Are You and Your Horse Ready? 3 Crucial Stages To Preparing for Winter

Are You and Your Horse Ready? 3 Crucial Stages to Preparing for Winter

I know, I know… it’s still August. There is still summer left to enjoy. Thank goodness for that. Preparing for winter is the last thing that I want to think about. You probably agree.

Preparing for winter girl feeding horse

But, before you know it, fall (and winter… grr…) will be upon us again. And now is the time to start preparing for winter. You don’t want to be caught with your pants down, especially if you live in more northerly latitudes! Read on for tips and tricks to make the most of the time you have left to prepare for the changing seasons!

Pre-Season Inventory

Stock and Source Consumables

The most important thing is to ensure that you have adequate fodder stocked or reliably sourced for the winter. If you, like me, live in a latitude where your horse’s primary roughage source will be hay for several months, you need to have enough now to get you as far as next year’s first opportunity to cut more. After September or so, what has been harvested is all that there will be for the year. Hay and similar locally harvested forage will only become more expensive and more scarce from now until early summer next year. Also consider your bedding type and sources. Depending on your material of choice, bedding may also become scarce or higher in price later in the winter months.

Finnhorse stallions lunch time
By Sini Merikallio (Flickr: Finnhorse stallions lunch time) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Equipment Check

Now is the time to get your winter gear out of storage and check everything over.  You want to be sure that you have what you need in good fit and state of repair before you need to use it. Hopefully when you put these things away last spring, you didn’t store anything that needed repaired or replaced, and you used a storage method and location that kept your gear away from pests, molds, and other hazards. However, best laid plans and all of that… There is still plenty of time to arrange for repairs or order replacements before you’ll really need these things if they did not survive off-season storage unscathed. Be sure to inspect your horse’s winter weight blankets and rugs, and also your own winter weather clothing and footwear.

'Cavalli della Madonna' im Marstall des Klosters Einsiedeln 2013-01-26 14-11-05 (P7700)
‘Cavalli della Madonna’ im Marstall des Klosters Einsiedeln 2013-01-26 14-11-05 (P7700) © Roland Fischer, Zürich (Switzerland) – Mail notification to: roland_zh(at)hispeed(dot)ch / Wikimedia Commons

The major seasonal change is also a great time to audit your equine first aid kit to ensure that all supplies are stocked and within date.

Since summer isn’t quite over, autumn can be a great time to stock up on items for next year as long as they are nonperishable. Consider taking advantage of end-of-season sales on fly masks, summer sheets, some fly sprays and traps (check shelf life), etc. If it will keep through the winter, grab it while the prices are good instead of when they are re-released in the spring.

“Winterize” Your Horse

This is a great time to touch base with your vet. You can schedule any fall-specific vaccinations that are recommended for your area, and also a general once-over for your horse. A fecal egg count can be worth the investment to help your vet help you coordinate an appropriate deworming program for the season and your horse’s needs.

Horse in snow
Photo by Erin Dolson on Unsplash

Early fall is the best time to start adjusting your plan for your “special needs” horse for the winter months. Harder keepers get harder to keep without fresh pasture. Easier keepers get rounder by the day with lessened exercise. Hard frozen footing makes your arthritic senior a bit stiffer. Increased confinement can bring on or exacerbate a number of health conditions. Taking steps to support your horse before the seasons change is a vital part of preparing for winter.

Give yourself time to make any needed dietary changes gradually. Consider scheduling a dental exam/float this fall so your horse starts the season getting the most out of his teeth. Consult with your farrier about the best program for your horses feet given your winter needs; will you carry shoes through the winter months? Will you switch to borium, or to studs, to increase traction? Pads to better absorb shock on frozen ground? Or is barefoot a better bet for you?

Bring your Barn into Winter Mode

The Tack Room

Like you did last spring, deep clean and safely store seasonal gear that you won’t need through the colder months. Your storage should protect your equipment from dust and dirt, as well as pests and rodents. If you take a winter showing/riding hiatus, this is the perfect time to break down tack for the most thorough possible cleaning and inspection. Winter can be a good time to send tack out for specialty repairs, like stitch work or reflocking.

Form a gameplan for cleaning bulky fabrics like sheets and blankets. Most household machines won’t handle loads that size, and many laundromats have policies against horse blankets. Now is the time to find a service that will accept your barn laundry, or do a last deep-scrub with the garden hose while it still gets warm enough to dry blankets outside.

If you’re in a climate that freezes, collect your liquids and store them in a warmer location before the temperature in your barn drops too low. Not only does this prevent messy burst containers, but some products lose their effectiveness or consistency after a freeze-thaw cycle. For liquid products that you use regularly throughout the winter, like waterless shampoos or liquid supplements, invest in a tote to carry them conveniently from house to barn and back until they can live safely in the barn again.

Pasture and Buildings

This is the perfect time to give your infrastructure a general once-over and make any basic repairs and improvements to carry you through the winter. Replace or reset wobbly fence posts before the ground freezes. Check your barn for gaps or drafts, and for adequate ventilation. Cobweb removal can be a war of attrition, but take the opportunity of total turnout for one last dust-raising deep clean while you can. This will not only look tidier, but reduce the risk of fire.

Winter horse
Photo by David Preston on Unsplash

Also check your wiring before you plug in electric buckets or trough heaters. While you should enlist a professional electrician to make repairs, your own sharp eye can spot potential hazards ahead of time. If you haven’t already got them, ground-fault-interruption (GFI) outlets are a small price to pay for peace of mind. These are the same outlets installed in bathrooms for safety around water.

Brace Yourself: Winter is Coming

While preparing for winter is a lot less exciting than preparing for spring, a little extra time now is well worth the effort. By following these steps you’ll set yourself and your horses up for a more comfortable winter season. You’ll have less stress, and more time to enjoy what the colder months have to offer: check out this post on Beating the Winter Blues for lots of ideas to not only survive, but thrive in your horsemanship goals this winter!

In the meantime… it is still August… and there’s a lot of summer and fall to go. Like me, you really should be riding.

Horsemanship as a Martial Art

Horsemanship as a Martial Art

 

Horsemanship as a martial art

If you walk into your nearest stereotypical sports bar and poll the clientele… odds are good that horseback riding isn’t considered a sport. You might even be laughed out the front door.

If you walk into a horse barn, however, the general consensus will probably be that riding is indeed a sport. That consensus will probably include a detailed explanation of how physically demanding and inherently risky the endeavor can be. It may also include vehement assertions that only the toughest of the tough ride horses. I won’t dispute that assertion here.

Tony McCoy fall
Tony McCoy Fall By Paolo Camera [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As we’ll see in a minute, the beginnings of horsemanship come from military needs. The way that riding is taught and learned is much more like an art than a game. Competition between riders and students of the various martial arts is strikingly similar as well. Could “martial art” be a better way to categorize horseback riding as a sport? Is it appropriate to understand horsemanship as a martial art?

Riding… Sport? Or Art?

Despite the differences of opinion, horse-folk and the general public tend to agree that equestrian sports don’t quite fit within the stereotypical understanding of “sport.” Horseback riding isn’t like football or baseball. It isn’t even quite like golf or tennis, or even track and field.

Riding demands athleticism and physical skill from both horse and rider. However, the “riding isn’t a sport” crowd are quick (and probably right) to point out that the horse tends to burn more calories than the rider. Competition tends to be subjectively judged, rather than objectively point-based, although there are exceptions. Equestrian events feature alongside more “traditional” sports in the Olympic Games, and form part of composite events like pentathlon, which would seem to cement riding in general as a sport. However, the debate continues. Alongside these differences between riding and other sports, there is an acknowledged “marketing problem” in getting widespread traditional media exposure to high profile equestrian events, as discussed in this interview via Horse Network.

