Horse Listening Wins An Equestrian Award!


I’m thrilled to let you know that Horse Listening is one of 13 award winners being given the awesome title of “Most Enriching Equestrian Blog of 2015″ by the Animal Health Company, based out of the U.K.

It’s so rewarding to be recognized as a top blog on the international scale, and especially being in the mix of the other high quality websites that “give you the resource, tips and insight to fully understand the world of horse riding and the equestrian lifestyle as we know it.”

Trot on over and check out the other blogs that have also been recognized! 

Thank you so much for reading and commenting and making this blog such a great site. Looking ahead to new blog ideas as we ride on through 2015.


Horse-Eating Monsters: 4 Steps To Controlling The Spook

bend away from spooky object

Bend away from objects and go! Photo Credit:NBanaszak Photography

You’re probably familiar with that horse-eating monster in the corner of the arena. You know – the invisible one that pops up even after passing that spot for the 100th time!

Or it might get even better. After going by without a thought for the past fifteen minutes, your horse suddenly decides that the invisible monster just showed up this moment! And you’re stuck riding the spook rather than riding your plan (hopefully, you are riding and not on the ground).

In any case, your horse might spook at imaginary objects. He might spook at real objects – as in, the jumps that were moved around and put back differently than the day before. Or he might spook at a sound – no object needed!

The spook can be a problem not only in terms of the potential danger it might cause to you and your horse. Even if it is just a mild side-step or a dropped shoulder to the inside of the ring, your ride can be affected as well.

Your horse will likely drop his back and increase in tension through the body. He might lift his head and look at the offending objects, or step away without even looking. The tempo might be affected and you might find yourself becoming more of a reactive rider than you would like, waiting to see what happens and then trying to fix it after the spook.

What to do?

Always be safe! If you feel that you or your horse are not in a safe situation, take steps to de-escalate the situation. Tone down the ride, avoid the area, get off and work from the ground. Always be super-vigilant about safety for both of you. The solution below might not work for everyone in every scenario. Use your common sense or get help from a professional.

The following solution is a long-term “fix”. It is not intended to give you a one-off, on-the-spot result. The horse’s response will take time to develop, but if you stick with this routine in every spook situation (assuming you are safe enough), you will actually be able to teach your horse what to do when he feels like he should scoot, balk or deek sideways.

Step 1.

Do not look at the offending corner or object!

Most of us tend to have our attention attracted to whatever the horse is looking at. As John Lyons has often said, you end up spooking right along with your horse, since now both of you end up looking at the horse-eating monster! Your horse says, let’s get outta here! And your body says, wow that is a scary horse-eating monster! And you both end up feeding each other’s spook.

So first off, assuming you know what your horse is looking at, look the other way – preferably to the middle of the ring, where there is absolutely nothing to gawk at and everything appears to be calm and boring.

Step 2.

Encourage your horse to do the same.

This is where your bend aids come handy. Turn your own body to the inside. Use your inside seat bone and leg to ask for the bend. You can even do a small leg yield out (yes, in the direction of the monster) assuming that your horse is looking to the inside away from what he is scared of.

Take up just enough contact so that you have clear communication, and so that you can stop any dangerous movements. Try not to pull back. Stabilize your elbows so you don’t pull, and keep your rein length consistent as you bend your horse.

Use your inside rein to help with flexion and get the horse’s eyes looking toward the middle of the ring. Use your outside rein as a neck rein to prevent the horse from drifting too far out.

Step 3. 

Go straight.

Well, straight on the turn or bend. So the body stays bent, but the front legs should only go straight forward. No side stepping. No stopping. Just GO!

Give the horse a way out – straight ahead.

You can give an inch in your elbows to free the horse’s front end slightly (not a lot, especially if he feels like he is going to fly sideways) to encourage the forward movement.

Step 4.


Here comes the half-halt! Just as in any other movement or transition, use the half-halt after the “go” to control the amount of leg speed and impulsion. Make sure you are committed to the horse’s movement. If the horse lurches forward, go with him and then control through the half-halts. Do everything you can to not pull on the mouth or jerk the reins or in any way cause discomfort to the horse’s tongue or bars of the mouth.

The resulting picture should be that the horse stays on the path you sent him on. He might spook up a storm, but his legs keep going exactly where they were going in the first place. The horse might tense a bit but as you bend him toward the middle of the ring, he should calm down and settle in his gait. If he learns to go when you ask him to, his rhythm should stay even and his pace should stay unhurried. 

And then it looks like there was no spook at all. In the long run, your horse might even learn to not spook because there is nothing to spook at in the first place. 

Remember that this is a lesson – it’s a learning process that will take many repetitions for both of you to master, especially if your horse is used to spooking fairly regularly. It’s not a quick fix and there is a fair amount of learning that must take place on your part until you can communicate it effectively to your horse. 

At the beginning, accept any reduction in the spook as an improvement. Over time, you can expect less and less evidence of a spook. Always encourage your horse with your voice, a light pat with your inside hand, or a change of topic after passing the spooky area. 

Good luck and remember to be safe!

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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

New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3d Book 2

Enjoy more reading here:

What Is A Neck Bend? And What To Do About It: The neck bend causes the horse to be imbalanced. No matter which movement he performs, his neck is essentially taken out of the equation and the horse moves out of straightness.

How to “Fill Up” Your Outside Rein for A True Neck Rein: Regardless of the style of riding, the neck rein can and should be used for basic communication.

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides of Energy Might Solve Your Problem: If the stride is longer, the hind legs can reach further underneath the body and support the horse’s balance with more strength and agility.

