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Our Newsletter

2013 On the Rail

Western Jumping

The lesson horse I ride rushes jumps. How do I stop him doing this? I have tried half halting, stopping in front of the jump and talking to him but nothing helps. It scares me.

Answer #1:
Thank you so much for consulting CHA for help with your question. As you realize, the very nature of jumping a horse requires a greater emphasis on safety than other aspects of riding. I have heard some people comment that when a horse rushes a fence it is because he likes to jump, but this certainly is not true. It is part of the “fight or flight’ response of a frightened horse. He has either been encouraged to jump at too fast a pace, rushed in his training, or hurt during the process of jumping.

You mention that you are riding a lesson horse. This means that he may well be receiving differing and confusing commands from some of his riders. He may be being over jumped, jumped too high, or caught in the mouth or hit if he refuses a fence.

I do have to emphasize that this is the responsibility of your instructor. She is obligated to give you a safe lesson built on learned and correct theory with empathy for the horse. I am pleased that you are at least attempting to cure this problem by trying to calm your horse and the use of half halts, not yanking or pulling on him.

You need to take him back to the beginning. Rushing is VERY dangerous and it is never the horse’s fault. It can result in him hitting the rails and falling, or running away. Start with a single ground pole and first walk over it. If he does not rush it, then you can progress to trotting and then either three ground poles or double space two so that if he does rush he does not try to jump them.

He needs to have the attitude that he is so calm he is bored with this exercise. Then you can move up to three grounds rails and a cross rail, etc. Your attitude is important also. Remember to take deep breaths and always give him a crest release over every fence or pole. Remember that your half halts originate with your body and not your hands.

If you are jumping a small course and he reverts to rushing, calmly trot him in a large circle in front of the fence. One side of the circle must put you in line if and when you decide to jump the fence. Do not surprise him and pull him up sharply at the last moment. Keep the circle so that he realizes that he is not going to jump until you give him a clear signal. When he is calm and quiet, then trot him over the fence. The jump may be awkward, so use a neck strap so you do not get left and catch him in the mouth. Circle him after the jump. Incorporate this exercise into your regular flatwork schooling and do not overdo it. As soon as he knows he can trust you and you will not hurt him, he will stop rushing.

Also, horses may rush if they are in pain. Be certain that the stable has had a good vet or chiropractor check the horse. Pay close attention to his back. Also check the fit of his saddle. Make certain that the bit is not severe and does not pinch. If you are controlling a horse using a severe bit or tight nosebands, this is bad horsemanship. You need to reschool your horse. Unfortunately for this retraining, this horse needs to be ridden by just one or two really good, empathetic riders. But it will benefit the stable in the end as they will again have a valuable and safe school horse.

Mitzi Summers, CHA Master Instructor and Clinician

When I have a new client whose horse rushes to jumps, I bring them back to the basics. Start with ground poles spacing them for walking, and trotting over. Walk 2’6” and trot 4’6” for average moving horses. If the horse can go over these at a walk and trot “without rushing,” and I mean allowing you to have your leg on and not have the horse scoot, then I will start adding a few more poles, and put the poles in a “course pattern” and have them take the trotting ground poles like a jump course. If the horse can go through the pole course without changing his tempo (speed) then I bump it up a notch. If the horse starts anticipating and gets strong, I will have them go back to the beginning until it’s done correctly. I will add a small raised ground pole here and there. If the horse can take the raised pole(s) within the “trotting pole course” without rushing, then I again bump it up a bit more and add a cross rail.