So, how exactly does horsemanship fit into the wide world of sports?

Horsemanship’s Military Roots

Kozaemon Hisamitsu mounted and armored, but bareheaded, on his galloping steed
By Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
First of all, riding and horsemanship come to us through a strong military history. The first desire of man to swing leg over horse was inspired by the need to cover ground in the name of conquest. Xenophon’s legendary writings on horsemanship were born of the need to train cavalry for imperial expansion and military defense.

Cavalcade west frieze Parthenon BM
British Museum [Public domain or CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
While the odds of any of us riding into battle are slim, traces of that military heritage remain. Have you ever wondered why we mount and handle horses from the left side? Imagine mounting from the right with a sword strapped to your left hip. Modern eventing demonstrates the skills of the ideal cavalry mount. Dressage shows us willingness, obedience, and technical skill. The jumping phases demonstrate boldness, speed, and power. The phases demand fitness and endurance from both horse and rider.

Henri Saint Cyr
Henri Saint Cyr By Linda Sandgren (Swedish Olympic Committee) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, but what about today’s civilian riders?

English Disciplines

Formal dressage comes from military riders on dress parade. The haute ecole and the Airs Above the Ground are movements that would have been highly effective to cavalry in close-quarters combat against other cavalry or ground troops. The levade raises a rider above the reach of a foot-soldier’s sword, spear, or bayonet. A well-timed capriole eliminates threats from behind with deadly efficiency. These movements are the formally perfected exercise of crucial battleground skills and tactics.

Chief Rider Georg Wahl
Chief Rider Georg Wahl By Conversano Isabella [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Into the 20th century, competitive dressage riders often came from military careers. The observer might see Olympic riders competing in military or police uniform well into the 90’s. Klaus Balkenhol is an excellent example, representing Germany and earning team gold in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games.

Western Disciplines

On the surface, Western disciplines appear to be based on the needs and skills of the working American cowboy and rancher, not the soldier. But, when you dig into the history, the true roots run deeper. The Western saddle and seat are derived from those of the Spanish Conquistadores, who brought horses with them to help conquer the New World. Over time, the needs of the Spanish evolved from conquest to colonization, but their horsemanship remained largely unchanged. Without military conquest, there is no NRCHA.

Dragon de cuera
Dragon de Cuera By Raymundus à Murillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Where the military origins are less obvious or direct, echoes still remain. Today’s endurance rider might have been a long-distance courier centuries ago. Italian cavalry officer Federico Caprilli pioneered the modern forward-seat jumping style. With the rise of modernity, in which the horse became a luxury, the first civilian sport riders turned to cavalry manuals like this one for practical guidance. The explicit goals of these cavalry manuals was to train capable riders and willing, supple, and strong horses for the battlefield. These are ideals that still apply to today’s civilian rider and sport horse. These military resources trained horsemanship’s modern masters.

Similarities Between Horsemanship and Organized Martial Arts

From the perspective of training and competition, equestrian sport shares much with martial arts.

Training

JJS Dojo
See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Although there is no formal “belt” system, training of the rider is progressive. Compare this to football, or to basketball, where youth leagues are playing the same game as Tom Brady or LeBron James. Not with the same strength or finesse, but certainly using the same rules, goals, and techniques. In martial arts and horsemanship, there are skills that the masters have attained that are vastly beyond the scope of the novice. Training is progressive, each lesson building upon the foundation of earlier lessons, and forming another layer upon which to build.

Because of the progressive nature of study, some activities and equipment are always reserved for higher level practitioners. A karate instructor won’t hand a set of nunchucks to a white belt. A rider won’t be permitted to ride with spurs if she can’t maintain a stable and effective leg. The development of a jumper’s release is another example of the difference in technique between a novice and a skilled rider. When the student does not have the skill or experience to use tools safely or effectively, the result is counterproductive at best, and dangerous at worst.

Riding Lesson Lineup
Riding Lesson Lineup by carterse, via flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/australianshepherds/2562333046/

In both cases, there is a journey to mastery. There is an underlying idea that there is always more to learn, some more subtle nuance to understand. Even the idea of mastery itself is elusive. Even Olympic-level riders have coaches and trainers. The masters of horsemanship, ancient and modern, tend to consider themselves students. This mindset will be familiar to anyone with even a passing exposure to martial arts. Similarly, many horse enthusiasts find their purpose in the journey of the eternal student.

Competition

Most competitive martial arts and riding events are judged subjectively. Style counts, and the ends don’t justify the means. Technique has weight in the final score, even beyond the degree to which correct technique makes execution more functionally successful. In kickboxing, the two contenders may land an equal number of strikes, but the bout will go to the fighter with the better form and technical ability. Many equestrian events emphasize rider technique and equitation with a dedicated portion of the overall score for a class or round.

Hanoverian-hunter
Hanoverian-hunter By dregsplod from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA (HunterUploaded by Countercanter) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Once again, compare this to other popular sports. In football, as long as the ball makes it to the end zone, barring very specific codified penalties, it doesn’t matter how the team gets it there as far as the score is concerned. Form and strategy follow the function of how best to score a goal within the rules.

Additionally, the structure of competition is generally independent and piecemeal in both horsemanship and martial arts. There are larger national associations and governing bodies, but also thousands of small clubs and independent events. This feature makes riding and martial arts competition highly accessible. No rule says that to compete you must be involved with USEF, or push toward national level tournaments. Those things are there if that is your aspiration, but there are also smaller, more local, and more affordable alternatives for the amateur and hobbyist.

A Matter of Philosophy

Motobu Choki2
By Motobu Choki (The Japanese book “私の唐手術” (My Karate Art)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Good horsemanship and traditional martial arts share a root philosophy in the idea that the same things that allow one to succeed at the sport also allow one to succeed in life. The skills are profoundly transferrable.

Additionally, horsemanship and martial arts often agree on what these specific skills and strategies are. Concepts like soft eyes, responding instead of reacting, and maintaining balance around the center are equally at home in the arena or the dojo. Mark Rashid explains his moment of profound connection between the “going with” an aggressor’s energy in akido, and “going with” the horse’s motion and energy in the saddle in his book “Horsemanship Through Life.

Many riders, like Mark Rashid, turn to martial arts as a way to improve their riding. Yoga, tai chi, akido, karate, muay tai kickboxing, fencing… all promote the same strength, balance, body awareness, focus, and control that we seek in the saddle.

Horsemanship IS A Martial Art

Understanding riding and horsemanship as a martial art answers the questions that make defining it as a sport difficult. According to Wikipedia, “Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a number of reasons: as self-defense, military and law enforcement applications, mental and spiritual development; as well as entertainment and the preservation of a nation’s intangible cultural heritage.”

Horsemanship’s heritage and traditions are rooted in combat and defense. The mental and spiritual development aspects have come more to the foreground in recent decades. The entertainment and cultural value of riding and equestrian competition and exhibition are indisputable. By all of these metrics, riding is a martial art.

What do you think? Are you a rider who cross-trains in a martial art? Have you considered taking up a martial art to supplement your riding? Why or why not? Share your story in the comments, or give a shout-out by email. And remember, you should be riding!

