May 30, 2016

Introducing Side-reins on the Longe Line

Yesterday Gentry had a new first. I longed him in side-reins! I don't know why I haven't done it sooner, I should have. However, as I have been working with him on contact lately, I suddenly remembered my side-reins, and thought it would be helpful for him to sort out contact without human error involved.
Longeing in side-reins, at the walk

As this was Gentry's first time in side-reins, I took it slow and properly introduced them to him. Here is what I did.

Introducing Side-reins to Gentry:

  1. Gather the proper equipment: Bridle, longeing caveson, rubber donut side-reins, training surcingle, German style swivel longe line, and longe whip.
  2. Put the longeing caveson on over the top of the bridle with reins twisted and secured with the throat-latch, or removed.
  3. Attach longe line to the top ring on the longeing caveson. I like the swivel end snap kind because the line does not get twisted up.
  4. Attach side-reins to the bit and to the low ring on the surcingle. Initially set them to the longest setting available. Always have the side-reins the same length on each side. I like the rubber donut side-reins because they provide give.
  5. Ask the horse to walk, and let them get familiar with the side-reins. Let the horse take their time and work through it. The horse may initially halt when they feel the pressure from the rein, until they learn to stretch down onto the bit. Gentrly ask them to walk-on, don't allow them to halt, but don't make them over react either. It is important to take this step slow so that they do not get overwhelmed with the pressure and rear up.
  6. Once the horse is comfortable with the reins, ask for the trot.
  7. Once the horse is comfortable at the walk and trot, shorten the side-reins a bit. Not as short as you will eventually use them in training, but just a bit more for them to get the feel of them.
  8. Do this in both directions.
  9. Keep the first session short and easy. Give lots of pets and cookies!
That's really all there is to it. I've never had a bad experience using this method. However, I have heard horror stories of horses being longed in side-reins, which is why I take it really slow at first and only ever use this method. Using the longeing caveson to introduce side-reins is key, because it keeps the pressure of the longeline off the bit. You don't want he longeline to interfere with the pressure that is coming from the side-reins to the bit. That will confuse the horse. Eventually, once my horse is well trained and used to side-reins, I will longe them in full tack and off the bit, if I am longeing before I ride. Generally, if I am just longing and not riding I always longe with the caveson and surcingle. 
Longeing in side-reins, at the trot

The Results:

After our 20-minute longe line session, I hopped on Gentry for a ride. It was like magic. Even with the side-reins longer than they "should" or eventually will be for proper training, he got something out of his little longe lesson. I was really impressed with how much he sought out contact compared to our previous rides. There was basically no fight about putting his head down, and he seemed to understand more clearly what I was asking him to do. He even had a little bit of foam on his mouth during the ride! That was a first. I am encouraged and definitely plan on longeing in the side-reins more often.

May 28, 2016

Baby Got Back

The main problem with having horses at home, is the problem of riding frequency. Granted, if I had an indoor, or even a sand arena as opposed to grass, this would not be an issue at all. However, if you are a humble horse owner like myself and don't have all the bells and whistles at home, the weather can severely crimp your ability to ride regularly. That doesn't mean I don't ride in questionable weather, I have to, but this spring has been really bizarre. While I will ride in slight wind or a drizzle, I will not ride in a hail storm, 35mph winds, or a downpour. That means our training progresses in spurts. It also means I day dream of boarding frequently.

Ready to Ride

Last week I rode Gentry once. Once! He was good, albeit full of energy, but a saint all the same. He even remembered what we have been working on and gave me a really good effort. I thought afterward I would turn him out for a nice relaxing grazing session on our vibrant green pasture.

Gallop Much?
So much for relaxing. Gentry definitely had a lot more energy to burn off, and galloped around like an insane man for a while! Usually I ride in the evenings, after he's had a few hours of turnout, so it was interesting to see just how much get up and go he still had after a fairly strenuous ride. The thing I notice in this photo is how much his balance at the canter has improved. Under saddle his canter has always been comfortable, but I think it looks like he is using his hind end better than he did in the past. Given that we have been mostly focusing on walk and trot work, I am assuming that the trot work has improved his hind end engagement and that has happily overflowed to his canter as well. I am encouraged! We still have a ways to go before I'll feel confident showing him Training Level in July, but at least I know he'll give me his best, even if his best at that time isn't the best it might be one day. Now if this spring weather could sort itself out, that would be great!

May 17, 2016

Outside Rein

It's always the outside rein, is it not? Oddly it's just my left outside rein. The right outside rein is just peachy. For some reason I have a death grip on the left outside rein which is in-turn causing me to have an even bigger death grip on the inside rein. So, that is one of the big a-ha moments of my lesson yesterday. The other aspect of life that Gentry is having to learn/accept is contact. He's making progress, but trying the typical baby tricks of blocking (probably my fault because...outside rein), then trying to duck behind the bit since he's not allowed to go up, then we inch our way forward and he finds the sweet spot, only to loose it an instant later. Rinse and repeat. Lastly, he also has to trot like a normal friggin' horse whistle attempting to seek contact. Though he may never make it to 3rd level, he could definitely rock the piaffe. He thinks that's easier than trotting while on the bit! 'Tis a sight to behold.

