How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Your position in the saddle affects your horse’s ability to move freely. It also affects your safety, and how you’ll feel during and after your ride. If you sit back too far or brace in your stirrups, you’ll risk aches and pains at the end of your ride. You also won’t be in a balanced position to react and maintain your balance if your horse spooks or makes an unexpected step.

If your legs and feet aren’t in the correct position, you may find it difficult to walk once you dismount. Worse, you’ll make your horse work harder than he would if you rode correctly. Here, top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight teaches you how and why your ear, shoulder, hip, and heel alignment is important to your trail-riding position. She’ll first help you identify the common position flaws she sees when trail riding. Then she’ll help you correct — or avoid — such problems so you and your horse can hit the trails with comfort and balance.
Goodnight notes that joint pain is a common complaint among trail riders. Ankles, knees, hips, and back can stiffen and get sore, even on a smooth-gaited horse, if the rider’s position is slightly off kilter. Slight adjustments in your alignment can help you ride smoothly and reduce the impact to both you and your horse.

Exercise Prep

Horsemanship lesson:

You’ll learn how to avoid common position flaws, so you’ll be safely balanced in the saddle, and so that you and your horse will feel better during and after your rides.

Why you need it on the trail

While you may love to relax and take in the scenery as you ride, it’s important to actively ride and act as your horse’s leader. As “the captain,” you’re in charge of where your horse goes and where he looks. A proper riding position will enable you to cue him effectively and let him know that you’re not just along for a ride.

What you’ll do:

You’ll feel the difference in each posture position and learn to correct your position as soon as you’re out of balance.

What you’ll need:

Your saddled horse, and a friend to help you identify and perfect your body alignment.

Skills your horse will need:

Your horse should be responsive to your cues to move forward, stop, back, and side-to-side on your command. You’ll need good steering and speed control at the walk and trot while riding in open spaces.

Position Fix #1: Create a Straight Line
As you ride, your legs should hang down from your hips — in a position that would allow you to stand “on your own two feet” if your horse wasn’t there to hold you. In Photo 1A, Goodnight’s legs are relaxed and hanging just behind her horse’s cinch. You can draw a straight line through her ear, shoulder, hip, and heel. This line signals the correct position and shows that she’s sitting directly over her horse’s center of gravity.

In Photo 1B, Goodnight’s lower leg is too far forward, and you can see her horse’s cinch. She calls this “chair position.” It would take a jagged line to connect her ear, shoulder, hip, and heel. This leg-forward position not only looks strange, but adversely affects your horse’s performance. His center of gravity is located just behind his shoulder and below his withers. Ideally, you’ll ride as close to that point as possible so that your weight is easy for him to carry.

When you’re balanced and sitting above your heels, you’re as close to this balance point as possible. When your legs slide forward, your weight shifts back and drives down into your horse’s back.

Your horse feels this uncomfortable balance shift just as you would if someone you carried on your back suddenly shifted back and pointed her legs toward your shoulders —the weight would become difficult to carry.

To find this optimum leg position and whole-body alignment, place your reins in one hand, hold your saddle’s horn or pommel with your free hand, stand up in the stirrups, and notice where your stirrups and legs are positioned. Also see whether you can easily balance without holding on.

When you can balance easily (it may take some practice), roll back onto your seat bones, sit up straight, and allow your legs to relax against your horse’s sides.If this position feels new and strange, ask a friend to watch you ride. Ask her to tell you when you have a perfect line between your heel, hip, shoulder, and ear, and when your leg drifts forward and out of balance.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Sometimes, saddle design can contribute to a chair-seat position. For instance, if the stirrups hang in front of the seat’s center, the saddle will draw your legs forward. If your stirrups are too long (as they might be in an effort to reduce joint pain), it’s difficult to keep your leg underneath you. Pushing your heels down too far and leaning back on the cantle can also cause you to brace and push your legs forward.

Position Fix #2: Nix the Splits

In a relaxed and correct position, your lower leg hangs down from your knee and wraps around your horse’s barrel, softly caressing your horse’s sides (Photo 2A). Note that you can’t see much daylight between Goodnight’s leg and the horse’s side.

