This was an ongoing email from a young rider in Australia. These are often the most fun!
Question: I have been riding English for about 7 years now. I think I’m a pretty good rider, and I do take lessons in the cooler months. I’m trying to learn about down transitions. I can’t get them and I’m confused from what my coach tells me. I have to keep my legs on and bring my hands back, but my mare just slows down and gets bouncy and doesn’t stop. I don’t understand what the reason for having my legs on the horse to stop is? My coach can’t tell me in a way that I get, and was hoping you could.
Answer from April Reeves: Well Alli you are not going to like my answer much, because it goes against everything your coach is telling you.
First, lets address legs on. If it confuses you, it should. It is the signal for forward and, done correctly, to bring the hindquarters under the horse, and although a lot of teachers believe you should have your legs on for downward transitions, I don’t and here’s why.
Question: Hi April, I have a really big problem that’s getting worse. My horse stalls out after every fence. We jump one fence and he just quits. I can get him moving again but he just keeps doing this over and over. I can go over one fence and he does it okay but he won’t do a line of them. Help me please! My instructor doesn’t know what’s wrong with him either. Is he sick?
Answer from April Reeves: No Angela, he’s not likely sick. He’s likely trained to do that, and you trained him. I know what you’re thinking right now “Gosh, no April, I’ve never trained him for that!’ but we unconsciously train our horses to do many things we don’t want them to do.
This is a typical scenario when you first learn about jumping. You aim at a jump, pray the horse will keep going, and then immediately stop the horse after you go over the fence and take a look at your accomplishment. If that isn’t training a horse to stop after every fence I don’t know what is!
Posted in English Riding answers, Hunter/Jumper
Tagged counter canter, english riding, Equine Behavior & Problems, Gallop, horse forward, horse training, hunter, Jump, Jumper, jumping, Lead Changes, Rein back, Stride
Question: I have an 8 year old jumping pony. She is 14.2 hands. She seems to be picky on her jumps. She has the one plank that is red and white and she refuses it all the time. When I mount her she may sometimes take off or start rearing with me. After a jump she may sometimes take off but after that she calms down a little. She is scared at almost everything. Once at a show a man started fanning himself with his hat and she whipped around and then continued the next jump. She needs to learn to be a lot calmer but how? Help me.
Answer from April Reeves: This is such an important question and if you read my past posts you will see I say the same thing over and over again. Let’s review this, as we keep coming back to it, time and time again.
Why do horses lose their nerves? Why do they get edgy and do things we don’t want them to do? I want you to really think about this question, because if you can’t answer it, you can’t train or ride your horse past where you are now, and it’s likely you will get worse. The question poses a problem, and within every problem lies the answer. Now – start thinking…
What did you come up with? See if it matches anything I’m about to say.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Hunter/Jumper
Tagged April Reeves, behavior, english riding, Equine Behavior & Problems, foundation training, horse forward, horse training, jumping, spooky horse
Question: My horse is a bit “hot” so I lunge him before to take the edge off. Some say I have to, and some say I will only get a hotter horse as she gets fitter. What is your take on this? I read about your sending exercise. How does this differ from lunging? I keep getting mixed answers but no real advice as to why you would choose one technique over another.
Answer from April Reeves: Oddly enough, a well-mannered hot horse comes down to good ground manners, not time on a lunge line. I often see some of the hottest horses that are still safe because they have been taught the skills to know how to channel the “heat”. Ground manners are everything.
I do not lunge a horse that is quiet, as I don’t need to and like to have the energy in the saddle, not burned out around a circle.
If the horse is hot or not joined with me in the work, then that horse is put to work until his lungs catch up with his brain. They all have a “breaking point” where they finally exhale and chew. Then you can go to work and learn something.
Question: My horse tends to get very strong while we are jumping. I have a twisted D ring but I just feel as though i cannot stop him. Do you have any suggestions for a bit that is not too harsh, yet will help me slow him down? My trainer told me to look into a D ring with hooks but they are all very expensive.
Also, I read some other answers to similar questions like mine, and all the answers state that it is all the riders fault. I would just like you to know that I am a very good rider and I am never harsh on my horses. I just simply cannot find an appropriate bit, and am looking for suggestions. Your help is appreciated!! Thanks! Olivia
Answer from April Reeves: Hello Olivia. Thanks for asking me this question, as I will be honest and keep it real, but it may not be what you want to hear. I urge you to consider my answer, as it is the only way you will fix your problem.
