Thursday, March 29, 2012

Let's Ride! Posting at the Trot


Image property of Dassett Equestrian

The second of the three main speeds of the horse, is the trot. After learning how to walk, the horse learns how to run, which is what riders must also learn to accomplish. It is a rudimentary element before learning to do anything more difficult on the horse. Learning to correctly ride at the walk, trot, and canter improves balance, coordination, and strength.

The trot, which is forward moving, is a "two step" gait. This means that the horse moves two legs diagonal from each other in rhythm. When trotting, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg with left fore leg, then left hind leg with right fore leg. Two feet will always move together, while the horse's neck and head move slightly to maintain balance. The horse's weight will lift slightly, as if bouncing as the legs move.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first ride.
1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
  • And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.

2. Complete the steps in How to Pick up a Trot.

3. When you are trotting, depending on the horse, you will most likely feel like you are going to "bounce" out of the saddle. That is because of the two step gait that the horse is performing. You will likely feel this bounce until you can master the sitting trot. So, until that point, you can use posting. As an added bonus, the posting trot can be beneficial to your horse's back!  To start, I like to go with the phrase, "Rise and fall with the leg on the wall" (this will also be the correct diagonal). That is, the front leg of the horse that is closest to the outside of the arena. So when the horse brings that leg up, before extending and moving it forward, is the time when you should "lift" yourself out of the saddle.  And when I say lift yourself out of the saddle, I mean, without disrupting your posture and balance, slightly push your butt out of the seat of the saddle, so it is out of the saddle, but you are not standing up in the stirrups.

4. What I like about the posting trot is that it can be used to increase or decrease the speed of the horse, just by increasing or decreasing your posting speed. Once you understand the posting trot and can perform it correctly, try and increase/ decrease the trot with your posting. See what you can accomplish, just with your seat! You will be pleasantly surprised.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the News: Zebra Stripes

It is Newsworthy Tuesday, today, which means that I get to pick a horse article from the web and share it with the viewers and readers of The Equus Ally. But instead of compiling information about the topic into a whole bunch of paragraphs that look a lot like a news article in and of itself, I am going to list the main points of the subject at hand. This way, the reader, you, can look over the main points without having to rifle through all of that other stuff...

So, What's in the News today?


  • A study by Gábor Horváth and colleagues from Hungary and Sweden have found that the zebra has evolved its stripes to fend off blood sucking insects
  • Horseflies are attracted to horizontally polarized light which looks (to them) like long stretches of water, where the bugs can lay eggs
  • Female horseflies are also attracted to linearly polarized light reflected from hides
  • Horse flies are more attracted to darker hides than white ones
  • Zebras have dark skin and then develop white stripes when in the womb
  • The team tested stripe width in relation to horsefly attraction
  • They concluded that zebras have evolved their stripes so that the stripes on the coat are narrow enough to ensure minimum attractiveness to horseflies

Tack 'Em Up! Saddle Fitting



A saddle needs to fit both the horse and rider in order for both to be comfortable (and work more efficiently) during the ride. Every horse is different, and with that in mind, every saddle must be different. This is where saddle fit comes in.

Requirements for Saddle fit:

Horses aren't perfect and will be constantly changing shape, so your saddle which fits in the summer, may not fit in the winter. Learning how to recognize changes in your horse's shape and knowing the requirements for saddle fit will enable you to determine what is best for your horse.
  • A saddle should comfortably clear a horse’s withers
  • Allow for free movement of the shoulders
  • Be the proper length and shape for the horse's back
  • Be well balanced to provide good weight distribution
Different Tree Sizes:

First off, let me tell you what a tree on a saddle is. Don't worry, your saddle will not be growing leaves ... at least not anymore!

The saddle tree is the foundation of the saddle and relates to the measurement of the gullet, an open space or channel underneath the saddle. The tree is made of softer, flexible wood, a synthetic material or a combination of wood and synthetics. It is then covered by some sort of "hide covering" to make it a bit stronger.

The tree comes in a few sizes, such as:
  • Narrow (N): 86 degree angle. Fits the slender breeds
  • Narrow Medium (NW)
  • Medium (M): 90 degree angle.
  • Medium Wide (MW)
  • Wide (W):  94 degree angle. Fits broader backed horses
  • Extra Wide (XW)
If you have a lot of horses that you need to ride, the flex tree is pretty cool as it comes with an adjustable lever on the outside of the saddle so the tree can move in and out (threrefore changing the gullet size) as needed for each horse.

Seat Sizes:

The size of the seat relates to leg length and not hip size. So someone with longer legs will need a larger saddle.

