Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tug Of War: Classical Versus " Modern " Dressage

I have just finished reading the book, Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage, by Dr.Gerd Heuschmann. This book is a “must read” for anyone who owns or rides a horse, and will serve as a wakeup call to any rider or trainer who believes that: if it wins, it must be right. Many readers will be shocked to discover that the methods used and promoted by some of riding’s top trainers and competitors are doing untold harm to horses.

The author, Dr.Gerd Heuschmann, is an equine veterinarian who also trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany. He is an internationally recognized authority on issues of equine health in dressage competition. Along with Klaus Balkenhol and other prominent figures in the dressage community, Dr. Heuschmann is a founding member of “Xenophon,” an organization dedicated to “fighting hard against serious mistakes in equestrian sport” (

In the book, the author outlines his beliefs that training should mirror the mental and physical development of the horses to allow them time to achieve optimal performance without physical or psychological stress. More importantly, perhaps, he has the hard scientific evidence to back this up. As a veterinarian specializing in equine sports medicine, he has seen firsthand the positive effects of correct training and the detrimental effects of incorrect training, which he illustrates through a series of clear and instructive photographs and illustrations.

Armed with a doctor’s understanding of functional anatomy and a master horseman’s understanding of equine training, he is a unique and important resource for riders and trainers trying to better understand the training methods we see and use, and make informed judgments about their value and effectiveness. To his credit, he is not intimidated in the least by the powers that be in the upper echelon of the horse world. Because he is not concerned about the politics of competition or with offending those who are endangering the health of their horses, he is able to be very outspoken about what is wrong in the sport, and willing to lay the blame firmly on those responsible. More importantly, he makes clear that there is an alternative to these harmful methods, and conclusively spells out what the correct method is and why it works.

From the back cover of the book, this is his appeal to:

v Riders – to only use gentle, progressive training methods in accordance with the time-tested principles of classical riding.

v Judges – to sharpen their eyes and recognize unnatural postures or forced movements and evaluate them accordingly in competition, while rewarding classically trained, correctly gymnasticized horses.

v Governing organizations – to review their regulations and uphold stipulated “ideals” on both national and international levels.

v Spectators – to reject sensational performances and flashy tests when the methods used to obtain them have not had the health and welfare of the horse in mind.

For those of you who don’t like to read much, it is a very short book with many informative pictures and, as I have said before, this is a necessary book if you own or ride a horse. If you are not a Dressage rider, don’t let the title put you off the book; it contains much information that applies not only to dressage, but also hunters, jumpers, eventing, western pleasure, etc...

Whatever your chosen discipline may be, this book will be very helpful in demonstrating incorrect or harmful riding and training methods and how to avoid them, as well helping you to develop a critical eye, so that you can recognize when incorrect training methods are being used.

Give it a try! You might be surprised at what you thought you knew about riding and training horses. And you might be even more surprised to discover that even those at the top of their sport aren’t perfect. We’ve all got a lot to learn when it comes to doing our best for our horses.

Until next time

Quote for Today

Riders who force their horses by the use of the whip only increase their fear for they then associate the pain with the thing that frightens them. - Xenophon

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hay Fund

My friend Victoria at Teachings of the Horse, has recently brought to attention through her wonderful blog that there is a hay shortage in the south, due to the drought. The veterinarians at Fairfield Equine are trying to help out the starving horses in this area.

Please read the article below I have copied and pasted from their web site, you can contact them via their web site:

Devastating drought conditions in the Southern US have led to a SEVERE hay shortage and loss of pasture.

Horses are starving, being sent to slaughter or simply set loose on back roads.

Local rescue organizations and equine foster homes are staggering under the burden. Without your help they will not be able to feed the horses they are desperately trying to save.

You can help us help these horses!

Your tax deductible donation will allow us to ship tractor trailer loads of hay to the most drought-stricken parts of the country.

Every penny you donate will go to buy and deliver hay where it is needed!

Please join us!