I will do this until it becomes “boring” for the horse and rider so both will feel this is easily doable. Much of what I see is anticipation and anxiety bouncing off the rider and horse which feeds the fuel, hence, rushing. Just go back to the basics and set the standard for the horse as what is to be expected. It may take a week or two or three to get the point across that this isn’t a running course, and patience will go a long way instead of trying to pull the horse back to a slower speed. The horse should ultimately be ridden with a nice steady connection with the horse in front of the rider’s legs, yet not rushing. The rider should not be a passenger, but the one who sets the tempo and strides through his/her subtle, natural aids. When ridden this way, watching a pair jumping a course should be effortless and pleasing to the eye. Good luck and safe riding,

Stacey Morrison, CHA Master Instructor

On the Rail

Integrating New Horses Into Lesson Programs

The camp where I work mainly serves kids which have never ridden before, and some of our horses will have 15 different riders in a week between campers and horse lessons. Some of our newer horses are not ready for kids, and I was wondering what your thoughts are on how I can teach the new horses how they are to behave with a new rider on them, who won’t know how to discipline their horse.
Horses in beginner group riding programs should be taught to adhere to a strict routine. Fortunately, horses are easy to train to a routine and pattern and in fact, they find it quite appealing. Think about how easy it is to train a pattern of behavior into a horse (for better or for worse). For instance, if you pick up a horse’s feet in the same order every day when you clean them out, in just two or three days, your horse is picking up the next foot as soon as you place down the previous one. Horses are very much creatures of pattern and routine and it gives them a sense of security when they know what to expect.

First, you need to thoroughly evaluate each new horse that comes into the program. Have a staff member assigned to each horse and make sure they have the time to catch, groom, saddle and ride the horse each day for at least a week. That should be enough time to assess the horse’s individual quirks, to learn its strengths and weaknesses and to make sure the horse is suitable for your program.

Consider the horse’s ground manners and work with the horse to make sure they are solid. Stands quietly, keeps its nose where it belongs (in front of his chest), is respectful of the handler’s space, picks up his feet for cleaning, compliant and relaxed while saddling and bridling, leads in a mannerly way (keeping a reasonable space from the person leading and does not try to get in front or lag behind too much). If the horse needs work on his ground manners, this is generally a very good investment of time. Some horses have just never been taught how to act properly and if he learns to follow rules from the ground, he will be much more compliant while being ridden.

As you are evaluating the horse, make sure you do all the obnoxious things that the horse might encounter from a beginner rider-- jab your toe in his belly when you mount, put your knee in the flank, drag your foot over his rump, slam down hard in the saddle when you sit, bounce around, shift your balance, flap your arms, scream, drop a water bottle, etc. Don’t be too concerned if this bothers the horse at first. These things are easily desensitized.

Next, you need to teach the new horses the routine used in your program. From the moment the horses are fed or brought in each morning to the time the lights are turned out each night, make sure the new horses follow the exact routine you expect of them. The more consistent each aspect of your routine is, the better the horses will do. For instance, bring the herd into the barn in the same order, tie or stall them in the same place, groom and tack systematically, line them up to ride in the same order for each lesson. Do the exact same things in the same order every day and your horses will quickly acclimatize.

Have a staff member ride the horse in some real lessons, acting as if she were a student. Pay very strict attention to make sure the horse learns and follows the rules in the arena, whatever they may be-- stay in line, do not pass, don’t fraternize or interact with another horse in any way. Teach them the regular pattern of your lessons, like standing in the middle for tack checks, lining up to trot one at a time, riding around the cones, etc.

The staff person will strictly discipline the horse for any infraction of the rules and that will help the horse learn what is expected of him. When not actively disciplining the horse, the staff person should ride very passively, as a beginner student would-- floppy and sloppy in the saddle. Most horses will fall into the routine fairly quickly, assuming you are starting out with a suitably trained and tempered horse.

Most of the large group riding programs I have worked with, do not allow students to discipline the horses; it is doubtful that a beginner rider could effectively discipline a horse and allowing students to do so can often lead to more problems. Besides, if you have authorized a student to discipline a horse, you have publicly admitted the horse has a problem. That could easily come back to haunt you.

Therefore, the new horses should be fully assimilated into your program’s routine by a staff member and should not be ridden by students until the staff person is no longer making any corrections with the new horse and the horse has settled into the program.