 

Bareback Riding Lessons: 5 Things I’ve Learned

Bareback Riding Lessons: 5 Things I’ve Learned From Ditching the Saddle

Have you ever challenged yourself to do something that took you to the edge of your comfort zone?

Like all riders, sometimes I struggle with confidence in the saddle. After a couple of falls last year and a winter largely out of the saddle, I was pretty nerved up getting back to it this year. But within a couple of rides, I did something borderline crazy, at least as the nervous voice in the back of my mind was concerned.

I monkeyed up onto my younger pony without a saddle. And lived to share my findings with you.

Here are 5 things that I’ve learned, here at the edge of my comfort zone.

Bareback Riding Fun

I Rely On My Tack… Way More Than I Should

The first thing I realized was how much I really do rely on my tack for stability. Without a saddle I felt like a barely balanced sack of potatoes.

Many of my earliest riding lessons as a kid were bareback; this was my instructor’s wise tactic to force me to learn to sit the trot and develop my seat. Over the years, I just got out of the habit of bareback work, even when I rode daily as a teenager. A mount with an extremely bouncy trot reinforced this habit, and over time riding with a saddle became the unconscious standard.

So, once I hauled myself aboard bareback this spring, I was a tense, tight, off-balance mess. Without stirrups to brace against, I had nearly zero stability even at a slow walk. With no pommel there to grab in a moment of “crisis,” I had to deal bodily with my balance issues.

I’m Learning the Meaning of “Draped Legs” and Regaining My Seat

Fortunately, there’s nothing like bareback to force you to improve your seat, at least insofar as achieving workmanlike stability and balance. In short, without the saddle to bail you out, you either figure out how to move with the horse, or you eat dirt.

Rodeo bareback riding

After about 8 weeks of riding only bareback on the pony, I can feel an incredible difference in my stability and seat. Instead of tensing and wobbling at every non-textbook stride, I feel myself account for them by loosening even more.  Instead of grabbing a handful of mane before tentatively asking for a few strides of jog, I’m asking for bolder stretches of forward trot and riding loops and the beginnings of figures around the pasture. Where I was riding the buckle to keep myself from unconsciously using Scout’s mouth as a handle, I’m starting to shorten my reins.

I’ve heard the ideal neutral riding leg described as “draped,” hanging around the horse’s barrel like a wet towel. I’m beginning to have an epiphany as to what that actually feels like, thanks to bareback work.

Now, bareback work isn’t a panacea for all problems position-related. It’s definitely possible to still form bad habits like slumped shoulders and collapsed sides, and also to ride in a “defensive” posture. But, eliminating the tack can unmask a lot of ills. The bareback rider learns quickly that, despite its comfort, riding with a hunched and defensive posture is counterproductive.

I’m Way More Likely to Fit a Bareback Ride Into A Busy Weekday

Let’s face it… after eight hours at the office and eight more on deck for tomorrow, my lazy brain kinda wants to sit on the couch with a glass of rosé and binge-watch Lord of the Rings after taking care of the evening feeding and barn chores. Not groom, lug tack, ride, lug tack, wipe down horse, wipe down tack…

Just grabbing my helmet and the bridle and heading out to the pasture for a session of bareback riding is so much easier. Grab and go, no real prep, and we’re riding!

My Horse Seems to Enjoy This

Especially in the last few weeks, since my stability has really begun improving and I am starting to move with Scout, I feel like he is opening up and enjoying our rides. Even though I am more physically challenged by bareback riding, the lack of saddle gives me psychological permission to relax and take the ride as it comes, rather than push a plan and agenda. And I can definitely see the difference between these two mindsets reflected in my horse. He has been far less likely to shy or spook, and seems calmer and more relaxed in general. Even relaxed, his ears are up and he is alert, and we’re having moments of rounding and stretching forward. I could get used to this alert softness.

That being said, straight bareback may not be the perfect solution for you or your horse. If your horse is incredibly sensitive to moments of imbalanced riding, he is not going to appreciate this experiment. In this case, consider riding with a saddle and without stirrups for a while first. This will “baby step” you to better balance and stability, so that you are less likely to have a moment of dramatic imbalance when you’re bareback.

If your horse lacks topline, taking away a well-fitting saddle and its weight distributing properties may cause him discomfort even with a balanced rider. A good quality bareback pad (please for the love of Pete DON”T get one with stirrup attachments!!) can bridge this gap.

I Feel Like We’re Communicating More Clearly

Again, this is something that I’ve noticed in the last few rides. Without the saddle, I can feel every move Scout makes. While this was unsettling at first, and every muscle-twitch felt like a harbinger of a fall, now I’m starting to really feel his posture and his movements. Each stride is more than a “bump” of footfall and swing of ribcage. I can feel the muscles down his back stretch and contract, his loin shorten as his hind legs step under, his shoulders drop and lift.

At the same time, Scout can feel every movement that I make. Sometimes that’s less not such a good thing, like if I lose my balance or have a moment of tension. Sometimes it’s a great thing, like if I time my leg and shift of weight to match his hind leg stepping forward to get a leg yield. At the end of the day, we’re having more moments of communication than of confusion and tension.

Bonus: I’m Braver Than I Thought. And You Probably Are, Too

One of the most precious outcomes of my crazy bareback riding decision has been the dramatic boost in my confidence. I don’t hesitate anymore before I swing aboard. I still have moments of tension and imbalance, but those moments don’t spark moments of panic anymore. We have come a long way in a few weeks, from nerves at just climbing on to feeling bold enough to ask for canter bareback… although I’m not yet balanced enough to stay out of his way to keep it for more than a stride. For me, for now, the win is that I asked for it, and when I asked there was no moment of fear. I’m actually starting to prefer bareback riding with Scout. This fact almost shocks last-year-me.

Bareback rider jumping
Photo by Nimloth250 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/DSCF5077_-_Kopi.JPG
How long has it been since you’ve ridden bareback? Do you make bareback riding a regular part of your riding routine? Why or why not? Do you enjoy bareback riding, or do you dread it? What has bareback riding taught you? Share your story in the comments, and remember, you should be riding!

Link Love: July 2018 Edition

Link Love: July 2018 Edition

Lots going on in the horse world to share in this Link Love: July 2018! Let’s dig in!

French Link Love: July 2018 Icon

 

Do you struggle to keep your large water troughs and tanks clean? Goldfish may be the answer!! While my own setup isn’t ideal for the goldfish method, yours might benefit! Check out Horse Network’s article on Goldfish Water Trough Maintenance

On a sadder note, we have reports that 2018 Triple Crown Champion Justify may never race again due to continued recurrent swelling in his fetlock. While it would of course have been thrilling to see the undefeated colt race again, I applaud his connections for making decisions that are in the best interest of Justify’s health and sound future. It was an epic run. Read more at Horse Network: Justify May Never Race AgainJustify Officially Retired from Racing

More news from the racing world. Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza was injured when his mount collapsed and died on the track during a workout on Sunday. Despite serious injuries, Mr. Espinoza is expected to make a full recovery. Read more:

Triple-Crown winning Victor Espinoza hurt at Del Mar when horse collapses, dies

Jockey Victor Espinoza Expected to Recover from Fractured Vertebra

And on a Justify-related note… Who didn’t see this coming? Yeah, I’ll probably buy one…

A frequent-flyer on my mp3 player of late… American Horse by The Cult. Just when I thought I’d run out of horse-referencing hard rock, I found a new favorite!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Pony Club and their rating/certification system, especially as a guide and tool for independent riders not necessarily affiliated with Pony Club. Possible subject for a future post? Anyway, I ran across this little gem… could you pass the Pony Club C+ Test? Check out the Quiz from Horse and Hound!

