Friday, January 29, 2010

Tacking Up Trouble

It is so frustrating when a horse won't stand still when being tacked up. What should take you a couple of minutes ends up taking an hour. Why should such a simple task be so strenuous?

The solution to this frustration is to get the horse familiar with the tack. To us the tack may seem like silly objects, but to the horse these objects may look like meat eating creatures. The key lies into familiarizing the horse with his tack.

The Saddle and Numnah /Saddle pad

The saddle must be one of the scariest of tack, because it sits on the horse's back and wraps around his body. For a prey animal there is nothing scarier than feeling something wrapped over him. Before even thinking of putting a saddle on your horse, first allow him to have a look at it. Get the horse to walk past it, maybe even walk circle around it. All of this will help convince the horse that the saddle is harmless. Next, take the saddle in your arm and walk around with it while leading the horse. This is a form of retreat, building confidence in the horse.

Once the horse can tolerate the saddle being around him without having the need to move away, you have to get him used to having the saddle on his back. It is best to start off with the numnah or saddle pad, because it is lighter. Take the numnah and rub it over the horse starting at the neck and shoulder area. If the horse is worried and starts moving around keep on rubbing until the horse stands still and then take it off. You keep on doing this until the horse can stand still (preferably without you having to hold him still).

Now take the numnah and gently put the numnah on his back in the same way you would if you were tacking up. Again, if the horse gets worried wait until he settles before taking the numnah off. It is also good to do this on both sides, not just on the left side. Once the horse can stand still for this he should be ready for the saddle.

First make sure the horse is comfortable having the saddle next to him. You can even try to walk around him with the saddle. Once the horse is calm you can try to swing the saddle onto his back. If the swinging saddle bothers the horse too much, you need to get him used to it. Stand next to him, as far as is comfortable, and swing the saddle back and forth. Remember to stop once the horse calms down, then repeat. Eventually you should be able to do this standing right next to his shoulder (as you would if you were saddling). Now, swing it up onto his back. If he moves around try to stay with him until he settles and then slide the saddle off. You do this until he can stand still. The more you are able to do this, the more confident the horse will get.

The Bridle

With the bridle you can do the exact same thing as with the saddle. See if you can rub it all over the horse without him getting worried about it. Then try to put it onto his head. If he has trouble with this you can try this:
Take the bit off the bridle and change the adjustments so that the bridle is a little bigger than it should be for riding. Now try to put it on (approach and retreat will help a lot with horses have more difficulty with it). Once the horse is comfortable with the bridle take it off. Then put it on again.

The Bit

You can prepare your horse for the bit by getting him to tolerate having your finger in his mouth. When introducing the bit for the first time it can be rewarding to put some molasses (or something sweet) on the bit. What also helps to make the first time more comfortable, is to have the cheek pieces adjusted a little bit longer than normal. This way you won't struggle to get the bridle on, accidently pulling on the mouth in the process.


Some horse don't like their legs being touched. This makes it very hard to get protective boots on. The best way to solve this problem is too get the horse used to having his legs rubbed. To do this use a schooling whip and rub the leg softly. If the horse picks the leg up, keep on rubbing until he puts it down then take the whip off. Once the horse tolerate the whip you can try rub his legs with your hands. Next you want to get him to tolerate the boots. Take the boot and rub his leg with it. Eventually, he will tolerate it and you should be able to put the boot on and fasten it.

It is up to us to make the horse comfortable with the tools we use. By helping the horse build confidence with our tools (tack etc.), we will gain his trust and respect. He will end up enjoying being around us instead of being terrified and worried every time he is fetched from the pasture.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Natural horsemanship and everything else... :p

I know I am supposed to be writing a blog on Natural Horsemanship (NH) and my opinions on it, but every time I start I can't seem to find the words! There is just too much for me to write!!!

So, I will narrow it all down to just these few key points or I will be typing all day long (not kidding!).

To me NH is a breath of fresh air. Before I knew about it, all I knew was that horses was there for riding. If you good enough you get to show and maybe even find your way to the olympic! I was never fortunate enought to get the proper training until recently (about 5 ot 6 years ago) so I know that I won't be a top rider. But NH showed me that there is so much more out there. There is so much more you can do with your horse... you can play with your horse and be its best friend- the one your horse looks up to.

Every time I look at photos of what Parelli students are doing I get hungry to learn more. I want to have a horse that will stay with me even if there are no lines attached and we in the wide open. I want a horse that will carry me and listen without having anything on (no halter, no bridle, nothing). I want to get a horse to do flying changes with me riding bareback and in a halter. I want a horse that will play with me becasue it wants to...

I am especially fond of Parelli and I will tell you why... it is not because I am brainwashed (do people really think that???)... it is because they have found a way to communicate with horses unlike anything I have ever seen. It is fascinating! Yes, you get to do fancy ''tricks'' (LOL) but what caught me was the language!!! The interpretation of the horse's actions and the adjusting of our actions to get the desired response... wow!

Seriously.... WOW!!!

The nice thing about NH is that it can be used in every day riding. Karen Rohlf has incorporated NH into teaching dressage to horses and riders alike. Visit her website to found out more.

