Confident Rider Tip: Solving the Mystery of the Unexplained ‘Spook’

Question from a reader:

“Do you find that you can be working with your horse for a while, then ask the same thing of him as you’ve already done nicely, and all of a sudden he’s not paying attention anymore? And if you try to get his attention he ‘panics’ or spooks suddenly from the least little thing?”

People are often caught off-guard by the spook, bolt or buck that seems to come out of no where.  Some people think it’s just the horse’s way of evading doing something he doesn’t want to do or that he’s trying to ‘get them’.  While it may be true that horses will try to avoid doing things we ask of them (and, honestly, why shouldn’t they avoid work any less than we do?), it’s not true that they plot and plan ways to get us humans.

Here’s the thing about horses.  As prey animals they want to conserve energy as much as possible so that they have lots available when they need to run away from a predator.  So, a part from the exuberant play that youngsters sometimes indulge in, horses are pretty lazy (to put a label on it).  But, hey – I can relate.  I don’t like to expend any more energy than is absolutely necessary.  That’s why I’m always looking for short cuts to getting chores done around the farm.  One friend says I’m very creative.  I call it laziness.  

But back to the spooking, bolting, bucking horse issue.  So, why does an animal that likes to conserve his energy expend all that excess energy to avoid doing something he doesn’t want to do or just to ‘get the human’?  The answer is – he doesn’t.

There is always a reason for the horse’s behaviour.  Here are 3 possible reasons for that unexplained spook.

  1. Horses see, hear, smell and feel things of which we -mere humans with our different level of senses – are unaware.    Just because you didn’t see or hear anything that you believe would have startled  you horse, doesn’t mean that he didn’t see, hear or even smell something.
  2. Horses learn from repetition and it only takes 3 repetitions for them to see a pattern.  So, it’s really easy to inadvertently teach a horse to be nervous at a certain spot in the arena or on the trail or when asked to perform a particular transition or movement.  And that pattern can be created just as easily for you as it can be for your horse.  So, if your horse has spooked or reacted badly when you ride by a certain area or ask for a transition or movement, your anticipation of a repeat performance can cause you to be tense and nervous which affects how your horse feels physically and mentally.  Vicious cycle created.  
  3. How you sit on your horse affects how he feels.  Whether you’re in a western, english or treeless saddle or riding bareback, you affect (for better or for worse) your horse’s balance, alignment and level of relaxation.  Have you noticed how difficult it is to remain relaxed, supple and balanced when your horse is crooked, off balance and tense?  That works both ways.  So if you’re off balance, crooked or out of alignment in any way the less relaxed  your horse will be and the more reactive he will be to stresses (even little ones) in the environment.  And, you are more likely to give unclear and even conflicting messages to your horse.

Rider misalignment has a huge impact on horses behaviour causing them to exhibit unwanted behaviours or resistance.  You may be familiar with the rider vertical alignment (ear over shoulder over hip over heel) and the horse ‘nose/poll to tail’ alignment.  But are you aware of your alignment to your horse?

Horse and Rider Alignment

Horse and Rider Alignment – My horse is aligned poll to tail (her hind legs track up with her front legs); I am square (hips and shoulders); and we are aligned with each other.

You are sitting on your horse’s spine.  So, if you not aligned with his body and his bend, he will feel at least uncomfortable and at worst pain.  You are aligned with your horse when your belly button aims between his ears; your shoulders mirror his shoulders; and, your hips mirror his hips.  If your horse has a bend to the left (even a slight one), you mirror that bend when you keep your belly button aimed between his ears and your hips and shoulders square.  If your outside shoulder comes forward, his outside shoulder will mirror that and bulge out of the bend.  You’ll both be off balance and you’ll likely be hanging on to the inside rein trying to ‘correct’ him.  And suddenly – out of no where – is that spook or resistance to doing that transition …. 

The first step you can take to helping your horse feel less stressed and therefore less reactive to things in the environment is to improve your alignment.  It will also keep you better balanced and able to deal with any sudden movements that come ‘from no where’.

