Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sometimes Young Horses and Mature Riders are a Good Fit

This post was contributed by Nanette Levin, owner of Halcyon Acres and author of the Horse Sense and Cents website and blog.  Please visit her websites for more great information!

Special young horse teaches trainer a new lesson

It stands to reason that putting a young horse with a green rider – or a more mature tentative rider who harbours deep fears from prior injuries – is a recipe for disaster.  This year, I was again reminded that there are no absolutes. 

Once in a while, you find a very special horse that goes against all the norms and, in so doing, speaks to you (sometimes it takes shouting – he’d been telling me what he wanted for a good number of weeks – probably more like years – before I actually heard him). Buster is such a horse.

Buster’s Born

I bred Buster. He was born very correct, cute and unflappable. I wasn’t overly impressed with him at first because he was so nonchalant about everything. Everyone who met him fell in love. At first, I thought they were silly to be so charmed. Later, I realized I was the fool. For so many years, I’ve been focused on spotting high level performance prospects. Such equines usually show their proclivity due to what that kind of heart brings into mix in early handling lessons in ways that make them challenging, but delightful when you know what will happen if such energy and precociousness is channelled.

Once I started Buster under saddle, though, I knew I was working with a very special horse. He was old in his wisdom while careful in his youth as he willingly tackled new experiences. With far less than thirty days under saddle (I’ve never had a youngster I would have trusted with this one), he was carrying my young nephews around and figuring out their confused cues for steering, stopping and going (they had never been on a horse before sans a single pony ride).

Young horse has to scream to be heard

Last month, a trainer friend stopped by Halcyon Acres to look at a few horses here for a client, including Buster. She brought some friends. One gal had broken her neck in a horse wreck and wasn’t even looking for a horse, but had decided if she was ever in the market, it would be an old, seasoned mount. I turned Buster lose fully tacked after I hopped off him (he usually follows me around like a loyal dog in such situations) and he spent the trip to the gate with his nose glued to her back. The next week, I received a call asking for some time with Buster that resulted in an immediate offer (it was a shock). This was not the home or career I had envisioned for this horse.

I had a lot of interest in Buster, from Colorado, to Virginia, to Pennsylvania – places where he would have had a much more visible and esteemed career, and the purchase price would have been significantly higher.

Buster chooses a home – probably for life

Sometimes destiny plays a role in life, and with horses. A horse communicator friend of mine called me to let me know Buster had chosen this mature rider and pushed me to consider his wishes. I spoke to the trainer who brought the friend and learned more about the buyer and the home he would go to.
Yesterday, Buster trucked out of here to a new home where he calmly walked off the trailer, surveyed his surroundings with an easy and quiet comfort, gave a heavy sigh and dropped his head to graze.
He’s three. 

This little kid wanted to do this. He chose a job that gave him more satisfaction than glory (and I don’t care who may argue horses don’t think this deep – in my experience, some do). Buster will take care of this mature rider in ways that might not be possible with an older and more experienced mount, because he’ll quickly strive to understand her wants and cues and remake his reactions to reflect her needs. This old-brained soul has never spooked in his life and is as sure footed as they come – important considerations in this situation. His new project guide is a seasoned and patient equestrian, so he’ll thrive with her attention and give her the confidence to get back into the riding game.  

Horses teach you new things every day

I’ve spent decades cautioning against putting green horses with riders who are not seasoned and/or confident. It’s tough to return to riding as a mature adult, and usually, a young horse would be the wrong choice for an older rider looking for pure pleasure. In this case, I was proven wrong. It’s a first, and may be a last, but I hope not. I hope to have the opportunity to breed another horse like Buster with a more cognizant ear on his or her wishes. As hard as it was to say goodbye, I’m thrilled to have played a role (thanks for the help, Buster) in putting these two together. The idea of producing a horse that loudly chooses to be a safeguard and partner with a rider who needs him is more rewarding than I would have imagined. It will be so fun hearing about and learning from the experiences the two have together.  I hope she’ll choose to share her updates and experiences publicly through this blog.                

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Building Trust with Your Horse

Photo by Shannon Pifko

Perhaps one of the advantages of being a more mature rider is the possibility of more time with your horses.  Maybe your kids are grown or you have more flexibility at work, but many folks get back into horses in middle age because they have more time to become involved in this expensive pastime.  That time is the asset you need to build trust with your horse.

The nice thing about building trust is that you can do it without special equipment or instruction.  You don't need to ride your horse like a professional.  All you need to do is spend quality time with your horse.  If you have the opportunity to feed your horse, that frequent contact while feeding builds trust.  Taking extra time to groom your horse, trim your horse's feet, bathe your horse, or work with your horse on a lead builds trust.  Riding in new venues and challenging situations can also build trust if your horse senses that you are confident in those situations and you sense that your horse will not try to take advantage of you.  It's my experience that doctoring your horse through illness and injury also builds trust.

Trust is not an "on" or "off" status.  It's something that develops slowly over time.  It is your horse's confidence that you will take care of him or her, and your confidence that your horse will not look for opportunities to hurt you.  Trust is a horse's sense of assurance that you will not put him or her into a situation that the horse can't handle -- jumping too large an obstacle, trailering your horse carelessly, roping a big cow from a bad angle, running a barrel pattern in bad footing, or trail riding across dangerous terrain.

Trust is something to be cherished and nurtured in our relationship with our horses.  It encourages our horses to "try" for us when other horses might quit, and it makes us confident that our horse will not refuse the larger jump or bolt when a bear runs out of the forest in front of us.  It also helps the horse understand when we need help to get something done.

I hope that you and your horse are building trust in each other.  Spending quality time is a good way to do it! The next couple of posts will discuss some examples of trusting relationships, and I hope that you'll share some of your own stories of trust on this blog.

What Happened to Belinda and The Long Ride!

Friends, some time has passed since the last update on Belinda Dougherty's ride through Wyoming and Montana to the Canadian Border. In mid-October, I became concerned about the lack of word so I send an email to a friend of Belinda's, and Belinda responded back in late October, just before I went on vacation. In the spirit of catching up, here's the final update that I received from Belinda in October.

