Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Relax...and that's an order!

This topic came up in our comments. Many of us nervous riders have heard the instruction from a trainer to "RELAX." Unfortunately, much like the advice "THINK POSITIVELY!" that is easier said than done. How do you relax when you're obsessing over the 1,000,000 things that could go wrong, how badly you got hurt the last time something went wrong, or how you're going to get hurt, not be able to work, not pay the mortgage/rent, wind up homeless and your horse will go to the slaughterhouse? Hey, I am not exaggerating, I know we have these thoughts and even more extreme ones!

So here's my advice, something I figured out back in the days when I was teaching riding (and, ironically, specializing in helping nervous/scared riders). Nobody knows how to consciously relax. What it is really about is allowing your body to act as a shock absorber for the horse's gaits. For example, a lot of you lock your knee and ankle into place in the "proper" position and try to hold it there. The problem with this is, while it looks lovely at a standstill, at any gait faster than a walk, you've killed your ability to absorb shock and move with the horse. When the horse gets a little fast, your braced, locked leg position makes you bounce - particularly at a sitting trot or canter. Your bouncing pisses off the horse and he goes faster. You bounce more. You do not know why it feels so awful and out of control. After all - your heels are down. Your toe is directly under your knee. You are sitting up straight. Why are you in imminent danger of eating dirt?

Here's how you fix this. If necessary, get someone to lead/longe the horse for you. Take your feet out of the stirrups. Out. Walk the horse, feel the horse's motion and try to just follow it with your seat bones. You cannot use your stirrups for this exercise - you have to have your weight in your butt. Now step it up to a slow sitting trot and try to keep following the motion. This is best accomplished on a horse with a true western jog. Borrow one if necessary. You will feel when you have it right - when you are relaxed and following the horse's movements. Now you can take your stirrups back but I want you to think of them as nothing more than a footrest. Imagine they are made of something delicate and if you press on them, they will break.

If you have to exaggerate at first and slouch a bit, that's ok. Think of your back like a noodle. Everything in your body is absorbing the shock of the horse's movements. Watch the Halfpassgal video. That girl has a loose back. She can sit a big warmblood trot because her back is totally loose. Now, she IS like 20 or something. Is it a hell of a lot harder to have a loose back at 40 or 50? OH HELL, YES! However, as with anything, it can be done. Practice at slower speeds until it feels right.

Once you do relax your joints, you will be amazed at how much easier everything becomes. Another joint that people like to lock is the elbow. This completely impairs your ability to have good hands and follow the horse. Your elbows are hinges and must operate like well oiled hinges. Elbows, ankles, knees, hips - all hinges that must open and close as you ride. Any time you lock a joint as a response to being nervous or unsure, you're impairing your ability to ride and annoying the horse.

For literally YEARS I was told to "stop pumping" at the canter. Well, I honestly didn't know how. I have always had a good feel for the horse's mouth, but because no one had EVER explained the concept of my elbows and hips needing to open and close, I followed the horse's mouth by following it with my whole upper body. NO ONE ever explained this to me effectively. (Boy did I pay for a lot of BAD instruction. Bet a lot of you did, too!). I actually figured it out for myself watching a friend ride who was an extremely good rider and always won equitation while I was at the bottom of the class. I noticed how, as she cantered, her hips moved forward and back underneath her upper body and her elbows opened and closed, so that she was able to sit upright and yet maintain perfect contact with the horse's mouth. It was a lightbulb moment. Several years after this realization, I beat her in an equitation class. Boy, that was a good feeling, but I could have fixed this fault many, many years earlier.

So many trainers are amazing riders but they cannot explain things and they make these statements that the student has no ability to understand. I have heard trainers shriek things like "close your angles!" at six year olds. WTF, dude. It's a six year old. You need to use six year old friendly terms. You compare stiff body parts to noodles and you pull up on the button on top of their hunt cap (shoot, they don't have those anymore, do they?) to show them what straight feels like. I will never be a superstar rider - my collection of open show trophies is probably as far as I am ever gonna go (I will be watching from the stands with a cold beer and a happy drunken smile on my face when the VLC shows) - but I will say that I can explain better than a lot of the BNT's I've seen. (I often think a lot of that comes from NOT being a "natural rider." If riding comes easy for you, it is just not as easy to explain how to do it as if you went through the same struggles and challenges as your students.)

All right, I hope that helped someone. I also think music as you ride is a must. There really is nothing wrong with riding with an ipod as long as you're not so cranked up that you're unaware of what is going on around you, or if you're along at home, pull out the boom box. Music DOES calm and distract you and it's easy to do things like say "I am going to posting trot for the duration of this really great song with a beat that I love." You can make playlists of whatever works for you. Make it as cheesy as you want, nobody else is listening! I have TONS of old disco and dance and 80's hits on mine. I defy ANY of you to slow down and walk while listening to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Just try it. I'll bet you trot no matter how scared you are!

(Suggestion for other relaxation tactics AND for music you just HAVE to keep riding to are welcomed!)


Karen V said...

I have a HORRIBLE habit of locking my knees and riding too forward! My knees ache if I ride more than an hour. My toes run forward. I look ridiculous! It's all just BAD habit!

I consider myself to be a novice barrel racer and up until this year, I had a horrible time with nerves. I started singing a nonsense song, out loud but sort of under my breath. It helps me to relax. (The song is usually something from Disney Sing-along)

mugwump said...

The Macarena (sp?)Music and dance moves. Trust me. Also strum an imaginary guitar with the rhythm of your horse. Rope an imaginary calf, first with one arm then the other. Yippee ki yi yay!
With stirrups and without, at the walk then trot.
I've been accused of having students do this stuff solely to amuse myself.
OK, so it's really fun to watch, but it helps too.
I've got more.....

ariemay said...

I rode for horse with my stirrups crossed. Walk, trot, canter and small jumps. My thighs still ache. Post a trot without stirrups and you will remember it for a few days- especially when getting up & down from the toilet!
It was the best thing for my seat though. I should do that again. (But I'll need a drill sergeant to make me!)
Thanks for the memories!

cdncowgirl said...

