Too Much Talk Not Enough Game

By Real Riderz

Photo by Andrey Petkov on Pexels.com

Everyone is an expert.

On reddit, on twitter, everywhere. We have experts everywhere. Giving advice which nobody asks for in their quiet corner of the room. Now before you say that this blog does the same, consider this: we have made this our own corner, which you choose to go to. It’s up to you to follow the url, read, and come to your own conclusions.

What can we take out of this? Reconsider our internet usage and how we spend our time. I’m guilty of this, and so is a lot of the world. Sure, it’s ok to give someone advice when they ask for it and after you have evaluated your own skills. Otherwise, stop yourself and turn your attention elsewhere.

Underrated People in the Horse World: Crystal D. Western

By Real Riderz

Who are they?

Crystal D. Western is a trainer and amateur rider. She began riding at the age of two and started showing at the age of five. She has shown western pleasure, slow gaited on Tennessee Walker, and in speed events. She has participated in events with barrels, poles, key hole and barrel pickups which she loved and even won a state show at one point. She competed until her mid-twenties and later started focusing on working with horses instead. She has spent the last of her years (prior to becoming disabled) working with and retraining abused horses as she wanted to help those without a voice.

What are some of the struggles you have encountered on your journey in the horse world? 

Being a female I have often be told I cannot possibly know what I am doing. I do not use force, spurs, and whips (except top point) so I’m not trying to be the boss. I am often told my gentle ways of working with horses isn’t going to work. I’m too quiet in the saddle because I’m not constantly kicking and on the [horse’s] mouth.

What change(s) do you wish to see in the equine world? 

I wish to see less people wanting to rush training, such as having a finished horse at two years old. Especially considering that they are still mentally and physically immature until the age of five. Yet some associations like AQHA have two year old classes. We should be putting the mental and physical health of our horses above trophies and money. Spurs being over-used and star fishing in speed events should not happen. I also wish that more people would research the effect shoes have on hooves (e.g. losing most of their shock absorbing qualities, inability to expand for more surface area, inability to flex as they should, and frog bein unable to be flush with the ground which impacts blood flow).

Anything else you wish to add?

I wish more gentle time with horses was encouraged. I also hope that classes for young and underdeveloped horses will be banned. We need to stop caring so much about the trophies and money. Instead, we should care more about the wellbeing of our equine partners. There are still so many horses shown with harsh bits and so many riders overusing spurs. In addition, the many riders/trainers/owners do not give their horses enough time to fully heal from injury as they think that their wants are more important.

Thank you Crystal for the insight! If you would like to have a chance at being featured in the underrated people of the horse world column, fill out this form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1wvP3tT6ELOhNK3qQRuTVT2sX10kA4SsOmyiVz_uwRN8/edit

Heels Down or Toes Up?

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By Real Riderz

Spoiler alert: both are potentially bad advice.

Now whoa there! Don’t start putting your heels up (or toes down). However, one thing we need to understand is that the heels aren’t everything.

I was at a hotel a few year ago packing, packing the car after a weekend of showing. One of the amateurs came up to me, and we started to discuss my rounds and my fall that weekend. One thing leads to another and the rider started to talk about keeping the toes up rather than heels down, because heels down puts you in the incorrect position. I started to think about this, this wasn’t the first time I had heard “toes up”.

So which is it? Is there really a right way to think about your foot? Well, toes up is more positive, and much more difficult to exaggerate. However, if your leg is not aligned in a straight line from ear to hip to heel, then none of the advice will help you (both the ammy and I were riding in chair seat, despite using different methods of foot placement). The foot is important yes, but we must look at our body alignment prior to resorting to either heels down or toes up.

Yet, when we thinking about our balance and where we want to absorb the impact of the jump, we want to think landing into the heels. This allows for the upper body to be ready for whatever is to come next after the jump (if your horse trips, you’ll be in a much more safe position). For flatwork purposes, the heel is down (or toe is up) because this makes the calves (lower leg) stronger, so that the horse feels your leg aids. One problem that can arise is gripping of the leg and desensitization to the leg aids because of gripping, but that is for a later article.

