hunting

Riding or Equitation

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After some time off, I’m getting back on the blogging horse again. Recently someone asked me about a term for teaching riding, and that seemed like a good topic for today’s blog. When we talk about teaching the horse something, we usually call that training. The horse is in training or he’s training the horse. When we focus on the rider, it’s called equitation. This refers to much more than kicking to make them go or using the reins to turn or stop. It concerns the position of the rider’s body, legs, hands and head, how she handles the horse, and the effectiveness of her cues.

Most people are unaware of how much a rider affects the horse’s balance. A 150 pound rider equals 15 percent of a 1000 pound horse’s weight. Fifteen percent may not sound like much, but it is a significant amount, particularly when it is moving around. If you’ve ever carried a toddler in a backpack, you’re aware of how much their weight shifting can affect your balance. The same is true of a horse, though not to quite the same extent since they have four legs. Nevertheless, a lopsided load, whether human or a pack, will make the animal work to keep its balance, make it harder to do some things and may affect its soundness.

hack_eqIdeally, a rider sits straight and tall, but with a relaxed back to absorb the movement of the horse. His head, shoulders, hips and heels should be in a straight line, except for hunt seat (jumping). This applies across all disciplines, English and Western. The stirrup length may vary, depending on the type of riding. For jumping, the stirrups are shorter. In today’s show ring the stirrup length is long for dressage, saddle seat and Western. But for trail riding, most people use somewhat shorter stirrups to give themselves the ability to rise out of the saddle if necessary.

Hunt seat

Hunt seat

In addition to being straight, a rider must also be still or quiet in the saddle. Every movement she makes causes the horse to have an easier or harder time doing his job. Imagine how difficult it would be for the horse to jump a fence with a 150 pound weight shifting back and forth. Or, one of the common things we see, going downhill with the rider swinging side to side. Of course, some movement is required but keeping your weight centered is very important. In jumping, the rider moves up and forward to free the horse’s back, but still remains over the center of gravity. In roping, the cowboy swings his lasso and leans forward but keeps his weight even.

Being still implies quiet movements. A good rider communicates with his horse subtly, with few visible cues. A well-trained horse will respond to the lightest of aids and does not need to be jerked and treated harshly. The more invisible the aids, the better the equitation.

Recently I happened upon an old John Wayne movie, The Undefeated, which also starred Rock Hudson. Wayne knew how to ride, of course, but wasn’t particularly pretty in the saddle. Not so Hudson. He was playing a Southern Confederate gentleman and he really looked the part on a horse. Tall, still, elegant, he was the epitome of a cavalry officer. Look the movie up sometime, if you want to see an interesting contrast.

Hope this is helpful to those who are writing stories with horses in them and interesting to others.

Categories: animals, Cowboys, dressage, Horses, hunting, riding, rodeos, teaching riders, Trail riding, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jumping For Fun or Ribbons

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Horses are good at jumping things. It was necessary for their survival in the wild. People love to ride horses over jumps. In the past it was a fun as well as useful skill. If you were running at speed chasing prey to eat or perhaps charging in a battle, the ground was unlikely to be perfectly level and you and your horse needed to be able to handle ditches, streams and other obstacles.

Today, of course, we don’t have to face those challenges. Instead we ride and jump for the fun of it. Some people ride cross-country in Three-Day Events (see Not For The Faint of Heart) or follow a Hunt (see Hunting—With Horses–Not Guns). But most people ride in a ring and jump over artificial obstacles or fences. For those who like to compete there are horse shows with jumping classes.

Horse show jumping is divided into two separate disciplines—Hunters and Jumpers.

small__4458883343Hunter classes focus on the ease and style of the horse and rider as they go over jumps that are similar to what they might face on a hunt field. Hunters move with long, low, ground-covering strides and are very calm and collected. The rider almost looks like a passenger with the horse just casually floating over the fences. But the hunter must have perfect form as it jumps—knees up and forelegs parallel to the ground, legs even and tucked, and a graceful bascule (curved shaped). Style is all important. Besides way of going, this also includes appropriate tack (saddle, bridle, and martingale), braided manes and sometimes tails too, polished hooves, and the rider in conservative attire.

Hunter video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgXm9eR0lb0

There are different tysmall__4630636060pes of hunter classes and a couple don’t include fences. Flat classes, often called hunter under saddle or hunter hack, are judged on the horse’s gaits, way of going and suitability. In-hand or model classes judge the horse’s conformation and gaits. In these the horse is led and has no saddle.