I find that 2 or 3 beers while I'm saddling helps... KIDDING!

Seriously though: singing definately seems to help (and I'm a horrible singer!) but sorry Karen, I don't know any Disney songs so I can't sing with you.

I agree with Fugs that music on an Ipod or boom box helps. My friends Ipod tip... put in only one ear piece.

Before you mount stretch and/or tighten then relax all your muscle. Start at your feet and work up. Just imagine everything getting as tense and tight as you can and then breathe deep and slowly imagine everything melting back to soft and relaxed.

Deep breathes! The whole in with the good air, out with the bad. Take a deep breathe in using your mouth and then slowly exhale through your nose.

bigpainthorse said...

One trick that helped me was to have a PLAN; figure out a job for you and your horse (i.e., we're going to work on bending, or we're going to work on walk/trot transitions), then focus on doing the job and evaluating your performance. That really did keep my brain away from the "9,000 ways I could die right now" dialog, which is what actually was creating the tension (at least for me).

I'm good once I'm in the saddle, my tension is usually before I get on. I find that if I talk to my horse--just a running stream of consciousness thing, pure chatter--it seems to help. Of course, the other people at the barn think I'm completely nuts, but it's a trade-off I'm more than willing to make at this point!

Latigo Liz said...

The absolute best thing, IMNSHO, is miles. Miles, miles, and more miles. Gaining an independent seat is hard. And the best way to do it is to relax and have fun. Most of us here want to have fun with our horses. Playing games on horseback helps with that. Get some friends together and have a play day. Do those things that we did as kids. Egg toss, toilet paper tag, etc. I'll see if I can come up with a list, with some pictures, and post it on my blog. The reason those games work? They help you to relax and show what holes you have in your horsemanship, and how broke (or not broke) your horse really is (or isn't). It helps you to stop overthinking. It helps you to inherently find a way to stay on your horse and not be freaking out about it. It helps to get your horse gentle. Isn't that what having horses is all about?

Karen V said...

"Join right in, sign along, with your favorite Disney song. Once you learn all the words you'll want to sing along."

“Tee dum. Tee dee. A teedly-doh-tee-day. We walk. In line. And follow the other guy. We walk. Along. And follow the other one, with a teedly doh, a teedly doh-tee-day.

We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader. We’re following the leader, wherever he may go. We won’t be back til morning, til morning, til morning. We won’t be back til morning, because he’s told us so.”

“In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room. In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room.
All the birds sing words and the flowers croon in the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room”

(Drive my horse nuts!) LOL!

hope4more said...

Oh thank you for writing about this!!!! Yes you have hit the nail on the head for me. I have spent many a fustrating training session trying to figure out what "shape him" (barrel racing) means and angles this or that. I am in my late twenties and got back to riding 2 years ago after stopping around the age of 13. It is so fustrating to be hollered at and not know what they are talking about and then I get more tense because of fustration. I have had to just ride and ride to figure some stuff out on my own and I am okay but I have a long way to go. I have a wonderful barrel racing friend that has been riding since she was 5 explain the terms and how they apply and she hasn't gotten annoyed with me yet and we have been riding more together so I have the blessing of her knowledge to help me along.

hope4more said...

Karen V...

How long did it take you to get over your nerves? I get horrible anxiety before I know I have to run and if there are a lot of people there I am just freaked out, I get all blotchy and red. My horse is just a love he babysits me and stays totally calm and I know that is rare because they react to you. Just wondering if you have any tips since you are also a barrel racer and I am a beginner.

Any particular Disney songs I could sing?

hope4more said...

Oh I just read what you wrote above mine, it wasn't there when I asked about the songs.....hilarious! I will have to try those, my horse is gonna think I am nuts.

ellen said...

I use all of VLC's exercises for relaxation. What tenses me up is less fear than "old beat up body" --myofascial release massage, although excruciating, was a wonderful investment.

Karl Mikolka's stirrup stepping exercises are great for tuning one in to the horse's footfalls and improving feel, and have the added bonus of engaging one's brain in doing something besides picking one's horse to death.

My Hot Tamale Morab and I got into a total racy/rushy/bracy/pushy tension festival at one point in her training, and I spent a YEAR almost riding her with a rope halter and one rein. We had some careening about times, but ultimately we both learned to find our balance independently of the other, and it turned out to be the best thing for my seat ever -- especially since I did a lot of that riding without stirrups. It was frustrating in a sense because we were schooling First Level at the time of the meltdown and it felt like anti-progress but the rewards in both of us learning self-carriage were great.

When I'm tense as in worried I tend to keep up a running monologue to myself and the horse ... and by encouraging the horse I also reinforce MY sense of being in control of the situation.

love to ride said...

After two years of weekly riding lessons and riding three to six times a week there is still much to learn. My trainer trains me on my non-finished horses.

Started at the ripe old age of 39. I started late because it took me this long to get financially stable enough to provide for the horses.

I agree with VLC's comments. How do you relax when you are not sure what that means?

It is very difficult to understand what your body must be doing to achieve an independent seat while maintaining correct contact, maintaining correct posture, keeping heels down, not speeding up or slowing down and not falling in or out of corners/circles all while trying to achieve collection.

After a year and a half of riding in a western saddle, I realized my trainer was right, that getting my seat will happen faster in an english saddle. So I switched six months ago, and it was like starting all over again but it has really helped. I have found that the english riding has tremendously improved my western seat.

I have trouble with the english stirrups, because I am still not sure how much weight to put in the stirrups. VLC addresses this, but I tend to lose contact with the stirrup if I try the feather-lite approach. I do realize that when this happens, it must be because I am gripping too much.

I will keep trying until I get it right. I have found that working on perfecting simple movements such as walk-trot transitions, goes a long way to helping my seat.

Most of my riding is in an arena, however we trail on weekends (Phoenix area). I show, but not well and not often.

