My ITT Exam

I had a blog topic all lined up for you tonight, but as I had the very exciting news in the post today that I passed my BHS Intermediate Teaching Test, which together with my Stage IV that I got a few years ago, I’m now a BHS Intermediate Instructor! Yay!! So instead tonight I’m going to bore you with the details of my exam, and my other story will just have to wait – apologies in advance!


I had a very early start to get to my exam in order to avoid the M25 at rush hour, but when I got there with plenty of time I buddied up with another girl, who seemed confident and knew what we were supposed to be doing! Off we went to the indoor schools; to walk the simulated cross country and showjumping courses. We would be teaching one of those lessons, but would only be told in the briefing at 8.15am. The cross country course looked fairly straightforward and walked well. However the showjumping had slightly dodgy striding, which would mean we’d need to adjust it during the lesson. 

Our five examiners all seemed very nice – approachable and friendly. If not slight batty. But I think that happens to everyone in the horse world at some point! They put us at ease anyway, and once all the paperwork and everything was filled out we started the exam.

First up, I had presentations and equitation theory. I think I was quite glad to get the presentations out the way because it was definitely an area that worried me. In the ITT exam you prepare nine presentations on coaching topics, and present a random one. I was given “non-rider injury prevention”. Not my favourite, but also by no means the hardest one! I had to present it to the two other ladies in my group, who got nicely involved. I think the main point of the presentations is that the examiner can see that you engage with your audience and have a discussion more than a lecture.

The equitation theory covered training horses up to elementary standard, describing how to ride various dressage movements, and how you would develop both horse and rider over fences. As well as preparing them for their first competition. All of my friends’ quizzing the week before paid off as I felt quite happy answering questions. I was cut off a couple of times, which always worries you, but I think that was because the examiner was happy with my answer and wanted another candidate to give their thoughts. Overall, I left that section feeling nicely focused and confident, which I think made me feel better for the flat private lesson, which was next!

Two candidates took this unit of the exam simultaneously, so there were two horses ready for us. One, I recognised from my training day as being the quirky one who changed canter lead behind every half dozen strides. To my relief, I had the slightly daunting Spanish horse complete in double bridle … there’s a post somewhere already about that. Here it is!

Anyway, I felt I got a good rapport with the rider and made some tweaks to both horse and rider. I managed to answer the examiner’s questions after and she seemed happy enough so I felt that went alright. I also felt quite confident that this rider would give positive and fair feedback to the examiner.

My next stop was the private jump lesson, and I was in the showjumping arena. My rider was an ex-eventer but had never ridden this riding school horse before. I announced to the examiner that as they were an unknown combination I’d treat it as an assessment lesson so they could develop a relationship. So I lowered the fences a bit below standard. They warmed up and the horse was very honest and straightforward. Just crooked, and drifted left all the time. It was also stuffy so I shortened all the distances to build it’s confidence, and we put together the course in stages. There was a dog leg to the right, and we had a couple of problems with the horse drifting to the left and around the style. So I explained to my rider how to adjust her line so that she had as many straight strides as possible before the style. Then they flew it and the rest of the course no problem. When I spoke to the examiner afterwards I said I wouldn’t take them much over 80cm until the straightness and suppleness issues were sorted, which the examiner said she agreed wholeheartedly with. I felt this lesson went well generally, but I was slightly worried that I hadn’t jumped big enough. But then I’d provided a reason so that was the best I could do really.

After a really long lunch break because of the timetabling, I had business management. Again, I felt that went reasonably well and I answered all the questions; including the bonus one that DEFRA can randomly inspect yards to see if all horses have passports and if they haven’t you can be fined up to £1000 per horse – ouch! Some of these questions were a bit of common sense and some purely educated guesses so fingers crossed!

Then I had to teach a group of riders on the flat – thank god I didn’t need to test my grid distances because these riding school horses would struggle with competition distances and it would have upset my frame of mind. I had three riders and two stuffy horses, and one which didn’t bend. After watching them warm up I introduced a four loop serpentine (the arena was 70m long!) which would benefit all the horse’s suppleness and then I put in transitions to help those that were behind the leg. Then we did trot-canter-trot transitions to help improve the quality of the canter. Everyone seemed to improve and the riders gave me good feedback, which I hoped they’d reiterate to the examiner.

Finally, I had to do a lunge lesson. I felt fairly well prepared for this, but when I arrived I saw a rather dour looking woman. And I was reminded of the conversation over lunch … “I had X to teach. She wasn’t very helpful. She didn’t listen to anything I said.” 

