Category Archives: Horsemanship

Getting Your Horse Ready for Competition

horse trainingThe Western Pleasure competition is one of many Western competitions.  This particular challenge entails many horses and riders competing simultaneously in one arena.  The contestants stay along the edge of the arena.  The judges will pay close attention to the horse’s pace – which is either a walk, jog, or lope – depending on the pace that the announcer has called out at the time.  The judges will also determine whether the horse changes from one pace to the next smoothly and judge the horse’s attention and focus on the challenge.

A professional trainer can best help you and your horse prepare for a Western Pleasure competition.  You want to make sure you are training your horse properly for when he gets into the arena so that he is well prepared.  One of the most important factors the judges will notice is whether your horse is comfortable, relaxed and void of any nervousness or spookiness during the competition.

There is no particular breed that is more highly recommended than another for Western Pleasure.  All breeds can be trained to do participate excellently in the competition.

To get ready for the Western Pleasure, your horse needs to be able to keep the same gait for a while and heed your commands immediately.  Also, you need to prepare your horse to switch from one gait to another without getting confused.  Most horses lose points in Western Pleasure competitions because they cannot transition from one pace to another smoothly.

Again, the three paces/gaits needed for this competition are as follows:

  • Walk.  When your horse is asked to “walk,” he should do so energetically and not lazily.  Each step should have a rhythm and be the same distance apart.

  • Jog.  Again, the jog needs to be energetic but not overly so.  There should be no jerky movements.  The whole jog needs to flow.

  • Lope.  This is a quicker gait that should have the rhythm of three beats.  The horse should show purposeful movement while loping.

Remember that there will be plenty of other horses and riders in the arena and your horse can get lost in the crowd.  Do not let that happen because the judges will not notice you.  You and your horse both have to appear that you are enthusiastic and having a great time.

Stay away from other horses that look like they could be problematic.  When you first get in the arena, avoid those horses when choosing your spot.  Also, find a location where it appears you and your horse will have the most room away from all other competitors.

If the other horses get too close during the competition, ride close to the edge along the entire corner of the arena.  The other riders will tend to cut the corner.  This gives you the opportunity to create more space between you and the others.

Western competitions can be a lot of fun and a great way to bond with your horse.  If you are interested in training for a Western Pleasure challenge, contact a trainer today to get started.

Choosing a Good Instructor for Horseback Riding Lessons

riding lessonsMost stables and ranches offer horseback riding lessons to beginners. Lessons are important if you have never ridden a horse before. In addition to riding instruction, you are also taught proper handling of a horse, horse care, and safety.

First decide whether your purpose in riding is for pleasure or to participate in competitions. Begin looking for an instructor that focuses on the direction you want to go.

For example, if you want to learn to ride horseback just to trail ride, you may not need an instructor who specializes in horse training for competitions. Often times, the competition trainer may work with another trainer who specializes in the basics, so just ask for a recommendation.

An instructor does not necessarily need to be certified to be a good horseback riding instructor. When you find an instructor that seems to be compatible to your needs, ask him or her if you can contact some current or former students for a reference. Ask about their experience, education, and safety record. Watch them teach a lesson before you sign up.

Schedule a tour of the ranch or stables that the instructor is affiliated with. Make sure the horses there are well-kept and healthy. The buildings and fences should be in good repair. The place does not need to be flush with money; however, you want to make sure the owner and hands are responsible and are taking care of what they do have. You want to be taught the basics by someone who has enough passion for what they do to do it properly.

If you have no horse of your own, ask the instructor if the ranch has extra horses that you may use for lessons and for practice. If you do not own a horse, you will probably want to take several lessons per week. If you do own your own horse, one lesson per week should suffice as long as you are practicing throughout the week with your horse.

New riders need experienced, well-trained horses. The horse should be calm, confident, and healthy. Your instructor should be seasoned to read your horse’s reactions to you. For example, your instructor should pick up if you are making the horse nervous, and can advise you to change some things in your own behavior so that you and the horse can be a better team as you are learning to ride.

How to Get Your Horse to Work with Cattle

cattle workHorses do not naturally work with cattle. Some horses may even shy away from cattle on their own. You may need to get some training for your horse if you want it to work well with cattle. The trainer will begin a few simple exercises with your horse to train it to be good with cattle.

Before even introducing your horse to cattle, he needs to be broken in a bit, but not necessarily completely. You want him to focus on the cattle, not his training, so you need him just broken in enough to obey your commands.

