This month I am going to talk about riding standards and if there is a link between fundamentally poor and incorrect riding and horse welfare.
A starting point. In setting off with this topic the reader should be aware that I am basing my thoughts on what is now my fifth decade as a working equine professional. I have always made a lot of notes, particularly about the so called ‘problem horses’ I have worked on, as well as, the types of riders I have encountered. What I am talking about here is the link between poorly educated riders, who are unlevel on the horse and any potential physical and psychological issues that relate to the welfare of horses. It is vey much an under diagnosed and therefore discussed issue these days.
If there is anything that has been written or spoken about to do with linking poor riding to horse welfare I have not seen or heard it, so we may well be treading on new ground here. Lets look at some key pointers.
Are you a good rider?
Of all the riders I have seen, worked with and know the best ones are often very modest. They are always open to suggestions from an expert eye on the ground and never ever think they know it all, because none of us do. I know of riders I do not rate, who are world famous and equally I know of brilliant riders who are unheard of, it is a very mixed bag at times. It never ceases to amaze me how some brilliant horses can hide rider’s shortcomings at all levels. However one thing all the good riders have is a very good and accurate realisation of their own abilities. Good riders keep it real, they do not think they are good because someone who is taking their money tells them so, they will know because of what they have achieved in the saddle. It really is that simple. So the point here is do not rely on what you are told to work out if you are a good rider, assess yourself, and base it what you can do. I am not talking here about going fast or jumping high either. I am talking about basic, fundamentally correct riding in all situations, on all horses, at all times.
Are you a good rider on a good horse?
So what is my point here?.. it is this… if you are a good rider on a good horse that is grand but stick to your level. There are great riders who have never tackled the challenges of difficult horses due to privilege, however that makes for an incomplete rider in the holistic sense. I see a lot of people being over horsed these days, they do not have fifty horses to choose from, but strangely seek advice from those who do which is not common sense to me. The point here is do not be starstruck by people in the horse world who might have a lofty reputation built on the flimsy foundation of only ever riding the good horses. Teaching riders with difficulties is tough and always remember as a rider you do not want to be that fiftieth person who is easily passed over in favour of the other 49, because your have problems for which they have no solution.
Does poor riding hurt horses?
Coming now to the vital question about fundamentally poor riding and horse welfare ask yourself three simple questions about your riding.
- Do I have balanced hands? …Why is this so important you might ask me back. The reason for this is that horses with niggling low level and or developing injuries will react in certain ways to defend themselves from pain and discomfort. Head tossing is one most obvious example, shying, bucking, bolting, rearing, cat leaping and so on and son on are others. When the horse is trying to tell you something a good rider will not run straight to the back people, the dentist, the vet or the farrier, no no. they will think about their riding. Balanced hands are a good place to start because if the hands are not balanced the rider becomes an uneven load and that can cause many welfare issues/injuries to horses. Prevention is better than cure, get your hands balanced, if you do not know how to find out ask a riding expert, because they will advise you correctly.
- Do I sit level in the saddle? …This is exactly the same as the balanced hands, also it is just as important. Again, as with hands, do you know how to check if you are a rider with a balanced independent seat ? you might think it does not matter, well if you do you maybe it is time to think again. These issues which cannot be sorted out overnight or in a weekend are often the cause of insidious physical problems for horses. They creep up slowly over time and are often only identified when it is too late. If you need it seek out help from a professional instructor.
- Can I ride in a straight line, in all paces?… It is not as easy as a lot of people think. The catch is horses are designed to move in a straight line basically so if you are not riding straight you may find trouble as the horse will have to do something to attempt to keep itself straight and upright and ligaments and tendons are very easily pulled and strained by poor riders who cannot ride straight. Poor riders pull the reins unevenly and achieve too much head and neck flexion, either left or right, this causes injuries to horses. Watch for that if you try this at home or in the menage. Horses often hang one way or the other for their own comfort or relief and remember one of my golden rules… ‘A rider who needs a ‘back person’ to tell them which side of their horses’ neck is less supple etc etc is not a good rider. Same goes for your horses’ more supple side and the whole of its body. If this does not make sense to you get some professional advice.
The thing to remember is that one sided horses are often caused, as well as made worse, by one sided riders which then leads on to physical issues for the horses. I do very much see this as a horse welfare issue. These factors can cause psychological issues for the horses too as they try to deal with imbalances in the rider or the activities they are being set, which might involve too much work on one rein and not enough on the other. A KEY POINT to remember here though is that just changing the rein is not enough in itself. It is how you ride AND evaluate the horse on both reins and use that information to help avoid avoid injuries to your horse.
The horses themselves can often get the blame when they will not go in an outline, or jump a particular jump and this can become very counter productive going forward. Never fall into the trap of blaming the horse.
To summarise strive to get to know yourself as a rider, make sure you get a few basics right and stay level, if your horses could speak they would thank you for it. They will also have a much greater chance of staying healthy. All feedback is welcome, feel free to email me Brian@equinesoloutions.co.uk, thank you for reading this and good luck to all, Brian