Hi Paul,
How's it goin'? Didn't realize that you didn't get the last update to my ride.
We rode as far as Ennis MT. By that time, what started out as a bruise, on Jim Bob, had the hair rubbed off- a spot about the size of an egg, just below his withers. We didn't want to wait 2 weeks or more for the hair to grow back, and we didn't want to get him rubbed raw. We dodn't have a replacement for him, so we came home. Went 392 miles, over 12 mt passes, averaging 6-9,000 verticle ft per day. We both hated to quit. I hope I can take some time to continue next summer. I really have the bug now.
After we left Gardiner, we rode north then west through the Gallatin Petrified Forest. It rained the entire night, before we rode the next day, up to the Gallatin Divide, a steep muddy SOB. Going down the other side, the horses were sliding about 10ft per stride. A bit hairy and steep. The steep downhill is what started JB's bruise getting more sore. The downhill puts all the weight on the front of the horse. Teriffic views of course. Came down to the highway near Big Sky- hikers and mt bikers everywhere. Then. crossed the highway and rode up Buck Creek Ridge. This ridge goes up to 9,500ft. We followed the ridge, camping on it-awesome views of mts all around. The ridge circled around to the ski area before climbing up a narrow ridge and dropping steeply down the west side into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area and down into the forest..
Our final trail out of there, towards Ennis ws on a trail that hadn't been used in many years. Had to be very attentive as to the route. Tons of deadfall everywhere. It was a hard trail. Don't think I'll take that one again.
I kept a journal and am writing it up. Also did some paintings. Hopefully, I can figure out a way to get it published.
Meanwhile, I have decided to do 4 Renegade Rides next spring.

I'm sorry that Belinda was stopped short of her goal, but the health and welfare of our horses comes first. I hope that she has the opportunity to try again next year.

If anyone is interested in riding with Belinda in 2010, please let me know and I'll forward your email to her. I rode with her in Wyoming in 1993 and 1994, and they were absolutely wonderful trips. For the scheduled trips in 2010, Belinda intends to include some time with colt starting, where riders will have a colt of their own to work with.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carol Upton's Review of Mares! (Ya Gotta Love 'em) by Betsy Kelleher

Sincere thanks to my friend, Carol Upton, for sending the following review:

Mares! (Ya Gotta LOVE ‘em) Fifty Stories to Aid and Inspire Mare Owners
Compiled by Betsy Kelleher
Xulon Press, 2008. $23.99
ISBN: 978-1-60477-547-1
Copies are available from the author, who is offering a Christmas special at:

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton:

First published in print in Horses All Magazine:

"Mares often require special handling before their best side is evident" ~ Betsy Kelleher

In Mares! (Ya Gotta LOVE ’em), Betsy Kelleher has assembled a diverse collection of tales representing different breeds and backgrounds. Each of the fifty stories has one thing in common – they are an inspired tribute to the elusive Mare. The book is also about women, and the essence of being female is an interwoven theme. The original true stories, written by 38 different mare owners, enlighten and entertain while introducing us to the seeming paradoxical nature of mares – from stubborn to loving to dangerous to protective and loyal.

Mary Wynn Craig’s Lisa, the quarter horse with the permanent scowl, will capture your heart. Trainer Ron Meredith includes an excellent article on "Gender Differences: Training Mares." If you’ve ever loved and lost any horse, you’ll cry when young Erin Landers tells the tale of Duchess, her very first horse. You’ll root for Factor, the thoroughbred brood mare, in "Chiropractic Saves a Life." Helen Farley sticks with her little bay Abby, despite repeated admonishments about mares being no good, in the touching "Kindred Females."

This book acknowledges the unexplainable moments present in the lives of horse owners and encourages us to find God at work even in more difficult situations. Some of the stories are completely zany and others touch on profound sorrow, yet lessons of love and hope show up in each tender tale, alongside practical tips for handling your mare. Mares! will leave an impression on every horse lover and is an irresistible read for those moments when you just want to take care of you.

Betsy Kelleher’s first riding horse was a Percheron mare from her grandfather’s work team on an Iowa farm. She writes a monthly column for the Illinois Horse Network newspaper. Her website,, shares her columns, horse photos and information about her books.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trainer Recommendations -- Rex Peterson & Cari Swanson

I asked readers of the Horse Lovers of the Business World Group on Linkedin to recommend trainers who might not have a national following. Diana Murphy responded with this very strong recommendation for Rex Peterson and Cari Swanson. Diana's filly, Belladora, is pictured here.

Rex Peterson & Cari Swanson are the best team when it comes to clinics, training, starting young horses and "fixing" problem horses. Some may recognize Rex Peterson as the Hollywood Horse Trainer, having trained numerous stunt/movie horses for well known movies including: Black Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, Hidalgo, Flicka, Dreamer, Appaloosa, All the Pretty Horses, The Ring, The Patriot, Buddy, Crazy Horse, Far and Away, Sylvester, Three Amigos, Runaway Bride and The Black Stallion. He has been interviewed in numerous magazines and film. What most people don't know is that this exceptional trainer team, previously only available in Dutchess County, NY, is now available for clinics and actually travels throughout the US - helping "regular" people with their horses.

Speaking from personal experience, Rex started a strong/hot unbroke filly for me in 2007. This filly had no trouble rearing straight up and staying up, but that's not what we wanted in a riding horse. After only 3 days with Rex, she was started under saddle and has never reared with a rider thanks to Rex's immediate correction in the round pen. She has since developed into awesome and very safe athlete at 5-years old. And this year, Rex started another unbroke filly, who began to develop a fresh attitude as she turned 3 in 2009. I decided to keep my filly in the program with Cari Swanson and just over 3 months later, she took 1st place at her first show which was a large show (NEDA Fall Festival at HITS in Saugerties, NY) and then went on to take 2nd place (missing the win by a mere tenth of a %) at Dressage at Devon in PA (the show of all shows on the east coast). Absolutely incredible results by this team of professionals. For info, visit their website: or call Cari to set up a clinic at 914.456.3155.

I cannot stress how incredible my experiences have been with Rex & Cari. I have a 2-year old who will be started next year and I wouldn't think of having anyone else start and train him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Long Rider Belinda Reaches Cooke City and then Gardiner, Montana

Belinda has emailed two updates -- the first one describes a rough trip to Cooke City, MT, through the mountains east of Yellowstone, including two grizzly bear sightings. The second post describes the trip west from Cooke City to Gardiner, MT, across some very rugged mountains with more grizzly bear sightings. Here's the latest:

