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Hoofbeats - The Blog 

Welcome to our blog page, HOOFBEATS, where we talk about the countryside with a main emphasis on training and caring for horses and ponies. If you would like to contribute ideas and information about your own experiences, we would be delighted to hear them. Please email to editor@horseandponyinfo.com or post to our Facebook Page, Horse and Pony Info. If you're into Twitter, you can contact us @horse_ponyinfo.

IMPORTANT - The opinions expressed here are from personal experience and we strongly advise you to contact your veterinary surgeon or your riding instructor if you are seriously worried about your horse. Prompt action is important.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Play pony games to amuse children

Children often get bored riding in an arena and young boys especially have a limited interest in riding round in circles. If you don't have other places to ride, try some pony games every now and then to keep them amused. I find they are very popular, help to encourage even the youngest of riders to control their ponies better without thinking about it and the props needed don't cost much.

Try the following individually and then add them together to make an obstacle course (with the exception of Musical Chairs). After a few practice rounds, children can be timed against the clock using the stop watch on your mobile phone. We used these games for two 13 year old boys this week and both they and the ponies really enjoyed themselves.

The baton or ball game
Place a baton (we use a short piece of plastic piping) or a ball on a block or pot within reach of children on ponies. The child must ride from the starting position, pick up the baton or ball and ride to another pot or bucket and drop it in. Start in walk and progress to trot. When timed, you can have a 5 second penalty for dropping the baton on the ground. I also use this game for complete beginners on lead rein.

Bending poles
These are always popular and good for co-ordination and encouraging correct use of the aids. Ponies must be ridden in a serpentine fashion around markers, electric fence posts or even flower pots. Start in walk and progress to trot. More advanced riders will be able to canter.

Small cross pole as a jump
Include a cross pole as a small jump which is easily managed by different age groups and all ponies.

Around the world
The child must stop the pony in a designated area, boxed off with jumping poles on the ground. Someone responsible must hold the pony for safety while the child completes 'Around the World' where he swings a leg over and ends up sitting to face the pony's tail and then back the other way until facing forwards again.

Dismount and run to a marker and back
We used this instead of 'Around the World' in our obstacle course. The child rides the pony into the designated area, dismounts and puts the reins behind the stirrups. He or she then runs to a marker (we used the gate of the arena while the boxed off square was at the E dressage marker half way down the long side). If the pony wanders away, the child has to catch him and lead him back into the square before remounting and continuing.

Collecting items or sweets
Another popular game is collecting items or sweets which are placed on the top of posts along the exterior fence of the arena. Small treat sized chocolate bars are ideal and great for encouraging riders to use their legs to get the ponies close enough so that they can grab the bars. Children should do this one at a time or things might get out of control.

Musical chairs
(Not for use in an obstacle course) Children ride their ponies around the arena while you control the music. When you stop the music the children must ride to the nearest marker and stand still beside it. Take away a marker and start the music again. When the music stops, one child will be left without a marker and is out. Take away another marker and start again. Eventually you will have one winner left at the end.

9:26 pm gmt 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Training a horse to lunge for the first time

I've already mentioned before in this blog how beneficial lungeing is. It's very useful for horses and ponies which:

1. Have cold backs
2. Are very lively
3. Haven't been ridden for a while
4. Are young and unbacked
5. Are being re-trained after racing or a long time out at grass
6. Are being trained for dressage or showjumping - in order to improve rhythm and way of going.
7. Are naughty and need a bit of discipline before a child gets up.

I have taught people to lunge horses and ponies and, while they have no problem lungeing my animals, they have gone home to find that no matter what they do, the horse just won't lunge. The horse will go sideways, backwards, upwards - any way except forwards. This is called resistance and can be very frustrating to deal with, especially if you're on your own.

Don't despair! The following tips might help:

Create a lungeing ring
The first thing to do with a difficult horse is make an enclosed circle in which to lunge him. A more permanent one can be made of wooden fencing but I just make it out of electric tape (not actually electrified) and plastic electric fence posts. The advantage of this is you can put up the lungeing circle anywhere you like and move it around, making it bigger or smaller to suit your horse or pony.
A circle of about 18 metres in diametre should be fine.

Use side reins
There's no point trying to lunge a horse without side reins. The side reins help keep the horse under control and teach him to accept the bit. Don't make them too tight in the beginning as it will encourage the horse to rear and he may fall over backwards and injure you or himself. You can gradually tighten the side reins as the weeks go by but never so tight that he is behind the vertical.

Walk slightly behind the horse
If he won't go forwards, you can ask a friend to lead the horse around until he gets used to being lunged. If you're on your own, walk slightly behind him until he learns to go forward. Make sure you stay well out of reach of his hind legs so that you don't get kicked. When he learns to walk and trot forwards, you can then stand in the middle of the circle and create the lungeing 'triangle': one side is the horse's body, one side is the lungeing rope and the other side is the whip.

Be careful using the whip
Lungeing whips are not meant to be used to beat horses. The whip takes the place of your legs and is supposed to move the horse forward. Usually you won't need to touch the horse with the lash but follow him around with it or else make a slight crack on the ground behind his hind legs. I have had several horses and ponies which have been terrified by beatings from other people with lungeing whips and it makes them very hard to relax. I would not use a whip with these animals unless they calm down and become lazy. I could never use a lungeing whip with my dressage horse who had been badly broken by a previous owner and who would take off and gallop madly in circles the moment he spotted the whip.

30 minutes is enough
Don't do too much lungeing, especially with very young and old horses as circling is hard on their joints. 15 minutes on each rein - a total of 30 minutes - is enough. Other trainers might feel differently but I wouldn't lunge a horse younger than three years old. Horses should do the same work on both reins (clockwise and anti-clockwise) to build up correct muscles. Remember horses are like right and left handed people and will resist going the way that feels awkward. The only way around this is to keep trying. Don't give up and let the horse go the way he likes best.

3:24 pm gmt 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Results of May Quiz and new competition for June 2010
We had a good number of entries for our May Quiz. There was one clear winner and two runners-up. Congratulations to Craig who won a mouse mat of his choice. For results click here.

New writing competition for June 2010
Would you like to win a T-shirt of your choice? All you have to do is write a story or article about your favourite horse or pony. More details here.
4:51 pm gmt 

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Horses racing on a frozen lake in Switzerland
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