For a western saddle, the seat size (which simply measures the distance from the base of the horn to the top middle of the cantle) usually goes as follows:
  • Youth: 12"-13"
  • Small Adult: 14"
  • Average Adult: 15"
  • Large Adult: 16"
  • Extra Large Adult: 17"
For the english saddle, the seat size is a little different:
Whatever seat size you have for western, add 2" and there you have your seat size for english.
  • Youth or small Adult: 15" - 16 1/2"
  • Average Adult: 17"
  • Large Adult: 17 1/2" - 18"
  • Extra Large Adult: 18" and over

Friday, March 23, 2012

Going Green at the Barn


The other day, I was looking up some green ideas for horse farms. Since going green can save a barn owner money, and I wanted to someday be a barn owner, I wanted to know what the options were for going green. Here is what I found:

If you are building a barn, make sure to put in as many windows and open "sky light" type areas on the roof as possible. This will cut down on using your electric lights because it uses natural light to illuminate an area.  Plus, if there are more windows, that means more ventilation for your barn, and we all know that is a must!  If you are not building a barn, and I know that many such people are not, you can still put in skylights in your roof.

Next are solar panels. First, you have the photovoltaic panels, which is what you see more often than not, on a person's house.  These types of panels cut down on electricity because they convert energy from the sun's rays into electricity.  You can also use solar panels on your electric fence charger. The next type of solar panel heats water.  The sun heats fluid filled tubes that run through a roof mounted collector. What better way to heat water for your barn than to get it from the sun!

After harnessing the sun's energy, you can harness the wind by using a wind turbine. They kind of look like those big windmills, but they are beneficial to the barn. There is the horizontal axis or the vertical axis. With the horizontal axis, the blades are at the top and they must be pointed into the wind. With the vertical axis, the direction that the wind is moving is not as critical because the rotary shaft is arranged vertically. Another plus to the vertical axis, is that it can still generate electricity even at lower wind speeds.

Of course with either the use of wind or sun, looking at a solar and wind resource map will help determine whether either of these will be economical. And don't forget to look up your local zoning ordinances for solar panel and wind turbine installation. The solar panels and wind turbine can be a little costly depending on the area, so looking up grants and incentives can help with that.

Now on to the little stuff...
  • Try to buy the biggest shampoo, conditioner and other horse care bottles available.
  • Put lights on timers
  • Use fly predators whenever possible
  • Make your own fly spray
  • Replace your regular light bulbs with fluorescent ones
  • Re-use and recycle as much as possible
  • Use bedding made by wood byproducts (as wood composts easily)
  • Get a barn cat to take care of the rodents
  • Collect rainwater for daily chores (only where viable)
  • Use horse waste as fertilizer (you can change the pH for whatever you plan to use it on)
  • Compost organic material
  • Install bird houses around high manure areas, as the birds will eat most of the bugs
  • Install automatic waterers
  • Install energy efficient devices
  • Join local recycling and environmental awareness groups - they will give you more great ideas!

Any other "green" ideas?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Basics: Groundwork part 2



Not too long ago, I talked about what groundwork is and how it can benefit the bond between horse and rider.  Today, I will be talking about a few of the groundwork exercises that the rider can do, on the ground, with the horse.

Just as a recap:
  • Groundwork exercises between horse and rider promote trust and respect
  • Groundwork helps build a bond between horse and rider
  • When using groundwork, the person must be mindful of tone of voice, body language and their confidence.
  • Groundwork needs repetition and must be consistent and clear
When executing groundwork, you can either work with the horse in hand on a lead rope, on a lunge line in a circle, or without using horse gear in a round pen. I like working the horse in hand on the lead rope in some desensitizing work or in the round pen.

Just as a note, with any horse activity, safety comes first! Make sure that you are wearing proper footwear (aka no open toed shoes), and proper clothing (preferably long pants and a shirt). Combining horses and individuals in activities can be inherently dangerous. Participants in activities assume the risk of being injured. If you feel you are not qualified to work with the horse, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during any horse activities.

The first thing that I usually work on with horse's is creating respect. If the horse doesn't respect you, they will walk all over you, and that animal is 3x plus your size. Do not think you can man handle it. As the leader of the herd (even if that herd is just the two of you), you need to come across as that leader.  With that being said, the horse needs to have some ground manners.

Allows every body part to be touched:

Your horse should let you touch every part of his body. Often ears, muzzle, sheath or udder, between legs, and chest are sensitive spots that many horses object to having handled. But these areas need to be cleaned, or dressed if they are injured. Teaching your horse to have these areas groomed and touched is essential.

Every chance you can get, be friendly to him, rub his body, scratch the itchy spots, and love on him like crazy. This tells the horse that you are a pleasure to be around and that you can trust him. If you are rubbing him, and run into any area that he objects, back off of that area for a bit and then go back to it slowly. Once accepting all areas to be rubbed down by you, being bringing in other items, like ropes, saddle pads, bridles, saddles, (scary) bags, boxes, etc. Whatever you are able to rub on him without hurting him is great.

Walking quietly in hand:

Taking the lead rope in hand, walk with your horse. The horse should be paying attention to you and quietly walking beside you with the head relaxed. You should not be pulling on the horse and the horse should not be walking you.

What to do if the horse is in freak out mode:

Teach him to give to pressure. As I stated above, the horse should be walking WITH you, paying attention TO you, and should be relaxed with his head down. You can do this with just a halter and lead rope. Teach him to give to pressure at the poll (the top of the head). This might take some time depending on the responsiveness of the horse, but hey, patience is a virtue and nothing can be done overnight.

