Posts Tagged ‘saddle’

My mare, who is 30 years old, but acts like she’s about 20 years younger, loves to be ridden and loves to run up the hills. She has so much energy that she’s hard to keep at a walk especially out on trails, and in the field. She wants to be in the lead and doesn’t like being in the rear or even in the middle of the group. She’s also forgotten how to WHOA when told. So I’m constantly pulling on her to stop (never used to have to do that). I can deal with all that, after all she’s 30! Do horses after a certain age forget things? But, my problem is keeping the saddle and pads in place. They’re always slipping no matter how much I tighten the girth. I also use a breast collar on her. I thought that would help keep the saddle in place. Any suggestion?  Mary

Hi Mary,

Your question reads like a story about aging horses and saddle fit.

When a horse’s back begins to drop (sway) it is almost impossible to keep the saddle up near the vicinity of the withers. Instead, gravity and the rider’s weight cause the saddle to slip down the slope created by the prominent withers (the peak) and the now lower back.

Even if you tighten and re-tighten the cinch, the tendency will be for the saddle and you to slip rearward and settle down in the valley of the horse’s sagging topline.

You’ve tried the logical solution – use a breast collar to HOLD the saddle forward. But alas that just causes extreme pressure on the horse’s chest and shoulders as the weight of the saddle and rider pull against them as the saddle tries to slip back.

Which brings me to the change in behavior in your horse. You say you always have to keep pulling on her to stop her or slow her down now – you didn’t have to do that in the past. That’s because when a horse has back pain from pressure and/or an ill-fitting saddle and when a horse is thrown off balance because of tight tack and pressure, the horse might instinctively do one of several things.

Buck like heck to get rid of the saddle and pain, rub or roll to get the saddle off, or as many trained horses will do, move fast and tense. Part of your mare’s exuberance might be due to her being full of energy, but in so many cases, quick, tense movement is associated with pain and imbalance.

So the solution to everything is finding a saddle that fits. This is something you will need to do locally so that the expert saddle fitter can see your horse in person. Once you get a saddle to fit your mare, you might be surprised to see how you will be able to ride with a looser cinch, how much more comfortable your mare will be and how she will resume her normal gaits.

If you care to reply with the state or area you live in, perhaps someone will write in suggesting a saddle fit expert in your area.

Read more articles on tack and riding here on my Horse Information Roundup.

Best of luck,


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I’ve had several queries in regard to the post about No Fear of Loping so here is some more information on the lope or canter.

Becoming an Effective Rider by Cherry Hill

Following is an excerpt from Becoming an Effective Rider on how to ask for a canter and Exercise 10 from 101 Arena Exercises that describes the canter (lope) and how to sit the canter.

Horse Riding

Aids for the Canter or Lope

and Sitting the Canter or Lope

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Aids for the canter or lope, right lead:

  • Apply the aids when the left hind leg is about to land
  • Think – “Come under behind, come up in front, and roll forward smoothly into a three-beat gait.”
  • Seat – Right seat bone forward and up; left seat bone back and down.
  • Push down on the left seat bone then follow the forward movement to the right (without leaning forward) just as the horse creates the forward movement, not before.
  • Legs – Right leg on girth; left leg behind the girth; both active
  • Reins – Right direct rein to create flexion and an appropriate amount of bend; left supporting rein or bearing rein to keep horse from falling in on right shoulder.

DESCRIPTION The canter (lope) is a three-beat gait with the following foot fall pattern:101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill

  1. initiating hind leg or outside hind
  2. the diagonal pair or inside hind and outside foreleg
  3. leading foreleg or inside foreleg
  4. regrouping of legs or a moment of suspension.

If the initiating hind leg is the left, the diagonal pair will consist of the right hind and the left front, the leading foreleg will be the right front and the horse will be on the right lead. When observing a horse on the right lead from the side, his right legs will reach farther forward than his left legs. The right hind will reach under his belly farther than the left hind; the right front will reach out in front of his body farther than the left front. When turning to the right, normally the horse should be on the right lead.

The canter has an alternating rolling and floating feeling to it. The energy rolls from rear to front, then during a moment of suspension, the horse gathers his legs up underneath himself to get organized for the next set of leg movements. The rider seems to glide for a moment until the initiating hind lands and begins the cycle again.

