It is never the horse's fault. Good natural horsemanship and a true understanding of horses will always get the best results with a horse.
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It is never the horse's fault. Good natural horsemanship and a true understanding of horses will always get the best results with a horse.
Riding is the art of keeping a horse between you and the ground. This is done with some luck, a good seat, balance, good equipment and of course a good Horse (Is there any other kind?). I see riders fall off horses all the time and then hear later that the horse threw the person off. I guess saying you got thrown and blaming the horse is easier than saying, I lost my balance, I was not paying attention, I got too relaxed or just, it was my fault and I fell off. I used to hear expressions about, “Riding between the reins” and “Keeping the horse between your legs”, I used to think this was just some clever way that old good riders talked about riding. It was not, it was like many things with horses, and you do not really understand it until you experience it.
For some good old Cowboy sayings that apply to understanding horses click here:
I am by no means a perfect rider and there are many out there can make me look like a rookie. However, I can stay in a saddle, I can communicate to a horse, I am said to have a good seat and I have many hours of time in the saddle. Time in the saddle is key, in my opinion, to making you a good rider. If you are a weekend warrior, ride an hour every few days or just on the weekends, then it will take many many years for you to really learn to ride. Owning horses and riding horses is a lifestyle and not a hobby. Unless you fully engulf yourself into the equine, you will probably not ever get really good at horses or riding. You may ask, surely not everyone that wins awards and medals spend all their time with a horse or in a saddle. I would say most of them probably do. Can someone learn to ride and become good by just taking lessons? People can learn how the horse was trained, what cues were used to train it and then be taught to give those cues. In this case, the horse is carrying the rider. This person will not be able to fix issues, will not able to refine the horse’s movement, will not be helping the horse and may never truly understand what it takes from the horse to give them what they are getting.
Ride Time is the key. Some say that only perfect practice is beneficial. I say all practice and contact with horses helps you in some way. Even if you ride badly, spending time in the saddle helps. If you just sit in a saddle, it helps. Just getting on and off the saddle, helps you get better in the saddle. Any time you spend time in the saddle, you train your balance, you use muscles that increase your balance, you improve your balance, you gain confidence, you feel more comfortable in the saddle and all of this transforms into making you a better rider. Every time you fall off a horse you get better! Yep, just as if when you learn to ski, you fall a lot and each time you learn how not to repeat the thing that made you fall last time. Soon you are not falling as much. No difference in riding horses. Experience makes you better; the only way to get experience is to “DO IT”. You can get some help from a trainer, you can get lots of help from others that don’t know much and you can watch videos until your DVD wears out, but when it comes down to it, “Ride Time” is the best teacher. But Rick, I am busy, I have a life, I have kids, I have responsibilities, I just don’t have the time, bla, bla, bla, either you want it or you don’t. It is very frustrating to see people always looking for short cuts with horses, there are not any and every time a person tries, “the horse pays for it”. Spend time with your horse and spend time in the saddle, there is no better way to learn how to ride.
With that said, I will try and give some tips that may help you understand riding a little bit better, but without doing this, practicing this and spending time in the saddle experiencing this, what I say is nothing more than some talk from me. When riding your horse, your goal is to be neutral. Neutral is “stay out of the way of the horse”. Ride and concentrate on staying out of the way, stay neutral in balance, do not lean, do not lean forward, don’t lean back and don’t lean to the sides. But Rick, I thought you were supposed to lean back when you stop. That is correct, when you want to send a cue to stop you lean back and or shift your weight back. Stopping is not riding. When riding, you stay neutral. If you cannot sit on a horse bareback, you do not have balance. If you need a mounting block to mount a horse you probably do not have good balance or strength. I do know some old cowboys that have gotten long in the tooth and their body is just not able to jump onto a saddle to mount, so they use a block. They still have balance from years of experience of riding. The people I am referring to is the people that are overweight, unfit, lack coordination, do not exercise and have little or no leg muscles and then think they can ride. Riding takes balance and the ability to keep your balance while the thing (the horse) is moving under you. By being able to stay neutral in the saddle, you stay out of the horse’s way. You allow the horse to carry you with the least amount of effort. You make his job easier and you learn how he moves when you are not in the way. If you don’t do this, you are so busy keeping your balance that you confuse the horse, make the horse work harder and make the horse uncomfortable when you are on him. So don’t compensate for the horse, don’t try and help the horse and don’t interfere with the horse. Work on yourself and your horse will get better. If you don’t learn how to stay out of the way of the horse you will create future problems, so learn to be neutral, learn to stay out of the horse’s way and learn to be balanced in the saddle. You learn this by doing it! Ride time!
