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Posts tagged ‘riders’

The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (3/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that is is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortlessly if only these prerequisites were met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be a struggle what it seem to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Facts about horse behaviour

If you are a horse behaviourist and you’re watching a riding lesson you hear a lot of nonsense about horse behaviour being taught to riders. I wish all instructors had to write at least one paper about natural horse behaviour before they are allowed to teach.

_Horse_behaviour_hippologicMost famous ones are the ‘be the leader’-myth and the ‘don’t let him win’-myth that refer to the idea of one alpha horse that makes all the decisions and is the dominant horse of the herd. There is no such thing in a herd. Yes, horses can behave dominant in certain situations, but decisions when to move and were to go are more based on a (part of the) group decision.

Instructors make riders believe that they have to ‘dominate’ the horse all the time. How? By being dominant in a way people are by using pain inflicting methods such as kicking the horse forward or using whips and spurs to make the horse obey. It just breaks my heart…

This is not only cruel to the horse but it is unnecessary too. I also think that most riders (who start riding because they love horses) are made insecure by behaving ‘dominant’. Horse lovers want to bond and connect with their horses.

The good news is: you can develop a friendship and still ride your horse safely. Horse lovers don’t like to inflict pain to horses, but they do so because they are taught to by the instructor, so they are acting against their own gut feeling. That’s never a good feeling.

Horses are highly social animals

The reason horses could be domesticated in the first place is because of their social structure. They depend on their herd members for survival and they are ‘hard-wired’ to work together.

If a horse doesn’t follow a cue there is always a reason:

 

  • They don’t understand the cue. All riders are different and not all riders give the exact same cues all the time.

 

  • Something else (danger or getting out of sight of a herd member) has a higher priority. They can simply have missed your cue because of that.

 

  • The behaviour has not been reinforced enough (they lack motivation) or
  • other behaviour is more reinforcing

 

  • The are physically unable (anymore). Maybe they have pain or are tired.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses don’t think in ‘winning or losing’ they act on ‘surviving or getting killed’. They spook because they are afraid, not because they are ‘out to get you’ or ‘want to avoid work’ or ‘are acting out’.

I wish riding instructors would explain more about the natural behaviour based on facts/scientific research to their students and not on century old hear-say.

Horses don’t have to be dominated in order to let them cooperate, they will cooperate freely if they benefit from it. Thankfully more and more people discover the power of the use of positive reinforcement training: it works extremely well and it gives the trainer a good feeling too.

More about positive reinforcement in the next article.

What myths have you heard in riding lessons that you wish are not being taught to riders? Please share.

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (2/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that it’s partially in the way riding is taught, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if only the following prerequisites are met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be the struggle it seems to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

The schoolmaster

In an average riding school, children and adults who want to learn to ride, get a ‘well broken’*) horse for their first lessons. I would rather see a novice rider on a ‘well trained’ horse or even better a ‘schoolmaster’.

The definition of a true ‘schoolmaster’ is a horse that has been trained to a very high level in a chosen discipline and won’t respond to the rider until asked properly. A schoolmaster is a seasoned horse with lots experience and in a perfect condition to do this job. Schoolmasters are always older horses, often in their twenties or even in their thirties.

A ‘well broken’ horse

If one learns to ride on a ‘well broken’ horse, it usually means that the horse doesn’t respond well (or at all) to whatever the rider is doing. The purpose is that the horse won’t spook either and therefor is a ‘safe’ horse to ride.

It will walk and trot even if the rider uses the reins for balance, kicks the horse accidentally in the flanks in trot or squeezes his legs tight because he is scared. In other words the horse will do ‘his job’ despite what the rider is doing. Not a good way to learn what the proper aids really are and how they effect the horse. This is a good way to learn bad habits.

Learn to balance first

In my previous post I already emphasized the importance of an independent seat. I would

_mechanical horse_hippologic

This schoolmaster taught my son to canter. (No horse was harmed during the making of this picture)

like to see novice riders learn to balance first before they get the reins in their hands. It’s not only better for the rider, who learns to focus on his seat first but also much better for the horse.

I love the idea of learning the basics of riding on a mechanical horse and building some
confidence in the rider first before riding on a real horse. An alternative is learning to focus on your seat while the horse is being lunged. The person that lunges the horse determines gait and direction while the rider focuses on the movement and feel. It is a great way to experience a horse in motion without fear for the loss of control that may come paired with riding.

I wish I’d had a schoolmaster when I started to ride. Did you learn to ride on an experienced, sensitive horse?

*) I don’t like the term ‘broken’ because it refers to a horse that is not ‘whole’ anymore. Unfortunately that is exactly what is going on: most ‘broken’ horses are damaged and therefor they are ‘shut down’ (mentally). I wish that ‘well broken’ would be a synonym for ‘well trained’.
Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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5 Tips to improve your riding immediately

#1 Keep on B breathebreathing
As instructor I often see that riders improve instantly if they start breathing again. If a rider is concentrating or ‘doing her best’ they hold their breath. What impact does that have on their body?

If you hold your breath you get tense in a lot of places. If you flex your muscles too much, you cannot move with your horse anymore. In other words you are making it so hard on your horse to move freely that it then becomes harder for you to follow your horses movement.