Great news on another ongoing story — Irish event rider Jonty Evans has regained consciousness! It sounds like the road to recovery will be a long one; sending continued prayers and good vibes in Mr. Evans’ direction.

Do you Ride Big or Ride Small? That is the question Human Performance Coach John Haime poses in this excellent article on Horsenetwork.com.

So there is just a taste of some of the news and clickable content that caught my eye this month. For more Link Love, check out last month’s June 2018 Edition. And, as always, you should be riding!

Going to the Fair: The Ultimate Packing List

Going to the Fair: The Ultimate Packing List

Last week I posted on what to expect as an exhibitor taking your horse to a fair. This week, I’m sharing the ultimate packing list, so you don’t forget a crucial item for your fair week!

going to fair ultimate packing list stables
Photo By Lidingo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

For the Barn

  1. Wheelbarrow
  2. Muck Pick
  3. Flat-edged Shovel
  4. Water Bucket and Hook – Check your venue if you don’t know whether there are rules in place about hanging buckets. Some larger and more horse-centric venues have stalls set up with all the hardware you’ll need. At others you’ll need to provide your own. Of those others, there may be rules in place as far as whether the hook can be hard-mounted to the wall, or must be the type that hook over a rail.
  5. Feed pan/bucket
  6. Hay bag/net
  7. Fan – Check your venue to find out what is allowed, if any. Fans can help keep warm summer air moving, but some venues have strict requirements on the types of fans permitted due to insurance requirements and fire hazard risks.

For Your Horse: General

  1. Hay
  2. Feed Rations — I love prepacking these for the week in individual gallon storage bags for each meal. Easier to store, less mess in cramped and possibly shared space than a bin or a bag, and you’ll have exactly what you need rather than toting in more than necessary and toting out what you didn’t need in the first place.
  3. Basic First Aid Kit
    1. Include contact info for your vet, farrier, and other equine health professionals you work with. Most fairs, like horse shows, contract a vet and farrier on call, and if you are far from home these pros will be your best bet for immediate assistance. However, you will have your own team’s contact info at hand if you need it for advice or a second opinion.
  4. Basic Grooming Kit
  5. Fly Spray
  6. Wash Kit — Shampoo and conditioner of choice, plus water scraper
  7. Clippers
  8. Halter and Lead Rope (at least one; I recommend also bringing a spare of each)
  9. Sheets/Coolers/Hoods
    1. Light sheet and lycra hood for keeping clean ahead of show morning
    2. Fly sheet if your horse is sensitive even in the barn
    3. Cooler for between classes
  10. Standing wraps/bandages (if you are familiar with their correct application) — these can assist with the stocking up symptoms that we went over in last week’s post.
  11. Stall “toys,” if they are something your horse finds diverting.
  12. Fun accessories, if there is a parade, costume class, or exhibition “fun show” event during the fair. Glitter hoof polish, non-toxic body paint, colorful ribbons or hair extension clips, etc. are all fun options.

For Your Horse: Schooling Equipment

  1. Saddle
  2. Saddle pad
  3. Girth/cinch
  4. Protective boots/wraps
  5. Lungeline
  6. Lunge Whip/Cue Stick
  7. Dressage Whip/Crop/Jumping Bat (your preference/typical needs)
  8. Any “skilled user” equipment that you may utilize at home: martingale, training fork, draw reins, side reins, etc.
  9. Helmet and gloves (if you use different for schooling than for in the show ring)

For the Show Ring

For Your Horse

  1. Any show-specific grooming tools/products
    1. Coat Shine/Detangler
    2. Color/marking touch-up product
    3. Hoof Polish
    4. Baby oil
    5. Braiding/banding kit
  2. TackCheck your premium book for specific guidelines and legalites, especially regarding bits and “extras” like boots and martingales.
    1. Leather Halter and Lead Shank with Chain (for any in-hand classes)
    2. Bridle
    3. Bit(s)
    4. Reins
    5. Saddle pad
    6. Saddle blanket (if western)
    7. Girth/cinch
    8. Breastplate/breastcollar (if worn)
    9. Flank cinch and connector strap (if fitted for your Western saddle)
    10. Harness and cart (if you drive)

For Yourself

The specifics on what you will need for yourself will obviously depend on your discipline. I’ve broken down lists for the “Big 2” below.

English/Hunt Seat

  1. Jodhpurs/Breeches
  2. Show boots
    1. Tall field or dress boots
    2. Paddock boots and garters for younger kids/pony riders
  3. Ratcatcher shirt
  4. Stock tie and pin, or choker-style collar
  5. Jacket/coat
  6. Boot socks
  7. Hairnet (or bows for young girls on ponies)
  8. Gloves
  9. Helmet
  10. Hard Hat (or other non-protective headgear, if that is your preference or for in-hand classes. Check your premium book for rules on protective headgear for individual classes)
  11. Safety pins or tacks for your number (or a string, if you’re an old-school purist)
  12. Spurs (if you wear them; check your premium book for any rules applied to spur design and usage)

Western/Stock Seat

  1. Jeans/Show Pants
  2. Chaps
  3. Boots
  4. Show Shirt(s)
  5. Jacket(s)/Blazer(s)
  6. Scarf/neckcloth/kerchief
  7. Hairnet
  8. Gloves
  9. Helmet (or western hat if that is your preference or for in-hand classes. Check your premium book for rules on protective headgear for individual classes)
  10. Safety pins or number tacks
  11. Spurs (if you wear them; check your premium book for any rules applied to spur design and usage)

General

  1. Record Book*
    1. *4-H and Pony Club alumni will be familiar with this concept — this book includes things like identification information, baseline vitals, feeding, conditioning, veterinary and maintenance history, as well as copies of all relevant certificates. This book is effectively your horse on paper, and could be invaluable to you in a crisis.
    2. Make duplicate copies of any veterinary and registry paperwork that you will be submitting to the fair office when you check in.
  2. Power Drill — to mount/repair any hardware. Your need for this may vary depending on your venue. Some fairgrounds are better about maintenance and will see to any repairs you may discover a need for. Others, especially smaller local venues, run on a more volunteer and “if you see it, fix it” basis.
  3. Garden hose — for the community wash rack. I like the collapsible “pocket hose” type for fairs; they travel and store a lot better in close quarters
  4. Extension cord(s)
  5. Folding saddle rack and collapsible bridle hook
  6. Basic Leather Care kit. You probably don’t need an extensive array of cleaning gear, but leather wipes and metal/silver polish for touch up and periodic wipedowns are helpful.
  7. Baby wipes. These are great for everything.
  8. Hand sanitizer
  9. Fair Premium Book, and any division-specific rulebooks necessary
  10. Horse treats. 😉

Did we miss anything? What can you not survive a week with your horse at a fair without? Share your favorite must-have’s in the comments!

Going to the Fair: What to Know as an Exhibitor

It is the middle of July, and the high-water mark of summer in rural America is fast approaching… Fair Season. For many equestrians, this means that we’ll be packing our tack boxes and heading out into the world. Whether you are a fair-long exhibitor, or trailering in for an open show during a fair, here are some fair prep tips and tricks to make the experience a smooth one for you and your horse.