I knew it was the same lady, so felt a bit put off. And I was also feeling a little tired by then, so I made a couple of mistakes – forgetting to undo the reins until the last minute as she was mounting, and not encouraging her to hold on to the saddle in her very bouncy trot without stirrups. So I came away slightly frustrated, but at least I thought I had raised a smile and she had complied with my instructions so hopefully she would give the examiner fair feedback. 

Thankfully I missed the rush hour back to get home in time for Pilates, and since then I’ve been reflecting and dissecting the whole day until today’s post! 

Along with my certificates I had feedback from the lessons, which is really great. The examiners all said I managed the lessons safely, improved the riders, developed a rapport, had good structure to my lessons, used open questions to engage my riders, and gave relevant technical knowledge – I’m so pleased!

So now I’ve bored you all to tears about my ITT exam, I’ll finish my glass of wine and make a start on the very large box of chocolates my long suffering husband bought home with some flowers. 

My Introduction To Parelli

Some people advocate Parelli, others resent it. It’s had good press, it’s had bad press. Whatever. Each to their own. I’m not going to go into depth here – do some reading and develop your own opinion.

Anyway, I’ve never really had anything to do with Parelli, nor have I had a need to try it with my horses.  But when I went to do a practice lunge lesson with a riding club member last week I was horrified, embarrassed, whatever you want to say, that I couldn’t get the horse to lunge when I warmed her up.

“Oh, she’s Parelli trained” announced her owner as an explanation. That still didn’t help me, so she gave me a quick lesson on lunging the Parelli way.

Firstly, she explained that my belly button should be pointing in the direction I want the horse to go. So to send a horse forwards, turn to look (and point your belly button) in that direction. When you face the horse, they think you are wanting them to reverse. Which was the problem I was having. 

You can also fling your rein arm in the direction you want them to go, thus giving a clearer instruction. Once I’d got the hang of this then it did make a bit of sense and the mare responded well.

To slow a horse the Parelli way, you either put the whip out in front of their body, or waggle the lunge line. I found this part trickier, until I accidentally said the word “Good” at which point the mare stopped dead! Apparently that’s a cue word for the end of the session and tit bit time.

Parelli people also don’t use many words, as this lady told me. They expect to say go, and then say nothing until they want the horse to do something different. Which when we’re riding is something we should aim for so our aids remain subtle and clear, but most of us use a dialogue when lunging to either settle the horse, or to regulate their gait. 

The whip is also often used instead of the voice to get a horse to move off. Smack it on the ground behind the horse twice, and they should move forwards until told otherwise. This is more to do with the obedience aspect of Parelli, so apart from being told about it I didn’t use this technique.

Regardless of my views on Parelli, it was actually an interesting learning experience because it means I have another trick up my sleeve if I ever come across a horse who “won’t” lunge – I may just be talking the wrong language to them. 

A Daunting Task

I taught a very daunting lesson earlier this week with a guinea pig rider.

She entered the arena with a rather snazzy looking Spanish horse, bedecked in a double bridle. 

The rider was very confident, as she was legged up onto the jogging mare. I made the necessary enquiries to tick the box:

  • What’s the rider’s name, riding experience, qualifications, medical history.
  • What’s the horse’s name, experience, history and medical history.
  • What was the horse and rider relationship.

This girl was a Stage IV rider and this was her new horse, recently come over from Spain. It could do all the lateral movements but didn’t have a competition record.

Gulp.

What on earth should I teach them?!

I admit, I felt slightly out of my depth. I take a while to get into my groove, especially with confident riders because I get a bit intimidated. The horse was also a far higher calibre than I’ve taught before.

I started the session by watching them warm up. It gave me time to think. The trot was choppy and short striding; the canter was bouncy and tense and this rider said that whilst the horse didn’t feel like she was going to bolt, she was strong. The mare tried to evade the contact by tucking her nose to her chest. The rider had a good balanced position, and secure lower leg. If I’m going to be really picky, she was a bit collapsed in her upper body, and had a tendency to fix her hands.

I had a plan. Despite the horse’s high level of training, there were some basic elements that we could improve. Equally though, the mare was hot and quick thinking, so needed to be kept mentally stimulated. 

I explained to my rider that I felt we should work on relaxing the mare, and getting her to take the contact forwards, instead of tucking behind the bridle. As the mare was a busy type, I suggested we used leg yield to get the mare stepping under with her inside hind leg and taking the contact forwards. Our focus being on the neck staying long and the mare relaxing.

