Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Horseback Riding Lessons with Horse Trainer Jen Pratt, Springfield, MO

***Due to an unrelated physical injury, I'm not training or giving lessons at this time***

Riding lessons with Jen are centered around developing a secure seat and building confidence in the saddle and on the ground.  No matter how long you've been riding horses, you can never have too much confidence (or humility!) when working with horses.  A confident rider will:
  • have a secure and balanced seat
  • have independent movement of the rider's body, limbs, head, etc.
  • be able to cause independent movement of different parts of the horse
  • have developed muscle memory for cuing the horse
  • have a knowledge of which actions to take for each action of the horse


Fix the rider, fix the horse

Riding horses is an art form - there are so many intricate details that go into fluid, balanced riding.  Riding technique can have tremendous effects or consequences on our horses, both physically and mentally.
  • If you are unbalanced, your horse will be unbalanced - this can lead to a one-sided horse, and can even cause pain or lameness.  The horse may begin to resist activities that are painful.  Pain is the one of the most common causes of resistance; even after the pain is gone the resistance may remain for a time.  Keep in mind that horses are Fight Or Flight creatures.  Being unbalanced will scare them because their main defense, flight, is compromised when they are unable to keep their feet under them.  Experienced horses are better able to deal with the mental aspect of an unbalance rider than green horses, but both can be affected by the physical consequences.
  • If you are unsure of where you are going, your horse will either wonder aimlessly or choose his own direction.  This can lead to resistance when you finally do give a direction.  It can also lead to a loss of confidence, especially if you over-correct for not following directions immediately when given.  This doesn't mean you have to cue every tiny action, just make sure that when you need to change direction or speed your horse will listen.  It's important the horse not make these decisions for you.
  • Be careful not to give conflicting cues.  These will cause your horse to become confused and resistant.  This can cause many problems, and you may not even realize you are doing it. For example, kicking to speed up but pulling back on the reins out of fear or balance issues (and essentially telling him to slow down), will confuse and agitate the horse.  He may become hard mouthed, or develop head shaking or other problems.
So many problems are blamed on our horses, when the real cause is improper riding technique. Some problems, such as a rider's balance and lack of muscle to cue properly or hold proper position, can be corrected out of the saddle.  Adhering to an exercise regime not only helps us as riders, but also helps our horses.  Exercise regimes don't need to be arduous, especially for older riders or riders with health issues.  Yoga and other gentle exercises not only create flexibility but also help balance issues.

Once the rider has gained full control of their own body along with an awareness of their effect on their horse, most horses become compliant and begin looking to their rider for direction.  If your riding technique is good but you still have problems with our horse, look for an issue causing pain.  Schedule a vet visit, but keep in mind not all pain is obvious.  Some hindgut or ulcer issues are easy to miss or mistake for hind end lameness.  Sometimes you have to get creative to find the problem.  Once you've learned there's no physical problem, start investigating training issues or hire a trainer to either help you or train your horse.


Every rider is a trainer

We train our horses every time we interact with them, for better or for worse.  If you're feeling off, or know you cannot contribute good to your horse - stick to light groundwork, or just spend some time grooming and feeding him.  If the horse must work each time he sees you, he may begin to resist being around you.  The more time you are able to spend with your horse while he's comfortable, the better.  After trail or work is finished, it's good to give your horse a break to eat grass - or anything to comfort and calm them while you are around.

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