Tag Archives: horse

Perfect posture for that perfect ride – equestrian fitness starts with standing tall

“Stand up straight. Don’t hunch” …I don’t know about you, but as a teenager, my parents were constantly commenting on my posture. It bothered me at the time but now, as I am getting older (not old;), I am realizing the long term effects that could arise from having a poor stance. A few years ago, I started taking yoga classes – not just to improve my riding posture – but my every day posture and my core strength. Several daily simple exercises, combined with stretching, have made a big improvement for me on the ground and in the saddle.

In the current issue of Wellness magazine, I read a very interesting article written by Gina Allan about posture and how it affects us while riding:

Why Rider Fitness & Posture are so important

You pay attention to your horse’s fitness program, but as a rider, it’s also important to understand how vital your own fitness it. It is your responsibility to ensure you have good body awareness and posture when you ride, so when you initiate even the subtlest movement in your position, you will know and expect your horse’s response. Horses can’t achieve good balance and self-carriage if their riders are unable to maintain their own self-carriage. Proper posture and understanding the dynamics of your seat and back, and how they affect the horse, are essential.

Back health issues affect up to 90% of the population and 66% of those affected are between 20 and 50 years of age. Muscles that are too loose and weak, or too tight, cause 90% of muscular and skeletal injuries; therefore, it is best to ensure that your posture, core strength and back health are in good condition before you set foot in the stirrup. Most injuries are due to muscles that are too tight or inflexible, or that lack sufficient strength. Injuries can also be caused by a fixed or repetitive motion with inadequate rest, or muscles that have not been properly warmed up prior to a workout.

Stretching for Strength
First comes the stretch, then comes the strength. Muscles are technically stronger than bones and act as the body’s pulley system, maneuvering and affecting the bones. The muscles determine the shape the body will take, so if you slouch, your muscles will pull the bones into that position, eventually shortening the muscles creating the constant slouching position. Once we have adopted poor posture, any attempt to use the muscles correctly will likely feel wrong. It will take time to make shifts in the body’s patterning and muscle memory in order to change it back. It is by using this awareness and patience that we can restore muscle balance and reawaken our underused muscles, gradually coaxing them to work harder. The “too strong” and likely “too short” muscles need to stretch and relax a little so we can restore balance and maintain good posture. This will enable us to ride with balance, ease of movement and athletic grace.

Common Postural Concerns
1. The hunched or rounded upper back, known as “kyphosis”, is a common postural problem. It can inhibit breathing, interfere with digestion, and cause tremendous stress to the discs between the vertebral segments of the thoracic spine. All this offers little support to your equine partner and often results in pushing him onto the forehand. Stretching through the front chest muscles and strengthening the mid-upper back muscles can help correct this problem as long as the kyphosis is not too advanced.

2. Another common postural problem is a protruding belly, or “lordosis”. It may result from tight hip flexors and poor abdominal strength. Although the “potbelly” may not necessarily be caused by weak abdominal muscles, the forward tilt to your pelvis will likely block your horse through his back, disallowing the hind leg energy to travel through his body.

With good posture, you will remain connected to the saddle and to your horse’s back at all times. With your feet rested properly on the stirrups, you’ll most likely feel a greater, more consistent connection to your horse throughout your ride”.

So much to work on but there IS hope for all of us…and help in the form of some very good exercises! I will share some of Gina’s exercise suggestions with you later this month.

For now, it’s off to do a little daily yoga practice,
Until next time,
Robyn

“You sit like a soup sandwich” George Morris

Gina is an Equine Canada Certified Level II Hunter/Jumper Coach, a Level III Theory Coach, and is pursuing her Level III Dressage Coaching Certificate. Gina’s vast experience includes three years studying and riding with former Canadian Equestrian Jumper Coach, Frank Selinger in Alberta before moving to Pennsylvania where she trained with International Dressage Clinician and author, Paul Belasik.

On the fitness side, Gina is a BCRPA Certified Group and Third Age Fitness Instructor, a Yoga Instructor and a Specialist Instructor in Pilates. She graduated from Capilano University where she majored in Lifestyle Counselling and Kinesiology. She has worked with Doctors and Physiotherapists to develop specialty modules including Back Care and Posture Assessment.