32 Barnabas Road
Newtown, Connecticut 06470
(203) 270-3600

Monday, January 28, 2008

I've Been Tagged, MeMe!!

Apparently I have been tagged in a blogger game.

The rules of the game are this–Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.Post the rules on your blog.Post 7 random or weird facts about yourself on your blog.Tag 7 people and link to them.Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

1.) I would rather clean the barn than clean the house.
2.) I hate to cook.
3.) I like to garden, my favorite flowers are yellow roses and wild daisies.
4.) I 'd rather read than watch TV.
5.) I hate reality shows.
6.) I find my dogs and horses antics very amusing.
7.) I like learning new things.

This is all in fun, if you don't want to do it ,Not a Problem!

Here are the people I have tagged:,


Down On The Farm

British Babe


Regarding Horses

And here's the link back to my friend Callie who doesn't need to be tagged yet again:

Midwest Horse

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Respect Your Fears

Respect Your Fears

It seems many riders are experiencing fears concerning falling off their horses. In this post, I will attempt to allay some of those fears. I am not a sports psychologist nor do I have any credentials to suggest I have all the answers, but I can tell you what worked for me and hope it will do the same for you.

Primarily you must respect your fears, do not try to push them aside and ignore them, they are real. Panic, nervousness and fear are involuntary responses and need to be dealt with, not disregarded.

What We May Fear

Where should we start? Do you fear falling off and being injured? Most of us do have this particular fear and it is a reasonable one. Injuries can cause loss of income; loss of mobility; we may live alone and have no one to care for us or our animals, or the reverse; we have too many personal commitments to be sidelined by an injury. The basis for our fears is individual to each of us.

You may wonder if there is a way fears can be prevented and make our riding time more enjoyable and less tense. Fear can be debilitating, particularly if it is unfounded or based on experiences that are no longer relevant to our situation. However, it is also important to remember that fear is a natural instinct designed to protect us from harm, and a little fear can be a good thing if it prevents us from taking risks we are not prepared to handle.

And this is where it becomes more difficult: how do you know if your fear is justified or an overreaction? And if it is an overreaction, how can you manage your anxiety so that your riding becomes enjoyable again? Although there may not be a magic bullet, there are ways of assessing the validity of your fears and making them manageable instead of debilitating.

We all know the basic risks of riding and choose to do it anyway for the love of the sport and the love of our horses. So how can we be expected put aside the fear of falling and being injured? One way is to map out a plan for your personal safety before you ride. You can do this in a variety of ways:

Check out my post on the Art of Falling and do the Pre-Flight check, and the one on Rider Fitness, having some degree of fitness should make you feel better about yourself.

Have a reliable horse that matches your abilities as a rider. Some of us may want the big beautiful steed of our dreams when in reality a safer, older, saner horse may be what you need if not what you had in mind.

Never over-face yourself, and do not let someone else push you to do things you are uncomfortable doing; let your instincts work for you.

Make sure to use the best safety equipment available for you and your horse.

Remember what you did in the past with fond memories, but know that perhaps now is the time to set new goals for your current abilities and fitness level.

Take your riding seriously; do not take a lot of time off in between riding lessons. This will only make it that much harder to get your muscles back in shape.

Work with a trainer who knows both you and your horse, understands your goals, and has the capability to ensure you are not riding in an unsafe manner.

Establish a “home base.” This can be either an exercise, a particular gait or jump height, etc. where you feel the most confidence in your mastery of the necessary skills – and build gradually from there. Choose something you know you are good at; then, if you feel your confidence eroding or fear creeping back in, you have a place to go back to in order to regroup. Know your strong points and fall back on these when things go wrong.

Go back a few steps: whenever you feel a little uncertain, there is no shame in taking a step back, reviewing what you have already mastered and then proceeding. If jumping worries you, then lower the fences or decrease the pace – for example, trotting lower fences is a great way to build confidence before moving up to higher jumping. If your dressage test makes you anxious, practice and perfect the patterns and movements at the walk, then trot, etc., and build upon that.