The more you ride and the more horses you ride, the more you will be able to tell the difference between a horse that can carry himself well and it will help you carry yourself better. At the beginning, you will not know the difference. To be well carried by horse is a good feeling. To help a horse you must make yourself a good load and an easy load to carry. You cannot do this if you are pulling and using the reins for balance, if you are using the stirrups for balance, if you are hanging onto the saddle for balance. As you get better, you will learn to use all things a little and nothing alone! This is really important. The reins alone do not stop a horse, the bit does not stop a horse, your seat position does not stop a horse, your legs do not stop a horse, your voice commands do stop a horse, a fence does not stop a horse, and your whip does not stop a horse. Communication to the horse and the horse wanting to comply stops a horse. Some of these together may work, but in my experience if a horse wants to run more than he wants to stop, he will run. Not because he is mean, not because he is stubborn, not because he is a bad horse, he is just simply a horse and has not been taught to stop. Therefore, like balance, not one thing gives it to you. You should use the stirrups lightly, the saddle lightly, your leg muscles, you center of balance, you seat, your head, your shoulders, your back, your position of your arms (not your arms pulling on the reins), your knees acting like shock absorbers, your core strength, all of this will help give you better balance and help keep you neutral. Using all of these takes time to learn so it becomes natural, until it becomes unconscious, over time you will not have to think about it, it will just happen. But to get you to that point, you need to “Do it”, you need to spend time in the saddle to learn it and practice it. You need “Ride time.”
Anyone can stand around and say “Keep your heels down”, “Sit up straight”, “Don’t look down”, “Relax your back”, “Use your legs”, “Look where you are going”, “Use your seat”, “Don’t lean”, “Keep your hands still”, “Stop pulling on the reins”, “Relax”, “Don’t bounce in the saddle”, “Move with your horse”, “Find your rhythm”, “Keep your hands soft”, “Get off the bit”, “Get on the bit”, “Stop picking at your horse”, “Feel your horse’s beat”, so if you are trying to think about this, you are not riding. Most will tell you that you should have a straight line from your ear, shoulder, hip and ankles. If you have to think about this, it is hard to make it happen, it will happen when you are not thinking about it, if you ride enough to feel it, to learn it, to feel how it does not feel right when you do not do it. All of these words may help, but you have to experience it to recognize the significance of it. You need to learn this by doing it. Ride time!
I mentioned shock absorbers earlier. This is muscles working and it takes training and strength. Your shoulders cannot help you stay in the saddle, per say. Your seat is made soft and secure by being relaxed and not tense. Your feet and ankles, your knees, and your legs and hips all working together can help reduce movement and absorb shock. So by using your ankles, knees and hips, you control your bounce up and down and forward and back. You use these to stop some movement and then to create other movement (impulsion). By using these correctly you help the horse carry you and make yourself appear lighter and easier to carry and give good signals/cues to the horse. You use these to stop your shoulders and arms from bouncing up and down and all around. Just like a horse running on the wrong lead, it is hard on the horse, you bouncing in the saddle because you don’t know how to use your body and balance is hard on you and hard on the horse. By not using your shock absorbers correctly, you harden the jars and blows to the horse’s back and your back. The horse pays for his mistakes and pays for your mistakes and then pays again when he is blamed for both.