Your Turn:  Was this post helpful?  Share it with a friend who can benefit from it as well then leave me a comment below and tell me what you are struggling with.


The Bottom Line – The absolute best way to develop a true partnership with your horse is by building your confidence and trust in each other.

You can get your Free Instant Access to my report “The 3 Most Important Skills You Need to Develop Confidence With Horses” when you visit www.AnneGage.com

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship Clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship www.annegage.com.  

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship –Putting you and your horse in good hands.
www.annegage.com
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Horse Training: Evading the Bit – Why A Stronger Bit Isn’t the Answer

Seen on Facebook:  “Anybody know of a good bit to use on a horse that runs through commands and fights the bit? I need to try a new bit because the horse I’m riding has a hard mouth.

Jumble of bits

When your horse runs through or fights the bit, it’s called evasion.  Common bit evasions include:

  • Chomping, opening or crossing his mouth
  • Running away
  • Leaning on the bit
  • Shaking, throwing or tossing his head
  • Going behind the bit (nose to his chest.)
  • Going above the bit (nose straight up)
  • Tongue hanging out

Unfortunately, moving up to a stronger bit or adding a gadget (eg. draw reins) is a common solution.  While it may work in the short term, it doesn’t address the real source of the problem.

If you want to eliminate the problem and build a better,  more trusting and willing partnership with your horse read on.

Following are 3 causes of bit evasions and how to correct them.

Cause #1 – Dental Problems & Poor Bit Fit

Horses run from pain.  Sharp teeth, ulcers inside his mouth or an injury to his tongue will be aggravated by the bit – even in gentle hands.

The Correction – Have your vet or equine dentist check for sharp or broken teeth, ulcers and even damage to his tongue.    Just like you, your horse should have his teeth checked by a professional at least annually and in some cases every 6 months.

Cause #2 – Poor Bit Fit

If the bit is too wide or sits too low in the mouth, it will move around too much.  If it’s too narrow or sits too high, it will pinch and damage the skin and bars in the mouth.  Bits also cause pain if they are too fat, too thin or don’t leave enough room for the tongue or push up into the palate.

The Correction – Check the size of the bit and how it fits the shape of your horse’s mouth.  It should not stick out on either side of the mouth or pinch the corners of his lips.  It should be about ¼” wider than the measurement from lip to lip (corner to corner).  Find the style of bit that works with the shape and size of your horse’s mouth having enough room for the tongue, not pressing on the palate and fitting easily between the bars.

When fitted correctly, the bit sits quietly across the bars without pulling up the lips or moving up and down.  Remember “a wrinkle not a smile“.  For most horses, this means at least one but no more than two wrinkles in the corners of the lips  However, for some horses there may be no wrinkle at all.  Adjust as necessary to ensure the bit fits comfortably without sliding up and down loosely.  

Cause #3 – Busy or Unsteady Hands

Hands that are busy, unsteady, tense, see-saw,  pull or constantly bump the horse’s mouth cause pain and discomfort.  They are also the sign of a tense and unbalanced rider.

The Correction – Develop an independent seat.  You should never use the reins for support, balance or the primary means for controlling your horse.  Your hands must work independently from your seat so that you can influence your horse without creating tension or resistance.  You will be balanced, able to follow and work with your horses movement – applying your aids at the right time, with the least amount of pressure and without tension.

For your horse to be able to perform at his best and be a confident, trusting and willing partner, he needs to be pain free, balanced and relaxed.   You can help him develop this way of going by being a quiet, balanced and relaxed rider.

Your Turn – What do you do when your horse evades the bit or gets strong?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


Like this post? Share it with a friend, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  
 
Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.
www.annegage.com
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Confident Rider Tips – 5 Fast & Simple Steps to Being a More Confident Rider (Today!)

Confident Rider Tip - Focus on progress instead of perfection.

How’s your self talk?  You know that constant babble that whirls around inside your head.

