  I also try to remember to keep my heels down and toes out to remind the horse to go slow.  If you look at just the top of this picture (at Tracey) you really shouldn’t be able to tell whether she is going down a hill or riding on level ground (I have cut out the horse in the following picture to illustrate this).   I also found that it works best if you try to relax your body and let your hips move in time with your horse.  Let your horse have a little slack in the reins, provided he doesn’t try to run down the hill.  It’s safest to walk your horse down hills.  If you let him run he could lose his footing, or become unbalanced and fall.  Also running down hills is tough on your horses leg joints.

Now that we are down at the bottom of the hill, we need to get back up to the top.  Again you want to keep your body perpendicular with level ground. Therefore, you basically need to do the opposite with your body that you did going down hill.  Here is Gabby pictured going up hill.  Her body is in good position. Her body is perpendicular to level ground, and her shoulders, hips and heels are aligned.   Again if you were looking at just the top of the picture (at Gabby only), you really would not be able to tell if she was riding a horse on flat ground or up a hill.  Your speed up the hill is up to you.  My horses love to run up hills, but I try to mix it up a little and make them walk up the hills sometimes.  That way if someone else is riding them that doesn’t want to run, my horse won’t have a fit and blow up when they are asked to walk up the hill.

Through a pasture or on a trail, riding up and down hills can be tons of fun, but it can also cause anxiety if you are unsure how to get to the bottom or top safely.  Hopefully with these tips and a little practice you soon will be maneuvering hills like a master.

Thanks for dropping in and maybe someday you will be good enough with hills to handle “The Man From Snowy River” – the decent


Notice that he stays perpendicular!
Anna