Riding With +R, For The Academy

The kids wanted to ride last night. It’s been awhile and took quite a bit of time to get saddle and cinches, and children sorted.

It made me think through all the steps we take in the process of getting ready to ride. Thinking of +R as something that we do once in the saddle to help improve communication as we ride is limiting and only a small piece of the picture.

We’ve all heard the stories of horses who blow up when the cinch is tightened, as in holding their breath so the cinch stays loose, but also the stories of horses who blow up as in throw themselves to the ground or over backwards. Then there are the ones who wont stand at the mounting block or walk off as the person swings into the saddle. We can use +R to help with those issues too.

First and foremost making sure there are no pain issues and that we are tightening the cinch/girth slowly and politely is the most important. Once those are taken care of we can add a click and a treat to make the whole saddling process more enjoyable.

To start with I like to click and treat my horse as I add each piece of tack. Set the blanket on their back, click treat. Saddle, click treat. Check and adjust the cinch on the off side, click treat. Tighten cinch in slow increments, click and treat for each adjustment.

This may seem like a lot of clicking for one small action. I have horses who came with very bad associations with being saddled and ridden. With a few extra treats we can change that association from bad to something they look forward to or at least tolerate willingly.

I want my children to learn to get on and off by themselves and I want my horses to line up to the mounting block and wait patiently and willingly for me. To help with both of these I never skip a treat when getting on. Line up to mounting block, click treat. Swing into the saddle, or no saddle, click treat. My kids struggle into the saddle, shove cookies in as fast as the horses can eat them through the whole mounting process. This not only teaches them to stand happily for mounting but keeps them from walking off because they are waiting for the treat they know is coming!

Then there are all the ‘scary’ things you come across as you ride. For me it is usually children, both in the saddle and on the ground. They bounce and flop and make lots of noise. If we add a treat to go with all those scary things they do the scary things quickly change from scary to a sign that a treat will soon be coming.

It is tins of fun and a great thing to refine our riding as much as we can. It is also important not to over look the mundane things along the way as we get there though. Don’t skimp on the cookies as you get to the riding part.


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