When to Stop Taking Lessons?

Well I say never! You never stop learning and you always can learn from someone new.

English: Central Illinois students conduct an ...

You Never Stop Learning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now whether it is a formal lesson or not it doesn’t matter it is still a lesson and you will still learn from it!

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

I am amazed how much I learn from my horses every day. Each day is a lesson in learning and I learn from my students as well, equine and humans. I’m still amazed at the stuff I learn when I talk with other horse people. It can be about saddle fit, brushes grooming tools or specific training techniques, as simple as holding your reins a certain way.

A Cossack training a horse

You Can Learn From Watching, Listening, Doing and Being (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I discovered long ago I have a lot to offer as far as horse training goes but I also know I can still learn. If I can learn one thing, one small tip, I will improve on my horse sense.

You can learn from watching, listening, doing and being. You do not ALWAYS have to be sitting on the horse, in a formal lesson, in an arena. You can be in a stall, watching, listening being a part of what is going on.

The important thing is to be engaged, listening and open to new, and possibly new ideas.

This was certainly true for me, after many years of being told to:

Sit up

Use your seat

Push with your seat

It made no sense to me to drive my young horse’s back down. So rather than driving down a friend of mine said to me one time, one ride, on one horse:

Sit up, and allow the horse’s back to come up to great you!

This is when the light bulb moment went on. This made sense to me. Lighten your weight into the saddle and allow the horse’s back to come up to great you.

Since then, I have been asking riders to lighten their horse’s back so it can round up and be used correctly. I often get stunned glances from seasoned riders who say to me, “I thought I was supposed to push with my seat”.
Yes using your seat is correct BUT pushing down on your young horse’s back is no way to encourage it to raise it’s back up. And once you get to the advanced collection portion of your training, then yes, by all means your horse IS strong enough to carry itself and you!

Your horse can only bring up its head onto the bit, and use its back correctly if it is strong through his topline. The way to strengthen the topline is by allowing it to free up his back and round his back up. This requires a systematic program which begins at the beginning with allowing the horse total freedom of his back and using himself correctly.

Take a look at this fantastic video:

So I challenge you to open your eyes, open your ears, and be engaged with your horse and those around you. New ideas -to you – are the foundation of proven techniques to others.

We all can learn and when we continue to learn, we improve ourselves everyday.


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Do you Chip? Fix that chip in 30 minutes with these proven exercises

Grand Prix horse jumping

Chipping in Can Ruin An Otherwise Excellent Round (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chipping in can ruin an otherwise excellent round. With everything moving quickly your horse may move past his perfect distance and ‘chip in’ that last stride.

In a class of seasoned competitors a ‘chip’ may not be in the ribbons and could cost you the class.

We have all seen them. Beautiful rounds ruined to mediocrity by a bad spot or chip.

Where it starts

Chipping begins with the rider. And as a seasoned Senior judge (jumper and hunter) who sees a lot of horses I think it comes from 2 areas:

  1. Riders riding forward and changing the stride length in front of the fence.
  2. Riders leaning forward without leg backup not allowing the horse to leave the ground.

Changing Pace In Front of the Jump

An otherwise perfect take off spot can be destroyed with an over zealous rider. If you increase the stride on the approach to the fence you will ride past your distance resulting in a chip.

This has been proven again and again and can be seen when riders come around their turn toward a jump and continue to ride forward and allow the horse to lengthen its stride. There is a difference between riding forward and allowing your horse’s stride to get longer.

Anatomy of a Chip

This  can be seen when a horse is a perfect 4 12-foot strides away and the rider continues to drive the horse and allow the horse’s stride to get longer with each stride. This leaves the horse no alternative but to either launch a stride too early or be safe and ‘chip in’.

When a horse does 4 even stride lengths, the horse does:

1 12 foot stride
1 12 foot stride
1 12 foot stride
1 12 foot stride

leaving 6 feet for take off and 6 feet for landing in a 60 foot distance between two fences.

a horse wearing a running martingale

There is a difference between riding forward and allowing your horse’s stride to get longer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a horse increases his stride length with each stride, rather than doing 4 even 12 foot strides does:

1 12 foot stride
1 13 foot stride
1 14 foot stride
1 14 foot stride

This leaves 6 feet for landing and then leaves only 1 foot for take off. This is the chip.


Riders Leaning Forward to Chip

The other chip option comes from riders which, rather than sit up and allow their horses to leave the ground, have ‘loaded’ their horses front end by leaning TOO FAR FORWARD. This seems to be more common in the last few years.

Horse jumping

When you lean forward your centre of gravity is ahead of the horse’s centre of gravity.  (Photo credit: oravino)

If you are hunching and rounding your shoulders or leaning onto the horses neck, you will prevent the horse from rocking back onto his hindquarters and lifting his body off of the ground. When you lean forward your centre of gravity is ahead of the horse’s centre of gravity. This weighs down his forehand and makes the horse quick in front of his fences as the horse tries to ‘catch up with you’.