My first suggestion: consider another coach and get the softest bit you can find. I kid you not, and this is why:
When a rider comes to me with a problem like your having over fences, it has nothing to do with bits and everything to do with lack of a good foundation on a horse (and rider). You won’t solve the problem with a harsher bit: it will only slow down the horse for a few days until that bit also becomes useless, as his mouth gets tougher and tougher and he gets stronger and stronger (ie: his brain). I’m not being mean: I’m just keeping it real.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, Hunter/Jumper
Tagged behavior, bitting, bold jumper, collection, english riding, foundation training, horse too fast, horse training, hunter, jumping
Question: I have a 10 year old arab that I’ve switched from the Arab circuit to eventing. I bought him as a 5 yr old and did Arab shows for a couple years. He’s a gorgeous horse and an amazing mover, but has a really hard time keeping himself under control. He is always a happy horse, with ears pinned forward. My problem with him is when we get to shows he gets so excited that he literally can’t contain himself. He ends up rearing/jumping/bucking nonstop. I’ve had a chiropractor out, a vet out, and he has no issues with back or saddle fitting. If I take him to school at a place, he’s a pretty good boy. He just really feeds off the commotion of the show. Eventing has been better, he loves to jump and does great on cross country and stadium. But dressage is the first phase and he usually rears and leaps through our test. I’ve tried lunging him for an hour before, and he just gets more excited. We generally get there the night before and that hasn’t made a difference either.
If you have any suggestions on how to get him to calm down, please let me know!!!! He has amazing talent, but he is just like a child with ADHD.
Answer from April Reeves: Arabians are one of my favorite breeds: they are highly sensitive and intelligent, and learn fast. And they’re just incredibly beautiful as well.
They also can get a little out of control, which always brings me back to groundwork. An Arabian can never have enough groundwork. It’s great for their minds and they catch on to it faster than many breeds.
Posted in Breeds, Equine Behavior & Problems, Hunter/Jumper, Natural Horsemanship
Tagged behavior, bucking, english riding, foundation training, Groundwork, horse training, Natural Horsemanship, problem horse, rearing, spooky horse
Question: I have a NSH in training that will primarily be a “show horse”, but I have always believed in a horse appropriate level of easy trail riding or anything out of the arena occasionally to prevent horse boredom and getting arena sour. The worry is the show shoes or even just because the horses’ lack of experience outside of an arena.Would Hoof Boots (i.e. Easy Boots ,etc.) be the right thing to use? Or are they only meant to be used for barefoot horses? Thanks!
Answer from April Reeves: Some of the easy boots can be worn over shoes, but it does void the warranty if the boot is damaged. They do fit however.
My thought to you is: are you considering them because you don’t want to risk losing a shoe? It’s a problem with gaited and motion horses.
Think about how it feels to have someone speak to you in a foreign language. If you don’t know the language, you can’t understand them. If they speak slower, you still won’t have a clue what they’re saying. If they shout at you, you still won’t understand.
That’s how it is for your horse. When you train, you’re developing a non-verbal language with him.
When you learn a foreign language, you first need to learn the letters of the alphabet. Once you know the letters of the alphabet, you can put them together to form words. Then, eventually you can put the words together to form sentences. Your horse has to go through this same process as you develop your non-verbal language with him.
1. The letters of your equine alphabet are the different actions of your seat, legs, and hands.
2. When you put the letters of the alphabet together, you form words. For example, you’ll see in Lesson 6 on Connection that the combination of the driving aids, the bending aids, and the rein of opposition create the word “connected” or “on the bit”.
3. Finally, you’ll put words together to make sentences. For example, if you want to do a transition on the bit, you’ll form a sentence by using two sets of aids at once. You’ll give both the aid for “on the bit” and the aid for the transition itself. In your horse’s language, you’re saying, “Do this transition on the bit.”
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
In order for me to make this blog valuable and useful, I need to know what YOU want to read. What YOU want to see. What YOU want to discuss. What am I missing?
You can say as little or as much as you like.
What are your goals with your horse? What are your dreams? What do you want to accomplish but are not sure of how to go about it?
Help me make this horse blog one of the best out there. What you have to say matters to me. Together, we can create a community that benefits us all, which benefits the horse. It’s all about the horse.
Thanks everyone, and a very, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Jane Savoie – Should I Ride My Dressage Horse ‘Deep’ or ‘Up’?
You’ve probably heard lots of discussion about whether or not to work your dressage horse “deep.” There are a variety of opinions on the matter. Some riders warm up and cool down their horses “long and low” to stretch and loosen the muscles. Others always school in a balance and frame appropriate to the level at which they are working; they never stretch their horses. Many trainers school in a deep frame only during the movements when the horse habitually comes above the bit. Still others do all of their work “extremely deep” with the horse’s nose almost on his chest; they bring him up only when they are getting ready to compete.
So what should you do with your dressage horse? Use benign antagonism to help you decide.