A lope is a relaxed version of the canter with less rein contact and a lower overall body carriage.
HOW TO Ride the Canter, Right Lead

It is not enough that your horse is on the correct lead. You must ride every step of the way to keep him in balance and in the correct position.

    • Right seat bone forward, left seat bone in normal position
    • Upper body erect
    • Outside shoulder forward, inside shoulder back
    • Right leg on girth, active, creating right bend and keeping horse up on left rein
    • Left leg behind the girth, active, keeping hindquarters from swinging to the left, maintaining impulsion.
    • Right direct rein to create appropriate amount of bend and flexion
    • Left supporting rein or neck rein if appropriate

USE All western performances and Training Level dressage.

NOTE The trot-canter transition develops a good forward working canter.


Disunited is when a horse is on one lead in front and another behind. Also called cross-leaded. This is very rough to ride.

Counter-cantering is cantering on the “outside” lead on purpose as a means of developing obedience, strength, balance, and suppleness. If counter-cantering on a circle to the right, the horse would be on the left lead and he would be flexed left.

CAUTION Don’t force a horse to carry his head too low or he will be unable to round his topline and bring his hind legs underneath himself and will subsequently travel downhill, heavy on the forehand.

Don’t slow a horse down too much at the canter or the diagonal pair of legs can “break” (front landing before its diagonal hind) giving rise to a four beat gait where the horse appears to be loping in front and jogging behind.

Be sure the horse is moving straight ahead, not doing the crab-like canter.

Hope this was helpful. Have a great ride !

Cherry Hill

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information


Although you have been able to prepare the young horse for almost every sensation he will experience during the first ride, three things that will be new to him are the feel of your legs on his sides, the feel of your weight on his back, and the sight of you above and behind him.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillYou can get your horse used to your weight on his back by stepping up on a mounting block so you can lean your body over his bareback. You can either have someone hold the horse while you do this or hold onto the leadrope yourself. Be sure to remove any belt buckles that could dig into the horse’s back as you practice this exercise. At first just get him used to the idea of seeing you on both sides of him at the same time. Then lean your weight onto his back, but still keep contact with your feet and the mounting block. Finally lift yourself all the way up on his back and lean all the way over him.

When it comes time to mount and ride, I like to start young horses with a Western saddle even if they are destined to be used as English horses. First of all, the weight of an empty Western saddle does a better job of accustoming a horse’s back to carrying. Second Western Longeing and Long Lining the Western Horsestirrups and fenders familiarize the young horse with movement against his sides preparing him for the feel of your legs. Third, when properly fitted, a Western saddle has less of a tendency to shift when a rider mounts. This is due to the friction of the large contact area of the skirts and the wrapping and enveloping effect that a Western saddle tends to have. And fourth, and perhaps most important, a Western saddle has a larger bearing surface than an English saddle so distributes a rider’s weight over a larger area of the horse’s back muscles. A horse’s back is like a suspension bridge, not really well designed to carry weight. The horse’s neck, abdominals, and back muscles already have a big job suspending the weight of his abdomen and now the muscles must work even harder to keep the back from sagging under the weight of the saddle and rider. The longer, wider bars of a properly fitted Western saddle make bearing the weight of the rider more comfortable for the young horse. Once the horse’s back has begun to strengthen and develop, it can more easily bear a rider’s weight via the panels of a properly fitted English saddle.

To prepare a horse for you being above him during riding, when you groom or clip him, step up on a box or when he is turned out, sit on the top rail of his pen and let him come up and investigate you.

Evaluate Your Every Day Mounting Habits

Become aware of your everyday mounting habits that could use improvement.

  • Do the toes of your left boot dig into a horse’s side as you rise to mount? Pointed toe boots are particularly inappropriate when mounting unless you choose to mount facing forward.

  • Does the saddle shift way off to the left side because you have to pull yourself up with your arms rather than lift yourself up with the muscles of your left leg?

  • Do you wobble as you swing over the horse and throw him off balance or bump him on the croup?

  • Does your seat land with a thud in the saddle or do you have the muscle control to lower yourself softly into the saddle?

  • Does your right leg slap his side as you find your position or do you let your leg settle softly on his side?

If you have any of these problems, practice mounting a safe, trained horse until your bad habits are replaced with good ones. Here is one place where being in good physical condition will help you perform more effectively and safely.

