So the Kids Want a Horse – Part 2

In my last post, (which was waay too long ago), I gave you a bit of an overview of what to expect in the coming posts. I’ll be covering 10 main topics –

1. First things first – why do the kids want a horse? From My Little Pony to the United States Pony Club covers a pretty wide spectrum. I’ll give you some pointers on deciding where your child’s desires fit.
2. Can your kids handle a horse, (and can you)? Concerns to be addressed if the horse is to be kept at home or a boarding barn.
3. If you get it, you will pay – there’s no such thing as a free  horse. The necessities and the optional extras.
4. Support – Get your essential team assembled – vet, blacksmith, knowledgeable owners, trainer, 4-H, Pony Club, Local horse organizations, Extension Service, feed store, hay supplier, horse council, instructor… the list goes on. It really does take a village to care for a horse.
5. Keeping your horse at home – Sure it’s the kids’ horse, but who’s actually going to feed and muck? Zoning, Insurance concerns, addressing the needs of the horse, addressing the needs of your family, addressing the needs of your neighborhood. Manure management, fly/ pest management.
6. Boarding facilities: full board, DIY board, share board, field board – what to look for in a boarding facility
7. Now that you’ve got it, what do you do with it? (Hint – answer these questions first)!
8. Alternatives to horse ownership – lessons, lease, share, volunteer, summer camp horses for the winter, college horses for the summer
9. Where to find your horse: Classified ads, word of mouth, bulletin boards, tack shops, vets and farriers, trainers,purchase from dealer, purchase from private individual, adoption, free horses
10. Begin with the end in mind: How long will your family own this horse – until the child becomes tired of it? Until the child goes to college or gets married? Forever? What do you do with a horse you no longer want? Dealing with the end of a horse’s life.

So today we start with: Why do syour kid want a horse?

This is a critical question – but one many parents fail to analyze thoroughly.  Chances are your son or daughter doesn’t keep asking for a horse simply to annoy you (although some days, it likely seems that way) – they have a real and pressing desire to have a horse. Horses are beautiful, magical creatures that speak to something in a girl’s soul (there are more girls than boys afflicted with the horse bug, but boys are certainly not immune!).

As a parent, it’s your job to figure out the answer to this first question before you proceed further with the whole horsey process. Gauging the level of desire will help you chart an appropriate course. I’ll help you out with a few guidelines below.

photo: Justinsomnia.org

Level 1 – Usually a very young child – Adores horses, often in the form of My Little Ponies and similar fantasy toys – hours can be spent combing the pink and purple manes and tails. This child will likely be thrilled with an occasional pony ride at a fair or birthday party.  Child will demonstrate need to be categorized as a level 2 if she begins to ask for riding lessons instead of pony rides, wants to help care for the pony after the ride or wants to own a horse hours, days, weeks and months after a pony ride. For the moment, you’re reasonably safe.
Level 2 – Usually older – shows interest in learning about horses, devours horse books and magazines, has graduated from My Little Ponies to Breyer Model Horses. If she has a friend who has a horse, she will want to visit there frequently, although the favorite activity may still be combing the mane and tail, at least it is no longer purple or pink. Serious horse involvement can safely be postponed for a while, but it’s becoming more likely at some point in the future.

