Seven Sins of Horsemanship

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Katrin Silva grew up riding dressage in Germany before moving to the United States at age 19 to learn to ride Western. She’s been riding both disciplines for the last twenty years. Read her article on Contact here.

Katrin Silva

Silva has competed successfully through fourth level dressage on quarter horses, Morgans, Arabians, Hanoverians, and many other breeds. Based in New Mexico, she enjoys improving horse-rider partnerships and firmly believes that good riding is always good riding, no matter which type of tack a horse is wearing. Check out her blog here.

Drawings by Norman Thelwell. Check out this website dedicated to his iconic work.

By Katrin Silva

I may be a lapsed Catholic, but some concepts still ring true for me. Take the Seven Deadly Sins. Working with horses has taught me that these concepts still make sense. They won’t send you into eternal hellfire, but they will keep you from acheiving a harmony-filled horse-human connection. A worse fate, for sure.

Greed

When your horse learns a new skill, be content with little at first.

Greed can sneak into your practice of any new movement or skill. Let’s say you’re teaching your horse to leg yield. After some trial and error, your horse finally takes a couple of steps forward and sideways. You feel elated. You’re excited to show off the new maneuver to anyone who is watching. You also want to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke, so you keep asking for more steps.

Pretty soon, one of two things happens:

  • your horse loses interest in going sideways and starts to resist,
  • your horse enjoys going sideways so much that he now uses it to avoid other things he knows but finds more difficult

Greed likes to disguise itself as diligence and dedication. Practicing something over and over works fine in golf or tennis, but in working with horses, greed is the enemy of progress. It’s easy to get greedy in training, especially with willing, talented horses. Stay strong. Resist the temptation. Be happy with a little, reward often, take breaks before your horse forces you to.

Envy

This green-eyed monster will suck all joy out of your horse time if you let it. Comparing yourself to other riders, and your horse to other horses, can be a positive thing because great riders make great role models. Participating in shows and clinics exposes us to the type of horsemanship we may want to practice. Watching a rider with truly soft, following hands and perfect body alignment can help fuel our ambition.

But those things can be a recipes for feeling less than satisfied with our own riding, and our own horse. I’ve slunk away from shows and clinics feeling like the world’s worst equestrian.

When you quit enjoying the here and now of your riding or quit appreciating your relationship with your horse you’re riding, step back and walk away from envy.

Lust

St. Augustine originally defined lust as “disordered love.” In horsemanship, disordered love takes the form of a smothering, misguided affection, which leads to a lack of clear boundaries between you and your horse.

Loving your horse means letting him be the best he can be. Rewarding him is great, but rewarding for random things at random times will only confuse him. Horses thrive on consistency. Many riders who claim to love their horses give them mixed messages instead: rewards for no reason, or rewards the horse does not perceive as a reward. Don’t go there – be clear, be consistent.

Gluttony

Overfeeding your horse is not kind and can lead to all sorts of equine health problems. Overfeeding yourself can have the same effect. Horses should not carry more than 20 percent of their weight. An average full-size horse weighs in around 1000 pounds, the average Western saddle about 30 pounds or more. Do the math and be considerate. Riding is more than sitting on top of a horse – it’s a sport that requires physical fitness and body awareness. Do your horse a favor and get yourself into the best shape you can be.

Sloth

Laziness is not working with your horse on a regular basis. There’s a difference between skipping a session for a legitimate reason and looking for all sorts of flimsy excuses to avoid getting on the horse.

A blizzard is legitimate, a breeze is not. Of course you shouldn’t ride a sick or lame horse, but often, some exercise, like hand walking, is better than none even then. Shortcuts are lazy, too:

  • No, using a thinner bit will not make a horse’s mouth softer.
  • No, using draw reins will not teach the horse to accept contact. There is no substitute for spending the time it takes to develop a responsive horse.

Wrath

Good riders are calm riders. Horses can be good at testing human patience – so good that most of us have reached the limit of that patience at some point or other. But two minutes of anger can undo two years’ worth of careful training. Take a deep breath, or five, or ten.