If your legs are too straight and you’re riding in “splits” position (Photo 2B), it’s time to relax and sit down on your seat bones. Riding with your legs far from your horse’s sides pushes you up out of the saddle, and off of your seat bones. Your whole body becomes tense and you lose the ability to cue your horse with subtle seat and leg cues.

You also tense your whole spine, which can cause your horse’s gaits to pound your spine and shoulders. Instead, allow your body to relax and go with your horse’s rhythmic flow.

And, while it’s good to ride with your heel below your toe so that your foot stays in the stirrup, it’s not necessary to press yourlegs down and out. Doing so will cause your joints to lock and can cause ankle and knee pain.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Getting ready to ride takes a bit of attention to detail. You want you and your horse to be safe and comfortable. Here are mistakes to watch for as you tack up.

Inattention to Grooming

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Tetra Images / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

It’s always a mistake not to groom your horse’s back and girth area before you ride. Grit, burrs, or other debris can become lodged in your horse’s hair coat, especially when the hair is thick in the winter time. This can lead to chaffing, galls or discomfort that can make your horse misbehave. Always groom the saddle and cinch area before you put the saddle pad or blanket and saddle on your horse.

Another grooming mistake is to skip checking your horse’s hooves before you tack up to ride. Objects can get lodged in the bottom of the hoof, that can make your horse’s feet sore. And, you may miss problems like thrush and white line disease that can get worse if not treated promptly. A loose shoe can cause lameness and can trip your horse, which could injure both of you. Clean and check hooves each time you tack up–and when you are done riding.

Wrinkled, Dirty Saddle Pad and Blankets

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Always check that your pads or blankets are clean. Dirt build up can cause chaffing and things like twigs, burrs or other debris can cause discomfort that can make your horse misbehave. When you put the blanket or pad on, be sure it’s perfectly smooth, and there are no folds or wrinkles where the saddle sits.

Skipping a Quick Tack Check

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Dirk Anschutz / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Each time you ride, you should do a quick visual tack check. Look for loose or frayed stitching, stretched or cracked leather, fractured rings or buckles, worn or sharp edges on bits and any other damage or wear that could make your saddle, bridle or bit come apart while you ride. Bits with sharp edges exposed can make a horse cranky and misbehave. Nails poking through fleece on the underside of saddles can also cause discomfort. Get in the habit of doing a quick check of your tack every time you ride, and do a thorough check when you clean it.

Careless Bridling

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Thomas Northcut / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Avoid sloppy bridling habits that can make a horse head shy and create hazards. When putting the headstall over the ears, be gentle. Some horses dislike having their ears folded. Don’t do the noseband or throat latch-up too tight. Be sure the buckles are done up correctly, so the bridle doesn’t come loose when you ride. A horse that is uncomfortable while being bridled can become more difficult to bridle as time goes on.

Making Biting Uncomfortable

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Photodisc / Getty Images

Be careful not to clank the bit against your horse’s teeth, pinch or pull at its lips or shove a frosty cold bit in its mouth. These things can make your horse resentful about taking the bit and make it difficult to tack up in the future. Again, check your bit for signs of wear, rough or sharp edges or joints that pinch. This can make your horse uncomfortable and an uncomfortable horse might react by misbehaving.

Doing the Cinch Up Quickly and Tightly

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Thinkstock / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Girth or cinch up slowly. Don’t do the girth or cinch up so tight it leaves an impression on your horse when it’s removed. Make sure the girth/cinch and all the straps that attach to it are lying flat. Going slowly gives the horse time to relax and many horses will bloat their bellies while you are tacking up, leaving the cinch much looser than you realized. If you’re using a western saddle with a knotted cinch, make sure the knot is laying flat when you finish typing it.

Not Doing a Final Check

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Sasha Bell / Moment / Getty Images

Check the girth or cinch. In the short walk from your tacking up area, to where you mount up, the girth may have loosened because your horse has relaxed. Always do a double check before you mount. Check that your reins aren’t twisted, and any other equipment you’re using such as martingales or breast collars are adjusted properly.