Photo – Wikimedia Commons

Level 3 – Asks for extra chores to make more pocket money which she is either saving for a horse or for riding lessons. Bedroom wall is adorned with posters of the rock stars of her world – show jumpers, reiners, event and dressage riders – Olympic Equestrians and their mounts are her heroes. An even more avid visitor to any horse-owning friend’s house now, she’ll want to ride, groom, muck, and clean tack; and will hide any clothing smelling remotely of horses in the back of her closet so she can revisit the magic at will. She’s gaining knowledge to back up the passion. You’re now officially on horse-alert watch.
Level 4 – Her wish lists now consist solely of a horse and/or money for lessons. The fashions featured in her favorite magazines are rated on their stylishness in the saddle, and the rock starts of her world often have 4 hooves. She has long since exhausted the horsey-how-to books in the local library, has a shelf full of her own (memorized) and can uncannily imitate Clinton Anderson’s Australian accent from watching RFD TV. Dinner table discussions may range from the breeding and trainer’s statistics for the Kentucky Derby favorite to the World Cup rankings to how bad the bot flies are this season. Want to learn about navicular? Probably not, but you may just hear about the latest research. Take advantage of this stage to encourage reading and science skills. You’ve moved from horse alert watch to a warning.
Level 5 – This is the final stage of the progression. Your daughter or son has been taking lessons for a while. Their trainer has said that they’re progressing very well. Parent teacher conferences usually involve discussions about the love and knowledge of horses displayed by your offspring. Your child is now likely to be well armed with rebuttals to the usual parental arguments. No room? She’ll have photos (and possibly hand drawn designs) of garage-to-barn conversions, and it would save Dad from having to mow the lawn on the weekend. Too expensive? She’s found a barn where she can work off part of the board, or she’ll get a job on the weekends to pay for feed. Not enough time? She’ll give up soccer/get up an hour earlier/forgo hanging out with friends after school.
By the time your family reaches this stage, it’s best to be well prepared. Let your child know of your concerns, but keep this  an open discussion, rather than a rigid denial of requests. There are plenty of options to actually going out and buying a horse. Many of them fit the needs of today’s families better than traditional ownership, and can still fulfill the desire for “owning” a horse that your son or daughter has. The time you spend truly researching this subject and gaining knowledge can be great “quality time” with your child. Take it as a gift.

Next post, we’ll do a basic assessment of the readiness of your child (and your family) for horse ownership.

Until next time.

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So the Kids Want a Horse…..

“Can I have a horse?”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That plaintive plea has probably been pestering parents since Paleolithic times when horses were painted on the walls at Lascaux. It seems to be a rite of passage, especially for young girls, to long for a horse of one’s own. It’s also been traditional for parents to “just say no” and hope the equine jonesing (horse lust)passes sometime before their offspring heads off to college. In many cases, this might just work.
If you can keep the child distracted with horse books, My Little Ponies, puzzles, games, pony rides and (for the uber-serious) riding lessons; and the begging slacks off in a year or so – you’re in the clear. But what happens if your offspring has more of a passion than a passing fancy? Hints to this condition will include all trips to the library resulting in horse books being checked out (until the library’s collection has been exhausted and you’re pestered with requests to go to the New York Public Library for a better selection), and all birthday or Christmas wish lists starting with 1. My own horse, 2. A saddle, etc.
If this scenario is still playing out a year or two (or three for the parent who refuses to read the writing on the barn wall) from the original request – it’s time to face the fact that your child is serious about this whole horse thing, and you may just have to try to find a way to help make it happen.
Notice I didn’t say you might just have to run out and buy the first horse which meets with the approval of your offspring – hint: they’ll all meet with approval if the possibility arises of them being brought home.
Sam Rating Prep 6There are plenty of ways to bring a horse into your family’s life without actually purchasing one – the pony pictured at left was a “hand-me-down” – a lesson pony we gave to friends when we moved to Virginia who went on to another family when their girls outgrew him. There are also plenty of things to consider if you do decide that horse ownership is for you. Over the next several posts, I’ll give you an overview of the things you need to consider. I’ll even include reading suggestions (for both you and your offspring) as we go along.
To give you a bit of background on why I’m qualified to help you with this subject: I’ve been an equine professional for over 30 years and during that time have helped dozens of families make the equine-related decisions that best suit their needs. I’ve taught workshops and classes in horse care as well being a horse trainer and an internationally certified riding instructor. I have bought many horses, sold a few and adopted several others. I’ve kept horses in my backyard and owned and operated a large boarding and training barn. I’ve taught 4H and Pony Club (both in the US and the UK).
Please note that while I have a great deal of expertise, my advice should not take the place of consultation with local professionals and officials regarding your own insurance coverage, zoning regulations, etc.
So, with your child begging in the background – let’s get to it – and maybe the pleading will stop – at least until the next major gift-giving holiday when you may hear “Can we get a horse trailer?” Let the fun begin!