Standing beside your horse, in a quiet location, place your hand about 2 inches from the snap on the lead rope. Apply pressure downwards on the lead rope, toward the ground. Make sure the pressure is straight down and not forward or back, or else the horse could become confused. Make sure to hold the same amount of pressure on the lead until the horse responds by lowering his head (even if it is just a fraction). If the horse raises his head while you have placed pressure downwards, do not release the pressure, but keep it steady until he complies. Once the horse correctly complies, release the pressure and rub his neck. Wait about 5 seconds after, and then ask him again. Repeat this exercise until he lowers his head within 1 second of you asking him. Continue to repeat the exercise until you know you have drilled it into him.

Once it becomes almost second nature to him when you ask with the pressure on the halter, repeat the exercise in a less quiet place, such as one with distractions. Continue to teach him, progressing with more and more distractions, until the horse responds correctly 100% of the time to the cue.

Once you teach him to give to pressure at the poll, you can teach him to give to pressure on other parts of his body, such as the shoulder, barrel, hip, legs, etc. Make it a point to practice giving to the pressure everyday.

What to do if the horse is pulling you:

So, there you are, walking along to wherever you are going, your horse starts to get excited. He knows where you are heading and starts to pull you. I want you to stop moving and get the horse's attention back on you. I like to do this by having the horse back up. Watch his ears for a response. Usually just a few steps will do. Move forward again only when you are ready and you know his attention is back on you. If he does it again, you back him up again. However many times it takes you, do it until he understands that you are the leader and you will direct him, not the other way around.


Just remember:
Patience is a virtue!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Trot a Horse


The second of the three main speeds of the horse, is the trot. After learning how to walk, the horse learns how to run, which is what riders must also learn to accomplish.  It is a rudimentary element before learning to do anything more difficult on the horse.  Learning to correctly ride at the walk, trot, and canter improves balance, coordination, and strength.

The trot, which is forward moving, is a "two step" gait. This means that the horse moves two legs diagonal from each other in rhythm. When trotting, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg with left fore leg, then left hind leg with right fore leg.  Two feet will always move together, while the horse's neck and head move slightly to maintain balance. The horse's weight will lift slightly, as if bouncing as the legs move.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first ride.

1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
  • And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.

2. Pick up the reins (if you haven't already) and maintain even and steady but light contact with the bit. You should be able to feel the horse's mouth through the bit, but you shouldn't be pulling on it. If english, there should be little to no slack in the reins. If western, you should have contact but more slack than in english.


3. Ask your horse to pick up the walk. If you do not know how to do this, please re-read, understand, and complete the steps in the How to Walk post.

4. Using both legs, with more pressure from the inside leg (when I talk about inside and outside leg aides, I am talking about the leg in relation to the location of the middle, or inside the arena/circle, or location of the outside of the arena/circle) than the outside, GENTLY, squeeze the horse's sides. When squeezing, make sure that it is the lower region of your leg that you are using behind the girth, and that only a small amount of pressure is being used. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. As the lower leg is squeezing, push your hips slightly forward. Once the horse starts moving, release the leg and move your hands forward slightly to prevent giving the horse mixed cues. If the horse does not move off of the lower leg cue, nudge with your lower leg. If the horse still does not respond to your cues, urge the horse forward with your heels. If the horse still does not move, check your cues, your body language, and try again. If the horse is not cooperating, make sure that you are also moving your hand forward when asking for the trot.


5. Once the horse starts moving, keep your arms relaxed so that you can allow your hands to move forwards and back with the movement of the horse's head. Allow your body to relax (while still maintaining posture!) with the motion of the horse. If you feel that your horse is starting to slow and possibly stop or walk again, nudge him or her again until you get the same rhythm as before.


6. Congratulations, you have asked your horse to trot, and succeeded!!

Any questions?

Tack 'Em Up! The Western Saddle



There are many different types of saddles to choose from when horseback riding, but the main two are the english saddle and the western saddle. While, my personal favorite of the two is the english saddle, there are many people out there that love the western saddle and what it can provide for the rider.

What is the western saddle?
The western saddle, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a deep-seated saddle used originally by cattlemen that has broad skirts and fenders and a high pommel with a horn for holding the lariat. As you can tell from the picture above there is a lot more leather and accessories that are on the western saddle than what is on the english saddle.

Types and uses
As I stated earlier, there are many different types of saddles. The western saddle type is no exception to that statement.  Although while there are huge differences between english saddles, the usual visual difference between western saddles has to do with the horn, seat, and amount of what I call bling.  Here are a few of the different kinds of western saddles:

The roping saddle is used on working cattle ranches and designed for rodeo work.



This type is a heavy and sturdy saddle that usually has a thicker horn for securing a rope, low cantle, and slick fork that allows rider to dismount quickly when needed.  The roping saddle is designed for demanding use and maximum freedom of movement for the rider.


The trail or pleasure saddle is used when going primarily trail riding.



Designed for maximum comfort of rider as well as a good fit for the horse, features deep, padded seat, designed for long rides at slower speeds. Still heavier than the english saddle, the trail saddle is lighter than any of the working saddles.

The show saddle can be found in western judged events.



