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Category Archives: Thought provoking

Stacy Westfall’s first time riding bridleless on Newt

Yippy! Newt is giving bridleless riding a try!

This is a video of the first time I took the bridle off Newt and rode him around. Newt is six years old in this video and I started his under saddle training as a two year old.  I had been practicing the cue system during his entire training. For several months before this I had also been tying the reins up and focusing on riding with only my body, leg and voice cues. I chose to ride with a neck rope (one of my reins removed from my bridle) because Newt liked the familiar feeling of the neck rein cues and was more relaxed and confident.

Please realize that many, many hours of training have happened prior to this and you should not try riding bridleless unless you are confident that you have a clear communication system with your horse that doesn’t rely on the bridle in case of an emergency. The prior sentence is not meant to be reversed to imply that the bridle should be your emergency system…but the reality is that for many people the bridle is their strongest form of communication with their horse in an emergency.

If I sound a bit concerned it is because I know that other videos of me riding bridleless have inspired many people to give it a try. Many have had success but there have been a few that have been injured because they (either horse or rider or both) were not properly prepared. Just last year I met a trainer who said one of his youth girls broke her leg while trying to imitate my ride.

Clear communication through consistent training is the key…I’m just saying don’t just pull the bridle off and hope for the best as it isn’t fair to either you or your horse 🙂

This was videoed in February 2015 while we were in California. You may also find it interesting that I have only ridden him bridleless a handful of times between then and now as I am still continuing to advance his ‘in the bridle’ training.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Thought provoking, Training, Video

 

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How do you teach a horse to lay down so a person in a wheel chair can get in the saddle?

“How do you teach a horse to lay down so a person in a wheel chair can get in the saddle? The reason I am asking is because the end of August 2014 my boyfriend came down with west nile virus. As of the end of April 2015 he is still in a wheel chair and he wants to be able to ride again. Thanks for your time”, Angie E.

This question got me thinking in several ways. First, let me say I am sorry that both of you are going through this. Years ago a good friend’s husband nearly died from West Nile and has struggled ever since so I have an idea of the challenges you are going through. My heart and prayers go out to you both. I love that he wants to ride again. Setting goals is important for everyone because it keeps us looking forward.

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Michael Richardson gives amazing demos and trains from his wheel chair.

My second thought is that I am not sure if teaching a horse to lie down to mount is the best option for people in a wheelchair to mount. If it was a great method then therapeutic programs would teach horses to lie down. My guess is that there are several reasons why it isn’t the best choice.

  1. Awkward -I have taught horses to lie down and I have mounted while they are down. It is more awkward than I would have guessed from watching it. If you see a horse with a saddle on while lying down you will notice that the saddle is facing sideways.
  2. Difficulty -A horse standing up is a big motion. It is similar in a way to riding a horse going over a small jump as quickly raise their front end upward followed quickly by the hind end.
  3. Challenge- An unbalanced rider would make standing up more of a challenge for the horse

If I do mount my horse while he is down I prefer to do so bareback. This makes it easier for both of us because it solves most of the issues listed above but makes it a less appealing method in a therapeutic setting.

I would suggest finding a local therapy barn to become accustom to riding again. Just as learning to be in the wheel chair has been a learning curve, learning to ride again will also be a new learning curve. The people I have met that are involved in therapy have been extremely caring and will be in the best position to be able to help you guys with this transition, including the discussion about his ability to mount from a horse that is lying down.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking

 

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3 Things to Remember with Horses that ‘drop their shoulders’

In yesterday’s blog I explained that the term ‘dropped shoulder’ is often used to describe several things, the most common being 1) the horse wanting to turn to early 2) a lack of elevation/collection combined with the desire to turn (for my full explanation read yesterdays blog)

Why does it happen? To answer that we need to look at it from the horses point of view.

Many people commented that this was happening to them in the arena or when barrel racing. What do these have in common? A pre-definded and predictable path of travel. If you are riding counter-clockwise around the arena for several laps it doesn’t take the horse long to figure out the pattern of; go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left.

If you have practiced the barrel pattern enough times for your horse to know it then your horse is mentally doing the same thing as the horse above only applied to the barrel pattern. In this example your horse could be thinking; run fast, turn right, run fast, turn left, run fast, turn left run fast!

In both examples the horses are dealing with the same thing: anticipation.

Viewed from another angle, your horse is really just trying to help you out, lol.