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Next year…

The Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships are going on at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, VA as I write. The first weekend of November will see the Great American/USDF Regional Dressage Championships take place in Williamston, NC. Although qualifying for both of these championships was my “big goal” for 2012, Atlas will not be attending either event.

Oh, it’s not for lack of good intentions – I must have a 6 lane superhighway to hell paved by now. It’s not for lack of time – I have 24 hours in each day, just the same as the hundreds of riders whose horses are stabled in Lexington right this moment, and the hundreds more who will descend on Williamston with their horse trailers packed with tack, feed, rain gear and dreams.

My reason isn’t even lack of planning – I planned beautifully. Early in the year I wrote out training goals, checked the omnibus for mileage to each show, measured my calves and pored over tack sites on the internet in a nearly vain attempt to find a non-custom pair of dressage boots that were not 3″ too tall or 2″ too narrow. I filled pages in 3 ring-binder with action items, each built on the one before, progressing nicely until I would be ready for my first show in May – my own version of the Training Pyramid. Yup, the planning was pretty darn good.

It just seemed that life conspired against me. First there was Atlas’s “Mystery Lameness” which turned out to be caused by a hoof imbalance. A few trips to Virginia Tech for radiographs and corrective shoeing and that problem was taken care of, but it was then June. It would have been pretty difficult to bring Atlas back from 12 weeks off and be ready for shows. Difficult, but not impossible.

After the lameness came the extreme heat, which neither of us like very much. And then there’s the ring, which is really only a corner of the paddock fenced off. It’s a bit lumpy, hard as all get out in the summer, slick when it rains, and with his recent lameness…

Then there are so many horses to ride at work, it’s nearly impossible to carve out enough time in my week to ride Atlas regularly. Add to that my volunteering; which this summer consisted of being board member for Brook Hill Farm and the Southwest Virginia Dressage Association (as well as newsletter editor for the latter), organizing the Lipizzan event in late June to benefit Brook Hill, scribing and stewarding at various horse shows; and the biggie – volunteer coordinator for Dressage at Devon. It seemed that all of my waking hours were filled to the brim.

Then, just when I thought I might finally make it to a show at the end of August, I realized that it would be held the day my daughter and I left for our annual Labor Day trip to Dragon*Con in Atlanta. It looked like I had run out of time. Notice a trend? I (finally) did.

I didn’t let my goal die – I killed it with my bare hands. My hands are the ones which wrote the to-do lists and placed the “A” priority designation next to other items day after day, week after week. Eventually, my goal moved so far down the list, it slipped right off the page.

How did this happen? First of all, I didn’t keep my goals, plans and action items front and center. My beautiful notebook with the carefully written pages languished somewhere (I’m not even sure where it was or how it got there) for about 3 months. Meanwhile scraps of paper and hours of days and days of weeks filled with the myriad of minutiae that make up a life. By not keeping my eyes on the prize, I relegated myself  to non-starter status. Well, non-starter no longer.

I’m learning to (I hate to even type this), Put. Myself. First. Shades of egotistical, self-centered, selfishness – putting myself first isn’t something I’m that all comfortable with. I’m a natural caregiver. That whole nurture thing really works for me – until it comes to nurturing something just for me.

I don’t know why it’s such a difficult thing for me to grasp. There are plenty of good examples of the need to put oneself first – we’re reminded that we “can’t give from an empty well”. Stephen Covey, author and time management/personal growth guru advised us to “Sharpen the Saw”; take time each day to nurture ourselves. He wisely noted that a worn out body/mind/soul is like a dull saw. It’s not an effective tool. Time spent sharpening it is an investment returned many times over.  Heck, even the airlines remind us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before our young children.

