Horse Riding Lessons Blog

What Should You Do If Your Horse Shies? Part 2

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During your horse riding lessons you’ve established trust with your horse. Now that he’s shying at something, you’re keeping your hands low and still with good contact, while talking soothingly to him.

What Now?

If you look up online horse riding lessons or read books on riding, you’ll find two schools of thought as to what you should do next. Some say you let the horse sniff at what’s frightening him so he can realize it’s no big deal: others say you should turn the horse away from the offending object and ride him firmly past it.

The way I tackle the issue depends on the degree of the horse’s fear and where it occurs.

If he’s upset by something small and there’s no danger of his getting hurt, say by passing vehicles, or injuring others if I allow him to sniff at it, then I go for the first option. I keep sufficient contact, while stroking his neck and talking soothingly to him until he stops worrying and we can continue on our way.

If he’s worried by a big object, such as a moving combine harvester on the other side of the hedge, this is not practical. In such instances I turn his head away from the scary thing, using plenty of leg and voice to drive him past.

This is why it’s so important for our horses to trust us not to put them in danger.

Fear or Fun?

The longer you ride the more easily you’ll be able to determine whether your horse is really afraid or whether he’s looking for an excuse to get out of work.

One of my horses goes happily past everything around my arena for the first fifteen minutes. Then as soon as I ask for more effort from him, he chooses something to shy at which hasn’t been bothering him at all up till then!

Horses are pretty smart when it comes to evasion, and over time you’ll gain the experience to tell whether your equine is genuinely afraid or just putting it on.

Either way, keep calm and act as if nothing is wrong. Stay in charge and keep riding!

What Should You Do If Your Horse Shies? Part 1

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Even the most allegedly ‘bomb-proof’ equine can get scared. It’s very useful to learn early on in your horse riding lessons how to deal with a horse when he shies at, or is afraid of, something.

Be Prepared

Horse riding for beginners at an equestrian center will be on quiet animals and it should be some time before you have to put that knowledge into practice. But if you know ahead of time how to react when your horse is afraid, you’ll be well prepared and not have to worry about ‘what to do if.’

Not every horse will shy at or be frightened by the same things. For one horse, a bird flying out of the bush is a terrifying experience, for another horse it’s no big deal.

But whatever the reason for your horse’s anxiety, your calmness is what he needs to overcome his fear. Your horse is a herd animal looking for a leader, otherwise he himself becomes the leader.

Be the Leader

When you learn to ride a horse, you are essentially learning how to become his boss. Being able to be in charge of him. Yes, we’re seeking to develop a partnership with our horse, but think in terms of a senior and junior partnership within your two member equine ‘firm’.

You need to be the senior partner who makes the important decisions for the duo – what direction you both go in, how fast and in what manner, etc. The horse must learn to trust that you will make good decisions which won’t endanger him.

The Payoff

Once this trust is established, the horse will more readily do as you ask.

When he shies it’ll take a second or two for him to listento you, so remember to keep your hands down and still with a good contact. Talk to your horse soothingly, and keep your legs securely on his sides. The horse will then feel safer and you’ll have a deeper seat.

Tomorrow we’ll look at what you do next.




Sitting to the Canter

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Last time we looked at reasons why you might have trouble getting into canter in your horse riding lessons, and how to overcome them.

Now we’ll examine when you should sit to the  canter and how to do it.

When Do You Need Sitting Canter?

If you make the switch from English to Western riding, you’ll be sitting both to the trot and the canter. If you decide to compete in dressage (English riding) you’ll need to sit at the canter before later sitting to the trot.

The Introductory Level of dressage requires only walk and rising trot. When you move to Training Level, you are not required to sit at the trot, but you will be cantering at this level. There is no option for sitting out of the saddle when you do.

As soon as you feel comfortable with sitting out of the saddle at the canter, consider taking riding instruction for learning how to sit.

