Saturday, July 31, 2010


Before I get to the point of this post, here are some pictures I promised of the quarters new herdmates.

Here's Butch, he's a sweetheart. Butch spends most of the day standing under the barn avoiding the bugs. Butch is a working draft so I think that's why his tail is cropped.

This is Rocky, the alpha. She hasn't quite decided yet whether or not to allow the quarters into her herd. She's getting closer though, she's been less avid about chasing them off for the last two days. She and I are on the outs right now because she took a chunk out of my baby girl's leg. That and she's pushy, we've had some discussions about that.

Okay, on to the point of my post. I rode Coriander today for the first time since the move. The very first thing I ended up asking him to do was walk down a hill. Coriander had never been ridden on a hill before and he didn't know how to do it, so he balked. I asked him to walk forward and what I got was an awkward, rushy, inverted walk that tried to turn into a trot down the hill. I was immediately reminded of one of the lessons we learned while trailer training: Coriander has issues with his hind end, hills might be a way I can help him with that.

I asked him to walk around the pasture a few times to warm up and then confronted him again with going down the hill. He was very uncomfortable with it, he asked me a couple times if he could just walk across the hill because that would be so much easier. Nope, I said, you need to learn how to do this so we might as well start now. I very specifically asked for halts after every few steps going up and down the hill and he very quickly learned that the only way he could stop was by pulling his hind legs under himself. He didn't quite get the concept that he also needs to use his hind end when moving, but we'll work on that tomorrow after he's had some time to think about it.

I'm sure that my regular readers know this already, but hills and how you ride them are very important. How many times have you seen someone riding a horse down a hill where the horse has their nose in the air, their back hollow, and their hind legs stringing along behind them? This is not the frame you want to ride a horse in. Not only does it allow physics to pull your horse down the hill like a snowball, with no steering and no brakes, but it's physically harmful for them. Plus you can't always see what is at the bottom of that hill, you don't want to race into it blindly.

The best way to ride a horse down a hill, especially a steep one, is slowly in a collected frame with the hind legs well under them. You have to teach them how to do this because a horse under it's own influence with a rider on it's back is going to take the easy way out and invert. Start on a gentle slope, like I am with Coriander, and asks for lots of halts while going forward at an easy walk. Do the same going up hills. The horse will figure it out and be much better for it. Remember to pay close attention to your body position while you do this. Don't lean too far forward or back, the last thing you want to do is pull your horse off balance.

Here's a little story so you know that I've made mistakes too. When I was about 12, I rode in a competitive trail ride with my stepfather. We came upon a very steep hill and the riders in front of us let their horses gallop up it. Without thinking I let my horse do that too. Boy did I ever get chewed out for that! He had seen a horse get a pretty devastating tendon injury from galloping up a steep incline that led to him being euthanized. I've never let a horse gallop up a steep hill since.


  1. Very interesting! I actually did a "Man from Snowy River" impersonation on one of my very first trail rides last year. It wasn't a big hill, but it was steep and rocky. Gem actually fast trotted down it; I lost my stirrups and my balance. I stayed on, but I was a bit shaken. You are right - practice makes perfect. So, I am thinking that you want to lean back when going down, and lean forward going up? Now that I have my vest, I am planning on getting out on the trails again. This post is timely for me. :-)

  2. Your lean is going to be relative to the steepness of the hill and what degree it's going to take to keep your head pointing straight up to the sky. If it's a very gentle slope you'll stay pretty upright. Going up a very steep hill you'll probably end up out of the saddle and leaning over your horse's neck (but not on it). Some people advocate leaning forward going down a hill, I don't really go for that because it puts you in front of the horse's center of gravity.

    Remember to keep your legs under you and don't get into a chair position. This makes it easier to keep track of your torso... and your stirrups ;)

    Get out there and experiment. Gem will let you know what works.

  3. All good points about hill riding. I don't think I've ever actually leaned forward going down a hill, it just doesn't make sense. All your work with hills and Coriander will pay off. It's the best way of getting a horse fit. I'll bet he 'gets it' in a few days time. This was a really informative post.

  4. I've tried leaning forward and I didn't feel like it made things any easier for the horse. Plus it was just awkward.

    He did a little better with the hills yesterday. I think I'm going to do some in hand work with him this week asking him to back up and down the hill. He's not going to be very happy with me.