May be based on roping, cutting, or other trees, but is characterized by additional leather tooling and silver decoration. Usually features a deep, padded seat that allows the rider to sit quietly and give the appearance of a smooth ride. These saddles are the most impacted by current fashion trends more than any of the other western saddle types.

Where you can purchase one

There are a bunch of different brands that you can choose from when it comes to western saddles. With a wide range of brands and prices, you can't go wrong.

After deciding the type of saddle you need, you can find saddles on discount saddle sites such as Chicks discount saddlery, at the saddle's brand name website, such as Circle Y, through large horse gear websites, such as horse saddle shop, or you can find them at auction sites, such as eBay.  The western saddle that I have was a gift, and not brand name, but I still like it a lot because it fits me.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day


Graphic property of www.sarahgraphics.net



Fun fact:

The horse is associated with many Celtic deities as an emblem of power, sovereignty, abundance, and guidance. Epona and Macha are Celtic horse Goddesses who watch over the land, protecting its abundance and insuring a good harvest. As protectors of nature, they grant both sovereignty over the land and are the goddesses of the stable, protecting all who work with the horse. As goddesses of maternity, prophecy, and prosperity, they guide and protect mortals on their journeys through life. In most Celtic myths, the horses were either black or white.




Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
Have fun and be safe.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Basics: Grooming Gear

Grooming is not only a great way to get your horse clean and keep him or her healthy, it is also a way to bond with your horse. As horses are social animals, mutual grooming can help show affection, reinforce social structures and build relationships. Plus, it will give you a chance to find out those spots that your horse can't get to to scratch.

The following are the essentials for cleaning your horse.





Hoof Pick: metal or plastic tool with a pointed end used for picking debris, rocks, glass & nails from underside of hooves. You will want to have an equestrian professional with you to show you how to do this. In essence, you will stand near the leg that you want to pick up but facing the direction of the horse's back end. Next, you will run your hand down the horse's leg. When you get to about the cannon bone, or the space between the horse's "knee" and "ankle," you will squeeze a little to signal the horse that you want that leg. When the horse picks it up, slide your hand under the hoof, so it faces you. There will be two grooves in the hoof, with what is known as the frog (looks a bit like a triangle) in the middle. Do not pick at the frog with the metal part of the hoof pick, but instead remove debris from the frog with fingers or a brush. Work from heel to toe and pick out debris from the grooves.

Curry Comb: a tool made of rubber or plastic with short teeth on one side. Its purpose is to break up dirt clumps and pull loose hair to the surface of the coat. Starting at the top of the neck, work the curry in a circular motion, bringing the dust and debris to the surface. Rubber and metal curry combs shouldn't be used on the horse's face, or any other sensitive areas. Make sure to finish on one side before moving to the other side.


Hard or Dandy Brush: A hard bristled brush used to removed dirt and debris loosened by the curry comb. This brush should not be used on the horse's face, legs, or bony protrusions as it can irritate sensitive areas. Start at the top of the neck with the brush and move over the body, top to bottom, in short flicking motions.
Soft Brush: A soft bristled brush used after the hard brush to get rid of the small particles of dirt and debris that were missed. This brush can be used on the horse's face, legs and bony protrusions as it is softer (der!) than its conterpart, the dandy brush. Following the same path as you did when covering the body with the hard brush, sweep the soft brush in longer strokes.


Comb or Brush: A "hair" brush to comb through the horse's mane and tail. Start at the bottom of the mane or tail and work your way up. Comb out any tangles as gently as possible so as to not break the hair.



And yes, you can make sure all the colors match.....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Stop a Horse



Last time I talked about walking a horse. I think before moving on to the fast gaits, it is time to talk about stopping the horse. I probably should've talked about this earlier...but alas....you need to have forward movement in order to stop.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first couple rides.

1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
  • And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.

2. Ask your horse to pick up the walk. If you do not know how to do this, please see this post. The walk has to be a nice, steady forward moving gait.


3. When you are ready to stop, you will need to, in essence, stop riding with your body. When riding a horse, you have a light seat in order to follow the movement and rhythm of the horse. In order to stop, you will want to add more weight to, deepen, and stop the movement in your seat. You make yourself heavier by rolling your hips slightly more under yourself thus slightly moving your body backward, and pushing down in your seat.


4. While stopping with your body and deepening the seat, make sure to keep your leg still. Next find your belly button. (easiest step ever!!)


5.  Pull the reins GENTLY back toward your belly button. This is more of a squeeze than a pull. One squeeze to slow down and another to stop. This brings the bit, if it is a jointed bit (such as a snaffle), back in the horse's mouth, creating pressure on the bars of the mouth, tongue and sides of the mouth. If it is a leverage bit (such as the curb bit), it will create pressure on the poll and in the horse's mouth. Please do not pull the reins sharply as that is pretty much like punching your horse in the mouth. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn''t want to get punched in the mouth, so why do that to the horse. Another thing, and I have seen this a lot. When pulling back, always, always pull back toward the belly button. Do not pull them up toward your shoulder as you aren't putting the correct pressure in the correct places and the horse might evade the bit. One more thing. Do not wrap the reins around your body, ever.