On an English saddle, check that the stirrups are down on both sides. That way you won’t get into the saddle, bang your thigh on the offside stirrup and have to sit unbalanced, fiddling with it before moving on.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

To learn how to sit the trot smoothly, start on the longe line without reins or stirrups and imagine pushing the saddle forward onto your horse’s withers. This movement will help you stay connected to him. | © Tass Jones

Q: I’m a dressage rider who is trying to learn how to sit the trot. I feel as if I bounce around a lot and can’t figure out how to stop. How can I learn to sit the trot better?

JANA WAGNER

A: Learning to sit the trot is challenging for everyone. It’s particularly difficult for adults who didn’t ride, ski or do gymnastics as children and so didn’t develop the necessary muscle memory and balance. Whatever your background is, the only way to improve your sitting trot is to sit the trot over and over again. It’s tempting to put it off, for example, if you’re a Training Level dressage rider who won’t have to sit the trot in competition until Second Level. But developing this skill can take six months or more of hard work so the sooner you start practicing, the better.

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It helps to understand what your muscles have to do in order to follow the horse’s motion. To achieve a good sitting trot, you can’t hold your body still and quiet. The muscles in your horse’s back are moving while he’s trotting. To stay connected to him, the muscles in your body—especially in your lower back, belly and hips—must move as well. To get an idea of what this feels like, try these two unmounted exercises:

1. Swing exercise. Find a local playground with a swing set. Sit on the swing and lift both of your feet off the ground. Then try to make the swing move just with your body without pumping your legs. The same muscles you use to make it swing forward and back are the ones you need to engage to sit the trot. (If you feel silly doing this in public, go to the playground after dark.)

2. Chair exercise. Sit on the edge of a four-legged chair with your feet flat on the ground, spread apart the same width as your hips. Then push your hips forward to get the chair to tip onto its front legs. This will engage your sitting-trot muscles.

Once you’ve learned how your muscles feel in these exercises, try to recreate the feeling in the saddle. Start on the longe line without reins or stirrups on a reliable horse with a very regular, even trot, which will make it easier to find your rhythm whenever your balance slips. Avoid starting on a horse with big, bouncy movement. Also avoid posting the trot just before you sit. Instead, stay seated in the saddle during the transition from walk to trot so that you feel the rhythm in the very first steps.

Have your longe person keep your horse’s trot very slow so that you can follow his motion more easily. To move your hips the way you did in the unmounted exercises, imagine pushing the saddle forward onto your horse’s withers. Experiment by moving different parts of your body until it feels as if you’re truly in sync with him.

Don’t be afraid to bounce a little while you’re figuring this out. Most horses tolerate a little bouncing. If your saddle fits your horse well, it will distribute your weight across his back, minimizing the discomfort. (I believe that back soreness is more commonly caused by hock problems or poorly fitted saddles rather than bouncing riders.)

If you have trouble maintaining your balance at first, hook one pinky finger lightly around the pommel of the saddle or around the bucking strap, if one is attached to your saddle. Use this merely to assist your balance, not to pull yourself deeper into the saddle. Rely on your legs to keep your body in place, just the way the girth keeps the saddle in place. Wrap them down around your horse’s barrel, closing them against his sides without gripping tightly.

Try to sit for one full circle on the longe line. Then post to the trot and ask for a more forward trot. After a circle or so, come back to walk and repeat the exercise until you begin to tire. Do these longe sessions as frequently as you can, gradually building up to sitting for five circles, then six and so on. Little by little, you will feel as if you’re truly moving with the horse, if only for a single stride. Eventually, you’ll feel it for two or three strides in a row. One day, you’ll suddenly “get it” for five consecutive strides and you’ll know you moved with the horse. But then you may lose it and struggle to regain the feeling for another four or five days. It can be a very frustrating process. Don’t give up!