In the last decade, behaviorists have reversed their opinion on whether or not horses learn from other horses. It was previously thought that this was impossible but now it has been demonstrated in many different experiments that horses can and do learn by watching other horses. So make sure your new horses are paired up with a seasoned school horse that knows his job well and let your other horses lead by example.

Julie Goodnight, CHA Master Instructor

Exercises While on the Trail

What are some good exercises to do while on the trail?
With the change in the weather it’s a great time to get out of the arena and enjoy the trail. We all know that there is no better way to spend the day than just being out in nature with our horse and maybe spending time with friends. I often see people riding past my house to get to the state park. I have often observed these riders talking or even texting on their cell phones while riding along the trail. I think when we do this sort of thing and not paying any attention to our horses we are missing a great opportunity to enhance that bond with the horse that we all want so badly.
For me a trail ride is a great opportunity to tune up my communication skills with my horse and spend the time improving my relationship with her. With all of the changes in direction and obstacles it is a perfect time to work on our communication skills. The following are some things I recommend, depending on the terrain and the level of training your horse has.
•    Practice having soft eyes, pick a vocal point way down the trail and see how many things you can be aware of beside that object.
•    Practice your breathing. Deep abdominal breath resulting in deep relaxation and loose joints.
•    Practice asking your horse to relax. Lower his head so that his chin is at the level of his knees. Allow him to stretch out his back and get loose.
•    Check your skeletal alignment. See if you can stand in the stirrups without first having to move forward. Can you walk down the trail in a standing position with perfect balance without having to hold on to your saddle.
•    See how soft you can get your horse in the bridle. When you think you are soft cut it in half.
•    If your trail is wide enough (you only need about three feet) see how softly you can leg yield from one side of the trail to the other. Leg yield around and past trees, rocks and any other objects that you are approaching.
•    If you come to a turn on the
trail do a turn on the forehand to change directions.
•    Practice transitions within the gait. Get a walk so slow that if it were any slower it would be a stop then softly bring it up to a working walk.
•    Do walk to trot to walk transitions. See how softly you can apply the aids to get your transition. See if you can get a change with just a change in your breathing.
•    Practice getting your left and right diagonals by feel only looking down to see if you got it right.

Of course safety always comes first, so make sure you can do any and all of these exercises in a safe environment before you practice out on the trail. Doing these exercises out on the trail will go a long way to get your horse really tuned in to you. It will reduce the times he spooks at the squirrel, the rattling leaves or the horse eating chipmunk scooting along. Enjoy the trails and your improved relationship with your horse.

Jim McDonald,
AQHA Professional Horseman
CHA and Centered Riding instructor

On the Rail

Horses Licking

Sometimes I like to just sit in the horse corral under the shelter and relax. My gelding always comes over to me whenever I sit down and I pet his nose. He usually starts licking my hand like a dog (probably because skin tastes a little salty especially if you’re sweating). I have no problem with him doing that but after a few seconds he tries to take a bite out of my hand. He definitely is not nipping at me. If it was a nip then I would smack his mouth. It’s more like a bite like when they take a chunk off a flake of hay. But he doesn’t bite hard at all. I don’t know if I should smack him for that, so I just calmly push his head out of the way. What should I do about this?

Benny in WA
Hello Benny, I appreciate that you enjoy the serenity and good energy that people can have while just spending time with their horses. But there are several behaviors on YOUR part that need to be changed to make you safe and to be consistent with your horse handling. To start with, you are putting yourself in a bit of a precarious position sitting on the ground with your horse at liberty in the same area. Remember “horses are horses”, and if he gets startled, irritated for whatever reason, or at any time resents where you are, you may not be able to prevent getting stepped on or even kicked.
I also really like to spend quiet time with horses, but always be aware of your personal safety. If you have invited your horse into your personal “space”, it is all right for him to be fairly close to you, but again not in a sitting position. The answer for the biting problem is to not allow him to lick you in the first place. Horses cannot be expected to recognize certain barriers when they are, in effect, “at liberty”. If your horse was licking another horse and decided to give him a bit of a nip it would not be a big deal...they are large animals and indulge in back and forth “horse play”. Your relationship with your horse needs to be on a different level.