For more information, visit Gina’s website at:
http://www.ginaallen.ca

“Bullet Proof – A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring”

With just a few days away until the first horseshow of the season, I know my students are starting to get anxious and excited about getting into the horseshow ring! Sure, ribbons are great and it’s an amazing feeling when you end your show day on a positive note; however, in order to be successful, you need more than just the right horse or the right show attire. You need to be confident. We prepare all winter for the upcoming season: jumping courses, practicing lead changes, etc. but when show day comes, and the nerves set in…well, it sometimes seems like we may not be as prepared as we thought.

I came across an excellent article in the May 2017 issue of Horse Sport Magazine written by registered psychologist, April Clay which gives insight into how to BE confident and how to make your show experience the best it can be:

Bullet Proof
A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring

“1. Understand this: Confidence is more than a feeling
When confidence is approached as a feeling, the way to change seems to be through willpower. You tell yourself to feel better, to buck up, to believe. It just doesn’t work. Your confidence is a set of beliefs you possess about your abilities; it is knowledge gained through experience. The feeling good part is simply a by-product of this new knowledge. Ask yourself what experiences you need to create for yourself in order to become a skilled rider. What kind of goals are you reaching for? Don’t get too hung up on feeling good; figure out ways to be good. Confidence is not a feeling, it is a “knowing” and the good news is you can grow your knowing!

2. Get ready for waves
Confidence is naturally variable. Confidence can be shaken. Even the most elite riders sometimes suffer doubt. This can come on the heels of an accident, or while trying to extend yourself to your next plateau of competence. If you are moving up a division, of course you will experience some doubt. If you are practicing more risk-taking, you will not feel a sense of certainty.
All doubt tells us is that something needs attending to. It sends a message that you are responsible for decoding. If you treat doubt as nothing more than an unpleasant feeling you have to avoid, then you are missing something – an opportunity to grow.

3. Talk to yourself
The tough part about negative thinking? We come by it naturally. It is part of our survival mechanism to look for potential problems. It’s called the “negativity bias” and unfortunately speaks to the way our brain is wired.
Sometimes you have to recognize how the negativity is trying to serve you, and look for a different way to get the same service! For example, “look out for that jump, your horse hates water” is your mind trying to warn you. Say ‘thank you for the warning,’ but turn your thinking into a solution: “stay straight, horse in front of leg, that’s how I ride to water.” Confident riders make sure their self-talk stays directive and productive. On the other hand, self-talk should not be so over-the-top gooey positive that it’s unrealistic. What you choose to say to yourself must be something you actually find believable. Otherwise you will activate that devil on your shoulder; you know, the one that wants to argue with you about why you’re oh so wrong. Instead of “I am the best rider in this class” try saying “I know I am prepared.”

4. Make a plan
The business of changing what you know about yourself as a rider entails action or experience. After an uncomfortable incident you can’t just pat yourself on the back and tell yourself to feel better. You need to lead yourself through the experience in a way that assures you that you can handle that situation and come up with a plan of coping and problem-solving. Find a way to work through the challenge and you will come out the other end a much stronger person.
A rider who becomes uncomfortable when asked to ride at faster speeds and take risks in a jump-off needs to define a path to that goal. What skills are needed? How might simulations of jump-offs be set up in order to provide greater rehearsal opportunities? Breaking the job down and knowing how it might be accomplished sets the task and the rider up for success. Experiencing the development of specific skills brings confidence in those skills in that setting. A confident rider is a good student of their sport; they know how to study.

5. Train for Adversity
You say you want to increase your confidence? Be careful what you wish for. Confidence-building may not always arise from pleasant circumstances. To be mentally tough, you have to learn how to have ‘good bad days.’ Every time something doesn’t go quite right in your training, this opportunity presents itself. You can either allow yourself to opt out – “I just don’t feel quite right today, better quit while I’m ahead”– or you can grab onto it and reap the rewards: “Sure, I don’t feel great today, but I am going to practice dealing with it because who knows how I might feel before my next performance.”
Janet, an amateur jumper rider, and her trainer decided to make sure they utilized the adverse circumstances life normally presents. Each time a challenging moment presented itself, one of them would say “that sucks, buckle up!” and then together they would devise a clear plan to deal with the challenge. Using humour helped Janet. “I liked the idea of our joint silly key phrase. It made tough times seem a little lighter and more like a normal thing to deal with instead of a huge deal, and the planning made it fixable and learnable. I never thought I could actually be tougher, but I think I am!”

