A TEENAGER who was born with dwarfism is fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional horse rider and says it has helped her accept her disability. Megan Gregory, from Croydon, was born with Achondroplasia – a type of dwarfism that affects the growth of arms and other long bones. In addition to this, Megan has a frontal bossing on the top of her head and ‘trident' hands, meaning they all measure to the same size.The 19-year-old spent her school years being bullied but after taking up horse riding and started to compete two years ago, she has new-found confidence. Megan lives a normal life despite her disability, admitting she has “always liked a challenge”.

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Many of the riders I know are buying young horses so that they can start and produce their own perfect partners. But, there is one common problem that seems to crop up after a while that I’m often being asked to assist with; their horse is very slow and often ‘planting’, refusing to go forward at all.  No amount of leg will get the consistent ‘forward’ that they desire. So, here’s the advice that I’ve been giving them....

Firstly, we need to appreciate how unnatural it is for a horse to carry a rider at all and that he will need to adapt his balance and muscles to be able to do so. This means that even walk can be a challenge but once the horse seems to be walking without much resistance many riders are keen to get up into trot as soon as possible and push the horse forward. This drive for a forward going horse can create a stiff back and tightness in the other muscle and joints as the horse struggles with his lack of balance and straightness. Not only can this lead to problems further down the line, including rushing, leaning and failing to engage properly, but as these riders are discovering, it can also lead to a horse being labelled slow and stubborn. 

My advice is to SLOW DOWN! If you want a more forward going horse then go back to walk and some slow exercises to aid your horse’s proprioceptive skills, straightness and balance.

Work on...
• small circles,
• turn on the forehand,
• turn on the quarters,
• leg yield,
• shoulder in,

• rein back.

Make sure your horse is relaxed and give him time to work things out. Having someone on the ground, can help if a horse gets stuck to begin with. Try not to rush the walk either.

Once your horse can confidently execute all of the above correctly, you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes to his impulsion in trot. Improved balance will also make him more confident too.  Don’t be too hasty to label your horse as lazy because it’s probably just a case of your perfect partner trying to find his feet!

I’d also like to add that I’ve had great results using this approach with older horses too.

Sara Carew

For pole work clinics, ideas, information sharing and more, check out Sara's FB group Poll Position Equestrian Coaching

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Globe-trotter Jameela Al Ameri has made horse riding her life's passion – and now she is on an equestrian quest to help other women get saddled up for success.

The enterprising Emirati horse rider has travelled the world to take part in races, and has won a clutch of awards and represented Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in his endurance races after a chance meeting at an event in Jordan in 2011.

She has vaulted over many hurdles to enter a world that is often dominated by men in the UAE, but she says many other women don't have that chance.

Rather than sit back and accept social conventions, however, she has become a trailblazer for equestrian equality by taking the reins of her own women's-only stable.

"Many women and young girls used to tell me how much they wanted to learn horse riding, but couldn't because most stables are mainly dominated by men," she explained.

"Only in rare cases some families approved of their daughters being coached by men or at common stables.

"I also used to feel shy and hesitant when my male coach would fix my posture or compliment me on my skills." ...READ MORE
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There are so many training methods, so many opinions on how to do the best for our horses, no wonder so many of us are plagued by DOUBT! The problem is that doubt can be, riding and training-wise, our worst enemy. Of course, asking questions and being open to new ideas and methods is never a bad thing but once you introduce anything to your horse, you have to be committed. Let's face it, if you are questioning yourself, why should your horse listen to you? 

Horses can sense doubt in our body language on the ground and when riding. Hesitation get's a big 'nah-naah" from them! Sometimes we doubt our horses but often we doubt ourselves and our ability. Doubt often creeps in if we keep switching trainers and end up confused by too many ideas, listen to too many people instead of following our gut instinct, or it can simply be that nagging inner voice that likes to undermine us with limiting thoughts.

It's amazing how some of us just love to hold on to the negative things said about the ability of our horse or ourselves. And once we grab hold of it, it often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So, think about some of the negative doubts you have, ask where they came from - it could simply be someone else's thoughtless remark or just a one-off bad experience -then stamp on it and replace it with a new more positive belief.

It's particularly important that you really believe in your method of riding and training. Do your research, find a good trainer and then stick to their methods. Confusing yourself and your horse by chopping and changing will only undermine yours and your horse's confidence. You have to really believe in what you're doing to get your horse to trust you. 

Have you experienced problems with doubt in yourself and others? Got any advice you'd like to share?
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Queen Elizabeth celebrated the latest addition to her family with a quick horseback ride through the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The monarch, 92, was photographed enjoying her ride in Berkshire, west of London, after her grandson Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, welcomed their third child together — a son — Monday morning.

Her Majesty was joined by the palace’s head groom, Terry Pendry.