I will bring my head close to a horse’s nose at times when I need to “click” with them and “bond”. But he is not allowed to go into “my” space for this, and I am very careful. Your horse cannot be expected to understand the barrier that is necessary so that you do not get hurt. You allow the licking, and then to slap him when he tries to include a small nip would only confuse him. If you invite him into your space then you can be close to him. But if he begins to “take liberties,” i.e. lick you, just push him away sharply with your knuckles at his jowl. Your energy can establish a “bubble” between you and him. Then go back to your original position.

A good horseperson should never hit a horse in the face. It can make the horse head shy. NEVER hit a horse near its head with a whip. This would be a sign of a bad handler. There is a possibility of hitting the horse near its eyes and really harming it. A “trainer” in my area actually blinded a pony in
one of his eyes because she hit him repeatedly on the head with a whip. It is important to be as consistent as possible when working with a horse. If you allow him the opportunity to lick you and then when he takes a nip you slap him, that will only confuse him in the trusting relationship that you have established.

Mitzi Summers, CHA Clinic Instructor

Western Jumping

I would like some advice/input on a topic. At our horse camp this year, we had some kids who signed up for cavalletti and crossrail workshops who came in the ring with Western Saddles (they don’t ride English at all). Last year when they asked, the clinician said no. But, when talking with this year’s clinician, she said they could do cavalettis because it is in Western Trail classes. As for crossrails, she was more hesitant and told me that she would let them try but if she felt they or their horses were not safe, she would dismiss them. The reason we allowed it was because parents of the kids involved felt they should learn in case they ever have to jump a log on a trail or something. So, we allowed it and everything went fine. However, the volunteer who had been the clinician last year heard that we let them jump the cavalettis and crossrails in western saddles and sent me a link to an article that says nobody in a western saddle should ever jump at all, not even over a log (for safety reasons). What is your feeling on this?

I personally see no safety issues with riders doing cavallettis in either English or Western tack. Are the cavallettis being used as “ground poles” or are they elevated off the ground? Either an English or a Western rider should be knowledgeable and safely either rise in the saddle (slight standing position) or post over ground poles/cavallettis. Western riders do post in Western tack – for comfort of the horse and rider. If the cavallettis are being raised off the ground – I would need to know how high to answer this a little better.

I also believe that both Western and English riders should be able to jump a log out on the trail – that is 18 inches or so…even more sometimes – you never know what you will encounter in the woods. English riders should easily be able to sit in a two-point position and deal with these situations before they are allowed to ride on the trail. And Western riders as well should have these skills before they are allowed to ride on the trail – but they cannot do a real “two point position” or will get hit in the “belly” with the saddle horn as the horse rises – especially if they “over jump” like so many horses do by over reacting to such things as a log across the trail, while out in the woods.
So Western riders should also learn to jump at least 18 inches (a nice “cross rail” height for practice in the ring) and to stand in the saddle and do “a half of a two-point”, so as to allow rein length for the horse’s head and neck extension over the obstacle - but so that the rider will not to get bumped in the belly with the Western Saddle horn.

A small jump (up to about 18 inches) is quite normally an obstacle in a trail class held in a ring. It probably would be wise to offer the cavalletti and cross rails practices separate for English and Western riders with the clinician while learning. Just to make it a little easier on everyone (in this case especially the clinician that feels no one in a Western saddle needs these skills). And many of the youths will probably like to ride and learn the skills both ways. With all of that said….If youths want to learn to jump courses – they should learn to ride English. Western horses should not be expected to be jumped repeatedly and frequently in Western tack.

Jean Griffiths, Cornell University

***Here’s what CHA Composite Manual of Horsemanship says – “Naturally, there will be cause and occasions when your horse will jump (lots of them). To mitigate the danger of hitting the horn, the rider holds both reins in one hand and put his hand on the back of the horn to protect the belly if you hit the horn.”