6. Abandon Perfection
One of the greatest thieves of sport self-esteem is the habit of clinging stubbornly to the idea of perfection. Some people believe if they are not reaching for perfection, their goals are not high enough. The truth is, perfection is not a high goal, it’s an impossible one. There is no perfect performance – especially in horse sport, where your teammate comes supplied with their own set of variables. Horses can have off days, injuries, and most certainly a changing inner nature which makes each ride a unique conversation.
Accept that each performance you give will be different, and your job is to create the best you can with what you have on that day. Aim for excellence in your skills and learning to trust your instincts. This you can control.

7. Define your Brand
What is your confidence “brand”? Every athlete has an overall sense of confidence about their ability to perform in their sport, but there will always be strengths and weaknesses in that profile. That’s normal. You can, however, bolster your overall confidence by choosing an area of specialty. In other words, choose a skill that will really define you and go for it! Become known for possessing an area of expertise. Ian Millar, for example, is known for having a keen sense of direction and planning. George Morris is associated with discipline and consistency.
Having and developing a self-chosen superpower can help you get in touch with the rest of your confidence, especially in a pinch. For example: become an expert course walker, study equine body language, explore the history of equitation. Have fun creating your brand!”

I hope that by sharing this article with all of you, that perhaps your confidence, whether in the riding ring at home or at a horseshow, can get a little boost!

Until next time,
Robyn

April Clay is a Registered Psychologist with an independent practice located in Calgary, Alberta. Although she works with all kinds of athletes in her practice, April especially enjoys assisting equestrian athletes with their mental goals. She is a qualified member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and she is a regular contributor to numerous publications both locally and abroad. You can visit her main site at www.bodymindmotion.com and the online course site at www.outofyourmindcourses.com

Hey! Hay! Farm life made easier with the help of MAAAX cubes!

Life is busy. For everyone but especially on a farm where there is property to maintain, animals to tend to, and daily chores that can take up many hours of the day.

I have lived on my 25 acre farm for just over 18 years and each year, I try to make some sort of improvement that makes my farm life a little easier. Whether it’s a new lawnmower, with a larger cutting deck that reduces my time mowing; to outdoor run-in sheds to allow for more horses to live outside (creating fewer stalls to muck), etc., if there is a way to save time without sacrificing care and quality, every extra minute counts!

This summer, due to the drier weather conditions, the local farmers had to increase their hay prices – and substantially! When I first moved to the farm in 1998, I was paying $2.00 for a square bale of hay and $25 for a round bale. Jump forward to 2016, and square bale prices have escalated to $5.75 – $6.50/ bale and rounds to $55-75 (with a 20% increase from 2015 to 2016).

We can’t blame the farmers for Mother Nature but as a business owner, I knew that I had to make some decisions and I started to inquire about switching over from small squares to MAAAX cubes. I had heard about this product at the 2015 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto and even had a few sample bags that we had fed as treats. Some of the information I learned during my research about MAAAX cubes was very positive: there would be less waste, the quality was always excellent with no dust (good for horses that have breathing difficulties and/or who were older) and deliveries could be made YEAR ROUND! This would mean no more 38 degree, blazing hot, “hay days” in June or July and no more sore backs after unloading 1500 bales. Not to mention that Ian Miller, long time Canadian equestrian, feeds them to his horses;)

So, it all sounded great to me; however, I was still a little apprehensive to make the switch until I met with the sales representative for my area, to answer my questions: Would my horses actually eat them? Could they choke on them? How much do I feed to meet the equivalent of what I was feeding in flakes? And my business owner question…how much would they cost to feed?

