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I ride a 7 year old Quarter Horse, she is very choppy naturally. So loping her hurts me. I tend to go all over the place. I know that she is in the right lead. My body is painting the saddle just in a very painful way by me raising 4 inches out of my saddle. I’m going into rodeo soon and I need to get this lope better. How can I fix this?
Breanne

HI Breanne,

Start by making sure you are applying the aids correctly and sitting the lope correctly – even with a horse with a rough gait, it will help things be more comfortable.

You can read all about that here on this blog or on my website. In either place use the search tools for canter or lope and you will find many articles. Here for example is one on this blog

Sitting the Canter or Lope

 

For more information refer to

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Dear Cherry,

I rode and owned a horse on my grandfather’s ranch in my teens and did some barrel racing and trail and am just getting back into riding 30 years later. I’m wondering if the training method below is cause for concern.

My trainer uses a heavy black rubber cylinder as a tie back when longeing my horse. Here’s how he uses it:

He saddles the horse and takes her to the longeing pen.

He hooks the rubber tube on the left bit ring and the front saddle cinch ring.

He has the horse walk and trot about 10 laps, then switches sides and does the same on the right.

Then he stops the horse, attaches the tube between the bit and the back ring of the saddle.

At this point, the horse is looking sideways, almost to the rear.

He has her walk and slow trot about 5-7 laps, switch sides same thing on right.

My trainer says her problem side is her right side, so she is tied around on the right side from bit to back ring to “stand” for 15 minutes.

I then ride her about 30-45 minutes.

This pattern is done daily, at minimum 5 days a week.

I’m concerned because sometimes she starts “spinning” in a circle and has to be stopped and started again.  She has run into the wooden fence many times.

Jan

 

Hi Jan,

This is a huge topic. I can’t see the training session in person although you did a good job of outlining it. In an email reply, I’m sure I’m not going to hit all the bases. But here is some information that I hope will be helpful. Since it is your trainer doing the tie back, I am writing to trainers in general, not to you specifically.

 

Most horses are stiffer in one direction and many horses are just plain stiff overall when it comes to bending. So part of our training goal to make a horse rideable is teaching a horse to bend in various ways and to condition them so that they can bend. There are many ways to do this. In a nutshell, here are some of my cardinal rules related to bending:

 

All bending lessons should be mastered with a halter and lead rope before a bridle.

Bending exercises should be done in hand before longeing or riding.

Bending lessons are more effective when they are combined with forward movement.

 

And a general training rule – if something is not working (as in 5 x a week, every week and still same stiffness), the trainer needs to stop doing it, step back, take a time out and look at what you are doing, evaluate, change. Repeating something over and over and not getting results just doesn’t make sense. There are much more effective ways to teach a horse to bend.

 

If a horse resists bending, it is likely that some of the ground training has been skipped. Ground training exercises related to bending include this one but there are many more.

Send the horse out on a 10-15 foot line and turn the horse in toward you to change the horse’s direction of travel. Do this again. You’ll see right away that in one direction the horse hurries and is stiff when he turns while in the other direction he will likely make a real pretty symmetric rhythmic walk around turn. Do this back and forth (it becomes almost like a figure 8 or a bow tie) until the horse relaxes both ways. This is the equivalent of a change of rein when you are riding serpentines, small figure 8’s, that sort of thing, a sweeping curvy type of turn, very balanced, relaxed, rhythmic.

Do the same exercise near the arena rail and ask for the turn and change of direction just as the horse is leaving the rail. This makes him do more of a turn on the hindquarters as he changes direction.

I’ve seen dramatic positive results in practicing this exercise with green horses and even use it to warm up my saddle horses before I step on.

 

Now as far as using reins of some kind while longeing, side reins can be a useful tool to help balance, flex and bend a horse but they must be used with great discretion and experience. Less is more.  The situation you describe is not really side reins, but related, so I wanted to mention that side reins, when properly used, can help a horse learn how to carry himself better. But they are usually used in pairs and never tightened to such an extreme as you describe.

 

Specifically to your horse’s training program – It seems to be a common training practice. As you describe it above, there are a few things that are OK but some not OK things going on too.

 

OK things:

Using flexible rubber for “side reins” – if you are going to use them flexible is good.

Using them (at least in part of the session) while the horse is moving forward.

 

Not OK things:

If a horse is so resistant (or fearful or uncomfortable) when bending yet it seems that this method is necessary to be used 5 days a week, I’d think that some training basics were skipped somewhere, such as in-hand work and work in a halter. I’d also suspect that the horse’s mouth might be sore from this every day regimen………and/or it is getting dulled to it all.

A horse should never be tied so short so that it is “looking sideways, almost to the rear” and being asked to go forward on a longe line. This just doesn’t make sense.

Tying a horse around to one side and making him stand is a dead-end as far as I’m concerned and certainly invites the spinning you mention.