We started in walk, and immediately it was obvious that the mare is very talented with an extravagant crossover. She easily leg yielded from the three-quarter line to the track. However, as with any big mover, she had the tendency to escape from her rider – in the leg yield the rider tends to lose her outside shoulder. 

Once we moved into the trot the loss of the outside shoulder was more noticeable, so I brought my riders   attention to her outside rein contact, making sure it prevented too much inside flexion and supported the outside shoulder. Then I highlighted how she was pinning her inside rein by the wither, so encouraging the mare to turn to the inside and fall through the outside shoulder. As soon as that hand was carried forwards the leg yield improved because they were straight. Then we turned our attention to keeping the trot rhythm consistent through the movement.

After working on both reins I felt there was a slight improvement; the rider was more in tune with the horse, who was starting to lengthen her neck and was moving laterally in a more relaxed manner.

I didn’t want to work on the canter – no need to over complicate matters – so we moved on to zig zag leg yielding. This was to ensure the mare wasn’t anticipating going from the three-quarter line to the track, and was responsive to the riders outside leg. The rider also had to make more subtle aids and change her position slowly as she changed direction so as to help maintain their balance. We talked about which direction was easier: the left leg yield was more extravagant but felt less controlled, than the right which had less crossing but was straighter and with no rushing. 

By the end of the session I felt the mare was much improved, with a longer trot stride, and more relaxed and consistent in her frame. I did mention to her rider about trying her in just a snaffle bridle to establish a consistent contact, and to get the horse seeking it more, but I think as it’s early days in their relationship it might be an exercise for the future. This rider gave me positive feedback, and seemed to understand the lesson concept and reasoning behind it, so hopefully I’ve helped her. 

Now that I’ve been thrown in the deep end, and managed to survive I actually reflect on that lesson in a positive light, and would quite like to teach this pair in the future.

Liver fluke

At a clinic a couple of weeks ago one rider informed me that her horse was recovering from liver fluke so when she needed to have a breather, they would.

It occurred to me that if I’m really honest, I don’t know that much about liver fluke. So I did some reading and thought I’d share it with you all.

Put basically, liver fluke is a collective name for flat parasitic worms that live in the livers of numerous mammals, including horses and humans.

Liver fluke has become more prevalent in recent years due to wet summers and mild winters. So whilst horse owners don’t need to  routinely check and treat for liver fluke, it’s important to be aware that horses grazing on heavy, poor draining land with other species (sheep in particular) are at a higher risk of liver fluke.

The liver is one of the most resilient organs, so symptoms of liver fluke can be hard to spot until the horse is very unwell. The most common sign of liver fluke is chronic anaemia, but soft dung, a dry coat, oedema, weight loss and jaundice can all be observed. Unlike sheep and cattle, liver fluke in horses s rarely fatal.

You can detect liver fluke through a faecal worm egg count done between February and May, and a blood test. Unlike sheep and cattle, there aren’t any licensed medications to treat liver fluke in horses; the only way is to use medication that is prescribed off license by the vet. This means that the vet will tell you to use the medicine in a different way to the instructions on the label or for what the medicine has be licensed for.

I looked up the life cycle of liver fluke, and here is Farmers Weekly’s description. I can’t really improve on this explanation so you might as well hear it from source.

It’s flat, leaf-shaped and a pale brown colour, with tiny sharp spines that irritate the liver tissue of animals. The adult, which is usually about 2cm to 3cm long, lays its eggs in the bile ducts of the liver.

The egg passes into the intestine and is excreted via the manure. If the eggs enter water, they hatch into small larvae known as miracidia.
These swim around until they find a small water snail on a leaf near the riverbank. After entering the snail they encyst (enclose themselves in a sac) and become dormant.
After about six weeks, they hatch into tiny tadpole-shaped cercariae. These attach themselves to water plants, usually grass, where they encyst again into metacercariae.
When the plant is eaten by the animal, the metacercariae penetrate the intestinal wall, enter the abdominal cavity and start eating their way into the liver.
After another six weeks or so, they make their way to a bile duct to reproduce.

In all, liver fluke is usually not too serious in equines due to their natural resistance, but it is tricky to treat and could take a couple of months for them to regain full health. So if your grazing is with cattle and sheep, near rivers and on heavy ground, it’s worth bearing liver fluke in mind and testing for it annually.

Leg on?

At the very, very basic level of horse riding you learn that legs mean go and hands mean stop. Then this is developed as the rider becomes more balanced and able to give more subtle, refined aids. 

Recently I’ve been emphasising the importance of using the leg in downward transitions to a lot of my clients. This is probably because Matt needs a lot of leg in order to make a balanced transition.

