A few select riding and training stories, musings and ideas.
A fellow horse owner and rider, Dan Sumerel of Sumerel Training System and Sumerel Therapy, shared a WONDERFUL poem with me to which I can totally relate!
They all say the same thing to warn you, “don’t ever go riding alone
You could fall and get hurt and lie bleeding in pain, as the horse goes off trotting for home”
And it all made good sense, to a novice like me, that the risk they describe was quite true
So I rode with my friends, being social and safe, ride the trails with a group, I would do
After all it was great to go riding with friends, we so liked to talk and have fun
We would ride in a safe group together, yes, that is how trail rides are done
But a sport I had seen, started calling, to do trail rides a whole different way
Endurance Rides seemed so appealing, do ONE HUNDRED MILES IN ONE DAY!….
This would mean I’d be riding for hours, with no one to talk to at all
Just trees and rocks and trails to look at, in places no cell phone could call.
When it comes to riding the trails I am a bit of a loner also. I enjoy riding solo and I never get bored. I don’t show my horses for ribbons and prizes and don’t compete, I just train and ride almost every day of the week year round. From time to time I join another rider, or rather, another rider joins me, but 95% of the time I ride alone, yet, there is no lack of talking and fun.
Talking My Horse’s Ears Off
Yes, indeed, I talk and talk and talk my good horse’s ears off… From time to time I pony along my “extra” spare horse and then that makes three of us. I am yet to sign up for a community group ride, or join a riding club. My horses know my deepest secrets. Riding solo is my bliss.That’s why there are only very few photos of me in the saddle, but thousands of photos snapped from the saddle right between my horse’s ears.
Whenever I try something new, or change something I consult with other seasoned riders or a trainer, read textbooks or ask the veterinarian and such. Nothing is done without much forethought and consideration. As far as the Waterford bit, I got pointers from an expert rider at the Eqine Affaire and then I did my own research. I found out that Mike Florence uses the Waterford on his string of novice show jumpers at Mellor Vale stables and I came across an article by Ian Stark, a former world class eventer, who is using it. I know that there are some people who simply don’t like the looks of the bit and make assumptions based on that, but it is indeed a nice bit, and not harsh at all – in the right hands.
My Role as a Horsewoman Is Different
These were not my own words originally, but I am repeating them as my own words now: “I have not gone to the Olympics. I have not ridden around Rolex. I did not get an A in the Pony Club. I did not compete in the Maclay. I have not jockeyed a horse in the Kentucky Derby. I do not own my own boarding facility. I am not a professional trainer, nor consider myself a polished rider.” So, here are my thoughts___ Maybe I wasn’t made to be an upper level rider. Maybe I was not created to steer a horse around Rolex. Maybe my role as a horsewoman is something entirely different and yet, entirely and completely fulfilling.
Heels Down, Toe In
Every time I look at a riding photo or video of myself I notice my toe! It’s like a “sore thumb sticking out” to me…. a catch 22. I have been riding like that for years, I realize that deliberately pushing my heels down and holding my toe forward seems to affect my riding efforts and style in both good and not so good ways. When I push down it drives tension into my leg and then the tightness in the calves cause my knees to pinch on the saddle. That really sucks, because this ultimately affects the release I give through the legs and how my horse goes. I can literally feel the horse tense up and invert the minute I force my heels down and toe straight. When I sought advice from a riding instructor, I was told that indeed, my toes stick out like a “blinker”, but my focus should not be on forcing my heels and toes into position, but more so, work on developing suppleness through my joints and tendons. I was also given the following words of wisdom: “Riding more frequently will definitely help. If you ride with level heels, then ride with level heels. Don’t force the toes….but continue to check yourself and periodically renew your efforts.”
I recently introduced my horse Dottie to the Korsteel Waterford bit, using it for the very fist time. She seems to like it. She is soft to the bit, relaxed and eager to move. Correct schooling is key to proper balance and for a horse to carry the rider and itself correctly.
Over the past few years I have successfully used different bits, bridles and bitless headstalls to soften and supple her. When I first got Dottie three years ago she was ridden in a spiked mule bicycle chain driving bit combined with a training martingale, because she was leaning on the bit, bracing herself and locking her jaw. I don’t ride saddle seat and I don’t compete and I am not a believer in a forced headset. I just want a happy horse with a lovely mouth and working toward comfortable collection. Most horses who lean on the bit are in reality just on the forehand.
How I Taught My Standardbred Horse to Gait
Gaited horses have several more “gears” than trotting horses. As the owner of an ex-harness race horse Standardbred pacer, I knew I also had just become a gaited horse owner. Putting a saddle and bridle on was simple, the Standardbred horse is well trained and used to be touched, tied, and handled. Their temperament is gentle and willing to please, however, my mare’s trot under saddle was horrible. Very rough, almost impossible to post, or sit. So my number one goal was to help my horse develop a smooth saddle gait and next, to “get the gait” consistently, without her reverting back to a trot or pace.
I started by what is called, working the walk. We must have done miles and miles doing the walk at increased speed for weeks, if not months. This helped me to improve my seat, get a sense of the rhythm and train my ear to the sound of the hooves, and as far as my horse, gave it time to build necessary muscles, coordination and necessary muscle memory.
Important to me was to see a nice head shake, consistent tempo, ability to hold the speed and straightness. We did that first on the flat riding track, then in the grass, then in a large field, and last but not least, out on the road and trails. The tack consisted of a so-called walking horse bit in an English style bridle, split reins knotted together at a shorter length than typical riding reins, a caveson and an Aussie saddle with a breastplate (Buxton).
She is a fantastic ‘little’ mare! I told her to wait and she stood like a statue. I asked her to stand still for mounting and she didn’t move an inch, I asked her to back and she did, I asked her to cross a creek and she walked right through, I asked her to step over fallen logs and she never balked, asked her to gait and she delivered a smooth running walk and rack. Best thing is: I never actually drilled, or specifically practiced any of this using any sort of marketed/demonstrated training methods… all I have ever done is to ask and wait a moment until she understands, she listens to my voice, she reads my body, if she is unsure or nervous I calm her, if she does wrong, I ask again, if she does right, I praise her… Of course, except the saddle gaiting… that we practiced for a good while now since it does take getting the steps just right and build the necessary coordination, strength and muscle memory… but even that she simply understood! Okay. I am bragging now, so I’ll stop here. I am not a braggart, but I am very proud of this mare.