Riding Clothes

When I am riding, I like to stay on the horse. Horses like to thrill us from time to time by moving in odd ways when we least expect it. Like bucking or shying or bolting or ..you fill in your experience.
Lycra and loose jeans are real comfortable – and very slippery against the saddle.

I stay sticky in the saddle by always riding with chaps and jeans that really fit well. Leather against leather like to stay together. I can’t number the times that I have maintained my seat, balance and authority it the saddle because I had on “sticky” pants. The English riders have addressed this a long time ago by making full seat breeches.
But, here lies the contradiction – you don’t want your feet to be sticky in the stirrup. Again, the slippery leather boot is highly preferable to sticky athletic shoes.

Above the waist, the long sleeved shirt or long sleeved t-shirt are the best. OOO, but you say that it is too hot to wear long sleeves. Well, if you might notice, the people who live in the hot desert wear long loose robes that keep them cool by “natural” air conditioning. Besides, we don’t want to give skin cancer a foot hold.

Next is the head. I know, nobody likes the way their hair looks after wearing a helmet. I, too, was of that mind set until I woke up in the ICU and lost 3 days of my conscious life. Enough said.
And please make sure the helmet is snug on your head AND buckle the chin strap. You are not a 13 year old on a skate board. Remember you are on a 1000 pound animal that could pull your sedan out of the ditch. Besides, the medical community still has not figured out how to reverse traumatic brain damage
The helmet I wear is made of titanium and it fits so well that I forget I have it on. I actually ride better with my helmet on. My husband worries a whole lot less too.
If you choose not to dress properly for safe riding, then just don’t ride at all. You probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

Respect on the Ground

GroundWorkIf your horse walks you and not you walk the horse, if you have to back up when your horse gets near you, then you have not yet earned your horse’s respect.

Your horse may love you and nicker when you are approaching. But, that your horse respects you is a whole different deal.
Remember, that whatever you do with your horse from the ground, the horse sees it as if you were even on his back. Respect on the ground transfers to respect on their back. It took me a while to accept this. Experience over and over again convinced me of this truth.

RudyFriscoGroundwkWhen you start to lunge your horse (or do the circle game) do you have to back up a few steps to get the horse on his way? Then your leadership is now compromised. Make your horse take the few steps backward to get going in the circle. I guarantee that your horse will be more willing to pay attention and do what you ask.

Your personal space is YOUR PERSONAL S P A C E. If you don’t respect it,you cannot expect your horse to treat it with reverence either.

Another truth to take to heart: You have the liberty to approach your horse at any time. Your horse does not have the liberty to invade your space whenever he/she feels like it.

Whether in human or animal relationships, respect is earned. You have to politely, yet firmly, act in a deliberate manner that demonstrates that you are worthy of respect.

If you find yourself asking, “Why does my horse push me around?” “Why does he always make me back up?” I would answer without hesitation, “Because you let him!”

The Making of a Fine Western Horse and Rider using Cowboy Dressage® Training

– Riding with a Soft Feel –

(the Language of Lightness in the conversation between horse and rider)

Susan Jesse 2-R1Cowboy Dressage is a powerful Western horsemanship training discipline whose goal is developing a sound, supple, responsive and happy horse ridden in self-carriage with a soft feel and nearly imperceptible cues. Any horse, doing any discipline, will benefit from this training.

Cowboy Dressage is very Western! It combines the best of Western riding, the Vaquero tradition (which is steeped in classical dressage elements), and the Soft Feel taught by the likes of Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman and Eitan Beth-Halachmy.

Cowboy Dressage training is a methodically structured, progressive and patient approach to developing the ultimate horse/rider partnership. From beginning to “made” can easily take 5-7 years (or more). “What’s best for the horse” is the focus that guides the training and development. We will “take the time it takes” to do it right.

The horse’s training progression is:

  1. Rhythm (proper natural gaits)
  2. Suppleness (relaxation)
  3. Contact (Soft Feel)
  4. Impulsion (moving forward from hind quarters)
  5. Straightness
  6. Collection (the ultimate in soft feel, self carriage and independent seat)

The rider must develop:

  1. Hands with a soft feel
  2. An independent seat
  3. Proper timing of appropriate cues
  4. Practical knowledge and initiation of gaits and transitions

For a more detailed explanation, read “Cowboy Dressage, A progressive, methodical approach to making fine horses and riders” by Susan Tomasini.


A good horse/rider relationship always begins on the ground. You are building a foundation that will last a lifetime. Take the time to go slow in the beginning, and the reward of building a foundation that never falters will prove its value.

