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Rider Tips

Do you know your Western boots?

Geoff Hineman, Marketing Manager for Lone Star Western Décor, approached me about a month ago asking me to post a western boot infographic on the Horse Sense and Cents blog. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of experience in the Western world (a bit of team penning – now that’s fun! – and a Wyoming client roundup ride – but that’s about it), so found what I learned from this visual interesting. Hopefully some of you will too.

To boot ;-), I hadn’t heard of Lonestar Western Décor, so figured I’d check them out. They have some fun stuff on their website. If you like turquoise and decorative or furniture items that have a distinctive western flair, you might have some fun getting lost in their store. It looks like a warehouse operation akin to Wayfair or Overstock, but smaller and more niche oriented, but I don’t know. Could be a good place for holiday gift shopping for some of you. I haven’t ordered anything from them yet (but am eyeing an item or two), so can’t speak to the customer service or quality experience.

I’d do a call out to y’all in Texas to ask about your experience with them, but, curiously, the mailing address on the website is in Oklahoma. There is no about page, so I can’t give you much on their history or culture.

Still, I think you’ll have some fun with this infographic – even if it’s just for bragging rights on footwear know how.

Western boot infographic to help you know the differences


Your brain on fear – where the wild things are

By Ange Finn

Nanette’s Note: Ange is one of these gals that resonates a generous and caring spirit. We’ve never actually met face-to-face (although imagine we will soon), but I’ve known her for years and call her friend. It was no surprise to hear she’s focusing business activities on helping others feel better. There’s been a lot of buzz about EFT lately, and if it weren’t for Ange, I’d have likely quickly dismissed it as fad. Given her strong spiritual roots and honest character, though, I felt compelled to give this a second and third look. You should too – there’s some interesting roots in Eastern philosophies and a good deal of basis for its effectiveness. By the way, if you’re wondering why Ange Finn’s name sounds familiar, she’s the hilarious humor contributor for Equine Journal.



Fear is just about the most-mentioned issue keeping people from enjoying their horses. We rack our brains trying to find ways to overcome these fears, and frequently we fail.

So why is fear so hard to conquer sometimes?

The answer lies in your brain. When something (say, your rearing horse) frightens you, there are two main pathways that the fright takes inside your brain, broadly speaking.

The fast track goes straight something called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to save your life. To do that, when it perceives a threat it initiates the fight-flight-or-freeze sequence. Thus, on your rearing horse, your amygdala will tell you to fight, or to flee, or to freeze in place and do literally nothing.

The second track is much slower and it goes to the front of your brain, your reasoning center. It’s there that you make some decisions based on knowledge or reason. On your rearing horse, that might be using skills to stay in the saddle; or choosing the safest way to part company; or finding a way to calm your horse.

In addition, there are many more communication pathways coming from the amygdala to the frontal lobe than going the other way. So your fear reaction is already set up to overpower your reasoning center.

When you know the anatomy, you can see why trying to reason with someone (or yourself) is pretty useless when they’re in the grip of fear.

Horse fears? You can fix this.

What’s the answer? Finding techniques that act on the fear center of the brain, before focusing on the reasoning center. Clear the fear embedded in the brain, and you’ll make more progress toward enjoying your horse again. I teach one such technique, called EFT, which is based on acupressure. I’d like to share how it helped one rider who was having serious fear issues on a new horse.

Terrified rider calms with surprising discoveries

Mary (a pseudonym for the purposes of this article to protect client confidentiality) had gotten the horse of her dreams, a seven year old Paint mare. But though the mare was gentle and calm, Mary was very afraid even while going at the walk and needed her instructor right by her side. She was even afraid just driving out to the training center. She described herself as feeling shaky and out of control.

When she came to me for help, I expected we’d find the answer in some trauma with horses from her past.

We did find an incident from when she was 14, and we used the acupressure technique to clear, in one session, the stored fear, anxiety, and self-blame from that memory. But a week later, Mary e-mailed me to say her fear was greater than ever on her next trip to the barn. Clearly, we hadn’t found what was triggering the fear center of her brain.

In our next session, Mary mentioned that she only had her mare one month before her elderly mother, who lived in a distant city, fell, went into the hospital, and eventually died. Mary felt guilty all the time during those days: when she spent time with her horse, she felt guilty for not being with her mom; when she was taking care of her mom, she felt bad that she wasn’t with her new horse.

This was a big event, and we went to work on it. I had her tune into her stored emotions, and tell some stories of when she had been under very intense emotional pressure, while applying the acupressure technique. At the end of our session she was feeling much calmer.

Then, suddenly, an important insight popped up. “You know, I just realized, I used to talk to Mom every weekend on my drive out to the barn,” she told me. “That’s why I’ve been feeling shaky and out of control during my drive.”

