Thursday, August 28, 2014
Thursday, August 21, 2014
I have two sets of rules by which I trail ride. The first set of rules I'll detail as the general etiquette of trail riding, as how to interact with other riders in your group and other riders on the trail.
1 - Wear a helmet. You only get one melon.
2 - Keep a distance of at least one horse length between you and the horse in front of you. This allows for sudden stops, starts, spooks, and kicking while minimizing the odds of a horse getting stepped on, kicked, or pulling a shoe because the horse behind him jumped on his foot.
3 - If you are the leader and if you are going to go faster (like from a walk into a trot), be sure to tell all the riders behind you before you speed up. Ask if it's ok with them so that they're not caught unawares with part of the herd taking off unannounced. This stresses out the horses in the back.
4 - If you are the leader and are going to slow down (like from trot to walk), be sure and raise a hand into a stopping signal and/or holler at the group behind you so that they know you're decelerating. No one likes rear-end collisions.
5 - If there are low-hanging branches, duck under them. Don't hold them aside or lift them over your head, because they will then crash into the rider behind you.
6 - If there are footing problems such as holes or rocks, holler at the people behind you to keep an eye out.
7 - As a rider in the back, it is your job to keep up with the group. Unless your horse is having a meltdown and you need the others to wait for you for safety reasons, it's your responsibility to keep up with them. If your horse walks slowly, you may need to lengthen his stride or trot occasionally to keep pace. Don't race up to the group or let him gallop to make up distance, this stresses out all the horses to hear someone pounding down the trail behind them.
8 - When you meet other riders on the trail, generally I yield the right-of-way to whoever is going uphill. If some of the horses are nervous and need to step off the trail to make room, respect that and be encouraging.
9 - Keep your horse's halter on under his bridle. Bring an extra leadrope as well as your trail riding first aid kit, and keep your car keys and phone on your person. You don't want to be caught having fallen off your horse who then gallops away with your keys and phone tied to his saddle!
10 - Never ride alone - this is a good rule for all riding, not just on the trails. You never know when you'll need help when you ride an unpredictable prey animal.
My second set of trail riding rules are specific to riding nervous or green horses on the trail. These are things I do to make sure they learn to love trail riding and learn how to be brave in the face of new things. I prefer to take youngsters or green horses out with older, more seasoned veterans for their first rides to gain confidence. Then I adhere to these rules which the horse learns very quickly:
A - If the green horse gets scared, look away from the scary thing. If you don't know what the scary thing is, just look away from its general direction. Bend your horse away from it, too. He's less likely to spook at it if he isn't focusing on it. If looking away from the scary thing doesn't work, then...
B - Get close to whatever horse you're riding with. Often it works best if you put the seasoned trail horse in between the green horse and the scary thing. That way from the green horse's perspective, his older friend will protect him from the horse monster. But if not, the friend will get eaten first by the horse monster leaving green horse time to escape. But if not, and the green horse spooks, at least he won't run into his seasoned friend and cause a wreck. And if THAT doesn't work....
C - The green horse is allowed to trot on by the scary thing. I don't generally allow bolting, bucking, kicking, or rearing, but if it is just too scary to deal with at a calm walk, a controlled trot is acceptable to get past the scary thing. Sometimes the hardest thing for a green horse is to walk slowly, thinking about all the predators waiting in the shadows for him, but if he's trotting he has a purpose and something to keep his brain (and feet) busy.
D - This is one of the tricks I use later in the process, but it has worked with quite a few horses who couldn't muster the courage to go forwards past something scary. It's also pretty fun to watch if you're not on the horse doing it. If the green horse absolutely cannot go forwards because he is too scared (or stubborn, or whatever the case may be), and yet your only option is to go past the scary thing, I sometimes will turn them around and have them back past it. This goes well with rule "C", because horses can trot backwards remarkably well. So if it's the only way past that scary neon yellow umbrella, I will turn him around and he can go backwards as fast as he wants. This works because he can go towards the scary thing with his weapons (hind feet) facing it. Plus everyone riding with me gets a kick out of seeing him trot backwards.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I had three riding lessons today that I really enjoyed. The first group was my friend Linda who is generously letting Owen and I live at her house with so many of our animals. She was riding her morgan mare, Gigi. Also riding in that lesson was my other friend Sally, who is generously letting us keep most of our house stuff in her garage. She was on her morgan mare, Rosie. Both are quite good riders with lots of years in the saddle, and they both wanted some fine-tuning for their position and their horses' responsiveness. I introduced the fruity centers technique!