Is that voice  – your own voice – your best friend or your worst enemy?  How you talk to yourself affects how you feel and what you do.  When you learn to take control of the ‘thought monster‘ your confidence and your riding will improve.

And you do want to improve your confidence and riding, don’t you? (I thought so.)

Here are 5 steps to help you tame the Thought Monster.

Step 1 – Be aware of your thoughts.  The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts every day.  Most of these thoughts do not change from one day to the next. And, about 80% of these thoughts are negative! Most of them focus on the past or the future, obsessing about mistakes we have made, planning ahead or worrying, creating fantasy or fiction.  The good news is that when you recognize your thoughts, you can change them.

Step 2 – Write down your thoughts.  When you write down your thoughts, you see exactly what you are thinking about and how often you are thinking about it.  Notice how often you use words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘should’ and ‘can’t’.  Also notice how often your thoughts are complaining, whining or judging (yourself or others).   Be careful not to beat yourself up or feel discouraged when you see how many negative thoughts you have.  We all have them.  As Dr. Phil says “you can’t change what  you don’t acknowledge”.

Step 3 – Create a new thought. Take your most frequent negative thoughts and put a positive spin on them.  For example, if your self-talk tells you “I’m such a loser! I’m never going to get these transitions right!”  Remove the judgment and stop beating yourself up.  Try re-framing the thought to a more positive message like “I’m still learning and right now, I’m having a hard time getting these transitions right.  What can I do or who can I ask for help to learn how to do them better?”  This puts the focus on how you can improve and gives your brain a problem to solve.  And your brain likes solving problems.

Step 4 – Become your own cheerleader.  It seems to be human nature to have self destructive, negative thoughts.  And, we are very good at creating negative stories in our heads about future outcomes.  But, you can change your thought patterns so that, instead of focusing on the negative, you can focus on the positive possibilities; instead of being your own worst critic, you become your best support.  Treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness you would give your best friend if she were feeling down.  Avoid saying anything to yourself that you would not want another person to say to you.

Step 5 – Practice. Practice. Practice. – Retraining your brain is no different to physical exercise.  The more you do it, the better results you see.  Just like going to your yoga or exercise class, there will be days when you won’t be motivated to do the work of paying attention to your thoughts or replace them with positive messages.  The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.  And, you’ll feel a sense of pride for your accomplishment and a sense of control over your life. That creates an incredible boost of confidence!

The Bottom Line – Your brain can only hold one thought at a time.  Give it something positive to focus on or a problem to solve.  You can feel better about yourself and more confident – today!

Your Turn – What are some of the negative thoughts you have about your riding (I’m sure you won’t be the only one with that thought).  Share them in the comments below and I’ll help you re-frame them.  

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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There are lots more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse in my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.   NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Click here to grab your FREE REPORT “The 3 Most Important Secrets You Need to Know to Develop Confidence with Horses”

Brought to you by Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.   www.AnneGage.com

Do You Go to Battle if Your Horse Doesn’t Listen?

Image

Understanding

The following is an excerpt from a blog I came across recently in which the writer was offering suggestions for how to handle a a horse who won’t stop.

“Don’t treat him gently, thinking you can avoid the problem or dare to think he’s doing it because he’s frightened! He’s doing it because he’s a bully. Treat him like we should treat all bullies. Stand up to him. …

All the time you’re doing this your legs should be kicking. Forget about looking refined. This is war! You are up there to prove a point. You have made a decision to crack this habit and you need to kick on through it.”

The post ends with this statement:

“Remember that brute force will never work but for all problems there is always a solution. WE just haven’t found it yet.”

Well, I agree with the blog writer on one point – brute force will never work.  But it seems that her idea of brute force and mine are very different.

