Heads Up Horsemanship
Set yourself up at home for a winning horsemanship run at the show.
By Charlie Cole with Jim Bret Campbell in The American Quarter Horse Journal | October 2, 2010
Good horsemanship is the foundation for any riding discipline. Some riders instinctively find that perfect position in the saddle and always have their horses set up for the next maneuver. If you're not in that group, follow these basics from AQHA Professional Horseman and Team Wrangler member Charlie Cole.
One thing to remember is that there’s a purpose behind the classic horsemanship position. Your riding instructor isn’t trying to torture you by having you sit with good posture in the middle of the saddle with a straight line from your shoulder to your heels (which should be down, of course.) Getting started in the right position sets you up to better communicate with your horse and keeps you safe by helping you control your horse if something goes wrong.
When most people get on a horse for the first time, they tend to sit way back in the saddle with their feet forward. For some reason, most of them feel safer back there, and the shape of the saddle makes it look like they ought to be sitting back on the cantle of the saddle.
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However, the best position that allows you to control your horse is right in the middle of the saddle. To do well in a horsemanship class or to improve your riding for any class, sit up tall in the middle of the saddle. You should be able to draw a straight line from your shoulder, through your hip and down to your heel. That puts your leg right behind the girth where it is in the best position to control the horse’s hindquarters.
A beginning rider tends to look down at her horse or at the markers and not keep her eyes looking out in front of her. Looking down can cause you to have one shoulder back or lead with one hip.
If you have one shoulder back while you are loping, you will be behind the motion. You’ll get a wave in your body that doesn’t make for a pretty picture and causes you to be out of sync with your horse.
Kids and horses are a natural pairing. See how a youth horsemanship clinic at QuarterFest gets some youngsters off to a good start. Certified Horsemanship Association’s Christy Landwehr and Middle Tennessee State’s Anne Brzezicki explain the basics.
Your hands should be in the center of the saddle, which is a good position to guide your horse through the pattern. Your arms should hang naturally at your sides, with a soft, natural bend in your elbow. A soft bend puts your hands in the right position, with your rein hand softly guiding your horse and your other hand in a good position to take hold of your horse if something goes wrong.
We see a lot of rigid horsemanship riders with stiff hands, wrists and elbows clinched to their sides. That causes their shoulders to round forward and doesn’t make for a pretty picture or an efficient ride.
Every horse might be different, but I like my riders to keep soft contact with the horse’s mouth. When you pick up on your horse, your hand, wrist and elbow should be soft. Your hand should never be more than 3 to 4 inches from the saddle horn. If you have to pick up on your reins more than that, then your reins are too long, or you’re holding your hand too far forward.
To be a successful rider, you need to learn to feel your horse. Work on feeling which lead your horse is on and how he transitions from each gait. Then you can be ready to correct your horse without looking down.
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