6. If you really need to, also use your voice. Everyone knows of the word "whoa!" Use it if need be, but know that it really isn't something you should use as your aids for riding and stopping should be body, seat, leg, then hand.

7. Once the horse has stopped, release the pressure on the bit, thus rewarding the horse.  If pressure is not released, the horse may get mixed signals and do something that is not what you want.

If the horse does not stop, check the length of your reins, and body positioning. Get rid of excess slack in the reins, if needed, and try the above steps again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tack 'Em Up! The English Saddle


There are many different types of saddles to choose from when horseback riding, but the main two are the english saddle and the western saddle. My personal favorite of the two is the english saddle. Don't get me wrong, I do own both an english (which is with me on the east coast) and a western saddle (which is on the west coast), but to me the english is just so much more comfortable for both horse and rider.

What is an english saddle?
The english saddle, according to the meriam webster dictionary, is a saddle with long side bars, steel cantle and pommel, no horn, and a leather seat supported by webbing stretched between the saddlebow and cantle. Like the one shown above in the picture, it is just a basic leather seat. Nothing blingy or extravagant, just leather and a saddle tree molded to fit (correctly) onto the back of the horse and to allow the rider movement.

Types and uses for the english saddle:
As I stated earlier, there are many different types of saddles. The english saddle type is no exception to that statement. Here are a few of the different kinds of english saddles:

The dressage saddle, which is used in... wait for it....dressage competitions!! No surprise there.

As you can tell from the picture, the cantle is much higher and allows for a much deeper seat for the rider.  The billets (which on the diagram are called girth straps) are longer so that the girth can be buckled at the horse's elbow instead of under the rider's leg. There may be some padding in front of the knee to help the rider hold position. The saddle flap is also longer to accomodate a longer leg position.

The saddle seat saddle. This one is used in saddle seat competitions....once again no surprise there.
The saddle seat (sometimes spelled saddleseat) is longer and flatter and places the rider's balance farther back. The pommel is cut back to allow freedom of the horse's shoulders, neck and front legs. There is no padding in front of the knee on the saddle flap.

The all purpose english saddle, which can be referred to as the general purpose saddle, is used for jumping over fences and/ or working the horse on the flat. This is the kind of saddle I have.


The all purpose english saddle is kind of a combination between a jumping saddle and a dressage saddle. It has the deeper seat of the dressage saddle with the forward flap of the jumping saddle. The flaps usually have padding in front of the knee.

Where you can purchase them:

There are a bunch of different brands that you can choose from when it comes to english saddles. With a wide range of brands and prices, you can't go wrong.

After deciding the type of saddle you need, you can find saddles on discount saddle sites such as Chicks discount saddlery, at the saddle's brand name website, such as Bates, or you can find them at auction sites, such as eBay.  I purchased my Cambridge International brand name all purpose saddle on eBay for a pretty good price.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Basics: Groundwork Principles part 1



Ahhhh, my all-time favorite trust and respect building activity: Groundwork. It is definitely an essential training tool as it provides safety on the ground for both horse and rider during the beginning training period. But groundwork is much more than just a simple training tool. It can build the foundations to a happy and healthy relationship with the horse through building trust and respect between horse and rider (before the rider ever sits in the saddle). Let me explain....

Horses are herd animals and as herd animals, have a pecking order. They are mentally wired to look up to the leader.  Every horse below the leader (or leaders), will look to the leader to find out how to react in a given situation.  It is the leader's job to be on the lookout for and signal to the "herd" what is dangerous and what is safe.  The herd has faith in its leaders, and follow blindly.  As such, the rider/ owner/ horse participant/ etc. needs to be the leader.

Being a leader also means having a zero tolerance policy (towards the horse invading your personal space or disobeying requests previously learned) as the horse will always be testing and challenging the pecking order. The horse will test you in small ways just to see how far they can push the envelope with you. This is why you always need to be "on your toes" and ready for anything when it comes to horses.

Understanding these dynamics can be advantageous when training and building or keeping trust with the horse. But how can this be done, you ask.... Well, it all comes down to demonstrating your dominance through tone of voice, body language and confidence. But it's not just what you portray, as to what you do. The horse has to trust you and respect your boundaries.

Accomplishing trust and respect can be truly easy with work and time (if done correctly). Horses are not humans (obviously) and will not 'get' something immediately. They need repetition and a lot of it.  Going over the lesson again and again to thoroughly ingrain it in the horse's mind. Meaning you have to repeat the lesson at least 50 times. You want the horse to understand the cue immediately once the cue is given.

While being repetitive is great, the lesson won't be fully understood unless it is consistent and clear. If someone is constantly teaching the horse the same concept but changing the way they are teaching it, the horse is obviously going to be confused. The horse will not know what is being asked and how to accomplish the task at hand. However, if this same person is constantly teaching the horse the same concept in the same way and form that he or she did the last time the lesson was taught, the horse will learn more efficiently and come to bond with the person.




