If you haven’t already experienced the joy of breaking in new boots…well, let’s just say “joy” is a rather strong word to use. The problem with tall boots is this–they’re made of out fabulous stiff leather so they can survive whatever the horsey equivalent of a nuclear holocaust is. But that same stiff leather means that when you first put them on, it’s like trying to walk with folded steel around your feet, which, of course, folds and pokes you in all the wrong places.
So how do you go about breaking them in to that wonderful point of such suppleness they wrap perfectly around your leg? Unfortunately, you just have to wear them. Wear them around the house, walk up and down stairs in them, go to work in them, do squats and ankle rolls in them–I’ve even heard of people going on bike rides in their new boots! The more movement you can put the boots through, the faster they’ll soften up.
Leather conditioner and leather oil can help speed up this whole process. If you use straight oil (like neatsfoot oil, my favorite leather oil) lay it on thick and leave it to soak in for at least a few hours. Wipe off the excess oil before you put them back on. With a leather conditioner, put on as much as you can rub into the leather. Really focus on the ankle area, as this is where the most movement happens.
The only other thing you can do to ease the break-in is to protect your poor little feet. Moleskin and other similar products can protect against blistering and painful rubbing. Good socks especially meant for tall boots also help reduce awkward rubbing.
Bon voyage with your new boots!
It’s never too early to start riding right, right? Of course, the endless stacks of books on just how to ride right is downright frightening–especially when you consider that they usually don’t even agree with each other. So what is a beginning rider to do?
First, recognize that each rider and each horse is different. So what is “right” for one pair may not be right for you! And any trainer or horsey guru (yes, even me…) who says that she or he knows the one right way is wrong. There just can’t be one right to do anything, let alone something as complex as riding.
However, having said all of that, there are general principles that can help guide you toward riding success. And getting to know these, like a hiker taking a good look at the map of mountain trail, can really help you see where you’re heading and how to get there.
Dressage is considered the foundation of pretty much all English riding. Although Western riding has somewhat different end goals, it still shares the principles of dressage training. And at the bottom of dressage, with all its fancy moves, is this simple training pyramid.
Don’t worry if the words don’t mean much to you now. Let’s go through it, piece by piece. Today we’ll just tackle the first step–rhythm.
All that rhythm means is that your horse moves at a steady, even pace and you move in time with him. Your horse should move his feet evenly, with a clear beat. Remember, a walk should be four beats, a trot should be two beats, and a canter should be three beats (see “The horse’s gaits” for more). You should move at the same time your horse does. At a walk, you let your right hip move forward with his right legs, and your left hip with his left legs. If you move your hips faster or slower than your horse, you will push him into moving faster or slower (you can do this on purpose if your horse is too slow or too fast!). The same is true with posting at the trot.
Parts of rhythm.
Try this yourself–start walking around the room. Now, lean forward as you walk. What happens to your speed? You have to move your feet faster or you’d fall on your face. The same thing can happen to a horse. If a horse keeps getting faster rather than holding a steady rhythm, he may be falling forward–he has to stumble faster and faster just to catch himself. However, your horse will have to do the same thing if YOU lean too far forward. By pushing your weight forward, he’ll have to speed up to catch you! So the first part of rhythm is balance. You and your horse must be balanced if you want to move with a steady rhythm. For you, this means staying centered over the horse’s back, and keeping your seat in line with your shoulders and heels. For your horse, this means that he is balanced more on his hind end (rather than falling forward onto his front end) and pushing from his hind legs (see the “Horse Power” article for more).
Another thing that can make a horse move at an uneven rhythm is being nervous or excited. So the second part of rhythm is relaxation. When your horse is tense or scared, he will move in a jerky, rough way. You can’t expect him to keep a good rhythm like that!
As a rider, if you are out of rhythm with your horse, you will mess up his movement; if you are instead riding at the same tempo at which your horse is moving, your aids work with his movements. Imagine the difference between your dance partner trying to turn you left right in the middle of you twirling right, and him waiting until you’ve just finished your spin and as you pause he glides you easily into the next move.
Exercises for rhythm.
As funny as it may sound, riding with music can really help. Start with the trot. Pick a song that’s got the same speed at which you’d like your horse to move. Trot in lots of nice, big circles, listening to the beat of the song and posting at the same speed. Try a few different speeds of songs, and see if you can ride faster and slower with relaxation, balance and finally rhythm.
Getting on a five-foot-high animal isn’t the easiest task. In this video, I walk you through the best way of getting on your horse–a process we call “mounting.” Then I show you how to get down again, with a step-by-step review of the whole process.