When you’re sitting the trot fairly well on the longe line, try it during your regular rides. Remember to slow your horse’s trot down while you’re sitting, then move him forward again when you post. As an added benefit, practicing these different tempos within the gait will improve his rideability and suppleness. When you progress to more difficult movements such as sitting to the medium trot, don’t worry if you bounce a little. And don’t be ashamed to switch to a saddle with thicker knee rolls if that makes you feel more secure. Instead of striving for perfection, aim for steady progress. Sitting the trot will get easier with plenty of practice.

Born and raised in Germany, Jana Wagner was riding up to 15 young stallions a day at a training barn in Todenbuettel and working toward earning her professional trainer, or bereiter, degree before she decided to take a break to sail around the world. She met her Californian husband while abroad and eventually settled in the U.S. After their divorce, Jana established Wally Woo Farm in La Cygne, Kansas, where she breeds American Warmbloods and teaches dressage with the assistance of her four children.

A U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist, “L” graduate with distinction and USDF certified instructor through Fourth Level, she is currently competing at the Grand Prix level. One of her daughters, Emily Miles, and the farm’s homebred stallion, WakeUp (featured in our September 2015 issue), were the 2015 Grand Prix Champions at the Markel/U.S. Equestrian Federation Young and Developing Dressage National Championships.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.

Let’s be honest: Lead changes ignite anxiety in almost all amateur riders. But if you can teach your young horse to change leads with ease early in the training process, you’ll save yourself time, frustration, and raw nerves in the long run.

Lead changes come naturally to a horse. You might not see him run to a sliding stop or spin four times in a pasture, but I bet you’ve seen your horse change leads when he’s running and playing. I use my horse’s natural instinct to change leads and add in my cues so that it becomes second nature in the arena, just like in the pasture.

I’ll outline my steps for teaching a left-to-right lead change on one of my 3-year-old mares; switch the instructions to go from right to left. Outfit your horse in a bit that minimizes interference from you and enables your horse to stay straight. Ride with two hands on the reins so you can control each part of your horse. Advance to one-handed riding when you feel confident that your horse understands what you want.

1. Before I begin, I check my horse’s steering. When I lay a rein across her neck, her feet should move away from that pressure and her shoulders should follow my hand. She also should move away from calf pressure. To start the lead-change work, I lope a left-lead circle. When my horse is responsive, I transition my loping circle to a straight diagonal line toward about where the third cone would be in a reining pattern (about ⅔ of the way down the arena). Straightness is key in this approach to the fence. I keep my eyes up and my shoulders and hips squarely pointed to the left of my spot on the fence. This helps my horse stay in her left lead and keep her body straight.

Keep your nether regions comfortable and healthy mile after mile.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

For the vast majority of cyclists, if you spend enough time in the saddle, you’ll have to deal with saddles sores at some point. Even when you ride with the best, most comfortable chamois , your nether regions are continuously subject to heat, moisture, chafing and pressure.

Fortunately, when saddles sores do occur, there are some simple ways to treat them and avoid a recurrence.

What Causes Saddle Sores?

The term “saddle sore” can refer to several different specific conditions, but generally it means problems occurring in the area where your cycling shorts’ chamois contacts your body due to ongoing pressure or chafing from your saddle.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

“You know you have a saddle sore when you have a tender spot that is usually raised, pink or red and in an area that rubs your saddle,” explains gynecologist Kristi Angevine.

For most people, a saddle sore looks like a pimple or an ingrown hair, and essentially, it is the same thing: a bacteria-filled pore. In sensitive areas like in or on the back of your thighs or in your crotch, saddle sores can really hurt, making riding downright unpleasant.

How to Treat Saddle Sores

Once you get saddle sore, the best thing to do is to take a day or two off the bike to give delicate skin some time to heal without being subjected to more friction and sweat. Or at the very least, ride a different bike with a different saddle to change up the location of pressure points.

A day or two off is usually enough time to calm down the inflamed area, but to further speed the healing process, you can take a cool bath with Epsom salts. And let your skin breathe as much as possible—whether that means wearing a skirt or kilt or sleeping in the buff. Finally, if the skin has been broken, apply a topical ointment or a warm compress.