The list above may not seem that big, but it is actually a lot to complete in the next 2 months. We need to be ready for training level come July, as I sent my show entry and 'UGE check off in the mail this morning. Dressage under the Big Sky I & II here we come. May we stay sound and not make complete fools of ourselves! That's all I am asking for.

May 4, 2016

The World of Leadline

JR rode Gentry solo!

Previously, JR has only ever ridden with me on the random occasion when I'd be riding and he'd ask to hop up. I have never forced or encourage an interest in horses with him. Despite the fact that the first thought I had once I got pregnant was to buy a pony, I have never wanted to push horses on him. I figured that was just a sure fire way to grantee he'd have no interest in horses at all. Also, I figured it would be just fine if he never developed an interest in horses, both from a financial and safety standpoint. However, he does seem to be genuinely interested, at least a little bit. So yay, maybe a pony in the somewhat near future?
JR's first time "riding", on Rose, right before I sold her.

First things first though. JR hopped up in the saddle with me a few months ago and shrieked about the pommel hurting him (ya know, boy stuff). I decided it was finally time to invest in a leadline saddle, since he wasn't comfortable alone in my saddle or bareback. His birthday was coming up, so I used that as my justification and got him his own saddle for his 4th birthday.

If you have never looked into it before, there are a wide variety of leadline saddles out there. I have also spent nearly five years researching the options. There are some western ones, some all purpose ones, and some rather fancy huntery leather ones that would be nice if your kid showed leadline on the circuit. While JR might do a leadline class at some point at a show I'm riding in, it is doubtful, and in addition there really isn't the leadline pomp and circumstance in this area that you see on the East coast. So, I resisted the urge to buy the fanciest leather leadline saddle I could find. This was actually really hard for me to do, but I did it. Gold star for me for adulting.

image credit:

What I Got

I went with the Shires Bambino First Leadline Saddle, which I got for a screaming deal on Chick's discount saddlery here: If you have a little one that you are thinking about getting a leadline saddle for, I recommend it at the sales price. I don't think I'd pay the full price for it though. One thing I like is that the "gullet" is velcro so you can take it off and adjust it to fit your horse's spine however you like. Granted I doubt that a 35lb kid really makes a difference in terms of saddle fit, but it is still nice. Otherwise, it's basically a treeless saddle with a super deep seat and awesome handle on the pommel. I also like that it sort of looks like a dressage saddle. Especially given that I only show dressage these days, if JR did do a leadline class it would be at a dressage show anyway.

Putting it All Together

To finish off the leadline saddle birthday present, I bought a couple of children's size black stirrup leathers (they were still too long and needed more holes punched), found some peacock stirrups and a random brown (cringe) fuzzy girth that I've been hoarding in my tack room for years. I also manage to find a tiny sized C4 saddle pad laying around that is too small for my dressage saddle, but plenty big for the leadline saddle.

JR's first solo ride on Gentry

JR was very enthusiastic about riding all alone, and refused to let us hold onto him. Gasp! Mommy anxiety went through the roof. However, he obviously was nice and secure in the saddle and with the stirrups. He rode all the way down the driveway and back with me leading. Gentry was a bit confused by his lightweight passenger, but was a saint about it. JR now knows how to ask the horse to walk and stop. He definitely got a kick out of being able to "control" the horse. Nothing like a pre-schooler on a power trip! I'm looking forward to more leadline rides with my kiddo. It's exciting to think where it might lead.

May 2, 2016

Lessons & Showing

This past Friday I had my first lesson with my trainer in almost three years! That is hard for my brain to process/accept. Yes my friends, having a kid changes everything, at least for the first few years. JR also turned four on Friday. It seems like just yesterday I was planning to make some saddle pads, but made a baby instead. Remember that post?

The lesson was terrific. G-Love was calm and had no anxiety about being in a new place. He settled in quickly and got straight to work. He and I have so much to work on, which I knew hence the lesson, but now we finally have the direction I was seeking. I am hoping to start regular weekly lessons at the end of May, once JR is out of pre-school for the summer and I have better access to my babysitter. For now lessons will unfortunately be spread out because of schedule conflicts.

Mostly our lesson revolved around Gentry learning to be a big boy, and accept/seek out contact and bend his body on a circle. Lots of balancing inside and outside rein stuff. I'd explain it in greater detail, but you know, outside rein. Great things to work on, and he did well, retaining what he learned and building on it the next time I rode him. I've also got a ton of work to do on my position. My old hunter habits just creep up anytime I loose concentration. Lots to work on.

So, why the focus on all this all of a sudden? Aside from the typical personal advancement/achievement aspect of everything, I am taking Gentry to two registered shows in July, and doing training level. If anyone is interested, and possibly also attending, the show is in Bozeman, MT and is called Dressage under the Big Sky I & II. You can find info on it here: or on Facebook.

As much as I would like to show him more than that this summer, I don't think I can swing it. Next year is another story though. I'd like to show him 1st level and start earning points toward my Bronze medal. That means I'll probably have to do more than two shows next year, unless we just magically rock 1st level. I have to give credit to Sprinkler Bandits for inspiring me to think big once again with my riding and deciding to go for my Bronze. I don't know that Gentry can make it to 3rd level given his conformation, but I am certainly willing to try. I can alway finish it up on another horse if I need to. So that is my vague plan in terms of our training and showing.


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