There are 3 things with which I disagree with the writer:

  1. “He’s doing it because he’s a bully.”  A horse’s main priority is his safety.  When he feels threatened or even suspects the potential for danger, his first defence is flight.  If he feels he can’t run away, then he’ll fight.   Mental stress as well as physical pain have the same effect.  If your horse doesn’t understand, feels pain or stress of any kind, he will be provoked into defensive behaviour like bolting, bucking, rearing, striking, kicking out, etc.
  2. “Your legs should be kicking.”  Kicking a horse makes no sense to me.  First of all, it makes your seat unstable, creates tension in your body and causes you to pull on the reins. Second, it does not give any clear signal to your horse of what it is you want him to do.  Good riding requires the rider to have an independent seat and quiet hands as well as the ability to give clear aids at the right time. This requires suppleness and balance so that you have the ability to feel your horse.
  3. “This is war!”  I want to have a partnership with my horse not be at ‘war’ with him (or any horse).  The foundation of the training scale is relaxation.  My goal is to eliminate resistance by helping my horse to be calm, relaxed and free of tension.  Kicking with the mindset of ‘winning the battle’ is counter productive.  It creates tension in both the rider and the horse.

The bottom line is this, if your horse is doing something you don’t want him to do or isn’t doing something you do want him to do, it isn’t because he is stubborn, stupid or bad in any way.  It is because he:

  • doesn’t understand
  • is frightened or in pain
  • it just doesn’t make sense to him
  • isn’t physically or mentally able to do what you are asking of him.

A good rider – a good horse person – who has empathy for the horse – will take the time to figure out what is getting in the way and fix it.  Even if that means changing something about themselves.

Your Turn!

What do you do when your horse does something you don’t want or doesn’t do something when you ask?

What other great questions or suggestions do you have? Please leave me a comment and share this post so others can benefit. Enjoy your journey!

Are You Riding Your Horse By the Seat of Your Pants?

Video

A new student has recently started taking riding lessons from me.  She has taken riding lessons before. In her other riding lessons, she was trotting and even cantered once – sort of on purpose.

In her lessons with me, she is on a lunge line (well – the horse she is riding is on the lunge line). In my riding lessons, students stay on the lunge line until they are able to steer and control the horse without pulling on the reins.

My new student is finding this very different from her previous lessons. She used to pull the reins to steer.  But now she is noticing the connection between her body and the horse’s body. How the horse’s body moves and how her body moves with his movement when she releases tension from her muscles and joints. How she can steer and control the horse when she uses her seat and her legs in specific ways that work with the timing of the horse’s movement.  How the horse relaxes when she relaxes.

She is finding how wonderful riding feels when it all comes together.

And when you learn to ride this way – with an independent seat and reins that only act as boundaries – you can ride like Richard Spooner did in the video above.

When Mr. Spooner knew that he and his horse were in trouble he dropped his reins, followed his horse’s movement and trusted his horse to get them out of the mess safely. And, his horse had enough trust, balance and self carriage to get the job done.

That’s what trust looks like.

That’s what partnership looks like.

That’s what good riding looks like.

What would happen if you dropped your reins? Would your horse stay balanced and listen to your seat?

I would love to hear what the greatest challenge is that you are facing with your horse right now.  What challenges have you faced and overcome?  Share in the comments below.

If you want to work with me live and in person to learn more strategies and techniques for increasing your confidence, improving your horse’s behaviour and building a stronger partnership with your horse, visit my website or contact me about hosting a clinic or workshop at your location.

Enjoy your journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Change This One Thing to Improve Your Horse Riding

Take a moment to look at the photo below and imagine that’s you riding your horse.

SONY DSC

What thoughts went through your mind?  Were they mostly positive or negative?  What did you physically feel when you had those thoughts?  Your thoughts affect how you feel not just mentally, but also physically.

The human brain can only hold one thought at a time.  We have an almost constant stream of 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts in a day.  We think at 300 words a minute.  We can’t go any longer than 11 seconds without talking to ourselves.

So, whatever you focus your mind affects the quality of all those thoughts streaming constantly through your mind.

And those thoughts also affect how your horse feels.Your horse is a master of reading even the most subtle body language.  So, even if you don’t recognize that your posture, energy, tension and movements have been affected by your thoughts, your horse picks up on it.