We are finally in Cooke city,now. Had a few detours that probably cost us 3 days. Trails we rode to were not brushed out from the fires. Spent a day going in circles, up to 10,000 ft, almost. Hard work for the horses. Our first day out of Pahaska we saw a male griz. Probably 100 yds away. He didn't even give us a hello or anything. We camped at Camp Monaco, Buff Bills old campsite. The whole place was burned in 88, kind of a drag. The next day we climbed to over 10,00 ft to a pass. The descent on
the other side was pretty hairy. A thousand vertical feet of rocks about the size of grapefruits, on average, plus quite a few snow fields, wind, rain and hail kept us company, too. Hard going for the ponies, wading through the rocks and steep descents. Finally got to the bottom, in a nice wet forest. The creek was running hi and muddy. Camped at an old cabin that was pretty cool. Also saw a female griz and cub the second day out of camp. Wildflowers were to die for. The smells were great, especially in the deep forest. Nice to ride in a forest that wasn't burned. Due to
the closed trails, we had to ride the road from Little Sunlight to Crandel, where we stayed at a campground and had showers! Really good grass everywhere and the horses may be gaining weight. 2 more days brought us to here. The whole place is tore up with road construction. We had rain every day and night until now. Nice to have the sun all day and have dry feet for once. My mule is sore footed, so a shoer
is coming from Cody today. Then we will be on our way to Gardiner. Guess we will be in some deep wilderness then. Hope the trails are brushed. We have met some interesting and nice people along the way. Some real characters. They probably think the same about us.

Well, that's the short version.
Happy trails,

Next update:

Made it to Gardiner MT. Haven't seen one elk or moose, but did have a
griz walk by camp one morning. Rode in lots of snow, rainand wind. But
also had sunny days. Gorgeous country from high to low. Wildflowers
everywhere. I have so many flower pictures. Here in Gardiner, bought hay
from Bill Hopppe, 5th generation rancher. Nice guy. His great grandad
was the first white person born in MT. Horses are holding up well,
except Jim Bob threw a shoe. Had one put on this am by an old guy who has
shod 23,000, by his count. We all swapped some good stories. We are at a
campground above the Yellowstone river. Lots of rafters an kayakers
going by.
The way we got here is Cooke city, over Daisy Pass, over Wolverine Pass,
camped on Wolverine ck. Rode over the divide between Wolverine and Lost
creek, to Slough Creek, up again over another pass, down to Buffalo Guard
station, camped. Out of Buffalo,up over another pass, down to
Hellroaring (what a creek and cool bridge crossing), camped. Rode to Fawn
Lake, camped and then to Jardine, an old mining town,old mines everywhere,
a cool graveyard with lots of people dying in 1902, from flu, I believe.
Rode on towards Gardiner, stayed at Eagle creek campground, then on to
Gardiner yesterday. We will leave here Sat for the trails to Ennis.
Guess we may see some mt goats along the way- I hope!
Take care all,
If you check the map at the top of the page, you can see that the route from Cooke City to Gardiner and now to Ennis to the northwest crosses some very rugged mountains. I'm sure we all wish Belinda and Jim a continued safe trip and good weather crossing that territory.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Belinda Rides On With a New Partner

Long Rider Belinda Dougherty sent an update this week with some additional pictures from the first leg of the ride with Christina.


The really good news is that Christinas Mom is home and, although quite bruised, shold heal up great! She will have to see the Chiro. Those guys can do miracles, I know.

The second bit of good news is that Jim Robertson, from Scotland will be joining me at the end of July, to continue the ride! Yippei, I'm glad tobe able to go on. We will start from The Pahaska-Sunlightt Basin trail, heading up to Cooke City MT. Thanks, to all of you for your good thoughts, for this and more importantly, C's Mom. All those good thoughts can't but help.

I and Donna, a friend from Ten Sleep. are heading up to the Greybull River, at the foot of the Absarokas. This is where Christine and I would of been if we would of continued from Meeteetse. We are missing the ride up the road, from Meeteetse, about 26 miles. That would continue our continual trail from Ten Sleep. It isn't a perfect world. I'm glad to be doing this, all the same.

I've been looking at those mountains in the distance, getting closer bit by bit, mile by mile. They look majestic and refresshing, as they rose up inthedistance, dark flanks and mountain tops, dotted with snowfield. As I rode throught the badlands, I could imagine the pure water, trickling out of those snowfields. I can almost taste the clear, cool water.

We will be back at the end of the week.

Happy Trails,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Start for Belinda's Long Ride

Belinda just provided an update that she will likely be able to continue on the trail. In her words:


I'm still waiting to hear from Christina about her Mom. My prayers go out to her.

Well, looks like I may have someone able to join me after all. It 'ain't ' a done deal yet. I will be going up tomorrow, with Donna, for a week in the mts, continuing the route. However, we will drive from here, with the horses, to the trailhead. I can't wait to get there. It is bear and wolf country. We will have to be careful and hang our food, etc.
I' downloaded a few photos- here's a few.
Happy trails, Belinda

I'm sure y'all join me in wishing Belinda and Donna a safe trip and we're hoping for good news from Christina's family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bad Luck Hits the Long Riders

Bad luck hit the Long Riders as they completed the first segment of the ride. Here is Belinda's description of the ride and what happened:

Hi Everyone,
I'm afraid, after one week on the trail, crossing the Big Horn Basin to Meeteetse, that the ride is over for now. We arrived in Meeteetse and Christina got on line , only to find out that her mom had been hit by a car, while riding her bicycle! She sustained some head injuries and Christina had to fly home to take care of her. I dropped her off at the airport this am and picked up the horses in Meeteetsee. So... does anyone out there want to come out and continue the ride with me? I have all the food, horses, bear-proof panniers, etc and I am going crazy having to put the ride on hold.

We had a very hot ride across the Basin. By the second day, it was apparant that the little grey mule, Rosie, as not going to work. She is very round backed, short necked, narrow shouldered. The first day I had not only the britching on her pack saddle, but also a croupper. The saddle stayed in place pretty good. The second day we discovered that the croupper had rubbed her tail raw. Took off the croupper, tightened up the britching as much as possible. Didn't matter if we were in the hills or flats. The saddle slipped forward onto her shoulders. We had to constantly re adjust her pack, poor girl. Some of you may think that we could of tightened the britching more. Believe me, it was tight, didn't matter. So, once we made Worland, I traded her out for my old horse Reggie. He's an ace and I was gled to have him. The ride from Worland to Meeteetse was very hot and dry. There were times when I'd be dreaming of ice tea, or jumping in a big pool of water. It took us 3 days to cross from Worland to Meeteetse.( 2 days- Ten Sleep - Worland). We saw lots of antelope, some wild horses, eagles, hawks and crows. Had to use the water filter the last night. We camped at an old cow camp. There was a waterhole that looked like a milk shake. The filter worked great, although it plugged up. The water came out clear and tasted great. Took overnight to get a gallion. The terrain leading to Meeteetsee was colorful badlands formations, with no rhyme or reason as to the lay of the land. The steep hills ran everywhich way, and there was no easy way across. Up and down, back and forth we went. There were quit a few severe thunder storms that threatened us but always went around us, luckily. We were quite happy to finally make town, take showers and have a cold drink. I thought we were doing pretty good and was really looking forward to getting into the mountains. That is until Christina got the news. Then the world came crashing down. Hopefully, her mom will recover. Perhaps Christina may be able to come back in a few weeks. But, she may be strapped to get the $ for the plane tickets. Arggh!
The first day out of Worland, we saw a big cottonwood tree, in the middle of the hot sagebrush covered badlands. Rode over to take a break. Got in the shade and 2 great horned owls took off out of the tree, right over our heads. One more just sat there, 20 ft away, just staring. There were a couple nests there. I told Christina that the Sioux Indians consider owls bad luck and that we should take our break under another tree. I guess, in retrospect, that they could of been bad luck. Well, I'm ready for some good luck- anyone want to join me?

