5/29/2007

How to Give a Pony Ride

I love sharing my horses and offering children their first rides. If I can be the first person that they are exposed to, I can teach first about safety and then about fun.

Here is how I conduct a pony ride to make sure everyone stays safe and the child (and parents) have a good experience.

First, make sure you have a horse suitable for pony rides. Horses are smart creatures and many of them will understand that they need to be much more gentle with children, but not all horses are suitable to give pony rides. Horses that are spooky, rude (nippy or will walk over you) or inattentive or highly sensitive are NOT good choices. The key (in my opinion) is a horse that has excellent ground manners and will follow the leader on the ground and not pay attention to what is going on in the saddle.

Second, have three people. THREE???? Yes, three. It isn’t imperative, but it makes the children the most comfortable. You must have one person very familiar with the horse who works with it often (in this case-me), another person who has spent some time around horses. They don’t have to be an expert by any means, but someone who understands the basics and is not fearful. Finally the parent or someone familiar with the child.

I always use a western saddle. The horn gives the child something to hold onto and gives them a sense of security. Have the leader lead the horse. Have the other two walk on each side of the child, one hand on the child's thigh, one hand on their foot. That has them prepared in case anything happens to catch the child should he/she go sideways.

To start, have the child sit in the saddle and relax. Make sure the instructions are clear to your side walkers. Take off straight ahead at a slow walk, keeping the horses head on the ground. Do not walk quickly as the horse may end up in a jog/trot or intermediate gait. THIS CAN BE VERY SCARY for some children. Your job is not to push the limits, but to make this a positive safe experience.

I ask the child to squeeze with their legs and say walk, but I do not ask them to kick. Every time we do something with the horse, I ask the child to give the command, then I make the horse comply. This adds much more fun for the child.

After the child is more comfortable, I asked them to balance by holding out their arms on their sides. I love to use analogies when I teach, so I ask them if they have been on a balance beam. Most of them have, so I talk about balancing, but sitting instead of standing.

Finally, I fit the child with a helmet prior to riding. I talk about how important it is to wear a helmet, REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE PARENT WANTS. If they are riding my horse, in my barn, they will wear a helmet. I have been collecting a variety of sizes for lessons, but if you don’t have any ask the parents to bring a bike helmet. Talk about how smart they are and how the helmet will protect their brain. Kids eat it up. Most importantly, if you ride, wear a helmet in front of that child, even if you normally don’t. Help set a good life habit.

I am sure we all know of people who had terrible experiences with horses when they were younger. If you listen closely, you will figure out that a responsible teacher creating a positive experience can change the way they feel about our beloved equines.

Go forth and ride ponies!

5/18/2007

What happens when you push a horse too far?

I think horses are awfully patient. As riders and owners we don't speak their language, they allow us to ride them even though we are predators and we all know of horses who have acted totally different with children rather than adults.

But what happens when you push a horse too far? Well, there is worse case scenario when we ask for an unachievable jump or impossible distances and we push them physically so they are no longer sound. But I was thinking more in terms of pushing them mentally and the trust barrier.

In the book 'Dressage in Harmony' that I am reading by Walter Zettl, he talks about how it is always important to push a horse, but not too far.

In my desensitizing work with Zapa I am using a plastic grocery bag tied to the end of my Parelli like carrot stick (I got mine from Steve Rother). I left it lying in the arena and went and got Santana to work with. I did my work with Santana and as I was getting ready to leave the arena I picked up the stick and went 'hey Santana, what do you think of that?' and turned around and faced him with it.

Santana has not been spooky with me. He spooked once when a cat jumped from outside the arena into an arena window (they are 5 feet high) and I thought it was kind of surprising too. But Santana jumped out of his skin at the plastic bag. He acted like I had just shot him with a tazer gun. I tried to do some work with him but he was terrified.

Over the next few days he became harder and harder to catch, reverting to many of the habits he had when he first came, such as biting at me and pinning his ears. Three days ago it took me 45 minutes to get him to come close to me in the pasture. I kept pushing him out, bringing him in, pushing him out. He never did let me catch him, so we had to let him run to his stall.

I took him over to my lesson with Julie and she helped me with some round pen work, confirming what I knew, this horse could use a lot of it.

The story continues, but the latest is this: today he worked well with me, not ideal, but better in keeping his ears up, coming to me and generally being respectful. I think I had been working with just enough trust to keep me safe, but not enough to keep me secure. I violated Santana's trust and for that I had to pay the price. I knew deep down this horse required groundwork and trust exercises every day, but often I would opt to ride.

Wayne Dyer says intuition is God's way of whispering in your ear. So, I'll try to listen better in the future.

Trailer Ties: How Stretchy is Your Elastic?