Firstly, let’s look at what happens if you only use your reins to slow down. The horse raises his head, hollows his back, and the hindquarters get left behind. In the halt, they looked “camped out behind”. This poor transition causes the horse to be on the forehand and therefore unable to use the hindquarters effectively.

Now how does using the leg help to improve the downward transition? It’s important to realise here that the leg is working in a slightly different way to when you’re asking for a forwards movement, which tends to be more of a nudge. In a downward transition the legs are long and from the thigh, wrap around the barrel to hug the horse. As the legs close in this way the horse is encouraged to lift their rib cage and engage the abdominals, which in turn lifts the withers, lowers the head and lifts the back to enable the hindquarters to come under. Then the hindquarters are ready to take the weight of the horse and push the horse forward into the next movement.

To apply the closing leg aid you want to keep the leg long and squeeze the thighs and calf slowly, literally as if you are hugging your horse. Once you reach the correct amount of leg, which may be more than you think, you should feel their back lift slightly and the nose drop. The rein contact should be steady to support them and to prevent them rushing forwards or over balancing, but not restricting their head or creating tension in the neck.

Moving on from applying the leg in a downward transition to make the transition more balanced and maintaining impulsion, is riding a square halt.

This is what everyone wants their final centre line to finish with, but it’s easier said than done. At prelim level, the transition is progressive, but as you move up the levels you need to ride a halt transition from trot, medium trot, and canter.

Even if you don’t want to achieve a perfect dressage square halt, having a horse who halts squarely makes schooling a lot easier as they don’t switch off, so you can pick up trot again instantly. When hacking you can ask them to halt while a lorry passes and they’ll remain stationary and “on the aids” so you are more in control and safer. It’s easier to rein back from a square halt, which is useful when you’re opening gates. 

How do you ride a square halt? Begin with progressive transitions, and use the closing leg aid to lift the rib cage into the halt, as we discussed before. Keep an even rein contact, and seat position to ensure they remain straight. The reins half halt, along with the seat, and once the horse stops you just need to wait. Don’t drop the reins, and keep closing the leg. After a minute or two to think, you’ll feel their body weight shift. A leg might creep forwards, or backwards as they straighten themselves. Then you’ll feel each leg take the load equally. The reins are preventing a forward step or a twist of the body.

It may take a moment, but it’s important that the horse remains attentive to you, so don’t let them look around and position your halt where there’s fewer distractions. Once you can feel them standing square they can be rewarded – a pat, a kind word – but they should stand stationary for a couple of seconds. You should feel the improvement as they step up into walk (or trot!) because the hind legs are working properly and the horse is less on the forehand. 

Consistency is the key to getting a square halt, but as the horse begins to learn that this is the only acceptable way to stand, and develop more strength, they will halt squarely quicker and quicker each time.

Finding The Perfect Stride

A client of mine has been having trouble finding her jumping stride recently, and they’ve been getting in too deep and getting in a muddle over courses.

After a problematic weekend competing, we had some work to do this week. I put a grid out, and we began with the middle fence as a cross, building to an upright and then oxer. Over the cross and upright they were fine, but as soon as I put the back rail onto the 1m fence the pair crashed and burned. 

I noticed two problems, which need to be overcome. The first problem is that my rider was micro managing her horse, and trying to place him precisely to the jump, even a stride or two out. Her adjustments, and change in body position (especially when she folded before him) unbalanced the horse, and now that they’re jumping a significant height, he’s unable to get them out of trouble. To explain more; if she saw a long stride, kicked and folded, her body weight went onto his shoulders causing him to put in an extra stride and then stop because he’s unable to lift the shoulders to take off over a 1m+ jump.

We went back to basics for a moment and looked at the quality of the canter. The canter needs to be punchy and energetic, especially as the jumps get bigger. Sometimes their canter wasn’t quite energetic enough, which can also cause her to ride at the last minute. Next I reminded my rider that her job is to set up the canter and create a good approach but the last three strides were up to the horse. After all, it’s his legs and body that need to get over the fence. 

Once my rider stopped panic riding at the last minute, they met the jumps nicely each time.

Next, I built the grid up to an upright, one stride, oxer, one stride, upright. Again, we focused on the canter approach to the first fence and meeting that nicely. Then as long as my rider had her leg on quietly and didn’t chase her horse through the grid, the rest of it flowed nicely. Then my rider could work on the feel of a good shaped bascule and take off.