If any of you Mature Riders want to join Belinda to continue the ride, let me know and I'll put you in touch.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mature Rider Starts 1000 Mile Ride

My friend and mature rider, Belinda Daugherty, is truly starting the riding adventure of a lifetime. A week from Monday, Belinda will be leaving her home in Ten Sleep, WY, to ride 1000 miles through Wyoming and Montana to the Canadian Border and hopefully win admission to the Long Riders' Guild.

The Long Riders' Guild is an international association of equestrian explorers, with an invitation-only membership drawn from 39 countries. To win an invitation, a rider must cover at least 1000 miles in a single, continuous equestrian journey. The rider must also conduct the ride humanely, and abusing or neglecting the horses and mules used will disqualify a rider.

I met Belinda about 15 years ago when she was leading rides through the Big Horn Mountains from Lander, WY. For many years, she operated her own adventure riding business called Renegade Rides, and she led rides in Wyoming and around the World. The information below was provided in an email from Belinda:

"Hi everyone,
Hope the sun is shining on your trail and your horses stay sound.
As some of you already know, I am going on a very long ride this summer, beginning July 6th. I thought you might be interested in how we get along. I am doing the ride with Christina, my guide from Patagonia. She is a heck of a hand and will be a good person to do the ride with. Below is the description of the ride that I sent to the 'Long Riders Guild". Who knows, we may be eligible to join if we have a successful ride!

We will be riding 2 horses which I have raised. Petunia, a Morgan, is 7 yrs, has hoofs like iron and travels smooth. Sandy is an 8yr old QH gelding and has nice gaits. They have both been raised in rough country, are surefooted and sensible, and know the camping routine. We will be packing 2 mules. Jim Bob is a big Arkansas sorrel, 9yr old and Rosalita is a little grey, 14 yr old, molly mule. I've only had the mules since the 6th of June. However, I have been working with them both and they are working well.

Our route: We will ride from Ten Sleep, heading west across the Big Horn Basin. We will ride through Worland, and on to Meeteetsee WY, resupply and stabling are arranged here. This route is pretty gentle, compared to the mountains ahead and will be a good way to break the horses in gently, to the trail. From Meeteetsee we head into the Absarokas, along the Greybull River. Our route takes us throught the SE corner of Yellowstone, before coming to Pahaska, at the east entrance of Yellowstone. There, a friend will meet us for resupply. Next town is Cooke City MT. We will be met again for supplies. Then west , through the Beartooths and on to Gadnier. We will stay at the rodeo grounds. Then it is on to Ennis, where we have someone to stay with, Dillon, then north to Wise River, again with stabling and a ride for supplies, arranged. We continue north, crossing I-90 at Drummond- to Ovando. At Ovando, we enter the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Heading north through the Bobs, we will be met half way, at the Spotted Bear Trail head, for supplies. Then north to St Marys, at the east side of Glacier NP. Depending upon conditions, we may go into Glacier, or we may just ride north to the Canadian Border. From there we will begin our ride back south, ending somewhere around Cutbank MT. I'm trying to avoid big towns and stay in the mts as much as possible. I figure the Canadain border will be around 900 miles. We will ride south from there to make sure we did a thousand.

That is a condensed version of our route. As I'm sure you know, unpredictible events can lead to a change in plans. We have 10 weeks scheduled for the ride, July 6th - mid Sept. I am hopling to average 20 miles per day, 5 days a week and 2 days off. We shall See!

Though we will be packing the mules, we still will pack like backpackers. I have an excellent tent suitable for almost anything. We will have a Kelly Kettle, water filter, etc. I have an electric corral kit for the horses plus hobbles and they are all picket broke. The horses will be wearing sheep bells, because of the bears. We will be packing pepper spray and a handgun. I have an extensive first aid kit.
We will have excellent photo and recording equipment, a gps and our cell phones. I also plan to do watercolors along the way, besides keeping a diary."

I'll post updates of her progress and any photos as I receive them. I'm sure you'll join me in wishing her a safe and successful journey.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Returning to Riding from Injury and Breast Cancer

To listen to this podcast, please click the title link above.

Claire Thompson volunteered for a podcast interview to provide her advice and insights as a middle-aged rider returning to the saddle from a severely broken wrist and then breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy within a two-year period. Her advice is very much on point for anyone recovering from serious injury or surgery with the intent to return to riding.

As shown in the picture at left, Claire started riding at an early age. She grew up in California and rode whenever she could using horses owned by friends and even braiding tack from ropes off of the family boat. She continued riding off and on as an adult, and in her 40s, she started serious work with dressage rider and trainer, Irene Moser Hill, in Austin, TX. Now living in Charlottesville, Virginia, Claire remains a dressage rider, and she's currently working with a Dutch Warmblood, nicknamed "Tigger" and pictured below.

In the interview, Claire makes the point that you have to impress upon your doctors and physical therapists that although middle-aged, you're a rider and an athlete, and you're not willing to settle for just recovering enough to get on a horse and walk around the pasture. Your medical and therapy teams should help you plan the support necessary to return to the level of riding you enjoyed before your injury or illness. That therapy support level may be more than your insurance plan would normally plan to provide for you.

Claire also advises people, when possible, to get into the very best possible state of physical fitness before surgery. If you can, it will make your recovery much easier and you'll be ready to ride again more quickly.

In her interview, Claire also describes her struggle to maintain fitness during her chemotherapy. She talks about how important it is to be a part of a fitness and therapy support system -- encouraging other patients while being encouraged by them -- as you sometimes have to drag yourself to the gym.

If you have any questions or comments for Claire, you can post them to the blog.