When working on the ground, your goal is to have a horse that “follows your feel” and is light as a feather when responding to your request to:

  • Be sent to the right and left
  • Back up
  • Move their haunches right and left
  • Move their forehand (shoulder) right and left

These are not just training exercises, but also have practical applications. When you are not mounted and need your horse to move a certain way, all the above elements can come into play to turn a potentially bad experience into a good one.

In the saddle:

The classical western training progression works your horse through the following:

  1. Snaffle bit and/or Hackamore (bosal)
  2. You can eventually settle on a different bit is desired and the horse responds properly and happily
  3. If developing a Vaquero Type bridle horse, the 2 rein follows step #1
  4. Straight-up in bridle (Spade bit)

This will take several years to accomplish if done properly.

Again, your goal is to have the horse moving with self-carriage and a “Soft Feel” when asked to:

  • Walk, Jog and Lope (free, working and collected)
  • Move in a straight line
  • Bend correctly in a circle
  • Transition
  • Leg Yield
  • Side pass
  • Rein back
  • Turn on haunches
  • Turn of forehand
  • Stop

Ultimately all these elements will be executed with cues that are nearly imperceptible. Your legs and seat will provide virtually all the cuing. Your hands become merely the communication path in the conversation between you and your horse. This is called an independent seat and allows the horse to attain self carriage and you to ride with the ultimate goal of soft feel.

A dangerous flaw in the horse’s behavior

There are a lot of things a horse can do that are dangerous to the rider or handler.

In the top ten, or even the top two, is a horse that will not yield to pressure: especially the pressure of the rider’s leg to mean move forward. Horses naturally move into pressure. So, we teach them to move away from pressure. the tied horse will not pull back when taught to yield to pressure. Pulling back is moving into pressure. using our leg to move a horse over often results in the horse kicking out on the same side. This too is moving into pressure. When we ask the horse to soften, the first response from the horse is often a rooting of his nose, sticking his nose out and forward, which is the horse moving into pressure also. A runaway horse is moving into pressure – the harder the reins are pulled, the faster he goes.

Imagine the need to get your horse away from a threatening situation. You apply the leg and the horse ignores the cue. It is like being stuck in quicksand as the threat overtakes you.

So, how do we change his mind about the useful response to pressure? The answer is quite simple. It is to hold the pressure or repeat the pressure until the horse gives us the response of moving away from that pressure. There is a great benefit to the horse for the correct response of moving away – he gets relief from the pressure. The pressure goes away when the horse yields.

The removal of the pressure, called the release, is usually the handler’s responsibility. A tied horse that pulls back will immediately feel the release of pressure when he stops pulling back. But, in most cases, the horse that is frantically pulling back in complete panic is in full self preservation mode and will not yield, especially if he has never figured out that yielding gives a better result.

That brings us to our responsibility as handlers and riders to teach the horse to move away from pressure. Patience and persistence and consistency from us will cause the horse to think of a better way to respond to pressure.

I had a student whose horse completely ignored the leg cues. In most cases like these, spurs are resorted to. Then, when the horse begins to ignore those, the whip or crop is brought out.

This rider entered the arena for a lesson with said spurs and crop, ready to “learn more”. He complained that his horse was often cranky and was really sluggish to move out. You wonder how that could be with crops and spurs in the scenario. I asked him to trot the horse out on a loose rein. The first thing this student did was lift his heels into the horse’s side. His heels were grinding up and down for a response. The horse had a sour look on his face and ears back. So, the rider turned his toes out and put the spurs into the horse’s side. The horse raised his nostril in discontent. After no significant response to move into a trot, the rider taps the horse in the ticklish spot on the flank. It was really a tickle more than a spank, which it should have been. Then he got the now cranky horse moving into a ho hum trot.

Does this description sound familiar? All or parts of it? By the time the horse was trotting, the rider was ticked off because of all the things he had to do to get moving. The horse was now in a bad mood because of all he had to endure. I, as the teacher, had my plan in mind, to eventually end up with a forward moving horse and a meaningful rider.

My first request to the rider was “choose the crop or the spurs, but not both”. Of course, (you heard this coming) he said that he needed both to get the horse to move out. I asked again, “Which one do you choose?” He chose to keep the crop. This is the usual answer because it is the last thing used by the rider that caused the horse to move forward.

