Riding Aids — Four or are there Five Natural Aids?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Riding aids come in two categories — Natural and Artificial.

Let us first take a look at what are considered to be the Artificial aids.  These are bits, hackamores, spurs, crops, whips, bats, ropes…and I am sure you can come up with quite a few more.  We classify these as artificial aids because they are pieces of equipment that the rider has to back up the natural aids.  These Artificial aids are important and can be useful…so long as they are used only when necessary and with skilled hands and thoughts.

Natural Aids are on my mind today.  These aids are really important and should be used for the majority of the cues to the horse.  Classically, Natural aids have been defined to include:

  • Leg
  • Hand
  • Seat
  • Voice

Some might say that the leg and seat are the two most important aids because from those you can guide your horse very easily.  The hand connects to the bit which in turn connects to the feet and some will consider hands to be the most important aid because of the connection through the bit to the feet and controlling footfalls leads to success.  Still others working with young horses or trying to establish a relationship with a troubled horse will tell you that the voice (inflection, tone, volume) is the most important.

It is important to remember that the aids are used in a spectrum, from very light to very powerful, depending on the response desired. In all cases, good training aims for the horse to be responsive at the smallest/lightest aid.  The aids we individually choose to rely on to guide our horse might very well depend on our own training or the training that the horse received.  In all of this, we need to make sure we balance the use of our Natural and Artificial aids.

I will add one more Natural aids to this list. Some might argue that this is not a Natural aid but In my opinion, the human brain is the most important natural aid.  When a rider thinks (with the brain), he/she can decide what other Natural aid should be used, how much of the natural aid is needed to achieve the desired result, and the person can also decide if an Artificial aid is necessary or how much to use.

So Dr. Mike’s list of Natural aids stands at five—

  • Leg
  • Hand
  • Seat (includes upper body because movement of shoulders, torso, and head alter your seat
  • Voice
  • Brain

I welcome your comments on this subject.  Do you agree that the brain is a natural aid? Do you think it is the “Super aid”.  Share your thoughts my friends.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Making sure your Horse Trailer is ready for hauling

By Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Spring (yes, it is coming) is a great time to check out your horse trailer and make sure it is ready for hauling.  Many of us use or rely on our horse trailer being ready year round but we do need to stop and think about a trailer check-up.

Here are some important ideas we need to check out on our trailer…at least once a year.  Sometimes it is best to check on these before we haul…each and every time.

1) Make sure the lights work.  Not just the turn signals but also the running lights and especially the brake lights.  Make sure when you hook up your vehicle the lights all function correctly.

2) Grease the ball that you use to connect to your trailer (either gooseneck or bumper pull hitch.  You do not want to over-grease and leave gobs/messes to stain your jeans or pants…but just a little grease helps the metal on metal of the ball to the coupler have reduced friction and make for easier hook-up and turning.

3) Check your tires.  Make sure they are properly inflated (good to do before each haul) and have good tread.  Look for cuts or wearing that might cause a blow-out or loss of tread.  One of the least enjoyable aspects of hauling horses comes with being stopped on the side of the road and trying to do repairs — it is not safe.

4) Clean up that tack room.  Make sure you can easily use and access everything you need in your tack room.  To much clutter can cause damage to your saddles, tack, and possibly you if you fall in the “mess.”

5) Check the trailer floorboards and mats.  Makes sure the flooring is sturdy and not rotting, make sure the mats are in good shape and provide safe footing for your horse.  To properly check the floor boards it is best to pull out the mats and give the boards a good visual inspection.  In some trailers, boards are not in place…so check out the flooring and make sure it is sturdy.

6) Check that your tie straps are in good shape.  Not everyone uses tie straps or breakaway or quick release ties…but if you do, make sure the quick releases work and that the ties are not worn out.

7) Check your emergency medical kit (both human and horse).  Each trailer should have an emergency medical kit for you (the human) and for the horse.  Check to make sure these are stocked with what you might need until you can get additional help.

8) Visually inspect he trailer for rust or other sigs of damage or corrosion.  Let’s face it friends…we spend lots of money on horse trailers and so we need to take the time to protect the investment and stop rust, corrosion, or any damage from spreading.  In many cases we will have a horse trailer for 20+ years, longer than we might have the truck that pulls the trailer.

I hope some of these ideas will be good reminders for how best to care for your horse trailer and keep you and your horse safe when hauling.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Keeping your bit in good shape — your horse will thank you!

By Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

When I teach lessons or riding clinics I like to take a few minutes to discuss with people how to care for the bit they are using with their horse.  It is important that you regularly inspect the bit for dings or abrasions and clean some of the feed or grime off the bit.

Cleaning your bit — 

Scrubbing with plain hot water usually gets most of the grime off. If you need a little more power, add a splash of white vinegar in the wash water. Soak the bit if there is a lot of really gummed on grime. Scrub the bit, being sure to get inside any joints. I recommend that water and elbow grease are your best options for cleaning a bit.  I do not like to put any chemicals on bits since that could get into my horse’s mouth.

