Category Archives: horsebackriding

Bundled up and ready to go! How to dress for winter riding

With an early blast of Old Man Winter this week, we are reminded that it’s important to dress for the weather. Many people will stop riding in the winter, in fear of being too cold; however, if dressed appropriately, winter riding can be fun – especially after a fresh snowfall out in the fields!

The first thing to keep in mind is to dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature. Layering allows you to add or remove clothing easily as your body temperature changes. On top, I usually suggest a turtleneck or high-necked shirt followed by a zipped sweatshirt or fleece top. For those riders who wear protective safety vests (which on their own add about 10 degrees to your body temperature), wear your vest on top on your turtleneck, followed by the zip top so that you have 1 less layer to remove as you warm up. For the final top layer, a down vest or winter jacket would be best. This piece will also keep you warm before and after you ride when you are grooming your horse or pony.

Since your head allows much of your body’s heat loss, fleece helmet covers will help maintain some of your body temperature, and can also keep your ears warm! Some riders will also add an ear band underneath a helmet and as long as it doesn’t interfere with the fit of the helmet, it’s another way to keep the ears warm.

For pants, I prefer to ride in “winter riding breeches” which are nylon on the outside and fleece on the inside. I don’t like to promote specific brands but will acknowledge ones that have been great for me over the years. After riding through many cold winters, the “Kerrits” winter riding breeches wash up the best, last the longest and are super comfy to wear. For added warmth, both on top and bottom, you can also add long underwear in cotton or silk. These natural fabrics add warmth and pull moisture away from your skin so that as you ride and get warm, you won’t get chilled when cooling down afterwards.

For me, what get cold the quickest are my hands and feet so it’s important to find the best gloves and winter footwear. For gloves, try to look for products that are rated for a minimum of -10 degrees. My favourite ones are SSG’s “10 below” winter gloves. They keep my hands warm and stay relatively dry. I also like the sheepskin lined deerskin gloves, but unless you are good at keeping track of your things, they can be a bit pricey.

Winter riding boots come in many different brands and styles. Some riders prefer winter paddock boots (short boots) while others like to ride in tall boots. Either way, the key is to wear good socks and to have lots of room to keep wiggling your toes. Both Mountain Horse and Ariat have many different styles so it’s a good idea to figure out if you want short or tall boots and then try on different brands. It WILL be difficult to get 1/2 chaps over most winter paddock boots so keep that in mind when selecting your style. Some of my students bring “Hot Shots” to lessons which keep their hands/feet warm and I know that many parents “buy in bulk” at Costco and keep a good supply in their rider’s “barn bag”.

All this being said, I admit that I AM a wimp when it comes to winter riding but when I dress properly, I warm up quickly. When I go out to teach, I am bundled up from head to toe from my Foxwood toque, down to my full-length parka and Sorel boot and I also added snow pants to my winter teaching wardrobe.

So, bundle up to stay warm and have a great season of winter riding!

Until next time,
Robyn

No stirrups November? No problem!

At first they thought I was joking…an entire month of lessons without stirrups? But why?

When I first started implementing “No stirrups November” a few years ago, I think most of my students lasted around 2 weeks before convincing me into letting them have their stirrups back. It’s not as if we didn’t practice without stirrups over the course of the year, but we never made it the full month. But this year, we ARE going to make it to 30 days!

I know it sounds scary (and trust me, I know how much it can hurt!) but riding without stirrups is a challenge, it takes us out of our comfort zone and it makes us better riders.

Most coaches would agree that riding without stirrups is necessary for all riders:

“Those looking to bring their riding to a higher level will benefit greatly by riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups will help to make a rider more balanced, stronger and secure in the saddle. The most important reason to make it a consistent part of a rider’s weekly riding routine is that it will help improve your seat. By improvising your seat, you will improve your feel, and by improving your feel in the saddle, you will ultimately become a better rider. Once a rider has put in the time and effort to develop a world class seat, it’s equally important for the rider to maintain their seat by riding without stirrups on a consistent basis.” (USHJA certified trainer Scott Lico)

We are now into our 2nd week of “No stirrups November” at Foxwood. I have started all of my students off slowly, with each rider going without stirrups for a little bit longer at each lesson. For our beginner riding students, who are still working on developing their balance, no stirrup work may simply involve taking their feet out of the stirrups at a walk and then putting them back. A small exercise but with big benefits – not only improving their balance but their confidence.