By the middle of the lesson, I had the rider even drop the crop. The leg was now the only cue to mean move forward (the seat can also do this). When the now less cranky horse stilll did not respond energeyically to the leg cue, I asked the rider to lift his legs up to the level of his hips and let his legs fall on the horse’s sides. To the horse, this meant, “I really mean for you to move forward when I press my leg on your sides!!!” If this sounds harsh, please know that I learned this verbatum from the great Tom Dorrance. By the end of the lesson, after as many “reinforcements” as it took, the horse responded cheerfully, with ears forward, to the first leg cue alone.

Lesson like these will need repetition and reinforcement from time to time. As a famous horseman states, “It is not so important how you begin the ride, but how you end the ride.”

My former crop and spur carrying rider now left the lesson with a smiling horse and a new appreciation for “as little as it takes but as much as necessary to get the job done.”

This can be your experience to convince your horse to respond to your leg pressure. It is your responsibility to be consistent with the reinforcement. If you do your reinforcements as necessary, you would not need spurs or a crop 99% of the time you ride. I ride with spurs because they look cool! And, they are there for the 1% of the time that I might need them. If I use them 3% of the time for cues, then I should take them off to revisit the leg cue reinforcement lesson.

So, be consistent with the reinforcement of your cues. Horses will test us from time to time with this question, “Do your really mean what you are asking for?” When that question arises, be ready to simply answer, “Yes, and I will remind you with a reinforcement so you don’t forget.” Reinforcement will perpetuate the reality of “as little as it takes” to get the job done.

Expectations and Telephones

Mr-Ed-telephone-photo-512I love taking the time to write to you all. My great wish is that you take the time to read and consider what I have to say.

Eventually, you may come to recognize that good horsemanship is fundamentally what WE do with our horses; from the time we pick up the halter at the start of our time with them. Many of you do not have the luxury of endless hours next to your horse. So, what you do with the time you have is of the utmost importance to be effective and, to enjoy doing it. That is why we have articles, and books, and clinics attending to all of the details of owning and working with horses.

In my experiences with riders during my clinics and lesson, I see the following occur from time to time. Riders are frustrated in getting new maneuvers accomplished and perfected with their horses. They try doing the same cues, expecting the desired result. The maneuver is new for both horse and rider. Thus, both feel like the right thing is never going to come into reality. But, if the rider continues to ask for the movement, asking the 34th time with the same patience and kindness as he did the first time, the horse just might get it. The thing that sabotages finally getting to that successful outcome is often this –


Expectations are what gets most relationships in trouble. Some think husbands (boyfriends) should know what the wife (girlfriend) wants – do the dishes, buy that style hat, say “X” at a particular time.

But,as we all know, it doesn’t work that way. Husbands and boyfriends are forever wondering what the right thing to do for Tuesday and what the right thing to do is for Saturday. We girls know that the rules change at random.

When on the horse’s back, heading towards the trail or the show ring or the practice arena, we expect our horse to perform because he did it well yesterday. When the cues don’t produce the desired result, we kick or yank or yell and call the horse names we shouldn’t. Expecting the horse to understand what we are asking for will get us into disappointment, then frustration and despair. So, what is the alternative?


The alternative is communication. Like the husband or boyfriend who asks, “How can I bless you today?” He REALLY needs a specific answer. If the wife or girlfriend’s response is, “You should know if you really cared,” then, defenses rise up, both parties feel hurt and a great relationship moment is lost.

So with the horse – communication via asking with our leg cues, using our weight in the saddle as if it were a verb, then, getting enough tension in the reins so that the horse can put together all the cues as if words to a sentence, so that he has a clue of what we might be asking of him.

If the desired response is not there, it is most probably because we have not taught the horse to respond to the leg cues in the first place. If the desired response is not happening, it is most probably because we have not taught the horse how to understand what different weight placements in our seat means. If the desired response is not forth coming, it is most likely that we have not sent receivable messages through the reins to the bit. Think of it this way – the leg cues are the dialing of the phone number. The weight in the seat is the ringing tone and the rein contact is the “hello”. Now a conversation can begin with a positive outcome. Remember, the horse has to put all these elements together and then try to get the right answer back to you. If he tries, but gives the wrong answer, don’t kick or yank or yell. Just ask again, with the same kindness and clarity you used the first time you asked. Then, reward the tries he gives back that are going in the right direction.

The horse is not “wrong” when the desired response doesn’t arrive right away. Hemost certainly is still trying to figure out what you want. When he starts moving as we wish, he will try harder as we reward his “try.” Learning involves trying answers that are not correct. Understanding comes when the effort is happening to try to get what is desired.

FriscoReward the slightest try. Remember that and practice it. Your horse will connect and answer the phone.