Newbie Horse Rider

Blog for new adult horse riders

Month: April 2017

Count Down to Show Season: 4 Weeks

The kids were home from school last week for spring break.  Alas, I’ve fallen behind on my blogging and just about everything else.  I try not to stress too badly because I know that in the near future I will miss all of this – the crazy schedules, the messes, the laundry…  So, for now I enjoy every minute and apologize for my tardiness.

With the Breeders Show quickly approaching, I’ve decided to document my journey toward what will be my second time in the show arena.  I have been trying very hard to stay calm and focused, and also to remind myself that it is my horse the judges are looking at.  Of course how I ride will affect how my horse looks, but I tell myself this as a way to calm my nerves.

For the last two weeks I have been riding without stirrups hoping to perfect my seat and leg position.   This has been tremendously helpful.  In addition to helping me discover muscles I didn’t know I had, it has forced me to use my seat for balance and communication.  I have come a long way in the last eight months, but there are still improvements to be made.  I think everyone can say this.  If there is one thing I’ve learned about riding, you never really stop learning.  The mere fact that I am able to canter comfortably around the arena without my stirrups is alone testament to how far I’ve come.  There is no way I could have done that a year ago.

Last week Austin and I worked on staying straight.  For a long time neither of us were particularly straight.  Now that my riding has improved and I am more centered in the saddle, it is time to work on Austin’s straightness.  Every horse bends naturally to one side over the other.  This is what is commonly known as lateral bending.  In Austin’s case he moves more easily to the right.  Whether a horse moves naturally to the right or the left is dependent on a number of factors, including his spine, muscles, and movement of legs.

Photo Credit: Straightness Training

It is easy to constantly hold a horse in the position you’d like it to go, but doing this will not solve the problem.  My instructor has convinced me that it is much more effective to make a sharp correction, and then go back to straight.  When Austin begins leaning on the right side of the bit, I make a sharp correction by pulling on the left rein so that his head is moved away from the direction he is leaning. When doing this it is important to relax your hands once he straightens out.  It is only by applying pressure and then releasing it when he responds that Austin will learn what is expected of him.  As with training any animal, the key here is consistency and then praise when they respond appropriately on their own.  For more information on keeping your horse straight, I highly recommend that you checkout which provides valuable insight into the reasons for lateral bend, and is chock-full of helpful tips on how to straighten out your crooked horse.

Does your horse move more easily to one side or another?  How do you straighten out your crooked horse?  Your personal insight could help others.  Please, share your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy Riding!


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Countdown to Show Time: 5 Weeks 2 Days

I once read that people are most afraid of things that they have already experienced.  There must be some truth to this because I have become more anxious the closer we move to the start of Show Season.  Notice how I put that in caps.  For many people in the horse world, especially for newbies like myself, Show Season is far more than some vague time marked in on a calendar.  This is why we work tirelessly every week, and every month; why we continue to challenge ourselves mentally and physically until our bodies ache; why we show up for lessons in blinding snow storms and ride in subzero temperatures.  Show Season is a thing – large and looming in the distance that sets the bar for all of our time and effort.

It was about a year and a half ago when my instructor first suggested that I consider showing.  I laughed.  Me?  Show?  Yeah, sure.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was not such a far fetched idea after all.  I had seen enough horse shows to realize that men and women of all ages and abilities show their horses.   I decided to give it a try.  After selling my Paint horse and purchasing a beautiful bay Morgan gelding (Austin), I set out to learn as much as I could about showing  Western Pleasure.

Looking good in silver.

Austin joined the barn in March of 2016 which did not provide much time to prepare for the start of show season in May.  It was decided that my trainer would ride Austin in the first two shows, giving me ample time to watch and learn.  It is truly amazing how much you can learn by simply watching riders in a show.  I tried to catch every single Western Pleasure class that I possibly could.  Transfixed, I would take note of riders’ hand and body position, level of relaxation, confidence, leg cues, everything.  I would try to predict who would come in first, second, third, etc.  By engaging in conversation with other Western riders I  would gauge my level of understanding.  In the evenings I would practice in the arena, learning to feel comfortable riding in a large space while dodging multiple riders.  It was during these sessions that I came to realize the infectious power of self-confidence to influence not only the horse, but observers as well.