All three of my horses (8 to 15) were never taught to pick up their right leads, so I am working on that. I am also working on being able to sit a trot faster than the jog. This I am actually making good progress on. It takes a lot of practice (at least for me it does).

I have great horses. They are patient and kind.

Mugwump, I would really like to hear more about Old Reliable.

I love to ride, and I want to become an excellent rider. My horses also want me to become an excellent rider. ;)

JJ said...


I'm not familiar with Karl Mikolka's stirrup stepping exercises - can you provide more info? I definitely could use some help developing a feel for the horse's footfalls!

Karen V said...


hope4more – Songs…remember this one?

“Miles and miles of greasy grimey gopher guts, greasy grimey gopher guts, greasy grimey gopher guts. Miles and miles of greasy grimey gopher guts, swimming in my stew….”

As for nerves…It takes a while. For me, a LOT of my nerves were about “Fuckering it up!” (Sorry….potty mouth) But that’s the truth! I wanted to have a nice, clean fast run. (I’ve gotten nice. I’ve gotten clean. I doubt I will EVER get fast, but that’s ok)

For the first year, we’d do great at home. Great when going slow. I’d get to a race, and it’d fall apart. I got so mad one day I tied my horse to the arena fence and left without her. I actually drove to McDonalds and ate (PISSED OFF) before returning. She was tied to a friend’s trailer and she threatened to bring her home for me. I took the mare home and turned her out, and said “Fuck it! I’m not barrel racing anymore.”

Two weeks later, my husband said something that totally changed my outlook. He said, “It’s not like the horse isn’t trying. Maybe you’d do better if you stayed out of her way.”

I was TOTALLY expecting WAY too much from my horse for our skill level, and not having a mentor, I kept doing it. I went back and looked at all my videos in slow motion and spent the rest of the afternoon crying. The things that I’d done to my horse without even realizing it, then blaming HER for my failure. I was so ashamed.

I went out to the barn and “my Boo” actually came running to meet me at the stall door, just like she did every day. Just like she HAD done since I started her “torture” on the barrel pattern. She’d loved me anyway and kept trying for me. I cried like a baby, right there in the barn.

Now…the nerves. Once I saw for myself what was happening, I asked myself some questions.
Q: Was I having fun with my horse?
Q: Would be place in the 1D?
A: Probably never
Q: Did I HAVE to place or win money to have fun with my horse?
A: It’d be nice, but NO, I didn’t HAVE to.

I started telling myself at races that I was there to have fun, make a clean, pretty run, make things more “solid” for my horse, get my hands right, quit leaning, etc. Speed didn’t matter. Placing didn’t matter. I wasn’t running against anyone else. I was there for ME and MY HORSE. People were watching me, but that was just to pass the time until their friend/mom/daughter ran in a rake somewhere after my run. They weren’t passing judgement. No one was going to laugh.

If you set 1 (one) accomplishable (is that even a word?) goal for each race, realizing that there is no pressure for perfection, you will find that even though you might get nerves, they aren’t as bad as they were. It becomes more like excitement or anticipation of the “thrill”, rather than the dreadful nerves of failure.

Watch your videos. Video someone who is placing. If you don’t have any, have someone video you. Watch them in slow motion and note what things are “off” in your video and then see how the other gal handles the same thing.

Do you do time-onlies? Think of “the race” as a time only. It’s hard, but if you’re like me, 99% of your nerves are fear of failure in front of others. Just remember, it’s not like your riding naked. (or are you????)

If you’d like to chat some more, post your e-mail and I’ll shoot you a note.

BritnieAnn said...

Nothing helpful to say but THANK you for explaining how to relax joints, I have such a stiff leg, will def try these things! I wish I had known this when I was showing IHSA in college a few years ago...maybe would have gotten a lot less ugly green 6ths in adv walk trot canter, lol.

Karen V said...

BritnieAnn - I understand your disappointment, but look at it from THIS point of view...

"Better an ugly green 6th, than to leave the ring empty handed."

hope4more said...

LOL....Gopher guts...got it! That will put a smile on my face for sure at least!

ChiliChihuahua said...

Cathy- thank you for that explanation. I am a tense rider and I'm sure my horse doesn't appreciate it very much, although he is very forgiving (at times). I think the reason I am tense is because I am a 38 year old re-rider, and get nervous & anxious when it comes to riding my horse. He is a bolter and that really scares me. I had a wonderful horse when I was a young teenager who was a real confidence builder, but now I have a 10 year old stubborn, too-smart-for-his-own-good Arab gelding. I bought him three years ago when he was quite green (probably not such a great idea after having been away from horses for over 20 years), and we still 'argue' over who's the boss. Even though I am slightly nervous most of the time, I still ride him quite often and I refuse to give up. I'm thinking I should try the iPod thing....and I do have 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' on mine (along with every other 80's song with some disco thrown in for good measure). :-) Anyway, thanks for explaining that in a way that I could understand!

verylargecolt said...

I have MANY green ribbons or no ribbon at all from when I was a kid. It is not your fault if someone failed to train you well. If you found the right instructor, you'd be shocked at how fast those ribbons turn blue and red. Most of us have the ability to place well, at least some of the time - good training makes all the difference.

So hey, stop giving money to trainers who fail to explain things in a way you can understand. Lessons aren't cheap. Try someone different. Find the right match!

hope4more said...

I would love to chat more. Great advice. I am always looking for insight. My horses always take care of me so I would like to let them show their stuff, it will just take me catching up to do so. :) I have that gopher song stuck in my head now!

verylargecolt said...

Chili - the best thing about the ipod?

It keeps YOU from spooking.

Seriously, you know how you get tense on a spooky horse and start spooking IN the saddle at every noise? The ipod drowns it out. It's like putting earplugs in your own ears. When YOU don't react, you find that most of the time, neither does the horse!

Karen V said...