Begin your horse’s initial experience with cattle by introducing him to some slow, amiable cows. If you begin by introducing your horse to a violent bull, he is not going to have good responses to any cattle.

Introduce the horse to one cow, then when he gets more comfortable, ride along with some other horses in a field of cows. The calmer your horse becomes in the field of cattle, the closer to the cattle you can take him.

Next, in an arena, teach your horse to follow a single cow around. This is called “tracking.” You will need to show your horse how to stand at certain distances and directions from the cow to put pressure on it to move in the direction you want.

After that, teach the horse to “hold” the cow. This means the horse will stop at a comfortable distance from the cow, lessening the anxiety on her, and letting her know it is alright to stop.

Lastly, your horse will learn to “work” a herd of cows. Take your horse back to the cattle pasture. Slowly, get him used to the herd by making him walk circles around it. Then, as he gets more comfortable, get him to circle the cattle closer and closer. At some point, make him cut through the center of the herd. This is how he will learn to divide the herd in half.

Have the horse circle the herd again to draw the herd back together into one unit. Then, have him cut it in half again. Have your horse practice this repeatedly.

Next, you will want to teach your horse to use his tracking and holding skills to cut a single cow out of the herd.

During the time the horse works the herd, make sure he stays focused on the cattle. If he is cutting a single cow from the herd, keep him focused on that single cow. A horse that remains focused on the cattle, and not you or its training, will be great at cattle work.

How to Load Your Horse into a Trailer

trailer loadingOne common difficulty most horse owners face is getting a horse to walk in and out of his trailer. A good horse trainer can teach your horse to effectively enter and exit the trailer safely and calmly in response to a verbal “cue.”

Many horses have a bad initial experience with trailers, and that feeds the horse’s nervousness in subsequent attempts to load and unload the horse. A trainer will work on the horse’s trust issues and focus his attention on obedience to the verbal cue, rather than allowing the horse to focus his attention on the trailer itself.

Another reason that a horse may have problems loading and unloading from a trailer is because the trailer feels rickety to the horse, and he is afraid it may collapse if he walks into it. Test the trailer yourself and see if poor workmanship or deterioration of the trailer is contributing to your horse’s fears. Your horse may have a legitimate reason to be afraid of his trailer.

Of course, a horse that refuses to enter or exit a trailer could just simply be a disobedient horse. A good trainer can work on the horse’s obedience skills and teach him to be more compliant with his owner’s commands.

One such method used in horse training is to first drill the horse to obey the verbal cue without using a trailer. The trainer puts a piece of plywood on the ground and teaches the horse to step forward and backwards over the plywood, in response to the verbal cue. Once the horse has been thoroughly trained to recognize and obey the verbal cue with the plywood, then the trainer can move on to introducing the trailer into the scenario.

More than anything, training a horse to step into his trailer requires getting the horse to trust you. You can only to do this remaining consistent with your behavior towards the horse. Reward the horse each time he complies with your commands. Make the horse feel confident in your authority.

Never be hesitant to calm a frightened horse by stroking him or by offering some soft words of encouragement.

How to Overcome Behavioral Issues with Your Horse When Trail Riding

trail ridingTrail riding for pleasure can be one of the most relaxing activities you can do with your horse to get away from it all.  However, sometimes a horse will have behavioral issues on the trail that he does not have at home.  Here is a look at a few common problems that your horse may be having on the trail.

  1. A horse has the tendency to run at the first indication of anything that frightens him.  Before you even begin trail riding with your horse, you need to work on his inclination for flight.  Slowly get the horse used to being in wide open spaces like the trail.  Also, get him used to loud, moving objects like automobiles that he might meet up with on the trail, especially if the trail will take him along or across a highway.

  2. Have some sort of physical conduct on your part that reassures the horse when he is afraid and lets him know that you have confidence in the situation.  A soft pat is a good example of something you can do to make your horse more assured in uncomfortable circumstances.

  3. Sometimes, a horse does not obey his rider’s commands on the trail, especially if the command is to do something daunting, such as crossing a stream or creek.  One good way to prevent disobedience on the trail is to make sure the horse is obeying you at home.  If he will not obey your simple instructions at the stable or ranch, he will be even less likely to obey you out on the trail, where everything is unfamiliar.

  4. If your horse is not used to riding long trails, start him out with short rides and drag them out longer and longer as he gets used to them.  Eventually, you will be able to take him on long trails.