If competition riding doesn’t float your boat anymore, let it go in favor of some other discipline. Consider spending more time trail riding or hacking out. The self-assurance of what is right for you now, not what was right for you in the past is all that matters. Don’t let others dictate what you should be doing – do what brings you enjoyment. No longer enjoying showing is not a sign of weakness or failure, just a sign that your priorities and tastes have changed. Remember, you’re riding for yourself, and no one else.

Focus on gradually improving your current riding abilities and you will accomplish your goals. Grant yourself the courage to say no to anyone pressing you to accomplish more, including yourself. This will not make you less of a rider. It makes you a smart rider who is not willing to take chances with your health and safety.

If what you are doing at present proves to be unsuitable for you, consider changing your discipline to something else that interests you and makes you feel more secure in your riding.

Fears and doubts should resolve themselves in the end if you manage them with patience, and by applying sensible goals to your riding program, you will build confidence piece by piece. In our society everything is rush, rush, get it done. But, the slower we take life in general the happier we will be. Take the time to achieve your goals. How long will all this take? The answer is: it will take as long as it takes. At this stage in our lives, we should have realized that it’s never about the destination, it’s about the journey – in fact, the journey is the destination – it’s the process and the experience of learning to be better riders and the privilege of working with our equine partners that ultimately makes riding enjoyable, not the arbitrary goals we set for ourselves.

In summary, to prevent yourself from being a fearful rider you must ride in your comfort zone, and not be pushed out of it by anyone – including yourself. If you recall the memories of your experiences when you were not afraid, you might consider why that was. Could it be that youth made you feel invincible? Is that really the reckless attitude you want to have now? Somewhere in the recesses of your brain, there are threads interwoven, that will come to the surface and help you to rely on yourself and your skills of the past. The good times you enjoyed then can be yours again, but perhaps in a different capacity.

Until next time

Quote for Today

Riding is a partnership. The horse lends you his strength, speed and grace, which are greater than yours. For your part you give him your guidance, intelligence and understanding, which are greater than his. Together you can achieve a richness that alone neither can.
- Lucy Rees

Friday, January 18, 2008

Our Horses, Our Farms, Our Riding

Our Horses, Our Farms, Our Riding

The daily maintenance of our farms and care of our horses is demanding on our time, we are bogged down with the routine chores of daily life on a farm. It seems there is never enough daylight to accomplish all of our farm duties and yet we somehow manage. The horses are fed,watered and turned out for the day, the stalls are mucked, the aisle is swept, everyone is groomed, and horse laundry is washed and dried. Fence boards are repaired, paths are shoveled if need be, riding rings are dragged- weather permitting, and the thousand and one little things needing attention are seen to if the clock co-operates. No matter how organized you may think you are, usually something will crop up to throw your schedule completely off balance. From an unscheduled vet visit for injuries, frozen pipes, to thrown shoes, it seems the rules of ‘Murphy’s Law’ applies, if something can go wrong it will, at the most inconvenient time.

Which brings me to the point of this post, although we take excellent care of our horses and our farms, providing we are lucky enough to have either, there is little time left for us to actually ride our horses. Even though there is much work to be done, we must not overlook the fact that the horses we have in our care thrive on the attention we show them. I realize no one can allot time every day to ride, unless of course you employ a full staff, which for the majority of us is financially impractical.

Our horses are uniquely complex and sensitive creatures, and yet require the simplest gift we can give, a little of our precious time and the affection and thoughtfulness they deserve. Time spent grooming, riding, even playing with them is time well spent, and it means so much to your horse. Our horses see into our souls, they know our feelings intimately and rally round us through the bad times and celebrate the good. They are our steadfast companions in all we do and we owe it to them to reciprocate the love they show us.

Take advantage of your horse’s naturally joyful grace and elegant movement, ride as much as possible, it is one of the best feelings in the world. Weather conditions don’t have to be perfect, if it’s not a sunlit warm day, bundle up and go for a walk in the snow, it is good for you and good for your horse.