On The Rail

I’m having trouble keeping my balance while making fast turns with my horse. If you have any advice for me, that would be a major help!

Answer #1:
Make certain your stirrups are a length to support your balance on a turn. Try shortening them a couple holes and see if that helps. Work on stepping into both stirrups with your legs underneath you where it will help balance you (like when you’re standing or walking on foot) rather than letting them get way out in front or behind you. Once your stirrups can support your balance, try to “look” around the turns with your collar bones and not collapse your outside (of the turn) ribcage and fall into it. A little lean at speed is manageable but better balance helps everything, including your final time!

Next I would ask - does your horse lose balance and drop its shoulder into the turn? If so, work the turns at a walk, then ever increasing speeds over a couple of months to help your horse gain better balance, asking it to move off your inside leg so it can eventually turn around your inside leg instead of leaning on your leg. While the forces of a turn at speed are different, the mechanics of all turns need to be established at slower speeds, and gradually increased, and that’s true for both horses and riders.

Anne Brzezicki, CHA Master Instructor & Horsemanship, Director at MTSU

Answer #2:
I would suspect if you are losing your balance in turns at speed, then it is not firmly established at slower paces either yet. Speed simply magnifies the problem that is there throughout the riding.
First, we need to consider what happens to the horse’s balance in turns, and how it affects the rider’s balance - and vice versa. When riding at speed, the tendency is to lean forward. And this does indeed enable and create MORE speed, because placing the weight over the horse’s shoulders makes the horse carry weight on the front legs. That has the same effect on the horse as we feel if we are (on our own two feet) walking down a significant slope and lean forward at all. The force of gravity pulls us down in the front, and in order to avoid falling on our faces, we have to keep putting our feet out forward under our shoulders to catch ourselves. And we start praying that we reach level ground BEFORE gravity mandates we catch ourselves with forward steps so quickly that we just can’t keep up any more. A turn at speed CANNOT be done safely and in balance if the horse is on the forehand. The weight MUST be shifted back over the hocks, and the hocks and hind feet must move under the horse’s center of gravity, NOT to the outside of the turn. Then we have to add to those facts the information that turns or circles have centrifugal force that the rider must counteract with position in order to keep his or her and the horse’s balance. Speed magnifies the problem.

Quick turns have centrifugal force, and so tend to slide the rider’s hips to the outside of the saddle. To compensate, the rider will instinctively lean with their shoulders to the inside, like riding a dirt bike. That will cause the horse to shift its weight onto the shoulder on the inside of the turn, and its hind legs will drift to the outside of the turn and not be under the horse. BUT if a horse loses its hind legs to the outside of the turn far enough, you can actually tip it over. Feeling on the verge of that happening is definitely unnerving!

Now that we have analyzed what is going wrong, let’s talk about how to fix it! FIRST, practice doing these riding techniques at the walk, then the slow trot, then the controlled canter or lope, and make SURE you have consistent body control and both you and the horse have achieved balance BEFORE doing it at speed. When you are ready to add speed, only do as many strides as you can keep your balance with, and do a down transition to rebalance and regroup before doing a few more strides…
Here are the techniques to use to improve your balance through correct positioning: first, be SURE you are sitting up straight, shoulder-hips-heels in alignment; then, to counteract the centrifugal force of the turn or circle, move YOUR hips to the inside of the circle and your shoulders to the outside of the circle while you are sitting in the saddle. This will feel like you have your outside hip over the center of the horse’s back, and that is the hip where the majority of your weight should be. Your inside hip will be to the inside of the circle (to me, it feels like my inside hip is in the air over my inside heel, and rather like I am standing in a motorcycle sidecare next to the horse on the inside) and there will be weight in that inside heel as well as in your outside hip.