  5. If your trail does include traveling along a highway, make sure that the highway has a wide shoulder for you to ride on.  Wear bright clothes, reflectors, or a flashing light so that cars and trucks will see you on the side of the road.  If local traffic laws allow you to ride facing the traffic, do so.  Your horse will be less spooked if he can see the car coming towards him rather than sneaking up behind him.

How to Be Good at Ranch Roping

ranch ropingEveryone who has ever seen a rodeo is familiar with calf roping, also known as “tie-down roping.” It is a popular, timed rodeo competition where a mounted rider chases, lassos, and then ties down a calf, trying to do it in the shortest amount of time as possible.

The horses used in roping competitions must be specifically trained to aid the rider in roping and tying the calf. Most calf roping horses are American Quarter Horses. This breed is chosen because of its strength.

During a calf-roping competition, the following takes place. The calf is released from a chute, given a head start, and then the rider on the horse takes off after it. When the lasso touches the calf, the horse stops, and the rider dismounts. After the rider dismounts, the horse begins moving backwards, to put some tautness in the lasso rope that is around the calf. Meanwhile, the rider holds the calf down and quickly ties three of its legs together with a short rope that he most likely has been holding in his teeth the entire time (this rope is known as a “tie-down rope” or “piggin’ string”). After that, the rider gets back on the horse and loosens the lasso rope. If the rope on the calf’s legs holds the calf for at least six seconds, then the rider is still in the competition.

Calf roping cannot be done without the horse. He is the major actor. As stated before, it is necessary that the horse is strong, but the horse also needs to be calm, responsive, and gentle. A calf-roping horse will obey commands to move, stop, and back up quickly. He will be trained to respond to pressure cues on his legs and neck.

Teaching a horse to calf rope may take years. You or a professional at the stables should spend at least 30 minutes a day training the horse.

The first step in training a calf-roping horse is to get him jaded to having ropes flying all around him. A good way to do this is to trail a rope after him while he walks or gallops around a round pen. Then, practice throwing a rope out in front of the horse while riding him around the pen.

The second step is training the horse to stop and back up. You can either use a dummy cow or a log to do this. Lasso the dummy or the log and teach the horse to stop when the lasso hits the target and then to start backing up to make the rope taut as soon as you dismount. Teach him to back up slowly, so as not to pull the calf off its feet when you begin roping real calves.

After he gets good at stopping and backing up, put a few old, slow cows in the pen to get the horse used to following them. Use just your hands and legs to direct the horse as he follows the cows. After the horse is following your hand and leg cues correctly, start lassoing the cows and teach the horse to react the same as he did with the dummy or the log.

Once the horse is doing well with the old, slow cows, do the same exercises using younger, faster cows. Your horse should now be ready to help you rope some calves.

In any kind of training or work involving cattle, such as ranch roping, always remember to refrain from training your horse to be aggressive in any way to the cattle. A horse that can get along well with cattle will serve you better in competitions and in handling livestock.

How to Build a Stronger Relationship with Your Horse

trail challengeA good way to train your horse to be less clumsy and more agile and confident is to compete in trail challenges. Not only do trail challenges promote skills that will make your horse a better riding horse, but it also will develop a stronger relationship between you and your horse.

Some trail challenges take place on a six to eight-mile trail, utilizing both natural and man-made obstacles. Other trail challenges take place in an arena, with only man-made obstacles.

If the challenge takes place in an arena, some examples of the types of obstacles offered will be crossing a pile of poles without knocking a pole down, walking over a tilting bridge, or having the horse turn itself around on a small pedestal.

If the challenge takes place on a long trail, the obstacles will include streams, bridges, walking up and down hills, dragging a log, opening and closing gates.

To equip your horse properly for trail challenge training, you need a comfortable saddle that fits your horse well, a saddle pad, bridle, and bit.

The first important step in training is to teach your horse to walk slowly. He will not be able to move quickly when he needs to go through a trail obstacle. Therefore, his first lesson must be to slow down and move carefully.

Next, you will teach your horse how to use a neck rein instead of a direct rein. In other words, you will teach your horse to respond to your body cues rather than the actual reins. This keeps your hands free to do other things when you are on the trail or in the challenge arena.

Next, put some poles on the ground and teach the horse to step carefully over the poles. This is an important lesson as the horse learns to think about where he steps.

A lot of ranches offer trail trials to get you and your horse ready for a real trail challenge. All sorts of practice obstacles are offered at a trail trial – bridges, gates, water, terrain, slides, step-overs, ditches, jumps and side passes.