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Horsemanship How-to:

A Collection of Step-by-Step Guides on the Basics of Riding, Showing and Stable Management

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Western Riding and Horse Training

How to Sit the Jog
Part of the allure of riding western is sitting astride a slow-legged horse as it moseys along at a jog. Faster than a walk, slower and more relaxed than a lope, the jog is the gait most favored for covering ground on trail rides. In the show pen, novice riders typically master the walk/jog division before moving up the ranks. But what if you’re having trouble getting in the groove when it comes to sitting still at the jog?
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How to Improve Your Horse's Halts
Whether you ride competitively or stick to the trails, it’s important to have a horse that halts promptly. A horse that continues to pull against your hand or wiggles impatiently can cost you a ribbon in the show ring. Furthermore, it demonstrates that you really don’t have complete control over your horse. Here are a few suggestions to help your horse halt properly.
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How to Find the Correct Western Stirrup Length
Do you ride western? Are your stirrups too long or too short? Western stirrups that are too long will undermine your sense of security. If your stirrups are too short, you’ll pop up and down in the saddle with every stride. So how do you find the stirrup length that’s right for you?
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How to Use Spurs Properly
All riding horses are taught to respond to pressure from the rider’s leg, whether it’s pressure telling the horse to move over or pressure telling the horse to move faster. Spurs can help enhance and fortify leg pressure cues. But before you strap on a pair of spurs, here are a few suggestions.
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English Riding and Horse Training

How to Stop Your Horse from Bucking after the Jump
Though a few famous show jumpers were known for their exuberant displays after clearing challenging obstacles, bucking and playing after a jump isn’t admirable behavior. Not only can it unseat a rider, but it’s marked as a major fault in hunter, equitation and medal classes. Once it becomes a habit, it can adversely influence the rider’s performance.
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How to Help Your Horse Jump Better with Trot Poles
Adding trot poles (often called placement poles) to your schooling jumps can have a positive effect on your horse’s performance. They can help regulate the pace of a horse that has begun to rush the jumps. They also help a green horse understand just where to place their feet before taking off, alleviating anxiety for both horse and rider. Here’s how to set them up.
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How to Master the Two-Point Position
English riders are introduced to the two-point position during their first few lessons. But western riders can improve their position, too, by practicing in two-point. Here’s how to do it properly.
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How to find the right length for your English stirrups
If you ride English then you already know the importance of correct stirrup length. A stirrup that’s too long usually results in a loose, swinging lower leg. Plus it undermines the rider’s position. Instead of a classic hunt seat look, with a slightly forward angle to the rider’s upper body, a too-long stirrup can force the rider into what’s often called the “chair seat.”
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How to Post the Trot
Regardless of your riding discipline, the ability to post the trot is an important horsemanship skill. Though posting is primarily associated with English riders, western riders—including cowboys—also post to the long trot. To be certain, covering long distances at the trot is much more pleasant when you post rather than trying to sit comfortably.
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How to Count Strides Between Jumps
Are you an English rider who’s learning to jump a course? Sooner or later you’ll face the challenge of getting the right number of strides in a line. But before you can finesse your horse’s performance to that point, you must be able to count strides as you ride from one jump to the next. Although it sounds like rudimentary arithmetic, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
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General Riding and Horse Training