For me, even though it’s only October, next year has already begun. I’m dusting off the 2012 goals and re-tooling them for 2013. The action items are being revised and followed. Yesterday, I didn’t think I’d be able to carve out time to ride Atlas between work and teaching; but I did, and it was a great ride. Short, but great. More of these “little victories” will build on the ones already established and before I know it, it will be show season 2013, and we’ll be ready. My big goal for next year is built on all the little actions I take this year, and I know that when the time comes, we’ll be ready.

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The Volunteer Spirit

We’ve all heard the expression that volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations – well, my friends, horse organizations are no different.

I spent this past weekend volunteering at the Virginia Dressage Association fall show which also included the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships. To say that it took a lot of dedicated volunteers to make this amazing event run like clockwork is like saying that it takes “some effort” to train a Grand Prix horse – a huge understatement.

This weekend we had riders (some who volunteered around their ride times at the show), spouses, children of various ages, friends and students. They were a great group to work with. Without our volunteers, the show literally could not have taken place. A little sampling of what our volunteers accomplished this weekend? Check out the (very partial) list below.

  • secured sponsorship from a wide variety of sources
  • handled all the necessary USEF and USDF paperwork
  • hired officials, such as judges
  • handled all of the paperwork involved with rider entries (and believe me, there is a lot of it!)
  • set up rings
  • decorated the entryway to the show office
  • acted as ring stewards
  • acted as scribes for the judges
  • scored the tests
  • ran the tests from the judges’ boxes to the scorers’ office
  • dragged rings to maintain optimum footing
  • watered the flowers
  • organized (beautifully, I may add) the awards ceremonies, making sure all the horses were in place with the correct ribbons on time
  • took down all of the rings, judges stands, flowers, decorations, etc at the end of the show
  • dealt with making sure that all of the appropriate post show paperwork was handled

Without a great volunteer coordinator and a management team who treats their volunteers exceptionally well this show might have run differently. What did our volunteer coordinator provide for us? Things like amazing catering for lunch every day – freshly made soups, salads, bread and desserts along with coffee always at the ready and plenty buckets of candy appropriately placed; sweatshirts, tote bags filled with goodies and door prizes daily. VADA is very wise in knowing that if the volunteers are well treated and made to feel special, they’ll want to come back again (even if it’s only because of the soup ;-).

Virginia Dressage Association (VADA) is also very wise in that riders are required to volunteer a certain number of volunteer hours in order to be eligible for year end awards. VADA goes a step beyond this; however, and also has a Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP). Three tiers of gifts are offered for volunteers who spend 12, 24 or 50 hours (Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, respectively). This also adds an extra boost of encouragement to riders who aren’t currently competing to help out the organization.

What does this have to do with you (if you’re not a member of VADA?) It’s really two-fold. First off, if you are a board member of an organization (which is often a thankless volunteer position), be sure to analyze not only what you’re getting from your volunteers (or not), but what you’re offering as well. People seem to be busier with every passing year, and with the tighter economy, it’s hard for many to be able to volunteer like they were once able. Be creative, check out other volunteer-driven organizations and see what they’re doing to attract – and retain – good volunteers. Secondly, if you are the member of any organization, see what you can do to help. If you only have an hour to offer, believe me – a well-run organization will put that hour to very good use. And remember, if there are 8 people with “only” an hour, there’s a full day of volunteer work right there.

Moral of the story – maybe love does make the world go around, but volunteering for your favorite organization will not only get you a little love, but quite possibly ensure the future of your group. Volunteers really are the life-blood of many organizations.

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Lessons from a Naughty Pony

“Naughty Pony” is one of the nicer things I’ve called Albert. One that’s actually OK to say out loud in front of my students. Under my breath, Albert has been called far worse.

