CHA Magazine

Marketing Your Equine Business in Today’s Digital World

By Sarah Evers Conrad

We all know that horse business owners are some of the most passionate business people out there. However, just having passion for what you do won’t pay the bills. It’s all about working smart and hard, and working smart involves your marketing strategy. Marketing is crucial for businesses. With the explosion of technological advances over the past 15 years, digital marketing has become an essential way to market, and makes a great additive to your marketing plan. Traditional marketing techniques such as direct mail and TV and radio advertising can be much more expensive than today’s digital marketing techniques, such as email marketing, social media, and content marketing. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best digital marketing methods to market your equine business, what makes them a great option, and why you can’t afford to not be using them.

Digital marketing can help get you found by new customers, grow your online presence, increase your reach within your niche, connect you with your target audience, educate your customers and potential customers, promote a specific product or service, gain more leads that you can convert to customers, raise your brand awareness, build your reputation as an expert, and/or help you understand your target audience and their wants and needs. However, it’s important to not try to do all of this at once. Instead, carefully choose a few of the goals above, work in phases, and as you accomplish goals, add on additional strategies.

Integrate for Increased Impact

One of the biggest keys to digital marketing is integrating various forms so they can work together to create a bigger impact. For instance, driving traffic to your website through social media and asking for site visitors to sign-up for your email list should put them into a sales funnel, which then lets you build the “Know, Like, and Trust Factor” with your audience using content marketing. During all of this, you can offer your products and services, which then converts your original web leads into customers.

Why is this important in the horse industry? Sales is a process, and research has shown that it can take between three and 12, or more, touches before a sale is made. Obviously if it is a more impulsive buy, you might make a sale in one or two touch-points if the customer already knows, likes, and trusts you. However, in the equine industry, we all know that riding lessons, camp programs, tack and equipment, and especially the horses themselves, would not be considered impulse purchases. Therefore you need to reach out in different ways to your potential customers and focus on relationship building.

The marketing techniques you choose will depend on the phase of business you are in (start-up, growth, or established business), your target audience, and your brand. For instance, start-ups should first start with creating a website and building an email list while a business in the growth phase may be growing their social media presence, while an established business will have already established their online presence with plenty of online content and be seen as a leader in their industry.

Methods of Digital Marketing

The Big Four that all businesses should establish first are:

  • Website
  • Social media
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing

These four methods integrate well with each other. Once these are set up and running smoothly, you can advance into other areas of digital marketing. Let’s look at the first three to establish.

Websites: While people may hear about your business through word-of-mouth, it’s very likely that they will then turn to the Internet to learn more about you. Your website lets you get found, especially when you make sure to share the link as much as possible. For instance, if you are a CHA certified instructor or a CHA accredited facility, your listing in CHA’s database at can help drive people to your website, but only if you have one and add the link. This gives you an edge over your competitors when someone does a search for riding instructors in your area. These potential customers can then visit your site and learn more about you, see your products and services, learn what makes your business special, and why they should work with you. If your website has all the elements it should and has well-written content, then a potential customer may then call to book a tour of your facility or their first riding lesson or they may at least sign up for your email list, if you have established an email subscription page, which is advisable even if you don’t use email marketing for a little while. Email addresses are seen as extremely valuable for marketing.

If you have the ability to build your own site, you can build one on a purchased domain with or try sites that offer drag-and-drop design. However, if those are too difficult, or you need a more complex website, then a website designer is well worth the investment.

It is crucial to have an attractive site, with useful content for the viewer, and one that functions perfectly, because if you have the opposite you could affect how the public views your business and its level of professionalism and trust. Your website offers potential customers their first impression of you and your business. There is a lot to understand about proper website design and web usability, including site structure, navigation methods, typography, color theory, design principals, user testing, social media integration, and more.

Content Marketing: Whether you write articles and press releases, blog, live stream, create videos, share photography, write articles, podcast, create webinars, or another form of content, you should produce useful, relevant, easy-to-consume, quality content. Effective search engine optimization and using call-to-actions correctly can help direct the readers through the process of a search online to becoming a lead or a customer. Content marketing also grows your online presence, educates potential and current customers, promotes your products and services, raises brand awareness, and portrays you as an expert while setting you and your business apart from your competitors.

As with having a well-done website, quality content gives your audience a look into what and how you do what you do and most importantly why you do what you do and what you believe in. One word of caution is that poorly developed, rushed content can look bad, so make sure to have staff, friends, or professional content producers give feedback and help if need be.