Our novice riders are confidently riding at the sitting trot without stirrups and are building muscle strength to try posting trot without stirrups, while our intermediate and advanced students are working on bending exercises as well as cantering without stirrups.

So, what really ARE all of the benefits of riding without stirrups?

1. Strengthening the leg
Everyone knows that riding without stirrups is a common exercise used to strengthen a rider’s leg, so a month without them is a great way to focus on just that. The rider’s leg becomes stronger and more useful in the long run.

2. Improving leg position
This goes along with strengthening. Posting off of the stirrups is a common mistake that many riders make and they don’t realize that they are doing it. When there is no stirrup iron to balance off of, the rider must use their muscles to hold their leg in place in order to stay on their horse. This helps eliminate any instability of the rider’s leg and it improves correctness.

3. Preparing the rider
Any rider that shows may know that sometimes in an equitation class, they may be asked to drop their stirrups. It also prepares the rider for any situation, whether at a show or at home, that involves them losing a stirrup and then subsequently, their balance.

4. Building balance and improving a rider’s seat
It is easy to stay in the saddle when stirrups are there for support, but when there is nothing to rely on, it forces the rider to use their seat to remain balanced. A rider’s seat is an essential aid that becomes especially useful when riding “green” horses or more difficult horses.

5. Developing confidence
Not every rider is keen to ride without stirrups as there is always the fear on falling off. Working at their own pace, improving with each lesson without stirrups, gives each rider a sense of accomplishment.

We are going to be stronger by the end of November and who knows?
Maybe my students will suggest we continue it into December…and add some jumping WITHOUT stirrups;)

Until next time,
Robyn

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Still smiling after a “no stirrups november” lesson

A Foxwood familiar face – Charlotte Hodgson

When you drive up to Foxwood, and you see the little lemon coloured car, you know she’s here. It’s our junior instructor, extraordinaire, Charlotte! I have had the pleasure of knowing Charlotte from the time she was just starting out riding on her Shetland pony, Champ. From the beginning, I knew that she was going to “grow up” to be an amazing horsewoman as she always seemed to have a connection with not only the ponies that she rode, but also with the horse people who surrounded her.

When I found out in the fall of 2016 that Charlotte was returning to Canada after nearly 6 years in the UK, I messaged her to ask if she would be interested in teaching some of the beginner and novice lessons at Foxwood. I was delighted when she said yes!

She has been back for nearly 1 year and I would like to share some of her riding and horse experiences with you:

Starting off in the saddle around the age of 7, Charlotte has spent more than 20 years around horses in various equestrian disciplines, both working and riding.

She started off competing on ponies at a young age and was successful in the hunter ring with small, medium and large ponies over the years. As a skilled pony rider, she even started training some green ponies (unschooled) and some of them advanced along to be competitive in both Canada & the United States. One of those young ponies was Foxwood’s own, Sera. I purchased Sera in 2000 as a 3 year old and was going to train her myself; until I found out I was pregnant. I knew Charlotte and her mother from riding at another farm and I asked Charlotte if she would be interested in riding Sera while I was unable to. Sera could be challenging at times; however, Charlotte spent the time working with her and soon, Sera was able to have more riders start on her.

Although Charlotte grew out of competing on ponies, she continued showing both in the hunter and equitation rings with a talented thoroughbred called Shades of Grey. She and Grey ended up being long time partners and he was retired in 2006 after a fabulous career in the Children’s Hunter division.

Moving on from high school to university, Charlotte helped start what is now known as the Ontario Collegiate Equestrian Association. She competed successfully on the University of Guelph horseback riding team and had the opportunity, during that time, to train with various hunter and jumper coaches.

Charlotte has recently returned from living abroad in the UK for nearly 6 years where she was involved with a local fox hunting community – riding with the Belvoir Hunt and the Duke of Rutland’s hounds in England. It was an incredible opportunity to ride different horses, connect with other horse people and experience the excitement of riding cross country with the hounds.

Since returning to Canada last October, Charlotte has a new horse who she shares with her mom. Training with FEI eventer, Julie Clark, Charlotte has been introduced to the eventing world and competed this summer with her little Cleveland Bay horse, Rideau. Converting from the hunter/ jumper world to eventing has added to Charlotte’s skill set as she continues to learn more and more about the three phases (dressage, show jumping & cross country) involved in the sport; however, she attributes her hunter background as providing a solid foundation for her change in riding disciplines.