Albert is a Haflinger pony with quite a bit of success in the show ring in his past. One of the reasons he ended up at Brook Hill Farm (the horse rescue where I’m privileged to teach), is that he has a bit of an attitude. Yup, I’m being nice again. Albert loves to jump, but finds flat work boring beyond belief, so he likes to spice things up by running his rider into the fence (it’s hard to use your outside leg when it’s being mashed into the rail), thrusting his head (which is located at the end of a very strong neck) toward the ground and removing the reins from his rider’s hands and proceeding to jump whatever he can get to, oh yes, and bucking. Fortunately, Albert’s rider (whom I’ve nicknamed Velcro Butt) can sit pretty much whatever Albert dishes out, and Albert is never malicious, just fresh and, well, naughty.

I have seen Albert be an amazingly nice pony often enough to know that he’s not rotten through and through, but it’s sometimes easy to forget the nice pony when the behavior issues are so boldly presented. At the 4H State Championship Horse Show last weekend, Albert did a good job of reminding me that he really is a pretty nice guy under all the bluster, but it took me a little while to get the message.

He was in the Pleasure Pony division (not as much of an oxymoron as it may seem – when he’s good he’s very, very good…). During the first class of the division, Albert decided he had center stage and showed a bit of his flair for the dramatic. He and his rider were excused.

Lesson #1 – True team mates are there for you.

When Albert and his rider came out of the ring, she barely had time to dismount before she was surrounded by her team mates from Brook Hill. It was a group hug to end all group hugs. Tears were shed, kudos offered, bravery admired and tighter bonds formed. The Brook Hill girls, already working like a well oiled machine, were now working like a family.

I took Albert back to the stabling area and wondered how we’d handle the warm-up and class the next day. Work the devil out of the pony or go with less warm up because he gets bored (and creative) so quickly. I wanted to avoid the issues we’d just encountered, but wanted to maintain safety above all. I even considered suggesting we scratch the pair from the next day’s class, but that was my last option.

Lesson #2 – Get your info straight from the horse’s mouth, or at least the horse’s rider.

I was still leaning toward a long warm up, hoping we could work a little of the freshness (in both senses of the word) out of the pony. After conferring with the owner of Brook Hill, who thought Albert would be better with less warm up, we decided to consult with the rider and let her make the final choice. She thought through her options very carefully, and decided to go with a very abbreviated warm up. So, after a bit of walk and trot, (during which Albert was wonderful), into the ring they went. The Brook Hill family hanging on the fence like a bunch of nervous mothers, breathing a sigh of relief as team Albert successfully performed at the walk, trot and canter in both directions of the arena. Tears of joy (and relief) were seen in a few eyes when Albert and his rider left the ring with the 10th place ribbon. Hugs all around again (see lesson 1). Life was good, but the weekend wasn’t over.

That evening, as we returned to the barn after dinner, most of our team was already doing night chores, and as I drove up to the barn, who should I see but Albert, unaccompanied, go trotting out of his stall and down the lane. He had unceremoniously pushed past his rider as she entered the stall. Joy. Loose horse (and one with an attitude at that). He was captured with little fanfare and returned to his stall. As my daughter and I were putting his sheet on for the night, he  was very tense and somewhat fractious. As Sarah bent to get a surcingle (belly strap for the uninitiated), I noticed that Albert was shaking.

Lesson #3 – Dislike the behavior, but love the pony (and realize they are not one and the same).

