2,000,000 Views – WHOA!

2 million  Nov 17 2014

Yep – we just surpassed the 2,000,000 view mark here at Horse Listening!

When I started the blog over three years ago, I had only one goal – to open discussion about all things horse and riding. Thanks to a friend who first encouraged me to put my ideas and thoughts “down on paper”, I took the initial steps to start and design a blog. To my surprise, people started reading (!) and soon enough, I found  myself being inspired by the readers to surpass my own expectations.

Although I am happy with creating what has now become a thorough resource for horse riders, I am most proud of having readers from almost every horse and riding discipline imaginable, from almost 200 countries, all with the one main goal of being the best we can be for our horses. Some people are just beginning equestrians, others are long-time riding students and horse owners. A big shout-out to the many and varied instructors who are encouraging me in my writing and sharing the articles with their students! Thanks go also to the people who are reading the blog out of interest for the horse, even if they are not somehow connected with horses at this time.

Several milestones were met along the way – the blog received a Top Ten Blog Award from the Equestrian Social Media Awards for both 2013 and 2014 (the only two years it has been eligible so far). A new Horse Listening column was established in our local industry paper, The Rider, here in Ontario, Canada. Two magazine articles were written, one for Horse Canada, and another for Show Circuit Magazine in New Zealand, which became my first internationally published article. Countless association newsletters and local equestrian newspapers have published select articles and my articles have been featured on several industry websites.

And then, in answer to the encouragement of many of you, and after a huge learning curve on my end, the first Horse Listening compilation book was self-published. The feedback has been beyond my wildest dreams and the second book is in the works – launch date will be announced soon!

This year, I made the move to turning the blog into a full-blown self-hosted website and am learning new things yet again – this time, all about plugins, advertising and general website management. The most exciting aspect of this move is that the self-hosted site allows me to be as fully creative as I want to be.

Going forward, I have several new ideas for the website. As we enter 2015, I will be adding new features and working towards putting together even more content that I hope will benefit you. My mission has not only remained constant, but thanks to your feedback, I am surpassing my original goals and looking for ways that I can continue to support your horse and riding goals through the medium of the Internet.

So… thanks! Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, tweeting, liking and sending me your amazing “Stop In And Say Hi!” feedback. To celebrate this incredible milestone, I’ve collated the all-time top 10 articles to date for your reading pleasure.

10. 20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself: This article is written with a view to literally Horse Listening, in the sense that being involved in horses and riding can inform us about our own lives.

9. How to Halt Without Pulling on the Reins: This one regularly gets incredible readership and very thoughtful feedback.

8. 9 Things You Need to Know if You Want to Ride Horses: Written for novice riders and people new to the horse industry; many people have related to the sometimes less-than-romantic realities of riding horses.

7. Why You Don’t Need to Force Your Heels Down in Horseback Riding: We tend to put so much emphasis on “riding pretty”. In this article, I explain why I think that we need to work with the bodies that we have, and how we can improve our flexibility rather than just try to look a certain way.

6.  Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: It is very important to constantly give “yes” messages to your horse while you ride (not just afterward). Here are some ideas on how to communicate and encourage your horse in his efforts.

5. Top 10 Ways to Be A Star (Horse Riding) Student: This one got a lot of attention from both students and instructors. Coming from the perspective of being both a student and instructor myself, here are suggestions on how to get the best out of your riding lessons.

4. Here’s How (And Why) You Should Ride With Bent Elbows: In this article, I explain the role of the elbows in riding.

3. Why You Don’t Want to Pull on the Inside Rein, and What To Do Instead – Sponsored by audiohorsebooks.com: This is a very popular article, probably because I discuss something that is very common in horse riding – the use and overuse of the inside reain.

2. The #1 Rider Problem: The Outside Rein! – Sponsored by Benefabproducts.com: Here is another article on the rein aids – this time, breaking down how to develop an effective outside rein.

1. Ten Habits of Competent Riders – Sponsored by o3animalhealth.com: With 221,162 views, this article was widely read when it first came out, and continues to be our most discussed post of all time.




How You Can See A Horse’s Active Back – And What To Do When It Happens

active back

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

“Could you post a couple of pictures of how the back/topline should look like when horses get more conditioned?”

This was a question posed to me by one of our Horse Listening readers (thanks, Stephanie). It’s a good question and I thought I’d answer it here with more detail. When we are learning to ride, it is important for us to learn to develop our “eye” as well as our “feel” of good movement. I decided to answer the question here because there are surely many people who might be interested in the answer.

An active back is fairly easy to identify. Take a look at the horse’s back behind the saddle. There are muscles on either side of the spine. If the back is “swinging,” and there is a good forward movement (impulsion), you should be able to see the muscles bulging on both sides of the spine. While you watch, you should be able to see the muscle rippling underneath the skin as the horse moves.