Fair Buggy Pony
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia creative commons

Before You Sign Up

As with any show, make sure that you have your class/exhibitor entries and fees sent in and paid according to the guidelines of the particular fair. Also, take time to read over the fair’s premium book in detail and become familiar with the rules that will govern the event. Often, these will differ slightly from breed or discipline association rules, especially with smaller local and county fairs.

The exceptions to these rule differences are breed-specific classes (i.e., Registered Quarter Horse Geldings, etc.), in which case the judging will typically reflect breed or association standard.

If you intend to exhibit for the duration of the fair, familiarize yourself with the general grounds rules. Most fairgrounds restrict livestock to specific areas. Many also designate times for arena or wash-rack access, and have guidelines for decorating your stall and identifying your exhibit. Also, get as familiar as you can with your horse’s accommodations, especially what kind/size stall he will have and tack and feed storage availability. This familiarity will help you pack and organize yourself for the event.

It is also worth familiarizing yourself with other activities occurring during the fair. Even if the arena is open for you to exercise your horse, you may want to note that the chainsaw carving contest is running just on the other side of the rail.

Medical Considerations

Another consideration ahead of loading the trailer is your horse’s vaccination history. Besides the standard negative Coggins test and Rabies Vaccination Certificate that the fair should require, study up on the communicable equine diseases prevalent in your area and vaccinate accordingly. Nothing is less fun than going to a fair and catching something inconvenient at best and deadly at worst. Except maybe bringing that something back to your home barn. Your fair premium book will explain vaccination and testing requirements for your division.

Fairs vs. Horse Shows: A Different Atmosphere

Even the most seasoned and battle-hardened weekend show warrior will feel a difference in the atmosphere of a fair. Shows can certainly be busy, electric affairs, but the very nature of a fair means that there will be hundreds-to-thousands more spectators and bystanders. Odds are very good that most of them are not very horse-savvy. Wagons and strollers with balloons tied to them travel in herds. There is other livestock around making sounds and smells that might be strange to your horse. Whether you are trailering in for an open show during a fair, or are an exhibitor for the duration, a fair will test your bombproofing homework to the max.

Coping as a Fair Exhibitor

If you are signed up for the week, there are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for success and comfort during your stay.

Pack Smart

If you are traveling any distance at all to the fairgrounds, zipping home for that girth you forgot isn’t going to be feasible. Definitely utilize a packing list to make sure that you haven’t forgotten any necessities. Remember that you not only have to bring your show tack, show clothes, grooming kit, water bucket, and maybe a meal’s rations… you need to bring everything you use on a daily basis. This includes stall mucking equipment, feed and hay for the week-plus. It includes schooling gear and everything you need to prep for a mid-fair show, like shampoo, braiding kit, and overnight sheets.

Alongside basically taking your barn with you, you’ll need to pack a good chunk of your house as well. Many fairgrounds offer camping onsite or nearby, or perhaps a hotel might be called for. Either way, you’ll be packing everything you need to survive, too.

Label Your Gear

If you are sharing tack stalls or storage areas with other exhibitors, do yourself a massive favor and label your gear clearly. Your name or barn name in permanent marker on buckets and cleaning tools works well. I’ve been known to also use permanent marker on the inside/underside of older gear or schooling tack. Silver/white marker on the black liner of leg boots works well and stays unobtrusive. If you cannot clearly label an item, try to make it as distinctive as possible. It is a lot harder to mistake a chartreuse and lavender striped lead rope for someone else’s than a plain blue one.

For your more valuable equipment and show gear, think discreet monograms or engraved name plates. Use your own judgment, but also consider not storing prized show gear in community tack stalls. Keep it stored inside your vehicle, camper, or hotel room instead. You may trust your fellow exhibitors, but also consider that the general public will be coming through your barn space as well.

Listen To Your Horse

For most horses, life as a fair exhibit differs dramatically from their norm. It is imperative that you put your horse’s wellbeing first and foremost. If you know that your horse tends to be sensitive to changes in environment, consider carefully before you sign up. Even horses who mentally cope well with upset in their routines can be put off their guard by the demands of fair exhibition. Here are a few common issues that can arise due to the change in environment, and suggestions to cope with them.

Water Intake

Many horses will not drink as much water as they need to under stress. Over multi-day events like fairs, the effects of even mild dehydration can compound on our horses and put them at risk for a host of medical problems. Electrolyte supplements can help, along with lacing fairgrounds water with something yummy like apple juice to make it more palatable and encourage the horse to drink. Use the “pinch test” to check for dehydration, as well as subtler signs like a duller appearance to the coat.

Exercise for Stabled Life

For the pasture-kept horse, stabled life at a fairgrounds is a dramatic transition to make. The most common physical issues tend to be “stocking up” of the legs, stiffness, and high-energy behavior.

Stocking Up

I wish I had a penny for every worried 4-H kid who would flag me down (as an older member and later as a club leader) during fair week with questions about their horse’s suddenly puffy legs!

While stocking up is definitely abnormal and merits attention, it typically is not an “emergency” as such. The puffiness of stocked up legs occurs when the horse is confined and unable to move around. Fluid effectively pools in the lower legs.  Treatment and prevention are the same — keep the horse as active as possible with a combination of workouts, relaxing rides, lunging/groundwork, and hand-walking/grazing. Folks familiar with their correct application can supplement that activity with stable bandages or standing wraps. The puffiness typically resolves on its own.

Stiffness

Stiffness tends to arise with older horses more often, but stabled life can cause any horse to move a little stiffer than he would living at pasture. Again, the fix is to maximize activity as much as possible during the event, and to allow extra time to warm up and supple those muscles during rides and pre-class warm ups.

High-Energy Behavior

The last major outcome to expect with your suddenly-stabled horse is for his energy level to be higher than usual. Like the stiffness and stocking up discussed above, burning off that excess energy constructively with exercise as much as possible will do a lot.

Also consider judiciously adjusting your horse’s diet in the time ahead of the fair. The last thing that most horses in a stabled environment need is to be “sugared up.” Be sure to, as always, make changes to your horse’s feed ration very gradually to prevent colic, founder, and other disorders.

Signs of General Stress

Be sure to monitor your horse closely for signs of undue stress. More extroverted and flighty horses may pace or fuss in their stalls. More introverted types may just “shut down.” You know your horse and his normal. Trust your gut.

Stress can cause a number of physiological responses in the horse, ranging from stable-vice behaviors to colic. Help minimize your horse’s stress by keeping him company, grooming, etc. You, as his herd leader, can be a profound stress reducer for him by your simple relaxed presence. Consider feeding for the occasion by minimizing hard feed, and providing plenty of good quality hay and palatable water. That exercise and activity will relax your horse in mind and body as well. Calming supplements can have their place in your plan, but if your horse is not acclimating at all to the fair environment, don’t hesitate to do what is best for him and leave early.

*Note: Most fairs have rules about early withdrawal that include forfeiture of premiums, ribbons, and winnings. In my mind, the horse’s welfare comes first, but be advised that this the typical case.*

Have a Great Time

I know it seems facetious after so much emphasis on avoiding undue stress and disaster, but, while it might not be for everyone, exhibiting at a fair really is great fun.

If you are going as a club, team, or group, this is a great opportunity to bond with your teammates and forge lifelong friendships. This is also a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other, to see different disciplines and techniques in action.

It is also a great way to bond with your horse, since it really is concentrated barn time. Unless horses are your profession, there are few other times when you literally are in the barn from sunup to sundown for a week straight. Often, horses and riders respond very well to this environment, almost like attending an extended clinic. They begin to “read” each other better, and to build up confidence and skill riding with barnmates that they don’t necessarily build riding on their own. This is especially true of youth exhibitors.