This was one of the most important life lessons I humbly learned from Albert this weekend. As I saw Albert start to shake, I saw an overwhelmed child, and I went from being irritated with him to feeling sympathy and a desire to make him comfortable. Now Albert doesn’t exactly live a stressful life at Brook Hill, he has tons of turnout and excellent care, and his antics weren’t limited to the show grounds, but right then and there, he was an over stressed pony who needed out of that stall. All of the horses at Brook Hill live out, and I think Albert had finally had it after 3 days of being in a stall with only hand grazing and riding to break up the periods of captivity. He just needed out. As turnout wasn’t an option, I took him out for a walk. We meandered wherever he wanted to go (except to investigate one of the motor homes parked in a lower lot – I think he smelled food…), he grazed, wandered, looked around, and began to just breathe and be a pony. When we took him back to his stall 45 minutes later, he walked in calmly and happily, had a drink and went right over to his hay and started eating. No stress and no trying to escape. Was the walk the reason for the change in behavior? Perhaps, although a 45 minute walk doesn’t equal a day of turnout, and he’d been out of his stall for 45 minute periods of grazing and riding during the preceding few days. I think the real difference was the sea change in my attitude toward Albert that evening. I interacted with him as a good pony (who at times displayed bad behavior). I looked past the acting out at a time when it would have been easy simply to say he needed better ground manners. I led with my heart. Now I’m not proud of being in need of this lesson – I usually try to see the best in everyone, especially horses, and I had to apologize to Albert for seeing the behavior instead of the pony at times.

There are many lessons to be learned in this life, and I’m a firm believer in the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Well, this student was certainly ready, and I’m glad Albert was there to be my teacher.

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A Matter of Discipline – Part 2

In my last post, I covered the form of forward-seat riding known as Hunt Seat – which has evolved into a style extremely popular in the show ring. Today, I’ll give you a brief overview of two other types of forward seat riding – Show Jumping (also known as Stadium Jumping) and Eventing.

While neither Show Jumping nor Eventing are an actual “seat” – they are both Olympic Sports, and the riding styles utilized vary somewhat from Hunt Seat. You’ll often hear the term “hunter/jumper” used to define a kind of hybrid interest, but there are some definite differences between the two.

The sport of Show Jumping is pretty much what the name implies – jumping at a show. Despite the amazing feats of Regina Mayer and her cow Luna, you will mainly see horses and ponies in the jumping arena. In jumpers, unlike Hunters – the scoring is completely subjective – points are subtracted for each fault a horse and rider incur while on course.

Knock Down

Faults are given for a jump being knocked down, the horse refusing a jump, going off course and general disobedience which affect the forward motion of the horse.

Typically, riders in the Jumper arena will have their stirrups shorter than when riding hunters. Again – form is following function; fences in the jumper ring in international competitions can be over 5′ in height and in many cases, the round is being timed.

Show Jumping classes are held everywhere from local schooling shows right up to the Olympics. Courses typically consist of brightly painted jumps and may contain water obstacles.

Water Jump

At the larger shows, the courses could pass for a final exam in a landscape design class – abundant use of potted trees and flowers is common, and many big name sponsors have their logos worked into the design of the jumps.

Sponsors are important to the sport

Corporate sponsorship is very important to equestrian sports, and the prize money offered can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a premier event. According to The Equestrian Channel, 5 million people watched the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event on NBC in 2004 – which is a great bit of info to use to segue into the topic of eventing.

Eventing (also called 3 Day Eventing and Combined Training) was originally developed as a test of cavalry horses. It’s composed of three phases: dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. The dressage phase was used to gauge the horse’s obedience and maneuverability (more about Dressage in an upcoming post). The second phase, cross country, is held over the countryside with “natural” obstacles composed of trees, banks, ditches and various types of water obstacles. This phase tests the horse’s fitness, bravery and stamina.

Water obstacle on cross country course

Levels at nationally recognized events (governing bodies are United States Equestrian Federation and United States Eventing Association) run from Beginner Novice (with a maximum height for fixed fences at 2’7″) to Advanced, where the heights of obstacles can be up to 4’1″ for stadium fences and 3’11” for fixed cross country fences. The cross country portion of upper-level competitions will consist of four sections. Section A is Roads and Tracks – which is all on the flat and can be considered a warm up section. Section B is Steeplechase – held over brush steeplechase fences at a faster speed than Section A. Section C is more Roads and Tracks and Section D is the Cross Country Jumping course.

