Letting Go

  When getting back into the riding scene, you sometimes have to relearn a few things. You might think one thing when your body does another, or you've developed a new bad habit.

  For me, the main thing I had to learn again is letting go.

  It's almost like you need to regain the feel that was once all too familiar to you... and often on a new horse. Your passion is there, but it's like you're trying too hard to make it all happen again. At least that's what I've been going through.

  I've come to the conclusion that it'll take time before I'm fully back to where I've been.

  In my past riding lessons, I had been trying too hard to control the rhythm, speed and takeoff approach (just to name a few). That resulted in my body being too stiff and for all of my jumping courses to be a bit messy. Because I was trying to manage too much, I prevented the horse from doing his job, which in turn meant I needed to manage more to try to fix the situation. As you can imagine, it was quite a mess.

  After a frustrating lesson, I sat in my car thinking. That's when I realized what I was doing wrong. I needed to let go.

  What's so special about our sport is the partnership between horse and rider. Both work together, trusting one another to accomplish one goal. Though I knew this, I somehow needed to relearn it in practice.

  So, I've started to purposely think about trusting the horse. And that's made all the difference. I've seen myself improve each day. Hopefully soon, it'll become instinctual again.

  I guess the moral of this story is that we should always remember what makes our sport so special. Sometimes what we know and what we do can be two different things. And just like the horse and rider becoming one, these two things need to be as well. Sometimes something just as simple as letting go and trusting the animal underneath you can make all the difference.

  Until next time, happy riding!

We All Fall Down

  As I have mentioned in Monday's post (which you can read here if you missed it), I'll be talking about my most recent fall experience. The last time I fell off of a horse was about 3 or 4 years ago. It was an experience that I probably won't ever forget and is something that I will learn from in the future.

  At the time, I had been working at a horseback riding camp that focused on the eventing discipline. They also taught the basics of vaulting as a fun activity to do with the campers. During that one summer, they wanted to try out another horse for vaulting as the horse that they were using had become too old to have children riding him.

  They asked if I would like to be the one to get on this horse first to see if he would make a good vaulting horse for the kids. Naturally, I said yes because I was eager to help out in anyway I could. We got the horse tacked up and into a small round pen.

  First, we just longed the horse without me on him to get him used to the surcingle around his belly. Then I got a leg up and we started walking around with the person longeing in the middle. The horse was fine at the walk. I made sure to swing my arms and legs around and to touch the horse in areas a child's hand or foot might land while vaulting. There were no signs of any sort of unease with the horse.

  So we thought that things were going great. The next step was to ask the horse to trot so we could see how he would react to that. The person in the middle asked him to trot, but the horse ignored her and just kept on walking. I decided I would squeeze my legs to help him understand what we were asking of him. He started to trot for a few steps before everything went south.

  The horse started bucking and rearing. All of a sudden I was on a bronc. I figured the best thing to do would be to hold on and ride it out. This horse was pretty chubby so he would run out of energy eventually. I held onto the surcingle and hoped that the person in the middle would be able to stop him. By that point, I guess we were drawing a lot of attention to ourselves and making the campers nervous. The person who was longeing asked me to get off the horse. So I did.

  I started to dismount just as the horse started to kick out pretty high. Because of that, I didn't have enough balance to land on my feet so I landed on my side instead. Since we were in such a small round ring, I was too focused on getting up and out of the way before the horse would step on me that I wasn't yet aware of my whereabouts.

  I remember the person longeing telling me to get into the middle of the ring while she calmed the horse. The problem was, I couldn't figure out where the middle was. I kept trying to find it but all I saw was sand as my vision started to darken around the edges. I don't know how long I was passed out for. A couple of minutes maybe. All I know is that I could hear them saying to call 911 and I remember telling myself to fight it and come back to reality. When I opened my eyes, the horse was gone and I was lying on the person's lap as someone brought a cold water soaked towel for me.

  When the ambulance arrived, they did a quick exam. I knew that I didn't have anything broken, but my head was a little soar. They didn't want to take any chances so they took me to the hospital. They did a few x rays and then let me go. Nothing was wrong with me, thank goodness and they told me that I could start riding again right away. They also said that the passing out was probably caused by not drinking enough water and getting up too fast after a fall.

  So to make a long story short. I'm okay and I still love to ride. I also don't blame the person who was longeing at all and I understand their reasoning for asking me to get off in the first pace. I'm not afraid of that horse or longeing or vaulting. But I will make sure to drink more water and to wait a few seconds and get my bearings before I get up off the floor from a fall.

  If there's one thing I'd like for you to do, it's to please take your time when getting up from a fall. Learn from my experience before it becomes your own. We will all fall off our horses and we will get back on. We learn from our mistakes and that's what's important.

  Until next time, happy (and safe) riding!

Little Things

  Horses are always testing us to see if we are paying attention and if we are still fit to be the "high horse". That's why we should always be aware of what we are doing and what we are allowing when we are around them. Believe it or not, you may just be teaching your horse bad lessons or habits because you might let things slide.

  There are things that may be acceptable for a horse to do to another horse, but not to us. Things like pinning their ears or biting for example. If you were to notice your horse about to bite you or pin their ears, you could correct it and teach him that he is not allowed to do that. The trick is to be consistent. Every time he is about to exhibit bad behaviour, you need to correct it. If you let it slide, your horse will learn that he can get away with it. It will also make you look like a weak, inconsistent leader in your horse's eyes.

  Your horse is constantly learning and testing. In a herd, once the high horse becomes weak, a stronger horse will take over the role. If we show our horses that we are weaker than they are, they'll try to take our position away from us. This means that more problems will evolve since he won't be listening to what you ask of him any more. 

  You need to make the wrong things hard and the right things easy to a horse. When the right thing is easy, they'll then discover that it must be the right answer. So if your horse pins his ears on you and you ignore it, you just allowed him to think that was the right thing to do (wrong thing easy). If your horse pins his ears on you and you react by making him feel uncomfortable by using pressure and releasing the pressure once he stops pinning his ears, he discovers that pinning his ears is the wrong thing to do (making the right thing easy). 

  Horses learn through pressure and release. The more pressure you put on your horse, the more uncomfortable he will be. Once he gets release, he then learns the right answer because it's a lot more easy to have release than to have pressure. They are sensitive to pressure as well. It doesn't take much to get a reaction. Pressure doesn't mean yelling and hitting your horse, it simply means making yourself look more intimidating by holding yourself a certain way. Sometimes even looking them in the eye a certain way will make them react. 

  The best way to learn how to use pressure correctly is by watching horses out in a pasture. Sometimes just a turn of the head and a swish of a tail is enough. You want to communicate the same way to your horse. The same goes for release. Giving a horse release does not always mean walking up to them to pet them (in fact, approaching them may only increase the pressure). In a herd, release is distance. So taking a few steps back and waiting for your horse to relax and think about the right answer can be the best form of release you can give him. 

  To give you some examples of the little things horses can do that, if you let them slide, can cause problems in the future, I have found this video. Warwick Schiller talks about some of the horses he has worked with where horses have been taught bad things because people weren't aware they were allowing them to learn these things.



  I hope this has given you all something to think about and that you will be more aware of what you are teaching your horse the next time you are around him. I wish you all the best of luck with teaching your horses the right things and I thank you for reading Pure Horse Sense.

  Until next time, happy riding!