In the scene in the photo, if the rider gets nervous or frightened about the traffic going by, her horse (who might have been ok with cars and bicycles) reacts to her tension and also gets nervous.  With her body tense and her mind focused on the traffic, the rider becomes ineffective as she cannot give clear cues to her horse.  Both horse and rider are in ‘reactive’ mode.  There is no rational thought as the flight instinct kicks in to high gear.

But there is another (a better) option.  The rider can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but she can replace them with more helpful ones.

She can take her focus off the traffic and put it on her horse.  With focused awareness, she knows the vehicle is coming before it is beside her.  She asks her horse to bend away from the car (so if he spooks he will move towards the grass and not into the middle of the road.

With focused awareness, she also knows the cyclists are coming up behind.  She can wave them to pass on the far side, ask them to dismount and walk their bikes by, walk her horse up the driveway just in front of them or even dismount and settle herself and her horse from the ground.

When you focus on a problem, your end up in a negative cycle of thoughts that increases self doubt and decreases your confidence.  When you focus on finding a solution, you recognize there is (or could be) a problem and you look for one thing you can do to improve the situation.  Do that one thing and you will feel better. Then look for another way you can improve the situation.  When you feel better, you can help your horse feel better, too.

You have 20,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day.  Whatever you focus them on is what you will get – positive or negative; problems or solutions; self doubt or confidence.  It’s your choice.

How have your thoughts been affecting your rides?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Have You Labelled Your Horse?

“Horses have as much individuality and character as people. ”                                 ~ C.W. Anderson (1891 – 1971)

Type “horse personality” into Google search and you’ll get 24,700,000 results (in 0.30 seconds).  There’s Parelli’s  ‘Horsenality’  where you define your horse as introverted, extroverted,  left brained or right brained.  There are websites that have tests you can take to determine your horse’s personality type.

Of course, horses are as individual as we are.  Shy, friendly, brave, confident, willing, anxious.  All these terms can be used to describe horses and humans.  But, while it’s important to understand your horse’s personality, it’s just as important not to put a label on your horse or fit him into a neat little box.

Labels limit our thinking and perception.  For example, if you believe your horse won’t do a particular movement or go where you want him to go because he is ‘stubborn’, you won’t look for any other cause for his behaviour.  Instead of understanding that maybe he won’t or can’t do what you are asking because there is something getting in the way, you use more force to get your way.

But, what if:

  • there’s a physical problem that makes it uncomfortable or painful for your horse to do that movement;
  •  he won’t go where you want him to go because you are not asking him in appropriate way or you have set inconsistent (or non existent) boundaries;
  • he won’t go in that corner of the arena or that part of the trail because there is something he hears or sees that you don’t.  Or maybe he feels the tension or hesitation in your body because  you’re not 100% comfortable with going there either.

If you put your horse in a personality box, you won’t look for any other explanation for his behaviour beyond “that’s just the way he is”.  Just like us, horses can be brave in one situation and fearful in another.   That pushy horse may simply be insecure.

Watch horses in a herd and you’ll see how they simply accept each other as they are in the moment.  When the overambitious youngster challenges an older horse, it is dealt with in the moment.  Once he shows signs of submission, the situation is over.  The herd doesn’t label him as a ‘trouble maker’.

As you peel the labels off your horse, do the same for yourself.  We carry labels, too.  Some placed by others and some we put there ourselves.  Labels like ‘not good enough’; ‘victim’; ‘nice’; ‘helper’; ‘clown’; ‘party girl’; ‘over sensitive’; fill n the blank ‘                   ‘.  If a label is boxing you in, it’s within your power to peel it off.

Today, give yourself and your horse a fresh start.  Peel away the labels.   Notice in each moment how your horse feels and how you feel.  If he is not behaving in the way you would like him to, get curious and ask ‘why’.

Look for another reason other than ‘that’s just the way he is’.  Look for another way to ask him.  Let your thinking go free – outside of the limitations of labels.