Riding is a Mental Game

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By Real Riderz

Are you mentally fit?

A lot of rider problems come from the head, and as many of us probably know, emotions can be paralyzing. They can cause us to lash out or even stop reacting. Mental fitness is important for all athletes in every sport, and horseback riding is no exception.

A mentally fit rider will see problems for what they are and work to solve them in a calm manner, looking at themselves almost as if they were outside of the body for mistakes (this is where a person on the ground comes in handy). A mentally fit rider stays in the moment with their horse, leaving the past and future out of the saddle (and even better, out of the barn).

How does one achieve mental fitness? There are no clear answers, but the first step to take is to assess. How are you doing currently? Do you find yourself getting angry at your horse? Do you stop riding when you have fear? These are all common issues that many riders face. A lot of top riders see therapists to help with problems related to fear and anxiety, but this is not always accessible for the average rider.

The best way to go about this is to look at your current daily routine. When do you go to sleep and do you get enough sleep? What are you eating? What do you do when you first get out of bed in the morning? Do you get daily physical activity of some sort? Beyond that, there are techniques which help rewire your brain. These include breathing and medidation. The key here is to focus on what is within you, and refocusing on your breath when you get distracted by outside thoughts.

Now, this article only touches the surface of what you can do, but stay tuned for more articles on improving your mental game coming soon in the Learning Hub!

Starting to Show: What you Need to Know (Jumping Edition)

By Real Riderz

Our team has been on the circuit for years: local, rated, and international. This is the basic guide to what you need to know.

For starters: your purpose. You may not know exactly what you want from showing now, but most people have a goal in mind. Some want to go from local to rated, or qualify for finals. Others may want to give their green horses (or maybe even themselves) a different experience. Whatever it may be, think about this, but avoid dwelling and doubting. Showing is supposed to be fun.

In the American system, there are three main levels to horse showing (hunters, equitation, and jumpers*): C, B, A, and AA rated shows. The rating in based on the amount of prize money given (primarily). You will also see an increase in entry fees and competitiveness as you go up these ranks. These show are part of a governing body (biggest one in America being USEF and USHJA) Some shows are not rated at all, but these are usually in-barn shows. In addition, the judges have to be at a certain level to judge A and AA shows. These are usually R rated judges (the highest level in USEF).

*Hunters are classes judged on the horse’s style and way of going. Equitation judges the riders position and control of the horse. Jumpers is based on speed (how fast can you go without knocking any fences down or having refusals/falls/runouts AKA faults). There are more detailed explanations about each, but for now, this basic information is all you really need.

Rated shows have rated divisions (which are split into classes). You can go to an A show and jump 2’6 schooling class which would be considered C rated. This is the tricky part because you need to be at a certain level and in a certain division in order to actually compete at A divisions. For example pony hunters (2’ for smalls and 3’ for larges) can be A divisions and they are part of the classes that give prize money. Some goes for junior hunters and etc.

Now, the next level from here are FEI (international) shows. The lowest level is CSI1* where the course is set at a minimum of 1m height. The highest level is CSI5* where courses can be set anywhere from 1.50m to 1.75m. In other countries, the system are different (in Germany there are M rated shows, but more on that later).

Well enough is enough, most of the above (and more you can find on the internet with a quick click. So what do you actually need to know about showing?

Well for starters, it’s expensive. This is why I had you determine your why right away. If you are looking to qualify for some finals in the future, or even go international, you are looking at ways to go up the ranks. However, don’t skip out on the schooling (C) shows. This is the place to learn and make mistakes before you dive into national level shows. Schooling shows are also a great place to test your skills at a certain level, and they are much cheaper than the bigger shows.

Why are local level shows cheaper? For starters, they usually only last one day. That cuts costs for stalls and hotels. Of course, do note that it may take time to get fully used to the experience of a bigger show. This is because it is so much more immersive. You need to ship in, and then make your horse feel at home for a week (and actually sometimes several weeks at a time). There is an art to this, but as long as you have the riding part down, you can focus more on getting accustomed to the sort of strange world called “A-rated.”