The feeding issue wasn’t a problem. With the representative on site, I watched my horses and ponies happily munch on these timothy/alfalfa cubes and because they are processed as “long fibre”, the chewing time took much longer than I thought which kept the horses eating for a longer period of time. As for quantity to feed, the cubes are packaged in 50 lb bags but because the product is compressed, an average size horse at 1000 lbs would consume (at 10 lbs or 1% of his/her weight per day), approximately 1 MAAAX cube bag every 5 days. Now, I am still keeping my large round bales for outside use, so given that the cubes are going to be fed mainly when the horses are inside, the quantity per horse many be a bit less. Given this calculation, and the cost of the cubes, I would be SAVING money!

Better, more consistent quality; year round delivery with multiple payment options AND cost savings…the decision to switch from small square hay bales to MAAAX hay cubes couldn’t have been easier!

We are now in December and we have been feeding MAAAX cubes for many months. My horses and ponies all look healthy, well fed and they are going into the cold months of winter with a little extra weight, thanks to the quality of MAAAX cubes. I’m happy that not only am I feeding a good product but that my costs are consistent and I can budget accordingly. Oh, and the extra bonus? No more “hay days” of summer which might just give me time to ride;)

Until next time,
Robyn

THIS is how hay should be delivered!

That fantastic “Foxwood Feeling” of summer!

Here it is, the beginning of September and I haven’t posted all summer! I have every intention of keeping this blog up to date with news around the farm, interesting horse/rider articles, etc. but somehow, farm life gets too busy that the writing has to wait until I have some down time – and the only time that happens is when I can go away!

It was the busiest summer, EVER, at Foxwood Farm:

Our summer camp started the first week of July with our CIT program. Kelsey, Charlotte, Martina and Paige all helped out with getting the tack clean, the ponies schooled, the crafts set up and the games prepared. Once camp officially started the week of July 11, we were all set.

Over the course of 5 weeks, our campers experienced sessions that were filled with riding (of course;), stable management, horsemanship demonstrations, and several visits from special guests. I think one of the guest highlights was in week 3 and 5 when Wendy Eagle from Wellspring Equine, brought her miniature horse and her filly to Foxwood. The campers asked questions and then got to groom both minis as well as drive the older miniature horse. I know that we all would love to see them again next summer!

Despite the scorching heat of the summer, my staff kept their cool – thanks to fun water game, freezies and popsicles for everyone – and we had a great time. Many thanks to my camp staff for all of their hard work: Alex, Kaitlyn, Kaleene, Jessica, Jamie, Megan, Jacklyn, Emily, Grace, Charlotte, Kelsey, Paige, Martina and Kaela.

Along with camp this summer, weekly evening lessons were offered to adult riders, as well as novice-advanced riders. Many of these riders were on our show team and lessons were used for schooling our horses and working on our equitation skills. Many lucky Foxwood students had the opportunity to spend lesson time riding in our cross country course – doing interval training, as well as jumping our welcoming cross country jumps. We will be setting a date, shortly, to build some new cross country jumps this fall with the hopes of offering a mini event (dressage, cross country and stadium jumping) in the spring of 2017 to our intermediate and advanced riders.

With one horse show left for 2016, I am thrilled at how well both of our show teams performed this summer! Our Bronze series team, consisting of Jacklyn (Lily), Emily (Jane), Lindsey (India) and Elizabeth (Sera) participated in 5 shows in the Lord Simcoe series, which were held at the Essa Agriplex in Barrie. From the start of the season, I watched all riders form great partnerships with their horses. There was stiff competition with ‘A’ and Trillium circuit riders using this series for their own schooling purposes and our riders rode up to the challenge. Our final show of the season was at the Barrie Fair on August 25th and I was very proud of our day and placings. We will be celebrating the season at the Lord Simcoe series year end banquet in October.

Our Everett schooling series show team have proven to be strong and very competitive this year with at least 2 Champions and 2 Reserve Champions at every show! We have one Everett show left to compete at on September 18th and then our banquet with the Essa Equestrians Club will be in November. There are many new show riders in this group for the season, along with Foxwood riders who have moved up divisions or switched horses, and I am thrilled with our results.

Our team success would not be possible without the help from our grooms, Charlotte and Taylor, along with help on show days from parents, family members and Foxwood friends.

It’s been a incredible summer and now on to a busy fall at Foxwood…stay tuned for more postings on what exciting events we have coming up, starting with our Fall Session which kicks off this Saturday, September 10th!

Until next time,
Robyn

ps. – hope you enjoy our Fantastic “Foxwood Feeling” movie of summer!