Jumper classes are very different from hunters. The focus is on clearing the jumps in the time allotted. Style, looks, attitude—none of that matters. In a hunter class, your horse may clear all the jumps but unless he does it in an easy, stylish manner with exactly the right striding and take off, he may still not score well. It depends on the subjective evaluation of the judge(s). In a jumping class, numbers tell the story. How many jumps cleared, how many faults from refusals or knockdowns, how many time faults—these are what determine the results.

small__9633348424Instead of natural looking jumps, jumpers are faced with colorful and sometimes quite outlandish obstacles, which can be scary or confusing for the horses but fun for the audience. You can see some of the most dramatic at the Olympics. Not only are the courses unusual, they are also more difficult and technical. These require bold, powerful, fast horses that are also accurate and balanced. Faced with a high fence a horse naturally speeds up. In contrast to the relaxed, laid back hunters, jumpers charge their jumps and often look barely under control. In speed classes, the audience often has their hearts in their throats.

Jumping video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osAgyQtXWto

If you have the chance, go to a horse show that features hunters and/or jumpers. You’ll see some marvelously skilled athletes and have a great time.

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High jump:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thowra/515302767/”>Thowra_uk</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Hunter photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nico/4458883343/”>Nico&#8230;.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
In hand:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivefurlongs/4630636060/”>Five Furlongs</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Zebras:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/rpmarks/9633348424/”>R~P~M</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
 

Categories: animals, Horses, hunting, Jumping, Olympics, ponies, riding, Show jumping, Thoroughbreds, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Hunting—with Horses—not Guns

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small_210455752Man has used horses for many tasks throughout history—pulling plows, wagons and chariots, carrying loads on their backs, traveling long distances, and even hunting other animals. In fact hunting was probably one of the first uses of our equine companions. Their speed increased the chances of catching the faster prey and allowed the hunters to cover more ground. Almost everyone has seen the exciting buffalo hunt in the movie Dances With Wolves that vividly illustrated their importance to the American Plains Indians.

Riding in a hunt was dangerous and exciting. Who knew what might happen. A rider could get knocked off, a horse could trip and fall, or a prey such as a wild boar or bear could turn the tables and attack. It was a great way for warriors to hone their skills and horsemanship. As a result, hunting became a favorite pastime of the noble and wealthy.

Of course the basic purpose was to supply meat for the table or to get rid of unwanted intruders that threasmall__6465633813tened crops and livestock. One such pest was the wily fox, which found farmyard poultry easy pickings. While farmers could use dogs to track, the foxes were smart enough to backtrack and confuse their trails and lose their pursuers with relative ease. At that point a human was needed to redirect the hounds, and only someone on horseback could keep up with the chase. (Foxes can run up to thirty miles an hour.) As forests were cut down to create arable land, the number of deer decreased, causing enthusiastic hunters to switch to chasing foxes instead, particularly in Great Britain.

A whole culture developed around fox hunting in England, dictating what to wear, who could be part of a hunt, where you rode in the group and many other niceties. The most important member is the Master of the Hunt, who runs the whole show. He’s responsible for the care of the hounds, organizing the hunt and supervising all hired personnel. Often he also serves as the Huntsman, the one who controls the hounds during the chase. His assistants are the Whippers-In and they help make sure the hounds don’t go off chasismall_3137633691ng some other animal rather than the fox. Traditionally, male members of the hunt could wear red coats (often known as “pinks” for some unknown reason), while women wore black or navy coats with colored collars. Only members who have been “honored” by the Master are allowed to wear these colors. Everyone else wears black or navy.

While the original idea of fox hunting was a way to help eradicate a notorious pest, that rational is less valid today. In England, hunting and killing a real fox has now been outlawed. In the US, the emphasis has always been on the chase and foxes were rarely killed. Nowadays instead of pursuing real animals, most often the hounds and riders follow a scent trail laid down by someone dragging a bag smelling of fox. The “first field” of riders follows the trail exactly, going over all the obstacles. The “second field,” sometimes called Hilltoppers, takes an easier route, going through rather than over gates, and going around other obstacles, and sometimes stopping to watch the other riders from atop a hill.

Running full bore across uneven terrain, jumping ditches, hedges, streams, fences and other obstructions is a thrill that’s hard to beat. While the original rational for fox hunting may be long gone, the appeal of the chase will never fade.

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Buffalo photo credit: http://tinyurl.com/l67cwka
Old print photo credit: http://tinyurl.com/mxc2fpx
Fox hunt photo credit:  http://tinyurl.com/m8mrjkm
Categories: dogs, fox hunting, Horses, hounds, hunting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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