Experiment
If have a yoga ball or an office chair you can do this little experiment. Sit on the ball or chair and move forward and backward while holding your upper body still. What is easier? To breathe in while you are moving the ball/chair forward or backward? Why do you think that is? What happens when you hold your breath? Do you feel tension?

On the horse
While riding something similar happens when you hold your breath. Make it a habit that every time you ride along the letter B, you think: “B means breathe”.

#2 Check if there is tension you can let go
Can you wiggle your toes in your boots while riding? Is your tongue relaxed? No, check your breathing againrelax. See if you can relax as much as possible without becoming Jello. My own instructor often said: “Be like a twig: straight but flexible so you can still move and follow the horses movements”. Another tip she gave me was to imagine you “ride with your skeleton, not with your muscles”. Imagine you stack your vertebra, shoulders, neck and head in a balanced pile so you don’t have to use your muscles to keep straight.

#3 Keep your head up
Apparently your head weighs about 5 kilograms. If you tilt your head forward, to look at your horse, your balance is already disturbed. Imagine a stick with a rotating plate on it. How does the plate stay on the stick? Because the plate is balanced on the stick. If the stick was not in the middle of the plate it would fall. Your head is luckily attached to your spine and therefor it will not fall off. But your muscles have to work hard to prevent you from falling off of your horse. That causes… tension. See #2.

#4 Make a habit of checking your posture
It is hard when you ride by yourself to check on yourself. Especially when you don’t have mirrors in your (outdoorC check) arena.

Here are a few tips. Make simple reminders for yourself. For example, C stands for “Checking my posture”. Every time you pass along the letter C, you check if you can wiggle your toes in your boots and if your tongue is relaxed.  Check also if your head is straight above your vertebra.

Every time you ride along the letter B you remember to Breathe.  Ask yourself: “Am I holding my breath?”

#5 Smile!Smile 
Smiling makes you relaxed. Have you ever smiled when you were tense? That is not a real smile. Try it now. Breathe, relax and try a friendly, loving smile and feel how it relaxes your body. So don’t forget to smile while you are riding.

Sandra Poppema
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4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

_water_hippologic_april2011

Kyra, April 2011 (click to enlarge)

People think I have a really ‘easy to train’ horse. They say: ‘Kyra is so sweet’ when they notice that she is always so willing to work with me. Indeed, that is how it looks today.

My secret is to set goals and a prepare a step-by-step training plan. To keep me on track, I keep a training journal. If I get the feeling I don’t make progress, I just read back and I realize that I do make progress. This is really motivating.

Keeping a journal is a simple tool to make sure that you and your horse are developing in the right direction. The direction of your dreams!

Here are 5 ways to keep track of your progress:

1. Use an agenda and simply write down in a few words what you’ve accomplished every training session. Formulate it in a positive way. You can keep the agenda in your tack locker or at home. Make sure that before you leave the barn or as soon as you arrive home, you take 1 or 2 minutes to make some notes. Or use a mason jar, see https://hippologic.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/530/ This method is quick and easy. I’ve done this for years.

_Liggen

Kyra, September 2013 (click to enlarge)

2. Keep a journal in Word. This makes it very easy to duplicate your notes to internet, adjust text and use a spelling control. Another advantage is that it’s very easy to import pictures into your journal. Using a Word file can make it harder to keep the notes short, but it is a joy to read back. It does take a little discipline, because after you come back from the barn you have sit down behind your pc immediately. It is amazing how quickly you forget about what you practiced 2 days later, if you can recall your training at all. Writing things down also helps you to think things through.

_weekend

Kyra, March 2012 (click to enlarge)

3. If you are not a writer, try one of my favourites: create a photo journal.  Every month I take pictures of my accomplished goals, like Kyra entering water (see above) or mastering the smile (picture on the right) . At the end of each year I select the best pictures of each month and I put the prints into photo album. I write the date and the goal next to each picture. This is the best way to show off share your progress with friends. An excellent choice for young and developing horses. You can see how they grow and change.

Training journal

4. Use Excel to write down every building block of your goal and simply tick off each baby step with the date. It takes a lot of preparation, but saves time on a daily basis. I started this when my friend showed me her really impressive Excel sheet. She wouldn’t share all her time consuming preparations with me, so this didn’t work out for me: I soon quit. Too much effort. You have to write down every training step in advance, in order to work properly. If you exactly know what you are doing, this is the way for you. Very scientific, not easy. Skip this one.

Gespot!

Kyra, May 2009 (click to enlarge)

5. Video your progress. This, my readers, takes courage! You have to film yourself when your work is still ‘work in progress’. To accomplish the first baby steps of a bigger goal doesn’t mean it already looks impressive. To me it does, because I know the basics are the most difficult. If the foundation is firm the rest will be peanuts. Soon. Take in consideration that you will notice that you are wearing the same coat for years, but if you have a grey it is really nice to see at least her coat changing every season!

Personally, I use a combination of all of the above, except number 4.

Please, let me know in the comments below which one works best for you!

Read here the article about How to use a training logbook in an effective way. It contains a free downloadable logbook.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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