These are the principles to a good working relationship with your horse on the ground. Make sure to come back next time for some groundwork exercises and how to perform them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Ride a Horse at the Walk


The first of the three main speeds of the horse, is the walk.  Just like any other land mammal, horses learn how to walk before they learn how to run. It is the rudimentary element, and all riders must learn how to ride at the walk (and stop) before learning any of the other gaits as it enhances coordination and balance.

The walk, which is forward moving, is a "four step gait". This means that the horse moves each leg in turn and places all four legs on the ground individually.  When walking, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg, right front leg, left hind leg, left front leg, in an even and steady 4 beat motion. The advancing rear hoof oversteps the spot where the previously advancing front hoof touched the ground. One foot will always be in the air, with the other four on the ground, while the horse's neck and head move slightly to maintain balance. The horse's weight will move side to side, or sway slightly, as the legs move.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!).  If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferrably an instructor) with you during your first ride.

1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off.  Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing.  Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup.  Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).

2. Pick up the reins (if you haven't already) and maintain even and steady but light contact with the bit. You should be able to feel the horse's mouth through the bit, but you shouldn't be pulling on it. If english, there should be little to no slack in the reins. If western, you should have contact but more slack than in english.

3. To ask for the walk, gently squeeze with the lower leg on both sides of the horse, behind the girth. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. As the lower leg is squeezing, push your hips slightly forward. Once the horse starts moving, release the leg and move your hands forward slightly to prevent giving the horse mixed cues. If the horse does not move off of the lower leg cue, nudge with your lower leg. If the horse still does not respond to your cues, urge the horse forward with your heels. If the horse still does not move, check your cues, your body language, and try again. If the horse is not cooperating, make sure that you are also moving your hand forward when asking for the walk.

4.  Once the horse starts moving, keep your arms relaxed so that you can allow your hands to move forwards and back with the movement of the horse's head. Allow your body to relax (while still maintaining posture!) with the motion of the horse.  If you feel that your horse is starting to slow and possibly stop, nudge him or her again until you get the same rhythm as before.

5. Congratulations, you have asked your horse to walk, and succeeded!!

Any questions?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In the News: Equine Injury Database

It is Newsworthy Tuesday, today, which means that I get to pick a horse article from the web and share it with the viewers and readers of The Equus Ally. But instead of compiling information about the topic into a whole bunch of paragraphs that look a lot like a news article in and of itself, I am going to list the main points of the subject at hand. This way, the reader, you, can look over the main points without having to rifle through all of that other stuff...

So, What's in the News today?


  • The Jockey Club, which is the Thoroughbred breed registry for North America, has revealed that it has released the updated version of the Equine Injury Database
  • The website, which can be found HERE, will include statistics from over a dozen North American tracks, including some big tracks in NY, CA, and KY.
  • Data included in the website consists of the month, year, number of race days, number of starts, age, and sex of the horse, distance of the race, and the surface on which the incident occured.
  • The idea for the database was proposed in 2006, but not actually launched until 2008.
  • The website is designed to encourage other racetracks to follow the Jockey Club's lead and make public their data in a standard, summary fashion.
  • Analysis of the equine injury data suggests that over a 1 year period (November 2008 to October 2009), there were 2.04 fatal injuries in Thoroughbreds per 1,000 starts.
Any thoughts?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tack 'Em Up: How to Halter a Horse



A halter and lead rope are two of the most crucial and basic tools a horse owner can ever use.  The halter, which is a device worn by the horse and allows the handler to command and communicate cues, can either principally be leather, nylon, or rope. Note: These instructions are for halters containing a buckle.  I myself prefer the leather and nylon combination otherwise known as the breakaway halter as it promotes safety and security to both horse and handler.

There are many different sizes of halters and choosing the wrong type can be a detriment to the safety of the handler, horse, and pretty much everyone else in the vicinity.  The standard sizes are as follows:

Mini: obviously made to fit miniature horses
Foal, Weanling, or Yearling
Pony: made to fit ponies, although the foal, weanling or yearling sizes may also fit a pony
Small, Arab or Cob: full sized horse with a smaller head such as the Arabians or Cobs
Horse, Average or Medium: full sized horse with an average head such as the Quarter Horse
Large Horse or Warmblood: full sized horse with a large head such as the Warmblood
Draft or Extra Large

Some halters come with an adjustable chin piece and/ or throatlatch, making the halter customizable to the horse.  But even then, the halter must be of the appropriate size for the horse.

If at all possible, have a horse knowledgable friend, horse professional, or store associate help you with sizing if you are still not sure on what size you should buy.

1. Before even beginning to halter the horse, look over the halter. Make sure that there aren't any tears, ripping/ripped seams, or broken pieces. Do the same for the lead rope. You will want the halter and lead rope in good working order before ever putting it on your horse. If you look at the image above, please note the part names and the overall look of the halter.

