For many years, I’ve been in the horse adoption profession. Before that, I had several years of other horse-related experience — ranging from owning horses, acting as a working student in assorted barns, teaching beginner riding lessons, and exercising horses for pay. As you can imagine, I’ve seen many types of horses, owners, and trainers over that time. And I have come to the conclusion that it is actually is a form of mistreatment to love horses so much that you spoil them.
Most people would assume that a worse equine cruelty would be to physically harm or neglect the horse in obvious ways (such as starvation, abuse or abandonment). Those are indeed indefensible actions and rightly should be condemned (as they are by everyone except the abusers themselves).
Many of you have probably experienced the thrill of No Stirrups November. Your instructor sets up entire lessons without stirrups (including the dreaded posting trot series). Maybe you raise funds for a charity (by having friends donate each time you complete a stirrup-less ride) — or your barn has a contest to see who can do the most rides sans stirrups.
But here at Horse Wise, I like to innovate. And November is a perfect month to prepare your horse for winter — and to set some fun goals for the upcoming holiday season. For many horse people, November and December seem to fly by. It’s so easy to get caught up in the blur of Thanksgiving and Christmas — not to mention the short daylight hours and the sudden need to acquire wool and fleece.
So I’m announcing the Horse Wise No Saddle November challenge. Your thigh muscles will thank me — because No Saddle November is all about ground work. Not the dreary, lunge your horse endlessly kind of ground work — or the endless showmanship patterns (where you have to master the ungraceful art of jogging while squatting).
I email you a specialized list of exercises to do each week (with video instructions)
You send me a video or photo of you doing each exercise
By Nov 30, you and your horse are ready for the Olympics! Or at least for winter. One or the other, I guarantee it.
The winner of the challenge will receive a gift certificate to Dovers Saddlery, a gorgeous ribbon, custom coaching session and tons of social acclaim. Winner will be determined by greatest number of completed exercises (verified by video/photo). In the event of a tie, a raffle drawing will be held to determine the winner.
What’s in it for me? I’m donating all of the challenge entry fees to my favorite equine charity, LOPE — to help the amazing OTTB warhorses and youth program there.
So take off the tack, put on the lead rope and sidestep into No Saddle November. It’s all for fun — and to help a great cause!
I once rode at a barn with a varied (and wonderful) clientele. Every kind of horse seemed to be there. Dressage, team roping, hunter/jumper, polo — and even a few endurance mounts.
The riders were from equally varied backgrounds — from weekend trail riders to upper level competitors. I enjoyed the mix. Everyone loved their horses and wanted only the best for them.
I often saw certain people frequently there. Our schedules overlapped. The adorable pre-teen with her first ever horse (a mellow senior citizen paint). The retired military man with the Belgian draft cross. And then there was Ginger (not her real name) — a vivacious and outgoing real estate agent. Ginger owned a kindhearted Andalusian mare. They were both learning how to do working equitation (and garrocha pole wielding).
Do it again. Just one more time, to make sure we get it right. So we can be perfect for the (insert here) show, the clinic, the trainer, my parents or that group of onlookers over there.
There are two things wrong with this approach to working with your horse. First, it’s drilling. You’re asking your horse to repeat a movement over and over again. With this mindset, you rarely are rewarding your horse for trying harder or making incremental progress on something new for him. Instead, you are just telling him to rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat endlessly. There is no nuance or recognition that your horse might need a break from the task, mentally or physically.
Many of us were taught to use pressure and release when working with horses. You apply pressure to the horse, they move away from it and you then release/reward them. Half-halt rein aid, the horse slows its pace and the rider releases the rein.
Sometimes riders forget to fully release when the horse moves away from pressure. They ask the horse to halt, the horse stops and the rider gives a little with the rein. But then they continue to hold the rein, even while the horse is at a halt. I see this quite a bit. The rider thinks they’ve released when they give 10% of the rein. But the horse feels that other 90% as continued pressure.
Many Texas horse people are feeling frustrated now due to all the rain we’ve been having. To help, here are some fun exercises to make progress with your riding and horsemanship goals. Even if you can’t visit your horse.