Saddle sores are fairly easy to treat on an occasional basis, but if they’re recurring, you may have a problem. Think about what is going on. Is your saddle comfortable? Are your favorite bibs worn out or do they have a thread that’s scratching the wrong way? Have you gotten a bike fit recently? You may want to test out a new saddle or play with your seat height before heading to the doctor’s office.

Keep in mind that women and men deal with varying issues below the beltline when it comes to riding. Check out the stories below if you’re dealing with saddles sores (or other issues like numbness) and need more info.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

When to See a Doctor for Saddle Sores

There are three reasons to check in with your doctor. First, if your saddle sores keep coming back, you might want to talk to a dermatologist to see if your sensitive skin has an underlying problem.

Secondly, consult your doc if your saddle sore lasts for more than two weeks or is excruciatingly painful. There could be something else going on.

Last but not least, go to a doctor if your saddle sore gets infected. Saddle sores sometimes get infected if the skin is broken and bacteria get inside. Signs of infection include serious pain, pus, a fever, and chills; those symptoms might mean it’s time for antibiotics.

How to Prevent Saddle Sores

Why suffer if you don’t have to? The best way to deal with saddle sores is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Think two key words: clean and dry.

That means that as soon as your ride is over, take off your cycling shorts and get cleaned up—hop in the shower if possible, or at least use a baby wipe to quickly wipe down your chamois region. Give the area some time to air out, or at the very least, make sure the underwear you don is dry. Then wash your shorts with the chamois inside out to get the pad super clean and completely dry between uses.

If you experience chafing during rides, try a friction-fighting chamois cream. But know that using a cream can trap bacteria; that means you need to be even more vigilant about dropping your pants and cleaning up immediately after your ride.

And finally, frequently adjust your riding position on you bike. Stand up out of the saddle once in a while or slide around to sit on different parts of your saddle. This will decrease the constant pressure on any one specific spot.

Other Ways to Help Prevention

1. Lubricate: Chamois cream is designed to reduce friction between your skin and your shorts. You can rub some on the chamois itself as well as your skin for maximum protection.

2. Removing Hair: Do this at your own discretion. A close shave can often open the door for sore razor bumps, ingrown hairs, and infected follicles. If you’re prone to razor burn and infected bumps, try applying a light layer of antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to the area after shaving.

3. Add Glide: Riders with larger or close-set thighs may have issues with inner-thigh chafing, as the sides of the saddle rubs that sensitive skin raw. Triathletes (who are very prone to chafing since they jump right on the bike soaking wet from the water) often use anti-chafing gels like Lanacane, which are specifically designed to prevent chafing from skin rubbing on skin or skin rubbing on clothing, by forming a silky protective surface on the skin.

4. Switch Chamois: Like saddles, chamois comes in all shapes and sizes, and some may fit your behind better than others. You want a seamless chamois that stays put and doesn’t irritate your skin or cause hot spots when you ride. And never wear underwear with bike shorts; they’re meant to be worn commando.

Should a sore pop up, you can treat it yourself with a healing, protective ointment such as Doc’s Saddle Sore Ointment, which contains tea tree oil. Moleskin with an area cut out around the sore can also help keep pressure off the sore itself, so it’s less painful.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Do you wish to ride horses more than you do, avoid certain situations such as trail riding, or avoid riding in groups because of fear? Are you afraid of horses altogether? You’re not alone. One bad experience or even playing out the scenario of a bad experience in your head repeatedly can lead to fear of riding. It’s something many people deal with, and this fear isn’t just “show jitters”. Riding fear, or “losing your nerve” as some people call it, is a very strong emotion. It’s also heartbreaking, as you look at your horse in the field or see your friends ride off and have fun without you.

Riding is a hazardous sport, so caution makes sense. However, if you find your caution turning into irrational fear, it’s time to take action.

Understand How Your Horse Thinks

It’s important to understand how horses think and how they read us. If you are feeling fear, they will read your body language and become fearful too.

