HORSELOGS.COM - Feature Article from Lindsay Grice...
Feature Article from Lindsay Grice, October 2006

Q. I've been showing fairly successfully in western events and would like to try English if I knew my horse had the talent for it. She's not as big as some of the horses that I see in the Hunter Under Saddle classes - how can I evaluate her to see if she's suitable for this event?

A. Horses are really evaluated in most disciplines according to talent, training and temperament. Every discipline puts a different emphasis on these categories. Lets take a look at Hunter Under Saddle and see what the judges are looking for.

TALENT. The hunter under saddle horse is to have the ground covering stride that would be suitable to jumping a course of fences. Generally the bigger horses have the longer strides but this is not necessarily true. At the trot, the front legs should travel fairly flat rather than having much action or bend, and should appear to swing from the shoulder and point the toe. The trot should have a moment of suspension where the horse appears to be off the ground. Horses that are "slow legged" are preferred to those with quick, choppy strides. In the canter you will also see suspension or "air time". The hind legs should also appear to swing rather than lift and bend with the inside hind leg reaching up under the horse with each stride. A graceful horse with a pretty , smooth profile will always catch the judge's eye.

TRAINING. No matter how great a mover a horse may be, he won't get any prizes if he's not disciplined and steady. Every stride should look the same as the horse travels around the ring - the same long, low frame and the same pace. Judges will penalyze a horse who is behind the bit or one who carries his poll below the level of the withers. He can't be distracted by the other horses in the ring or playing with the bit. Transitions must be smooth and effortless.

TEMPERMENT. Just as in the western pleasure classes that you now compete, a horse must appear to be content in his job. Ear pinning and irritable tail swishing is discouraged. A horse which appears to be nervous or has too much energy and needs to be held back by the rider will be passed over. The judges want to see the horse that is relaxed and pleasurable to ride.

Even if your horse isn't the best mover or among the biggest in the class, if she really excels in the other two categories, he may still be competitive, depending on the level of competition. These days many horses score high in all three categories. As a rider, your presentation can enhance the presentation of your horse. Make sure the judge gets a good look at your horse. Try to stay out of traffic by either cutting off the corners of the ring to keep the pack of horses behind you, or sometimes riding deeper into the corner so you don't catch up to the group. A rein length that has soft contact (basically straight with just a little bit of movement) will show off a horse that doesn't need much adjusting. A confident rider who looks up and ahead rather than staring at her horse shows pride and assurance. Take note of the current tack and dress code so that your outfit is up to date. And remember, many horses who aren't winning in Hunter Under Saddle do very well in Hunt Seat Equitation

Q. Some trainers use treats to reward their horses and others don't. What do you think?

A. Personally, I don't use treats in my program. Although food rewards can definitely reinforce a lesson, in my experience the drawbacks of using food rewards far exceed the benefits. These are my reasons:

DELAYED REWARD. Any reward should be given to a horse within a half a second of his correct response in order for him to relate the positive feedback to his action. Unless you carry your treats in an open fanny pack while riding, or devise some other instant treat-delivery system, your horse isn't likely to connect the "yes!" message.

WHETS HIS APPETITE. No horse stands and gratefully savours his last treat; he anxiously awaits the next one! Because I don't feed horses between meals, I find they tend to stand calmly when tied without pawing. They are fed only in their stalls, at regular times, content without snacks in between. In this case, ignorance is bliss! Jealousy arises between stall neighbors when one horse is fed by a doting owner and another is not - why create discontent?

PUSHINESS. Feeding by hand can open up a "can of worms" by encouraging a horse to get into a person's personal space in search for more. He can even begin to nip. This is something the herd leader would never allow a subordinate horse to do, so neither should the trainer.

Although it is important to reward horses to affirm every correct response, I feel there are other more valuable ways of doing so.
Who Is
Lindsay Grice?
Lindsay Grice is a member of the American Quarter Horse Association's Professional Horseman Association and an Equine Canada Certified Level 2 Coach. She teaches horsemanship clinics in the United States and Canada and writes articles for several equine publications. She has made appearances on television and radio, speaking about horse related issues.

Lindsay has often been Ontario's top ranked Jr. Hunter Under Saddle rider, and in recent years has ridden several horses to AQHA's national high point year end status. Lindsay has a reputation for successfully training clients horses for new events - including Western Riding, Horsemanship, Equitation and classes over fences. She strives to create thinking horseman of her students by clearly communicating the how's and why's of riding.