BHS Qualified Instructor, Equine Enthusiast, Pony Club Instructor
I have worked at one of the most prestigious equine hospitals in the UK and feel passionately about the dumming down of teaching due to the litigious society which we all now live. Riding is a high risk sport, it's demanding physically and mentally and YOU WILL FALL OFF.
Before riders are jumping 3’6″ and riding Prix de St-Georges, before they are working horses that cost a year at Yale, before they are showing for weeks in Florida and New York and California, equestrians must ride a lesson horse. Every single horseback rider on the face of this earth has that one pony ride, that one led ride around an arena or on a hot walker or through a pasture that hooked them on this sport. Every rider can attest their passion for riding to that one old horse who had the patience of a saint and carried children as though they were faberge eggs.
Riders competing at the top level can turn horses with their legs and their seat. They can ask a horse to extend their canter stride to fourteen feet and collect it down to nine. They can lift the horse into a proper frame so…
Can you sustain your balance and that of the horse when you are riding without stirrups?
Do you know that your hands are independent of your body and don’t interfere with your horses way of going?
How are you helping your horse to maintain, rhythm, balance and impulsion?
There once was a belief that until a rider could ride bareback in walk, trot and canter they didn’t deserve a saddle. It is rare that riders are now expected to even learn without stirrups. I would imagine this would mitigate risk associated with accidents, therefore retaining clients, avoiding paperwork and potential risk of legal proceedings. I think also riders when learning have different expectations, they want to learn quickly and easily; for those who have learnt without stirrups and saddles you will know it is physically demanding and challenges your fitness levels.
Do you know during stage 3 you will be required to ride on the flat for a good duration of the exam on more than one horse without stirrups, in walk, trot and canter? You will have examiners watching you and assessing your ability to ride with an independent seat, your fitness level and confidence. With this in mind, how many hours are you currently practising and training your body to be able to balance and support itself without upsetting the horse or causing it injury (this is a very real possibility if you cannot balance yourself).
Developing your seat has many benefits
Better application of the aids
A better understanding of the way of the horses going
More sympathetic hands
Better alignment of the seat
Consider what is happening to your riding when your balance is pitched in front of the vertical
Who is carrying your upper body?
How effective are your ridden aids?
Where is the horses balance?
How are you creating your impulsion and maintaining an outline?
Is the horse truly carrying itself?
When we can ride in balance and harmony with our horses, we can apply our aids correctly and help generate the forward momentum which is required for a horse to truly carry themselves and us in harmony.
There is a standard set of tack and protective leg wear which you would expect to see on a horse prior to its taking part in a cross country competition which is additional to the basic tack which you would use for jumping over collapsable fences in an arena. The first and foremost reason for this is SAFETY.
Let’s look at the additional items:
Over girth (In case of girth stitching structure failing)
Breast plate/breast girth (Galloping over distances and sharp uphills can case your saddle to move backwards and in some cases over the horses loins)
Boots full cannon length and bandages secured with tape and/or Stitches (Prevention of injury through striking fences or opposite legs)
Textured reins with knot (Grip on reins is significantly reduced through rain or sweat, chose your preferred type of rein which you feel reduces the risk of you not being able to hold your horse at a gallop. The knot is for ease of slipping over a drop fence)
Revised bitting/bridle (What your horse feels like in your hands in the Dressage and Show Jumping phase can differ significantly to how well he listens in front of his fences when galloping across country, bits do not replace a well schooled confident horse. Be careful you do not compromise your or your horses safety by over bitting your horse).
Studs (The choice of studs you use should be appropriate to the terrain you are travelling on, ask your farrier and professionals for their advice. Using studs when they are not required can result in injury to the horse and an unpleasant experience for you).
Prevention is better than cure, before setting out all tack and stitching should be examined for signs of wear and degeneration, particularly; girth straps, reins & stirrup leathers.
One of the reasons that leg wear is so important is that the fences don’t collapse and travelling at speed the horses legs are more prone to injury through both strain and blows from opposite legs. Other reasons are that the going can be more unpredictable and changeable in terms not only of undulating courses but soil types and moisture content.