This seemingly unrelated insight proved to be the key to Mary’s situation. The fear she felt as she drove out to ride, and in the saddle, was masking grief for her mother. We devoted one more session to her unresolved grief and she was free of her fear of riding.

About two weeks later I received a joyful email from Mary. She had ridden her horse, and she was happy and confident. The drive out had been easy as well. She continues to make progress on her lovely mare.

Are you riding with fear?

The takeaway for riders is, find an effective way to reach into the fear center of the brain and neutralize the fear. In the process, you may get an insight as to the real cause of the fear, and release it even more quickly. Deep breathing, visualization, mindfulness training and acupressure are just a few techniques that can work. Find your favorite, and try it out.

Ange Finn is a rider and certified EFT practitioner.  Visit her website,, for more stories on how she’s helped riders fight fear. For more details on the process that resulted in Mary’s discovery and relief, visit .



Horseback riding quick tips

Top twelve ideas for novice riders to consider as they seek more effective and understanding time in the saddle

Today, it seems more people are learning to ride, or trying to compete, without the benefit of lessons. While it’s hard to understand the thinking behind this trend, stranger things have happened and it’s a reality many are struggling with. So, here are some ideas from Halcyon Acres and Horse Sense and Cents to consider as you hop aboard without the benefit of eyes on the ground to assess why your horse may be reacting badly to your requests. Below are the top twelve reasons novices struggle and how to try to resolve these challenges:

1.       Tension goes through you to the horse. If you’re stiff, scared, gripping or pulling, when you’re horseback riding, your horse will react. Try to relax and feel the horse instead of holding on or making your body rigid. Sometimes, merely taking deep breaths, letting your seat relax in the saddle, releasing your thighs from the side of the horse, loosening your hold on the reins and bending your elbows while you let your wrists feel the horse’s mouth instead of stiffening against it can make all the difference between a resistant or tentative horse and a comfortable and confident one.

2.       Less is more. If pulling and kicking isn’t working, try softly closing your fingers on the reins and gently using your lower leg on the horse’s side while horseback riding. You might be amazed at how quickly he responds to quieter cues and how much he’s been ignoring your annoying shouts.

3.       Work to put your body over your horse’s center of balance. If you’re horseback riding leaning forward, crooked and off to one side or behind the motion of the horse, it makes it a lot tougher for him to handle your weight and do what you want. Such positions also make you more likely to land on the ground if your horse spooks, bucks, stops or takes off. As a general rule, there should be a straight line through your shoulders, hips and heels. Of course, stirrup length is a big factor in what’s comfortable for both of you, as is the terrain (uphill, you should be out of the saddle and more forward, downhill work is best done with your weight slightly behind the horse’s center).

4.       Strive to discover what your horse finds fun. No matter what your ultimate goal is with your horse, take time to figure out what he enjoys most with training activities. Even if your horseback riding goal is the dressage arena, you can still do a lot of preparatory work on the trials if he’s ring sour. Maybe he loves jumping – why not end a flat lesson with a couple of obstacles he can hop over as a reward?

5.       Company can help or hurt. If you have a horse that’s barn sour when you try to work with him alone, spend more time solo to overcome this issue. Conversely, young horses are sometimes best introduced to new sights and experiences with a seasoned buddy to help make these training lessons less stressful. Know your horse and strive to ensure the time you spend with him offers good preparation for future job requests.

6.       Get help to ensure your tack fits and is appropriate for your horse. A bit too small, too severe, too big or adjusted inappropriately can hurt your horse and put you in danger. Saddles with the wrong size tree (or even worse, a broken one), a bad fit for your horse or inappropriately sized for you can hurt your horse and affect his ability to do what you ask. The wrong tack can also cause injuries that take a long time to heal. If you don’t know how to assess the appropriateness of the tack you’re using on your horse, find someone who does.

7.       Know what your hands are doing. Stiff hands or severe hands will make your horse tense and unresponsive. If you find your horse is throwing his head, not responding to your steering or stopping aids or getting reactive about your being on his back during horseback riding sessions, watch your hands and see if they’re creating the problem.

8.       Keep him safe. It’s important to gain trust from your horse and the best way to do this is to keep him out of harm’s way while giving him the confidence to tackle new challenges with a rider aboard that is clear and confident. If you’re afraid, it’s likely your horse will be too. Don’t ask for too much, too soon (for either of you). It’s better to go for little wins that keep you both comfortable and secure.

9.       Keep rides and lessons short enough to make your horse eager for more. Drilling rarely works if you’re trying to develop an enthusiastic and willing horse. Marathon runners don’t train 26 miles a day, and likewise, horses rarely appreciate a regimen that’s too tough on a daily basis. Mix it up with various riding activities. If you’re striving to teach your horse something new, let one new lesson suffice for the day and a lavish him with praise (and quitting time) when he figures out what you’re asking. Training in this fashion should make your horse eager to please you on the occasional hard ride.