At times, we may fail to remember our original reasons for including horses in our lives; there are always too many things needing attention. Nevertheless, we should by no means neglect our loyal friends. Make the time to ride; and keep in mind, even the manure pile does not look quite as bad when viewed from the back of a horse. (These are the times to remember because they may not last forever…’Billy Joel’)

Horses Are Fun

Horses are fun to be around; just watching them at liberty interacting with one another in a herd situation never fails to bring a smile to my face. They may play hard but they know the rules and usually no one gets hurt. We should not overlook our horses’ carefree natures and we ought to encourage them to play and have fun. The ability to be a part of the good times horses have amongst themselves spills over into our own lives and we are better people for the privilege that allows us to share their lives.

Our herd thinks it is about time they were introduced:

Is this my best side

' Blue '

Help I've injured my leg and I'm being held prisoner in this pen

' Mellon '

I can't blend in with the snow now, I am way too dirty

' Donnie '

Just wondering who I can torment next

' Nate '

What are those stupid boys doing now !

' Dusty '

Until next time

Quote for Today

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle
- Winston Churchill

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Art of Falling Off

The Art of Falling Off

Believe it or not, there is an art to falling off your horse. Falling off is never enjoyable, however, you can learn to fall in ways that will minimize the impact of your injuries. This particular post is not meant to frighten you but to show how to be prepared in the event of a fall.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Before mounting your horse there are a few items I call the pre-flight checklist, this pre-check may help you go from a major to a minor injury:

  1. Make sure your riding helmet has a flexible brim. Your helmet may strike your nose in a fall; your nose has less chance of being broken with a flexible brim. Also, be sure your helmet has a secure harness to keep it on your head in the event of a mishap.

  1. Your stirrups should be wide enough for your boot to slide out easily but not too wide that it can slip through the stirrup. In addition, wearing a boot with a heel will prevent sliding through. Breakaway stirrups might also be considered.

  1. Check your girth and make sure it is secure enough so the saddle will not spin under the horses belly when you put your foot in the stirrup while mounting.

  1. The stirrup bar under the saddle flap where the stirrup leather slides onto it, has a moveable bar at the end, this is always in the down position, in order that the stirrup leather can slide off in the event of an accident and you will not be dragged.

  1. Make sure the bridle and reins are buckled and attached properly, if the reins become unattached, you will have lost control of the horse.

  1. Never use a cell phone when riding; it is unprofessional, and just as dangerous as talking while driving a car, (my opinion only). How can you give full attention to your horse if you are focused on a phone conversation? Cell phones should be put on vibrate (no interrupting bells or whistles), which may spook the horse. When riding alone, or on the trails you may abruptly part company with your horse, a cell phone will enable you to call for help. Phones should be kept on your person, not on a horse headed for home. Have emergency numbers and the barn numbers programmed into the phone.

  1. Here’s a little tip you won’t find in a professional handbook, never ever Show Sheen your horse before saddling, or worse yet prior to a bareback ride. This is commonly known as “the quickest ride in town” or “on one side off the other”.

Be Prepared ‘Just In Case’

Below are some scenarios that may arise and some suggestions that may help to minimize injuries:

If you feel yourself becoming unbalanced on your horse grab mane or a nifty little item called a grab strap that attaches to the front of the saddle. It could help to avoid a fall and get you resettled.

A friend of mine once used ‘grab mane’ in the most unusual way but it kept her from hitting the ground. Jan lost her balance and was hanging off the side of her horse. What did she do, you ask. She grabbed mane, with her teeth and pulled herself back up into the saddle. This may be the single most inventive way of grabbing mane, but it worked. At times, you have to do whatever it takes to save yourself.

One of the most important things not to do when you begin falling is to break your fall with outstretched arms or legs, although it is a natural reaction, you might break a few bones. The general consensus is to keep your wits about you, make an effort to use the tuck and roll position. This serves two purposes; it helps you land safely without broken bones, rolls you away from the hooves of the horse preventing you from being stepped on, and takes you out of the path of a falling horse.