Once we’d worked through the grid I got out the muscles again to build a simple course. I only used single fences as this exercise was to focus on creating a good approach to each fence individually, and we’d already covered combinations with the gridwork.

We ran through a couple of courses, checking lines and ensuring the canter is balanced but energetic. Which is when we came to the second problem.

My rider has jumped, with the help of placing poles, from a perfect take off. Which is what she’s focusing on achieving. But when the take off is slightly out, she’s getting het up about it not being perfect. This is actually creating the last minute panick-adjustments we’ve just discussed. 

I explained to her that whilst there is a perfect position to take off for a jump, there is also some leeway to be six inches closer or far away. 

There is the perfect take off point – probably with some mathematical formula linking the distance from the base of the fence to the height of the fence and the parabola – but there is also the correct take off point for the approach they’ve had. 

When she approaches a fence there’s a distance her horse has to travel. The canter stride will cover some ground, and depending on the type of canter this distance will vary. Which is why it’s important to have a good quality, regular canter. Then over the last three, maybe four, canter strides (when a horse has locked onto the fence) the horse will adjust his stride, like a long jumper, to get as close to the takeoff point as possible. Just like long jumpers though, sometimes they’re over the line or just back off the line. Therefore my rider needs to focus more on creating a good approach so that her horse is in the best possible position to adjust the canter over the last couple of strides to get a good jump.

So whilst we all strive for that perfect take off point, it’s important to remember that the horse needs to be able to control the last couple of strides (yes, I know some horses have a tendency to run out, but let’s look at the keen jumper who loves to jump) and that there is a good take off point for every approach, which is important to accept, so don’t worry if you took off over that jump a little too far away, or a tiny bit too close because it is better to go with your horse then interfere and cause him to doubt himself.

Matt’s Diary – Week 12

Saturday 

Young Mum promised me a hack this morning and I was really looking forwards to it. I worked so hard practising my dressage tests but she decided that it was still too dark at 8am so we spent longer in the school and only did a little hack round the block. I was quite disappointed. But better safe than sorry I guess. Even with her fluorescent coat on… 

The rest of the day was spent in the field practising my tests in my head. To my surprise she didn’t groom me when we came in for bed.

Sunday

Now I understand why she didn’t groom me! Because at sunrise today Young Mum turned me out with my breakfast. Obviously I had a quick roll after eating. But it wasn’t long before she and The Chauffeur poo picked and brought me in. Before I could start fidgeting and being a pain my boots were fastened and we were at the trailer. I marched on. I was ready! All these weeks of preparation. It was my moment!

We arrived at the same place as last time, but the warm up was very soggy so I did my best to get in the zone and stop trying to find my friends.

I confidently marched down to the nice big arena we used last time where I could study my reflection and see how handsome I am. To my horror I was redirected to a large outdoor arena. I wasn’t expecting this! Caught off guard, I hadn’t gotten my bearings before the bell went and I was heading down the centre line.

I’m ashamed to say, that it wasn’t my best performance. I had to neigh a comfort to a youngster being lunged in the distance. And as I was about to go across the diagonal for my speciality – medium trot – I realised Old Mum was there. Where did she come from? Distracted, I wobbled into canter.

I was really ashamed and felt bad for Young Mum. I thought I’d try harder in the second test. But they loaded me back onto the trailer. Well, tried to. I put my hoof down – I thought there were two Novice tests!

Back home I was thrown into the field to commiserate with Otis. Barely two hours later, when I had just enjoyed a thorough roll, Young Mum and Old Mum came back! I stood still, perplexed at the repeat of this morning whilst they cleaned me up and put on my boots. Still waiting for an explanation, I took a while to load. Perhaps I was being sent home in disgrace?

We turned up at the big posh competition again, and Young Mum soon mounted to go to the warm up. I groaned – that was a large roast dinner she’d had! This time the warm up was full of Valegro wannabes, turning their noses up at me. So I pinged around in medium trot to show off. That’ll teach them!

This time my test was in the luxurious indoor, complete with my reflection and a photographer. I tried my hardest and apart from a slight gawp at the next horse coming down I concentrated really really hard. Young Mum was pleased, she gave me a big pat as we left the arena. 

I loaded immediately, I was ready for bed after all this excitement! Young Mum told me later I’d scored 66.9%. The judge was hard to please, and we were fifth. Less than 1% behind the winner. With that news, I swaggered over to Otis to tell him. I was a challenge to the big boys now!