Often what happens when riders are leaning too far forward without the correct leg back up, is the horse is un-able to get to the jump in the correct distance. As a result an ‘add chip’ happens because the rider has no leg back up, and is leaning on the horse’s front end making it difficult for the horse to lift his front end in good form.

Proven Exercises to Correct a Chip

Exercise One

This exercises helps riders develop a sense of stride length and stride control. This is simply repeated riding over a correctly set up 4 stride line of 2 fences.

Set up 2 jumps the standard 60 feet distance (if you are riding a pony or small horse adjust your distance to 55 feet between fences) and approach at the canter. Keep yourself in balance and ride the correct number of strides between the two fences.

The horse will:

  • land
  • do 4 even strides
  • take off

This simple exercise can help:

  • educate the horses eye to the correct stride
  • educate the rider’s eye to the correct striding

When they land from the first jump they know they have 4 strides before take off. Riders can count – landing, 1, 2, 3, 4, to help them if they like.

The landing should take place approximately 5 – 6 feet out from the base of the first fence and leaves the correct amount of distance for the strides. If your horse jumps too far into the line, it will make the useable distance between the fences shorter and you will have to ride differently. – more on this later.

Stride 1 is your recovery stride. Get your position back, organized and ready to move on. This is not a holiday place and don’t stay here. Get your bearings and move on. Assess in one stride and keep going.

Stride 2 should be finished about 1/2 way between the two fences. This is where decisions are made. If you are:

  • lacking forward energy sit up and leg on
  • too forward, sit up, leg on and hold
  • drifting, sit up and leg on

Stride 3 should start 1/2 way between the two fences. Stride 3 is where the average rider knows if they will get the correct distance or not.

Stride 4 is the last stride before the fence and the only option is to keep your leg on and ride the fence as it is coming to you. If you haven’t ridden stride 1 or 2, you will not be able to correct anything on stride 4.

Exercise Two

Set out 4 rails on the ground approximately 10 feet apart. Pick up a balanced canter and canter through the centre of each rail. This will help teach riders how to ride the same stride length  each stride.

The horse will ‘jump’ each rail and this will permit riders to understand how to regulate the horses stride.

What exercises to you use to help you with your stride control?


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Proven Methods to Fix Your Horse’s Head Tilt

Realta with Dawn's Brennainn

Realta with Dawn’s Brennainn (Photo credit: vjmarisphotos)

I was teaching the other day and out of nowhere the student’s horse started to tip her head. You know the kind. One ear dips down and the horse’s muzzle slides out to the side.
If this happens to you keep reading because we can ‘fix’ that!

Symptoms of a Head Tilt

You will notice the horse dropping one ear and possibly dropping the contact on one side. It may begin as an evasion and show up when the horse is circling or performing lateral work. It may also appear on the long side or straight sides of your arena.

Cause of the Head Tilt

The most likely cause of the head tilt is stiffness through the horse’s poll. Other causes may be an injury or uncomfortable somewhere. To start, check all possible avenues of soreness:

  1. Teeth – wolf teeth can cause head tilt
  2. Bit – check to ensure the bit is sized correctly and the bit is not pinching
  3. Saddle Fit – unequal pressure or pinching of the saddle may result in a tippy head
  4. Soreness – we had a horse who had a bug-bite on her neck and as a result had a head tilt because it was painful for her to bend

Once you are satisfied there are no pain points causing the head tilt try this proved technique to correct the head tilt.

Correct the Head Tilt

To correct the head tilt start in the stable and do some light massages on the horse’s poll. Just behind the ears, massage the muscles gently. If your horse doesn’t approve of you touching his/her head there be patient and take your time. Just behind the horse’s ears you will feel two fleshy muscled ‘lumps’. Gently rub these with your thumb and finger. If these are hard and tense, then this may be where the head tilt is coming from.

Keep massaging until the horse releases and puts his/her head down. This will help release some of the tension in his neck. You will notice these ‘lumps’ get soft when your horse puts his head down thus relieving some tension in his poll.

The ‘Carrot Stretch’. This easy stretch will help to relieve and improve mobility in the horse’s neck and poll.

  • Stand your horse beside a wall or fence.
  • Take a carrot and show your horse the carrot (assuming your horse likes carrots) and bring the carrot to the side of the horse near the horse’s elbow, then rib cage, then hip. This is a gradual process and may take several weeks for this suppleness to develop. This increases flexibility and range of motion of the horse.

Correct a Head Tilt While Riding

Correcting the head tilt is first done at the halt.

  1. Have the horse stand straight
  2. Flex the horse left
  • Use an indirect rein and aim the horse’s forehead slightly to the left, say 1 inch.
  • Do not move the horse’s neck.
  • Keep the neck straight and move the horse’s head slightly to the left. I like to say put the “horse’s left nostril in front of his left shoulder”.
  • Too much flexion may result in the horse moving his neck. This will result in softening the neck rather than the poll.
  • Watch to see just the corner of their eye and nostril comes slightly to the left.

Be aware of too much flexion which will supple the horse’s neck and not their poll.

