Always Doing Better!

As I attend any and every barrel race, open horse show, gymkhana, and playday that I can with students and 4H kids in tow, I find myself making glaring observations that often go unnoticed by others. As often as I see equestrians doing amazing things, I also see areas where we could do so much to help create a better experience for all. I’d like to share these observations, not to harp or condemn my fellow horse folks, but more to share ways that I think we can make improvements, not only one another, but for ourselves as well…Just like our horses, we will NEVER stop learning!

With the Holiday fray now behind us and this spectacular weather we’re experiencing (Neener neener Eastern States!), we’re all quite eager to get back into the swing of events, competitions, and trail rides with our equine partners! After a little Holiday time to themselves, our horses are likely to be a little fresh and in need to some reminders about “etiquette”…So who’s to say we don’t need one too?

Often times we don’t notice how much horse traffic we encounter, may it be a warm up pen at a show, or out on a narrow trail or beach during the busy weekend. Children and adults alike are finding themselves in awkward and even dangerous situations…Imagine a busy sidewalk where 2 people do that awkward left-right-left-right jig, now imagined with 1000lb horses under them at a canter. Yikes! Like many auto accidents are prevented by being taught about which side of the road you drive on, accidents & added stress at a show can also be reduced by just remembering a few simple guidelines for arena etiquette. And even better so, we can pass this along to our kids!

A few good things to practice while riding in a group:

– With everyone working on the rail, do your best to place yourself based on how fast you’re going. Slower riders closer to the inside, faster riders to the outside. The faster you’re riding your horse, the more space you need to work, plus, keeping those that are walking further from those cantering will certainly reduce the chances of getting rear-ended, kicked, etc. It would be wise to avoid lunging in a warm up pen with other riders. Most of the ugliest incidents I’ve witnessed have involved lunge lines and riders and horse legs! Granted, no one wants to lunge in the grassy parking lot, but considering some of the alternatives, it may be the wiser choice. Or better yet, if you have the time or resources, lunge at home before the event!

– At bigger events, it’s hard to organize a group of riders that are going clockwise, counterclockwise, and well, ziggy-all-over. When things are getting tight, and with riders often so focused on themselves, it’s good to verbally communicate. Back in my 4H days, it was standard for us to call out “Inside!” or “Outside!” to help prevent those aforementioned jigs. Now I will say, it can be hard to convince kids (hey, and some shy adults!) to boldly call out to other riders. A tip for practice (attn. riding instructors and 4H leaders!): Make a game of it! Send everyone out in different directions to pass a baton on the rail, where the rider with the baton calls out how they’ll pass, and the next oncoming rider has to match up with their call to take the baton. It really get’s kids thinking and helps them maneuver their horse in and out of a crowd, creating safe habits, all while having fun.

– On the trail: Before heading out with a dynamic group, organize your horses & riders according to speed, experience, and ability. You never know what can be encountered out on the trail, so a well thought out party can help in many ways. Experienced horses/riders should be more to the front to set the example for the greener horses or more timid riders (Herd mentality!). Does your horse kick or bite other horses around them? Start by tying a red ribbon in their tail as a warning to others, then position yourself more towards the end of a group to reduce the chance of a following horse getting too close.

It’s important to remember that once we take our horses off the ranch, we’re no longer the only ones that their actions effect, so it is up to us to enlist these safety measures to help prevent incidents. Now of course you can only do so much to control the area around you, and you can’t be responsible for what other riders horses may do…BUT, by paying closer attention to your horse, where you’re riding, and what other riders are doing, you can set a good example and make a difference, not only for you and your horse, but for those around you. And in the spirit of equestrianism, isn’t that what it’s all about? To look after one another and contribute to a happy and safe horsey community!

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