One more thing about having the right trainer. I went to group lessons for several years. It seemed like I was always the target. One day we were in a huddle and she gave everybody else kudos, then started picking me apart. Telling me that I didn't do THIS right, didn't do THAT right. I said "I don't know how to DO those things yet." She said, "You'd better figure it out" I said "I thought that I was paying YOU to teach me how. My mistake." I rode to the gate, loaded my horse and never looked back. Still haven't found "the one". Too bad I live so far away. I'd hire VLC to train me!

ChiliChihuahua said...

verylargecolt said...

Chili - the best thing about the ipod?

It keeps YOU from spooking.

THANK YOU for this! I find that I routinely anticipate when I think he's going to spook and get REALLY tense. I recently moved him to a different barn which doesn't have an indoor arena so I'm a bit more limited. Hopefully the rain will stop so I can ride him tonight. This lovely Seattle weather....but Thursday is supposed to be nice. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

June Evers said...

My way of relaxing is to count and breathe...count as you breathe might be better. Breathe in, 1, breathe out, 2, breathe in, 3, breathe out 4...that helps me relax in a scarey situation. My horse trusts me so much that if my center of gravity jumps from my belly to my chest, he wants to know what's to get nervous about. SO if I practice this when I see something that will make him or I nervous, I contain the scarey/nervous feeling and possibly fool him into thinking, I'm as calm as a cucumber.

verylargecolt said...

Chili, you're in Seattle? Hey, e-mail me...I have an idea for you and your horse. :-)

Sagebrusheq said...

It is not the be all, end all, of horsemanship, but that said I don't think there is a better single exercise than dropping your stirrups, regularly, as a part of every days schooling. Not slumping and going along with the flow but with proper eq angles, heels down etc. WTC and posting trot. Painful at first maybe but nothing shakes you into a good seat faster, and helps maintain one, than avoiding severe pain. Simply put you can't post without stirrups for any length of time and not be relaxed. Most good riders, at least in jumping and dressage, do this throughout their career to maintain their tone, balance and the supple tension necessary to remain good horsemen. 'Relaxation' is really sort of a misnomer it's 'suppleness'.

Nor is it about bobbling around the ring like a hula doll, as fashionable as those misguided gyrations have become of late. Truly elegant riders are quiet, tall, and appear effortless, whatever the discipline. Drop those stirrups every day and build up to the point that it feels as good without them as it does with them. Morris rides eight hours a week WOS, so age is no excuse if you want to get, and stay, good.
Tough love I know, but that's the way it is.


Sagebrusheq said...

The only things I ask from an instructor is that they have something I want and that I can put complete faith in their instruction, putting aside my own knowledge while under their guidance. If they yell at me, denigrate my riding, make fun of how men in general approach horsemanship it doesn't bother me a bit. In fact it spurs me on to try harder to accomplish those things that they feel are important. But without those first two requisites I won't waste my time or theirs. I have a very pleasant teacher now BTW, to whom I once said 'you don't have to spare my feelings.' Everyone's different that's just me.


PS: speaking of riding here goes nothing...

BuckdOff said...

You are right about the trainer, they may be good, but not for you, I found that out. I wasn't learning or having fun and was spending big bucks to basically be disparaged for just about any move I made. I showed up early one day and saw my instructor working with someone else, this student was young (college age) and pretty advanced. I saw my instructor become quite animated and involved, unlike my lesson. At that point, I quit that stable and found a new one. So if you don't click with an instructor, you won't have fun, or relax.

ChiliChihuahua said...

verylargecolt - I just emailed you.

Sagebrusheq said...

Waiting for pony mare to make her appearance at the barn...

For a truly impressive example of what can be accomplished riding WOS, see if you can find a video of Richard Spooner riding Robinson in the Grand Prix (several of them) at Indio with his foot in a cast in 2002. And winning the class. It's amazing how good the best riders are.

Whenever I'm asked how I rate my own riding I say that I'm in the 99th percentile compared to the whole of riders; but, inversely, much further than that below what is attained by the best of them.


Josie said...

So this is funny. At least I think so!

My mare Imp is a hot head. I'll blog about her soon but suffice it to say she is not for the faint of heart. I sent her (and my house downpayment savings) out for FIVE months of training last year, at the end of which I went up once a week for a lesson on her.

The trainer is not a native English speaker. I personally am over-verbal, even in my head... you know, the constant chatter of do this, do that, but what if, and how about, and I forgot to do this, etc. I'm also well acquainted with the verbiage of support and psychobabble. So it was a real eye-opener the first time I got on Imp, looked down at the trainer, and said "I am nervous".

I don't know what I was expecting but he said two words, and two words only.

"Don't be."

Well dang that stopped me in my tracks. What more needed to be said? It really summed it up, for me anyway. No well-reasoned, verbose explanation of fears and dreads and responsibilities could possibly have been offered up as an opposing point of view.

For the most part it worked for me. Think about it -- or better still, DON'T think about it. Shut off the clamor and the voices.


Just try it. I am prone to nervousness. If this could have affected me profoundly, it just might affect someone else.

Sagebrusheq said...

I like that story Josie. Simple. Sometimes you gals just need a good man to set you straight, as I'm sure all present would agree. ;-)


fssunnysd said...

No music to recommend, but has anyone else had this experience?

I apparently have a horse with a sense of pitch: something I don't have. Even though I can't carry a tune in a bucket, I've always liked to sing or hum whatever happens to be running through my head while riding. My gelding pins his ears and shake his head when I attempt to serenade him. It's definitely the singing that causes the response, as when I stop, up come his ears. It's sort of funny, actually -- if I persist in singing he makes grimace-y faces and goes faster in an effort to escape the "noise" I'm making.

Can't fault him for having good taste in vocals, I guess, but he's stuck with me: feeding him means I'm not going to be affording voice lessons any time soon!

BritnieAnn said...

Thanks for makin me feel better karen v and VLC! :)

icepony said...

Wow, what a boatload of great ideas! Now, if it would just stop SNOWING here, I could go put some of it into practice!

cdncowgirl said...

karen v:
there is a reason I don't know Disney songs... they get stuck in your head to easily. Now I've got "earworms" and its all YOUR fault! :P

does anyone else remember the words to "On Top of Spaghetti"? I need to get "Greasy Grime Gopher Guts" out of my head. lol

Justaplainsam said...