When all else fails, get off the horse. Kick a rock, or use the angry energy to clean a couple of stalls. It helps to think of your horse as a great Zen master – someone who helps you find you inner yogi.

Pride

Like Envy, pride can be a positive thing in small doses. Taking pride in what you do will make you want to do it better. But too much pride can keep you and your horse from making progress, or worse, get you hurt.

It’s ok to admit you don’t know something.

It’s to ask for help when things get difficult.

I wish I had sought the advice of my mentors sooner, and more often, when I was younger, instead of muddling through training issues by myself. It’s possible to problem-solve through trial and error, but sound advice from a professional you trust works much more quickly.

Giving Thanks to Horsey Moms

Sally Butcher’s looking good!

Mother’s Day is Sunday and I’m guessing many of us have our moms to thank for nurturing the horse love. I know I do.

My mother, Sally Butcher, can also thank her mom. That’s how it sometimes lovingly goes.

Elden Olsen, a reader from Utah remembers his mother, Rae Low Whitlock Olsen, pictured at right with her mustang, Desert Storm.

“She would put the grandkids on Storm and he would follow her around the yard like a puppy dog. He would eat the weeds that she would pick out. He’d give the grandkids a ride and be tended to at the same time.”

Another horsey mom, Rae Low Whitlock Olsen

I’m recalling with fondness the knowledge, respect, and admiration my mother showed for equines and that she passed on to me. She and her mother, Louise Baldwin King, got me horseback in my preteen years. I was sent to riding lessons and even to a summer riding camp.

The best times were on the trails. By middle school and thanks to my mom, I became capable enough to head out on my own. That meant freedom, equine connection, and exhilaration all wrapped into these regular, positive experiences. The outings helped color those challenging teenage years in a happy light. They nurtured my confidence and connection with animals and the outdoors. They kept me out of trouble.

Louise Baldwin King, my grandmother, rides in costume with her husband

Thankfully, my mom also taught me about the heavy responsibility and expense of ownership. Girls grow up and ponies get left behind. I managed to not own any, but worked (feeding, cleaning stalls, etc.) for the privilege of riding. It was another set of lessons that my mother nurtured.

This winter, my parents left Maine’s winter chill for several days at the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona. There, a wrangler named Maddy helped Sally (who suffers from arthritis and scoliosis) get horseback for the first time in many years.

“She did great,” said Circle Z owner, Diana Nash. “We called her ‘Mustang Sally.’”

Here’s hoping we’re all stepping into the saddle when we’re good and grey!

Queen Elizabeth II rides at age 91.

Speaking of mothers and daughters:

Author and horsewoman Ann Campanella has an award-winning memoir: Motherhood: Lost and Found.

Campanella is a former magazine and newspaper editor. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina.

Mother-daughter pair Lynn Raven and Nancy Raven Smith assisted Bradford M. Smith in the publication of a fun book: The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill.

Don’t let the goofy cover fool you. It’s an easy, entertaining read of the trials of a beginner farmer.

Happy trails and happy reading!

Welcome Rocky Draw Ag Services!

Tyler and April Willbanks have established Rocky Draw Ag Services in Mancos, Colorado.

The business is a great way for the Willbanks to share their impressive and comprehensive talents and expertise in many agricultural endeavors, from farm consulting to horse logging. Tyler has worked with equines his entire life and currently has a team of Clydesdales (as well as other equines) serving him for nearly all his farming activity.

Rocky Draw provides these services:

Weed Spraying (conventional or organic)

Soil Testing

Horse Logging

Portable Saw Milling

Farm Consultation

Contact April or Tyler at (970) 739-6012 or email RockyDrawFarm@gmail.com

Stepping into new Boulet Bison boot

You can’t advocate for riders to reach outside their comfort zones and going for new experiences with their horses without doing likewise. So, when it came to reviewing a pair of boots from Boulet, the Canadian family-run company based northeast of Montreal, I knew I’d have to put my money where my mouth is with boot choice.

