Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Girls and Horses: Best photos ever

What is it?
What is it with girls and horses?

So sings country girl/horse lover Templeton Thompson in her hit song.

Those of us who love horses (not just Standardbreds, but horse of all shapes, sizes, colors and breeds)...we "get it."

But a few months ago, I got the question again, this time from the dad of two horse crazy girls who ride with me.

"I just don't, I don't know..." The dad paused, scratched his head. "I just don't get it. I mean, what's it doing for them?"

Ooo...don't get me started!
I said, "They are learning responsibility, compassion, perseverance, courage, and discipline. They are learning to overcome fears, to think of something other than themselves. They are learning how to use their bodies in an athletic manner. They are developing core strength, balance, and centeredness that is both physical and mental."

But these photos of 10-year-old Emma say it all. Emma is learning how to ride on board Max,. Max is older sister Olivia's horse. Oliva is now focusing on training her new, young Standardbred/Friesian cross. Which means Max is now helping Emma learn to ride.
Max. who is in his early 20's, was born in Washington State under the name Paragon. This big, buttery chestnut thoroughbred followed his short, unremarkable racing career with very remarkable forays into show jumping, three-day eventing, fox hunting and drssage. He and former owner Evie Holt took first place at Pony Club Nationals in Freestyle Dressage when Max was 16 years of age..

And now, he lives a quiet life with a loving family, who appreciates how this gentle giant takes care of "his girls. " He helped give Olivia the skills she is now using to train her new horse; now Emma is following the same path.
So, along with all my usual reasons for the girl-horses combination--and what we learn from them--here comes Emma to remind me of the ultimate reason we love horses and love riding them.
It's the joy! It's all about the joy!

I'm keeping this photo on my desk, where I can see it all the time. There is simply no way I can be in bad mood when I look at it!
Thanks, Emma, for lifting my heart!

Monday, January 4, 2010

My horse is too fast and doesn't accept the bit! Help!

In my last post, I talked about an email I had received from a Standardbred owner in Slovenia. Valerija wrote that her STB mare was pulling hard on her hands, not accepting the bit, and going too fast.

This is one of those situations where you must treat your horses like a totally green, untrained animal. In other words, you start over.

One of the first steps I take in working with any horse, regardless of its level of training, is flexing. I do this with a rope halter and then in the bridle. I do it with all my horses, every single time I ride. If there are days when I am too busy to ride, I will spend at least 20 minute sin the round pen doing ground work. This flexing exercise is a cornerstone of that work. (To read about how to flex your horse in the halter, click here to return to last week's post.)

Flexing your horse teaches her to be sensitive to the bit. It teaches her that when she releases to the pressure, the pressure will come off. Valerija's horse, Suzi, has learned to pull against the bit. Valerija's job, therefore, is to re-train Suzi--starting with flexing.

Let's assume that you have spent a week or so working with your horse on last week's flexing exercicse and now, she is very responsive to flexing in the halter. Now it's time for you to flex while your horse is in the bridle.

It is important that you have a gentle bit in your horse's mouth for this exercise. You will want to use a plain snaffle that is correctly fitted to your horse's mouth.

STEP ONE: As you did when flexing with the rope halter, you want to stand at your horse's side, slightly behind the withers. Start by taking hold of your closest rein and pulling it, gently but firmly toward your horse's back. If your horse starts pulling on you, you can gain leverage by firmly placing your hand on her back, behind the withers. If you horse tries to avoid the work by turning her haunches, just stick with her. Do not drop the rein. Just stay with it. She will eventually stop and then look for some other way to get away from the pressure. You will show her how to do that in the subsequent steps.


STEP TWO: Take a little more hold of your rein so that your horse must turn her head toward you.

Here, Cori is just about to touch her nose to her belly. The minute she does this, I will drop the rein completely to reward her. I will also stroke her face and neck to let her know that she did the right thing.
STEP FOUR: The Release! Notice here that my rein is soft. I am just now preparing to completely release the rein as Cori's reward for softening.
With young horses, or horses new to this exercise, I will perform the flex five or six times on both sides of the horse. I will usually then move on to another exercise to change the pace, after which I will again return to flexing. I can almost say that you can never do too much flexing.
The next step is to perform this same exercise in the saddle. While you are mounted, and before you do anything else, ask your horse to flex. To do this you will take a firm but gentle hold of one rein. The other rein should be very loose to allow your horse to fully flex. If you are, for example, working with the right rein, you want to bring that rein to your right pants pocket or hip. The instant your horse yields to you, release the rein. and reward your horse with your voice as well as your hand.
I like to do this once on the right rein, then the left, then the right, then the left.

Flexing teaches your horse to soften to the bit. Done correctly, flexing also teaches the horse that when he gives to you, you will give to him, in turn.
Next: teach your horse "whoa," "slow," and "go."