In the above picture, you can see that Cyrus is using his back nicely. I chose this picture because the sunlight allows you to see the gleam of the muscles. That line down the middle of his back is the dip of the spine, where there is no muscling.

The other clue is the deep stride length of the inside hind leg. When his back is active like this, I feel a “swing” in his trot movement and he is invariably round in his body outline and softer in the contact.

A final thing to look for is the lift of the tail. His lightly arched tail indicates first the hind end engagement, but also a fairly relaxed back. In movement, the tail will swing lightly left and right during the trot steps. Ideally, the tail is lifted in the middle of the hind end. If the tail points steadily left or right, the horse is working to counter an imbalance or lack of straightness issue.

You should be able to see the topline muscles working in all the gaits. Whether in walk, trot or canter, the horse can reach underneath the body with the hind legs and in the rhyhtm of the movement, rise and drop his back. The back will likely “swing” in the stride – left, right, up and down depending on the gait – and there is a general sense of release, “throughness” (of energy) and roundeness in the overall outline of the horse.

There are other signs that go along with the increase muscle use of the topline. You might see some mild foaming of saliva in the corners of his mouth.You might get a snort as he releases tension through his body. The ears are soft and sometimes flop in the rhythm of the movement. The gaits feel bouncier with more air time. The horse may become more forward or enthusiastic in his work.

In general, he feels better to ride and looks better to an observer on the ground.

What to do when the horse uses his back.

When your horse offers his back, it is up to you to ride in a way that encourages him to continue the swing and impulsion.

1. Go with the movement.

Riders often resist when they feel a surge of unexpected energy or movement. Be ready for it and go with the flow (quite literally)! Swing more through your own back. Allow energy through both your lower back and between your shoulder blade area. Be sure that the horse feels your commitment to the movement.

2. Allow with your seat.

You might notice more up and down movement when the horse begins to swing. Rather than bracing against it, give through your lower back and keep your seat moving in tandem with the horse. If your horse swings up to your seat and feels an abrupt push-down coming from you, he will invariably mirror your movement with a dropped back. In time, he might learn to ride with a hollowed back simply because of your reaction.

3. Keep using your aids.

Make sure you keep using your aids – it is often easier to “shut off” your communication when you need to work harder to stay with the horse.  Scoop with your seat to encourage the energy forward and through the horse’s body. Use your turn aids on a turn, and regularly work on straightening in the movement. Remember to include half-halts when necessary to rebalance the horse and help him stay off the forehand. In all cases, be an active participant in the creation and then the maintenance of the movement.

4. Reward Your Horse

There is nothing better than the rider that gives immediate “yes” answers to the horse’s efforts. You can pat the horse, but also harmonize through intentional aids that release, follow or become quiet while the horse is still in movement. “Become one” using quick aids that guide and release and watch as your horse gains in confidence.

Well, there you have it. First of all, watch as many horses as you can while they are being ridden. See if you can spot engaged movement and an active, swinging back. Then see if you can improve your horse’s back while you ride. Try some of the above suggestions and see what works best for your horse. Different horses and different situations might require variations of the above ideas. See if someone can watch you and give you feedback on what they see. 

How do you know that your horse is swinging and using an active back? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

9 Amazing Effects From Lifting the Horse’s Back While Riding:3D book 2 What exactly is the result of a lifted back? What does it look and feel like?

Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones? Learning to use your seat effectively should take a lifetime to develop, so we will begin with just one basic aspect: how to move the seat bones.

Why An Active Stretch is Nothing Like A Neck-Down: The problem with the passive stretch is that it is merely a posture.

On Slobber, Snorts and Sheath Sounds – 3 Ways to Your Horse’s Back: Although we often talk about the hind legs being the “engine” of good movement, it is the back of the horse that is the key to all things great in riding.

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: It is true what they say – that horseback riders do nothing while the horse does all the work.



When You Don’t Want to Change the Topic – While Riding Your Horse

contact 1

Let’s say you are practicing  something in particular. Maybe you are working on a trot to canter transition. Maybe you want to draw a 10 meter circle at the trot. Or perhaps you want to work on a walk pirouette into a canter transition.

Regardless of the figure, or exercise you want to perform, something doesn’t go right. The transition doesn’t happen at the particular place you wanted to aim for. The horse drifts out and the 10 meters quickly morph into 12 meters. Or the walk pirouette becomes a walk circle.

What do you do then?

Do you continue on to the next part of your ride?

Do you get frustrated or anxious and follow through too strongly to get what you wanted?

Do you pretend you didn’t want anything in the first place, leaving the exercise and “changing the topic”?

In a previous article, I discussed changing topic as a strategy to get out of a sticky situation – especially one which doesn’t seem to be resolved by doing the same thing over and over. But as with so many things equestrian, opposite ends of the spectrum can be useful under different circumstances.