This is an article I have on Horseman’s U.com, but it remains one of the most popular articles so I thought I’d post it here.
Learning to ride without a saddle has multiple benefits
Bareback riding (without the saddle) was always something kids did. You grabbed your pony from the field, hopped on and away you went.
Today we barely function without saddles. While saddles help us look pretty or be more functional, bareback riding has many benefits for both posture AND confidence.
Bareback riding allows you to feel the true movement of the horse, and sends the rider information that is imperative for higher training. It is this very idea that correlates to English saddles having as little leather between the horse and rider as possible, especially in dressage saddles, where the flaps are thin and flexible.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Can you help me sit the trot better?”
So here are some quick tips to help you with this all too common challenge.
1. First and foremost, your horse needs to be on the bit. If his back is hollow, stiff, or tight, you’ll find it impossible to sit comfortably. (And, in turn, you’ll make your horse uncomfortable too!)
To put him on the bit, review the “connecting half halt”. If you missed it, there’s an article on it in the August archives of my blog at wordpress.
2. Slow the trot down. Ride “sub-power” and when you can sit easily, increase the impulsion for just a few strides at a time. Then slow down again.
Western draped rein
Question: What are the differences between rein aids in Western and English? I have a western horse that I want to teach English. Will he get confused with the two different styles?
Answer from April Reeves: In my world, there are no differences in the basic rein aids. The only difference is the amount of contact you have, as you move up into higher level disciplines. In the dressage and hunter/jumper world, you have connection (contact, on the bit) with a straight line from bit to elbow, and from ½ to 2 pounds of weight in each hand. As you move into collection, the aids may be the same, but the feel changes.
Question: Can you integrate Natural Horsemanship into jumper training? I read your dressage article on blending them, but I have an 8 yr old hunter – Dutch Warmblood – thoroughbred cross mare who continues to spook at fences at shows. She’s not what you would call hot, but has lots of get-up-and-go. What Natural Horsemanship exercises or training can I start on to get my mare less spooky with more even tempo? I have tried all the traditional methods with little to no success. She also tends to walk over me too when I lead her. Thank you April.
Answer from April Reeves: Of course you can integrate NH into your program! In fact, hunter/jumper is one area of traditional training that really gets a boost and solid foundation from NH. All my H/J students go through this basic foundation before advancing into fence work. There is no technique or method in particular that works with hunter/jumpers better than dressage horses: the methods are universal to all disciplines.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship
Tagged behavior, english riding, foundation training, gait, Groundwork, hunter, jumping, Natural Horsemanship, spooky horse
Question: My horse breaks into the canter from the trot all the time. Why would she do this and how can I keep her in the trot? I ride hunt seat and flat – English. I have tried to bring her back to the trot but she just keeps breaking.
Answer from April Reeves: While you can simply continue to ask the horse to go back to the trot, this will not solve the problem, as you are only compensating for an underlying problem. It’s like taking drugs when your stomach hurts. Just find out what caused the painful stomach!
Several causes could be:
Question: What’s the difference between Hunter Under Saddle class and a Hunter Pleasure class? I have a nice half thoroughbred that I want to show in hunter flat classes but I’m not sure which she may be best suited for.
Answer from April Reeves: Let’s start with Hunter-Under-Saddle (HUS). This class is judged primarily on the horse’s way of going (movement), type or conformation, and last their manners.
Question: I keep reading everywhere that you should exercise your horse outdoors, but none of these sites tells me why this is better for it. May you please tell me why it is better for me to exercise a horse outdoors rather than indoors?
Answer from April Reeves: Thank you for this question; it is one of the best yet, and one that’s highly controversial.
Each breed and discipline has a different response to this question, but you need a variety of experience and length of experience with all breeds and disciplines to know how to answer it well.
I’m going to give you specific interpretations and let you decide the answers.
Question: I have been a traditional English rider for almost 30 years now. I am currently at level 2 dressage, but hope to go higher with this horse. I have also ridden the hunter circuits.
My question to you is I have no real information on how Natural Horsemanship works with the English riders. My dressage gelding right now displays some rather undesirable manners. Would learning NH help us, and is there a way English traditional riders can learn this. I’m not interested in the ‘cowboy’ way.
My trainer is also curious about whether or not NH could be integrated into our programs.
From April Reeves: Thank you for this question! Yes, Natural Horsemanship can and should be a part of all English disciplines, and especially so since many of the horses are much larger and full of personality.
Question: I notice you ride English in a Western saddle (photo below of you and Max). How does the horse know the difference?
Answer: Horses have no idea that one saddle is different from the other, or that one is for English and one is for Western, besides the feel and contact differences. Otherwise, I am using my aids exactly the same for both disciplines.