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Mounting a Horse:

How to and Troubleshooting

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part article


Adapted from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Making not Breaking, the First Year Under Saddle

Whether your are mounting a young horse for the first time or an older horse that you have had for some time, do you anticipate mincing and dancing, a fight, an explosive surprise, or do you see things going like clockwork with both you and your horse emerging winners? It is natural to experience anxiety before mounting a young horse for its first ride – that’s just normal horse trainer’s stage fright. A small amount of apprehension will probably make you pay closer attention to safety. Being alert primes your nerves and muscular actions. But too much tension can take the smoothness and confidence out of your moves and that might bring undesirable reactions from your horse. If you have an older horse that is developing bad habits when being mounted, proceed like you would with a young, untrained horse.

The best way to make the first mounting just another day in the string of lessons for your young horse is to precede mounting with the proper ground training. Contrary to what you might think, the vast majority of accidents with young horses are not due to a horse being sneaky or dishonest and pulling out all the stops on mounting day. Most young horses act very honestly and predictably and are merely reflecting their previous handling. Accidents with young horses can usually be traced to the violation by the trainer of one or more very simple, basic safety rules or to the omission of important basic ground training. Even the most experienced, accomplished trainers consistently emphasize the importance of the basics. The importance of groundwork should be taken seriously. The true test of when your young horse is ready to mount is whether you can actually perform the various ground work exercises with your horse that I list in Making Not Breaking or 101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises. I’ve posted a list of in-hand exercises on this blog that is a starting point. Can you do all of these ground work exercises with your horse?

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillThe overall goal of the first few rides is to reinforce the horse’s trust in you. He must overcome his inborn fear of having “an animal” on his back. To further a horse’s trust in you, never do anything that will scare or hurt him. You should aim to develop a partnership, one in which you are definitely in charge but not one in which the horse is inhumanely dominated by rough tactics. Earning a horse’s trust and respect simultaneously is the foundation of horse training. A young horse needs to know in very clear terms that you are the boss and that what you request, he must do. But you want willing compliance, not a broken-spirited submission. What you ask of your horse must be based on sound horse training principles and must be consistent.

The Pre-Mounting Warm-Up

Currently, it is not a widespread practice to wear a protective helmet when riding yet it should be. More and more trainers and instructors advise the use of a “hard hat”, especially when riding young horses. Boots with heels are an important safeguard because certain stirrups can allow a non-heeled boot or shoe to slip through them and trap the rider’s foot. If gloves are used, they should be of the type that allow grip and a feel of the reins. A thick or heavy pair of gloves can make for cumbersome movements.

Longeing and Long Lining the Western HorseYou can use in-hand work, longeing, driving, or ponying to take the edge off a young horse prior to its first ride. Whatever method of warm up you choose, it should be very familiar to the young horse. It would make no sense to introduce a new ground training lessons on the day of your first ride.

You can choose to take your first rides using a halter and lead rope, bosal, or snaffle bridle. It is not so important what you use on his head but how you use your body. Although it is good to keep your mind open to different methods for the future, for now choose the method with which you are most comfortable and proficient. The pre-ride warm-up and the first ride should take place in a safe enclosed area. I prefer a 66 foot diameter round pen with sturdy walls and sand footing.

Your  Horse Barn DVDBegin the session as if nothing out of the ordinary is planned. Be sure you do not have time constraints because if you are in a hurry, it will surely affect your work. Be thorough with haltering, leading, tacking up and leading to the round pen. Warm your horse up by leading him in-hand for a few moments to “untrack” him. Check the cinch for appropriate tightness and then ready the horse for longeing, driving, or ponying. The pre-ride warm up should take the edge off the horse but not tire him out. He will need to be alert and have muscle strength and energy left if you expect him to pay attention and actually learn something from the first mounting lesson.

After the warm up, check the cinches (and breast collar if used) once again and be sure they are snug but not uncomfortably tight. Be sure to remove the stirrup hobble rope if you used one for driving. Square the horse up so he will have an easier time maintaining his balance as you mount. If he has one front foot way out to the right, for example, he will likely bring it under his belly with a quick motion when you begin mounting. If one hind leg is far behind, the horse will probably step forward as you begin mounting. Either of these circumstances may make you think he is going to walk off. This might make you lose your concentration or balance or you may instinctively snatch at the reins and start a cycle of errors. Any time you have difficulty in the chain of events, and this goes for the horse’s entire training, stop, go back to where your and your horse were comfortable and performing well and proceed from there.
Watch for more parts to this topic.