Charlotte is great with kids, having not only taught at Foxwood in the past but she also worked for several years for the town of Bradford with their summer camp programs. She is looking forward to having fun with the students and ponies in the Foxwood Farm lesson program and we are excited to have HER as part of our Foxwood Family!

Until next time,
Robyn

Welcome to the Foxwood Family, Charlotte Hodgson!

Horse Coach Corner #FromWhereIStand – Lessons learned from my Students

The good days show smiling faces, the bad days have tears…but as a coach (no matter what sport), you learn to take the good with the bad and learn from them.

As we celebrate National Coach Week this week, I am grateful to all of my students, present and past for the impact they have all had on MY life. The role of the coach is to guide and mentor others; however, little is said about the role that the student has on the coach.

I started off coaching at my farm in 1999 with some of my neighbour’s children. I had my older horse at the time, who was a great school master and I knew that she was the perfect horse to teach young children how to ride as she was very calm and gentle. I had to develop beginner lesson plans; focusing on the basics starting with grooming and leading, to tacking up and getting on a horse for the first time – things you take for granted as a more experienced rider. It reminded me of how much there is to learn when horseback riding, how much time goes into our sport and how learning, is a process to advancing.

As my lesson barn began to grow, so did my desire to start taking my students to horse shows off property. 2013 was the first official year of the “Foxwood Farm Show Team” with only 3 riders. It then grew to 13 show riders in 2015 and now, in 2017, we have 20 competing show riders! Coaching offsite, in a competitive environment, has different challenges than coaching at home: there is the stress of how the ponies/horse will behave, which is beyond anyone’s control; there is dealing with the nerves of the rider and teaching them to focus on their riding, improving with each round and not just on winning a ribbon; there are the expectations of the families, who have invested time and money, to see their riders do well; and of course, my own expectations of wanting my students to have a positive show experience. Over the last 4 years, I have had to make changes to my coaching style to better prepare my students for the show ring and I have learned how to be a better coach by changing my ways.

The students I have taught, have made me the coach that I am.

Earlier this week, I was tagged in a tweet from one of my students, who was recognizing National Coaches Week. She wrote the following:

“This week is National Coach week, and I just wanted to say thank you so much to not only my coach but also my friend and role model! This summer was my first official show season and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome, as even though I only attended two shows, I brought home champion and a lot of first and seconds, this is all because of the amazing support and motivation I have from my wonderful coach. She is there to coach and support us at every show even when it’s 30+ degrees out! Her words of motivation keep up going throughout the day. I started at Foxwood Farm 2 years ago without any experience jumping and now I’m here, all thanks to you, Robyn! I was welcomed with open arms an now I can’t stay away from the barn (except when I’m away at school). Thank you for an awesome year, Robyn!”

I have been coach, mentor and friend to many students and I thank all of them for the positive role each of them has played in my coaching career.

Of all the coaching quotes I have come across, this one pretty much sums up how I feel:

“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, because of you, I didn’t give up.”

I want them to learn from me, just as much as I learn from them.

I love teaching people how to ride; children, adults, anyone who wants to learn. And if I can encourage people to improve upon their riding skills, while developing an unconditional love for horses, then I have truly done my job as coach while learning along the way.

Until next
time,
Robyn

Part of the Foxwood Farm ShowTeam for 2017

Coaching “my kids”


Coaching ringside at the Essa Agriplex

Mind your melon and save your money! Riding helmet shopping 101

Safety has always been my number one concern when teaching students how to ride. I find safe horses and ponies to teach on; I follow the farm safety protocol of Equine Canada, I have had my facility approved by the Ontario Equestrian Federation; and when it comes to riding apparel, I recommend safety vests but mandate a properly fitted, approved helmet for all of my riders.

With the start of a new session this week, it’s a great time for riders to check over their equipment to make sure that everything is safe. Even if your helmet has never sustained any damage or impact from a fall, ALL manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every 5 years…and for many of us “mature” riders, if not replaced, we may be wearing helmets that are no longer approved.

This coming weekend, manufacturers and retailers are offering great discounts on riding helmets for International Helmet Awareness Days (September 16/17), so it’s the perfect time to purchase a helmet for a new rider or replace your existing helmet – especially if older than 5 or if you have had a few falls in the last couple of years.

Once you choose a tack store, the decision then comes down to safety standards, fit and style:

Helmet Safety Standards
The first thing you will want to look for is a helmet that is ASTM approved. ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) tests all types of sports and work equipment including equestrian helmets.

Helmets are subject to drops, sharp and blunt blows, and extreme temperatures. If a helmet bears the ASTM certification, you can be assured that it is made to pass at least the minimum standards set by the ASTM.