The indirect rein is a subtle aid which directly affects the poll of the horse. The rein acts from the horse’s mouth to your hand which acts back toward your opposite hip. That means to say, to supple the horse to the left, the rein acts from the horses left side of his mouth, through to your left hand which is acting toward your right hip.

This can be done easily by using your left hand in a turning action as if you were turning a key in the ignition of a car, twisting your wrist so your fingernails turn up toward the ceiling. Then turning the ‘ignition’ back off again.

Be careful not to:

  • Cross your hand over the horse’s neck.
  • Hold your horse’s head there. Turn, then release.
  • Ask for too much flexion. This will engage the neck and we want to supple the horse’s poll.

After completing softening of the left hand side, soften the horse on the right hand side.

Once you understand how to soften and supple your horse at the halt proceed to walk then trot and canter. Do not rush or progress faster than the horse will allow. Your horse will show you what to do next. If he is supple and relaxed at the walk then proceed to trot. Then to canter once you have mastered the trot.

What has been your experience with horses tilting their head? What have you done to correct it?


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The Real Cost of Keeping a Horse –

horse board, how much does it cost to keep a horse, horse keeping

Before Purchasing a Horse, Take a good Look at the Cost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I figure it costs me approximately $300/month to keep one horse. So when friends ask me what my board is I say, “$350”. This is when the friendship ends and they want to know why it is so much and could they just do ‘outdoor’ board. I say, “Yes, outdoor board is $350.”

If you are thinking of purchasing a horse and think it may be cheaper to keep it at home take a good hard look at your numbers.

Here are some basic costs per horse per month. This identifies basic costs to me and other costs such as vet, farrier and insurance are covered below.

Summary per horse per month

  • Hay –          $60
  • Grain –       $15
  • Shavings – $82.50
  • Labor –      $150
  • TOTAL – $317 per month

Horses Eat (Hay and Grain Costs)

horse board, how much does it cost to keep a horse, horse keeping

Eat Like a Horse Is No Joke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The saying eats like a horse is no joke. In order for a horse’s stomach to work properly horses must graze and eat little and often. This means they should have at least 1 acre per horse for grazing. If you have fewer acres or poor quality of pasture then factor in hay and grain for upkeep.

In colder climates, horses eat more hay to help keep themselves warm. So in winter months count on using more hay.

For example, it is summer now and my horses get a handful of hay a day and are on well maintained pasture. In the winter time, however, my fields are buried under snow and on some cold days when the mercury dips to -40 I have been known to feed 2 bales of hay per horse. These are approximately 30 – 40 pound bales of hay! that is a lot of eating. And they eat it, to maintain their gut and to help them stay warm.

The rule of thumb for feeding hay is approximately 1- 2% of their body weight. So a 1000 pound horse should get 10-20 pounds of hay a day. That, for me, is about 1/2 a bale.

With hay at a local price right now of approximately $4/bale this brings the cost of feeding a horse hay for 1 month to $60 – $120 /month per horse. Not accounting for doubling up the hay during colder winter months.

Keep in mind horses which may have additional nutritional requirements, older horses, mares/foals, young growing horses and horses in work may have other requirements as well.

Get your hay tested, analysed, so you know exactly what you are feeding.


horse boarding, how much does it cost to keep a horse, horse keeping

Grain Can Be Added To Your Regular Feeding Regime(Photo credit: The Art of Doing Stuff)

Grain can be added to your regular feeding regime as well. The recommended feeding regime listed on the bag of grain identifies feeding a mature horse between 1 – 3 % of their body weight depending on their work load, and other nutrition requirements. So if I give my horse 1 pound of grain a day my 50 pound bag of grain will last 50 days.

At $25 per bag it costs me 0.50 per day to feed my horse grain or $15/month. Again it depends on my horse’s work load and current physical state.


If you are keeping your horse you want it to be able to lie down and rest in a clean bed right? Well shavings in my area are $5.50 per bag. I use approx 1/2 bag per day per horse. I use 15 bags per month per horse which = 82.50 for shavings.

Hoof Care

Horses hooves grow and must be trimmed every 4 – 6 weeks. So count on a visit from your farrier every month or so. A Reset of shoes can run $100 – 300 and a trim costs from $30 – $60 depending on your farrier.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary care is a must have and I include:

Vaccinations – $240 per year – say $20 per month
Worming  – $80 per year – say $7 per month
Dental Care – 120 per year – $10 per month
Coggins Test– $50 per year – $5 per month

total = $42 per month

Electricity and Labor

I figure I spend about 20 minutes per horse or more per day. Mucking stalls, checking over the horses, walking them in and out to pasture, feeding etc. 30 minutes per day works out to about $0 per horse per month.

Other costs:

  • Vet – $42
  • farrier – $60

Other costs not discussed here:

  • Insurance – I personally pay $1000 per year for my insurance specific to my horses, riding, teaching and judging.
  • Memberships – Memberships to to your national, regional, breed and other can add up.
  • Gas
  • Time
  • Electricity.

Before thinking of biting off more than you can chew give your wallet and your horse a close look before purchasing a horse.




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