Many performance horses work hard for a living. And since horses don't have the ability to verbally voice their complaints, it is 100% up to us as owners, riders, and trainers to make sure they are truly comfortable in their jobs. While an obvious lameness is usually fairly easy to see, it becomes a whole lot more tricky when the horse isn't outright lame, yet is NQR, or "not quite right."
Sometimes this is due to a bilateral lameness, meaning both front feet or both hocks hurt equally, which creates a situation where the horse might not actually "limp," because both sides hurt. And sometimes the horse has soreness somewhere in his body, that is unlikely to make him limp, even if it is quite sore. This is a tough situation for some horses, if their owners are the type to say, "If he's not limping, he's fine." Not only is it unfair to the horse to be made to work when he's sore, very often when minor problems are overlooked, they can turn into big problems down the road.
Here are some things to think about, and 15 different signs to watch for, to help you make sure your horse isn't working with pain in his body: (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
There is a great debate in the Eventing world, almost exclusively in the US... over whether or not riders should "look for a distance" for their horses when coming into their fences. While it is commonplace for Hunter/Jumper riders to do so (and this is where this idea comes from), Event riders need to think a bit differently for one very important reason! Because our cross county jumps are solid, we HAVE to train our horses with the mindset of nurturing their ability to think for themselves. Read on to find out how and why! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Left to their own devices, horses almost always find the easiest way to do things. And that can mean finding out that it is easier to pick up the canter by swinging the haunches to the inside, rather then staying straight and actually engaging the hind legs more to make the transition.
Why is picking up the canter with the haunches in a problem? Because it almost always means the horse is more on the forehand as he begins the canter. And it is always better to start with a good canter, than it is to try to fix that canter after a poor transition!
Now, on to how to fix the problem! First of all, make sure you are not actually causing this problem by... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
The Wiggly Worm Exercise is invaluable for green horses, as it will educate them on how to turn effortlessly from feather light rider aids. It can also be a great exercise for improving suppleness and relaxation with horses at all levels. Read on to find out how to do it! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
So you have found the horse of your dreams... and are ready to buy. You just have one big hurdle to negotiate before you can bring him home - the dreaded pre purchase exam! While they can be nerve wracking, and sometimes heartbreaking, it is always a smart investment. No matter the price, age of horse, amount of miles on his legs, etc... you will always be better off knowing what issues or potential problems the horse might have in the future.
The level of extensiveness of the vet check might vary for different situations and purposes, however. For example, I would be more likely to... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article) Where a Rider Should Look When Riding the Various Lateral MovementsWhere a Rider Should Look When Riding the Various Lateral Movements
Where a rider is looking during any given lateral movement is very important. Not only do you need to look in the direction you are traveling for your horse to understand your intent, but your focus needs to be consistent to help the movement be consistent. Look elsewhere, or at your horse’s head for a few strides in the movement, and you can easily disrupt the flow and rhythm of the movement. Here's a list of where you should be looking for each of the individual lateral exercises: (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)HOW to Use the Turn Into Each Jump to Balance Your Horse
If your jumping instructor is worth their salt, they have probably told you to use the turn into your jump to balance your horse when necessary. But what does this really mean? And how exactly do you use the turn onto the jump to best set your horse up for success? Read on to find out! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Have you ever wondered why it can be so much harder to stay with a horse when jumping up a bank?? It is because horses have to jump up much higher on an up bank than a regular jump of the same size, so that they have room to put their landing gear down at the top of the jumping arc. Because of this, the type of canter that you need to have on the approach to a bank is one that is... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
To ride from "front to back" means that the rider is using their hands to artificiallyshape the horse's head and neck, rather than letting the head and neck position change naturally as the overall carriage of the horse improves with training (ie collection.)
There is a pretty large range of offenders, from those who quietly wiggle their fingers to ask the horse to "give" and tuck his nose, all the way to rollkur, where the horse's head is cranked down with strong force.
In every one of these cases, the horse's neck is shortened from front to back (obviously to varying degrees), which jams the horse up, and prevents the impulsion from truly reaching the rider's hand. The rider who shortens the horse's neck with their hands will never achieve the lovely feeling of throughness, with the circle of energy permeating throughout it's body.