The arrival of the youngest member of the family comes just two days after the Queen’s birthday... READ MORE


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A woman ended up in hospital with horrific facial injuries after her horse fell into a pothole on a country road.

Sherrie Hopwood was left with nasty cuts to her lips, nose and forehead after the fall near Daisy Nook Country Park in Oldham, Greater Manchester.

The 57-year-old had taken her horse Jay for a ride around the Daisy Nook bridal path when it stepped into the pothole on Crime Lane, which was full of water.

Businesswoman Sherrie said the horse's knees gave way and it fell, sending her crashing face first into the ground.

Speaking about the incident, which happened on April 4, Sherrie said: 'I was flat on my face, I tried shouting for help but there was no one around.
'I managed to force myself up to get up. I was very lucky because Jay didn't panic. If she had, she could have killed me.'
Sherrie was later taken to hospital, while Jay suffered cuts to the knees and legs and was checked over by a vet... READ MORE
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When it comes to training our horses and getting them fit, we generally think about getting our horse to the stage where it can withstand a certain length of time being ridden without dripping with sweat, but as important as the stamina side of fitness is, we often overlook the importance of good strength. 

bay horse and rider with riding helmet cantering on sandy beach

So what's the difference?

With stamina - we're trying to achieve optimum endurance from our horse so that their organs including the lungs and heart can healthily withstand a fast paced ride with a good recovery. This is trained by consistency in our fitness regime and gradually lengthening the amount of time we ride for. Our horses need a good level of stamina in the first place to be able to comfortably enjoy that long canter down the beach we all dream about but because the sand depth adds resistance it increases the effort required by the horse therefore making it a great stamina exercise for those horses going up a level in their training regime.

Strength - So everyone knows the importance of having a fit horse but often struggle with achieving true strength. This is all about the musculoskeletal fitness aspect of the horse, which requires strong, equally formed muscle in the correct places. If you can achieve this then you will dramatically reduce the chances of your horse having an injury. 

You can have a strong horse with no stamina, equally you can have an endurance horse with poor strength, so the importance of factoring in both when working out your training regime is vital for an all-round fit and healthy equine. 

Unfortunately, the more we ride our horses, the more pressure and strain we are putting on their bodies so how do we work on fitness, strength, core stability and engagement all whilst causing minimal stress to the joints and ligaments. Viscous circle isn't it?

six horses walking through shallow sea water on sandy beach

This is where beach rides can really help. Walking in shallow water (just covering the hoof) will make the horse step slightly higher with every stride as they prefer to step up and over the water. Just imagine how many raised poles you would have to put out to achieve a 5-10 minute walk of this consistent action! This is excellent for working that hind end and also a very good rehabilitation exercise. Don't overlook how much your horse is having to work those muscles even in the shallowest of waters so be mindful not to overdo it if your horse is unfit. Once your horse can do this with ease, take them slightly deeper so those legs are lifting even higher. 

three horses wading through sea water above knees with riders wearing helmets and red body protector

If your horse enjoys the water don't be afraid to get them wet.  Once the water is above their knee level and they are walking without lifting up and over with every stride, they move into resistance mode and we have all heard our gym instructors tell us how resistance work is key for muscle strength! This is excellent for full body conditioning and working that top line. Horses tend to take a bigger stride under water, this will help with hind end engagement and muscle development over the lumbar area. The water encourages them to drive from behind and take weight off that forehand and work up and over their back. (You will notice as the horse starts to work through the water, his head will naturally start to drop onto the vertical as he works over his back into a true outline- no gadgets or nagging reins needed!) The concussion and impact on the joints and legs are also dramatically reduced making it an all-round beneficial workout for our horses. 

So, the beach really is the place to head for if you want an all-round healthy, conditioned horse with improved performance. What an easy way to make training fun for both of you!
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Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:24

The Shying Game | Equine Behaviour

It seems to me there are two kinds of rider reactions to a horse who is spooked by something - the look and approach or the look away and ignore. Both camps are trying to instil trust and confidence in their horses and, of course, both think they are right. Like many things in equestrianism it can lead to some heated arguments!  

I know this from experience as I'm a believer in not making an issue of something that my mare is shying at and instead make sure she is listening to me, usually with the help of shoulder-in (bending away from the scary object). The two people who I often ride out with, on the other hand, ask their horses to confront what is scaring them, saying things like, 'look at it, it's not scary, go on, see…, come on, get closer…have a good sniff…..' which means I have to hang around, usually harrumphing whilst my own horse usually starts to get wound up too! And equally if I make 'helpful' suggestions whilst they're struggling with a balking side-ways horse, their response is often far from polite! 