Fair is a phenomenal opportunity to interact with the public. Horse shows tend to draw folks who are already at least ankles-deep in the horse industry. In contrast, many of the people visiting the livestock barns and show rings at the fair are there to see something new and different. This is a great chance to share your passion, and maybe spread a little knowledge, too. As a fair exhibitor, you are much more of an ambassador of the equine industry than you are at a dedicated horse show.

What have your fair experiences been? Is exhibiting at a fair one of your regular summer equine events? What keeps you coming back every year? Did you take a horse to fair as a youth rider? Are you planning on taking a horse to a fair for the first time? Share your story in the comments!

Thanks for reading, and as always I (and you!) should be riding!

Riding With Purpose: What Drives Your Horsemanship Journey

Sometimes the horsemanship journey requires the horseman to go a little “meta.” Riding with purpose is one of the best ways to anchor ourselves mentally and emotionally. This purpose can solidify the foundation of our horsemanship by reminding us of the basic reasons why we do what we do. All of us started down this pathway, and choose to stay on it every day, for a reason. An awareness of that reason provides focus and purpose, and guides us forward on our horsemanship journey. Revisiting basic purpose helps overcome training plateaus, find courage, and recognize progress made.

Riding with purpose
wiki-commons

Maybe it has been a while since you considered your purpose for horsemanship. Maybe it is something that you have never drilled down to defining at all. Every rider is unique and has their own background and story, but here are some very general categories to get you thinking.

Riding with Purpose: Partnership

One purpose you might have is the partnership aspect of riding. There is little more rewarding than working in harmonious tandem with a creature that outsizes you tenfold and speaks no human language.  Perhaps that is the nut of the equestrian bug itself.

When the partnership element forms the root of your purpose, you find yourself focusing on that element of your horsemanship. You likely derive a lot of satisfaction from improving your communication. Additionally, you probably have a “trainer streak” that draws you to teaching horses new movements or polishing their understanding and skill.

Partnership is something that all horsemen should strive for, and necessarily forms at least a part of all riders’ purpose. If it didn’t, why go into the horse industry? Are you a masochist?? I kid…

Riding with Purpose: Building Better Riders… and Horses

Some of us find our purpose in the athleticism of equestrian pursuits. We find fulfillment in honing our own physical skills and abilities, and in building better athletes of our equine partners. We revel in our ability to ride a jump with enough strength and balance to give a full following release of the reins. Or our control and subtlety of seat to influence our horse with whispered aids. We take the No Stirrups November challenge head-on. For the riders who find purpose in the athleticism of the sport, horsemanship provides a venue for improving physical fitness.

Related to this is the purpose of physically improving and conditioning the horse itself. There is great pride to be had in the transformation of a young or green animal into a strong, fit athlete. The process can be intensive, encompassing a mastery of equine biomechanics, cardiovascular fitness, nutrition, and strength training. Some horsemen embark on the process of breeding stock. Responsible breeders to remarkable time and expense to select the perfect crosses and bloodlines to produce superior offspring.

Riding with Purpose: Challenge

This purpose can also overlap with the athletics, to a degree, but not necessarily. Horsemanship is by nature a deeply challenging endeavor. Even “just a trail rider” often pursues challenge in finding new trails to explore and new obstacles to traverse.

The obvious challenges come with competitive riding. No matter what your skill level, budget, tack, or breed, there are innumerable avenues to get into showing and competition. At these events we can test our skills against discipline, breed, and association standards, against our own previous results, and against other riders. Many horse enthusiasts find formal competition highly rewarding.

Organized riding clubs often provide opportunities for friendly competition. Schooling shows, organized and judged trail rides, and mileage challenges are often more accessible to the average rider, and can be just as rewarding to participate in. For younger riders, 4-H and Pony Club offer a framework to learn and progress through “levels” of horsemanship. The materials used by these organizations are readily available, and can be an excellent personal challenge for a non-member rider looking to test their skill or create a goal.

Riding with Purpose: FUN

This purpose is something that should come along with any of the others. If being around these magnificent creatures wasn’t fun, why would we bother with the time, expense, and occasional pain (physical and emotional)? At the end of the day, it is all about the fun and joy that your pursuit of horsemanship brings to you. Something about the pursuit of horsemanship sparks joy in you.

When to Revisit Your Purpose

There are times in every rider’s career when revisiting or rediscovering their purpose can be beneficial.

Fighting the Fear Monster

Every rider has struggled with fear. That is an axiomatic truth. And no wonder, given what it is that we do. Fear can be a good and healthy thing, keeping us safe from the consequences of doing something truly stupid. Other times, fear is less rational, and prevents us from enjoying comparatively safe activities.

When dealing with fear of the enjoyment-robbing variety, revisiting our purpose is a powerful tool. By focusing on that purpose, and our reasons for riding, we can muffle the inner lizard-brain voice that stops us. Our purpose has motivating power to it that often outweighs our fears and worries. This allows us to recapture more positive emotions in the saddle.

Stuck on a Plateau

The nature of horsemanship, as a progressive discipline, means that all riders will at some point hit a plateau in their riding. We might feel like we aren’t improving, at least not as tangibly, as we used to in the beginning. Maybe a movement or a skill is eluding us. Maybe we feel stuck in a rut. Revisiting or redefining our purpose can help here, too.

The reason that purpose gets us off of training plateaus is it takes us back to something more basic, and lets us see the grand scheme again. Meditating (as formally as you like) on that larger purpose relaxes us, and allows us to see what the next step is, or a new track to take. Sometimes our purpose helps us pivot or tweak what we’re already doing. Sometimes allowing our purpose to get us off a plateau takes us into a whole new discipline or focus. There is always something more to learn in horsemanship, and revisiting our purpose in general terms does wonders for helping us see where we can go from here.

Finding Motivation and Defining Goals

Another useful feature of understanding our purpose is the way that our purpose influences and helps define our goals. Defining our purpose is a powerful motivator. Because they have a foundation, our goals tend to materialize and become clearer when we have a clear purpose behind them. Without a basic purpose, our goals tend to be fuzzy and indistinct, and therefore much harder to attain. When our purpose is clearly understood and defined, goals have a way of making themselves.

Conclusion

Despite the slightly woo-woo and meta feel of focusing on root purpose, the exercise of defining purpose can profoundly help our riding and horsemanship. While our purposes are as individual as we are as riders, knowing what they are is crucial to focusing and moving forward on our horsemanship journey. Without purpose, our progress stalls and stagnates, and we can lose sight of what brings us to the barn every day. Horsemanship without purpose becomes a chore… and none of us needs more chores. Horsemanship is an art, and all art, amateur or professional, is built on purpose.

How do you ride with purpose? What is your purpose in riding and horsemanship? Has understanding your purpose helped your riding?

National Farriers Week 2018

National Farriers Week Logo
Head on over to americanfarriers.com for more information!!

National Farriers Week 2018 runs from July 8th through July 14th! Not that there needs to be an excuse to appreciate your faithful farrier, mind you… If you have been around horses for any time at all, you recognize the skill, hard work, and dedication of the folks who keep our horses’ feet sound and healthy. No hoof, no horse! Here are a few things that horse owners can do throughout the year to make their farriers’ lives a little bit easier.

