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Western Riding

Resources              Illustrated Horse Tips #1 - 7

I first was interested in things western many years ago, when exactly I can't remember.   But a number of years ago I decided that I wanted to learn how to ride so I started to take lessons.  Well, the first couple months were a poor start.  The place I was learning did a poor job, their trainers kept quitting and the instruction was very inconsistent, even contradictory at times.  I had my fill of that.

The next year I met my friend Tom and we started to ride together at Mustang Stables.  From Sept. 1999 until now I am amazed at how far I have come and how comfortable I am riding and tacking up a horse.   In the Summer of 2000 we started to volunteer as trail guides taking people through various parts of Golden Ears Provincial Park, a really beautiful area about an hour out from downtown Vancouver.  I stopped volunteering in the spring of 2001 when I had a foot injury and a few months later Tom stopped volunteering due to time commitments.  It was certainly great experience for the time we did it though.

Since moving to Texas I've started to focus on the finer points of riding and for me that means gaining better balance. My main area that I need to work on is always keeping stable in the saddle thus I started work with my new trainer Mike, who teaches center-point balance riding.

When beginning to learn riding, what I found valuable was first learning how to tack up a horse.  Our first several lessons consisted of nothing but learning what tack a horse requires, how it's put together and we had hours of just putting it on and taking it off.  This along with learning how to clean and care for the horses provided a solid foundation before we even got on the horse itself.  Cleaning, care, knowing your tack, control of the horse and understanding horse psychology are all valuable tools in western riding.

To the left is a typical western trail saddle. Drawing by James E. Dykeman from "Taking up Riding as an Adult".

Resources and sites of interest

A great book that I recommend is "Taking Up Riding as an Adult" by Diana Delmar  1998, the publisher is Storey PublicationsWell written, with lots of illustrations it is an excellent guide for adult riders who are learning.

Another valuable book is, yes, "Horses for Dummies" by Audrey Pavia 1999, one of the Dummies series of books.  It was inevitable but I have to say, a useful book.  This one is gives a good overview of everything from Tack and horse breeds to horse behaviour and riding technique.

One that I found very useful in helping me understand equine behaviour more was "Illustrated Horsewatching" by Desmond Morris 1997.  The 1998 edition was by Prospero books, a division of Chapters inc.  

A book that is great for all aspects of horsemanship is "Basic Horsemanship - English and Western: A complete guide for Riders and Instructors" by Eleanor F. Prince and Gaydell M. Collier. Revised and Updated, 1993. The Publisher is Broadway Books, New York.

Now I haven't seen this video, but if you're a complete greenhorn and want a video on the subject here is one I stumbled on.  It's called "Which End Does the Hay Go In?, A how-to guide for Vacation Riding".  I haven't seen it so I can't vouch for it's quality but some might want to check it out.

A few good sites for tack and equipment are Capriolas , Hitching Post Supply, and Big Bend Saddlery.  

illustrated Horse Tips

Here's a few small points I've learned in my limited experience with horses.  Perhaps someone will find these useful ! 

Horse Tip #1 - Body stance

If you see your horses rear leg cocked like this, think of someone folding their arms leaning against the barn.  Same kind of idea.  This is a relaxed stance where they keep all the weight on one leg and let the other one rest.  As always, you should be watching your horse to see what mood he's in but this is a good sign that he's pretty relaxed at the moment.

Horse Tip #2 - Tying to a fence

When tying your horse to a wooden fence, it's a bad idea to tie it to a fence rail.  On the left, if the horse started suddenly and pulled back, the fence rail could give somewhat.  If this happened, it would encourage the horse to keep going and he would pull even more.  The end result could be disastrous for both fence and horse.

Far better is the scenario to the right.  Here, the post is the tying point, one that is far less likely to move given a sudden pull by the horse.  Even so however, remember that horses are large, powerful animals and if they're determined to do something, they can do it.

Horse Tip #3 - Moving the horse over

If you're on one side of the horse and you need her to move over, pushing the horse usually does little.  They will just push back.  Instead, you need to create a reason the horse would want to move over.  Best way is to tuck your thumb between the back leg and the body as per the picture to the left.  This is a sensitive area so this combined with verbal cues ("eg. get over there" etc.) will cause them to react and move away from the stimulus.

Horse Tip #4 - Hooking up the horse

If you have a tie down on your horse (goes from head to the cinch under the front of the belly, keeps the head from going too high), make sure a connector such as this has any hooking parts pointing down so it doesn't irritate the body.

On the head, it's particularly important not to let the hook part of the fastener face forward as the horse may accidentally hook it on a fence or other object and free itself from it.  This applies to both tie-downs and lead ropes.

Horse Tip #5 - Reins and the bit

The bit, which rests in the mouth is what the reins attach to and allow the rider to direct the horse.  The pressure on both sides of the mouth must be even so that the horse gets an accurate message of what you are asking him to do.  

One thing to periodically check before and during riding, is that the loop where the reins are connected to the bit is not twisted.  In the diagram to the right, you can see the good side and the bad side.  Before getting on this horse, you would want to straighten out the bad side.  Riding it as is would give more pressure to the bit on one side than the other.

Horse Tip #6 - Quick release knot

It's very useful to know at least one quick release knot.  If you tie the horse up somewhere, you want to be able to quickly and easily untie the knot which may be a challenge with other types.  I took some pictures of me tying this knot which you can go through below.  I know how difficult it was to learn so I thought some visual aids might help.

For this particular knot...
Step 1 - Wrap the rope around, in this case, a post such that the loose rope sits on top of the other half.  Make a loop from the loose side of the rope such that it sits on top of the other side of the rope.  Picture 1 arrows indicate the movement and picture 2 shows the result.

Step 2 -  Take the middle part of the loose side of the rope that is dangling, and bring it up through the loop you created, between the loop and the other side of the rope.  Picture 1 arrows indicates the movement and picture 3 shows the result.

Step 3 - Pull on the non-loose side of the rope (this is the one that is attached to the horse) and on the part you just pulled up through the loop.  It should now look as you see in the photo.   Picture 3 arrows show the movement, picture 4 shows the result.

Step 4 - And here is the completed knot.  To do a quick release just pull on the loose end of the rope indicated in the last photo.  It takes a little practice to learn and remember this one, especially if you're knot-impaired like I am.  But if I can learn it, anyone can, given a bit of practice.

Horse Tip #7 - Respect the power of a horse

Horses are very powerful animals despite their sometimes apparently docile nature.  They can kill a person very easily given the right set of circumstances so always be very careful around these animals.   You can see on the left what one frightened horse did to the brass clip that was holding him in place, snapped it clean off.   Remember to not make startling movements or noises around horses, make them always aware of where  you are when you're around them, talk to them frequently in a soft tone.  Always watch the mood of a horse so you know where you stand with him.