Monday

It was early this morning when both Mums arrived. I expected a day off, but Old Mum insisted on lunging me. She was better than last week, so hopefully she can remember it all when I go home in January. She turned me out and did my stable, as well as poo pick my field because Young Mum had to go and learn how to save lives. I’m glad Old Mum is learning the ropes, I have high standards now!

The Chauffeur brought us in this evening and Young Mum was pleased to know that we’d behaved ourselves for him.

Tuesday

Finally, today was my day off to recover from my dressage. Young Mum has been battling the darkness recently, so Otis and I stayed out until dark. We didn’t even get our mud packs brushed off our faces, but at least we had perfectly level beds! I let her off though, riding seven horses in one day is pretty tough on the legs and tummy muscles.

Wednesday

Another day off for me. I think this is my Christmas holiday come early. Young Mum turned us out early, but was back quite early to bring us in because she still had to teach two kids and ride a horse – all after our bedtime! She’s regretting taking my hood off now. I however, think it is perfectly pleasant being able to rub mud up under my rug and embed it into my eyelashes and nose.


Thursday

Today Otis and I got so fed up of not having our face masks cleaned off we tried to tidy ourselves up a bit. Perhaps if grooming us doesnt look like such a huge, arduous task she’ll do it?! 

Unfortunately for us The Chauffeur brought us in because Young Mum was so busy fighting the darkness. Otis thought about being naughty, but I reminded him of his bad leg and the Vet Visit next week.

Friday

It seemed to be back to normality today; Young Mum lunged be before breakfast. I showed her my best canter work, but couldn’t spook and show off my prancing trot because it was still dark! 

Then this afternoon she tied us both outside my stable, took our rugs off and let us groom each other while she did the bits we couldn’t reach. Otis kept insisting I scratched his right side, but I wanted my left side scratched so after a couple of asks he turned his bum to me and sulked. I thought we both looked pretty smart afterwards.


Saturday 

It was really foggy this morning so Young Mum couldn’t hack me. Tomorrow afternoon, apparently. But we did some jumping. 


I loved it! I made sure I picked my feet up over the scary yellow things in the middle. I was just getting into my stride when the yard came to life. All I could hear were voices and hoof falls. So I pretended to be Valegro, passaging around; giving a loud, dragon-like snort for full effect. Unfortunately, the fog hid the large puffs of smoke that spirals out my nostrils when I snort, somewhat reducing the effect.

We had to come in early today because Young Mum had to take the cat to the vets for her jab, but I didn’t mind because there was extra hay in my net.

Being Straight

It’s the ultimate aim of all of us; to have a straight, symmetrical horse so that we can ace those centre lines, and not have a weaker rein to throw away marks.

Which means that we spend heaps of time and money into physios, chiropractors, osteopaths and the like. Treating our horses, that is.

But how many of you get yourself treated at the same time your horse is treated? It’s logical really; that if your horse is crooked they will send you out of alignment, and if you’re crooked you will misalign your horse. Like a vicious cycle, it needs breaking.

Frequent checks to monitor both of your crookedness, or straightness, will enable you to treat one or both of you as soon as an issue appears, and before a problem occurs. I always think that riders should consider their own bodies when treating their horse, even if it’s just a sports massage to release the tension carried in the shoulders.

There are other ways to monitor your straightness, as well as your horse’s so you can notice immediately if there’s a change. Firstly, you can use arena mirrors whilst riding to check you are both level and straight. Or a person in the arena, instructor or otherwise, to assess levelness. Then you can check your stirrup length regularly – don’t just assume that because both stirrups are on hole number eight that they are level. Stirrup leathers stretch! It may be that you need to swap your leathers over on the saddle. I know a lot of people mount from a mounting block so don’t think they put as much pressure on the left stirrup leather, so won’t stretch it. However, if you carry more weight in your right leg, or sit to the right, you put more pressure on that stirrup leather so will stretch it regardless of how you mounted.

Working evenly on both reins will help prevent either of you becoming one-sided, after all everybody favours one side of their body, and only by trying to be ambidextrous can you prevent the muscles on your dominant side becoming too strong. I personally have found Pilates really helpful for teaching me proprioception. That is, the awareness of where each part of my body is and the amount of work it is doing, or not doing as the case may be!

Has anyone seen those jackets with lots of horizontal and vertical lines on? They aren’t for fashion, but are a really good tool for identifying collapsed hips, dropped shoulders, and many other asymmetries. I always like teaching riders who wear stripey tops because it helps me identify their weak areas. Also, if they see a photo or video they will better understand your corrections.