Social Media: If your business isn’t on social media, especially Facebook at this time, consider yourself at a serious disadvantage. You must go where your customers are, and right now it seems as if everyone is on social media. Other platforms include Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn, with Snapchat and Periscope becoming two of the hottest newer platforms. Each platform has its advantages, disadvantages and top strategies to get the most out of it. Regardless of platform, it is essential to be authentically you, transparent, and to want to connect, communicate, and engage with your audience. It can even serve as a way to provide customer service, craft your online image, and promote yourself (organically and through social media advertising). There is a lot to consider for social media, especially with so much variety in platforms and strategy, and it is impossible to use all of them on your own. If you are a total social media newbie, there are plenty of books, websites, and resources, as well as consultants who can help you get started and develop a strategy. The return on investment is usually a positive one with social media when done right.

All of these digital marketing methods should be considered important for your marketing efforts. Now is the time to leverage digital marketing to help you get seen, get heard, and become more profitable.

Author Bio: As a lifelong equestrian, Sarah Evers Conrad joined the equine publishing industry 15+ years ago. In 2014, she decided to combine her passion for horses and her experience in writing, editing, digital marketing, PR, and social media, when she founded All In Stride Marketing. She now helps equine businesses with their marketing and communications efforts. In addition to being published in a variety of magazines, she is now the editor of The Instructor magazine and the official blogger for CHA.

WHY Statement – This is more than your mission or purpose for your business—this is WHY you bother doing it! Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is a good resource that the CHA Board of Directors used to come up with CHA’s WHY Statement last year. Some great examples of WHY statements include:

  • CHA – CHA Changes Lives Through Safe Experiences with Horses
  • Uber – Evolving the Way the World Moves
  • Nike – Just Do It!
  • Harley Davidson – Fulfilling Dreams of Personal Freedom
  • Coca-Cola – To Refresh the World

You can use any combination of the following digital marketing techniques: a website, social media and social media advertising; online advertising (pay-per-click, display, and remarketing); videos; live streaming; podcasting; webinars; email marketing with opt-in offers and landing pages; online challenges and contests; and content marketing, which includes blogging, guest blogging, press releases, articles, e-books, white papers, and more.

The Art of Teaching Riding

CHA’s latest manual, The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding, was written by a committee of experienced riding instructors and educators. The following is an abridged except from various sections in the manual.

Classifying or Grouping Riders

Grouping riding students according to experience level and ability is the preferable way to organize groups. There will be some variation within each riding group.

  • It is more difficult to teach a group that has both beginners and advanced riders.
  • When dealing with groups of mixed ability, use the assistant instructors to give more individual attention.
  • Advanced riders may also be challenged by the horses that the advanced riders are assigned to ride.

Riding instructors need to take into consideration age, attitude, and the physical abilities of the riders when grouping riders.

  • Older teenagers or adults may be embarrassed if they are placed in a class of younger children.
  • Physical abilities would include how athletic the rider is and any special needs. Riders who are overweight, awkward, uncoordinated, or have other special needs require particular consideration.

Instructors need to keep in mind the purpose of the lesson as well as the riding abilities when grouping riders.

  • If the purpose is for families to enjoy a lesson together, then a mixture of ages, experience, and attitudes should be expected and accommodated.
  • Questioning the student may approximate riding ability, but a more accurate determination of the student’s riding ability would include a brief evaluation ride.
  • When giving evaluation rides, it is more desirable to under-mount the new riders than to over-mount them. Use very quiet, reliable horses and evaluate the rider’s position, stopping, and simple control of the horse.
  • Preset standards will help determine which group a student belongs in.
  • A novice class of riders may have never ridden before; a beginner class may be able to walk and trot; and an intermediate class may be capable of walk, trot, and canter.
  • The CHA Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 may be used to divide riders into riding groups.
  • The instructor might consider creating an evaluation checklist of skills and mark off each skill as the student rides in an evaluation ride.

Methods of Presentation

To communicate information, the method chosen may depend on the material being presented, students being taught, and environment and resources that are available. It is best to use more than one method; some people understand and respond to one method better than another.

Explanation: An explanation tells the rider how to do something, such as how to hold the reins or how to find the takeoff point for a jump.

  • Explanations must be clear, short, to the point, and with key phrases to remember.
  • Make explanations positive.
  • Tell how to do something, instead of how not to do something.

Demonstration: Demonstrations show how to do something, such as mounting or use of a curry comb, and should be brief and to the point.

Practice or Repetition: Physical skills require practice in order to develop strength, flexibility, and motor patterns. Students need repetition and practice to learn a new skill or to improve on a learned skill.

Correction: Correction leads to mastery of a skill. Anyone learning a new skill is bound to make some errors, and the individuals must rectify those errors to correctly and safely master the skill.

