By Dennis Moreland in America’s Horse
Accidents can happen around horses, no matter how careful you are. But being careful is the first step toward preventing disaster, and that includes making sure your tack is in good repair. A few minutes checking your equipment before you ride is an investment in safety.
- • Check your equipment every time you ride. Glance over your equipment as you put it on your horse to make sure it isn’t too worn or cracked. A periodic cleaning with saddle soap, followed by a good leather conditioner, will keep your tack supple. Dry leather is more likely to break when sudden pressure is put against it. This includes reins, latigos, headstalls and tie strings. If adjustment holes are worn, that means the equipment needs to be replaced because they can tear out easily, usually at the wrong time.
- • If your headstall or reins have Chicago screws, make sure they are screwed in all the way. A little dab of clear nail polish in the threaded hole will keep the screw in place but will still be easy enough to unscrew if you want to take the bit off.
- • Before saddling up, clean all the dirt, caked sweat and debris off your horse’s back so he will have no irritations under the saddle. You’ll also want to thoroughly clean under his belly where the cinches go. Since you can’t see underneath him, use an ungloved hand to feel his cinch area to make sure nothing is there. Something caught under the cinch can cause almost any horse to act up.
- • After putting the saddle on, use your left hand on the front of the blanket and your right hand on the horn to lift both saddle and blanket over the withers. You want there to be a 3- to 4-inch space between the bottom of the blanket and your horse’s withers. That prevents the blanket from binding or pinching. You’ll also want to keep your saddle blankets clean from caked-on sweat and dirt. Using the high-pressure hose at your car wash is a quick, economical way to wash blankets. A clean blanket not only allows for better ventilation, but also absorbs sweat better.
- • It’s especially important before each ride to inspect your latigo tie strap where it goes around the dee ring. Also check the string that ties it closed. Make sure the latigo is not worn over the dee ring and that the holes are not as well. If any of these pieces of equipment are worn, they can break and cause the saddle to come off, and you can be seriously injured. Also, be sure to check the strands of the cinch to make sure they are in good repair.
- • If you use a back or flank cinch, pull it snug to the horse’s belly (after you’ve tightened the front cinch). If the flank cinch is left hanging loose, your horse could kick at a fly and get his back foot caught. Or if you’re trail riding or working in a pasture, a branch could run through the gap between the horse and the loose cinch, which can cause a lot of trouble. Also, be sure to inspect the connecting strap between the front and back cinches. If this breaks, the flank cinch could work back, which could cause an unscheduled bronc ride.
- • If you use a breast collar on your horse, be sure it is adjusted properly. It shouldn’t be so tight that it chokes the horse or so loose that the horse could put a foot through it. Also check the straps to be sure they are not worn or torn, especially where they circle the rings of the breast collar and the saddle.
- • Stirrup leathers can wear thin over the bars of the saddle and at the buckle holes. A broken stirrup leather at the wrong time is an invitation to injury. Always check the condition of the buckles and leather to be sure that they are in good repair.
- • Never tie a horse by the reins. If the horse decides to set back while tied, the reins will likely break. If you have to tie your horse but don’t have a halter and lead rope available, simply wrap the reins around the fence a couple of times. Most horses will take a step back and stop. But if the reins were tied so that they couldn’t slide, you’d likely be dealing with broken reins and a loose horse. A “get-down” rope is a good piece of equipment to use in case you need to tie up while riding, such as on a trail ride.
- • Don’t leave a halter on a horse that is turned out. It may seem easier, especially if your horse is hard to catch, but it poses too much of a safety risk. The horse could easily get the halter caught on a fence post or catch a hind foot in it if he’s scratching his face with a hind foot. Nylon and rope halters are designed not to break, so your horse could sustain serious injuries.
When is A Student Ready to Jump?
By Patricia Bogart-Head
Most students believe that they are ready to jump when they are not. I tell them that they must have a solid foundation of leg strength/balance in order to be successful. I put the burden of proof on them so they won’t think that I’m holding them back. Here is the steps I give them:
- • They have to be able to do a 2-point at jumping stirrup length (2-3 holes above flat work) for a minimum of 4 minutes without holding on to the neck of horse. I usually start out with about 30 sec. to a minute and progress from there. I have them suck in their stomach in order to protect their back. Otherwise, the stomach will sag down and pull on the small of their back and then their back will hurt. I can tell when they are using their stomach, because their back will flatten and may even roach up a little. To explain I have them put their thumb on their belly button with fingers below and tighten/suck in those muscles. A visual I use is to pull in those muscles and roach their back like a Halloween cat. This usually works, but remember to remind the student often. Obviously, this is not the two-point posture for a horse show, but is designed to strengthen the riders core.
- • Another essential component is to make sure the upper calf (approximately a hands width below the knee) is in contact. This keeps the leg in the correct position. I test this by placing a piece of paper (dollar bill size) between that part of the calf and the saddle. If the leg is moving to far forward or back, the calf is not engaged correctly and the paper will fall.
- • When the student completes step 1 and 2, I shorten the stirrups by 2-3 holes and repeat the process. Remember to start out doing less and work up to the 4 minutes. Challenge each student accordingly. As the student progresses, I continue to shorten the stirrups until they reach the mid-calf with riders leg out. This approach over time will give the student strength, balance and confidence. I learned this trick from exercising Thoroughbreds at the track. I thought I was in good shape. Then they shortened my stirrups. I thought I was going to die after one time around. The next day every muscle hurt from my shoulders to my ankles. But after a few weeks I could really tell the difference in my legs. Just remember to go slow.
- • When the above steps are completed, the student needs to be able to ride a posting trot without the stirrups for at least 5 minutes. Again, start out slow, yet gauging the students ability. Then with each lesson do more. Remind the student to keep hands close to the saddle. Better to grab the saddle or the mane than yank on the bit when balance is lost.
- • The student must successfully maneuver the trot poles at the 2-point. Remind the student to hold on to the mane in case they lose balance. This prevents pulling on the horses’ mouth. Additionally this helps to train the student to use their leg/weight aides to steer and not rely solely on the reins. Of course, there will be times when the reins will have to be engaged. Most students tend to hold their breath over the poles which can cause lots of problems (i.e. -horse speeding up or stopping, difficulty using aides).
Remind them to BREATH! I tell them to ‘talk’ to their horse while going over the poles. Use a drawn out ‘steeeaaady/eeeaasy’ to slow a fast horse or a series of ‘clucks’ to speed up the slower ones. At the end of each lesson, during cool down, I have the student post at the walk without the stirrups and with no hands on horse or saddle. Be sure to remind them to engage the calf and inner thigh and not just pinch at the knee. As always—HEELS DOWN.
Years ago when I was learning to jump, I ate a lot of dirt. So over the years it has become my experience that exceptional leg strength/balance is paramount for a jumping student.
Completing the above four steps prior to allowing the student to ‘jump’ will help insure their safety and success.
About the Author: Patricia Bogart-Head is a CHA Master Instructor, Clinic Instructor and Site Visitor. She has over 40 years of teaching, training and showing all disciplines.