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GOODHANDS

“That rider has good hands.”

The comment might mean little to those outside the equestrian realm, but within it, we understand it as a compliment. And one of the highest order.

As young riders, we try our darnedest for a somewhat light connection with the school horses and tough little ponies we likely learn on. We know we should be able to turn and stop with almost invisible aids…we’ve been told, and we’ve seen great performances by liberty trainers and dressage riders and accomplished horsemen with that magic touch on a horse. I even vaguely remember reading a story about a fairy with a tiny, mystical mount, and reins of a spider’s thread…and this is what I aspired to, over the years, despite a number of equine partners with less-than-enthusiastic responses.

Certainly, it would seem some people are born with feel and good hands. They get on a horse the first time and just know, innately, how to communicate with the animal beneath them. But the rest of us needn’t feel dismay, as we can improve the sensitive and effective use of our hands. The late great Sally Swift gives us two fun and easy exercises to help in CENTERED RIDING 2, her phenomenal followup to the international bestseller CENTERED RIDING. Here’s my take on both of them:

 

Booze Cruise (My Name for This Exercise, Not Sally’s)

With your fingers around the stems, walk around with two full (right to the top!) wine glasses. Notice how much easier it is not to spill the wine when you are grounded, centered, and soft with your fingers, than when you tighten and hold the glass stems with tense hands. Practice finding a more grounded, centered self that filters out to soft hands. Note: I recommend doing this in a room with tile floor or outside, where spillage isn’t a concern. Bonus: Go ahead and have a drink when you’re done. (And repeat the exercise as often as needed!)

 

bowl

Ball in the Bowl

Take a large mixing bowl and place any small ball (a tennis ball, for example) in it. Walk around holding the bowl loosely with your arms relaxed, your thumbs just under the outside of the rim, and two or three fingers underneath. Experiment with what you need to do to keep the ball “quiet” in the bowl (ie, not rolling around) as you walk. You will quickly discover that you must not try too hard, hold your breath, or keep a tight hold on the bowl with your hands. If you try to keep the bowl still by tightening your hands, the ball will roll around rapidly. Instead, balance your pelvis by softening your hip joints and dropping your sacrum. Ground yourself, use soft eyes, breathe easily, center yourself, and lengthen your spine up and down. You will discover that your hands become very sensitive in the way they carry the bowl, and the ball will be surprisingly quiet inside it. This is the quality of hands that you want when communicating with your horse through the reins. (Photo from CENTERED RIDING 2.)

 

 

CenteredRiding2PB-300For more enlightening exercises for better all-around riding, read Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

 

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RUNAROUND

Sandy Collier has enjoyed great success in her career as an NRCHA, NRHA, and AQHA champion horse trainer. Named one of the “Top 50 Riders of All Time in All Disciplines” by Horse & Rider Magazine, she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2011, and the NRCHA’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Collier was the first and only female horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA (National Reined Cow Horse Association) World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. She also won an NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity Reserve Co-Championship in addition to being a regular Finalist there annually. She has been a NRCHA Stallion Stakes Champion, an NRHA Limited Open Champion, and an AQHA World Champion.

In champion trainer and popular clinician Lynn Palm’s book THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION, Palm asked Sandy Collier to share how she works to achieve collection with her performance horses.

“I do a lot of work through speed and gait transitions,” was Collier’s reply, “which makes no sense at all to most reining or Western riders.”

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Sandy Collier competing.

Collier says that even though reiners and Western riders will often get their horses really collected at the trot and lope, “as soon as you start putting a lot of speed to it, it’s like the wheels start falling off the car.” She uses an exercise called The Runaround to maintain collection, improve the quality of a horse’s rundown, and thus ultimately better his stop.

“I’ll build speed while maintaining collection for a long, straight run,” explains Collier. “As I approach the short end of the arena, I’ll take a deep breath, start to exhale, and make my horse follow my seat as I sit down in the saddle, making him come back to me on a straight line without falling out of lead. It’s like downshifting a real expensive car, where it has to come back down real smooth. I keep my horse slow and collected through the short end (don’t let him careen around the corner), and once I get around the corner, I ask him to build speed again and start over. My horses eventually get to where they can run really fast while staying collected, and then as I let my air out, they’ll come all the way back to a slowdown or a stop, depending how long I sit.”