By August I was ready.  Or, at least that’s what everyone told me, though I had my doubts.  The weeks leading up to the final show of the the season were spent preparing physically and emotionally.  Shopping for my show outfit provided a pleasant distraction and calmed my nerves.  Trying on my outfit in front of a mirror – chaps, show shirt, boots, and hat – the reality hit me.  Could I really attempt this at my age?  Can an old dog really learn a new trick?

On the day of the show I left plenty of time to get to the show grounds and change into my outfit.  Assisted by kind and experienced show people, I warmed up in a small arena and tried to find that elusive self-confidence that I knew would get me through this.  My heart was pounding and I wondered what Austin was thinking as we practiced a few canter transitions.  A horn blew to announce the start of the class, and we rode in looking focused and confident.  In the end, we had a terrific ride.  It wasn’t perfect; they seldom are.  We rode as a team the best we knew how and won our first blue ribbon.

Our victory lap.

That win put me on a high that has lasted for eight months.  Now begins the countdown to the next show, and I am more nervous than I’d like to be.  I can recall far too easily the fear that gripped me when we entered the practice arena.  When anxiety gets the better of me I will strive to recall the feeling of pride as Austin and I rode our victory lap around the show ring.




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News Roundup: 4 Great Articles to Read This Week

Aging: it’s not for the wimpy.  And while I’m far from ‘old’ I can no longer claim to be young.  Three great articles recently appearing in the New York Times speak to those of us who are stuck in limbo –  this vague space where you are no longer young but not quite old.  All three articles get to the heart of what it takes to approach this time in life with optimism, curiosity, and determination.

Some day I’d like to…  I really should…  Do either of these sentence starters sound familiar to you?  If so, I urge you to read both of these terrific pieces by New York Times contributor Cal Richards.  The Wish List I Made After My Wife Almost Died and How to Turn Your Wishes Into Reality Instead of Regrets speak to the importance taking life by the horns now rather than waiting until it’s too late.  After nearly loosing his wife in a tragic accident, the author became consumed by regret.  His regret stemmed from things he wished he had said and things he wished he had done with his wife but never had.  Luckily, he was given a second chance.  He decided to jot down items that he considered important enough to go on a deathbed wish list.  He then set out on a journey toward living a life without regrets.  As he discovered, taking one small step each day toward your goal can make an insurmountable wish more manageable.  Such reflection is important, as it gives us the opportunity to think about how to live the life we’ve always dreamed of.  I urge you to read these short pieces, and then sit down a make your own list: what things would you wish for if you discovered you had very little time left?

My Wish List










Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones, by Jane E. Brody, is a must-read for anyone who tends to look at the cup as being half full, or who knows people who look at the world this way.  Of course no one is happy and cheerful all of the time.  But, as Brody discovered, “accumulating ‘micro-moments’ of positivity…can, over time, result in greater over-all well being.”  According to research conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, our ability to obtain positive emotions from even small everyday activities can boost our overall physical and mental health.  Such micro-moments of positive thinking add up over the course of a day, and help to protect against debilitating stress and depression.  Dr. Fredrickson suggests a number of ways we can incorporate positive emotions into our daily lives, including establishing realistic goals for ourselves and learning something new, both of which can be accomplished through riding!

Don’t be a Debbie Downer

If you’re looking for ways to incorporate more positivity into your daily life, consider tapping into the skills and knowledge of a young mentor.  In Phyllis Korkki’s article, What Could I Possibly Learn From a Mentor Half My Age?  Plenty, the author discovers the benefits of reaching out to a colleague who is half her age but well-versed in social media.  As she explains, many mid-life people are of the opinion that learning is hierarchical; knowledge and guidance should filter down, not up.  Reaching out to someone who is younger may feel awkward at first, but doing so can help to bridge the gap between the generations and expose you to a new set of skills.  As Korkki points out, “Each age group has untapped resources that can benefit others at a different stage in life.”  In the process of learning something new, the author also learns a great deal about the middle-aged brain and how it processes new information.  She discovers that an old dog can learn a new trick – it just may take a little longer.  Maybe I need to share that bit of information with my instructor who is half my age…

Have you read something new and noteworthy lately?  Let us know so we can all benefit!


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