Horseback Riding

How to Read Your Horse, Part 2

November 17, 2014

Learn to read your horse by watching his mouth, eyes and skin.

reading horse ears

“Expression is when the horse’s ears are forward, and the ears are working back and forth,” Lynn Palm says. It shows the horse is attentive and communicating with the rider. Jean Abernethy illustration

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm in The American Quarter Horse Journal

In Part 1 of this series, you learned how to read your horse by watching his ears and his tail. Now, let’s discuss how to read your horse by also keeping an eye on his mouth, eyes and skin.


If a horse isn’t carrying a bit, and he chews on his tongue, hangs the tongue out or has a lot of action with the mouth doing the same thing over and over, it can say several different things. The horse might be bored, frustrated, aggravated or nervous. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Read Your Horse, Part 1

November 10, 2014

Unless he’s Mr. Ed, your horse can’t talk to you. That’s why it’s important to know how to read your horse’s body language so you can understand his behavior.

happy horse swinging tail

When a horse is relaxed, happy and confident in what he’s doing, the end of his tail swings back and forth, making a little “X.”figure. Jean Abernethy illustration

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm in The American Quarter Horse Journal

To read a horse, you have to understand horse behavior. For one thing, a horse is a flight animal, so his No. 1 instinct is to run away from something he fears. You can see that when you work with a horse on the ground. When the horse moves away from a person handling him on the ground, that is an act of respect instead of crowding or jumping on top of the handler.

Another very strong instinct is their herding instinct. They’re always more apt to go toward a group of horses. If you’re trying to teach your horse a showmanship pattern, your horse may want to go toward where the other horses are lined up in the ring. Read the rest of this entry »

Equine Nutrition Tips: Added Fat

November 3, 2014

Fat is where it’s at when it comes to enhancing horse health.

horse being ridden

Horses on fat-supplemented diets experience increased endurance. Journal photo

From AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena

Lately there has been tremendous interest in the horse world about fat. In regard to human nutrition, “fat” is often considered a bad word, and low-fat diets are popular. But we should remember that some fats for both humans and equines are necessary and healthy and play a very important role in nutrition.

Because horses can use fat as a calorie source efficiently, and fat contains more than double the calories of starch, high-fat horse feeds make perfect sense to increase the energy intake without greatly increasing the quantity of feed needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Spurs for English Riding

October 27, 2014

If English is your preferred mode of horseback riding, get the 411 on proper style, fit and usage of spurs.

Acceptable English spurs in the horse-showing pen are unrowelled and shorter than one inch. Journal photo

Acceptable English spurs in the horse-showing pen are unrowelled and shorter than one inch. Journal photo

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Hunt seat horses are prized for their natural forward movement. However, some horses might need an extra bit of encouragement. In hunt seat fence and rail classes, riders with lazy horses often turn to English spurs for that extra push.

Curious about the proper fit and use of these spurs and what styles are acceptable? Three AQHA Professional Horsewomen share their thoughts on the English spur here.

The Aid

The AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations states that optional equipment in English classes can include “spurs of the unrowelled type that are blunt, round or that include a smooth rolling rubber ball and no longer than 1 inch.” Rowelled spurs are unacceptable.

“Spurs are supposed to keep the horse straight, in front of your leg and coming from behind,” AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lainie DeBoer of Forest Lake, Minnesota, says. “They increase the momentum from behind and push the horse up into your hands.”

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carolyn Rice of Somis, California, says some horses are encouraged to move out simply by the rider wearing spurs to support the leg.

“Many horses do not require a lot of spur pressure as long as they know that the rider has on spurs,” Carolyn says.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Nancy Sue Ryan of Nocona, Texas, says spurs should only be used to encourage the horse as an aid, not as punishment.

“The spur needs to be used as an aid to encourage forward and lateral motion of the horse,” Nancy Sue says. “An aid should help. I don’t want my horse to be scared of my hands, my legs or my spurs.”

Spur Style

Though English spurs are far more subdued in design compared to western spurs, hunt seat riders do enjoy spurs of varying styles. AQHA Corporate Partner Professional’s Choice offers several styles, including ones with rounded ends, the “Prince of Wales” blunt ends and subtle embellishments, such as horseshoes, stars or crowns with crystals.

Carolyn says she has seen equitation riders gravitate toward black spurs, but silver spurs are still popular: “There are some very pretty silvered spurs out there that are fun and still fit the conservative profile of a hunt seat rider.”

If you’re just starting to ride English, find out what judges are looking for in an English horse by purchasing your copy of AQHA’s “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD today.

Correct Fit

Our experts say you’ll be branded a newbie if you show up at the in-gate with upside down spurs, so be sure your spur shank is curved downward toward your heel if it has any curve to it. A spur that curves up toward the horse’s belly is incorrect.

Nancy Sue says properly fitted spurs will lie just above the spur rest, and your spur strap buckle should be positioned to the outside of the top of your ankle.

“To put your strap on, start on the outside of your foot,” Nancy Sue says. “So, for your left spur, feed the strap into the eye from the top and inside of the left side and slide it under your boot to the bottom of the right eye on the inside. Weave the strap through and buckle it on top, angling to the left just a little. If you have extra strap, tuck it underneath on the left side of your boot.”