Share your experience with labels (putting them on or taking them off) in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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Are You Riding an Upside Down Horse? Learn what that is and how to fix it

In a lesson earlier this week, a student asked if it was okay that her horse was putting her head down while being ridden.  This student rides a nice little mare who is lesson horse at a fairly large and busy riding school.  The mare is one of the more popular horses and, as is the fate of nice, easy going horses, she carries around a lot of beginner riders.  In these ‘up down’ lessons, you most often hear the instructors saying (or shouting) phrases like “eyes up”, “heels down”, “up down, up down” and “pull on your rein”.

The young riders are keen and eager to canter and jump.  Unfortunately, the result is lots of bouncing on the horses’ backs, pulling and balancing on the reins and kicking to get the horses to go.  There is very little (well, usually no) focus on the horse’s frame and these up-down lesson horses have very poor postures accompanied with muscle soreness.

It’s really hard to carry yourself in correct posture – which requires  lifting your back and stepping well underneath yourself –  when there’s somebody pulling on your mouth and jamming your back as he or she bounces up and down trying to stay balanced .

Get a picture in your mind of the lesson horse with an up side down top line.  In the up side down top line, the muscles on the top of the neck, the back and the hindquarters are weak and lacking development.  The muscles on underside of the neck may be bigger (creating a ‘u’ neck) and the horse has the appearance of a ‘hay belly’.  The hay belly happens because the back muscles are weak and don’t support the weight of the abdomen so the belly hangs low.

In the right side up top line, muscles are developed on the top of the neck, the back and the haunches.  This shape is called ’round’ and is built by riding the horse from the back end to the front.  It requires suppleness, balance and lightness from the rider.

Long and Low Frame

Long and Low

In the lessons with this particular student and mare, I focus on exercises to help the horse stretch and strengthen her back muscles and engage her core muscles (yes horses do have core muscles, too).  These exercises encourage her to engage her hindquarters (bring her hind legs further under her body) which naturally lifts her back and brings her into a long and low frame.   So, yes, going with her head low is good because she is stretching the muscles on her top line.  It’s similar to you doing a nice forward bend in yoga.  It doesn’t hurt and you feel an ‘opening’ along your spine.

But, there is a difference between stretching and pulling.

Horse pulling down

Pulling down against contact

As long as the horse feels light in your hands, she is stretching and you allow her to stay in this frame.  However, if you feel like you’re holding your horse up or that you’re being pulled forward out of your saddle then your horse is falling on the forehand or pulling against you to try to get rid of the rein contact.  In either case, your horse is travelling on her forehand and not engaging her hindquarters.

To correct pulling or falling on the forehand, send your horse forward into a small circle.  This movement causes her to bring her inside hind leg forward and under herself.  She just shifted her weight back into her hindquarters lightening her front end.  Ta da!

As soon as you feel that change, you can come out of the small circle and go back to what you were doing.  The moment you feel her get heavy again, turn back into the small circle until you feel her lighten up in front.  You’ve broken the cycle of her leaning on you and you pulling against her or trying to hold her up.  (Really – if you can hold up a 1000 pound animal, maybe you should consider competing in weight lifting at the next Olympics!)

A couple of tips about using this technique.

  1. Make sure you are reading your horse’s bend correctly.  It won’t work if your horse has a left bend and you ask her to circle to the right.  Turn in the direction of her bend.  This is a good reason to work off the rail and use the centre of the arena more.  It’s hard to turn left when the wall or fence is on your left side.  If you are at least 6 feet off the rail, you have enough room to turn in either direction.
  2. Use your seat and legs to turn your horse. DO NOT pull her head into the turn with your reins.  (If you need more help with turning your horse, check out my article in the Mar/Apr issue of Horse Canada Magazine – sorry it’s not available on line – or get a copy of my new book.)

Give it a try and then share your results in the comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

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Now available in paperback! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
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Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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How You Can Improve Your Horse’s Balance

A follower on my Facebook page recently sent a message looking for an answer to her mare’s head swinging at the trot.