How to Help Your Horse Hold the Canter
Maintaining a balanced, consistent, and controlled canter on the correct lead presents enough challenges. But what if your horse has trouble holding his canter? If your horse starts off fine but repeatedly breaks to the trot, then you need to consider what’s causing the problem before you can fix it. Here are three primary reasons why a horse falls apart at the canter.
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How to Line up Like a Winner
A horse show class can seem like a marathon torture session, especially if you’re aboard a cranky horse or trying to hold your position despite the fact that your body’s going numb. Yet you can’t relax just because the announcer instructs your class to line up. Instead, use the line-up to your advantage. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
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How to Hold Reins Correctly
Both English and western riders can sometimes be misguided as to how to hold the reins correctly. That diminishes their communication with their horse. When direct rein aids are used, a rein is held in each hand. In this manner, the rider increases contact with the right rein to turn right and the left rein to turn left.
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How to Use a Direct Rein Aid
Knowing how to use a direct rein is an important skill whether you ride English or western. Unlike neck reining, where the horse turns in response to pressure from the outside rein lying against its neck, a direct rein aid leads a horse into the desired direction. Reduced to its most basic application, a direct rein is quite rudimentary, which is probably why it’s sometimes dismissed as “plow reining.” Yet when combined with leg pressure, a direct rein aid guides a horse in a clear, concise and productive manner. Here’s how.
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How to Use an Opening Rein
The opening rein is a specific rein aid that comes in handy under certain circumstances. English riders often use an opening rein to straighten a horse through a line of jumps or to cue their jumper for an upcoming tight turn. Western riders rely on an opening rein when introducing fundamentals like side-passing.
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How to Keep Your Green Show Horse Calm and Focused
Hilda Gurney, undeniably America’s first great dressage rider (and a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 1976 Olympics) has said that you can train a horse at home all you want, but you then have to spend time training it to compete. If you’ve ever taken a green horse to a show and witnessed how it morphed into a fire-breathing, incoherent equine dragon, then you understand what she meant.
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How to Ride Through a Rear
It’s not unusual to see a horse rear. A frisky horse cavorting with a pasture mate may stand on its hind legs as a playful expression. Rearing is also a defensive posture that feral horses use to fend off predators. But when rearing occurs under saddle it’s because the horse has absolutely refused to go forward. Once learned, this behavior can become a dangerous vice. Here’s how to ride through a rear and tips on how to prevent it from happening again.
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How to Teach a Horse to Back
Every horse should back willingly on cue. Not only does this trait come in handy during a variety of all-purpose riding scenarios, but it also demonstrates a certain amount of obedience and submission to the rider’s aids. Yet many riders aren’t quite sure how to tell their horse to back. Teaching the movement to a green horse can be tricky, too. These 10 steps will help you and your horse shift smoothly into reverse.
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How to Sit the Canter Comfortably
No doubt about it, some horses have rough canters. This disquieting trait can be due to several reasons. Poor conformation is one. A horse that’s built higher in the hindquarters than the front end gives the rider the sensation of perpetually traveling downhill. Another is a lack of training. Fast, unbalanced horses that careen around their turns are unlikely to have smooth gaits. Underlying issues with unsoundness, like chronic arthritis, can also make the canter feel stilted or awkward. If have trouble staying relaxed at the canter on a horse you ride, and you’ve already addressed these potential culprits, then here are a few tips to try.
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How to Stop a Bolting Horse
Bolting occurs when a horse suddenly bursts into a gallop, blindly disregarding the commands of its rider and the safety of any other creatures in its path. Though horses that are green or nervous are the ones most likely to bolt, any horse is apt to bolt under certain circumstances. In order to help keep you safe in the saddle, here are some steps on how to apply the emergency brake.
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Horse Grooming

How to Brighten White Stockings
A horse with white legs stands out in a crowd. But those flashy white stockings require some regular grooming to keep them looking their eye-catching best. White stockings can look dingy, dull and yellow for two reasons: The hair itself is stained from the barn environment (think urine, mud and manure) and the underlying pink skin is discolored due to layers of accumulated dirt. Here are some quick and easy steps for regaining, and maintaining, that flashy look.
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Horsekeeping and Stable Management

How to Soothe the Fly-Sensitive Horse
Flies always provoke some kind of reaction around a horse, whether it’s a stomp of a hoof or a swish of a tail. But some unlucky horses have an even greater reaction, one that goes far beyond a mere annoyance. Intense itching provokes the horse to rub against fence posts and chew its skin. Loss of hair is evident, ranging from a buckshot, speckled appearance to palm-sized bald patches. Once the inflamed skin is broken or abraded, bacteria invade the wound, causing superficial skin infections.
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