All ridden activities will place additional strain on a horses delicate leg structure, after all we are asking them to carry our weight too. It is our responsibility to select the equipment most appropriate to the discipline to both protect the horse (and rider) and enable both to perform to their optimum level safely.
There can never be too much emphasis on safety when running your horse across country; be prepared to put hours of training in the school and confidence giving schooling sessions for a successful round.
I know that there are many out there who will see this post as an indication of the most reckless and selfish nature there is, maybe there is some truth in this but everything we do in life is a calculated risk. Only a few weeks ago in Madrid I slipped on a wet pavement and in to the road, luckily there were no on-coming cars. I find that descending escalators in rush hour, wearing a suit and carrying a laptop more of a high risk activity while pregnant than riding. Not only for the obvious potential of falling face down and being jostled in the crowds but for the stressful and tiring nature of the activity, only to be followed up by siting immobile at a desk for many hours.
For the sake of my mental stability, I need to continue riding for as long as is possible and this I will do on a choice of my trusted steeds. I have remained heathy, mobile and not putting on excess weight, I still have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Yes this is a lifestyle choice, it’s mine and it makes me happy.
I know there must be people out there who will agree; once you find yourself in the grip of the alien world of pregnancy there is a sudden shift in peoples behaviour toward you. This is along with a list of physical symptoms which can leave you wondering who the hell you are, and how you ever managed to even get out of bed in the morning without a list of guidelines and a blood test to confirm it was safe to do so. Of course we are grateful for the concern and we acknowledge that we are amongst the lucky ones, but insisting people change their lifestyle can be mentally damaging.
For those who come in to regular contact with a seasoned rider, you will most likely be aware of the steel with which these women are made of, for most it is a lifestyle, their Raison d’être. You are more likely to evoke teenage feelings of rebellion within them in an effort to prove they are not made of china, this is what is dangerous. Calculated risks go out of the window in an attempt to retain a sense of identity. Don’t judge us, help us; mucking out my 3 takes twice the time it used to, my hips are sore, my shoulders are tired and my feet hurt but I still get a sense of pride when I have perfectly set beds, full hay racks and water buckets. I like this feeling, and if I can’t enjoy over indulging with alcohol and stilton this Christmas you will find me taking extra special care of my boys because this is the one thing which I can do which still makes me feel like me.
Now if you will excuse me, I have a jar of pickled onions to finish off before googling a way to dismount a 17.3 without a crane.
It’s not your divine right to climb aboard any horse, weighing too much can result in damage to your horses health and behaviour. The attached article is addressing the issue which many of us are too polite to tackle.
With all the consideration we pay to our horses diet and fitness we should be applying the same principles to ourselves.
We are coming out of winter in the UK, my first event of the season loomed, that morning I zipped up my long boots and wondered if my feet would still be attached later in the evening when I removed them. I could actually monitor my pulse just standing squarely. It happens every year, during the off season I hibernate, drink a little more and carb up.
It goes, give me a day out with 4 rides in one class and its gone but there is the one fundamental muscle you need as a rider to keep you balanced and in the saddle. Fortunately with all the shifting and lifting which is involved with just keeping horses over the winter you never really become unfit but without your core muscles keeping you stable in the saddle you are a danger not only to yourself but the safety of your horse.
I copied a link to the numerous exercises which you can do to ensure you keep in tip top condition – if you lose it, its really hard to get back. trust me.
I think we are finally getting this right, it’s taken 4 years of humiliating marks and dismissive comments.
I have never owned a horse this height before, at 4 he was 16.1 now, at 8 he is 18hh. It has taught me that patience is essential, we know that young horses have short attention spans but if they are still out of balance and their limbs are not yet developed; time is the only answer and I can honestly say it has paid off.
Too many promising youngsters are ruined competing in young horse classes, breaking down at 10, larger horses need the time to develop physically and mentally. All I can do is thank the advice of my dressage trainer, when 3 years ago he took one look and said “he’s going to be huge, you wont be doing any lateral work on him until he’s 7”. It’s this advice which has left me with a sound horse who now takes every thing in his stride.