“I own an appaloosa/quarter horse mare since May 2012. Ever since I’ve had her she has had this problem with her head where she will sort of lightly balance it from left to right (at the trot only) with or without tack or a rider. We have been wondering since the beginning what could be causing this but no one has a clue. She seems very healthy, if it would cause her pain, I tell myself I would have been bucked off a long time ago.”  

Here is a video she included with her message (shared with the sender’s permission).


What I see causing the horse to move her head about is imbalance.  There are 3 factors that affect your horse’s balance.

1) Bio-mechanics  – Horses use their neck and head to balance.  As the horse moves, the neck and head swing over each front foot as it comes forward.  So, as the right front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing to the right.  As the left front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing the left.

Humans use our arms to balance.   When we lose our balance, we throw our arms about to try to save ourselves from falling down.  Horses do much the same with their neck and head.

2) Alignment – There are 3 areas of alignment that are necessary for both you and your horse be balanced and relaxed:

a)      Spine:

  • You – the straight line from your “ear through your shoulder through your hip through your heel”.
  • Your Horse – the horizontal alignment from his nose to his tail.

b) Rectangle of Shoulders & Hips – this is the same for both horse & rider.  The hips and shoulders are lined up with each other creating a rectangle.

  • You – your shoulders stay over your hips.
  • Your Horse – his hind feet track directly behind his front feet creating 2 tracks.

c) Horse and Rider – You and your horse should be aligned to each other

  • Your belly button aims between your horse’s ears
  • Your shoulders align with your horses shoulders;
  • Your hips align with your horse’s hips.

3) Riding the Bend – A horse with a left bend will be balanced turning left or leg yielding right, but will be unbalanced turning right.  With a right bend, he is balanced turning right or leg yielding left, but will be unbalanced turning left.  

In the video above, the horse is often counter bent.  As the rider turns her body in the direction they are traveling, she loses her alignment with her horse.  This puts her horse off balance and she moves her head to try to re-balance.

If the rider reads her horse’s bend and adjusts her position to stay aligned with her, they will both be more balanced.

The following is an excerpt about bend from my soon to be published book, “Confident Rider, Confident Horse”)  

“Do not assume that because you are going to the left your horse has a left bend.  This is the number one cause of misalignment between horse and rider.  Practise reading your horse’s bend by looking at his neck from the withers to his ears.  Keep your belly button aimed between his ears so that your spine and his spine are always aligned to each other.  At the rising trot, adjust your post so that you are rising as your horse’s outside shoulder is going forward – that is the shoulder that is on the outside of his bend not the shoulder closest to the rail.  You may have been taught to “rise and fall with the leg on the wall” – meaning that you rise as the shoulder closest to the rail is going forward.  However, this teaching assumes that the horse has a true bend.

In order to turn and remain balanced, your horse’s bend must match the arc of the turn.  A stiff, unbending horse’s hind quarters will swing out.  If he is over bent (sometimes also called over flexed) through the neck, his shoulders will fall into the turn if his nose is tipped out of the turn or they will push out if his nose is tipped into the turn.  A counter bent horse will be unbalanced.

‘True bend’ and ‘counter bend’ are terms used to describe the horse’s bend relative to the direction he is traveling.  True bend means the horse is bent in the direction he is traveling.  So, if you are walking on the left rein (counter clockwise) and your horse is bending around your left leg so that his spine is mirroring the line you are walking, then he is in true bend.  If he is bending around your right leg when you are on the left rein, then his is in counter bend.  In order to help her horse feel balanced, calm, supple and relaxed, it is important to be able to read which bend he has at any given moment.

When talking about ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aids I am referring to them relative to the horse’s bend.  So, regardless of the direction you are traveling, the inside leg and inside rein are on the inside of the bend.  The outside leg and outside rein on are on the outside of the bend.  If your horse is bending right, your right leg and rein are the inside aids; your left leg and rein are the outside aids.  When bending left, your left leg and rein are the inside aids; your right leg and rein are the outside aids.

