Why Won’t My Pony Listen – A Case Study

Ponies are very particular little creatures. When I was younger, and a bit smaller, I begged my mom for a pony. I mean, what little girl doesn’t?

Of course, she said, “no”, and when I asked, “why not”, she responded by telling me, “I don’t trust ponies”. This conversation led to me being the only little girl with pigtail braids and bows in short stirrup riding a 15 hand horse.

What I eventually came to understand was that, with a well-trained horse, it’s likely that even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, it won’t really phase or bother the horse too much. However, when it comes to ponies, especially if they’re younger ponies, they’re absolutely going to hold a grudge if something seems askew. Thus, the reason for this post! Continue reading “Why Won’t My Pony Listen – A Case Study”

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Trail Riding

My mare has done a lot in her lifetime; mini prix showjumping, dressage, foaling, and now back in the showjumping ring.

While it’s important to keep show horses in a regular workout routine, it’s also important to get them relaxed and out of the ring. Your horse should love their job and you don’t want their sourness to the ring getting in the way of that.

Especially after a hard ride, I love to take Honey out of the ring to stretch her muscles, relax, and get used to being ridden outside the confines of an arena. Plus, it’s a great way to continue to build your relationship with your horse…after all, a horse and rider’s success is based on mutual trust as a team.

Still worried? Think of it this way: if your horse doesn’t get used to being ridden outside of the ring, you can’t blame him/her if they act up while riding them on a show ground.

Always trail ride with a buddy, or at least a cell phone, and always be sure to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Safety first!

Cheers!

Jump Into Spring

jump

If you’re anything like me then you love to jump. . .and so does your horse. The problem is, when you don’t have a covered arena, the winter season can get you out of shape and out of practice. Not only does your horse need to regain lost strength and stamina but so do you! Not to mention, as the rider you are the “driver”. This is my slow and steady workout to get my mare, Honey, back in show jumping shape.

Week 1: Do It Without the Jumps

At the start of any conditioning series you really want to get a good feel for where you and your horse are as a team. The first few rides of week one I use to feel my mare out with flatwork. It’s important to have your horse listening to your aid, moving off your leg, balanced, and adjustable on the flat before you think about adding obstacles into the mix. If you have all of these flatwork elements, “checked off”, then you’re good to go with week one! My rides always start with about 10-15 minutes of flatwork focusing on transition as well as lengthening and shortening. Transitions, especially when done correctly ensuring your horse is using their hind ends and not falling forward, are excellent practices to building muscle and increasing responsiveness. After raised trot poles you’ve warmed up with some flatwork, add some trot poles into your workout. These are great for getting your horse to really use their muscles to pick up their feet. If you’re more advanced, raise the trot poles for an added challenge for your horse. Just be careful, I have a hot horse and we have to walk through raised trot poles before attempting to trot them because she thinks that she’s supposed to jump them. Always be listening to your horse and supporting them.

A Guide For Trot Poles - I use one big step
A Guide For Trot Poles – I use one big step

Now, the trot poles are for the horse but the canter poles are for you. Canter poles are great because they’ll help you regain your eye for distances once you start jumping but they’re easy on your horse’s legs. The exercise below will help with your eye but more so help with your seat, your position, and how much you’re supporting and helping to balance your horse. If you’re just working on you eye, I suggest single canter poles or canter pole lines, etc.

Do this at the canter: Your goal is to have the same number of strides between every pole (This is very challenging when done properly)
Do this at the canter: Your goal is to have the same number of strides between every pole (This is very challenging when done properly)

Week 2: Hot to Trot

Keep the fences low, either small x-rails or low verticals and keep it simple with single fences. You should still start your workout with good flatwork exercises focusing on elements of balance and adjustment that you feel is needed for you and your horse to improve. I know, I know, we all hate trot jumps but they’re actually super helpful for two reasons:TrottingFence

  1. They’re great for building muscle in your horse’s hind end because they force your horse to rock back and use their haunches to jump. Remember not to let them rush the trot jumps so this can happen!
  2. They force us, the rider, to really keep our upper body back and let the horse jump up to us instead of us jumping ahead of the horse.

Week 3: Exercises

This is the time to think about all the courses you’ve jumped in the past and dissect them element by element. Keep the fences at a low height (but slightly higher than your trot jumps) and practice the course elements you set up. For me, I make sure to set up long straight lines, rollbacks, long approaches to single fences, skinnies on the short end of the arena, bending or broken lines, and even some fences set up on a serpentine. While you can’t do all of these at once you can do at least half of them and only have to set up four (4) jumps in the ring so don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, the idea here is to keep the fences low and work on the technique and execution of riding each element individually. We’re NOT putting them into a full course just yet but rather practicing so that when we do, both rider and horse are confident and ready to ride.