  • Be positive and supportive in correction. Show the students why it is easier and better to use the correct technique and how an incorrect technique will handicap the student. (For instance, have riders try balancing in two-point position with their heels down and then try balancing up on their toes; riders can feel the insecurity balancing on their toes).
  • Be very specific in telling students exactly how to correct their errors. It is not enough to say, “Get those legs in.” The students must be shown how.

Discussion: Discussion combines input from the instructor with input from the students. In order to have a discussion on a topic, everyone must have at least some knowledge of the subject.

  • The instructor’s role is that of leader and moderator; to clarify and summarize the main points of the discussion; and to redirect the conversation if the students wander off the topic.
  • It is useful in planning group projects and for topics on which many people have opinions, such as horse behavior and training.
  • When holding a discussion, try to place all students in a circle so the students can see and hear each other.
  • All students should be motivated to contribute to the conversation, and those who dominate the conversation must be reminded that others have something of worth to contribute. This method enhances communication skills and helps members of the group become acquainted and relate to each other.

Lecture: Lecture is best used for introducing a new topic and giving out background information, like safety rules. Lectures are often used in unmounted lessons. A lecture should be no longer than thirty minutes, and even shorter for younger children. It is easy for students to become bored with sitting and listening. In order for a lecture to be successful, an instructor should:

  • Be well prepared. Show enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Know more about the subject than given in the lecture.
  • Do not read from lecture notes.
  • Be stimulating and creative.
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Keep vocabulary appropriate to the age group.
  • Use charts, models, or other visual aids.
  • Use a sense of humor. People enjoy humor and will remember any points that raise a chuckle.
  • Make eye contact with the listeners.
  • Project the voice to ensure the entire audience can hear.
  • Use expression and inflection in the voice.
  • Avoid using “filler words” like “uh,” “you know,” and “okay.”
  • Involve the listeners; ask someone to come up and hold something, or have everyone get up and try some exercise that relates to the subject.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be prepared to answer questions.

Role Playing: Role playing can simulate reality from someone else’s point of view. It involves imagination and encourages creativity, expression of feelings and values, and the development of social skills.

  • Role playing is very useful in demonstrating horse behavior and encouraging students to “think like a horse.”
  • It can be fun, especially for younger children who are more enthusiastic about some form of play than they are about lectures or discussions.
  • Some students love to “play horse” and will happily run through figure eights or arena patterns or perform imaginary classes in a “horseless horse show.”

Games & Competitions: Games and competitions can stimulate effort and interest in subjects the instructor wants the students to work on. Games and contests motivate the students to try by promising recognition and praise to the winner. The best games and competitions are those that are fun and that reward all riders for their efforts.

Additional topics covered in CHA’s The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding include riding programs, teaching techniques, the riding student, the horse, communication, arena instruction, risk management, and horse management. The manual also includes sample forms for riding instructors and facility managers, sample lesson plans, checklists, sample business plans, and more. To purchase the complete manual, please visit,

Saddle Fit Differences Between Men and Women

By Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE

When I first started teaching my wife, Sabine, how to ride, I couldn’t understand why she kept complaining that the saddle hurt her there. I would get on the same saddle and have absolutely no problem. She, on the other hand, had difficulty keeping correct positioning with her legs back, back straight, and shoulders back. Then when we I started building saddles in Canada, Sabine was my guinea pig, but because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, she never admitted that the saddles I was making (for female clients) weren’t really comfortable for her.

When a well-known judge and rider confided in me that she was literally “rubbed raw” and felt pulled apart, a light bulb went off in my head. I conferred with a gynecologist and began to investigate the differences in male and female anatomy, starting with pelvic structure, and then including hip articulation, muscles, and skeleton. I learned that the differences between men and women were extremely significant when considering saddle design. We then started using a plaster cast method, which served as incredible visual aids to make our full custom saddles.

Since then, we have refined our designs and are now known as the “Female Saddle Specialist,” a niche which becomes even more fitting when you consider that the demographics of our industry have shifted significantly over the past 50 years or so to become predominantly female.

With this shift in demographics, why haven’t more saddle manufacturers taken this into consideration when making saddles? Many still build saddles the way they have been made for decades, and some women still dismiss the idea of needing a saddle built specifically for their conformation. Many riders have simply learned to deal with the discomfort and ride well enough to make these saddles work, but it’s not ideal.

I have worked closely with a very qualified equestrian medical expert in our industry, James Warson, MD, who wrote the book, The Rider’s Pain Free Back. I have incorporated many of his findings into my own book.

So let’s consider the various anatomical differences and how they apply to saddle fit for women.