2. After you have looked over the halter and lead rope, and have affirmed that it is good, unbuckle the crown piece and walk over to your horse. Make sure that the horse knows that you are coming. If the horse is in a stall, make a clucking or kissing noise before and after opening the door. Now this is important, watch the ears and make sure that the horse acknowledges you. If you do not see the acknowledgment, you could scare the horse and you might get kicked! If the horse acknowledges you and turns toward/ faces you...Yay! one less step. If the horse ackowledges you, looks at you and then turns back to where he/she was facing...you are going to have to move toward the horse, preferably on the horse's left side (as that is where you will re-attach the crownpiece to the rest of the halter at end) to get toward the head. Always, always, always make sure the horse knows where you are. Always!! Safety comes first, so if at all possible, have a horse knowledgable friend or horse professional there until you become confident in doing this task yourself.

3. So now you are near the head (and preferrably the horse hasn't moved away). Make sure you are on the left side of the horse and facing in the same direction as the horse With the unclasped halter in one hand, slip the lead rope around the horse's neck with the other hand. This is to ensure that the horse does not move away from you when you put the halter on.

4. The nose and chin pieces on the halter form a circle, and therefore go around the horse's nose. Still facing forward, with the lead rope looped (once) loosely around the neck, grasp the halter in both hands, tie ring at bottom, and fit the halter over the horse's nose.

5. You are almost there! Once you have the halter over the nose, reach under the horse's neck in order to grasp the crownpiece. With the crownpiece in hand, gently guide the crownpiece over the horse's neck, right behind the ears. Re-buckle the buckle and un loop the lead rope from the horses neck. Hold the lead rope in hand. Do not hold the lead rop in a circle around your hand if you want to keep your fingers. You can now lead your horse around at leisure!!

This is what it should look like when you are done...

Image property of State Line Tack
  • The nose band should sit approximately 2/3 of the way down or 1/2 way between the horse's eyes and nostrils.
  • The cheek piece should be parallel to the cheekbone of the horse, not too high, but not too low.
  • The crown strap should fit closely behind the horse's ears, but not too tight so as to pinch.

Your horse should not look like this when all is said and done:




Friday, March 2, 2012

The Job Hunt: Employer Etiquette




It is a tough job market out there. Not only in the horse world, but pretty much everywhere in the US. It can be frustrating, annoying, hard, and just downright stressful. What can make it even more stressful, is an employer with horrible HR etiquette skills. I have my own experience and it usually goes somewhat like this:

I find this awesome (more often than not, horse) job, that I know that I will be perfect for because I have the experience and education to do the job correctly and efficiently. Well, the employer reads my resume/ goes through my reference sheet and seems to be really excited about me and what I have to offer. The first interview comes and goes without a hitch. We (the job, environment and well, myself) seem perfect for each other. The second interview with a different person comes and goes, again, without a hitch. The employer states that I am exactly what they are looking for and that they will be calling again shortly. Everything seems perfect, but then it happens....silence, nothing. A week passes and still nothing. I try and re-establish communication, but it is as if the person has fallen off the face of the earth. Just poof, gone! Weeks turn into months and months turn into years. I move past it, but there is still that little bit of hope that the company will call or e-mail me back....eventually.

I don't know how many people this may have happened to, but I wouldn't be against the thought that it happens a lot these days. It seems that in this day and age, in a world that is rife with technology and advancements, it wouldn't be that hard to send out an e-mail, letter or just to call and tell the potential employee that they have found someone else. It takes, what 2 minutes at most?? So, are people really that busy that they cannot spare 2 minutes??

On another note, what is this message sending to the potential employee? Do employees really want to work for someone that can't do a simple 2 minute max task? Probably not. I know I wouldn't. It is like a slap across the face saying "WAKE UP!!"  This job, these people, their character isn't what you are looking for. You just got a view into the future, and if these people don't have the professionalism or etiquette right now, how many red flags do you think will arise somewhere down the line??

So, here is the advice I would give to people in this kind of situation: they just gave you a great opportunity!! They let you see who they really are.  Don't give up, though, because not every employer is like this.... and you will find something better. Just keep your chin up, look to the horizon and keep moving forward.....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Basics: 6 Misconceptions in the Horse Industry

If you are like me, you grew up with such books and movies as Black Beauty, Mr. Ed, My Friend Flicka, and The Black Stallion. Even now a days, movies such as the Lord of the Rings, Robin Hood, and Troy make the horses seem calm, trusting, very well behaved and willing to do what the rider wants. These horses did not step on their human counterpart's toes, bite them, kick them, rear, or buck while not on cue. They didn't move away from their rider when being mounted, or think that the leaf that just blew across their path was a scary horse-eating leaf, thus spinning and running like the wind. Nope, these horses were exemplary models.

Needless to say, these are not the kinds of horses that you will find at your nearby livestock auction for less than $500. The kind of horse described above is in the $7,000 to $15,000 range. Which is why many new horse owners have their bubbles burst when they finally do get a horse. They think that all horses will be like the fiction or movie version and so their dream will eventually turn into a nightmare (...unless they are the 1% that is lucky).