To Claire, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us. I'm sure you'll help lots of people facing and recovering from similar situations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Fear of Making Mistakes

In their book, True Horsemanship Through Feel, Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond discussed the fear most of us have of making mistakes with our horses. I think this is especially true of mature riders. Most of us are working with our horses on a tight schedule, we want to do it the "right way" because it's best for our horses and will save us time, we're afraid a mistake might get us hurt, and we tend to become less risk tolerant as we get older.

To quote Bill and Leslie:

"So many people worry about making mistakes with their horses. These people seem to hold themselves back by not trying something new, because when they get to that spot, they don't know what to do to make things feel better. If a person doesn't allow for the freedom to risk making a mistake by experimenting, two things are nearly always assured. First that the person's learning process has stopped, and second, their intolerance of their own mistakes nearly always carries over to intolerance of the horse's so-called mistakes. This usually leads to punishment of one sort or another that is rarely understood by the horse. If the horse really understood about the punishment a person has for him, that method would produce lasting positive results. And it doesn't.

From the horse's point of view, when there's a lack of understandable human feel combined with an intolerance of mistakes that he has no idea about in the first place, and where there's punishment added onto that, well, I'd say it just reduces the chances for a meaningful connection between a horse and a human right down to zero."

So despite being mature riders, we need to experiment with the ways we present things to our horses. We need to be prepared to move out of our comfort zones if things aren't working out for us and our horses. If part of your groundwork isn't working well, try to present it a little differently to your horse. If your horse is misbehaving in one maneuver, try another exercise that your horse does well for awhile or try another way of doing the exercise that didn't go well. If your horse isn't responding as you'd expected, take a second look at how you're working with the horse to see if there's some better way of communicating what you want him to do. Above all, don't lose your temper and don't punish your horse for your mistakes.

Bill Dorrance is an inspiration for mature riders. He was training horses and riders, teaching roping, and doing ranch work into his 90s. His brother, Tom Dorrance, was also a legendary trainer and clinician.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Teaching Mature Riders to Jump

My friend, Susan McCarron, recently sent me a link to a great blog called, The Enlightened Horseman, authored by Robin Shen. Susan told me about Robin's blog post called, A Jumping Exercise, which described an innovative way for teaching mature riders the correct position for jumping without the beginner angst associated with actually riding the horse over jumps. When the correct two point position becomes a part of muscle memory, the mature rider will then have a much easier time starting over jumps.

Robin's post describes his own training in jumping from a veteran pony club instructor. He started by trotting poles in two point and then moved to hopping over an "X". Over time the poles were raised and Robin eventually started jumping oxers, combinations, logs, and other stadium and cross country obstacles.

Robin says that this is still a very effective way to teach young riders to jump, but middle-aged beginner riders have problems with this process. The young riders can adjust and correct their positions during the very short time the horse is in the air, but the mature riders often lack the flexibility and agility to do that.

Robin solved the problem by putting horses and riders to work on a hill. Moving at a trot and then a canter up hill and down, in jumping position, gives the beginner rider plenty of time to respond to instruction and correct his or her position. Robin listed the benefits for beginner jumpers as:

  1. Extended time with the horse in the ascending and descending jumping positions, providing plenty of time for instruction and correction.
  2. If the rider's having trouble, the instructor can stop the horse on the hill, which provides an infinite amount of time to correct the rider's position.
  3. Riders will look at the top of the hill ascending, which keeps them from developing the bad habit of looking down at the jump.
  4. It's safer for the riders and horses because the riders won't actually start to jump until they've learned the correct position.
  5. No need to reset the jumps repeatedly turning the teaching process. By the time the rider starts jumping, the rider will be helping the horse clear the jumps with a good position.
I took jumping lessons in my 40s, and I remember being apprehensive about my mare's last second refusals. Several times she stopped at the jump and launched me over it. I'm sure that my fear didn't make her confident about jumping, and her refusals and my fear certainly affected my position. Following Robin's techniques, I wouldn't have started to jump until I had a good, secure position and could give my horse the confidence to jump cleanly.

I'm certainly not a jumper rider or an instructor. What do the jumper riders and instructors think about this idea?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sometimes to Love Them is to Leave Them

There has been a long discussion on the Linkedin group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World" concerning Dan's problems with his horse, Primo. Primo's behavior is inconsistent -- sometimes he's a joy to ride and then other times he's a terror. Dan can't predict which Primo will show up and Primo will change his temperment during a ride. After listening to much advice concerning training and riding techniques, supplements, aromatherapies, etc., Dan said that while selling Primo would be sad, riding is a hobby and he can't afford a project horse. He's trying to apply the advice for another week or so and plans to sell the horse if things don't improve.

I was in a similar position several years ago with the horse pictured here -- I'll call him Leo. I'd bought Leo at a reputable auction for trail horses. Most of the horses, like Leo, were registered and most, including Leo, were shown over a series of demanding trail obstacles before the sale. Leo was intended to be the eventual replacement for my 20 year old Appaloosa mare.

I should have been warned when the seller didn't offer to let prospective buyers ride Leo in the ring before the auction started. I should also have been warned when Leo went for a relatively low price despite being a great looking young horse with foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines. I wasn't cautious though and thought I'd gotten a great deal on the horse that would carry me into retirement.

I started having problems with Leo as soon as I started to ride him. He was pushy and hard to handle and knew as many tricks as a seasoned dude string horse. One of the first times I tried to ride him, he started to buck as I put my foot into the stirrup. There were respectable bucking sprees occurring on every ride, whenever he found a slight excuse.

Using the name and address on his papers, I talked to the woman who had owned Leo before the auction seller. She told me that she'd purchased Leo for her daughter, but that her trainer had abused the horse, and Leo had finally bucked off the trainer and the daughter. The person I'd bought Leo from had done a quick retraining and consigned Leo to the auction.

I was able to ride Leo three or four times a week, and we made slow progress. His ground manners improved, he stopped bucking when I mounted, sometimes he completed an entire ride without bucking, and his bucking was getting to be less exciting.

Then I took a new job that kept me away from home much more often, and my riding slipped to only two or three times a month. Some horse adapt easily to more time off, but Leo didn't and he became much harder to handle. I was riding him one fine October morning, and he put on the biggest bucking display I've ever been able to ride. But for my good luck, he'd have thrown me and I'd have been deposited in the far part of a pasture several miles from the nearest house. I completed the ride, but my confidence was shaken. I decided something had to change to make Leo safe to ride again.