The third phase of a Three Day Event is Stadium Jumping. This is held over painted fences similar to a regular show jumping class. This final day of competition takes a measure of the horse’s true fitness level and asks technical questions of both horse and rider relating to lines and distances.

Badminton Horse Trials

Outside of the Olympics, two of the most famous three day events in the world are the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event held at the Kentucky Horse Park each Spring; the Badminton Horse Trials held at Badminton House in the UK in April of each year. Both are very well attended by the horse loving public – and at Badminton, that often includes members of the Royal Family. Princess Anne, her former husband Captain Mark Phillips and their daughter Zara have all competed at Badminton, and many other Royals have attended as spectators.

Even if your horsey life doesn’t lead you to rubbing shoulders with Royalty while walking the cross country course at Badminton – I hope you enjoy the journey.

Next up – a little about the sport and art of Dressage. Travel well, my friend.

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A matter of discipline

“So what do you ride?” To the novice equestrian, this may seem like a bizarre question, to which the answer would be “Well, horses… du-uh”. OK, so that is a bit silly and over-simplistic, but the question goes much further than just the “English” or “Western” that many beginners would answer. In the next few posts, I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the different seats, or types of riding, with a bit of history as to how they evolved.

With all forms of riding, English or Western, the seats and styles have evolved over centuries. The present day styles in many disciplines would be unrecognizable to riders from a hundred years ago. As with much fashion, what’s “in” today will look dated tomorrow; however, form follows function, and the basic bio-mechanics of riding have changed very little – certainly much less than the amount of bling or color of the jackets you see in the show ring on any given day.

I’ll start with Hunt Seat, simply because that’s the style I first rode. Hunt Seat is a sub-genre of forward seat riding geared toward the show ring. Forward seat riding was developed by Federico Caprilli, an Italian horseman born in the mid 1800’s. After carefully analyzing horses free jumping he noticed how they used their back to bascule (or arch) over their fences – he determined that the style of riding over fences which was currently in vogue (longer stirrups with the rider’s body angled back once the horse reached the apex of the jump) was detrimental to the ability of the horse to jump freely and comfortably.

While in the 50’s and 60’s it was common for hunters to be shown over an outside course, now classes are almost exclusively held in the ring. As the position coveted in the show ring has become a bit stylized, many competitors wouldn’t do too well in the hunt field. Conversely, there are riders field hunting all over the world who wouldn’t pin in an equitation class, for although form follows function, there are several areas where cross country riding in the hunt field and eventing vary considerably from Hunt Seat riding.

The desired impression is one of a workmanlike, balanced position adaptable to riding both on the flat and over fences. The stirrups generally hit about the level of the ankle (when your foot is out of the stirrup). At the halt, there should be a straight line from the ear passing down through the shoulder, hip and heel. Another straight line should pass from the elbow to the bit. The saddle used is a forward seat saddle, so called because the flaps of the saddle curve forward to facilitate shorter stirrups and a forward seat over fences. Often, the rider utilizes two-point position (the seat out of the saddle, upper body slightly angled forward, but center of gravity still balanced over the stirrups) between the fences during a course; however, this is another matter of style. At last years Virginia State 4-H Horse Championships held at The Virginia Horse Center, judges told the riders after a large and (and very competitive) class, to sit between fences. Sitting gives the rider better use of their seat – an important aid; however, 2-point is invaluable when giving a horse a hand gallop to freshen him up a bit or if you’re cantering out for long distances. It’s a great exercise for developing balance and strengthening the quads, and takes some weight off the horse’s back.

Other types of forward seat riding come into play in eventing, show jumping and, in an extreme form I won’t cover in these blogs, horse racing – both on the flat and over fences. I’ll go into show jumping and eventing in my next post. Until then, hope (whatever your discipline), you enjoy your horsey life.

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