RIGUCO

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The goal is to capture the complete tail-to-nose package of supple muscle and hind-end-generated impulsion that becomes a “frame” where the horse is more athletic—that is, his forehand lightens, enabling him to maneuver his front end more quickly, and his steps become cadenced and his movement free-flowing. For more exercises that help achieve this real collection, check out THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION by Lynn Palm, on sale now at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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It was over 25 years ago, but I can still close my eyes and immediately feel the pounding of hooves on the hard dirt road in my head, and the rawness of my skinned and abraded hands as they desperately pulled to one side, then the other, on what were, at the time, fairly useless reins. I can hear breathing—heavy, labored, both the horse’s and my own. And I can remember how the ground looked from where I crouched on the back of the runaway: it throbbed and swayed in corner of my eye, momentarily closer, then seemingly distant, a blurry heartbeat, pulsing in time with the horse’s manic strides.

The decision to abandon ship arrived in a moment of clarity. We were racing toward home, and the dirt road turned to pavement not so far ahead. I was 10 and overpowered. I feared the mare’s shoes slipping at this speed—there was a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. I was afraid of her falling, crushing me, or losing my weakening grip there, tumbling to the concrete in the path of oncoming cars.

I’d been taught the emergency dismount when I started riding as a five-year-old. My pony then had been much closer to the ground, but the muscle memory kicked in nonetheless, and I had my feet out of the stirrups, my hands on the pommel, and my slight body pushed up, over, and clear of my horse’s flailing legs before I could overthink the maneuver. I landed at a run that turned into a tumble in the (relatively) soft shoulder at the side of the road, and seconds later I was back on my feet, shaky but thankfully unbroken, and headed after the mare, hoping she, too, had survived her panicked flight.

While being able to stop a runaway or out-of-control horse from the saddle—using the pulley rein, for example—is certainly preferable in many cases, knowing how to use the emergency dismount is an important skill, too. Simply practicing it on a horse that is standing motionless can improve your courage and athleticism. And having it in your riding toolbox provides a viable option for handling a crisis by promoting safe and controlled landings, and helping avoid rider injury.

Here are four steps to performing a safe emergency dismount. Try it at the halt before attempting it in motion. Perform it first on the left side, then on the right, as described here, to ensure symmetry—and to make sure you’re prepared should that be the safer side to dismount during a potentially hazardous situation.

 

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1  Take both feet out of the stirrups. Inhale to prepare, stretching up, straightening both legs, and swinging them slightly forward to generate momentum for the next step, which should occur in one smooth, synchronized motion.

2  Exhale and fold down from the hips, bringing your belly to the horse and taking weight onto your hands, on the withers or pommel. Look forward through the horse’s ears as you simultaneously swing both legs up behind you over the hindquarters, touching your heels together. Practice swinging your legs a few times, returning to the basic seat in between.

3  To dismount, as you’re exhaling and when your legs are at their highest, slightly rotate your hips toward the right, pushing off and away to the right side of the horse, keeping your legs together.

4  As you land near the horse’s shoulder, keep your feet parallel with knees and ankles bent to absorb the impact. Look forward the entire time. Inhale as you straighten into an upright position, and then exhale. You did it!

Note: When vaulting off a moving horse, always face the direction of travel to maintain balance, and “hit the ground running” by taking a couple of walk or jog steps forward upon landing. If you lose balance, “tuck and roll” away from the horse: Tuck your head into your chest, wrap your arms around bent knees, and do a somersault.

Riding instructor Linda Benedik teaches the emergency dismount as part of a series of lessons for the rider on the longe line. For more lessons to building a confident rider with a balanced and effective seat, check out LONGEING THE RIDER FOR THE PERFECT SEAT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to buy this book on sale now!

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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The rider’s trunk and extremities interact and depend on each other. For example, hands and arms depend on shoulder position, which depends on the shoulder girdle, which depends on the position of the spinal column (in particular, the thoracic spine). All of this interconnectedness means that the common instruction heard in riding rings round the world, “Shoulders back!” is detrimental to correct and supple rider position—in fact, it leads to stiffness and tension.

“If you simply take the shoulders back without changing the position of the trunk,” explains Susanne von Dietze in her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, “you exert a lot of energy and become cramped up in the process. It is a position you would not endure for long on a voluntary basis. Instead, start to straighten from the pelvis. The thorax is lifted automatically upward and forward; it is like pushing the thorax under the shoulder girdle. The building blocks of the upper body are then aligned once more and the shoulder girdle can be carried without any muscular effort.”