Now, I have to admit, I was just like them, because their method seems to make sense, doesn't it? If as humans, we have a child or friend who is frightened by something that we know isn't going to harm them, we try and get them to overcome that fear by showing them that it isn't scary. And of course, there are many respected trainers who use this method. But, having taken on quite a few horses who shy, I can definitely say that this method has very rarely made them less spooky and it was actually a relief when I got a trainer who said, ' just keep away from that area of the school for now until we've got his/her attention and they've relaxed.'  I also had the benefit of hacking out with another trainer (I can't recommend this enough) who showed me that if you keep your horse focused on what you are asking, and particularly make use of shoulder-in when you approach and go past something that has made them tense up, you actually create a much more confident horse, one that definitely shies less and less. 

Equally, I think riders can get fixated on spooky objects as much as their horses do. By concentrating on the way your horse is going (rhythm, relaxation, suppleness etc) and in return keeping their concentration on you, you're both much less likely to become distracted and will grow in confidence together.
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As the average weight and height of humans continues to increase there is growing debate about relative rider-horse sizes, with riding school horses epitomising the variety of weights of rider that a single horse may be exposed to.

A pilot study led by Dr. Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust has highlighted the risks to horses when riders are too heavy, paving the way toward development of guidelines to help all riders assess if they are the right weight for their mount.

The results show that a high rider-to-horse bodyweight ratio can induce temporary lameness and discomfort in the horse. In other words, if the rider is excessively heavy for the horse in question, it can have a negative impact on the performance of the horse.

Researchers says the findings should help in developing suitable guidelines for riders which should enhance equine welfare, rider comfort and enjoyment.

All the horses finished the study moving as well as when they started - any lameness recorded was temporary.


The results do not mean that heavy riders should not ride but suggest that if they do they should ride a horse of appropriate size and fitness, with a saddle that is correctly fitted for both horse and rider.

 “We must remember that this is a pilot study: further work is required to determine if horse fitness, adaptation to heavier weights and more ideal saddle fit will increase the weight an individual horse can carry. This should help us further in our quest to develop guidelines for optimum rider: horse bodyweight ratios.” Dr.Sue Dyson.

Chestnut Horse ridden indoors by a rider being assessed for affects of rider weight on equine performance

The study assessed gait and behavioural responses in six horses ridden by four riders of similar ability but different sizes. The riders were all weighed in their riding kit and were subsequently categorised as being light, moderate, heavy and very heavy.

Each rider rode each horse in its usual tack and performed a set pattern of exercises comprising mainly trot and canter. Gait, horse behaviour, forces under the saddle, the response to palpation of the back, alterations in back dimensions in response to exercise, heart and respiratory rates, salivary cortisol levels and blink rate were assessed for each combination.

rider weight heavy

The riding tests for the heavy and very heavy riders were all abandoned, predominantly because of temporary horse lameness. This was likely to have been induced by bodyweight rather than BMI, given that the heavy and moderate riders had similar BMIs, both being classified as overweight, yet only one of the moderate rider’s tests had to be abandoned. 

A catalogue of behaviours developed by Dr. Dyson specifically to assess behavioural markers which may reflect pain in ridden horses, was applied.

The scores which may reflect pain were significantly higher in the horses when ridden by the heavy and very heavy riders.

The study also raised the issue of rider height and saddle fit. The owner of one of the test horses had a similar bodyweight: horse bodyweight ratio to the heavy rider and was of similar weight, but significantly different in height (157.0 and 185.5 cm, respectively). 

This large difference in height has major potential implications for saddle fit for the rider and consequently the rider’s position and weight distribution. The taller rider sat on the back of the cantle, overloading the back of the saddle and making it more difficult to ride in balance, with the heel being in front of a vertical line between the shoulder and ‘hip’.

Numerous inter-related aspects are involved with the horse and rider combination including the age of the horse, its fitness and muscle development, the length of its back and the presence or absence of lameness. The rider’s skill, fitness, balance and coordination are important factors, as is the fit of the saddle to both the horse and rider. The type, speed and duration of work and the terrain over which the horse is ridden must also be considered.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said: “These pilot results are certainly not surprising but are very significant in adding vital evidence to inform an appropriate rider: horse weight ratio. It is common sense that rider weight impacts equine welfare however many might not fully understand or recognise this. What is desperately needed is basic guidance to help riders identify a horse or pony that is right for them and this research is a vital step in that direction.”
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Three-time Olympic medallist and Surrey Hills resident Pippa Funnell launched a series of new hacking trails in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as part of its 60th birthday celebrations.

She said: "We are so lucky to live and work in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a wonderful asset and so close to London.

 "The hills are perfect for keeping our horses fit and the variety of terrain keeps them mentally alert, which is important on the eventing circuit. I feel proud to live in such a beautiful part of the country."

Two years ago the Surrey Hills Board established an equestrian working group to promote horse riding opportunities in the Surrey Hills, and also to educate every user on the importance of sharing the landscape with care... READ MORE


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