Farrier At Work Title Graphic
Photo via Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Don’t Expect Your Farrier To Train Your Horse

I’ve seen a few farriers over the years have to do battle with horses who lack the basic ability to stand nicely. They should not have to take time to teach this basic skill — building that habit is your job as an owner, perhaps with the assistance of a trainer or more knowledgeable horseman if you don’t know how to go about it.

Farrier Working
Photo From thefarrierguide.com (Creative Commons)

How do you tell ahead of time if your horse is going to be the “problem child” on your farrier’s route? If you physically struggle at hoof-picking time, that is a very good sign that it will be a challenge to perform more intensive hoof-care procedures.

Being able to stand for the farrier is more than a convenience for all involved: it is a matter of basic safety. Your farrier is in a very compromised position under your horse. The environment will never be absolutely safe, but it is your responsibility to do your part to ensure that your horse has the education and manners to make the process as safe as possible.

Provide a Reasonable Working Environment for your Farrier

This entails making sure your farrier has a clean, dry, level surface on which to work. Also, be sure that there is enough light for them to see what they are doing. Your farrier cannot do their best work for you or your horse if they are working in dark and shadow, and trying to create a straight even trim on uneven ground.

Farriers Shop
Image via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

A further consideration is making sure the environment is reasonably free of distractions, especially things that would distract your horse. Confine loose pets during the visit to keep them out from underfoot. Turn the radio down, and ask hubby to maybe wait to run the horse-eating weed whacker a little later. This is not the time to experiment with separating the buddy sour horses, or to feed every horse who isn’t in the midst of a trim. These considerations go back to the issue of basic safety, and also give your farrier the environment that they need to work their craft to their best ability.

Most farriers travel with a thermos, but I still like to keep some fresh coffee or hot cocoa handy in the winter and cold water, Gatorade, or lemonade in the summer. I’m also a fan of having cash or the checkbook handy, and my farrier doesn’t usually travel with change for a $100 bill.

Be a “Good Holder”

Something that my own farrier has expressed his appreciation of over the years has been having a “good holder.” A good holder doesn’t tie their horse up and tinker around the barn while the farrier works. Rather, they hold the horse as actively as necessary to assist the farrier while they work. A good and attentive holder can tell when the horse is leaning, and ask for a slight weight shift to correct the lean without causing a “dance.” They can distract and soothe the horse appropriately when needed, tickling lips or rubbing the crest. Perhaps feeding a treat here or there to reinforce good behavior. A good holder may need to pick up a foot to ensure that another foot stays planted for the farrier to observe. In general, a good holder is useful and helpful throughout the trimming and shoeing process.

Being a good holder begins before the farrier arrives. A good holder won’t have horses drippy with mud and slop waiting for their trims. Instead, the horses will be ready, clean and dry. Your farrier probably doesn’t mind cleaning superficial dirt from the underside of the hoof. He probably does mind trying to hold on to a slimy leg. Even if the weather is damp and muddy, your farrier will appreciate the effort of a quick blast with the garden hose and a rubdown with a dry towel before he pulls in the driveway.

Get Chatty

In my experience, most farriers love their jobs and are very willing to share their knowledge with interested owners. Don’t ever hesitate to ask questions. Maybe not while your farrier has his face in your horse’s frog, but when he “comes up for air.” Informed and educated owners are more helpful to farriers, and better able to maintain hoof health between trims. Even if you tend to defer to their expert opinion on what type of shoes to use, studs or no studs, etc., it is very helpful to understand your farrier’s logic for the work.

Don’t be afraid to share your observations and riding or conditioning goals. Your farrier might be able to recommend a change and work proactively to optimize his work for you and your horse.
Farriers are people, too, and some are folks of few words. However, even the most taciturn should be willing to discuss the details of their craft as applied to your, the client’s, horse when they are in a safe position to do so.

 

Horse outside Blacksmith Shop
Photo via University of Alberta Libraries Prairie Postcards (Creative Commons)

Stay Regular

Work with your farrier to maintain a regular schedule of visits. Everyone does better if trimming happens routinely, and if good hoof care and hygiene are practiced between trims. 6-8 weeks between trims is a good general rule, but some horses require more frequency, or can get away with less.

My own farrier operates on a “call me when you need me” basis, which works, but it is up to me to track and reschedule and coordinate more. This system seems to be the general case in very rural areas, where two clients might be at opposite ends of the county. Other farriers will schedule the next appointment before they leave today’s. Still others will put owners into standing appointment slots with the assumption of visiting their barn at 2:30 in the afternoon on the 16th of every other month.

Your farrier will also be able to advise you on what to do between trims, whether to implement a hoof health supplement or a moisturizing dressing. Regular trims will also help keep ahead of possible problems, like flares and cracks, or even catching things like brewing thrush or scratches (be watching for these anyway!) early for optimizing treatment.

Say Thank You!

This is possibly the easiest thing to do! Take a moment as your farrier is picking up their tools and preparing to head off to the next client to thank them for their work – these two little words make all the difference in a long, hot (or cold) day of trimming the toenails of half-ton drama queens.

How about you? What are some things that your farrier appreciates or makes his or her day a little easier? Farriers out there — what are some things that owners don’t usually consider that make a world of difference to you and your work? Share your ideas in the comments! And remember, you should be riding!

Link Love: June 2018 Edition

Experiment alert… welcome to the first, June 2018 edition, of Link Love! This is going to be a bit different of a format, but I do want to share with you some of the things that have caught my interest around the interwebz recently. They just might interest you, too!

Link Love French Link Logo

Courage and Fear

First up, an article that really speaks to me. I think it will speak to every rider, really. This short article comes from EventingNation.com, and  is about defining courage, and the role of courage in overcoming fear.

http://eventingnation.com/putting-courage-in-to-overcome-fear/

Research on Saddle Flaps and Rider Stability

Here is an intriguing article on research done on saddle flaps, and how they influence rider stability in the saddle.

https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2018/06/10/riders-stable-without-saddle-flaps-researchers/

On Introducing Shoulder-In

Here is a short training article via Dressage Today, putting the focus on shoulder-in. Of particular interest to me, with my mile-wide DIY streak, is the list of prerequisites to help you check your foundation before you tackle this gateway lateral/collected movement. Initially, as we build communication with our horses, we teach “syllables,” whoa, go, and turn. From there, we put those together into “words” like half halt (go plus whoa) and bend (go plus turn). In many, many ways, shoulder-in is the first “sentence” we teach the horse. This excellent guide not only explains how to introduce this sentence, but how to make sure that your horse understands the words you’ll be using in that sentence, too.

https://dressagetoday.com/instruction/5-steps-to-shoulder-in-with-michelle-gibson

Triple Crown History – Made!

Just in case you haven’t watched all three of Justify’s Triple Crown trips a million times already…

http://www.horsenation.com/2018/06/12/relive-justifys-historic-triple-crown-bid-with-all-three-races/

Lateral Flexion: Mind Blown

And this is an article that I cannot wait to take into the arena.

https://equestrianwriter.com/2017/06/07/3-exercises-every-horse-needs-to-know-part-2-lateral-flexion-of-the-poll-not-the-neck/

Confession time… I used to be quite gung-ho about drilling NH Guru Style lateral flexion. However, in the past couple of years I’ve largely ignored the issue, especially on my older horse with the more formal training background. Even in the kits, the lateral flexion exercise never seems to “tie” to a next step beyond a one-rein-stop or a form of face-focused vertical flexion that always seemed way to handsy for my taste.