The #1 Rider Problem of the Year: The Leg Aid:  You probably know from experience – kicking the horse along often does not get the response you really want

Riding Straight Through the Turn: Although it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.

I’ve been thinking of putting together a 12-week “program” and would like to see what you think of it.

It will be something like, “12-Week Focus On Transitions.” I’d put out a new blog post once a week, but rather than writing one topic at a time as I do in my traditional posts, these posts will string together over the next three months. 

I’d start with more basic concepts of transitions and leave you with something to work on for the week. Then we’ll build on it a little each week. The point would be to get all of us thinking about one of the fundamental concepts of riding – in this case, transitions – over the course of a longer period of time.

What are your thoughts? Any suggestions? Please comment below.

On Being The Perpetual Riding Student, Mastery And The Time Warp!

Getting ready for ride

Getting ready to ride. Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

As horseback riders, it helps a whole lot if we are content to be forever students.

We are continually floating around in this perpetual learning curve. Just as you think you’ve got something down for real, other things pop up – and you find yourself back at square one, even if you’re relearning something for the hundredth time.

The catch is that there are so many levels of learning of any one aspect of riding.

Take transitions, for example. First off, you think that a good transition consists of a horse actually changing gait after you use your aids. Then, you realize that a good transition happens at a determined location – so it’s no longer good enough to get just the gait change.

After you become more precise, you realize that a good transition happens where you want it and that it should be well-balanced. So you work hard on getting your horse to use his hind end and your half-halts help him stay off his forehand even though he might be doing a downward transition.

After you get your balanced transition at your desired location, you realize that a good transition happens where you want it, in balance and more! Now you’ve discovered the great feeling of “forward”–  the energy should flow freely from the back to the front of the horse!

Then you figure out that a precise, balanced, forward transition happens from the seat. So you work hard at using your core muscles and seat and legs in place of your hands. But later on, your good transition must also include a light use of aids. You spend time on developing even better communication with your horse so that you can soften all your aids and still get the balanced, forward gait change.

And so it goes on and on. Nothing we do in riding has an end to it. I’m sure you can think of other stages of what could be considered as a “good” transition.

This is where being life-long learner comes into play!

The good news is that the more you learn, the more you know coming into a new situation.

The bad news is that every time you learn something new, what you thought you already had down pat changes! Sometimes, the new learning adds to what you have been doing so far. Other times, you might have to rework your whole understanding!

In my experience as a rider and instructor, you can break down pretty much all of our learning into four phases.

Phase 1: Coordination and Aids

The first phase usually takes quite a bit of both physical and mental effort. Everything seems new. You develop “feels” that you haven’t known. You find you have to put quite a bit of attention into learning the aids, developing coordination of the aids, and figuring out the timing in relation to the horse’s gaits. There is little for you to refer to in terms of background knowledge or experience, so you might not even know what you are looking for!

At first, it seems like you are doing way too much. Hand here, leg there, seat bone here… there are many bits and pieces that go into to creating a successful whole movement and because you are new to the movements, it takes thought and focus to put everything in its place.

Somewhere in the middle, you might feel like there is no way you’re going to get it. You think you are doing the right thing, but the horse is not responding the way he should. 

You might wonder that your instructor is asking too much of you. There might be confusion, difficulty in understanding the why and the what. You might get frustrated and sometimes even want to give up (this is when it’s as healthy for you to quit as it is for your horse) – well, just for that day, of course!

But then at some point, something different happens.

Phase 2: The Time Warp

This happened to me one of the first times that everything seemed to fall together. After getting used to trying, doing, keep on going, never stopping… a light bulb moment happened without any intention on my part. Suddenly, I found all this extra time while everything that was supposed to happen, seemingly happened on its own! What took 5 seconds seemingly happened with little effort in 1. 

I call it the time warp because it almost feels like time stands still. Everything happens together, fluidly, in coordination, and you get to just sit there while it all happens. Has something like this ever happened to you?

I believe that this feeling is the in-between stage of the initial struggle of learning, and the final mastery. So when you hit the Time Warp (or however you want to think of it), you know you’ve finally put together all the aids in a way that makes sense for your horse.

Phase 3: Mastery 

Mastery happens when you can duplicate the skills repeatedly under different circumstances.

Let’s use the transition example, at the first level of understanding. If you can get your horse to consistently make a change gaits after you’ve applied the aids, you’re on your way to mastering the first level of transitions. If you can get other horses do the same thing, you’ve really mastered that skill!

Mastery is great because you know what to do, when, where and why, and you can reproduce it at will. You’ve finally arrived!

Phase 4: The Next Level

That is, until you notice that next level. You might become aware of it on your own, or your instructor might give you a push in the direction. In any case, you realize that there is so much more to that one skill. 

For example, doing the transition just anywhere suddenly doesn’t become good enough for you. Now, you want to do it at a particular spot!

The only catch – you start the learning process all over at Phase 1. Aaaand you go through the rest of the phases, then discover the new next level, and repeat the cycle again and again and again and again….

Do these learning phases sound familiar? What are you learning now, and what phase are you at?

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

New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3d Book 2

Enjoy more reading here:

Top 10 Ways To Be A Star (Horse Riding) Student: Being a star student in horseback riding is an art to itself.

13 Reasons Why You Should Be A Barn Brat: If you are one of those people who spends hours at the barn, eagerly taking in all things horse, this one is for you.

When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great: Great instructors repeatedly show characteristics that make positive effects on their students.

Top 10 Ways To Prevent Progress In Horseback Riding: Horse riding is a serious commitment – especially because of your equine partner, who deserves your best in terms of riding skill and development.

9 Things You Need To Know If You Want To Ride Horses: Before you begin, here are nine tips to smooth the way into your new adventures!