Carolyn has seen riders compete incorrectly with spurs placed just above the boot heel in a western style. Spurs that are too big or too tight and slip-on spurs without straps are also incorrect.

“A spur fits properly on the ankle of the rider, resting on the spur rest,” Carolyn says. “The spur should be level, not slanted up or down, and it should not be too loose or too tight on the rider’s boot.”

Lainie has also witnessed riders competing with spurs improperly riding high up on their ankle and tipped upward: “As a judge, I see riders try to use their spurs like they are western spurs. Spurs that are incorrectly fitted drive me nuts.”

Proper Usage

Carolyn incorporates a spur into her aids when she has an educated horse that is sluggish to respond, but she cautions against every rider donning spurs.

“The most important thing is that the rider has control over their legs so that spurs are not being used unintentionally,” Carolyn says. “If a rider does not have adequate leg control, a short crop may be a better tool than a spur.”

Nancy Sue adds spurs to her student’s repertoire only when the rider has demonstrated sufficient leg strength and knowledge to use them sparingly.

“One of the first things I do when I am evaluating a rider-and-horse combination is to take the spurs away from the rider to see if she can use her legs,” Nancy Sue says. “The spurs should be the last thing we add. If you can’t make your horse go forward on your leg, you’re not going to use that spur. So learn to ride with your leg, and if we need to apply the spur for a little extra when we’re showing, then we will.”

Learn how hunter under saddle class got its start, and find out what the judges look for in the class today. Purchase AQHA’s “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD.

Proper use of the spur is subtle with an English horse, Nancy Sue says, but like many good western horsemen, using this aid is a gradual progression of cues.

“First use your calf, and if your calf isn’t enough, use your heel, and finally, apply your spur to encourage forward motion,” she explains. “The spur is not a weapon. Spurs are not intended to be abusive. They are an aid to encourage communication between your leg and the horse’s belly.”

Lainie categorizes her leg cues as typically being 75 percent leg and 25 percent spur, and cautions against relying on the spur for cues.

“Spurs shouldn’t be your main aid,” Lainie says. “Your main aid should be the back of your heel. It’s important to feel your horse’s sides with your legs. If you only use the spur, you lose the personal connection with your leg to really feel what’s going on with your horse.”

Lainie also suggests varying your use of spurs depending on how responsive your horse is that day.

“Even if you ride your horse with spurs, there might be days where it’s good to take them off. Test the waters without your spurs sometimes. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Try switching to a dressage whip in your training and work to get your leg stronger.”

English Stirrup Rule for 2015

Both silver and black stirrups will be allowed in AQHA equitation classes in 2015.

A current American Quarter Horse Association rule that allows competitors the option of using either silver or black stirrups in English classes will continue to be the rule in 2015.

A rule change had been proposed that would have prohibited the use of black stirrups in any equitation class on the flat or over fences. This rule-change proposal was denied by the AQHA Show Council, and at its July meeting, the AQHA Executive Committee supported the Show Council’s decision.

“The Show Council believes that AQHA judges are qualified to evaluate and judge the rider’s position,” said AQHA Executive Director of Shows and Judges Pete Kyle. “Whether the rider is using silver or black stirrups should not affect the judging of the class.”


Making a Sale Video of Your Horse, Part 2

October 20, 2014

Learn more simple tips like how to make your horse sale video an acceptable length and how to avoid shakiness.

Barb Waltenberry suggests that a clip of the horse’s natural movement is something that buyers often like to see. AQHA Fundamentals of Horsemanship photo

Barb Waltenberry suggests that a clip of the horse’s natural movement is something that buyers often like to see. AQHA Fundamentals of Horsemanship photo

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In the first part of this series, Dick and Barb Waltenberry of Waltenberry Inc. taught you about proper lighting, white balance and controlled zoom. With these last few tips, you’ll be an expert on how to make a good quality video of your horse.

Camera Shake

“The camera operator should be invisible,” Barb says. “When you see a lot of motion from the camera, or when the camera’s not steady or the zooming is jerky, it distracts the viewer’s attention from the horse. If it’s smooth and natural, you’ll be watching the horse.” Read the rest of this entry »

Making a Sale Video of Your Horse, Part 1

October 14, 2014

If you are trying to sell your horse, chances are you will probably need a good-quality video to send to prospective buyers.

When you’re making a video of your horse, Dick and Barb Waltenberry of Waltenberry Inc. say that when it comes to lighting, “Outside always looks better.” Journal photo

If you’re making a video of your horse, Dick and Barb Waltenberry of Waltenberry Inc. say that when it comes to lighting, “outside always looks better.” Journal photo

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

There is a fine line between a video that shows your horse off well and a video that annoys the viewer and doesn’t sell your horse at all.

With that in mind, the Journal called Dick and Barb Waltenberry of Waltenberry Inc. for advice on making sale videos of horses. They told us the top mistakes that amateurs make in shooting videos and how to avoid them.


Good lighting is the key to any good video.