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Improving Attitude and Confidence

Whether you’re returning to riding after time off or first learning to ride, get in shape before you get in the saddle. This will minimize injury and maximize enjoyment. When you evaluated your rider readiness in last month’s newsletter, perhaps you found a few areas that could use improvement. Here you’ll find exercises and tips specifically tailored for riders to help with those trouble spots.


1 – Evaluate, then make a plan.
2 – Focus on attitude, confidence and enough muscular strength to ride for about one hour.
3 – Work on flexibility to attain a correct riding position and use the aids effectively.
4 – Increase your endurance for longer or more demanding riding.
5 – Improve your timing for advanced riding skills.


A good attitude is a combination of motivation, optimism, diligence, patience, and honesty. If you think you need an “attitude adjustment”, start by finding or making adequate time to devote to riding. If you approach riding in a hurry, it’s not only harder to have a good attitude but it’s unsafe and often counter-productive.

Associate with happy, positive, successful people, especially during your horse time. You want to avoid folks with unhealthy egos, those that constantly gossip or bellyache, or those involved in illegal or inhumane activities. Learn about visualization, mental imaging, and goal setting and how they can be used to improve your riding.


Confidence comes from knowledge, training, and experience. It’s no secret that confident body language convinces a horse that you are in charge.Two keys to confidence are:

1. Ride a good horse and

2. Work with a good instructor.

Even before you get to actual riding, spend plenty of time with your horse: grooming, tacking and leading so you become accustomed to each other.

Your Mentor, the Horse

So that you can concentrate on your riding, you need the help of a well-trained, patient, experienced horse. Most good “rehab” or school horses are 8-20 years old geldings but some older mares also exhibit great care and patience. Use a horse with an exemplary temperament, one that is not only patient but willing, cooperative, and alert, yet calm. You want a horse that is physically responsive to the aids and balanced and rhythmic in his gaits. A sensitive, thin-skinned, hot-blooded horse, even though well-trained, might react to accidental bumps of the leg or weight shifts as cues. You are usually better off choosing a duller, more cold-blooded horse that will tolerate the mistakes a rider makes when learning balance and rhythm. Such a horse tends to go on steadily despite awkward rider movements.

Choosing an Instructor

There is no substitute for a good instructor and a poor instructor is worse than none at all. So that you learn correctly and you maintain a good opinion of yourself, your horse, and your work, choose your instructor carefully. An excellent trainer may be good with horses but ill suited to working with people.

Look for an instructor with a keen eye and the ability to give you accurate feedback. You might think of your instructor as an experienced, talking mirror. The best instructor is also an excellent rider, trainer, and observer; someone who knows when things are going well and tells you; someone who sees when things are headed in the wrong direction and can tell you in clear terms how to fix it.

Choose an instructor that is appropriate for your goals and capabilities. Some teachers are excellent with beginning riders but do not have the proficiency to take a rider further. Others do not have the patience to work with any but very advanced riders and horses. An instructor with a famous name may not have the time or interest required to work regularly with a re-entry or novice rider. Look for an instructor nearby so you can take frequent lessons.

Give your instructor’s methods a chance to work. If you are convinced mentally that they will not work, they will not work. Be sure you can hear and understand exactly what your instructor is telling you. Misunderstandings can undermine your self confidence and your trust in your trainer.

Confidence Builder – the Mounting Block

One of the most awkward times in learning to ride is mounting and dismounting. You could teach your horse to sit down for you to mount! But a more practical solution is to use a mounting block. Especially if you are short, stiff, or coming back from an injury, a mounting block puts your foot closer to the stirrup and decreases the distance you have to lift your body weight. Whether you use a milk crate, a bucket or an official mounting block, you will find mounting less stressful to your knees and back. In addition, there will be less scrambling and saddle twisting, which your horse will appreciate. You can mount facing the rear or the front of your horse, whichever works best with your physical limitations. Use a quiet, obedient horse because if he steps sideways just as you are getting on, you could find yourself in a wrenching version of the “splits”!

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Balance is equilibrium, a state where weight is equally distributed.

Where is your Center of Balance?

