Helping the Ukrainian Equestrian Community

By Real Riderz

Photo by Nati on Pexels.com

As Ukraine fights the war against Putin, the rest of the world needs to gather and think of ways we can help the people of Ukraine. The horse people are no exception, so here are a few ways that you can help out:

  1. Donate Supplies and/or Money

For those who are capable of contributing, donations to Ukraine may help the cause. Donations counting for feed through the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation can be found here. You can also contribute by making a Disaster Relief Gift through The Foundation for the Horse. The gifts recieved in March of 2022 will be donated to veterinary and equine communities in the EU which will be helping animals (including horses) which have been impacted by the crisis.

2. Spread Truthful (and Useful) Information

During war, truth becomes a little bit less clear. Besides spreading unbiased information on both sides, we need to spread information about how one can possibly help Ukrainians and their animals so that more donators can reach out, below are a few useful and verified sites:

https://helpukrainehorses.eu/

https://vetsforukraine.com/

https://www.ifaw.org/

Many people and coutries have already chipped in to help, and the equestrian community is no exception. There are hundreds of people offering transport at the border, stalls, and even job opportunites for those escaping. However, do note that we must also consider those less fortunate people of Ukraine who do not even have passports let alone cars to get out of the situation. The equine community (especially at the sports/recreational level) is fairly blessed financially speaking. Therefore, we must not forget about the people (and domestic animals) who do not have the chance to leave the country. Click here to see ways you can help the average people in Ukraine right now.

Help! My Horse Won’t Go!

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By Real Riderz

Lazy horses, who hasn’t experienced one of those? Usually, dull horses are most commonly lessons horses, or horses ridden by people who are scared of lacking control. There are three causes for a dull horse: pain/poor care, imporper training, and incorrect riding.

Pain and general discomfort is a factor which should be ruled out first, before we even start to look into the other factors. Common problems can be poor saddle/bridle fit and illnesses. Diet can also be a factor within this category (not enough carbohydrates in forage/grain to create energy), but this is usual the last thing to look into changing if the diet suits the horse in other ways. Once you have discussed, analyzed, and resolved any potential problems, we can look for solutions in the next factor): improper training.

A horse which has never been taught forwardness from a young age, will likely always be a little more backwards. Most horses are natually forward, afterall, they need to flee from danger in the wild. However, with humans in the equation, quite a few things change. Naturally, we want to feel safe, so it is not uncommon for inexperienced riders with greener horses to use too much rein or incorrect seat in order to start “collection” of the horse. This creates problems in the long run because not only is the horse working incorrectly (not working from the back due to lack of muscles and incorrect signals from the rider) but also the horse starts to fear going forward. It is possible to resolve this training issue, but only with proper and consistently good re-training/riding. When it comes to training, lunging and groundwork can be used to encourage a horse to think forward.*

A horse can be well trained but as we all know, every time we ride a horse we also train him/her. A rider which is more timid/less experienced can unknowingly instill certain habits in a horse. A rider who has fear may overuse his/her rein aids whenever the horses attempts to go faster or starts doing something that may cause the rider’s fear. The abrupt pull on the reins is usually accompanied by pain which makes the horse fearful to go forwards. The less experienced rider may use the hands to balance, and apply leg at random times or even all the time. This makes the horse confused and causes a collision of throughts which do not make sense together. This is one of the main reasons why green (AKA young/inexperienced) riders and green horses do not mash.

“Fixing” the lazy horse with riding comes down to two factors: your seat and how you use it. You must be in full control of your entire body in order to avoid confusing the horse. When it comes to making the horse go forward, apply the leg just behind the girth and then release. The release is the vital part, even if the horse has not gone forward. If the horse did not go forward from a squeeze, tap with your leg. Release this pressure right away, even if the horse did not move forwards. The last resort is the crop/spur. The reason why releasing the leg is so important is because it teaches the horse to go forwards even from the lightest of leg aids. A leg that is always “on” can be confused by the horse as part of the saddle, which eventually numbs the horse to the leg in general. Besides correct use of the seat/leg, be prepared for your horse to go forward (and even have a few play bucks). If your natural reaction is to pull, the horse will only be more resistant in the long-run. Check out our previous article here for more on how to halt with your seat rather than reins.

*One helpful and relatively quick tip for reinforcing the leg on the ground is using the dull side of the crop against the horse’s side as a tool to mimic the rider’s leg. This tool can be accompanied by a cluck (or whichever other voice aid you use) and reinforced with the use of the crop. Do note however, that this is not the long-term solution, just something that could help to remind the horse on the ground.

Woke Doesn’t Work

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By Real Riderz

Especially not in the world of sport.

Word of notice: this is not an anti anything post, read until the end.

Woke doesn’t work when people cry out for change that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. For instance, normalizing people who are out of shape to be competing in any sport. Now, we’re not talking about just being too fat, we are also talking about being under muscled. We all (probably) know by now that horseback riders are not the most buff out there, but when it comes to conditioning, most riders tend to skip this step. Conditioning will look different for every rider (just like it looks different for every horse), but it must happen for everyone, no matter the level you ride at.

If we look at the scandals happening in the Russian figure skating team, we can see that their trainer uses methods that work based on how skinny you are. This is something that we see in the horse world too, but it is less talked about. If you are American, you know it as the infamous Big Eq Diet, everyone else just knows it as eating disorders. When we rely on skinniness or fatness to achieve certain results, we produce results that don’t last in the long run. Just like killing a horse when you compete it at a level they are not fit enough for, you can kill your body.

Another way woke doesn’t work in the horse world is normalizing mental illness (whether that be in connection with physical illness or not). Riding is a mental game, and when we normalize the idea of illness in the mind, we normalize performance weakness which in turn puts stress on the horse. Horses rely on us for confidence and safety, if you feel as if you have a problem, get help now and don’t let social media tell you that it’s normal to be sick and not do anything about it.

Transgender in sports is a whole different story which doesn’t touch horseback riding as it is already an “equal sport.” This is one part of woke culture that horseback riding embraces naturally. Unfortunately however, horseback riding is a really elite sport, which also happens to be predominantly white. Thus, inclusivity is one area where the sport can improve an move forwards. Otherwise, let’s keep treating riding as a sport and take care of ourselves (and our horses) as real athletes.

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.