A new year, a new passion – you’re never too old to horseback ride!

Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of riding a horse or maybe, you’re simply looking for a new hobby but one is never too old to experience the love that can be found at the barn! I’m always interested to hear from my “senior” students what made them decide to ride and recently, my student shared the following with me:

“As many little girls did, I grew up loving horses. I had pictures of them all over my bedroom walls and much to my parents chagrin, I definitely thought they should buy me one for my birthday. I never did get that horse I wished for; however, I was lucky enough that my parents paid for a few lessons, which I enjoyed very much.

Eventually, we moved and that was the end of my riding except for the occasional trail ride. My love of horses always did stay with me; however, a busy life of raising three amazing children and working full time kept me busy. Although we lived very close to many horse farms, it never occurred to me to pick up riding again until only a few years ago.

I have now been riding for almost 2 years and I got back into it quite by accident. When my youngest child was six, a friend mentioned to me that she was riding at Foxwood Farm in Bradford. She was part of a ladies group called “Hags on Nags” that rode once every other week, just for fun. My friend mentioned that occasionally they had a “bring a friend to riding night” and I asked her to invite me the next time there was an opportunity. So, I did go to that next “bring a friend to riding night” and I was hooked. It was so much fun and I knew that I had to continue. My kids were a bit older and I felt that I could afford to spend some time riding every other week. Each time I rode I learned something new – it was a challenge and so much fun I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Eventually, every other week turned into once a week as I wanted to improve and I was loving it so much.

Recently, I had an interesting experience. It happened on a Tuesday, which is my riding day. Normally, I am excited to get home and get changed to head out to Foxwood Farm; however, on this particular day, I had had a crazy day at work and I was feeling tired and cranky. On my way home from the office I thought about cancelling my ride but I thought to myself, I know if I go I will feel better. So, off I went to the barn, part of me thinking I could stay home and put my jammies on and have a quiet evening…but I have to say that I am so glad that I went to the barn that night! I had such an amazing ride! It was just one of those lessons where everything went well. George, the horse I rode, and I were totally in sync and it was such a great feeling. I am so happy that I pushed myself to go and didn’t stay home and have a quiet evening. If I had stayed home that night, I wouldn’t have experienced that great ride and turned that frustrating day into a good one.

I wanted to share my story in the hopes that other adults might take the sport up again or if you have never ridden before, that you might give it a try. I can think of many reasons I enjoy riding: it’s a challenge, I get to spend time with great people and I learn something new every time but the best reason, really, is how it makes me feel – which is happy. I hope you give it a try and find out your own reasons.”

With the right horse, coach and attitude, horseback riding can be enjoyed for many, many years. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story with us. I am a very happy coach when I see all my students leave their lesson with a smile and there is always a great, big one on your face when you are at the barn 🙂

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Beating the barnyard bugs the natural way – how to make your own horse flyspray

There’s a fly in your eye…and many more on your horse! Spring has sprung and so have the bugs in the barn. There is nothing more annoying to a horse, whether while grooming or when riding, than having flies, mosquitoes and other annoying insects around.

I’d like to share a blog written by my good friend and fellow horse keeper, Michael Stuart Webb which gives us some homemade recipes for creating our own fly sprays:

“Much to our chagrin, and the dismay of our horses, fly season is once again upon us. At this time of year, many of us douse our beloved equine companions with ready-made, chemically based potions we pick-up at the tack shop. While many of these may work, they also introduce our horses to a myriad of toxic constituents that are oftentimes ingested and stockpiled in the soft tissues; awaiting opportunity to wreak havoc on our horse’s immune systems at a later date.