No old standards (ropers with short shafts and heels or simple buckaroo boots) allowed.

Instead I received tall, ornate boots with a wide toe. They are part of a new Boulet line of men’s and women’s styles crafted from North American bison. Check out the boot here.

The stovepipe top, a style that dates back nearly a hundred years, is made to be worn with jeans tucked in. But not necessarily. I was equally content wearing jeans in and out.

I’ve worn these Boulets over many miles of walking and riding. The 16-inch shaft tops out just below my knee and is comfortable against my calves even with short socks. When I had jeans outside the boots, the jeans fit snugly and did not creep up my calf as I rode (something that happens with other boot-jean combinations).

The Boulets are true to size and have accommodated my wide foot and high instep without giving so much play as to cause rubbing or blisters. Prepared for the typical break-in period of discomfort, I experienced none.

These Boulets have a leather sole and rubber heel. I was skittish about the leather sole – some boot companies make them so slick, it’s like walking on banana peels. Not so here, the practical combination grips while walking but still slips in and out of stirrups effortlessly.

Stepping outside your comfort zone isn’t always as scary as we imagine. Often, positive discoveries are revealed: going down a new trail, you might find an exquisite berry patch or learn that you and your horse are more capable than you’d thought.

In the case of leaving the standard boot comfort zone, I discovered I had snazzy boots to highlight an Easter dinner outfit and that I now had a great pair of tall boots for extra security in snake country (rattlesnakes are fairly common here).

Earlier this year, Louis Boulet told me: “We want people to wear the product, to abuse the product, to appreciate the quality. We make a good boot and we target horse people, not fashionistas,” said Boulet.

I took him at his word. While these Boulets would win most boot beauty contests, they still proved to be incredibly practical, comfortable, and tough.

Turns out stepping outside the comfort zone wasn’t so scary after all.

Read additional Boulet review here.

Does Your Bra Pass the Loping Test?

You can’t consider bras without considering lifestyle. And if our reader feedback and surveys are representative, here’s what our lives are like:

  • Horse chores in the morning and in the evening (and often in between)
  • A daily blend of active and less active responsibilities. We often shift from one to the other several times a day
  • Riding might involve a spontaneous one-hour hack or a more serious half-day outing

Despite our excellent and eclectic days, we most definitely do not want to switch bras as we switch endeavors. Title Nine has many, many options for women

Patagonia’s Barely Bra

like us. They call them Work-to-Workout bras. I tried two of them, the Barely Bra by Patagonia and the Straptastic, an exclusive by Lole. Both are great choices for us smaller chested gals.

Read Emily’s bra review for bigger chested women here.

The Barely comes with removable cups, a feminine center gather, and attractive (not too thin, not too think) straps that meet in the racer back. It lived up to its name as I started my day with horse chores and a strength workout at the gym before moving to office work, never noticing too much or too little support.

Straptastic Bra at Title Nine

Like many sports bras, the Barely does not have a back clasp. You simply pull it on over your head. Unlike many sports bras, the band is comfy and non-restrictive.

As dinnertime approached, we headed out for a quick ride. I did swap out the t-shirt for a warmer button-down, but the bra stayed on.

The Barely Bra passed the Loping Test with flying colors.

What’s the Loping Test? It’s the best way to assess the worthiness of a bra, especially for its straps and support: if you modify your riding posture to be more comfortable OR if the straps slip off your shoulders when you’re loping your horse, then the bra has failed you.

Barely Bra has a racer back

The Straptastic is a close cousin to the Barely Bra with a tad more support and a slightly sexier profile. It differs with a back clasp and adjustable straps that attach conventionally or can be switched for a crossover look. It also has removable cups.

While both have a blend of nylon, polyester, and spandex, the Straptastic is of just slightly heavier construction. That translated to better coverage and better durability with many washes, but the trade off is that it’s not quite as soft as the Patagonia bra.

The Straptastic also passed the Loping Test perfectly.

Coming soon: The best bra for going shirtless.

Straptastic has straight straps or can be crossed over.

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