Well Im back in the saddle after taking a break trying to deal with my artritis. (actully try typing with a wrist brace thats hard!) Got on my friends horse last weekend and freeked. I started shaking and got really nervious. It didnt help that it was her first time back undersaddle after the winter...

The bad part.. I broke that horse 3 years ago when I was still training and she has done nothing but try for me ever ride. So after I sat on the ground crying for a bit (long week, Im waiting for my biopsy results if I have cancer or not, and now I cant ride either!) I asked my friends new trainer for advice.

His advice? "Come up next weekend and ride with me." He put me up on his daughters 20yo QH whos never done anything and said "just go ride. Dont fix Dont bump dont even worrie about what direction hes going" So we rode around for 10 min or so and went on a trail ride.

And ya know what? We had fun! I dont even remember the last time I had fun on a horse. (which says I should have quit training a long time ago....and actuly I think it was 6 years ago and had to do with jumping snowbanks in the spring...) And I sat though a scoot or two when some birds visited us, and stayed very balanced.

So my advice? Go have fun. Get some sun, gather some friends around and play pony club games :) lol a game of around the world on a quiet horse will do wonders for your security.

Josie said...

On top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table
And onto the floor
And then my poor meatball
Rolled out of the door.

That's all I know. I also have VERY different words for the other one:

Great green globs of greasy grimy gopher guts
Mutilated monkey meat
Dehydrated birdie's feet
All wrapped up in all-purpose porpoise pus
And I forgot my spoon
But they've got strawwwwwwwws.

It's the Camp Food Song! :)

Karen V said...

On top of spaghetti,
all covered with cheese.

I lost my poor meatball,
when somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table
and onto the floor.

and then my poor meatball
rolled out of the door

it rolled through the garden,
and under a bush

and then my poor meatball
was nothing but mush

(That's all I can remember. Something about a tree...)

Crazy3dayer said...

I had to jump in here. I do what June said. I count. My first show I ripped a hole in the butt of my riding pants. had my fancy schmany riding thong on, so my rump was hanging out. Had my trainer's coat on which was too short. I had my husband duct tape my pants from the INSIDE (whole nother story). I went into the ring all tensed up and my poor mellow mare was like "where's the monster" We jigged the whole time. I locked my elbow and put a death grip on her. I hate the pictures from the show. Poor Molly. The one thing I took away was after my class my husband said to me "you didn't look like you were having fun. Why do you ride if it's not fun" At that point I looked at him and realized how stupid stressing about all of it was. So I took last? So I ripped the ass out of my brand new $300 Ariats? Hey I was there to enjoy myself. I started counting while I walked back to Molly. Gave her a huge hug and hand grazed her for the next hour as a thank you. Every time I tense up now I start counting. It really works b/c once you get past 10 you have to think about the next number but you can still pay attn to what's going on around you.

a beautiful disaster said...

i sing to my self when i get nervous too! i also think its great if you can get a song going in your head with a beat to match what you're doing ( a lot of pop is great for hunter courses )

i also get yelled at for pumping at the canter, but i think it's more related to trying to encourage him forward without driving with my seat ( hey, at least it won't do anything to him physically XD )

personally, the best fix for my nervousness was the realization that i really can handle pretty much anything they could throw at me ... i sat through ( or rather over ) an arial display today that would have had the lippizzaners green with jealousy

which_chick said...

In the world of "Fake it 'till you make it", I'd like to report pretty good success on Project Horse today.

Today was her first ride in a bridle (full cheek snaffle), but she's done ground work with one on. I'm moving her into a bridle fairly quickly because she has already gotten got the hang of what I wanted her to be able to do in a halter.

PH's first ride in a bridle went like this: Stood for mounting. When asked, gave me the big, huge give (both sides) where she followed the rein until her nose was on my knee, her neck was relaxed, and her big, soft eye was still looking all kind and stuff. Her feet did not move for the gives. (I had not asked the feet to move, so they did not move.) Steering and brakes were as good as they were in the rope halter.

The big thing was that after some circles, some figures of eight, and some walk/halt practice and stuff in the yard, I asked her to walk out the driveway, about a hundred yards. Halfway out, she spooked (in place, but one of those whole-body stutters) at something in the woodpile. I *felt* my weight go forward when she quit. So I sat back, tall on my seatbones again, and nudged her forward, rocking back and forth with my hips (this is not a very good description) in rhythm with her walking in a "Yes, that's right. Walk on." kind of way. (My riding instructor says I need to sit on my seatbones and move more when I ride, so's to be less like a leaning-forward little tin soldier with crappy leg position. "Model what you want the horse to do" she says. This is very hard for me.) As PH walked on, I could *feel* her relax under me and take nicer, looser, bigger steps. Her head went down, her neck looked soft, and she seemed much happier. Go me! (We had no problems coming back or on our second trip out-n-back.) It was a good day. :)

Princess Jess said...

My favorite relaxation technique in the saddle is to inhale until I'm about to burst,sit as tall as I can, and then let it out SLOWLY. As I'm exhaling, I sink my weight down into my core, seat, and legs (I've noticed that when I start to get tense I get a little "top-heavy" LOL). My trainer had me do this a couple of times to teach me where she wanted my weight carried, and now whenever she says, "sit DOWN" I always do the breath thing and get MUCH more loose and relaxed.

The breathing thing is also helpful for nervous horses. I've always forced myself to sigh (even if I am completely freaked out of my mind) just for the horse's benefit. Never underestimate the power of a sigh. A big, relaxed sigh (forced or not), with a loose, relaxed rider (forced or not) will calm almost any horse down.

And I like to rock out to the Black Eyed Peas, among other things. I turn on the sterio, though (I'm lucky that I usually have the arena to myself, and very nice and understanding fellow boarders). My horse benefits from drowing out other scary noises, too! I think music helps us both. :)

Princess Jess said...