How to Sit at Canter

When you sit out of the saddle while cantering, feel the three beat rhythm of the horse underneath you. Allow your weight to sink into your heels, while keeping your legs close to the horse’s sides.

Ideally your outside leg should be behind the girth with your inside leg on the girth. You should have a steady contact on the reins, with hands independent of your body.

Once you are cantering in a steady rhythm, lower your seat into the saddle. It’s very important to completely relax your seat bones and move with the motion of the horse.

Your inside hip should be a little forward (as for canter strike-off) while your shoulders remain straight.

You’ll probably find it easier on one canter lead than the other. Use that to accustom yourself to the feel of going with the horse’s motion so you can transfer it to the other lead.

Keep your hands steady while you sit in the saddle: the horse needs the support of your rein contact to contain his forward movement. Don’t let the reins get longer, as the horse will get strung out and go back into trot.

Sitting to the canter takes a lot of practice, but the main thing is to relax and you’ll soon master it.

Are Your Canter Aids Working? Part 1

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During your horse riding lessons you’ve learned how to walk and trot and now it’s time for your first canter. This is a very exciting moment. You’re told what the aids for canter are, you apply them and – they don’t work.

Perhaps your answer is to ride the horse faster and faster until he falls into canter since he can’t trot more quickly. But you know that’s not the correct way.

What’s going wrong and how do you fix it?

Common Problems with the Canter Aids

When some riders learn how to horse ride they feel that the horse needs a longer rein in order to move up into a faster gait. Other beginners worry that the horse may get out of control and hold him too tightly.

In English horse riding lessons, you develop an elastic contact on the reins. The horse feels comfortable with this connection, and is taught to ‘move into the bridle’ meaning that his hindquarters produce energy which is contained in front by your hands.

Reins too Long

If you let go of that energy by lengthening your reins, the horse doesn’t have the impulsion to strike off into canter. He ‘falls apart’ and can only trot faster, getting out of balance.

Keep your reins at trot length. Give a half-halt with the outside rein and ask for flexion to the inside as you give the canter aids. Don’t change the rhythm of the trot as you do this: keep it forward going but not fast. The better the quality of your trot, the easier it will be for the horse to canter.

Ask for strike-off in a corner or on a circle, and your horse will understand what you want and move smoothly into canter on the correct lead.

Next time we’ll look at how to lengthen your reins comfortably, and what to do if you can’t sit to the trot to give the canter aids.


3 Ways to Cope With ‘Rider’s Block’ in Your Horse Riding Lessons

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You’ve been riding for a while now and feel you’re making progress. Then you move onto something new – let’s say canter – and for some reason you can’t master it.

I call this ‘rider’s block’ and it’s most frustrating, not to mention humiliating if you’re in group horse riding lessons and the other students are having no trouble at all!

What can you do about it?

A Bad Workman Blames His Tools, But……

….a better tool makes life easier!

Ask your instructor if you can ride a more responsive (but still safe) horse. If you sit on a horse which picks up on more subtle clues, you can relax when giving the aids and they’re more likely to work.

Tell your instructor that frustration is taking all the fun out of riding for you: you’ll go back to your original horse when you feel more confident about your aids. Or maybe the instructor will see that this new horse is better for you.

A Change is as Good as a Rest

If the above is not an option for you, take a break from the difficult movement. Go back to something you can do well, even if it’s only walking in circles on both reins.

End your session there, and come back to that pesky part next time you ride when you’ve had a break and feel mentally and physically refreshed.

A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved

When our riding lives don’t go smoothly, it helps to know we’re not alone.

The internet is a wonderful way of communicating with other riders. You can find forums, join in discussions and share specific problems. These forums serve as a type of online horse riding lessons: type in ‘canter problems’ for instance, and someone out there will have dealt with your same issues and tell you how they coped.

Alternatively, post your question here, and I’ll help you.

If you love horses and riding, don’t let these temporary blips get you down. Anything worth having takes effort to attain, and riding is no exception. You’ll get there in the end – just never, never, never give up.