To understand how causing the horse to shorten and/or overbend his neck stops up the flow of energy through the topline, look at this... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
A rider's elbow joint is one of the most important joints in their body... especially so for those of us who ride Dressage! As the elbow is essentially the rider's shock absorber - allowing horse and rider to maintain a harmonious connection while in motion. Read on to find out about a very common mistake riders make with their elbows, that causes all sorts of unwanted resistance from their horses! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Your ability (or lack thereof) to control your horse's shoulders will show up in just about everything you try to do when riding. It will often be quite evident, as it can be very hard to steer properly or keep your horse straight when you do not have 100% control of the horse's shoulders!
There is an exercise called "shoulder yield" (which is really more of a jumper term than a Dressage term), that tests your ability to control your horse's shoulders. You can also use it to teach your horse to be more responsive to the aids that control the shoulders, making for precise and effortless turning. Here's how to do it: (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
No matter what riding style or discipline you choose, you should be able to prove the solidity of your basic foundation by passing this simple test. And rather shockingly, there are many horses and riders at all levels would NOT pass this test! The very large hole in the foundation of the riders who find this exercise to be overly challenging will follow (and haunt) them forever... or at least until some very wise trainer comes along and fills it in! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Many horses and riders dislike trotting fences... and for a legitimate reason! Because it can require even more patience to trot a fence than it does to canter one! And since we are never required to trot a fence in the Eventing world, it is common for riders to decide that they don't need to spend a lot of time working on this skill.
Trotting fences, especially bigger ones, is a lot like eating your veggies... you may not especially like them at that moment, but they are good for you! Not only will they force you to wait for the base of the jump, but they will teach your horse to... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Read enough Dressage theory, and you will eventually hear the term, "Legs without hands - hands without legs." The extreme interpretation of this is the mantra of the French school of Dressage. (Read all about the different schools of Dressage here.) And one might conclude that the German school of Dressage is what promotes using hand and leg aids at exactly the same time - therefore giving the horse conflicting aids. But that is not actually the case... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
So often I see riders warming up by just going round and round the ring in both directions in the walk, trot, and canter. And while this simple exercise will warm the horse's muscles up... this somewhat aimless warm up routine is NOT the best way to prepare a horse for an athletic performance - particularly when we are talking about jumping a course of fences.
Before you attempt a Dressage test or a course of fences, you need to make sure that all of your buttons work reliably! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
In Dressage, we use bending both to develop and to prove our horse's lateral suppleness. When the horse is laterally supple, the rider will feel that it is easy to keep the horse straight, and that it is easy to change the bend back and forth when changing directions. Lateral suppleness will also allow the horse to conform his entire body to the shape of the circles and turns that we ride him on... which means he can perform those figures in balance.
The caveat here is that to achieve this suppleness, the horse must be giving you TRUE bend throughout his body (more on that here.) So you need to make sure that your horse is actually responding to your bending aids correctly! Here are 3 basic tests that you can use to make sure that your bending aids are working correctly: (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
The ability to maintain an even rhythm and pace on course will provide you with the tools you need to have smooth and balanced jumping rounds, whether in show jumping or on cross country. Here is a simple exercise that will increase your awareness of whether or not you are maintaining an even pace, and will show you exactly what you need to do to achieve it! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Head tilting is a common evasion for horses in the Dressage phase. Most often seen when the rider is turning, making a small circle, performing a lateral movement, or making a downward transition - this resistance usually shows in the form of the horse tipping their nose to the outside, with the inside ear dropping lower (as seen in the above photo.) This has several different causes, and can be somewhat tricky to fix! Read on to learn more about this problem... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
It is very helpful for a rider to know what their horse's natural tendencies are. As only then can they come up with a specific plan for training that will best suit that particular horse. Read on to learn how to evaluate your horse's natural instincts and reactions, and how to make the best use of that information. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Many horses carry tension in their lower backs under saddle, working with tight muscles in their loin area, as well as the junction that connects the back to the sacroiliac joint. This causes a blockage in their entire topline, preventing the horse from moving truly through their bodies.