Fret not my fellow horse lovers! Available to us are easy-to-make, safe, non-toxic, homemade tinctures that work just as well and are cheaper! Below are some recipes you might want to try:


Citrus Insect Repellant

▪ 2 cups light mineral oil
▪ 1/2 cup lemon juice
▪ 2 tsp. pure citronella oil
▪ 2 tsp. eucalyptus essential oil
▪ 2 tsp. lemon dish soap

The Quick and Easy Fly Spray

▪ 4-7 parts water
▪ 1 part citronella essential oil


Apple Cider Tinture

▪ 1 quart raw apple cider vinegar
▪ 1 teaspoon citronella essential oil


Eucalyptus Oil Fly Spray

▪ 2 cups white vinegar
▪ 1 tablespoon eucalyptus essential oil
▪ 1 cup water


Dr. Mary Brennan’s Fly Spray Recipe

▪ 1/2 teaspoon oil of myrrh
▪ 2 cups water
▪ 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
▪ 1/4 teaspoon of pure citronella essential oil

* An important note about the citronella oil! Never buy citronella oil from the hardware store for these applications. These are meant for use in devices that burn the product and so they are oftentimes petroleum based and highly flammable. Buy all of your essential oils from your local, and trusted, health food store.


When applying these remedies, I use a small pump-style sprayer similar to those used to spray plants and trees with. Always exercise extreme caution when spraying these, or any products, on your horses so as to avoid getting any overspray into their eyes. When applying products to your horse’s head, it is always best to apply it first to your hands and then gentle wipe the product off onto your horse. Just like people, some horses display allergic reactions to some compounds, natural or not. If you should notice any irritation to your horse’s skin, immediately discontinue use and bathe your horse to remove any remaining product.”

So, before you head out to go horsebackriding or to visit your horse, pick up some of the ingredients above and try making your own flyspray. You’ll be happier, but more importantly, so will your horse.

Until next time,
Robyn

There's a fly in my eye!

There’s a fly in my eye!

Moving on…searching for that special connection

I miss him.  Becks, my beloved horse who I said goodbye to on December 12, 2013.  Some people may think, “it was just a horse”, but to me, having gone through a few difficult years in my personal life, he was more than that.  He was my riding partner, he was my pet, but most of all, he was a shining light on some very dark days.  Saying goodbye to him was THE most difficult thing I have had to do since having my own horses since the age of 15.  When I lost him, I needed to take a break from riding – not from teaching or being around horses – but out of the saddle.

The first month was painful.  Walking past his empty stall, opening up my locker and seeing his things: his favourite brush, the special saddle pad with his name embroidered on it, the new bridle I had purchased in November, in anticipation of showing him this show season.  I kept everything as it was when he was here.  I didn’t move his cooler or blankets off his stall, nor did I erase his name off his stall sign.

As one month moved to two, I started to miss riding (even though it was February and I am really not a fan of cold weather riding;).  With the encouragement from two supportive horsey friends, Cindy and Debra, I dusted off my saddle and tacked up Sera, my 16 year old Quarterhorse who I have had since she was 2.  When I got “back in the saddle”, all I could think about was riding Becks, with his comfortable trot, smooth canter and all of the great rides we shared together.  With tears streaming down my face, I gave Sera a pat, thanked her for the ride and hopped off.  As much as I have always enjoyed riding Sera, we didn’t have that special bond.

A few months ago, in April, my friend, Sue, offered me the ride on her gelding, Disco.  I had always dreamed of having a big, gorgeous Warmblood to ride and now was my chance.  The only problem was that I had no connection to him even though I tried.  I would groom him, give him treats, ride him…but it wasn’t there.   I sent him back to Sue in June and at that time, I thought that maybe I would be taking a longer break from riding than I originally thought.

I have had a very busy summer – running Foxwood summer riding camp as well as coaching my students in lessons and at horseshows – and I have had time to reflect on WHY I ride.  Yes, I love galloping across the newly cut hay field beside my house just as much as I enjoy jumping in my large, grass outdoor riding ring…but not just on any horse.  It has to be on THAT horse.  The one I feel connected to.  The one who understands when I am having a bad day and won’t spook at the paperbag blowing across the ring as we ride.  The one who I can just bring into the barn and groom, and talk to.  The one who understands me as much as I understand him/her.

Becks has been gone now for 8 months and as much as I miss him, I also miss riding.  My tack needs be cleaned and oiled and my boots need to be shined up because I am ready to ride again:)!   It might not happen right away but I hope to find a new horse to connect with.  I know s/he can never replace Becks but it will be nice to have a new one to love.

Until next time,

Robyn

P.S. – I’m going to look at “Toby” tomorrow.  Another Thoroughbred off the track…because that’s what I seem to connect with.  Wish me luck!

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