On the surface it seems like maybe just changing the routine would be the fix, stop going around the arena or the pattern so many times, but I would argue that the dropped shoulder is most often a stage of training. Attempting to avoid anticipation sounds good…but it isn’t very realistic. What we really want- and need- is a horse that is mentally mature enough to see something coming (anticipate) and still wait for the rider to give the cue.

a plan encouragesI frequently ride in arenas but I don’t frequently deal with my horse dropping his shoulder. Why? There can be multiple reasons, I will list three:

  1. good use of the arena
  2. proper seat
  3. horse ‘between reins and legs’

I have inserted a rough diagram of a pattern I use when I lope in an arena. This pattern allows me to be aware of all three of the points listed above. As a rider, I will be more clear and precise if I have a specific goal. Making it around the arena to the left isn’t specific enough. How many straight lines will I make during this pattern? On each of theses straight lines my focus will be on riding my horse straight ahead, straight between my reins and legs. My eyes will pick a point straight ahead.  On two of the curves I will move my horses shoulder out before turning. On the other two turns I will keep him balanced and even. I will be aware if I feel the urge to lean. I will also be aware if I feel the horse lean left or right. My focus on the pattern has lead to (1. good arena use) which has stopped me from leaning (2. proper seat) and I am aware of (3. horse is between my reins and legs).

But what if my horse does lean? What if he doesn’t go straight when I ride him straight? My general rule is that I will help him find the correct answer subtlety once or twice but then I will make a correction. On a straight line that could mean that I pick up to maintain straightness and then let go, notice he is drifting again, pick up to maintain straightness, let go, and then I will pick up and change his path of travel by 6-12 inches while collecting him (the correction). There are many methods for correcting the horse but it becomes slightly less confusing as you begin to realize that you are correcting him for ignoring one of your cues.

When the horse ‘drops the shoulder’ many riders are tempted to ‘hold him up’ causing a shift in responsibility. Eventually the rider feels the need to ‘hold him up’ frequently which is also another way of saying that the rider has to “hold the steering wheel slightly turned to the right to keep the car going straight”….

…that’s a problem.

Which cue is your horse ignoring or leaning into? Is he ‘requiring’ you to hold three pounds of pressure with your inside leg to keep him going straight?  Can you name three exercises or corrections that you have done in the past that cause the horse to be more respectful of the cue he is ignoring? If not, it might be time for a riding lesson or clinic with a pro.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Training

 

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What is a ‘dropped shoulder’ in a horse and how can I fix it?

horse drop shoulder dropping fixYesterdays blog discussed ‘Confusing terms people use around horses‘ and the following comment showed up on the Facebook post.

 “I’ve been yelled at – and still don’t know what a dropped shoulder is.”-Karen S.

This is a great example of a confusing term. I agree that people over use this term AND I believe it would be possible to sit down with three different professionals and have at least three different definitions of the term.

Dropped shoulder:

  1. the horse leaves the desired path of travel around the arena, cutting to the inside
  2. the horse desires to leave the current path of travel and turn early, the rider uses a cue to keep him from doing so (inside rein, inside leg) resulting in the feeling that if the rider ‘let go’ or stopped ‘holding him up’ the horse would ‘fall in’
  3. a lack of elevation in the front end combined with the desire to turn to soon

In general the term is used when the horse wants to cut to the inside of the path of travel. This happens more often when a horse is ridden in a riding arena. It doesn’t take a horse too long to figure out that if you are traveling counter-clockwise around an arena that the pattern is; go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left…..you get the point.

Soon the horse thinks, “A left turn is coming….lets do it now.” and the ‘dropped’ shoulder has begun. Keep in mind that the shoulder can’t be ‘dropped’ unless at some point it is being held. Stop ‘holding the shoulder up’ and what happens?

I would argue that most of the time a ‘dropped shoulder’ is nothing more than cutting a corner. Ever been at a 4 way stop in your car? Ever had someone turn and almost hit the front corner of your car? They were ‘dropping their shoulder’….but clearly the car wasn’t leaning. People tend to mean ‘dropping the shoulder’ when the horse is simply ‘turning too early’.

Is it fixable? Yes, but the rider has to be willing to stop ‘holding him up’ and let him make the mistake. When he leaves the path of travel the rider needs to correct it…and then let him go and probably make the mistake again. Ultimately the horse must become responsible for ‘holding’ his own shoulder up because he knows you will correct him and then let go again. There is a huge difference between correcting the issue vs becoming part of the problem.

This is how I define a dropped shoulder…but is that what your riding instructor means?

P.S.-this post triggered a follow up post ‘3 Things to Remember with Horses that ‘drop their shoulders’

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Training

 

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Old habits vs new habits: in horses and in people

Most of us are at least somewhat aware of our own habits. You probably recognize that you have a routine when getting ready for bed each night or the way you fold your cloths. We become especially aware of those habits if someone interrupts or changes them. Where did you learn that habit? How strong is the habit? What would it take to change it?