Oh and I forgot to add: I ride my crazy, spooky mutt-pony without stirrups half the time. Not because I'm trying to improve my equitation, but because half the time I can't find them with my foot, he freaks out if I try to lean over to grab them, and when I try to frantically locate the damn things with my toe, he gets upset because he think's it's a cue and he doesn't know what it means.

So I usually just warm up stirrup-less and will only pick up my stirrups when when I feels he's sufficiently settled down. Whatever you gotta do, right? Plus, I figure that if I get launched off of him, it will happen within the first 30 seconds of our ride, and I want to be launcehd far, far away, free and clear, with no stirrup interference.

brat_and_a_half said...

I completely agree that some of the best coaches (especially for newbies and kids) are the ones that have trouble with their positions. The lady that taught me to ride wouldnt do well in equitation, but she sure taught a lot of kids to ride, and ride well and SAFE. My current coach, who is great for where I'm at, sometimes misses safety things with her newer students. Nothing big, but like the safest way to put on a halter, how to hold a lead rope properly, stuff like that that isn't a huge deal, but my privious coach would tell you about.

It's funny how you learned about opening and closing angles by watchin someone else. That's how I learned to canter. We had tried it twice in lessons, with me just flopping along to a bouncy stock horse canter. After watching another girl ride, and seeing her pump along to the canter, the next lesson I tried it and did it! It was a week or so before I then relaxed and didn't have to pump, and I felt real smart then haha.

Magna Cum Mule Trainer said...

I second (third?) singing. When I first got Jasmine it was like sitting on dynamite with the fuse lit. She'd walk around with every muscle tightened, and bolt from the slighest thing.
I sing or find someone to talk to-- usually if I can get past the first 5 or 10 minutes I'm good.

For my students, I ask them about something they love or are enthusiastic about to get them talking. If you're yakking away you can't hold your breath.
For the adult students, I ask them how they met their spouse or S.O. (if they have one)

Later in school I recited my chemistry equations and French phrases to Jasmine, hoping they'd bore her into relaxing. :)

robyn said...

I definitely agree w/ having music--it seems to really help the horse keep his energy up too (or relax it, as the case may be) b/c I am keeping my energy up (or slowing it down) w/ the music.
But I disagree that it's impossible to consciously relax, b/c I do it all the time. It's become almost automatic now, that when the horse tenses up, I relax, slow my breathing and sit deep. I'm not perfect, I still get tense, but now I can recognize it and fix it more quickly.
Can't say enough about riding bareback! I think it really helps your balance and helps create an independent seat. And I'm no 20 yr old either--turned 44 yesterday (sigh). And I started doing a lot of bareback riding about 7 years ago, so it's not like I started when I was a kid. If I can do it, anyone can. And I did not grow up riding either--grabbed rides and lessons when I could, until I finally was able to own horses about 16 years ago.

Heidi the Hick said...

This is an excellent, excellent post!

I'd like to add to the part about instruction. I just completed my National Coaching Certification Program (ooo look at all those capital letters!!!) to prepare for my Instructor's certificate. Specifically, instruction of the Beginner!

My coach has been after me for months to be more specific in my instruction. We can't just tell a student "Don't do that" because we have to replace it with a clear, efficient instruction on WHAT TO DO. Otherwise, the rider doesn't know, and it's hard to ask your coach while handling reins and stirrups and trying to stay on.

I'm really learning to spot tension in riders. I can tell them to relax but I don't think it's always effective. I have a panic disorder, and honestly when I get told to relax it gets worse. It's like a hand pressing the middle of my back while my toes are on the ledge.

I tell riders to breath out. Watch those shoulders soften!

I also get them to take their feet out of the stirrups and rotate their ankles halfway through. If I remember. I'm still new at this teaching thing. But I'm getting really excited about it!

mugwump said...

c'mon sagebrusheq, bobbling like a hula doll would be great to watch!

ellen said...

JJ here's a better explanation of stirrup stepping than I could come up with on my own. It's very subtle and requires great awareness on the part of the rider.


I was introduced to the technique in a clinic and years later I am STILL "learning what I learned" -- as stated in the article the point is to achieve collection by flexing the hind legs. I was given a series of "patterns" and specific legs to weight to kind of move my mare's weight around -- the pressure in the stirrup is approximately the same as one would apply to the accelerator of a car to go forward smoothly from a stop. It's interesting to experiment and see the effects. I was also given a series of "light light heavy" patterns -- front, front REAR with each foot. It was great for establishing rhythm and regularity and for developing my feel.

I rode CLG again today -- just as I had got on him, there was a huge thunderclap and a sudden downpour, including water pouring into the open side of my arena from a blocked gutter, and his pasture mates bucking and bolting past on their way to the shelter -- quick abort on the mission, but got back on when the weather settled and he did fine.

He was unhappy about the presence of my leg at first but we did some teardrop turns and he soon figured out that "move your feet" gets leg off him quicker than "pin your ears and get cranky".

A also rode Big Doofus Appaloosa who was very tight and bunchy -- both his worried tight and spooky TB side and his cold backed crowhoppy Ap side were out in force. I did succeed in getting him relaxed and bending a bit and got some w/t transitions without bucking. Silly boy. All this advice on relaxation came in very handy!

JJ said...

Ellen -- the link you provided doesn't work. Would you mind re-posting? I would love to check this out!

Sagebrusheq said...


Now that I'm single again I guess it's safe to confess to having viewed some of those displays with fascination.

Reading one of cutnjumps posts on the big blog yesterday I was reminded of a passage from a book of reminiscences on hunting in Leicestershire before and after WWII by Ulrica Murray Smith. Rather than bury the gem over there I thought folks here would like to start the day off on a humorous note:

"To enjoy hunting it is absolutely essential to be well mounted. A friend of mine married for a horse; a very sensible thing to do. Her most ardent suitor had mounted her on his superlative hunter for one whole season, at the end of which he suggested that it was time that she made up her mind whether she would marry him or not. She realized that if she said 'no' she could hardly expect him to produce her favorite animal for her any more; so it had to be 'yes'. Unfortunately the horse broke down and never hunted again- but the marriage was a great success. Well I suppose it is as good a reason for getting married as any other."

from: 'Magic of the Quorn' by Ulrica Murray Smith MFH, JA Allen & Co Ltd, London, 1980

Shadow Rider said...

