QuantumJoys: Animal Assisted Inspiration workshops are conducted with horses at liberty. This is unmounted work. They are full and equal partners in our activities. No one climbs aboard. But people who have ridden horses, or now want to, to can be inspired to think about pursuing horseback riding as a result of their time with us.
The other day this statement arrived in my inbox:
“Maybe a cool idea would be for you to organize a meaningful ride with past participants.”
My first was reaction was “Yeah! I Know!” I would LOVE to be able to offer that. But in my own horseman’s journey I have come to form very strong opinions on how to make riding a horse a fair deal for the horse. I have attended clinics, workshops and had many private lessons in the art and craft of natural horsemanship. (This page lists a bunch of the people I’ve trained with or read)
This was my response:
I have very high standards when it comes to how I work and play with horses I’m asking to be ridden. My standards parallel the beliefs you see in practice during a QuantumJoys workshops; horses are our equal partners in these endeavors.
The principles of natural horsemanship are rooted in making every step of the training-for-riding process be a clear and fair deal to the horse with every single encounter. The results are willing partners who can think for themselves, listen to their rider and be half of a beautiful partnership. There is an equal impetus on the rider to offer guidance, an independent seat, balance and fair leadership as well.
I have yet to find a riding outfit here that promotes the training practices I have learned and adopted through my studies with natural horsemanship clinicians. There may be some people with horses here in San Miguel who routinely practice the foundational aspects of natural horsemanship, but I don’t know of any who do who also offer riding to the public. I’m hoping with time this will change. For now, though, there is no outfit I could partner with nor endorse in this way. That said, we do mention on our resources page two outfits who offer riding that are decent enough to most dude ranch standards.
Going for a Trail Ride?
- Horses who are alert
- Horses who are clean, free from sores and other obvious signs of illness
- Horses who do not walk with a limp
- Horses without scarring on their backs or by their mouths (poor fitting saddle, badly used bit)
- Horses who don’t flinch if you should accidentally wave your hand near their face
- Horses untroubled by flies
- Horses whose ribs aren’t showing
- Horses with well shaped hooves (without large cracks or chips)
- Horses who are ‘acting up’ may be in pain. This is especially true if it happens while you are mounting.
- When mounting do NOT plop your butt into the seat but make it a controlled comfortable lowering.
- Do NOT use the reins to help yourself balance.
- Use the saddle horn or pommel (forward part of English saddle) strap if you feel unsteady.
- Sit deep with your seat, but tall with your back in the saddle.
- Make sure the stirrups are adjusted to your legs – so that when you are sitting the balls of your feet have contact with the stirrup – you can use this to firm your seat by standing up slightly if he starts trotting or cantering.
- When moving out, eyes up and forward. Look where you are headed, not down at the horse (yes, he can feel the difference).
- Don’t bang on his sides with your heels – urge him forward with where you’re looking, your intention (again, yes, he can feel it) and lightening your butt in the saddle a bit forward.
- Thank him as you go by gently petting his neck and encouraging him. Horses can understand your tone if not your individual words.
- When you’re done, dismount as lightly as you can without banging your far leg on his butt when you swing it over.
- It is perfectly fine to thank him so others can hear you – set a better standard!
A Couple More Tips:
- Wear a helmet! Or as they call them in horse racing, eventing or other competitive horse sports a “brain bucket”!
- Horseback riding (or horseback falling) is the #1 cause of brain injury throughout ALL sports! Read more in this article posted April, 2016 by ABC News. Yes, more than football.
- Get a photo without the helmet if you must, while still. Then put the helmet on. Cowboy hats look cool, laying like a vegetable in a hospital bed, not so much.