Throughness is what allows the circle of energy in the horse's movement to permeate his entire body - making him soft and elastic in his movements, and ultra responsive to his rider. It is also important for keeping the horse sound and pain free under a rider!
When horses work with tension or stiffness in their backs, loins, or SI areas, they will almost always become sore in those muscles. This will usually cause them to try to protect those areas by not using them fully, which will then perpetuate a never ending cycle of tension and pain under saddle.
Here is one of the best exercises you can use to help you work through any tension or stiffness that your horse may be carrying in the lower back or pelvis! And it is so basic, that it will work for riders at all levels, from Training level all the way through Grand Prix. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
After the turn on the forehand, the next step in the horse's lateral work education is the introduction of the leg yield. And the best and easiest way to introduce this movement is the nose to the wall leg yield.
If your leg yields in general could use some improvement, you may want to revisit this basic exercise to gain all the benefits it can provide. Which are: teaching the horse to be straighter in the body (not lagging the hindquarters behind), providing you with a way to increase his responsiveness to lighter and more subtle lateral aids, and allowing the horse to more easily gain increased strength for leg yielding in both trot and canter. Here's how to do it! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
No matter what level you are riding at, one skill you need for safe, balanced jumping on the cross country course is the ability to keep a balanced gallop while negotiating undulating terrain. Here is an exercise that will show you exactly how well you are able to achieve this, and improve your ability to keep your horse balanced on course. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)Improve Your Ability to Think on Your Feet!
The ability to "think on your feet" is important for riders in many disciplines - but it is absolutely crucial for Eventers! As one of the things I like the best about our sport is that no matter how well your coach has prepared you and told you how to ride the course.... once the starter has said "Go!" you are out there on your own! You need to be acutely aware of what is happening, be able to make quick decisions, and have the confidence to follow through with them!
If you hear the news as you are about to go into the start box that the footing on the right side of 12A is completely torn up, which is right where you were told to jump 12A to get your line for 12B, what do you do? Would you be able to make a quick decision about whether to stick to your original plan or to change it? And how confidently could you pull off riding a line different than you had walked?
If your horse stumbles and you lose the reins upon landing in the water, can you think quickly enough to make a decision about whether to stick to plan A and go the short way out? Or whether it wouldn't be smarter to go the long way (if their is one), or make a quick stop or circle in the water to get organized? Your ability to make a good decision in a split second can make the difference between a clear round or a disaster!
Now, you might be thinking that the ability to think quickly under pressure is an innate trait. And that you either have it or you don't. But even though some people are naturally better at it than others, it can be developed, just like any other skill, with time and practice.
I am first going to share with you a story of a frightening incident, where the ability to think quickly saved my life. And then I will share a few specific exercises that will help you to improve your ability to think and react quickly. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Whether you are jumping or doing Dressage, the more gears your horse has in the canter, the more rideable and adjustable your horse will be. What do I mean by gears? (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Imagine that you are moving down this hallway... If you are truly traveling in a straight manner, it should be easy to avoid bumping into the walls on either side of you - no matter how narrow the corridor is (providing you fit, of course.)
The same holds true of our horses. If your horse isn't straight (read the full definition of straightness here), you will find that he has a tendency to drift towards, bump into, or even lean on one of the walls.
Now imagine that there are walls on either side of you as you as you ride, whether you are traveling in a straight line or a curved line. Are you able to easily keep your horse in the center of the corridor? Or does he tend to bump into or lean on one of the walls?
It is SO common for horses to move into and lean up against one wall - and much of the time the rider is not even fully aware of this happening! It is also extremely common for this to become a chronic problem. Why? Because.... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
The key to setting the horse up for a good canter depart is to make sure he is truly straight and connected, with his hind legs stepping well underneath his body. And the key to getting that good depart after your successful set up is to be able to give a quiet, clear, and precise canter cue to the horse... in a way that doesn't change his balance at that moment.