You can visit my Bad Horsemanship page on my site with many examples of how horses pay:
I hear lots of people tell people to use their legs. If you do not have balance, if you do not know how to control your reins softly, if you don’t have much “ride time”, then trying to use your legs is just one more thing to confuse you and the horse. Legs help communicate with the horse, but it has to be done without throwing you off balance, without you getting confused and having to think about it. When you try to do too much, you make the situation worse and you confuse the horse. I cannot help a person round pen a horse if they do not know how to lead a horse. I cannot help a person use their legs if they do not have balance and rein control. I cannot teach rein control if the person has not got balance down. Legs are additional cues to the horse, but if your horse is confused with your lack of balance and your lack of consistency of rein usage, confusing him more with legs will only make it worse.
I have lots of videos on Youtube that also discuss this:
I say this a lot, 80% of all horse owners are women, and 75% of new horse owners get OUT of horses in the first year. New horse owners want to get a “baby” (a young untrained horse), want to teach it themselves, want to learn with the horse, all BAD! Green riders with green horses = hurt riders and people getting out of horses. It is a bad combo and no matter how much you tell someone this, they all know they are different and they can do it and they can make it work, it won’t happen to them, and they will be careful, they know the risk……….. “And they get hurt and get out of horses and the horse gets blamed”. The statistics are out there, they grow every year and if you go to any clinic you will see bright eyed women with their dream of owning and training their own horse coming true. Then go to any barn and you will women being dragged, thrown, with slings on, wearing helmets to keep them safe and riding with fear and insecurity. They will ride in enclosed areas where it is safe and making their horse arena sour, barn sour, or other names they want to pin on a horse. This is done by men too, it is just now predominately women. Had I been writing this 25 years ago about, I would be talking about men beating and abusing horses to get them to listen and blaming the horse and when they got hurt I would be saying good for the horse. When someone gets hurt trying, it is sad and unfortunate, but when someone gets hurt being brutal to a horse, I say, good for the horse.
I love horses, but they are very “DANGEROUS” in the wrong hands. Do not underestimate the gravity of this statement. They will kill themselves if they are scared and trapped or think they can get away. It is their nature. So people want to wear a plastic helmet and feel safe. A helmet will not stop your neck or back from getting broke. It will not stop you from breaking a hip or leg. It will not help keep you in the saddle or stop your from being dragged with a foot in the stirrup when you fall off. A helmet gives a false since of security and causes people to do things they would not normally do without a helmet, because they FEEL safe. This is bad when it comes to horses. A horse does not care if your head is protected or if you ride him in a Styrofoam body suit. If he gets nervous, scared or feels you are not in control and you are putting his safety in jeopardy, he will take charge and react. And when he does it will be with extreme force and strength and you and your safety will be of no consideration to him. But Rick, I have heard lots of stories where a horse has saved a person and protected a fallen rider. It is the rare exception and people want to see things in their own way and it may be different than it actually happened. I can bring a horse a carrot and hay every day and the horse will be happy to see me and allow me to feed him, but let me try and get this horse to move or put this horse in a fear situation and I assure you, the last thing in this horse’s mind is that I have given him carrots and feed. As the horse threw his rider into a tree or barbed wire fence, the rider thinks, “why would you do this, I treat you so good”, the horse thinks “I can run faster and save myself now with less weight”.
So why do I talk about dangerous horses when I am talking about riding. They are so connected it is not responsible to talk about one without the other. Riding a horse is dangerous, this is why it is probably so fulfilling and gives such a joy and a since of wholeness. Joining with a horse is something special. It is risky and does not come cheap or without time and sacrifice. The problem is being human; we want things now, fast and without sacrifice. Well, I think you can either sacrifice now or learn to ride and understand the horse, or you can sacrifice later and get hurt, maimed or killed by taking short cuts. If you take the time it takes, it takes less time. The slow way is the fast way with horses. Ride time is the best teacher for learning to ride and the horse is best teacher of the horse.
If I said it once, I say it a thousand times, ride your horse, spend time with your horse and learn about the horse. Knowledge about the horse is the best gift you can give to your horse, second only to time. If you spend enough time, knowledge will come and the horse will teach you.
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