Here is a lovely list of 6 misconceptions and their truths within the horse industry:

1. Misconception: Horses are like big dogs.

Truth: Other than the obvious size difference, horses are not like dogs in any way, shape or fashion. Dogs are predatory animals, horses are prey animals. Totally different mindset.  If a horse views something low to the ground that is moving toward it, the horse's fight or flight response kicks in. These are its prey instincts. More often than not, the horse will turn tail and run as fast as it can. The dog on the other hand will, more often then not, be surprised by said object but then go and check it out. There is no fight or flight response, as it is a predatory animal. Dogs and humans also have a variety of common interests, such as a warm bed, survival by hunting, pack behavior, and sharing (sometimes) a taste for the same foods. Horses are herbivores, have a herd mentality, and aren't as connected to humans as we may think.

2. Misconception: Horses are cheap to own.

Truth: First off, good horses don't come cheap. I stated earlier that you can go to the auction and pick one up for $500. But this will probably be a horse that needs some major work done. A good, healthy, well-trained horse can be anywhere from $2,500 to over $50k depending on what training it has, what its body score is and what you are looking to do with it. After you buy the lovely animal....you are going to need to keep it somewhere. Depending on the area, a person can pasture board on their own property (plus the cost of hay), or there are boarding barns. Most people board their horse. This ranges between $3,000 to $12,000 annually. After the horse is all cozy in his or her stall, you have to take care of the horse. That is veterinary costs, farrier costs, etc, which can easily top $2,000 annually. Beyond that, there are tack and equipment costs, riding lesson costs, riding clothes, oh and possibly your own medical bills. All in all, when it all adds up, horses are expensive.

3. Misconception: Horses are easy keepers.

Truth: Okay, this is a half truth. There are some horses out there that are easy keepers. But not all, as not all horses will thrive off of just being left in a pasture. The owner has to take into consideration the body mass of the horse, (Click here for the Henneke scale) what the horse is eating, how much he is being given and at what intervals. There are a number of different types of grains and hays that a horse can have; providing different nutrients, but which must be given in the correct doses in order to have a balanced horse.

3. Misconception: Slaughter solves everything.

Truth: Hahaha, I love this one. Ever since Bush shut down the slaughter plants through American 'will play', factions of the horse industry have been in uproar. "There is no place to take our unwanted horses," they say, or "the price of the horse has gone down because of over-abundance". Or even "there are so many unwanted horses, abuse has skyrocketed, and slaughter needs to come back."  Well, the real problem here is over-breeding. That's right people, the horse industry doesn't know how to control it's breeding problem (kind of like the rabbit analogy). We have registered breeders, backyard breeders, breeders from other countries. They are everywhere, and breeding everything!! Did you know that, even though slaughter plants closed in America, the same quantity of horses being slaughtered is still pretty much the same?! (I'll do another post on this later...) The only difference is that horses are being shipped to either Canada or Mexico. So, really slaughter does not solve anything. Restrictions on breeding solves a whole lot more.

4. Misconception: If it is pretty, breed it.

Truth: This one kind of goes hand in hand with what was stated in the slaughter misconception and over-breeding. It is seen mostly with backyard breeders, or those people that do not have a breed affiliation (aka AQHA, APHA, AHA, etc) and will just breed to produce "color" or "personality". Although as stated, it is mainly seen in the backyard breeders, it can be observed within breed affiliations as well.  The problem with this is the ever present over-breeding problem. Once one is born, breeders want more, because of the color or just because they are cute. This cycle continues until the person has way more than they can keep. But, the horse produced will only have good "color" or the like, yet nothing in the way of good conformation or skills. This means that they aren't sought after as they will not do well in the show ring and usually end up at auction.

5. Misconception: Horses are stupid.

Truth: Just because you cannot get your horse to do something does not mean they are stupid. It just means that they don't understand. Have you ever tried talking to someone but because you didn't speak their language, you got frustrated? This same thing happens between horse ad rider! We as riders have to learn their language and communicate efficiently in order to get them to do what we want.

6. And finally, Misconception: Anyone can ride a horse....

Truth: Riding is more than just sitting on a horse. There are muscles that you use when riding a horse that you normally wouldn't use when walking, sitting, or running. Really good riders make riding look easy. Just watch Dressage riders, or Western Reiners, and it looks as if the horse is following the intricate patterns of its own accord. But it all has to do with signals and cues between the rider and horse. A language all their own.  It may look like sitting, but riders use their legs, arms, weight, balance, core, hands, back, and brains to ride.  The better the rider, the more inconspicuous the language between horse and rider.

Can you think of any other misconceptions and their truths?

Hello & Welcome


Hello and welcome to The Equus Ally.
A blog about the all encompassing adventures in the horse world.

My name is Kristina and I have been active in the horse industry for over 14 years. I am an instructor, rider, photographer, trainer, and friend to our lovely horse counterparts. I loved them so much, I even decided at a young age that I would grow up and work around them. My dream job, so to say, as many little girl's dreams come as such. Except mine actually stayed, and in 2009, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Equine Administration from William Woods University.  Two years after that I graduated with a Masters of Business Administration. I love to learn, research and share information, and so this blog was created.

The Equus Ally will inform, address, instruct, review, list, link, rant, inspire, research, critique, and debate subjects relevant to the equestrian industry. In this way, I can share my knowledge with the world and hope to improve the life of both horse and rider in their singular connection.

As with any learning community, I encourage any and all comments, disagreements, and criticisms from readers and visitors.