When you train a horse to bend, you want him to bend moderately and in balance, not overbend.  Overbending, like overflexing, can turn into a real avoidance problem later on. One of those “it will come back to bite you” situations.

It takes time to make a good horse but it is time well spent.

Best of luck and thanks for writing,

Cherry Hill

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I rescued a 7 year old gelding Tennessee Walker . He belonged (trained and
shown) to an 89 year old man that bought him when his wife passed then 6
years later he passed away. He was run through a livestock auction due to
estate after left in a field for 8 months, severely under weight, sickly,
etc. and  was afraid of everything.  In six months I have him eating out of
my hand, stands at liberty for grooming, but unable to touch his face &
forehead to get a halter on him.  He only responds to me and not my husband.
Any ideas how to get away from the resistance so he doesn’t pull away from
touch? I need to get a bit firmer with him now that he’s in excellent
health, noting he still needs emotional mending.  THANK YOU – I love your
articles!  Marty

Hello Marty,

Are you familiar with the principles of desensitization or sacking out?
You can click on those words and go to articles on my website that will help you with the concepts behind the procedures.

Based on what you told me, I’d tie an old sock or cloth on the end of a
medium length whip (approximately 4 feet long) so you have a somewhat puffy
dauber at the end of the whip. Then using the whip as an extension of your
arm, rub the sock all over the places on your horse’s body that you can now
groom him. You can do this with the horse loose, held by an assistant, tied,
or even held by you – that will depend on his level of handling and
training.

Once the horse is accustomed to the sock on a stick, gradually start moving
the sock up his neck. At the first sign of resistance (tensing, raising of
head, moving away etc.) keep the sock at that spot and rub and rub and
rub……..until you see a sign of relaxation (an exhale, a lowering of the
head, licking and chewing, or an overall calming). When the horse relaxes,
take the sock away and tell him “Good boy” and rub him somewhere he likes
rubbing such as on his withers or neck.

Then start again. Repeat the procedure, each time getting the horse used to
being touched in a new area of his “hot zone”. Eventually you will be able
to use the sock on his forehead, across his ears and so on.

But, it does take time, perseverance and patience.  Be sure you are very
consistent in your techniques.
Rub until you find a touchy spot, work there until there is relaxation,
remove the stimulus, reward. Repeat.

It could take days, weeks or even a month to over-ride the avoidance reflex.

Eventually you should tie a long sock or cloth on the whip so you can do
this with a floppy item, then a plastic grocery sack. Then your hands.

The reason it is easier to use a long stick (or whip) is that your arms
would get very tired reaching up to the horse’s head and ears and keeping
them there for the time it takes for the horse to learn that he is not going
to be harmed.

It is important you take the time for this very important lesson because
without it, you wont’ be able to handle, care for or bridle your horse.

Best of luck, have fun and let me know how your horse progresses.


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Sherlock being a good boy.........

When a horse licks his lips and chews, it is usually a sign that he has just relaxed. The behavior will usually be more exaggerated AFTER a time when the horse was NOT relaxed.

Not relaxed = holding one’s breath.

Relaxed = breathing normally.

My husband Richard Klimesh, among other things has been a farrier for 33 years and you don’t travel that path without developing your own brand of wit. His Klimisms are a treat. It’s not just what he says, but how he says it. Anyway…….

Today he trimmed the hooves of his horse Sherlock. Sherlock was thinking a little less about balancing on 3 legs than he was wondering where his girlfriend Seeker was. He’d raise his head in the direction of her pen and peer intently at the barn wall like he had x-ray vision. But all this head raising causes body weight to shift and that’s hard on the person holding the hoof.

So in between hooves Richard backed Sherlock up a few steps in the crossties, had him lower his head, rubbed him on the forehead and Sherlock instantly started licking and chewing and breathing.

Richard said, “Good, get some oxygen to that brain.”

That cracked me up but there’s truth in that Klimism.

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Dear Cherry,

My name is Kelsey. I’m 16 years old and I have been learning to ride for about 6-9 months now and have yet to go any further than a jog on my 4-year-old quarter horse. My first riding instructor said she could no longer teach me no more because I’m, according to her, “Way behind the rest of the students and wont go any further”. I know I have a fear of loping because my first bad experience with a horse was when she spooked and started loping. I fell off but was being dragged by the stirrup till I grabbed a hold of the paddock fencing and was free. My horse spooked recently and went into a lope and I had to get off and didn’t have the courage to get back on him. Today I started loping on a lunge line but I was so scared I needed to take an adivan in able to calm down. When I tried to lope for the 3rd time my foot came out of my stirrup and I was scared I was going to fall so my new teacher had to quickly act to make him stop. I want more than anything to lope, but this fear keeps holding me back from actually wanting to do it and do have to courage to do so. I’m scared I’ll never be able to lope on my horse and will be stuck in novice class events forever and will always be considered a nervous and novice rider when all my peers have learned how to lope in less than 6-9 months. Is there anything I can do to help get rid of this fear and be able to actually run with my horse and lope like my peers without having to rely on drugs to calm me down to do so?