Successful peopleIn the last six months I have done more trail riding than I did in the last ten years. It was an interesting revelation in my old habits vs my new ones. I would have guessed that the rider I have become in the last 25 years would be the rider that hit the trail…but no. The rider I was as a teen when I logged most of my trail riding hours quickly showed up. Habits that had been lying dormant for many years quickly surfaced. My knees hurt after only an hour or so in the saddle. How could this be? I regularly ride for many hours a day in an arena. Same horse. Same saddle.

Different rider.

The rider I was years ago was more of a passenger on trail rides, not an active rider. As soon as I was aware that my old habit had shown up I was able to switch and become a more active rider again but the point remains; unless changed in those setting the old habits are still there.

It was a fun adventure every time I went out on a trail. The old habits meeting the new habits in my body while my mind observed it all.

I was recently working a horse that I believe already has some ‘habits’ that she has learned. Early on in her training she was allowed to be excitable, fresh and emotional during the first part of each work session. She would eventually come around but I now suspect that this has become a habit with her. The biggest clue is that the first ten minutes of a workout she is ready to come unglued. Almost anything can set her off; a bag, a pole, or simply lunging. She expects to be crazy. Day after day as I work her I see a horse that really isn’t scared of the bag or the pole…but expects to be emotionally out of control for the first 10 minutes.

I didn’t start her but if I could go back I would have changed the pattern early on. This horse is carrying on the ‘pattern’ even though she isn’t really excited. Interesting food for thought.

Can you think of an area where you have habits that you do, only because you learned them early on…even though they don’t benefit you now?

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Life, Thought provoking, Video

 

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When you ride your horse do you focus on having ‘feel’ in your whole body?

feel- to be or become conscious ofYou have to start somewhere. All riders do. Maybe it was a pony ride when you were a kid or maybe it was riding a friends horse for the first time when you were in your 40’s but all of us started riding somewhere.

And it wasn’t pretty.

And it probably went something like this: pull on the left rein to go left, pull on the right rein to go right, pull on both to stop and kick to go.

Hey, they had to start you out somewhere. And you weren’t coordinated. I’m not as concerned about where you started out as I am about where you are headed now. If you’re reading this then there is a pretty good chance you are trying to better yourself as a rider. To understand your horse more. That’s great!

So todays question is: Do you ride with ‘feel’ in your whole body? What is feel (here is a blog about it)? Do you have it? How can you get it? Are you working on improving it?

One description of ‘feel’ if you google it is: to be or become conscious of.

Are you conscious of your whole body when you ride? Are you aware of where your eyes are looking, how much pressure you have on each seat bone, of your horses footfall and path of travel? Yes, each one of these is something that you should be conscious of. First you will learn to be conscious of each one individually…then two at a time…and eventually all at the same time.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Thought provoking

 

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What is the horse saying with his ears?

After posting yesterday’s blog, I noticed several people comment negatively about the horses ears during the performance. The common thread seemed to be that the viewers of the video seemed to think that the horse was saying, with its ears, that it was irritated or annoyed.

On the surface I can see how some people would think this. Even looking at the chart below it could appear that the horse was annoyed or worried. The difficulty is that the horse chart below is made for ‘reading’ horses that are in the pasture or generally in hand. Many of the ear positions are the same but some do change.

Many riders have never had the experience of riding a highly trained horse. Many horses that rely strongly on the bridle and less on the riders body/leg cues feel free to be less than fully focused. As a horse training advances to read the riders body more it is common to see the horses ears get more focused on the rider. As this happens the horses tend to hold their ears back, not flattened, but clearly focused on the rider. Not pinned, but intently listening.

The young lady with the mustang only had 130 days of training (see below). Watch her ride and then watch Roxy’s ride with me at the Quarter Horse Congress (also below). Roxy had more times when she looked relaxed because she has had more years to get comfortable with the cues. She doesn’t have to ‘think’ about it as hard because it is second nature. The younger horse is trying hard to focus.

What face do you make when you concentrate?

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This image and much more are available in the CHA Composite Horsemanship Manual. Click photo for more info.

 

 

Watch Roxy’s ears change between intense and relaxed. When I ask for big moves she is more intense and when we are doing easier things her ears are more relaxed.

Here is the young lady with only 130 days of training on her mustang. This is the video that the ears were questioned. Think about how much this horse has learned in a short time…this explains his focused look.

Here is another bridleless just for more ear watching:

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Thought provoking, Training, Video

 

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