Stick With the Program

Some situations may call for repetition. Just like people, horses often benefit from several run-throughs and you may notice that improvement comes with practice. Horses have excellent memories and a capacity to learn from repetition. So use this to your advantage when you are practicing something new or difficult.

Starting over also allows you to build in time to develop accuracy and precision, both of which are indicators that your horse is on the aids and that you are moving together in unison.

Here’s how:

1. Go right back to the same location.

When something doesn’t go as intended, people often continue on. Don’t.

Simply abort the rest of your figure and head straight back to the same place that you want to practice. This means that if you wanted a canter transition at A before heading into a 20 meter circle, and your horse just trotted faster and faster, then do not continue on to the circle. Instead, take a short cut right back to a point before the intended transition.

2. Give the horse room and time to regroup before attempting the movement again.

If your canter departure should have occurred at A (going right), then head directly back to B. Re-establish your trot rhythm, bend and flexion, and prepare again with the half-halts as you approach A. Then try the transition again.

3. Confirm your aids.

Don’t forget to look inward at your own aids. What did you do, or not do, in preparation for the canter transition? Perhaps your timing was off. Perhaps you needed your outside leg to reach further behind the girth. Maybe you leaned forward into the transition, thereby throwing the horse onto his forehand and off balance.

4. Evaluate.

Prepare your approach and try again. If you feel this transition went well, or was an improvement over the last one, you have two choices at this point. You can continue on to the next part of your initial figure (in this case, the 20 meter circle). Or, you can go right back to B and run through the whole thing again.


Don’t be concerned that the horse might sour from repetition. Horses become sour when they are stressed. So if you can just be matter-of-fact about it, your horse will patiently work with you.

Don’t be stressed or tense about it. Your horse can sense your demeanor from the moment you think it! If you get strong or quick or tense, your horse will connect a negative connotation with the repetition. He might resist more in this case. So always keep your cool and a good sense of humor about any unexpected things that happen.

Do change the topic once things go well. Use the next figure as a way to say “yes” (or reward) your horse once you see some improvement. Even if you don’t get the amount of improvement you want, go to something else and then come back to this exercise in a few minutes. Find the happy medium between repeating an exercise or not. There is no steadfast rule.

As you become more familiar with your horse, you will know when to repeat something and when it’s time to change the topic. Always look for improvement in terms of relaxation, accuracy and attitude – both yours, and your horse’s!

How do you use repetition while you ride? Do you change the topic often? Let us know in the comments below.

 Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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Related reading:

7 Essential Aids For An Epic Canter Transition: The canter departure doesn’t have to resemble a rocket launch.

 Two Secrets to Easing Your Horse Into Suppleness: Two ideas to try when your horse feels like rigid cardboard.

Living (Horse) Life in the Basics: All movements share several components to them that are fundamental to the quality of movement.

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the Walk: Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to, especially for a downward transition.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Enjoy the following tips to get through those average rider moments that we all experience from time to time.

A (Not So?) Surprising Benefit of Horsin’ Around – Regularly


Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography


This week, I learned once again all about the benefits of regular riding.

I have been making extra effort to spend enough time with the horses, whether while riding, or doing something in-hand, or even just grooming.

I did something almost every day.

And so, I was scheduled to ride Cyrus today. But the weather had plans of its own. The stunningly beautiful sun-shiny morning morphed into cloud-covered, threatening-to-rain afternoon sky. The cold front had met the warm front and we were suddenly in the middle of a weather-changing windstorm. Trees leaned left and right. Leaves flew first up ever so high, before landing on the grass. A dark puff of cloud headed over the riding ring, threatening rain.

Undeterred, I thought I’d give it a good go. If nothing else, I’d give us a chance to squeeze in a quick workout – either in saddle or not – and call it a day. I put my imaginary bubble around us (!), took a chance, and got into the saddle. As Cyrus sauntered off into a calm, soft walk, I knew I’d be able to ride today.

I expected Cyrus to spook.

I expected him to get all excited, to throw in a buck or a sidestep in response to the sound of the gusts as they whistled in our ears.

I expected him to move with tension, jigging the walk or bracing the back.

Instead, he was the picture of reliability. We walked, trotted and cantered without one false step.

Turn left? OK. Canter right? No problem. Work on the pattern? What fun!

Once again, I was reminded how horses, like humans, enjoy attention.

The more I do with Cyrus, the more he wants to do. So today, although I could see the weather approaching, I didn’t want to leave without a quick ride. And I was rewarded with such a great time!

I guess it goes without saying that the more we do, the better the horses become. We already know that every major goal begins with a first small step. Even if a single ride doesn’t go as well as we’d hoped, each ride adds up. Assuming we are following a set plan with a sound lesson and training strategy, we can make progress step by step, day by day.

Today’s fantastic ride was a delightful surprise and made me realize yet again how important it is to find a regular riding routine. Stick with the plan, and give it all you’ve got! Because the horses are truly worth it.


Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2