If you become unseated and are not injured get up as quickly as possible and take hold of your horse’s reins. Most horses will stand quietly for a few moments wondering where you went. This may well be the only opportunity you have to catch him before he heads for the hills. Catching him quickly is important, otherwise, I can guarantee that he will be back at the barn causing havoc or munching hay long before you get back. On the other hand, if you are in a ring there is no rush, as he is not in imminent danger. Under no circumstances should you move or try to get up if you are seriously injured.

One trail riding mishap comes to mind concerning this scenario. My daughter was riding along a wooded trail, to the right of the path was a felled tree, her horse spooked sideways, she became unseated and landed in the tree’s upward reaching branches, and then promptly fell out of the tree. Technically, she really did not fall off her horse but fell out of a tree. Luckily, her horse just stood there eyeing her as if she was a most foolish girl dangling in tree branches. Her riding companion could certainly have helped, but unfortunately, she was laughing so hard, aiding my daughter was impossible.

One other reminder, if you do fall off, let go of the reins immediately. Holding onto the reins could result in a dislocated shoulder or being dragged or stepped on. You never know how a horse will react; the reins you are grasping may pull on his mouth and upset him even more.

During a schooling lesson prior to a show, I encountered a similar situation. The ring was very muddy with puddles everywhere. I had the perfect distance to a jump, my horse put in an extra half step, threw me off balance but we both landed on the other side of the jump. He was on all four legs and I was on my stomach, still holding onto the reins. Erik dragged me for a few steps before he realized I was no longer aboard and stopped. When I stood up, I looked like the creature from the Blue Lagoon or Swamp Thing. Fortunately, the mud was soft and squishy, and I should have let go of the reins, but it never entered my mind at the time. The ride home was no picnic either.

Some Amusing Falls

Here’s one that stand out in my mind. My eldest daughter was in a lesson when the horse stopped dead in front of a jump. She somersaulted over his head, landed on the other side of the jump and stuck the landing; still holding the reins and facing the horse, she took a bow and said “Tah, Dah”.

One of our trainer's daughter was a bit of a know it all, and was showing off one day when she was unceremoniously deposited in a manure puddle face first. Should I have laughed…..probably not?

Then there was the time my daughter was too lazy to walk her horse in from the back paddock. The setup: one very hot day, slick wet grass, riding bareback with halter and rope. The deed: Riding at a walk towards the gate, all the other horses start galloping towards the gate; he decides to join the herd. In a flash, she is flying through the air faster than a speeding bullet, just like superman, landing and sliding tummy first on the wet grass, hands splayed in front of her. Really, she just needed the cape. Naturally, the construction crew working on the barn really appreciated this to break up their day.

Although it wasn’t laughable at the time, I can appreciate the humor of it now. During a jumping lesson my horse Erik pulled out of a jump and stopped for a split second, I sat back to regroup, from almost a standstill we then sailed brilliantly over the 4ft. standard beside the jump, I slid off his back to land on mine. My helmet took the impact to my head before careening across the arena. The truth is I never wore a helmet with a harness for vanities sake; the look just didn’t do it for me. Since that day, I have always worn a helmet with a harness.

One more, the time Dusty cantered off as I was mounting; of course, I landed in the dirt. When my head hit the frozen ground I bit down hard on my tongue, then she came over and stomped on my foot. Nice mare. With my swollen tongue and throbbing foot, it was not my best day. With the limp and the lisp everyone probably thought, “poor thing, she must have had a mild stroke”.

Falling is not enjoyable, but most times the falls are not as dramatic as you would think they are bound to be. Almost everyone will fall eventually; perhaps if it happens to you, things will not be as dreadful as you imagine. Do not dwell on what might happen, but if it does, at the very least you should be somewhat prepared for the event.