This idea comes from my instructor certification group, Centered Riding. I started by having Linda and Sally put one hand on their belly, with the thumb on the belly button so the hand is quite low. Then I had them put their other hand on their low back. I did the same on the ground. We all took a few deep breaths, moving the back hand with our exhales. Once we each had a good idea of our body's "center", which is actually the human body's center of gravity, I asked each of them to imagine it as a fruit. Then I asked which kind of fruit they pictured. Linda came up with a cantaloupe, Sally imagined it as a watermelon. I then sent them out to ride and think about the fruit. Once they were in a good rhythmic walk, I told them to mentally shrink the fruit down to like peach size. Both horses stopped. When they changed the fruit back to original size the horses walked again. This also worked within a gait, depending on how dramatic the fruit size change was. For example, if Sally wanted very small steps within the trot from Rosie, she would imagine a plum, then go back to watermelon for the extended trot. Linda preferred going from honeydew melon to peach.
I like this exercise because it's a very simple way to change the horse's pace without having to over-think it. Mentally changing fruit sizes actually causes several things to happen in the rider's body. When the fruit is small, the rider doesn't swing as much through her seat (by "seat" I mean everything between the bottom rib and the rider's knees). When the fruit is bigger the rider will almost roll her pelvis to accommodate bigger motion from the horse, and both mares responded beautifully. Also, the fruit visualization has a stabilizing effect on the rider because it makes her focus on the location in her body that is her center of gravity, thus getting her body to relax and drop her center lower, which makes her more like those kids' toys that are a punching bag that can lean any direction but never tips over. It's always interesting to me to learn what type of fruit the rider conceives as her center. Sometimes people start out big, like Sally with her watermelon. Occasionally I have someone who imagines her center as a cherry or a grape. Most of the time it's an orange or apple.
After Linda and Sally were done with their lessons, we used Gigi to do a brief lesson with Linda's daughter who is seven. She was understandably nervous about riding since her pony who recently passed away was infamous for bucking kids off. Today Linda's daughter prepared well, donning her jeans, paddock boots, and helmet, and coming into the arena when it was her turn. She initially told me that she was very scared to ride again, but she knew that Gigi liked her and was willing to try. As the three of us walked to the mounting block together she became a little tearful and confided in me that she was really scared. I told her it's ok to be scared, and that everyone is scared sometimes. I told her having courage is being scared and doing the scary thing anyway, and I knew she was a brave kid. To get warmed up she led Gigi from the ground around the arena, practicing taking deep breaths and saying "walk on" and "whoa" just like she would from the saddle.
Once she was comfortable leading Gigi, we approached the mounting block again and she got onto the top step. She became a little tearful and said she was scared again, so I told her that being scared is ok, that it's brave to do it even if you are scared. I then told her how I get horses used to being mounted. I told her to pat the saddle flap and the stirrup, then to pat the saddle seat, then to reach way over and pat the other side. This had the combined effect of getting her to touch the tack and the horse when she was afraid it would suddenly move, but it was a benign enough maneuver that it calmed her some. Then I had her get off of the mounting block and we led Gigi around in a small circle together to calm down. Back to the mounting block and patted the saddle all over again, and I confided in her one of my trade secrets, that sometimes when I pat the saddle I make a farting noise ("blowing raspberries" with my tongue between my lips) to get the horse used to that, too. She thought that was pretty funny, and it's hard to be scared when you're laughing. So we did that together, then got off the mounting block and walked another small lap. On the next try she actually put her foot in the stirrup and stood up, then we got off and walked a lap. Next time she actually got all the way up and sat in the saddle, walked two steps, then dismounted (with help). The next time she mounted, smiling, and we did a lap around the arena practicing "walk on" and "whoa" to help her feel in control of the horse, and I had a lead rope on Gigi so I was there as moral support, too. By the end she was smiling and talking about what a great rider she is. I love that kind of progress and confidence. She did ask, confidentially, if I ever got scared when I had to ride a horse. I told her absolutely, but being brave is getting on anyway. She seemed satisfied with that. We walked Gigi back to the barn and untacked. Overall a great afternoon of fruity centers and brave riding.