I trailer a lot. I know some people trailer more, but I have probably hauled 15,000 miles (possibly more) or so in the last 5 years. I like to go to shows, to events, trail riding and for lessons.

In general, my horses are very good in the trailer (Precious wasn't always that way) and I have gotten a little lax in how I manage trailering. Last night when I get to Julie's to use her round pen, I take Zapa out of the trailer first. I then go up to Santana and before I can get him unhooked, he backs ALL THE WAY out of the trailer and stands, tethered by elastic that is in the process of being stretched to its limits (and I am watching start to snap before my eyes).

So, what do you do? When the mistake is already made and you have to resolve the situation before the elastic snaps or the horse jumps on top of you? I reached over to Santana and tried to use the safety latch to unsnap the trailer tie. First attempt, no luck. I'm praying that the elastic won't break and/or the tie won't snap in my face when I undo it. Second attempt it comes loose. The snap isn't as bad as I expected, but did I mention that I didn't have a lead rope attached?

*Jerri bows for the stupidity award*

Of course, I haven't filled you all in on my recent experiences with Santana, so the fact that I was able to quickly catch him was nothing short of a miracle.

This is what my old elastic trailer tie now looks like:

So lesson learned:
1. Unhook horses and attached lead ropes BEFORE opening divider
2. Practice horses standing untied in trailer BEFORE backing them out (which by the way I do with my own horses, but this was only the 3rd time I'd trailered Santana)
3. Use nylon trailer ties (that elastic was scary) so they can't back all the way out of the trailer (I'm still not sure this is the best decision)
4. Always use trailer ties with quick release latches AND spray them with WD40 or Silicone spray if they get sticky (mine were getting sticky so I did this before we went home-I keep a can of that stuff in my trailer).
5. Don't be an idiot, always practice good, safe trailering techniques no matter who the horse.

5/17/2007

Riding Bareback in a Rope Halter

Well, I did it. I rode Zapa on Tuesday! It has been more than 6 months and needless to say, I was very nervous. What made me even more nervous was that I did it bareback and in a rope halter! I went for another lesson with Julie (gosh I love her) who helped me with some round pen work. She asked me if I was ready to get on him and in a moment of braveness I said 'Sure!'. I grabbed my helmet and after some swinging around, I sat on him.

I WAS SO NERVOUS!

But I relaxed and we got moving around the round pen pretty nicely. I was told to move softer and ask nicer. I was trying to keep him unstuck in the hind end, moving off of my leg. Once we both relaxed, it was a beautiful thing.

Since we don't have a round pen, I'm going back to Julie's tonight to use hers. She told me my goal was to ride him in her trail competition in August. OK!

5/15/2007

Stateline Tack has been sold!

I know I am a little slow in getting this reported, but Stateline Tack has been sold to the company that owns Country Supply. If you don't know who Country Supply is, think again, they own the popular Horse.com.

Stateline Tack will be closing its doors within the PetSmart stores. So, if you live near a PetSmart, keep your eyes and ears open, there may be discounting coming your way.

5/03/2007

How to measure your grain

In my short time as a horse owner I have seen a number of ways to give horse grain. There is the 'coffee can' method, measure out 1/2 or 1/3 or an entire coffee can, the 'handfuls' method and the guesstimate method.

In reality none of these are as effective as weighing your grain. Every grain will weigh differently and it is imperative to weigh your grain prior to feeding. Two pounds of oats is not the same as two pounds of senior.

That said, once it is weighed you can figure out what that volume translates to in terms of your coffee can, but don't forget to weight it first and follow feeding guidelines. Some grains cannot be 'overfed' as they will provide your horse with too many vitamins or minerals, so be diligent and take this extra step.

Other weighing tips:
A good digital scale is easy to use and can often be reset to zero, even with your container on it.
A baby scale is a good way to measure hay
A non-digital scale is excellent for varying weather conditions and you don't have to worry about running out of batteries.
A fish weighing scale can be used along with a tarp to weigh hay

5/01/2007

Equestrian Spam Comments

Who is Kelly and why is she spamming us?

There is someone named Kelly who has a blogger profile and keeps putting spam like comments on different horse blogs. I have gotten two from her and seen her on other sites. Below is the letter I wrote to the company she is promoting. I'll be interested to know if I get a response. Oh, I think I forgot my email. In case you folks come here it is learninghorses@yahoo.com.

To equestrian related website (no link love from me!):
There is someone named Kelly who is putting comments on horse blogs that are not related to what we write about and list your company. Basically Spam with links and phone numbers. Please tell her to cease and desist. We are a tight knit community that gets a lot of traffic and by working with us we can drive much more traffic to your site than by spam comments. Thank you.

So my fellow bloggers, delete her comments and don't get her the traffic she is looking for. We are happy to promote sites, you just need to work with us. Right??