I read several books about training and settled on trying to apply Clinton Anderson's techniques from Downunder Horsemanship to the task. You're probably asking why I didn't send him to a trainer -- I guess it's because I thought I could fix the problem myself. I also wasn't sure that I wanted to put lots of money into him with only the hope that it would make him a safe trail horse. I worked with Leo for several months, when I had time, but it became apparent that things weren't going to change, and I found a trainer to work with him to prepare him for sale.

The new trainer told me that she rode Leo every day for a month before he stopped bucking, but eventually he did stop. She also liked Leo and found a qualified buyer for him as a long-term project, so that Leo never went to auction. Today, Leo is doing really well and has won ribbons for his new owner. I have a new horse now -- one that's never been abused and is a pleasure to ride.

It was hard to make the decision to sell Leo, but sometimes it's better for you and for the horse. Like Dan, riding is a hobby for me, and it's not an enjoyable hobby when your horse is trying to throw you. I hope that Dan can find a similar win-win situation -- a horse better suited to him and a rider better suited to Primo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One-Rein Stop -- Part Two (The Pulley Rein)

Part One described the one-rein stop as a way to refocus your horse if you feel that you're starting to lose control. Our discussions on the Linkedin Group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World," identified a related emergency technique called a pulley rein. I had never heard of it, but Claire Thompson and Nanette Levin provided a description. I'll be borrowing from Nanette's description of the technique, plus another discussion from Julie Goodnight, a well-known trainer and clinician.

The pulley rein is intended to be used if you've lost control on a runaway horse. With the pulley rein you do not want to turn the horse's head. You shorten one rein as much as you can and press the knuckles of that hand into the horse's neck, with your hand braced and centered over the neck. Then you slide the other hand down the other rein as far forward as you can and pull straight back and up with all the force you can muster. The objective is to hold the horse's head straight with your anchored hand, and use your leverage to put some serious force on the the other rein.

If the technique is executed correctly, you can stop a runaway horse quickly, but it requires some practice and obviously the practice is very hard on your horse. However, if you're ever completely out of control, this might be your best option.

On her website, Julie Goodnight also cautions that the very worst thing you can do is pull back on both reins at the same time. The horse will stiffen its neck and lock its jaw and might just pull you out of the saddle. I've seen a horse stop and rear over backwards with lots of pressure on both reins. Julie also warns against pulling an out-of-control horse in a circle due to the danger of the horse losing its footing and falling.

Tying this discussion to the Part One post, Julie reminds us that horses are much more responsive to using the reins alternately -- for better control, she teaches the one-rein stop or yielding the hindquarters.

Nanette has used the technique. Has anyone else? If so, what's been your experience with it?

Here's a video demonstration of the pulley rein from Julie Goodnight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The One-Rein Stop (Part One)

Several weeks ago, I started a discussion of one-rein stops on the Linkedin Group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World." I'd seen the term used in a variety of ways, but the online discussions seemed to establish two different uses of the term. One group used the term to describe a technique for suppling your horse and for re-establishing control when a horse is beginning to act up. Another group used the term to describe an emergency technique, so severe that it shouldn't be practiced, to establish control in the event of a bucking spree or in a runaway situation. This post will examine the first meaning of the phrase and a subsequent post will examine the potential use of a one-rein stop in a full-blown, on a runaway or bucker, emergency situation.

My motivation for starting the discussion was an article in the May 2009 issue of Western Horseman magazine. Titled, "The One-Rein Stop and Getting Soft," it was written by working cowboy, clinician, and writer, Buster McLaury. Buster describes the one-rein stop as a maneuver to use when a horse is showing signs of being troubled. To cue for a one-rein stop, he first stops riding. Then to do a one-rein stop to the right, he reaches way up the right rein to get a short hold -- leaving slack in the left rein. Feeling of the horse with the right rein, he has a hold of it with just two fingers with his hand out about as wide as his knee. He slowly adds his third and then little finger and provides a gentle firmness in the rein for his horse to find and follow. His hand may move a little wider than his knee, leading the horse around from its back and keeping slack in the left rein. As the horse softens to the rein, he bends his elbow and takes up the slack the horse gives him. The horse slows and spirals to the right and eventually stops. When the horse is stopped and soft, Buster will reach up and rub on his horse's forehead. When the horse is flexed around like this, there should be no pressure on the rein.

Buster says that the first couple of times he stops, Buster will release immediately. Then he keeps a little pressure on the short rein and asks his horse to get soft by putting a little slack in the rein. When the horse is stopped, with slack in the rein, the horse is telling Buster that he's with Buster mentally. Remember to practice the exercise on both sides. Eventually the horse will stop straight or almost straight when the rider quits riding and reaches for a rein.

Buster says that there's a lot more to the one-rein stop than settling a troubled horse -- it's really about stopping and getting soft and building a foundation for better stops in the future. However, if your horse is showing signs of needing to run or buck, the one-rein stop can be used to head off the wreck and get him stopped. He also says that if you don't act before the horse starts running or bucking, don't crank his head around. You're likely to throw him off balance and he'll fall. If you find yourself on a runaway or a bucking horse, "just sit up there and ride him."

Clinton Anderson also describes a one-rein stop in his book, Downunder Horsemanship. His method is similar to Buster's, but Clinton has the rider pulling the short rein to the hip -- not wide. He also says that the horse should stop his feet, give to rein pressure, and touch your boot or stirrup with his nose before you release the rein. After the horse has mastered the maneuver at a walk, move to the trot, and then to the canter. However, don't move to the next gait until the horse is very smooth at the slower gait. A common rider mistake is to jerk on the rein to stop, but you could cause the horse to fall if you do that at a faster gait.

Another version of the one-rein stop uses the inside leg behind the girth to disengage the hindquarters and further reduce your horse's impulsion. "The Power of the One-Rein Stop" is an interesting video using this technique.

If you have variations of these techniques that work for you, please add your comments.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health and Fitness -- Book Review

Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health and Fitness
by Rallie McAllister, M.D.
Eclipse Press, 2007, $28.95
ISBN-13 9781581501704
Available through Amazon and Chapters/Indigo

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton –
First published in Horses All

"If you’re like most horsewomen, you probably can’t imagine a life without horses. How long and to what extent you’re able to ride and remain actively involved with horses depends not only on your desire but also on your health." ~ Rallie McAllister, M.D.

Many of us have difficulty fitting good health habits into an already rushed schedule. We have careers and raise families; some of us tend farms, ranches and riding centers, over and above our personal equestrian pursuits. Enter physician Rallie McAllister, also an avid horsewoman, syndicated columnist and author of Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health & Fitness.