A ​2006 study by the University of Guelph found that horses picked up their rider’s fear and became more fearful themselves. This study backs up what horsemen have known for centuries. By riding scared, you could be compounding your problem by making your horse scared, too.

Visualization

Visualization is a technique used by athletes of every type. Chances are if you’ve got confidence problems, your visualization goes something like this: You’ll get on a horse that is probably in a bad mood, and someone will drag a tarp across the barnyard. Then the horse will spook, you’ll get bucked off, the ambulance will come, and you’ll spend months in traction and rehabilitation.

The reality, of course, is that your horse is relaxed, there’s no one else around, no tarps are in sight, and all of this is happening inside your head and nowhere else. Learning how to visualize correctly means you’ll be able to see how your ride will go and end with a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. Breathing exercises can also help, both on and off the horse.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is somewhat like visualization as you listen to a voice that helps you first reach a deep state of relaxation, then gives positive messages about riding confidently. There are several sources for hypnosis recordings that you can purchase such as Basic Relaxation for the Equestrian Self Hypnosis, or Sharon Shinwell’s Hacking with Confidence.

Alternatively, you can make your own. An excellent book for stress problems of all types is The Relaxation and Stress Relief Workbook which gives instructions for creating your own hypnosis script.

Increase Your Riding Skills

Not everyone who lacks confidence is a beginner rider. However, if you are, one of the most important things you can do to increase your confidence is to improve your riding skills. Learning how to stop a spook before it happens, do emergency stops and dismounts, and how to improve your balance and seat will help you gain confidence.

A riding instructor who understands how to deal with riding fear and doesn’t push you beyond your capabilities is a must when you are working to gain confidence. You’re not going to feel confident if you are scared of both your instructor and your horse.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Competition season is upon us, which means it’s time to condition your equine companion to perform at his best.

Horse caretakers want results from training, and victories in the competition ring. And that’s understandable. But to expect great things out of our horses, we have to put great things into our horses. We need to provide them with training programs that keep them happy and eager to please, and offer nutritional support to ensure they can meet the energy requirements they need. Training really starts from within, and there are a number of steps you can take to prepare your horse – both mentally and physically — for competition.

Step 1: Get to know him

When training a horse for competition, understanding his behavior is critical. When a client drops off a horse, or a horse comes in for a clinic, I evaluate him right there and then. Is he brave, nervous or anxious? Can he focus on me as the trainer or am I non-existent? Understanding what is happening in his mind helps develop a plan for training.

Each horse is an individual, just like a person, and has to be trained in an individual way. I do not coach to all riders the same; I take into account their personalities, riding levels and past riding experiences. A fearful rider would not appreciate a coach pushing her into situations that cause more fear and anxiety; instead, a slower approach may be needed to build more confidence. So why would we teach the horse any differently?

Step 2: Pinpoint the root of any issues

A good trainer should be able to understand the root cause when a horse isn’t able to perform a particular task. Does he not understand? Is he being stubborn or fearful? Perhaps he cannot physically do the exercise. As I travel across the country doing clinics, I see all different levels of horses and riders. What I discovered is that the quicker I am at determining the root cause of an issue, the quicker I can help the horse and rider become successful.

Step 3: Be a good leader

There is nothing to be gained from forcing a scared horse to do something. Instead, be a good leader – one who is fair and forgiving, yet leads with authority. Be a leader who a horse can turn to for guidance and security. If the horse feels you are the one to take care of him and keep him safe, training becomes easier. If the horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking him to do, then it’s your job to figure out how to communicate it in a way he understands. Can you break the exercise down into smaller steps, or go slower? Figure out what he needs from you.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding trainingBe prepared for situations in which a horse may not be able to do what you want because of physical limitations. Be fair, and know that not all cow horses can be western pleasure horses or jumpers, and vice versa. Going back to step two – taking the time early on to understand and address the root cause of his resistance – makes for faster progress overall.