Unfortunately music doesn't help me relax, my horse likes it too much. She will speed up and match the beat of the song, LOL!
I've found a few things over the years that helped.

Main one was getting myself fitter. I found if I was fit enough to not lose my seat at every little spook, I relaxed more, so do leg lifts, ride the bike, sit ups, etc.

Take a couple lessons/rides on a Steady Eddy to get your confidence up.

I have also found being exhaused beyond caring really loosens you up, even on narrow trail at the top of a Mt. (per my trip to Scotland)

Also, per a League of Maryland Horseman ride I went on recently, start drinking as you load the horse in the trailer, and by the time you hit the trail, no matter how green the horse or rider is, you'll have no fear at all. All I can say is there are a whole bunch of fugly little green broke spotted, gaited, something or other SAINTS in horse hair in MD. LOL!

spotteddrafter said...

I have a horrible habit of clamping down with my off leg when I'm asking for leg yields. It's so frustrating for me, let alone my mare!!!

Riding with music is a brilliant idea!! I've always wondered what the point is, but at the very least if I say "I'm gonna post until the end of this song," that's better than nothing!

robyn said...

jj--here's what I do when the link fades out at the end. It's there, but you have to highlight the whole thing. It will pick up the rest of the entire "comments" area, but that's okay! Just do your Ctrl C to cut the link, Ctrl V to paste into the browser window, and the window will eliminate the rest of the junk and bring up the correct link. Works almost every time--occasionally it doesn't. But I did get the link to work fine. Here it is again so you don't have to go back:


My instructor has started teaching me this as well lately to help my green horse w/ his turns. He tends to pop a shoulder. The stirrup steps really help him smooth out turns. I've also used them to move a horse in or out a bit on a circle. Kind of an amazing little trick!
I saved that article so I can go thru it more later. I know there's much more to get out of it. Thanks for posting it, Ellen.

Redsmom said...

Just finished reading Sunday's post. VLC/Fugly, thanks for mentioning the weirdly far back stirrups on the cordura saddle. I just got one and tried it out yesterday and the stirrups felt so strange! On a pos note, "Red" is such a good boy. This neighbor's Very Large Pit Bull came out into the street and got right under Red's nose and barked hideously. Red just looked at him derisively and moved on. Then, Red spooked in place when the man/dog owner yelled at the dog. Red was abused by a man in the past, we think.

Sagebrusheq said...

I sometimes find myself singing to my horse, but then, I sing to my dogs too. But on equine occasions it's usually a result of too much relaxation rather than an effort to promote more. I know, its unsafe to drink and drive, but hey, I'm not driving at that stage, headed home. I think it has a relaxing effect on Molly too, knowing that I won't be troubling her with the finer points equitation.

Apart from that, I do find tunes popping into my head when traveling at a cadenced trot for an extended time. The one that most often rises up, unbidden, is 'Humoresque': "We encourage constipation when the train is in the station...." over and over again. It's a tough one to shake and works with any tempo. Hope I haven't inflicted anyones brain with it, if so we can commiserate.


verylargecolt said...

>>A friend of mine married for a horse; a very sensible thing to do. Her most ardent suitor had mounted her on his superlative hunter for one whole season, at the end of which he suggested that it was time that she made up her mind whether she would marry him or not. She realized that if she said 'no' she could hardly expect him to produce her favorite animal for her any more; so it had to be 'yes'. <<

LOL. Well, I used to tell my ex-boyfriend that if he sold the gray mare, I went with her. As it turned out, he's history and I still have that gray mare. I frequently point out that she is the longest relationship of my life - 23 years as of last month. And the only reason we got her is because she'd just broken someone's collarbone!

Sagebrusheq said...


Rika's a hoot. Glad you liked it. I'll transcribe a few others for you in time.


Speaking of subliminal communication, I'm half convinced that it helps to laugh out loud at a horse who is spooking. Just hold him straight and laugh. Its likely a result of the effect that it has on your own composure rather than any embarrassment on the horses part for having acted foolishly, but I think it works sometimes.


Redsmom said...

I have read a great book, Centered Riding, suggested to me by 4H&H,, among others on the Fugly Board. It is great for giving you an idea of how to sit properly, relax, balance, etc. The author's name escapes me at the moment, but I got mine used on Amazon for cheaps. I found my horse has been going much better since I've been applying some of the principles of that book. Yesterday I ordered George Morris's book Hunter Seat. I will let you know how I like it.

ellen said...

In case that doesn't work, the link cuts off at karlc, just finish the thought, it should go karlclinic.html.

Enjoy -- I have been blessed to be able to clinic w. Dr. Thomas Ritter, a student of Karl Mikolka, and it was he who introduced the stirrup stepping. Dr. R. is a phenomenal horseman on all levels, and I will be years catching up to what he's taught me in each ride I've had with him.

HorseRedux said...

Thanks Robyn and Ellen for help with the link -- it worked like a charm!

Ellen -- I became a fan of Dr. Ritter's after reading the many helpful articles he's posted on his website. I'd love to send my filly to him for training as I'm not finding any trainers in Minnesota who have as solid a foundation in classical dressage as he does. *sigh*

ellen said...

You're welcome JJ

I was also very lucky to attend a 3 day centered riding clinic with Wendy Murdoch herself many years ago, and it was a total revelation to me -- Copernican revolution to my riding.

Miss A said...

Thank you for this! I took childhood lessons from a lady who drilled it into us that music had no place in the barn- it was a distraction. After reading this I'm totally going to try using my Ipod. And I'm totally guilty of pumping at the canter too, to the point of being out of breath after a lap or two around the arena.