Encourage your horse to bend around your inside seat bone and leg by keeping your leg just behind the girth or cinch of your saddle.  Push his barrel over as you feel your inside hip drop.  Help your horse to keep his hip in line by putting your outside leg back slightly and pushing his hip over when you feel your outside hip drop.  If the inside shoulder is dropping in, push it over by using your upper inside leg as your horse’s shoulder moves forward.  The horse can only respond to your push when his weight is off the leg you want him to move.

When working on improving your horse’s bend from your seat and leg aids, recognize when he tries a little.  Stop pushing him and reward him with a wither scratch and a short break before asking again.  Remember to reward yourself as well for a job well done.”

Click on this link to see a video showing how I use bend to bring my mare into a relaxed and balanced frame.

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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6 Tips for Recovering Your Riding Confidence

“Seems like I have lost my nerve a bit after a bad fall off my mare and then a not so bad fall in the arena in the same week. Now at the door in the arena that I came off before she will spin and spook and I get tense which doesn’t help things. She has no issue with the scary door on the ground so I know it’s me that’s causing her to spook.  Any suggestions?”  ~ Erin

Losing “your nerve” after a fall – even if you haven’t been hurt – is not uncommon in horse riding.  Your mind is a powerful tool that can work for you or against you.  Much of what goes on in our minds happens unconsciously.  Here are some quick tips to help get you back on track.

1)   Recognize that how you are feeling is perfectly normal.  Whether you’ve had a fall from your horse or just come close to falling off – even if you haven’t been injured –  a primitive part of your brain (the Amygdala) makes a connection between a place or a situation and your being in danger.    It tells another little part of your brain, the hypothalamus, to release the hormones  (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) that prepare you for flight or fight which causes physical changes in your body like increased heart rate, shallow breathing and tense muscles.  In your case, riding your mare near the arena door automatically and unconsciously triggers this chain of physical and emotional symptoms.

2)  Calm your mind with focused breathing.  I teach this technique to all of my students – and I use it myself.  You can use it before you ride, while you are riding and as soon as you recognize the first symptom of fear.  Take long, slow, deep breaths using your diaphragm.  Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth.  Feel your belly expand on the inhale and collapse on the exhale.  Changing your breathing is the fastest way to help you to feel more calm and confident.  It helps your mind to slow down and relax. When you are in a relaxed state you’re better able to see things as they really are because you’re not experiencing the cluttered thinking caused by your emotions.

3)  Release tension from your body.  Stiffness in your body affects your balance, suppleness and confidence.  It also affects your horse.  When you are nervous or fearful, you will have tension somewhere in your body.  Is it in your shoulders and neck; your hips; your arms; maybe your toes?  Practice recognizing where the tension creeps in and then releasing by breathing deeply and releasing on every exhale.

4) Change the pictures you see in your mind.  Visualization is a strong and proven technique used successfully by professional and world class amateur athletes to improve their skills and confidence.  Your mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and an imagined event. If you keep replaying in your mind the mistakes you’ve made or situations that you imagine might happen, your mind believes you.   Change your mental video tape from the possible catastrophic outcome to seeing the positive outcome you want.  Your mind believes you either way.

5) Mind how you talk to yourself.   Much like visualization, your self talk affects your confidence and your results.  Using positive self talk is more than ‘positive thinking’.  It’s looking for solutions rather than focusing on the problem.  Check out my previous blog post for more tips on minding your language.

6) Start in your comfort zone.  Ride where you are most comfortable and gradually move out of that area while paying attention to your breathing, your tension and your thoughts.  When your stress increases to the point where you can’t manage your stress, go back to riding in your comfort zone until you are calm again.  Repeat this process and eventually, you will be riding by the arena door without any problem.

If you have worked through or are currently working through a loss of confidence, share your experiences in the comments.  Your story may give encouragement to someone else.

You are not alone.

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”
 
If you would like to help spread the word about a better way to work with horses, please share this blog with 5 friends, send a Tweet or post on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.
 
You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information:
 
Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  
 
I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.
 
Anne Gage
Confident Horsemanship
www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage
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