Fitness: Just Riding is Not Enough

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By Real Riderz

This is a hard to swallow pill, especially for people who do riding as their main form of physical activity. However, if you’re out of breath after each time you ride one horse, and can barely canter a few laps without the need to stop, this is a sure sign that your lack of fitness may be a burden for your horse.

Not everyone has big goals for the competition ring, but no one is excluded from having a fitness program outside of the barn. Sure, barn chores such as lifting bales and walking to catch your horse may take effort, but this is not inherently fitness, this is a part of your to do list at the barn.

Look at athletes in any sport: they condition, they do cardio, they do what they can to strengthen their bodies. We do this for our horse, but often times forget that we are also part of the equation. So start small, by first taking yourself out there.

For those who have never done fitness before/don’t have comeptitive goals, start by walking. I’m talking long walks with hills. If you are able to get access to the gym, leave that for a bit of strenght training. One good book you may consider buying in order to get an idea of what routine you may want to develop is “The Rider’s Fitness Program” By Dianna Robin Dennis, John J. McCully, Paul M. Juris. This is a good book for those with and without competitive goals as it details a six week strenght training program you can do three times a week (with rest days in between of cardio sessions of your choosing).

So what type of physical activities can you incorporate? Do you need to become a bodybuilder or something? The answer is no, because riding requires your stabilizing muscles to be in good balance. This is why men and women can compete together in the sport: it’s not so much about strenght as it is abould balance in your stregth. The best riders don’t have the biggest muscles. Low impact acitivites can be just fine: yoga, pilates, swimming,hiking, biking, etc. Some more high impact activites can include jogging/running (more strain on the joints) and skiing (this is a highly skillfull activity).

Caring for yourself is caring for your horse. When you take care of yourself physically (and mentally, but more on that later), you are making the riding experience easier. So what are you waiting for? The best time to start changing for the better is now!

Show Jumping Elite: America Edition

By Real Riderz

Hamptons, Wellington, Devon, Upperville, Traverse city, you name it (oh and Europe for part of the season?)

Think about it, the Americans have it tough. I mean they are separated from some of the greatest show jumping nations in the world, yet somehow they made it work.

Although the Americans are competitive in the sport, it is evident by the type of people in the sport that this is largely thanks to financial reasons. Now, that is not to say that Europe’s elites don’t indulge in the sport, but to be fair, America is home to some of the richest people on earth, and quite a few off them have offspring show jumpers.

First name that may come to mind? Bill Gates and how daughter Jennifer. Another one? Kendall Jenner. Who else? Eve Jobs. Oh and let’s not forget Olympians Reed Kessler and Jessica Springsteen. This is the future of America: talented but what makes them different from the rest is their huge financial backing.

There are some things that many from other countries don’t understand about the equine world in America. The price for a weekend at a local AA (national show with decent prize money) is several thousands of dollars. The price for international shows? Astronomical. Especially compared to Europe, so no wonder why so many Americans escape there. I mean, first you buy a horse for the price of a penthouse in NY and then you pay for a show which will cover maybe 1/3 of the costs if you win the class?

What are the odds of sponsors noticing someone that isn’t already competing in the big class and winning. The truth is, the American system is flawed beyond words. Is it really about hard work if you already have an import from Eu jumping 1.45+? Is it really your work if the horse (having already jumped said heigh) is taken through his/her first GP by the rider?

The answer is yes and no. But the truth is that even though anyone can make it in any system, sometimes the progress is practically invisible because there are no trophies to show it. Well, if there’s anything you can take from this, it’s to not give up and look into moving to Europe.

Why You May be Making Your Horse a Nag

By Real Riderz

It’s hard to swallow the truth.

Ok before we start, horses that classify as a “nag” still deserve love, but it’s better to prevent this from happening in the first place.

Let’s start by saying that horses aren’t for everybody. Even if you are getting full care board (which is basically like someone taking care of your horse for you at a barn) you will most likely still have to put in a lot of effort into your horse. Unless of course you have lots of money to spend, in that case the story is different (especially applicable in America).

But it’s doable, trust me it really is. You just have to consider some key things depending on your goals (for a trail rider this will be different than for a competitive show jumper). For the purpose of this article, we will assume you are an amateur who wants to do a little bit of everything.

