40 Tips for Better Horsemanship

40 Tips for Better Horsemanship

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm shares 40 helpful tips that will make horse training, showing and riding simpler.

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By Lynn Palm

Editors Note: Remarkably, 2010 marked Lynn Palm's 40th year as a horse trainer, competitor and clinician. As a thank-you to her loyal supporters and fans, the world champion created a list, “40 Fabulous Tips for Better Horsemanship,” to share some of her vast knowledge of horsemanship and equine management.

These are really useful tips that I use every day when I am out in the barn or traveling with my horses. My hope is that everyone will be able to find something useful in this list. 

Practical and inexpensive, rope halters are a time-honored tradition for many horsemen and a wonderful training tool. Get AQHA's FREE How to Make a Rope Halter eBook and learn each step with full-color photos to help guide you through the process.

40 Fabulous Tips for Better Horsemanship

  1. Always wear a helmet when riding. I can never emphasize this enough! Protect your head – you only get one.
  2. Ask yourself: Is your horse suited to you? Do you feel safe working with him? Are you having fun with him? These are tough questions to ask yourself, but if you and your horse aren't a good match, it might be time to make a change.
  3. Always check your girth for tightness before mounting your horse.
  4. Mount your horse with correctness, which will encourage him to stand still.
  5. Always have a “perfect practice” planned when you ride your horse.
  6. Always keep your eyes, and thus your concentration, in front of your horse's head.
  7. Always do some kind of stretching on the ground, exercises at home or on the horse to warm up and develop muscle and flexibility of your joints.
  8. When trail riding, bring a cell phone and let someone know when you expect to be back.
  9. If you are taking your horse on a trail he has never seen before, have a friend bring her horse along for moral support.
  10. If your horse is spooky, it is OK to get off the horse and address the spooky obstacle. It is safer to deal with it on the ground than under saddle.
  11. Take your horse in the show ring ONLY when he has the training and knowledge for what you are asking of him – this will give him a positive impression of the event, and he will like what he is doing.
  12. Be light with your hands. We spend a lifetime in riding learning not to pull on the reins. Learn how to use an open rein and indirect or neck rein. Your horse will love the lightness and learn not to pull and resist you.
  13. The more you squeeze, grip or kick your horse’s sides, the more you give your horse all the tools to ignore your leg aids.
  14. The more you change directions in practice, the more you encourage lateral suppleness.
  15. The more you do transitions, the more you stretch and strengthen the longitudinal muscles and the hind leg joints.
  16. Incorporating dressage exercises into your routine can improve your performance in any discipline.
  17. Always communicate with your horse through the natural aids: seat, leg and hands. Artificial aids – crop, whip and spurs – should only assist your natural aids.
  18. Always reward your horse with a pat, soft voice or treat when he responds positively – he will be more willing to give a positive response next time.
  19. Learn from watching others ride.
  20. Seek lessons from a professional who explains his or her methods and whose training program is based on common sense, not gimmicks.
  21. Always practice loading your horse before you go to load for a trip. Open all the doors to give as much light as you can before loading your horse.
  22. Always load a single horse in a side-by-side two-horse trailer on the left side to stay balanced with the high side of the road.
  23. Always give your horse a hot bran-mineral oil dinner no more than 24 hours before travel that is going to last more than 10 hours.
  24. Offer free-choice hay (some alfalfa is perfect) at all times while a horse is traveling. Be sure to offer water or hang a water bucket in the trailer, when you stop for gas or food.
  25. Have your horse’s hooves trimmed or shoed every four to six weeks, depending on your farrier's recommendation.
  26. Master "working in hand" ground training. Practice leading on either side of the horse on a loose lead without pulling.
  27. Master the art of longeing and make a commitment to stop longeing with hundreds of circles that drill your horse to boredom.
  28. Master ponying your horse as you ride another – it is a great skill to control two at a time.
  29. Master ground driving or long lining. It is great to learn your horse's body alignment and balance while refining your hand and rein aids.
  30. Always have a first-aid kit available in your barn, trailer and vehicle. Make sure it is fully stocked at all times because you never know when you'll need it.
  31. Clean your stalls two times a day and paddocks once a week.
  32. Brush your horse every day. He will love you for this.
  33. Clean sheaths on male horses two to three times a year.
  34. Float teeth once a year or as directed by your veterinarian.
  35. Vaccinations are very important. Give your horse all of the veterinarian-recommended vaccines.
  36. Give your horses carrots and apples in their feed whenever you can.
  37. Keep all stall doors and gates closed on your farm at all times.
  38. Make sure your horse has clean, fresh water daily.
  39. Make sure you learn how to properly fit your saddle, pads, bridle and bit to your horse. Also, if you want to ride well, your saddles have to fit you.
  40. Remember, a horse knows every word you are thinking. Turn any negative thought or comment such as “I’ll try” or “What if” to a positive thought: “I will” or “My horse will do well.”

Get AQHA's FREE How to Make a Rope Halter eBook and follow these easy steps to create your own knotted rope halter for your horse.

About Lynn Palm

Lynn's career highlights include 2007 American Quarter Horse Association Horsewoman of the Year, a record four AQHA Superhorse wins, AQHA Female Equestrian of the Year by the Women's Athletic Association, named one of the top United States clinicians by Horse & Rider magazine, more than 34 AQHA World and Reserve World Champions, more than 50 bridleless dressage exhibitions at events including the National Horse Show, World Cup and the Atlanta Olympic Games. Lynn and Cyril Pittion-Rossillon are co-founders of Palm Partnership Training, Women LUV Horses, and Alliance Saddlery USA.