Where this article triggered a lightbulb for me was in reconnecting the focus of the flexion to the poll. The graphic showing the true flexion point occurring halfway down the neck, far from the poll, is a real eye-opener. The point of the exercise isn’t about stretching the horse’s neck sideways. It’s about releasing, almost massaging, the muscles surrounding the poll. Once these muscles relax and the poll joints become soft, lateral flexion can naturally evolve into correct vertical flexion without putting the focus on the hands and without putting the horse into an unnatural posture.

On Horses in the Wild

And last but not least, I stumbled across this intriguing article on the findings of long-term observation of equine behavior in the wild. This is a bit longer of a read, but absolutely fascinating.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-lives-of-horses/ 

So that is the first edition of Link Love! Have you come across any articles, news pieces, or videos along the interwebz recently that have made you stop and think? If you have, share in the comments! And now, off to the barn… I should be riding!

Relaxation and Rhythm: The Foundation of the Training Scale

No matter what kind of saddle you ride, whether you compete or not, even if you don’t ride at all, relaxation and rhythm is the starting point for everything we do with horses. Without relaxation and rhythm, we can’t move forward with much of anything else.

Relaxation and rhythm go hand-in-hand. The uptight and fretty horse is not going to move rhythmically. Faulty rhythm is a symptom of tightness and tension. A relaxed horse is, by definition, moving with rhythm.

Relaxation and Rhythm
Creative Commons Stock Photo courtesy of luda-stock.deviantart.com

The Training Scale: A Crash Course

All of our work with horses should be based on the Training Scale. The Training Scale is the basis of classical horsemanship. If you come from a dressage background, you are probably well-steeped in this concept. However, a horse is a horse (of course, of course), and the basics of their psychology and biomechanics aren’t dependent on their tack or their job. Therefore, the Training Scale is as applicable to building a better reiner, or even trail horse, as it is to building a competitive dressage horse.

So, what is the Training Scale?

Simply put, the Training Scale is the progression of physical states of the horse as he moves correctly through his training. Although there are subtle differences between schools of thought, the general consensus on the steps of the Classical Training Scale is illustrated by the figure below.

Classical Training Scale
Illustration of the Classical Training Scale: Rhythm, Suppleness, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection

Each step of the Training Scale builds on the previous one, and relies on the foundation of the lower steps to support the horse’s ability to progress to higher steps.  Without Rhythm, the horse cannot be Supple, and certainly cannot be Collected. A horse that is moving with Impulsion must necessarily also be moving with Rhythm, Suppleness, and Connection.

Relaxation and Rhythm

Rhythm, as the first step of the Training Scale, is therefore the “foundation of everything.” If horsemanship has a “God Particle,” it is the state of Relaxation and Rhythm. Our first concern with a green or uneducated horse is to encourage him to a state of relaxation, which is both facilitated and evidenced by Rhythm.

Rhythm, Tempo, and “Takt?”

It is a subtle but crucial point to mention that in this case our word “rhythm” is translated from the German word “takt,” which encompasses an interconnected concept of rhythm (number of beats in sequence) and tempo (speed or rate of the rhythm). What we are searching for in horsemanship is a general correctness and regularity of pace. The number of beats per stride should be clear and correct for the gait. The rate of those beats in motion should be steady and regular, not speeding up and slowing down erratically.

Relaxation and Rhythm Begin on the Ground

We can start building this base layer of the Training Scale the moment we enter the barn by emulating the state of Relaxation and Rhythm in ourselves. If we zip around all frazzled and herky-jerky, our horses will mirror that tense and erratic nature in their own bodies. If we keep our own bodies and minds relaxed, and move in rhythm, the horse will mirror that more positive state instead.

Try This: Next time you’re grooming your horse, focus on bringing rhythm to your process. My favorite mental “movie” of this is the scene from the 1994 version of “Black Beauty,” where Beauty is laying in his stall sick after young and inexperienced Joe Green puts him away wet. He hears and focuses on every sound around him, including the groom in the yard outside. The groom is working the dandy brush and metal curry, swipe-clean, swipe-clean. Beauty’s illness-heightened focus highlights the natural and practiced rhythm of the action. Try grooming your horse with rhythm, and watch as he begins to relax into the process. Note that it is easier for you to find this rhythm if you are relaxed in your mind and body. Also note how the rhythmic action further relaxes you.

Keep that relaxed and rhythmic feel going as you tack up and move to your groundwork and lunging. As you work the horse from the ground, try mirroring his natural rhythms “in your skin.” Feel the 1-2-3-4 of his walk, the 1-2-1-2 of his trot, the 1-2-3 waltz of his canter.

Relaxation begets rhythm, and rhythmic movement promotes relaxation. It is really a lovely cycle.

Finding Relaxation and Rhythm In the Saddle

For a novice rider or a rider lacking in confidence, even this most basic foundational state can be difficult to achieve in the saddle. Have patience with yourself. Riders need time and experience to learn to accurately feel rhythm. It takes even more time to gain the seat and stability to allow relaxation and rhythm to happen in the horse.

It is interesting that relaxation and rhythm are also the basis of training of the rider. Just as we see with the horse, the tense and erratic rider will be physically stiff, lack in feel and connection, and be ineffective with the aids. In this way, the classically trained rider is educated with the same progression as the classically trained horse!

Encouraging a Relaxed and Rhythmic Horse

Factor 1: Rider Stability

Focus on improving your own stability in the saddle. Formal lessons are a tremendous help here, especially lunging lessons. An experienced ground-person will help you as you work on finding your seat and testing your balance. Try riding with “airplane arms” at all three gaits. Or ask your ground-person to call out parts of the horse or parts of the tack to touch as you work. Ride without stirrups. All of these exercises will improve your stability and balance, and your ability to not interfere with the horse’s natural rhythm.

Factor 2: Rider Feel

This aspect takes time and experience to acquire. The first step is an understanding of the basic mechanics of each gait. A walk is four beats. A trot is two. A canter is 3. Count the beats while you watch other riders. Count the beats of your own mount while you are in the saddle. Try riding with your eyes closed (ideally on the lunge!!) to isolate the sensation of the movement of each gait. Try setting a metronome, or selecting music to match your horse’s rhythm to help yourself feel the beat.

Factor 3: The Horse

Every horse’s rhythm is going to be slightly different; they are individuals! The rhythm of a Shetland is going to be dramatically different from that of a Hanoverian. Get a feel for what the individual’s natural rhythm is, and encourage that by your independent seat and sympathetic hands. It is not a simple or easy thing to stay out of the horse’s way; this is one of the reasons why starting a youngster is best left to experienced and skilled riders. It is not hard to disrupt the natural rhythm by riding out of balance or with interfering seat or hands. That disruption creates tension, and makes it impossible for the horse to move with suppleness, connection, etc. up the Training Scale.

Conclusion

As the foundation of the Training Scale, establishing and maintaining relaxation and rhythm are indispensable in the training of horse and rider. Without these elements, the horse is too tense and scattered to respond to the rider. A skilled rider, working with relaxation and rhythm in their own body, encourages the horse to relax and move with natural rhythm.

An important point to bear in mind that no step of the Training Scale exists in a vacuum. For example, a tense horse with a choppy rhythm will likely benefit from suppling exercises and improving connection with the aids. Rhythm and suppleness cannot be ignored when working on improving connection. Each step of the scale both supports and interweaves with each other step.

How about you? How do relaxation and rhythm relate to your riding discipline? What do you do to improve and encourage relaxation and rhythm in yourself and your horse? Let us know in the comments! And remember: you should be riding!