You can study your horse to see if they are tending to put more pressure on one side of their body than the other. Do they rest one leg, dropping that hip, more than the other? Does the saddle sit square on their back or is it twisted? Does it shift as you’re riding? Does one side of the saddle panels seem flatter, or squashed, than the other? Does your horse have more sweat on one side of his barrel than the other, does it indicate there may be a pressure point from the saddle? Does he find carrot stretches on one side easier than the other?

A lot of physios will ask when the saddle was last checked, or recommend it is rechecked if the horse is significantly misaligned or has uneven muscle to try to prevent them losing this new straightness and to help them balance out the muscle.

So next time you think, or moan, about your horse being crooked, have a think about yourself to make sure you aren’t causing, or won’t cause, the issue to reoccur after your horse has been treated. After all, a pain-free horse who is straight will work better for you, perform better, and have a lower risk of injury.

Jumping Straight 

One of the mares I ride has a tendency to drift right as she jumps, so I developed a tricky little exercise for her. We always do a lot of work in counter canter, straightening her and making sure each rein is as good as the other.

She can rush thoughtlessly towards fences so after working over some canter poles I slowly built up to a placing pole to and upright and then a landing pole. This prevented her rushing and made her think about the jump, her positioning, and her getaway. I made sure to use wooden poles here because she can be careless and send light poles flying across the arena. Once she had mastered this set up, I added tramlines before the placing pole and after the landing pole.

The first time, the mare backed off the exercise, unsure of how to tackle it. But we clambered through. Now that she had been through once, I could tackle the straightness issue. 

She easily cantered through the first tramlines, but needed careful correction by opening the left rein and closing the right leg over the jump.

The beauty of this exercise was that I could approach in both directions and off both canter reins so could keep her on her toes and stop her anticipating the exercise and rushing.

Of course I had to hop off a few times to replace poles, especially the lightweight tramlines, but after a few goes on each rein the mare felt much straighter and was making a better shape over the upright.

Tramlines are so useful and could be put into almost any exercise to encourage the horse to stay straight, and to help the rider position themselves correctly. This mare will definitely be seeing more of them! 

Road Rage

Firstly, I will apologise now. For this is going to be a rant, but please continue to read and share, so that we can hope some non-horsey road users will read it and begin to understand the plight of horse riders on the road.

I do a lot of hacking. Today alone, I went on four hacks. On a weekly basis I spend about ten hours a week hacking. I don`t hack on the roads by choice; I am either using the roads because of vet recommendations, or in order to access the bridleways. The majority of the time hacking is a very pleasurable way to earn a living, but then other times it`s just awful. Many people I meet, in cars on or foot, smile and wave. Perhaps we exchange words on how lovely the day is. However, in the last week alone I have met several idiotic drivers who have almost caused me and the horses I have been riding to come to some serious harm.

They were lucky.

I was lucky.

Let me tell you about some of them. Yes, they are biased as they are from my point of view, but I don`t think many non-horsey drivers know how a horse rider is perceiving a situation, so it is important to improve their understanding so that they can make better judgements in future.

Last Thursday my friend and I were riding along a country lane; quite a wide, straight bit of road, when we met a man with a shotgun. He was walking towards us on our side of the road, so we moved out into the middle as we approached because there were no cars coming and it`s only courteous not to force 3/4 ton of horse too close to a strangers feet. The horses were wary of his gun, but he was very friendly and admired them both. We paused momentarily so I could ask him if he had finished shooting (I had others to ride out so wanted to avoid his party) when a car came out of nowhere and undertook us – driving between the horses and this nice gentleman. There was hardly room to breathe! I`m not sure who was more stunned, the horses or the man. Could that car not have slowed down, or waited for us to tuck ourselves in to the hedge, which we were about to do?

The following day I was hacking a mare around the village. On physio`s orders, we were in walk on the roads. As I came down a hill I could hear the sound of a mower in one of the oncoming gardens. Knowing this mare, I knew that she would not walk close to that garden with a funny noise behind the hedge, so after checking that the coast was clear I moved out towards the middle of the road. I didn’t want her to jump right into the road, and being a bit further away from the noisy monster I could ride her straight and felt better in control. I also wanted to discourage cars from passing me because I didn`t want to risk her jumping sideways onto the car. A car did come up behind me, as we were level with the noisy garden. But he overtook anyway, passing inches away from my right stirrup iron. Thankfully, she didn’t react, but it could have been so dangerous. Part of learning to drive is learning to read the road; if you see a horse positioned in the middle of the road the rider usually has good reason to be there, so take a moment, slow down and wait until they are safely out of the way.