After you have cleaned the bit thoroughly, dry it off with a cotton terry cloth.  always you something soft when drying or wiping off your bit (I will explain why in just a few more sentences).  If you have a sweet iron bit, do not try to remove the ‘rust’. This is considered part of the seasoning that makes horses salivate with the sweet iron bits.  Just wash it and scrub off the grime.

Checking your bit for abrasions and dings –

Take a few minutes before each ride to rub your fingers all over the bit.  Feel the bit for rough spots, dings, abrasions or anything that comes into contact with your fingers that you think feels rough.  Look the bit over and see if you find teeth marks or small holes and ridges on the bit.  Anything that takes away from the bit feeling smooth can be a sign of wear and the need to either fix your bit or get a new one.

Why am I concerned about these dings or rough spots?  Well when you put the bit into the horse’s mouth, all of these rough spots come into contact with the mouth and tongue of the horse.  These rough spots can cause cuts or sores on the horse’s mouth or tongue.  If the bit is hurting your horse, this will lead to problems when riding.  Any hurt from the bit will cause the horse to try and get away from the bit.

My rule of thumb is that when I clean my bits, if I find any abrasions or dings that are rough on my hands…I replace the bit.

Copper bits (either entirely copper or large parts of the bit being copper) are the most prone to getting dings and abrasions.  If you use a copper bit (and they can be really good for promoting saliva and good taste as well), be especially careful with checking your bit for dings and abrasions.

As with all pieces of tack, if you have any questions or are concerned it is not right for you or your horse, consult a professional trainer, rider, groom, or someone you trust to help you make sure your tack is in good shape, good for your horse, and safe to use.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Early Detection of Equine Lameness

By Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Recently I have found myself working with people who have some lame horses and this got me thinking about how we detect lameness.  Concurrently, I have been reading books by Natalie Keller Reinert and MaryAnn Myers, both of whom write horse racing fiction.  Now wait a minute you ask — how does horse racing fiction help with detecting Equine Lameness.  Well — the fiction has some great stories about life around the racetrack and these well written works relay real life details of what race track trainers do each and every day — they study the horse for any and all weaknesses. After some great conversations with LaurenMichele Mcgarry of Red Horse Equine Arts I decided to pen this article — with some homemade ideas about how we can detect lameness.

Before I begin let me please remind all of you that when you have any question about the health of your horse, you need to consult equine health care professionals.  These professionals can be either a veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, acupuncture specialist, or other professional.

So what is my point here?  We as horse owners, riders, trainers, breeders, and enthusiasts have the opportunity for early detection of a minor injury or “catch in the horse’s get along.”  Of course we all know what “dead lame” or “three-legged lame” means — time to call the veterinarian.  But what do we do to monitor our horse each and every day — well we follow some of what they do on the racetrack — we study our horses.

1) Learn the length of your horses stride.  If you have a pretty good idea (within an inch or two) of the normal length of your horse’s stride at the walk…and that changes — you may be seeing some early signs of a problem.

2) Study the footfalls of your horse.  Know how your horse places his/her foot on the ground.  Is it straight, is there a slight twist, does the foot roll, etc?  There are many things to look for and each horse is unique — so time to study the footfalls of your horse.

3) Know the movements of the joints. Is the pastern motion fluid, are the hocks fluid, is there and hesitation in the movement of the joints?  By learning the motion of the joints of your horse, you can see when changes are happening….then you can look for issues.

4) Watch how your horse stands around.  If he/she is normally quiet and then you start to see him/her fidget (and it is not flies or insects or being in heat), he/she may be uncomfortable standing on all four hooves or one in particular. Does your horse try to stand up or down hill — maybe he/she is trying to remove pressure from a part of the body.

5) Is the rhythm of the gait changing?  Rhythm is movement of strong and weak elements.  Does your horse seem to have more weak or strong elements than normal — it may be a sign of something changing.

6) Do you feel heat or swelling?  Rub down those legs and know how they normally feel.  Any slight change in temp or size might be an indicator of something changing or a lameness issue developing.

7) Do you notice stumbling or tripping?  This might be a sign that the horse has an issue.  Many times we sum these up as a bad riding day, clumsy horse, or a lazy horse.  These might be an early sign of a problem.

8) Is there an attitude change?  Without any other causes do you notice your horse getting grumpy or unwilling?  These might be the first signs of a skeletal-muscle issue developing in your horse.

Quite a few of these we can do while on the back of a horse during our ride.  Use fence posts to mark distance being covered and when you ask for a gait, if it takes longer, your horse might not be striding correctly.  Feel the legs move beneath you and understand your horse’s normal movement — so that you can detect that “hitch” that may be an early warning sign.

My point is not to scare you or get you to be overly worried about every little movement your horse makes.  What I hope that you will think about after reading this article is how you can become more in tune with your horse and detect issues when they are minor.  When we use rest, hydrotherapy, corrective trimming, massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic along with input from our veterinarian early on to deal with these issues when they are still minor and this might just save money and frustration later on.

Please share your thoughts and I welcome you sharing this article.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).