“During the summer when the sun is high and straight overhead, just like with photography, it’s not going to look as good as earlier or later in the day when the sun’s at a lower angle, and you get more light from the side,” Dick says. Read the rest of this entry »

Horseback-Riding Exercises for Strength and Balance, Part 2

October 6, 2014

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman explains two additional strength- and balance-building exercises.

posting trot

Counting strides while switching from sitting trot to posting trot and then to two-point position helps you and your horse relax. Journal photo

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Part 1 of this series covered three exercises designed to help you increase your strength and balance in the saddle. Now that you’ve mastered those exercises, try these two that are designed to help you further develop your feel for, and rhythm with, your horse.

Count to Five

The right side of your brain controls feel – the part of riding that feels the horse’s rhythm. Some people use primarily the left side of their brains to ride, which can be OK, but they spend a lot of time over-thinking and analyzing instead of just feeling what their horses are doing. Read the rest of this entry »

Riding Exercises for Strength and Balance, Part 1

September 29, 2014

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman recommends these simple horseback-riding exercises guaranteed to make you stronger and more balanced in the saddle.

posting without stirrups

Posting without stirrups is just one of several exercises that increase strength and balance in the saddle. Journal photo.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Strength and balance work together to help you relax and communicate with your horse so you can have the best ride possible whether you’re doing an equitation pattern, competing in horsemanship or even speeding around barrels. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman uses several exercises like different posting rhythms and riding without stirrups to help her riders become more secure in the saddle.

Hand on Hip

This exercise makes you ride down through your leg and find your balance and center of gravity over the horse’s center of gravity. At the same time, you learn to be independent of your hands for balance. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dos and Don’ts of Riding Attire

September 22, 2014

Before you mount, make sure what you are wearing is appropriate for horseback riding.

horse riding attire

It is important to know the appropriate attire for riding before you mount. Make sure you are safe the next time you ride. Journal photo.

From and America’s Horse Daily

It is important to think about what you are going to wear prior to working with or riding a horse, not only for comfort, but also for safety. This does not have to be expensive, and appropriate garments are not difficult to find.


Unless you plan to go to a horse show, just about any type of shirt is acceptable, as long as it fits appropriately and is not so large or loose so that it might catch on a piece of equipment or tree branch.

Long-sleeved button-up shirts are traditional in the western world, and they offer protection from the sun, tree branches and other elements. English riders often school in polo shirts or other fitted shirts that can be tucked neatly into their breeches. Read the rest of this entry »

Horse Vices: Cribbing

September 15, 2014

Cribbing has multiple causes, but management practices can help keep your horse from developing this bad habit.

cribbing collar horse

Many owners try to physically prevent horses from cribbing through the use of cribbing collars and muzzles, electric fencing, unappealing flavors or paint on wooden surfaces, nutritional supplements and even surgery. Jordan Lassonde photo.


A recently published analysis of nearly 20 years of research on cribbing will provide horse owners with valuable information about the behavior and ideas for management practices that could reduce the frequency of this undesirable equine habit.

“Owners of cribbers seem genuinely interested in the behavior and are eager to learn about how they may better manage their horses,” says Carissa Wickens, assistant professor and equine extension specialist at the University of Delaware.

Cribbing is a behavior in which horses anchor their top teeth onto some fixed object, like a fence or stall wall, pull backward, contract their neck muscles and take air into their esophagus, resulting in an audible grunt. Read the rest of this entry »

Horseback Riding Basics: Using Your Aids, Part 2

September 8, 2014

Clear, consistent communication is the key to smooth transitions with your horse.

using your aids for smoothness

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explains that your horse comes to understand how you’re moving with how he’s moving and that you can use this concept to have seamless transitions. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight in America’s Horse

In Part 1 of this series, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight explained the importance of natural aids and focused on the seat as the most vital of the natural aids. In this final part, she moves on to cover transitions and keeping the attention of your horse.


One of the age-old tenants of classical horsemanship is that all training occurs in transitions. For instance, if you went out to the arena and loped circles for 20 or 30 minutes, almost no training would be occurring. Conditioning, yes, but not training. Training is when you ask something of the horse, and he complies. It’s doing lots and lots of transitions with the horse to refine that communication. Read the rest of this entry »

Horseback Riding Basics: Using Your Aids, Part 1

September 3, 2014

Learn about the gears of your seat to refine your horseback riding skills.

riding position basics

When you’re called upon to ride your horse without stirrups, the basics still apply: seat, legs, hand and voice. And don’t forget that your eyes can be used as an aid, too, as this rider is doing as she goes around a circle. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight in America’s Horse

Riding is all about communication, and anything that helps you communicate with your horse is an aid. There are two types of aids, natural and artificial, but in this article, we’ll focus on natural aids in the hope that if you’re good at using your natural aids, you won’t need artificial aids.

Traditionally speaking, the natural aids are the seat, legs, hands and voice. The seat is by far the most important aid, but unfortunately, it is the least likely to be used. That’s because we were all taught the same way. The first time you got on a horse, you were probably told to pull back on the reins to make him stop and kick to make him go. The seat had nothing to do with it. And many riders actually get into fairly high level riding with little to no understanding of how to use the seat aid, but it’s something that can really help refine your riding. Read the rest of this entry »