It SOUNDS like you are being asked to contort yourself, but in reality, all you are doing is counteracting the centrifugal force (which exists not only in the turns, but in the canter itself because of the shift forward of the horse’s leading side shoulder and hip), so that your spine remains centered over the horse’s spine and over the horse’s balance point. to further help, each time the horse’s shoulder rises in front of the saddle in the canter or lope, give a gentle squeeze with your inside calf to encourage the inside hind to step further under the horse’s center of gravity (balance point), which is right under your seat.

Any time things start to lose quality and security, slow down, go back down the training scale to reestablish foundation, and don’t work on more difficult askpects until the foundational ones are solid and consistently correct.

BEST solution: get a knowledgeable instructor with an excellent eye for position and timing to coach you from the ground, as it can be very difficult to know from the saddle where your body parts actually are and what they are doing in the middle of a problem.

Jo-Anne O. Young, CHA Master Clinic Instructor & Houghton College

Equestrian Program Director

My horse has never been a problem to load. He’s started something new. He walks in, and before I can tie him and move past him to close the divider he decides he’s leaving and pulls back. He can’t get loose because of the panic snap, then if I untie him he bolts backwards out of the trailer. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

You mentioned your horse has no problems loading, so I will assume he is comfortable in the trailer. He has developed a habit that is escalating to becoming a dangerous situation and he needs to know you are in control of his speed and direction of movement. This will also teach him patients and to wait for your cues once you’re ready to ask him to back out of the trailer.

My first suggestion is to practice controlling your horse’s feet, moving front and hind feet in all four directions. For this use a halter, a 15’cotton lead rope and dressage whip to be used only as an extension of your arm and to help direct your horse’s movement. Then, only once you feel you have total control of his movement and he’s accustom to the sensations of the whip, should you head to the trailer to practice this exercise.

Before starting, prepare your trailer with everything you’ll need, such as a feed bag, tie inside and secure your door open, so it doesn’t close on your horse. Using the back stall in your trailer with all other dividers closed. Stand off to the side of your trailer door, facing your horse. Direct your horses head into the trailer door with your left hand. Holding the dressage whip in your right hand, gently tap your horse’s rump until he takes one step, immediately stop tapping. Move the whip to his chest to discourage any forward motion and if necessary tap his crest back until he takes one step back. Doing this slowly will relax your horse making it easier to control your horse’s movement.

Next time, you ask, you will let him put just his front feet in the trailer. Once again, move the whip to his chest, wait a moment, then tap his chest and slowly back him out. Repeat, until he does it slow and relaxed. Then allow him in all the way. If, he decides to back out, let him. But, immediately send him back in the trailer, since you hadn’t asked him to come out yet.

After he relaxes, willingly staying in the trailer on his own, and starts eating from his feedbag, take the slack out of the lead rope, while still standing off to the side of the trailer door opening (out of the kick zone). Don’t worry if you happened to drop your lead during loading-no big deal. Use your whip to retrieve it or wait until he comes out on his own and start over because your safety comes first. Once the slack is out of the lead, touch your horse on his rump with the whip, so he knows you’re there and softly make a clucking sound. Making sure each time you ask him to back out, you use the same cues, whatever you decide you want them to be. Just make sure you are consistent, using the same ones in the same order, this is his signal that you are ready and it’s okay for him to come out. If, he’s backing out too fast next time, only allow his back feet out onto the ground. Then, tap his rump to send him forward into the trailer again. Remember to stay relaxed, so your horse doesn’t get panicky. When he does this in a controlled, calm manner, then you can start closing the door.

Once the door is closed, you can go to the window and from the outside tie him. After he stops stepping around and stands quietly, go back to the window and untie him, but don’t open the back door to unload, if he starts dancing around again, wait. This way he will learn how to be patient and won’t anticipate as soon as the trailer stopped he can bail-out. Once he’s quiet again, open the back door, retrieve your lead from the floor and give him your cue to unload. This takes practice, but is well worth the time to help keep you safe.

Darla Rathwell, CHA Instructor, and Board of Director