Until next time

Quote for Today

The horse stopped with a jerk, and the jerk fell off
- Jim Culleton

Sorry I couldn’t resist that one!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Riding Alternatives

Riding Alternatives

Although we all want to ride as much as we are able, at times this is just not possible. Maybe you cannot ride at present because one thing or another is keeping you on the ground. Well there is good news; you can still be involved with horses even though you cannot ride. So many places need volunteers to help keep them going. Below is a list of things that might be of interest if you would like to be involved with horses in another capacity:

Horse shows are always in the market for volunteers. Generally, they can make use of secretarial skills, people to operate the in-gate, hand out ribbons, work the concessions etc… there are numerous opportunities for volunteers. Some may even be paying positions.

Have you ever thought of volunteering at a horse rescue farm? Well an extra hand is always appreciated. If you like this idea I suggest going online and finding a reputable rescue organization, or a reputable rescue farm. You may be wondering why reputable is in italics. Many legitimate rescue farms and organizations do an amazing job helping these ill-fated abused animals. Unfortunately, there are just as many looking for any easy way to make money by playing on the sympathies of animal lovers and misrepresenting themselves as rescue organizations. It is sad but true; there are charlatans in every business, even the rescue business.

This is just horrifying

Lucy & Ethel

Now living happily at Redwings Sanctuary

Do you have the space and the know-how to take on a rescue or perhaps a retiree looking for a loving home and companion for their last years? A retiree may not be rideable but they offer companionship and just knowing that you are making an unwanted animal’s last years joyful, would be gratifying. Some rescue organizations will let you sponsor a horse at your farm until a good home is located. This might be an ideal situation if you really don’t want to own a horse, but want to be of assistance for a while. Of course, there is always the possibility that once you have the horse in your possession and care for them daily you may not want them to leave. Let us not forget the ponies and mini’s who have been abandoned. Minis are great for driving competitions and they do not take up much space.

This looks like fun!

There is also a wonderful organization that assists autistic and handicapped children and adults. In my area it is; The Pegasus Therapeutic Riding organization does wonderful things and they have a lot of information on their site about what they need. There are volunteer programs for so many different types of work, from side walkers to carpenters; something of this nature might be just right for you. This particular organization is willing to teach what you need to know in order to be a volunteer and the rewards are incomparable. Some research online shows that there are similar organizations all over the country, there may be one in your area that would welcome your services.

I am certain if you really want to be involved with horses but cannot ride right now, you will be able to find some interesting and worthwhile pursuits to occupy you at this point.

Until next time

Quote for Today

I have often been asked why do I like horses so much. Look into one's eyes. There you will see generations of horses who have served the human for thousands of years faithfully for nothing in return, beaten horses, starved hoses, horses who no longer possess a spirit. They deserve to be loved and respected as much as humanly possible. Let them run free again. Let them no longer be a faithful beast, but embrace them as you would a dear friend, for they are.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

It is the beginning of a New Year and I would like to wish all my friends and family peace, love, health and happiness for 2008.

I would also like to take this time to wish all the horses and their people a year of renewed commitment and understanding with each other. The most important thing we can do for our horses is to be more understanding and kind to them everyday. They deserve the best we have to offer.

It seems everyone has an end of the year award here's mine:

Best of 2007 Horse Awards

The winner of the Best Horse Awards goes to:

All of the horses who put up with our mistakes and who love us anyway.

Worst of 2007 Horse Awards

The envelope please:

This award is won by all of the people in the horse industry who mistreat and misuse their horses to promote themselves and endorse products to make money without any regard for their horse’s health and safety. This year at the top of the list would be anyone who employs or endorses the use of ‘Rollkur’, which is a despicable torture inflicted on horses by riders and trainers who will not take the time to properly train a horse, but are looking for an easy shortcut and to the judges who condone this behavior.

P.S. If you want to learn more about Rollkur check out the blogs at or, both these blogs have excellent articles concerning this practice.

Until next time

Quote for Today

A man of kindness to his horse, is kind
But brutal actions show a brutal mind.
He was designed thy companion, not thy drudge.
Remember his creator is thy judge.