There is nothing natural about riding a horse. Nonetheless we accept that the majority of horses in the UK are kept for riding and, at EBTA, we also ride our horses. Horses would naturally range over tens of kilometres a day and, by riding, we provide a means of extending their home range and providing a form of enrichment. Horses are incredibly adaptable and this is a key trait which has led to their success as a domestic animal (as perceived by humans, anyhow). Therefore, we should be able to continue riding, and even competing, our horses in ways which are enjoyable for the horse. Of course, this is all too often not the case.

[How refreshing to see riding on a loose rein - there are lots of goals you can set when riding, an "outline" isn't the only one.]

If we are going to ride our horses then we should ensure that they are free of pain. Most riding techniques employ pressure and release of pressure in order to communicate our wishes to the horse and it should be remembered that this, by definition, is exerting some degree of discomfort. Bits, spurs, whips, curb chains, nosebands, martingales etc all work precisely because they do exert some degree of discomfort. The mildest equipment should be used and the horse's opinions respected. If a horse works "better" in a certain piece of tack, and by "better" we mean "more compliantly without resisting", then we should consider that the tack in question is actually too harsh to resist..

Ideally we should be moving towards riding methods making more use of positive reinforcement. We can use clicker training, ride in bitless bridles, spend more time hacking rather than endless schooling, allow more browsing of hedgerows, vary what we do, give the horse opportunities to choose direction and/or gait..... Anything to make the experience more positive for the horse. And we need to listen when the horse gives us information as to how he is feeling about what we request of him. If the horse is saying clearly that he doesn't enjoy the type of riding we are doing then maybe we need to reconsider our choices. We also note that, while a rider sitting on a horse has weight and therefore technically is exerting pressure, it is not necessarily perceived by the horse as aversive; positive experiences when ridden can counter-condition any perceived pressure due to the rider's weight.

[What will your riding goal be?]

Competition takes the risk of exploitation to a higher level but, if we do feel the need to compete then we can still do so in a compassionate and positive way. Preparation, via shaping, needs to include ensuring the horse is used to loading, travelling, travelling boots/bandages, being around noisy crowds, encountering bunting and all the paraphernalia around jumps etc. All elements of competing need to be emulated at home to allow this well before the stress of the show itself. Please contact EBTA if you need additional information and ideas to enable you to do this.

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