Many times riders ask for the canter too strongly (more on that here), or not clearly enough, both of which can cause the horse to tend to run into the canter. Here is an exercise that will slow up both the horse's and the rider's mind in the moments before a trot to canter transition, allowing for more clear communication in the actual aid to canter. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
If you are a Dressage or jumping rider, you have probably been told at some point to "Keep your horse between your hand and leg." But as with many of these common phrases used by trainers the world over, this will only really help you if you know what it means! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Imagine you are galloping along through a field, and a jump magically appears just a few strides in front of you. Would you be able to jump it? And more importantly, would you be able to jump it well?? Why in the world would I ask such a question, you might ask, since fences do not usually just fall out of the sky! Well, I ask for a very important reason! If you are... (Click on Article Title above to read full article)
Transitions make up much of your Dressage Test. This is true at all levels, but is especially so as you move up the levels... where you now have transitions within the gait as well as between gaits. And if you want good scores, you must be able to make smooth, balanced transitions! Here is an exercise which will help to improve the adjustability and rideability of your horse's canter in the Dressage ring. And it has the added benefits of activating the hind quarters, increasing throughness, and developing and improving the canter. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Let's face it... with the excitement that is often involved in jumping, both horse and rider sometimes have trouble waiting for the jump to come to them! When horses have trouble waiting in front of fences, and end up changing their rhythm and/or stride length, their balance will usually be negatively affected. This will be especially so if they brace or resist against the rider's hand as they try to rush!
And if the rider's excitement on the approach to the jump causes them to want to do something to help the process along - that will almost always have a negative effect on the way the horse will jump that fence. Since horses jump their best when their riders approach the jump in a poised and consistent manner, and when they are able maintain the same rhythm and balance right to the base of the fence - both horse and rider will benefit from this often overlooked exercise. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
The secret to our success in training horses ultimately lies in the techniques that we use. And the true horseman knows exactly which techniques to use in each individual situation, to get the best results with every horse.
Sensitive and high strung horses in particular need to be handled very carefully, as if they feel punished when they make a mistake, they can become anxious. As we all know, horses cannot learn or think very well when they are anxious or upset. So to get the best out of this type of horse, you need to truly understand the distinct difference between a correction and a punishment - and you must know how to execute any corrections needed in such a way that your horse will not perceive them as punishment, regardless of your intention. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Some horses are naturally great at following their rider's eye when jumping courses. They are so attentive and attuned to their rider, that they always seem to know where the rider is intending to go next, even before they are given any other signals. Other horses are not quite as focused on their riders, and could be better at reading their rider's body language and focus, and following their eye. These horses often require strong turning aids on course, and are likely to be seen resisting and fighting their rider through the turns.
This can be improved however! And if you have a horse that needs improvement in this area, it will be well worth the effort that you put into working on this. As when your horse is thinking about following your eye on course, you will find that your rounds will become much more fluent. The improved harmony between you and your horse will be evident for all to see! Read on for a simple exercise to teach your horse to better follow your eye, which has an added benefit of improving your ownfocus and eye control! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
As with most things in life, a good strategy is key to you getting the most out of your daily rides. If you can begin each ride in a way that sets both you and your horse up for a successful schooling session, you will find that you will feel less stagnant and frustrated with your riding, as you will make more progress as a team!