So that is what I think of NH. It has been an eye opener for me. It could be for you too... and if not, that is okay :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010


The bit is a very important part of your tack, but how many people knows how to use it correctly? How is the bit meant to be used in the first place?

I recently watched a FEI Showjumping Show on tv and was amazed at the bits these top risers were using on their horses. What really made my eyes pop out is this new trend of jumping in a double bridle!!! Why is some of our top riders in need of using strong bits? The way I see it, they are supposed to be the people that can ride their horses in a plain snaffle with very light contact. That is the example they should be setting... well, in my opinion at least.

Watching these riders had me asking why they had to use these big bits. Watching each riders seat and use of hands painted a colourful, yet, shocking picture. If the rider didn't have an insecure seat, bouncing around, the rider was pulling the horse in the mouth to control the speed and turn. Pulling the reins!? What happened to using the seat and leg? If riding was all hands and no leg, then more people would be riding. Anyone could ride!

So this is my observations... 1. The rider pulls the horse in the mouth to turn etc. The horse starts off in a snaffle but, because the rider is constantly pulling on the reins (ultimately ruining the sensitive bars of the mouth) the horse becomes hard mouth. The horse doesn't respond to the rider's pulling, so a bigger bit is used. 2. The rider has a weak seat and doesn't use his aids properly and relies on his hands and heels (!!!) to communicate with the horse. Steering is left up to pulling on the reins and spurring with the legs. The horse is now numb to the leg and rein aids.

So how should we use the bit?

Well, it all starts off with the rider's seat. A balanced seat (soft hands) and correct use of the aids results in the soft (and correct use) of the bit. The bit is just meant as a tool to communicate to the horse's head what you want it to do. This does not mean pulling on the reins to turn or stop. The bit is meant to give the rider control of the neck and forehand, allowing the rider to adjust the forehand/neck accordingly as needed. However, the bit has to be used in conjunction of the other aids. All aids are meant to work as one. Pulling on the reins (mouth) breaks the whole circuit of aids and the horse just plods around (most likely on the forehand).

Now, the question some people will want answered now is how do you stop the horse without pulling on the reins? Well, this is where correct use of the aids are important. You should be able to control your horse's speed by using your seat briefly (half halting). If you need to use the reins, a soft squeeze should suffice. If you can't do this then maybe your horse isn't ready to go around a jumping course just yet.

Back to bits...

We need to understand that the horse's mouth is VERY sensitive, lined with many nerves. When the bit is used, pressure is applied on this sensitive area. Too much pressure will cause a lot of discomfort for the horse. This is why choosing a bit is a very serious matter and should be given a good amount of thought before sticking one in the horse's mouth.

Here is some advise to consider:

Use the softest bit possible. Usually this would mean using a snaffle, but be warned : “In the wrong hands an ordinary bit, such as the snaffle, can be as harmful as a stronger bit.”
Double jointed bits, such as the French Link snaffle, are considered milder than single jointed bits, because they reduce the “nut-cracker” action of the single jointed bits. They take pressure some off the bars of the mouth and places more pressure on the tongue. Sensitive horses tend to dislike the added pressure on the tongue and prefer the single jointed bit.

The thickness of the mouthpiece of the bit is important. As rule of thumb, the thicker the mouthpiece the milder the bit. The theory behind this is that a thicker mouthpiece lies over a larger surface area thus reducing the pressure per unit area.

Horses that are don't like pressure on their tongues do well with a ported mouthpiece. Beware of ports that are too high as they may get into contact with the roof of the mouth.

The above mentioned horses may also like the hanging snaffle (Boucher snaffle). This bit is attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle via an extra ring. This results in the bit being suspended in the mouth rather than lying on the tongue, thus reducing the pressure applied onto the tongue.

Make sure your bit is the right size for your horse. If it is too small it will pinch the sides of the mouth. If it is too big it will flop around and irritate your horse. As a rule of thumb you should be able to put a finger between the ring of the bit and the side of the mouth.

If you can't control your horse using a soft bit, don't just put a stronger bit in his mouth. Solve the problem at its root... either you aren't riding properly (not using your aids correctly), or your horse needs more schooling or the horse is in pain (thus, trying to run away from it). If your horse is very hot and/or very impulsive, ground work is the key to solving the problem.

The double bridle

I just want to make a brief comment on the double bridle. I don't believe it should be used in showjumping. It is meant to be used in dressage and showing to ask the horse to move in the correct frame. In showjumping it is being used as a device to control the horse rather than to correct the frame. I believe that if you can't jump in a soft bit then you and your horse shouldn't be jumping, yet.

Brief Summary

1.The mouth is the most sensitive part of the horse.
2.Use the softest bit possible.
3.Use a bit that suites your horse (not the latest trends!).
4.A thicker mouth piece is softer than a thin one.
5.Make sure the bit fits your horse's mouth.
6.Even in the wrong hands a soft bit can be as harsh as a strong one.
7.Trouble controlling the horse should be fixed at its roots (no quick fixes!)
8.Double Bridles are meant for correcting the frame, not for control.