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One example of an exercise that will work on bending lines in both directions depending on what route you take.

*Note: I never jump every day of the week. Even when practicing exercises over low fences, I’ll only do three (3) days a week of jump work with one (1) day off and three (3) days of complementary flat work.

Week 4: Set the Course

Now it’s time to put all the exercises we worked on in week three into a full course. My suggestion for you is to have the jumps set so you can ride a more simple, hunter-like, course for your first course and if all goes well, add some equitation-like elements to make it more challenging. It depends on your horse, so be sure to be listening to them, but I usually raise the jumps to a low schooling height for our full course with some trot jumps as my warm-up. For example, my mare and I show at 3’6″-3’9″ so our height for this week in our training will be 3′-3″ if she feels good over the 3′-fences. I always jump a few single fences at this height before asking her to do a full course to get a feel for how she’s jumping. Also make note of your horse’s breathing and give them plenty of breaks to stretch out and walk if they’re sounding like a freight train. Pushing them is good to an extent but I always ere on the side of caution if my mare is telling me she’s had enough.

After week four I play it by ear but if you’re curious, this is what my horse’s weekly workout schedule looks like:

See you at the show!
See you at the show!

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: No Stirrups Flatwork

Wednesday: Trot Jumps

Thursday: Flatwork

Friday: Low/Medium Exercises

Saturday: Full Course/Trail Ride

Sunday: Light Flatwork/Trail Ride

There’s A Monster Under That Jump!

We’ve all been here, right?

Abbi versus Tarp
Abbi VS. Tarp

If you notice where the top rail is as opposed to where her knees are, you’ll understand a common equine fear of: The Monster Hiding Beneath the Jump.

This horse is older but has only been jumping for about 4 months so it’s nothing out of the ordinary but so many times I’ve notices that people mark these horses as “naughty” or “dirty stoppers” without ever even giving them a fighting chance. Sure, Abbi and I don’t always see eye to eye and she does run out and stop at fences but not because she’s a bad horse. . .it’s because she doesn’t have the confidence in herself and she needs to gain that confidence from me.

So naturally you’d think. . .strong rider will fix the problem. Wrong. This horse needs a strong and confident rider when jumping but she also needs to trust her rider and that trust is earned.

Since we didn’t die our first jump over the horrible awful tarp…we began to build trust & with a strong, direct ride to the tarp jump again, we painted a prettier picture:

Abbi VS Tarp: Round 2
Abbi VS Tarp: Round 2

Now, we are still afraid of the tarp. . .but she’s also listening to me more and jumping across as well as up & over the fence.

Unfortunately, our camera-woman only took these two photos but as Abbi continued to jump, her trust in me grew and with my confidence in our abilities as a team, we were able to create some really lovely fences.

Abbi Jump

So keep in mind it’s both confidence and trust on both the rider and the horse’s part in order to make a winning team. Especially for young horses or older horses learning new tricks. . .consistency in this is key. She is jumping bravely and beautifully here but if her rider (me or someone else) were to misguide her, lose our confidence, lose our commitment to the jump, and/or work as separate parts instead of a team then Abbi’s trust will be lost and we will have to start at the beginning again.

Riding a new or young horse is like a new relationship. If you’re young then it’s building trust and learning how to work as a team. If you’re re-training a horse who’s been through it already then you not only have to build trust but you have to convince that horse to trust you even after they’ve been let down by someone else.

So the key takeaways for working with horses like Abbi:

  1. Confidence & Commitment
  2. Trust (it goes both ways)
  3. Consistency

Hope this is useful for you! If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask!

 

My Horse Philosophy

After riding for 17 years you begin to pick-up certain theories or philosophies about horses and what brings out the greatest potential in a horse. 

I’ve ridden in the western world racing barrels in Colorado, dabbled in the dressage world doing low level tests and local shows, and spend my junior career in the hunter and equitation world traveling to every fancy show I could afford to go to or had the time to work off. It wasn’t until my junior and senior years of high school when I found the aspect of riding that I really loved. Aside from flying over fences, I loved figuring out why horses did what they did and working with them until I could figure it out and calm them down enough to become the pets that show horses inevitably become (whether or not we admit it, they are our oversized dogs who get treats when they’re good and baths with perfumed soaps when they’re dirty). 

Broken down, my philosophy is simple and it’s entirely based on trust. You and your horse must become a team and in order to succeed in any team you must trust your teammate. I was always told riding was an “individual sport” but that was wrong. Riding is most certainly a team sport and requires the highest amount of trust between its members.