There are some obvious things we need to consider: age, work intensity, type, breed, sex, conformation, and diet. To not bring your horse into the state of nagginess, we must prevent the reasons for a horse becoming a nag. This is expensive even in cheaper areas/countries, so what do we do? We learn, as much as we can from as many people as we can.

Of course there will be times when we need to call the vet or farrier, but if we call the vet too late (or even too soon) the consequences can be detrimental for both the horse and possibly your bank account.

So the best way to prevent your horse from becoming a nag is taking care of your horse. Don’t skip that groom, clean that tack, take breaks, muck those stalls, and learn what’s normal for your horse. Sure it takes time, but it will really help yours horse and your goals in the long run.

New Year New You!

By Real Riderz

Here we go 2022!

This is a post just as a reminder to set your goals. It doesn’t have to be something big but it should be something that makes you a better rider, owner, client, trainer, and of course person.

So here are some goal ideas to get you started:

1. Jump a 1.30m course at competition by the end of the year.

2. Teach your horse how to do a solid half pass.

3. Learn how to make your own DIY horse treats.

4. Become more knowledgeable about the shoeing process.

As you can tell these goals can be quite varied. Some of them can fall more into the short term category while other can be more long term. This will depend on where you can your horse are currently at. For example goal 1 can be considered a short term goal if you are already jumping 1.20-1.25m consistently.

Once you have your main goal, break it down into part. For instance, if you have something like goal 2 in mind, break it down into easy steps and think about what you and your horse know what to do. You may start at something like turn on the forehand and shoulder fore and work towards shoulder in, haunches in and a leg yield. Or maybe you will opt to introduce a half pass on the ground first.

You may find you need to take a step back to move forwards. Anyone can make treats, but everyone can also butcher the treats. Your first attempt may be a complete fail, but what does it matter if you keep trying and continue building upon your skills by working on the basics.

Stopping without Reins

By Real Riderz

Umm…what?

Yeah, this is a revelation, but actually it isn’t.

So pull the reins to stop and kick the ribs to go? Right? Wrong. Well in a way I guess: let’s review our natural aids. Eyes, arms, legs, and seat. Four terms that are, quite frankly broad. I mean, look with your eyes and just sit with your seat yeah? Well, the only thing that was correct in that past sentence was looking with the eyes where you want to go.

Yes, the hands are still there to to have a feel with the horse’s mouth and they do help with the stopping, but if you watch the greatest GP dressage and even show jumping riders you will notice that there is actually a lot more involved in slowing down than just pulling. If you just pull, you stop the front of the horse and only a couple of moment later will the hind stop, which causes the horse to hollow out and the head to lift up. This causes a loss of power (remember, we want the power to come from the hind).

To get a good slowing down/stopping, one should use a combination of leg, seat, and finally hands. We want to keep the horse’s energy, but just compact it, so we make sure that we are going forward in the gait that we are currently in (let’s say walk, for the sake of this example). If your horse isn’t going forward, there will be an article on that soon just stay tuned. Once we are forward in the walk, we want to close and release the thighs one step at a time, and start helping with the hands ever so slightly depending on how much we want to slow down. The sequence goes something like this: forward with the legs, squeeze your thighs on and off while closing your fingers on and off until we get the desired result.

Alright well this is easy enough in theory, but what if your horse just doesn’t react at all. How do you combat the urge to pull? Think about the hind. Put your horse in a little bit of a shoulder in to take away some of the power from the hind. In more simple terms: drift the hind in either direction and do it every time your horse has the urge to speed up. While you do this, keep playing with your four aids in the above sequence to emphasize what they are for. If needed pull your horse into a wall or pulley rein, but more on that later.

It’s all a process, and if things don’t seem to be working riding wise, take things into account off the horse. Consult your vet, farrier, saddle/bridle fitter, and just generally be creative with the process. Your voice may prove useful, but is generally speaking not acceptable in the dressage world. Working on the lunge is also another way of honing transitions off the horse as is groundwork.

Have fun with it, stay observant, and happy riding!