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“There are a few very beneficial stretching exercise for the shoulder girdle,” von Dietze goes on. “One of the ailments of our civilized society—poor posture—especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax. As a result the muscles in the front chest area shorten.”

Here is one exercise von Dietze recommends to stretch the often shortened musculature in the front of the body and open the thorax for better and more effective riding position:

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1  Stand with your back close to your horse’s side.

2  Bend your arms at the elbows and try to open them to the sides, touching your horse’s body with your lower arms.

3  Then try to stretch your arms out to full length, and if your horse allows it, lean your back gently against his side. This stretches your thoracic spine, expands your front chest muscles, and opens your thoracic cavity and breathing.

 

You can begin to understand more common riding mistakes and find ways to fix them in BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Blog5-16

How do you think your horse feels about being mounted? Does he fidget? Throw his head up? Drop his back? Root at the bit? It is easy to unbalance your horse when you mount him, and you can also unbalance him when you dismount. Learning to take your time in the process of mounting and dismounting helps everybody stay balanced and neutral.

In the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE, Sharon Wilsie explains how her system of Horse Speak can help ease anxiety related to mounting, ensuring your rides start off on a positive note. Here are some of her recommendations:

First, really notice how your horse reacts to being mounted. (Consider asking someone to take a photo of your horse’s face while you get on.) A stoic horse may grimace while being mounted. A sensitive horse may raise his head and show anxiety. An energetic horse moves off when you step into the stirrup. There are many possible reactions. When looking at your horse, notice his ears, eyes, and in particular, his mouth. What you have long thought was acceptance, may instead have been be acquiescence.

Your core energy broadcasts from your “center” just behind your belly button. This can cause confusion when mounting, especially with a sensitive horse. When you face the saddle from the mounting block, you may put “sending” pressure from your belly button onto the horse. He will naturally swing his head toward you and his body away, in response to the sending message your body is conveying. To clarify your body language, practice mounting with your core energy turned toward the horse’s head.

You can also diffuse your horse’s anxiety about mounting with the following Horse Speak “Conversation”: 

Horse Speak Final Cover

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1  Begin by leading your horse to the mounting block and position him as if you are going to mount, but instead just sit on the block for a few minutes (retreat) and breathe with him. Breathe long enough to see your horse visibly relax next to the block. This is a good exercise some evening when you don’t have time to ride but do want to have a Conversation with your horse. Tack up in your normal routine and have a Breath Conversation at the mounting block. Try to sync your breath to his. Observe the subtle language he shows. Take really deep breaths. 

2  Show your horse affection before you mount. Before getting up on the mounting block, check in with a Knuckle Touch. Reach up and lightly scratch the Friendly Button where the forelock meets the forehead. Most horses also appreciate having each front foot picked up and moved in a gentle circle at the mounting block—it releases tension.  Rock the Baby first on his bridle while standing in front of him, and then while standing on the mounting block with your horse in position in front of you, facing the same direction as your horse with your hand closest to him on his withers. Shift your weight from one foot to the other or from one hip to the other. Remember to sync your rocking to your breath, and breathe as slowly and deeply as you can. Your horse may take a step to rebalance himself. Many horses are taught to stand still no matter how awkward and unbalanced they feel. Letting him widen his stance may be a huge relief to him. Also some horses appreciate Rock the Baby at the mounting block with one hand on the withers and one behind the saddle. 

3  Now, once you mount, dismount again immediately, and walk your horse in a medium-size circle. Bring him back to the block, breathe, and mount again. Repeat this sequence three times, paying attention to your horse’s comfort and body language. If there is any tension stop and breathe with your horse, then resume the Conversation.

4  Try a Copycat Conversation with your horse about the mounting block. Lean over him slightly as if preparing to mount, and then lean back upright or away from the horse. Repeat, syncing your leaning toward and away from the horse to your own breathing. Do this at least three times before getting on and staying on. When you repeat this Copycat every time you mount, at some point your horse may simply lean toward you as you step in the stirrup. What a wonderful way to start a ride!

Learn more Conversations in HORSE SPEAK, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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LetsDance

When the circles seem to never (ever…ever) end and your horse starts spooking at his own pile of manure just for something different to do, it’s time to liven up your schooling sessions. There are many ways to make training more engaging, including imaginative uses of lateral work, props like ground poles and cones, and incorporating trail obstacles and challenges, even when you’re practicing inside the arena.