PintoHorseLover said...

omg karen v, the tiki room is so funny!

happy belated birthday robyn!

see the great thing about being young is that i'm very flexible :)

I don't really get tense or scared when riding (im in those cocky, "i can do anything and ride anything" stage:D), sure i sometimes (though rarely) have those left brain/right brain battles and all those WHAT IF?'s but i force myself to calm down when i think about it. thinking of something funny usually helps me.

I think music could help me, but sometimes i'm so focused on what i'm doing that i don't even notice whats going on around me and i dont hear somethings i hear either. but i most of the time i listen to music and actually hear it, normally i move myself to the beat of the music. i think i would have different varieties of songs in my playlist, though. Wake me up before you go-go is definetly one of them, also some classical or just quiet music with no vocals is good too, like Cristofori's Dream by David Lanz (which i'm listening to now):)

P.S it's hard to know if you have a bad instructor or a good one if you're new to riding... :( although i have to agree if you just cant "click" with your instructor your better off finding someone you click with. tho sometimes they can be totally nice people but be completly clueless.:(

a beautiful disaster said...

ellen said
he soon figured out that "move your feet" gets leg off him quicker than "pin your ears and get cranky"

is there any chance you can get him to speak with Buddy about that one?
though he has progressed from simple cranky to hopping around...i guess i should be happy he's atleast translating leg to movement?
its too bad he won't put that thrust to good use, otherwise he could be a pretty stellar jumper judging by yesterday's acrobatics.

my boss put it best though; "he's just getting you ready for the mechanical bull riding"

aedna said...

Just this morning I was out on the trail with my horse, whom I purchased 5 months ago. He was an angel when I first bought him, but he was also about 150 kg underweight. Now he is much more lively and out on the trail I just can't seem to relax on him. After we passed a football stadium on one side and a rumbling truck on the other my horse lost it and jumped and reared. Naturally (for me anyway) I shortened the reins and tightened my grip. My trainer was telling me to "relax and give him his head". I was making HIM nervous! I ended up getting off the horse to pass another car and switching horses with my trainer. I could literally feel myself tensing up. I knew I had to relax, but couldn't.

I am so embarrassed that I had to get off my horse and ride someone else home. I'll try singing next time. I live in Ecuador so singing a Disney song in English will just give them another "crazy gringa" story.

lusitano epiphany said...

Progressive muscle relaxation in the saddle is helpful to me. (PMR is, in a nutshell, tensing and relaxing each muscle are of your body from head to toes. You should tense, hold while inhaling for a slow count of 5, and then relase during your exhale for a slow count of 5.) Do it on a lunge, if you need to. Then throughout your ride, continually "scan" each body part to make sure there is no remaining tension.

And I second the "Centered Riding" books. There's nothing else out there that can compare - every rider should read and practice both.

Snarkysnark said...

Okay, this is off the wall and I probably sound like I'm about to tell you to cleanse your chakras or something, but...

I once took a meditation/mindfulness class to deal with a particularly stressful job. The advice was great for riding. Basically, the reason I was stressed at my job was that I couldn't just do one thing. I'm really hyper and high-achieving and type A, so I used to work on one task while freaking out about how it fit into the next task and what would happen after that and basically making myself insane.

I was doing the same thing on my horse. Instead of thinking about what I was doing at that second, that stride, I was worried about what was next. Like I'd be stressing about a fence five strides out. Why? It's so silly.

I still do it all the time, but I'm aware of it now and have been working not to. Think about it: when you worry about your ride, it's not because of what IS happening. It's usually because of what MIGHT happen. Like, why do we worry when the greenie spooks? Well, because we MIGHT get tossed off. Or he MIGHT be a lunatic that we can never, ever show. Or whatever.

I always worry about the distance when I'm jumping, and when I get really worried and my mind is racing, I usually miss. And the worry isn't a specific problem RIGHT NOW, it's a worry about what COULD happen LATER. So I try (and it's HARD) to only think about what's happening right now, in the moment. THIS stride is fine. THIS stride is nice. THIS stride is a little small, so put your leg on. I try (and it's HARD) to do all of this without judgments like, "Ugh, that was short. If the next one isn't longer, we're really going to be screwed when we come down the line." And instead be like, "Okay, that's fine. Okay, this one needs to be a little bigger/smaller/quieter/etc."

Taking away the concern about what happens next is really, really relaxing. In fact, when my horse had a mild colic episode recently, I managed to calm myself down a TON by not thinking, "What next, what next, what if, what if..." Instead, I just concentrated on, "Okay, NOW we give Banamine. Okay, NOW we're going to walk." It allowed me not to get into that terrible "Oh God he could need surgery or die or..." spiral. It didn't mean that those thoughts never came, it just meant that I sent them away. "Can't think about that now, now I'm giving a banamine shot." Taking away the "whatifs" in any situation really helps me.

The meditation teacher used to always say, "You can't help having thoughts. You can't banish them, it's not possible. They're going to come visit. You just don't have to invite them inside to stay." I think most of us would agree that our fear problems are more about what's going on in our minds than anything else. This is what helps me with that mind-racing thing.

Nire said...

Oh man, thanks for making a post about this. I have my first riding lesson tonight after a nearly-ten year "break" from riding.

(Read: parents pulled me out of a dangerous barn [that I totally did not realize was dangerous until I was telling a friend about it yesterday] when I was little that was also the only barn in the area, after the millionth time the lesson horse spooked and I fell off. Which has pretty much resulted in me being terrified of actually getting on a horse.)

The thing about heels and knees explained a lot about why whenever the horse spooked*, I tipped right off. And now I am less "god I hope the barn has a place where I can puke before I ride" and more "I WILL TOTALLY BE FINE IF I DO WHAT FUGLY SAID, YES, DEFINITELY, 100% POSITIVELY"

Because everyone knows shouting something in capslock in your head makes it true. :)

* For the record, looking back on it, I'm 80% sure most of the time were my fault, because after the first few times he spooked at a chicken fluttering into the middle of the ring in a big fuss, I'd tense up every time I noticed a chicken out of the corner of my eye. And, well.