Fitting a Helmet
To get the best fit, you’ll need to try some helmets on so it is imperative that the rider who is getting the helmet be present for the fitting. The sales person may measure your head with a tape measure before starting to select helmets to try on. This will give you a general size to work from. This measurement is only used as a guideline for finding the right size and to start trying on helmets as some helmets fit different shapes of heads differently.

Once you have the helmet on your head, leave the harness undone and tip your head back and forth, and side to side. The helmet should sit firmly, not sliding forward or backwards. The helmet should be snug, but not tight. Remember that the linings will compress with use, so take that into account. Do up the harness and notice how the helmet feels. It should feel secure but not like your head is being squeezed. Pay attention to any pressure points that may become irritating. The helmet should be between one half (1.25 cm) to one inch (2.5cm) above the eyebrows. If the helmet looks perched on your head or sits too low, try another style.

I can’t stress enough, the importance of having the rider try on different helmets, making sure you are shopping at a reputable tack store with knowledgable staff. I’ve had several students come to the barn with helmets they received as Christmas gifts or birthday presents, that do not fit properly. Having owned a tack store, myself, for many years and having taken a workshop on how to fit a helmet, I know how imperative it is to have the rider sized properly. Many tack stores will not allow you to return a helmet, for sanitary/safety reasons, so if you wish to purchase a helmet for a gift, get a gift card and then take the rider into the store to get properly sized.

Helmet Style
The style of helmet you choose is entirely up to you and there are many different options:

For weekly/daily schooling purposes, a schooling helmet is appropriate and they come in a range of colours with patterns/designs, etc and are easy to keep clean by simply wiping off. Most of them are vented, making wearing a helmet on a hot, summer day rather bearable:)

If you are going to be showing, a velvet/velveteen show helmet is more suitable; however, the popularity of helmets, such as Sam Shield, are on the rise and they are not velvet/velveteen. In most cases, it comes down to the discipline of riding that you are doing as well as how much money you wish to spend. Keeping all of that in mind,
whether it’s a colourful, schooling helmet or a sparkly show helmet, remember that the most important part is making sure it fits!

Buying Used Helmets
Should you buy a used helmet? The answer is NO! And tack stores will not sell used helmets. The same thought applies to using a 2nd hand helmet. Over the years that I have been running lessons and camp, I have had a few riders who show up to their first lesson with their mom or even grandma’s old helmet. I understand the sentimental attachment to the old helmet; however, most likely, it is not approved.

So, with a little information about fitting helmets, and with some great discounts being offered this weekend, if it’s time for a new helmet or time to replace an old one, happy shopping!!

Until next time,
Robyn

At the show

How to have happy teens? Let them horseback ride the stress away

Horseback riding. By definition, is the sport or activity of riding horses; however, for those of us who ride, we know that it is far more than just that. We all lead busy lives and barn time is time away from work, home and school stress – which, for teenagers, is an especially difficult time in life.

Who doesn’t remember the challenges that we faced in our teen years, whether it was getting good grades at school, being part of a socially accepted peer group, finding the right part time job or just getting along with our families. Today, teenagers face far more pressure than ever before. University admissions are increasingly competitive, which means students are constantly striving to earn top marks in order to get into their university of choice. And then, there is the stress of social media. Being perfect. All the time. Because everything is posted whether on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, etc. and everybody sees it. It’s an acceptance that many of us didn’t have to deal with but unfortunately, our children (and my students) do.

Stress causes many physical and emotional side effects such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, sleep and eating disorders and even suicide. So, how do WE – as parents/adults – help our teens reduce their stress levels? Studies have been shown that exercise is one of the best ways AND combined with the love of an animal, it’s a perfect match! I teach many teenagers – in fact, they currently make up the largest number of my riding students. Yes, they have fun when they are here, taking “selfies” with their horses as they groom, snap chatting silly moments in the barn BUT…once they enter the barn, taking on the responsibility of caring for their horse and then concentrating on riding, I can see the stress they may walk in with, disappear.

One of my adult students came across this article written by Ella Innes which gives insight into how horseback riding can help with teen stress:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2613211/Spending-time-horses-make-teenagers-stressed-study-reveals.html

So, if horseback riding CAN and DOES relieve the stress of your teen, why not let them give it a try? Who knows, they just might start putting in as much effort into cleaning their room as they do sweeping the barn or grooming their horse;)

Until next time,
Robyn