This unique book can help all riders maintain optimal fitness and health while keeping up regular daily priorities. It includes two simple Riding for Life Programs, one focused on wholesome eating / nutritional supplements and one on physical fitness. Both serve as launching pads to help women improve their strength and stamina as equestrians, no matter what their current levels. We may understand the importance of good nutrition for our horse and yet neglect our own. McAllister details simple solutions to help us eat smart and ride well. No extra time for gym or exercise class? McAllister’s exercises require little equipment and can be done at home, at the barn or in your office. Her logic is clear. The more toned specific muscle groups are, the more quickly and comfortably your skills as an equestrian can advance.

There are two chapters devoted to overcoming obstacles that can stand in the way of your horse passions. As women, we often spend much time taking care of others and shortchanging our own needs. Finances and individual circumstances can also impede what we would like to achieve. These chapters contain worksheets to help define your dreams and priorities, identify barriers and create solutions, both in the saddle and on the ground.

McAllister combines excellent medical information with her deep love of horses. She writes in an encouraging, yet no-nonsense voice, designed for reader inspiration. This book can help anyone continue to ride regularly throughout the seasons of life.

About the Author:

Rallie McAllister, the mother of three boys, lives on a farm in Kentucky and enjoys riding her four horses. She designs corporate wellness programs, is the author of several other health books and writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, Your Health. Visit Rallie at:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Rider's Pain-Free Back: Overcome Chronic Soreness, Injury and Aging, and Stay in the Saddle for Years to Come -- Book Review

Guest Post Book Review by Sue McCarron:

As an avid rider (I went riding in a neck brace the day after a car accident) and a person who had her lower back muscles torn twice, “The Rider’s Pain-Free Back: Overcome Chronic Soreness, Injury and Aging and Stay in the Saddle for Years to Come” was a book I had to have. The author, Dr. James Warson, is a neurosurgeon and a lifelong rider, and he understands not only the physical aspects of riding, but also the need and desires of riders that make them want to keep riding despite potential back problems.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one deals with the anatomy of the back and some of the most common physical causes of pain such as obesity, aging, sciatica, disc problems, etc. Basic anatomy is discussed, and a glossary of terms is included. Tack, riding disciplines, and the type of horse ridden are also included in this section as potential causes of discomfort.

Part two deals with achieving, improving and maintaining back health. Dr. Warson has exercises for increasing flexibility and strengthening the back. Pain management is also discussed, including both conventional and alternative treatments. His “Save Your Body” Prevention Plan centers on preventing injuries around the barn and possibly changing riding styles or the type of horse you ride.

The book is not a complicated treatise on medicine. It is a book of practical applications and guidelines. Case studies, pictures, humor and common sense make this book an interesting read, and I heartily recommend it to all other mature riders. I can honestly say that it has helped me keep my back in good shape.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Ultimate Horseback Riding Vacation -- Horsequest USA

I think many of us dream of completing a distance riding trek in the US or another country or trailering our horses to ride for weeks in some distant national parks. Since I picked up a guide to following the trail of Lewis and Clark several years ago, I've been thinking of loading my horse, Mason, in my trailer and following in the footsteps of that Corps of Discovery. Unfortunately, the day-to-day demands of work and family make that very difficult for most of us; however, we keep hoping that some day circumstances will allow us to take that big trip.

For David and Anita Hasbury-Snogles, that dream became a reality when they decided to leave their native England; purchase two horses, a truck, and a live-in trailer in the US; and travel through the US with the goal of visiting and riding in every state. They came very close to achieving their initial goal -- visiting 40 states and riding in 35. They called their adventure Horsequest USA, and it is described in a recent article in Virginia's Orange County Review Insider section, written by Phil Audibert, titled, "Travels with Max and Roo." This is a summary of that article.

David and Anita were going through what David describes as a "crazy mid-life crisis type of thing," when they saw an ad for a live-in horse trailer in the US. After some "what if" analyses about using such a trailer to travel and ride around the US, they decided to do it. The only major problem was that David had limited experience with horses. A horseback riding vacation in Italy functioned as a tune-up, and David emerged from that experience as an equestrian.

David and Anita purchased their trailer from Blue Ridge Trailers in Ruckersville, VA and found a suitable truck in Florida. Anita found her horse, Roo, online, and David found his horse, Max, at a "meat sale" auction in Marshall, VA. A base of operations was established at Andora Farm near Culpeper, VA, and David arranged to write a weekly account of their adventures for the Culpeper Star-Exponent. With preparations complete, they were ready to set forth.

Starting from Culpeper, VA, on a cold day in March 2007, they drove to Ohio, where they picked up Roo and completed a three-day Natural Horsemanship clinic. Then it was off to Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina, before returning to Culpeper for a brief respite. In April they set off again for the Deep South, encountering sleet in New Orleans. David came off Max in Mississippi and cracked several ribs, but they pressed on to Oklahoma and then to Kansas. Typically they would spend several days at a place before moving on, and since they had established a website publicizing their travels, they often received offers of hospitality before arriving in the states they visited.

The horse coped with the travel well and remain inseparable companions today. Feeding horses during extended travel can be a problem, due to the stress and removal from pasture. A colic incident during their initial trip taught them to keep moving roughage through the horses, and they relied on a diet of hay, wheat bran, and soaked beet pulp, plus Purina pelleted feed, to keep the horses healthy.

David and Anita had a near miss with a tornado in Michigan, did some trail riding in Indiana, visited a ranch east of Denver, and took a trail ride in the Rockies. After crossing Utah and Nevada they arrived in California and camped on the Coast, where they rode the horses on the beach. After traveling up the Pacific Coast and resting in Seattle, they headed east for Montana, and rode the Little Bighorn Battlefield with a Crow Indian guide. Continuing east through Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, they returned to Virginia for a welcome rest.

The next leg of the quest was to New England, where they rode in eleven states in six weeks. Returning to Virginia, they decided to remain in the US, and purchased a home and obtained green cards.

David and Anita and Max and Roo have settled into a new life in Virginia. The trailer has been sold, and they've found employment at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. David founded and manages the "Horse Lovers of the Business World" group on Linkedin. For a much more complete account of their adventures, visit their Horsequest USA website. Perhaps their adventure will inspire some of us to reach for our own horseback riding trip of dreams.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Horseback Riding Fitness for Mature Riders -- Help Your Body When You Ride

Guest Post by Nanette Levin, Owner of Halcyon Acres

First, I’d like to say that I don’t consider myself mature. You (usually) can’t see my gray hairs, there’s not too much gathering in my midsection, the sun hasn’t yet cratered my face, I’m more active than most teenagers (that’s not saying much these days), and I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being childish.