Thanks for your time Cherry!
Kelsey

Hi Kelsey,

Well, if you were here, I’d say, just hop on behind me and we’d go loping off. That way you wouldn’t have to be in control of the horse, you could hold onto me around the waist, and just soak in the feeling of the rhythm of the lope. After a few minutes, you’d be thinking, “Wow, this feels wonderful” and you’d relax and soon become addicted to loping ! On a well trained, smooth gaited horse, the lope is wonderful rolling gait with a soothing, rocking motion to it. You’ll love it once you find a steady horse and can relax. Relaxation is the key because if you are tense, you probably are making the horse tense….and worrying your instructor.

But you should know that MANY people are afraid to lope, so don’t feel like the Lone Ranger ! It is because the lope is such a free, rolling motion, and that the horse’s feet come off the ground, that you might feel like you are floating and have lost control for a second in each stride. AND if the horse is not absolutely steady and well trained, you might not feel as confident.

So, if you know someone with a kind, gentle horse with smooth gaits, and the rider is very experienced and the horse has been ridden “double” (two riders), ask if you can hop on behind. If that is not an option, then I would suggest to continue to pursue longe lessons because that is a great way to allow you to focus on your balance and rhythm without needing to control the horse.

How do you feel about heights in general? Do you have the same fear when your ride a bike or motorcycle? How about skiing? Sometimes you can overcome one fear by facing another.

Best of luck and have a great ride.

Cherry Hill

for more information on riding see Becoming an Effective Rider

Becoming an Effective Rider by Cherry Hill

Becoming an Effective Rider by Cherry Hill

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Relaxation

Relaxation is the absence of detrimental tension. To ride safely, you need to know how to turn down your anxiety meter and relax when things get exciting. Two exercises I’ve found helpful in this regard are Max/Relax and Bottom Breathing.

Max/Relax

requires you to exaggerate your tension to a comedic level and then release it. For example, if you find that you are so tense in the saddle that your thighs squeeze together and lift you right out of the saddle and pitch your upper body forward, practice Max/Relax. While on a tolerant horse, inhale and contract your thigh muscles so intensely that they turn into hard rocks and your upper body shoots forward and your seat no longer contacts the saddle. Hold the contraction until you start shaking (or laughing uncontrollably!), then totally let the contraction go as you exhale. Let your upper body rock back and picture your legs melting onto your horse. Just really let go. Now get “normal”, that is sit with an appropriate amount of muscle tension and alertness for riding.

Do this in various situations so that you register a specific feeling and a physiological response. Your goal is to be able to recognize this feeling during times of stress and recreate the relaxation response. Instead of adding more tension to a potentially explosive situation, you can teach your body to release counterproductive tension so that you help the situation rather than hinder it. If you don’t communicate alarm to your horse, you’ll have a better chance of staying on.

Bottom Breathing

uses the diaphragm as it was intended. “Fashion breathing” is a shallow, tense means of taking small bytes of air into the upper portion of the lungs while keeping your gut sucked in to flatten your stomach. Fashion breathing doesn’t work for athletics or relaxation. To become a Bottom Breather, you have to be willing to let your abdomen bulge momentarily.

Your lungs have no muscles of their own – they are expanded and squeezed by the muscles of the diaphragm (a dome-shaped muscle below the ribcage) and the muscles between the ribs. To breathe effectively, take in air through your nose so it is cleaned, warmed and humidified before it reaches your lungs. This is especially important if you ride in the cold or in a dry, dusty arena. If you inhale through your mouth, you losing the benefit of your nose’s filtration system and you are subjecting your throat and upper respiratory tract to unnecessary drying and stress.

Send the air downward as if to fill your abdomen. This allows the diaphragm to follow its natural tendency to expand your abdomen and fill your lungs indirectly and without tension. Exhale through your mouth, empty your lungs and deflate your abdomen gradually. Let the next inhalation arise spontaneously. If you establish a good breathing pattern, when you really need to center and focus, it will be there to help you.

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Learn to Override Adrenaline

Riding requires mental and physical alertness but when it turns into anxiety, look out! During stress, adrenaline is released into the blood. This hormone increases your metabolism, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and the activity in your central nervous system. Adrenaline reduces blood flow to your gut but increases blood in your skeletal muscles. This results in an increase in strength, alertness, coordination, and reflex action. That’s why, in a stressful situation on horseback, when adrenaline kicks in, it’s easy to “overreact”. Do you need to learn relaxation techniques to over-ride your adrenaline?

RELAXATION

Relaxation is the absence of detrimental tension.

TEST: When you hear a loud crash or a gunshot, do you immediately stop breathing and freeze? Or have you trained yourself to breathe deeply and center your energy in your abdomen? If it’s the latter, that’s great because if your horse suddenly spooks, you’ll have a much better chance of staying with his movement if you melt into the saddle than if you jump out of it!

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