This exercise from 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS is great for both English and Western riders and combines the turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches. This combination increases the horse’s agility and attention, teaching him to better respond to different positions of the rider’s leg, which in turn develops willingness and cooperation in the horse. This exercise will also help your horse become more flexible in his spine (especially in his loin area).

Are you ready to dance? Here’s what to do:

1 Tracking left, ride 3–4 feet (1–1.3 m) from the track. Choose a random point.

2 Begin, for example, with two steps of a turn-on-the-haunches to the left (no. 1 in diagram below). As you do so, lightly position your horse to the left. Shift your weight to your left seat bone. Use your right leg to drive the horse’s forehand to the left.

 

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Diagram from 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

 

3 Pause. Then, for several steps execute a turn-on-the-forehand to the right (no. 2). Using your left rein, position your horse to the left. Shift your weight to your left

4 Now, again ride a few steps of turn-on-the-haunches (no. 3) and a few steps of turn-on-the-forehand (no. 4). Conclude the exercise with a few steps of turn-on-the-haunches (no. 5).

Note: At first, pause in between each turn so that the horse stays motivated and doesn’t become overwhelmed. But, as the exercise progresses, make your pauses shorter so your movements begin to flow like dance steps.

Tip: Don’t use your rein to pull your horse in the desired direction. Guide his turn. Look in the applicable direction. As you do so, turn your head 90 degrees.

 

What is you horse learning?

  • Sensitivity to the rider’s aids (especially the leg aids).
  • Crossing with his legs.
  • Flexibility in positioning.

 

What are you learning?

  • Refinement of the aids.
  • A feel for the various turns.

 

What if your horse is losing his balance and straightness at times?

Ask yourself if your horse is overwhelmed, perhaps because the turns are coming too quickly in succession? If not, your inside leg can often be responsible for this problem. Be aware that you do not stretch your inside leg out in front of you or too far away from your horse. Your inside leg should just be a slight distance from the horse’s side.

What if your horse executes parts of the exercise, without you giving him the aids?

In order to avoid your horse anticipating the turns, include forward movement and rein-back in between them.

 

50 Best Arena Ex-REVISED LG

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For more fun riding exercises that get results, check out 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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100HereFB

Photo by Patti Bose from IS YOUR HORSE 100%? by Margret Henkels.

It’s a question we are all faced with, more often than not. Is my horse feeling his best? Is he free from aches, pains, tension, anxiety? It can be difficult for well-meaning owners, riders, and caretakers to pinpoint the real issue when a horse is “off,” “not himself,” or just unable to tap into his performance potential. Whether we are just pleasure riders or aiming for gold, a horse that is not 100% fit and able leaves us worried, frustrated, and searching for answers.

Enter equine bodywork practitioner Margret Henkels, who in her new book IS YOUR HORSE 100%? reveals a whole new world of possibility with her Conformation Balancing method, which works with the horse’s myofascia, or fascia, to release sources of physical and emotional strain and trauma, opening the doors wide open to long-term health and unparalleled fitness.

“Myofascia is the gossamer white tissue in the body that connects all the horse’s body’s parts, including bones, muscles, and all the different body systems,” Henkels explains in her book. “Its unique properties are almost unknown to us, despite its central role in the healthy functioning of all bodies, including humans. As the ‘internet’ of the body, myofascia communicates with all parts instantly, while also giving the horse structure and organization.

“The elusive properties of fascia allow it to slip through the cracks of science, but it is now a health and fitness frontier. Myofascial work is one of the myriad holistic ways to progress body health and fitness, along with massage, chiropractic, meridian work, acupuncture, and acupressure. The unique internet-like structure of fascia means that your work with fascia is actually much easier, since you are not searching for tiny points or meridians, or other small areas on the horse. It is an ever-present, organizing tissue that connects all the parts.”

In IS YOUR HORSE 100%? Henkels provides basic steps to not only analyzing and tracking the horse’s conformation, but also to using your hands in a series of simple, noninvasive placements and movements, to “melt” adhesions in the fascia, correct compensations, and direct the horse’s body in positive releases that allow healing from the inside out.

This is a whole new way of looking at our horses’ fitness and health, and our own ability to play an integral role in enhancing it.

 

Is Your Horse 100

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IS YOUR HORSE 100%? is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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