While every horse and rider is, of course, a unique team, and may have different things that they need to focus on... here is a list of ideas of things to do at the beginning of each ride, that will help the majority of riders: (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
You will do much more galloping between jumps than actual jumping while on a cross country course. And at most events, that involves negotiating terrain that varies from mildly rolling hills to steep slopes. It is important that riders know how to use this terrain in such a way that it makes the job the easiest and most efficient for the horse - taking the least amount of gas out of the tank! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Here is an exercise from Ian Stark that will sharpen up any horse, and teach him to think for himself over fences. But fair warning... it is only for riders who are especially brave! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
There are lots of different ingredients that add up to good jumping... but no matter what type of approach you are making, or what kind of jump you are approaching, there is one golden rule that you must follow as a rider to have a good jump! Read on to find out what it is! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
The key to doing any movement well lies in the preparation for that movement. And half halts are a very important part of the preparation for just about every movement or transition. However, you need to know exactly how to best utilize the half halt at that particular moment. While the essence of the half halt remains the same across the board, the ingredients and focus of your half halt may need to be adapted slightly to suit each individual situation, to give you the best result. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Everyone knows that riders need to develop an independent seatto be effective, and to be able to move fluidly in harmony with their horse while giving them precise and invisible aids. But did you also know that we need to have independent hands? I am not talking about simply having quiet, still hands that follow the horse's motion because of the shock absorbers in the rider's elbows. This is more specific to the hand itself, and is surprisingly not often discussed! In fact, this may be what has been themissing keyto your ability to establish a good rein connection with your horse! Read on to find out about this essential skill! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
We all know that lateral work is a very important part of the training of the Dressage or Event horse. Well ridden lateral exercises make a horse more responsive, strengthen and gymnasticize his body, and lead to improved carriage by increasing the level of hind leg engagement. Read on to learn about some specific exercises that you can do within your lateral work, to help you to maximize these benefits by increasing your horse's suppleness, range of motion, and the overall scope of his movement. All of which will lead to better scores in the Dressage ring! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Adjustability is key when it comes to good jumping! It is what makes our horses a joy to ride over fences, and allows us to easily create and maintain exactly the right canter that we need for every circumstance. A big part of the rider's homework on the flat should be to practice the adjustability exercise outlined here. And when that is all going quite well, the next step for the moderately experienced jumper is to incorporate that work into your gymnastic jumping. Here is a series of grids that will put you to the test! (Click on Article Title above to read full article)
It takes strength for a horse to canter in true self carriage with a rider on its back! And many of the difficulties that riders run into in their canter work stem from a lack of sufficient strength, and/or the understanding of how to use that strength to properly carry their riders while at the canter. Read on to find out how to build strength in your horse's canter, and to show him how to use that strength to best carry you. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Do you find that your horse sometimes gets a little weak when jumping through combinations? Triple combinations especially can be somewhat daunting and overwhelming for some horses. And once they begin to back off and lose some of their power and impulsion, their confidence levels can plummet! Here is a simple exercise that you can do at home, to bolster your horse's confidence about jumping through combinations, and improve your own confidence in your ability to ride them. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
You may have seen a horse "wagging" his head back and forth in the Dressage ring... it actually happens quite frequently in varying degrees - sometimes in the canter, but more often seen in the trot. Most of the time, what is causing this to happen is... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article) The Art of Slipping the Reins - and When and When NOT To Do So
The ability to "slip the reins" correctly and at exactly the right moment is absolutely crucial for the Event rider. Certain circumstances on cross country require this skill to be almost instinctive for the rider. Yet there are also times where some riders are tempted to slip the reins in a situation that will actually hinder their performance. Read on to find out exactly how and when slipping the reins will work best for you... (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Counter canter is simply one of the most beneficial exercises you can do for your horse in the canter! In addition to building strength, improving balance, and increasing hind leg engagement, it also improves the horse's ability to be straight in the canter. All of which will improve your regular canter!
Let me first talk about at what level you should be at, and what prerequisites should be firmly in place before you attempt to use this exercise in your training program. And then I will go on to discuss how to best introduce this movement to your horse. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
This exercise has many benefits. It reinforces the rider's outside aids, teaching the horse to be more responsive to the rider's outside seat bone, leg, and rein coming through turns. It improves the horse's straightness on curved lines. And it can help to increase engagement of the outside hind leg, which is particularly useful in improving the horse's carriage and balance in the canter - leading to increased collection. Read on to find out how to do it! (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
Patterns can work either for you or against you in the training of your horse! You have to know what kind of horse you have, and must be able to accurately assess your horse's mindset at any given moment. This will allow you to make the right decision, in what kind of pattern to use... and most importantly - how long to stay on it. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)
This basic suppling exercise is particularly useful for horses that sometimes have difficulty with changes of bend, and for those that tend to want to fall to the inside on their turns! It is suitable for riders at all levels. (Click on Article Title above (in blue) to read full article)