Step 4: Consider the whole horse

I am a firm believer in whole horse wellness. I want my horses to be comfortable all the time and to enjoy their jobs. I want each of them to be waiting for me at the gate with an eager look that says, “Hey, let’s get this show on the road! What are we doing today?”

If a horse is sore or uncomfortable, you can’t expect him to enjoy being ridden or to perform well. Horses that are pushed when they’re in pain can become sour – and can develop serious health issues – so it’s very important that they’re taken care of on a regular basis. Dental care, chiropractic appointments and hoof care, in addition to general veterinary exams, are crucial.

Step 5: Feed him well

In order to build a horse that’s physically and mentally ready for training and competition, you need to start from within. A good trainer should have a feed and supplement program that they wholeheartedly believe in. We feed a low-starch alfalfa-based extruded feed to keep our horses in top shape without the highs and lows caused by sugar-rich products. We also feed an alfalfa-grass blend hay to meet energy demands, using slow feeders so our horses are constantly grazing 24/7. Remember – how you feed your horse is just as important as what you feed.

I also believe in using supplements to support joint and internal health by turning to trusted high quality brands. I’m concerned with gut health all the time as well. Training and competing can be stressful on a horse, and that can affect his gut, so supplements that promote healthy digestion are helpful.

A horse is not a machine, but a living, thinking, feeling animal that deserves your dedication and care. As his caretaker, it’s your job to give him every opportunity to perform at his best. I choose to manage horses as naturally as possible, which involves ample turnout time, a healthy diet, and plenty of one-on-one attention. If you help your horse become as healthy and happy as possible, he will want to do the work you ask of him.

How to avoid soreness during your horse riding training

Do you wish to ride horses more than you do, avoid certain situations such as trail riding, or avoid riding in groups because of fear? Are you afraid of horses altogether? You’re not alone. One bad experience or even playing out the scenario of a bad experience in your head repeatedly can lead to fear of riding. It’s something many people deal with, and this fear isn’t just “show jitters”. Riding fear, or “losing your nerve” as some people call it, is a very strong emotion. It’s also heartbreaking, as you look at your horse in the field or see your friends ride off and have fun without you.

Riding is a hazardous sport, so caution makes sense. However, if you find your caution turning into irrational fear, it’s time to take action.

Understand How Your Horse Thinks

It’s important to understand how horses think and how they read us. If you are feeling fear, they will read your body language and become fearful too.

A ​2006 study by the University of Guelph found that horses picked up their rider’s fear and became more fearful themselves. This study backs up what horsemen have known for centuries. By riding scared, you could be compounding your problem by making your horse scared, too.

Visualization

Visualization is a technique used by athletes of every type. Chances are if you’ve got confidence problems, your visualization goes something like this: You’ll get on a horse that is probably in a bad mood, and someone will drag a tarp across the barnyard. Then the horse will spook, you’ll get bucked off, the ambulance will come, and you’ll spend months in traction and rehabilitation.

The reality, of course, is that your horse is relaxed, there’s no one else around, no tarps are in sight, and all of this is happening inside your head and nowhere else. Learning how to visualize correctly means you’ll be able to see how your ride will go and end with a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. Breathing exercises can also help, both on and off the horse.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is somewhat like visualization as you listen to a voice that helps you first reach a deep state of relaxation, then gives positive messages about riding confidently. There are several sources for hypnosis recordings that you can purchase such as Basic Relaxation for the Equestrian Self Hypnosis, or Sharon Shinwell’s Hacking with Confidence.

Alternatively, you can make your own. An excellent book for stress problems of all types is The Relaxation and Stress Relief Workbook which gives instructions for creating your own hypnosis script.

Increase Your Riding Skills

Not everyone who lacks confidence is a beginner rider. However, if you are, one of the most important things you can do to increase your confidence is to improve your riding skills. Learning how to stop a spook before it happens, do emergency stops and dismounts, and how to improve your balance and seat will help you gain confidence.

A riding instructor who understands how to deal with riding fear and doesn’t push you beyond your capabilities is a must when you are working to gain confidence. You’re not going to feel confident if you are scared of both your instructor and your horse.