An hour later. Well, less than that as it was the beginning of my next hack, I was crossing the main road with a friend. It`s a fast road, but straight so it has good visibility, and we have to ride about 50 yards along it before going up one of the lanes. However, a construction company have put up a little white sign, which all the horses peer around, checking for monsters. The horse I was on started to edge sideways around the sign, so I stopped before he edged too far into the road because a car was approaching. My friend`s horse was more reactive and started dancing sideways, additionally upset by the rapidly approaching 4×4. The car didn’t slow down until it had to in order to avoid my friend`s horse`s hindquarters, which were crossing the white line, despite her best efforts. My friend had signalled frantically to the female driver to slow down, which had been ignored, and when my friend asked her to wait a moment, the only response she got was a rude gesture as the woman sped off. What on earth could she have been in such a hurry to get to that she didn`t have time to slow down? Approaching more slowly wouldn’t have panicked the horse more, and would have meant that my friend could have kept him still while the car passed, and then when the road was clear we could skirt around the sign.

Thankfully I had the weekend off from hacking, but on Tuesday I was back at it once the fog had lifted. This time I was on a fizzy ex-racer, walking along the road when a teenager came into sight on their moped. I signalled them to slow down, but to no avail. They pop-popped past us at around 30mph, causing my horse to panic, spin and try to bolt with me – not fun! The act of slowing down, not changing gear as they passed me, would have made this situation so much safer. As well as respecting my hand signals.

An hour later, along the same stretch of road, a pick up raced up behind, slowed down marginally, and then it and it`s metal trailer rattled past us. Thankfully this horse just stood as the calves inside the trailer rolled around, bellowing loudly. The worst part here, was that even though the pick up was passing me FAR too fast, they still had the cheek to wave their hand at me. No – don’t have the arrogance to wave to me when you are going so fast I have to keep two hands on the reins and focus on controlling a potential explosion because you have terrified my horse! Think about the vehicle you are driving and if it may cause a problem because it rattles, or smells, or is a funny shape.

Today`s incident though, really takes the biscuit. I was crossing the road this morning. Again, a fairly fast road, but quite straight and I had good visibility. Two cars passed me while I waited on the verge, and then all was quiet so I started crossing. Suddenly a car came around the bend, very fast. And I mean fast. At least 60mph. Which is a bit silly anyway because he was approaching a double junction and an uphill bend. I waved at him to slow down as I was over the centre line, hurrying towards the woods. I didn’t want that racing past in this horse`s blindspot once I`d gotten off the road. To my horror, the car actually started to get faster. Yes, he was ACCELERATING TOWARDS ME! I kept waving my hand whilst kicking frantically for my horse to hurry up and get out of the way. As he passed me, he swore violently at me.

Absolutely horrendous behaviour. I was horrified. Scared. It`s the sort of inconsiderate, rude, dangerous, I would expect of … well I wouldn`t expect it from anyone. Slowing down when he first saw me would have meant I would have gotten out of his way in plenty of time and he wouldn’t have needed to slow down that much. Perhaps he would have been a minute late to whatever life-changing event he was racing to. But I highly doubt a minute would have been the difference between life or death.

I think some of the other motorists I`ve seen over the last week have been ignorant, but today`s man was a jerk. A first degree jerk. He didn`t care. I felt he actually would have hit us, he wouldn’t have tried to avoid an accident.

But perhaps that is what motorists are after. For there to be a severe accident; for a horse to lose it`s life; for a rider to sacrifice themselves? I don’t know. But for those un -horsey,  imagine you are walking along a country lane. Now imagine the feeling as a car roars past you at 60mph. Then again at 50mph. And 40. And 30. Even 20.

Now imagine that you are sat on a prey animal. One with a natural instinct to flee. Now do you have some idea, an inkling, of how we feel as you roar past; too fast and too close. This is why the British Horse Society is constantly campaigning for drivers to pass horse riders at 15 miles per hour – Dead, or Dead Slow? – it is not because we feel it is our right to have everyone bow to our needs. It is because we have the right to have respect, as road users, on the highway. It is a safety point, someone could be seriously injured if you scare the horse by driving dangerously. It doesn`t have to be the horse or horse rider, it could be another vehicle, or a walker, or anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Furthermore, you can be prosecuted by the police, be fined and receive points on your license.

Like I said at the beginning, horse riders don’t want to spend time on the roads, it is a necessity to access the off road tracks and trails, so please take a moment to stand in our shoes, and think about how we might be feeling as you screech past us on your way to your oh-so-important destination, not caring if we or the horse are physically or mentally damaged.