10.   Groundwork is critical. If you’re having problems under saddle, get off and work through them with training in-hand, in the stall, on long lines or (careful not to overdo it here) in the roundpen. Lessons learned off the horse’s back often transfer once you put your foot in the stirrup.

11.   Know your horse. There’s no one-size-fits-all training formula that works with every equine. Just because someone who apparently knows more than you (sometimes your gut can be your best guide) says it’s so, doesn’t mean it will work with your steed. Spend the time to figure out what works best for his learning style and you’ll create a bond that creates rewards beyond your expectations.

12.   Get help if you get stuck. If you’re facing a roadblock that’s getting worse, stop before the problem gets insurmountable. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to do (in fact, this is a sign of character) and calling on others who may be able to provide more seasoned input on solutions can mean the difference between creating a situation with your horse that’s painful for both of you and progressing to a state that has the team excited and engaged to proceed. Just make sure the person you select is a good fit for what you want to achieve and enough knowledge to get you there.

Owning a horse should be fun. If riding isn’t for both you and your equine, either you’re doing something wrong or have selected the wrong partner. It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help. Mustering the nerve to ask for help, though, can improve the quality of life for both you and your horse.  When you consider the cost in time and money of caring for your equine friend, a little bit help can be a small price to pay for happiness.

Have an issue with a horse you’re not sure how to address? Lack the funds, proximity or talent of local help to work through it? Reply in your comments below with your query and we’ll try to offer ideas to help you.

What gets you “stuck” with riding?

So often, you hear instructors harping on things like “heels down,” “look up,” “sit back,” “hands still” and a whole range of corrections that focus on how the rider looks. Sadly, most students don’t understand that there’s a much bigger picture to effective riding and these type of directions tend to move a rider further away from a relaxed, balanced and conscious presence on and with the horse.

Give (and get) some real value from riding lessons

When should a rider learn that stiffness is an impediment to good communication with a horse? That balance is critical to everything you ask of a horse (both yours and theirs)? What about the importance of learning to work the hands, seat, legs and weight independently?

From day one.

Sure, it’s easy to get bored standing in the center of an arena watching the same beginner mistakes (or those of more seasoned riders) and fall into a dull and distant routine of focusing on equitation issues that won’t help the rider learn solid techniques. You could do this with your eyes closed (and probably are tempted to do so on some days). It’s also frustrating for novice’s to try to digest big concepts while their still trying to master a correct canter transition. No proper gait changes will occur, though, without this knowledge.

Can green riders use their seat?

Sure. Even the youngest (or oldest) novice riders can learn how wonderful it is to connect with a horse through the seat. Clearly not as an FEI dressage competitor would, but certainly at a basic level.  Of course, this requires some one-on-one attention, but this can be done even in large group lessons. Instead of doing the easy rote drill on rider position issues, consider talking about concepts and showing the rider (you’ll need to use your hands for this to touch the rider) how their seat works with (or against) the horse. Teach riders early to open their thighs and knees and let the horse help make riding a whole lot less work. Help them understand how the seat is the key to balance and show them how (this could certainly relate to your “shoulder’s back” bark and be illustrated very easily with a “whoa” to a good lesson horse).

If you’re a rider who hasn’t learned how to enjoy a deep and effective seat on a horse, think of opening your hips, relaxing and letting your leg be loose (the only area your leg should be in contact with the horse is the inside of your thigh and the back of your calf). It doesn’t matter if you drop your stirrups and let your toes point to the ground. In fact, this can make it easier to feel. It might be best to try this first at a walk. It’s important that your shoulders are over your hips (otherwise you won’t be able to sink deep into the saddle) and your head isn’t dropped forward. Breathe deep and let yourself go a bit limp. Feel how connected you are with the horse’s motion now? That’s where the rest of good riding comes from.  Don’t choke up on the reins when you do this as you will stiffen, pitch forward and bother the horse.

Good teachers create intuitive riders

Horsemanship covers a huge array of equine issues, but most get their first exposure to horses riding. Wouldn’t it be great if those putting a shingle out as beginner instructors committed to a process that focused on the harder big picture understanding from the onset vs. the easy rider form issues? Of course, some may need to educate themselves in such matters, but presumably, most calling themselves professionals have mastered basic riding precepts. Sometimes, it requires a bit of creativity to figure out how to best express this to students (like horses, they’re all different and no pat answer will work for all), but it can be done.

And for the novice riders – stretch yourselves. Learn to make your seat, balance and learning to keep hands, legs and seat operating independently your goal and you will experience a joy riding you never imagined. If your current instructor can’t help you here, find another. You’ll never truly be connected to a horse until you figure out how to connect with them. It’s not that hard, but it’s different from what most teach. And that’s sad for both our future riders and horses.