It seemed important to make this clear. That said, I’ve definitely noticed some challenges riding, particularly in the last decade or so as I have seen my thirties wane and have roared well into my forties.

Paul asked me to discuss how I’ve altered my routine to accommodate some of the physical challenges – many borne from injury, some just plain about getting older - that have developed over the years. For the record, I still gallop Thoroughbred racehorses at an area track and start and fix young horses under saddle at Halcyon Acres.

Stretching prior to riding (I’m not as vigilant about this as I should be) has really helped. This is a good practice for anyone, but becomes essential later in life. Try to stretch the muscles you use most (think thighs and shoulders), but don’t forget about the hips, ankles, calves, the neck, and back. Simply spending twenty minutes stretching, can not only keep you from getting sore, but also help avoid injury. To offer extra assurances the toxins are released from my muscles periodically, I have also incorporated massage twice a month.

These days, I always wear a back brace when riding. Having torn a major ligament, my back just isn’t what it used to be. It helps to have the support to avoid future injury and offer additional strength. If you have an area that’s giving you trouble, try wrapping it and you may be amazed how much less pain you suffer.

I now listen to my body instead of riding through the pain. If I pull something, I take care of it. Sometimes this requires rest. I’ve also become a big believer in ice. Twenty minutes on; twenty minutes off; coupled with some massage to an injured area can really speed the healing process and minimize the discomfort.

Sometimes you have to learn to say no. This can be extremely challenging when you’re used to doing it all, but I do not hesitate to let some cocky young rider rise to the challenge of a difficult horse anymore as I happily climb aboard the “boring” steed. That’s saved me from feeling old on a whole bunch of occasions.

You get wiser too. I spend a lot more time on the ground than I used to with young horses that are fractious, concerned or just plain belligerent. It is amazing how effectively you can teach a lesson in the stall, the round pen or with long reins and have it understood once you hop on their backs. This saves a lot of time in the long term too, because riding becomes a pleasant cooperative experience developed from a communications process that is clear. It’s also a lot easier to ride without pain if you’re not brushing dirt off your backside.

I’ve found water to be more critical as the years have passed. Merely keeping hydrated can help you avoid a lot of muscle ache after a particularly rigorous day.

Finally, I’ve had to slow down. Gone is the routine of riding twenty or more horses in a day. Instead, I take on less, but enjoy it a good deal more. Breaks between horses also gives the body time to recuperate and muscles time to relax.

Older and wiser is a term that didn’t mean much to me years ago, but as it’s become necessary to supplement brawn with brain, I’m getting it. Now I just wish I could go back a couple of decades and institute the care required now to avoid some of the creaky quirks that remind me daily of neglectful mistakes made in the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Use A Night Latch (Chicken Strap) for Safety

I was bucked off my horse last fall while penning cattle. It was the first time I'd ridden my new gelding in that situation, and he didn't react as well as I'd hoped he would. When my horse started to pitch, I made a grab for the dog collar I had running through the gullet of my saddle, but only got my rope strap instead. I should have maintained a hold of the rope strap, but instead went for the saddle horn. By that time, it was too late -- the saddle horn was under me as I was being thrown forward out of the saddle.

That dog collar I was grabbing for was my "night latch" or less charitably, "chicken strap" and I'm pretty confident that if I'd been able to get to it, I would not have been thrown. After I picked myself up again and regained my breath and my horse, I realized that I'd placed my rope on top of the night latch making it very hard to find in an emergency. The dog collar was also tended to lie flat against the pommel making it hard to grab quickly.

I searched online for a better night latch and came across one made by the Platte Valley Saddle Shop. The unique thing about this night latch compared to a dog collar is that it is designed to hold a hand-hold loop up, away from the pommel. I ordered one for my saddle and one for my wife's and have been very pleased with them. They're much easier to find and grab in an emergency and they're also very well made and compliment the saddles. The picture shows both night latches on my saddle.

So if you ride in a western saddle, I strongly recommend purchasing one of these to provide a quick hand hold if you need one. I've also recently read that a night latch is a better hand hold than the horn because it doesn't tend to pull you forward out of the saddle -- instead you can pull yourself right into the seat. The best night latch I've ever seen is the one built by Platte Valley Saddle Shop.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Safety Stirrups Build Confidence in Your Riding

I was bucked off last fall. It made me a little apprehensive about riding my horse, because he hadn't bucked with me before and there was no particular thing that set him off. I decided to invest in some safety equipment even though I was only banged up a little from this incident.

I had seen safety stirrups in several equine catalogs, and I thought I'd invest in a pair to make it less likely that any future bucking event would cause me to get hung up in a stirrup. I ride alone most of the time, and if I were dragged by my horse, it could be awhile before someone misses me and even longer before someone finds me.

The stirrups I'd seen in the catalogs protected the rider by opening when the rider falls backward out of the saddle. However, I'd been bucked off and fallen forward. I did a Web search for "safety stirrups" and found a unique stirrup from a company called STI. The STI breakaway stirrups release both forward and backward and the video on the home page was pretty compelling.

I purchased the stirrups and I've been using them for four months now. They ride well and look good with my saddle. I haven't been bucked off again, but I've tested the release mechanisms and they work exactly as advertised. I'm more confident in my riding too.

If you're considering safety stirrups for yourself or your kids, take a look at these. They're not the cheapest safety stirrups on the market, but they're well made and look like they'll function when they're needed.

Yield the Hindquarters for a Preride Safety Check

Several years ago, I spent a week at Bob and Betty King's Cowboy School in Chochise, AZ. It was a great experience and I learned much, but one particular Cowboy School tip helped me recently. Bob taught me to make sure that my horse would willingly yield his hindquarters in both directions before stepping aboard. My gelding normally has no trouble with the exercise, but last week he was obviously bothered when I asked him to yield to the left. He threw his head up and he tried to back away from the pressure. When I asked him to try again, he backed away and started to buck at the end of the lead rope. After three or four jumps, he stopped and I moved in to check his saddle fit, girth fit, etc.

Everything appeared normal so I just walked him around a bit more and then started with some easy backing exercises before moving again to yielding the hindquarters. This time he was much more relaxed and performed the exercises correctly. I climbed aboard and enjoyed a great 1 1/2 hour trail ride.

I know that if I hadn't performed the hindquarters exercise, my horse probably would have bucked with me early in our ride. There was no other indication of his troubled state of mind when I caught, groomed, and saddled my horse. Thanks Bob and Betty!

A good description of the exercise is contained in the groundwork section of Marty Marten's book, Problem Solving.