It is located within your abdomen near your belly button. The lower your center of balance, the closer it will be to the horse’s back. If you have long legs, wide hips, and a short, light upper body, your center of balance is low and you have a natural physical advantage as a rider. If you have short legs, a long waist and a heavy upper body, you have a higher center of balance and may have to work harder to maintain a stable upper body position and overall balance.

Men tend to have a higher center of gravity because more mass is located in the upper body; women’s lower center of gravity is due to the majority of weight being located in the lower portion of the body.

Note! When performing the following physical tests, do so at your own risk. Wear loose clothes, no shoes, and don’t strain. If you’ve had an injury or surgery, proceed with extreme caution.

TEST: Stand with your hands on your waist and shift your weight to one of your feet. Bend the other leg at the knee and place the sole on the inside of the opposite knee with the toe pointing toward the floor. Try standing in this stork position for 30 seconds. Try the other leg. Now close your eyes and see how long you can balance. If you can’t balance for 30 seconds with eyes closed, work on it. It will help you when riding in the dark or when your horse loses his balance or spooks or bucks.

TEST: Do you routinely lose one of your stirrups? You may be contracting (collapsing) one side of your body; as that side crunches together like an accordion, your shoulder and hip get closer together, the entire side gets shorter, your heel raises, your foot loses contact with the stirrup tread and the stirrup swings free. Have an instructor evaluate your position from the rear, front and side. Evaluate your own riding by watching yourself on video.

TEST: How do you sit when you drive? If you lean on the console, you are collapsing your right side. If you ride like that, it’s hard on your spine and difficult for the horse to perform in balance. If you slouch when driving and carry that habit to riding, you weight the horse’s forehand and could easily pop off in the event of a stumble or abrupt stop.

TEST: What’s your cell phone posture when driving? How many sideways S-shaped curves does your spine make from your seat bones up to your phone-holding hand up to over to your steering hand back to your listening ear? Ideal driving posture is weight evenly distributed on both seat bones, shoulders over hips, lower back and shoulders touching the seat, hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, and looking straight ahead while talking into the hands-free microphone on your visor! Sounds an awful lot like great riding posture, doesn’t it?

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This time of year, many people get back to riding after not being able to due to weather or other commitments. A while back, I was asked to write a magazine series for people returning to riding after time off, illness, an accident, pregnancy or other reason. Following is that series. I hope you might find some information that will help you, a student, or a friend.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Part One – Attitude and Confidence

Have you been riding your computer or your truck more than your horse? Has an injury or surgery prevented you from riding? Maybe you’ve had a brutal winter or scorching summer and six months zipped past without a ride. If it’s time for you to get back in the saddle, with a little preparation you can make a smooth re-entry to riding.

After riding most of my life and teaching and judging many riders, I’ve seen that certain attributes can help or hinder a rider. Whether you are getting back to riding or taking it up for the first time, you should evaluate your attitude, confidence, relaxation, balance, flexibility, coordination, durability, strength, and fitness. Next month’s newsletter will contain tips on how to improve areas that need work.


A good attitude is made of motivation, optimism, diligence, patience, and honesty.

TEST: Answer Yes or No to these five questions:

1. You get up an hour earlier every morning so you have extra time to ride.
2. You see something ahead that might spook your horse. You alter your course to avoid the confrontation.
3. Your horse moves 3 small steps when you are mounting. You “let it go”.
4. You want to smooth out your horse’s lope but after several weeks you don’t see a change. You start looking for another horse.
5. When your instructor/trainer says, “Work with your horse every day to improve your riding”, you say, “I do!”

Yes to #1 shows motivation.
No to #2 shows a positive attitude that you can overcome your horse’s fears.
No to #3 shows diligence to work on small things to make the whole better.
No to #4 means you don’t give up quickly; training takes time.
Yes to #5 either means you are a rare person that can work with your horse every day OR your definition of “work” includes grooming, petting and feeding treats OR you just say “I do” to your instructor to keep from getting a lecture. To improve, you first must make an honest evaluation.


Confidence comes from knowledge, training, and experience.

TEST: Answer Yes or No to these questions:

1. Have you had your horse handling and riding skills evaluated by a professional instructor?
2. Do you take regular lessons?
3. Do you know safe practices for handling and riding horses?
4. Do you work with a well-trained, experienced horse that can “show you the ropes”?
5. Do you know how to stop a runaway horse?

If you answered YES to these five questions, you have set yourself up to be confident.

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