Width of the seat bones (birthing channel): This determines how wide the saddle seat needs to be; in many of the saddles made for men, a woman will actually find herself sitting on the seat seam, which is irritating to say the least.

Spinal column: Riders need to be able to use the four natural curves of the vertebral column as natural shock absorbers. If a female rider leans back or hunches forward because the saddle isn’t right for her, her spine will take the brunt of the impact and result in back pain issues, which could result in slipped discs.

Pelvic balance and pubic symphysis: The male pelvis can balance on its seat bones as on a bipod; the female pelvis needs to use her pubic symphysis as well as her seat bones, like a tripod. For women, this means there is another area of friction at the pommel area, which can result in pain. To compensate and avoid pain, the rider in pain might collapse at the hip, which then causes the leg to shoot forward, placing the rider in the chair seat position.

Hip joints: The male hip joints are articulated differently, which allows the legs to hang straight down, whereas women’s legs are naturally angled outwards. This results in the female rider feeling pulled apart if the twist, the area of the saddle tree that we feel between our upper inner thighs, is too wide.

Upper leg musculature: Because of the structure of the quads and hamstrings as indicated in the picture, the woman needs to have a narrower twist (as a rule).

Gluteus maximus (butt cheeks): The female’s glutes are much higher up than a man’s, which indicates the need for additional support in the seat at the cantle area to prevent her from collapsing to the back.

If all of these points are taken into consideration when fitting a saddle, a woman can use the properly fitted saddle to help her ride in proper position and balance. She can now concentrate on her ride rather than fighting her saddle for proper position.

For a man, riding in a saddle that is uncomfortable for him (especially at the pommel area because of too much padding at the seat) could result in restricted blood flow in the sensitive perineal area. This could lead to erectile dysfunction, impotence, or other physical problems.

These are the points of reference every rider should ensure are correct for his or her body, regardless if they are male or female:

  • Width of the seat to support the seat bones
  • Skirt attachment with flat seaming to avoid pressure at the back of the upper inner thigh
  • Saddle twist appropriate for male or female to accommodate upper leg musculature
  • Angle of the pommel to avoid hitting the pubic symphysis (waist seaming width)
  • Seat foam (mattress) to support the gluteus muscles
  • Flattest part of the saddle, or the supporting area, where the majority of weight is carried; needs special attention to avoid pressure on the crotch area
  • Cantle angle to provide necessary support
  • Saddle balance (many women prefer forward balance)
  • Stirrup bar position to accommodate the upper leg length to lower leg length ratio (most women will require extended stirrup bars since their upper legs are longer than their lower legs); if this is not considered and fitted properly to the rider, the leg will naturally swing forward

In summary, the saddle should allow the rider to sit as closely to the horse as possible while allowing the positive and balanced interaction of the vertical spine of the rider and the horizontal spine of the horse. Riding shouldn’t hurt, and this goes for both the rider and the horse If the rider isn’t comfortable, this will translate down to the horse, and he will never perform to the best of his ability. So us riders owe it to ourselves and to our horses to ride in a saddle suited to our body. As the saying goes, “You are worth it!”

Author Bio]
Jochen Schleese, author of Suffering in Silence: The Saddle Fit Link to Physcial and Psychological Trauma in Horses, is a Certified Master Saddler from Passier He operates a saddlery training facility in Ontario, Canada, and provides diagnostic saddle fit analysis and fitting services across North America, especially for women.

Photos of male and female rider side by side with plaster casts showing points of contact:
Although these two riders are very similar in body shape on the outside, their plaster casts clearly show the differences in their pelvic points of reference. The male (right) has two points of contact on the saddle at the seat bones, which are closer together than those of the female (left). In addition, the female pelvis has a third point of contact at the front (her pubic symphysis).

Photos of female and male pelvic skeleton:
The female pelvis’ pubic symphysis is fairly flat and low and will hit the pommel area. The male pelvis’ public symphasis is relatively higher than the female one with steeper angles, which allow it to sit far away from the pommel area.

See images below for reference.

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Becoming a Leader for Your Students and Horses

By Julie Goodnight

As a horsemanship or riding instructor, you want to strive to be a good leader and interact with fairness with all of your students and clients. In addition, you want to teach your riders to be good leaders to the horses they ride. Leadership is not just about your actions or intentions; it is also about your honesty, integrity, and fairness. Authority is not the same as leadership—just because you have authority over others does not mean that they have a desire to follow you or accept you as their leader.

Developing strong leadership skills with our horses can also help us become better leaders with people, especially if we think about the lessons the horse provides to us regarding leadership. In addition, you can teach your students to judge whether their mount is questioning their leadership skills.

Horses have a sense of fairness, just as they are good judges of leadership and trustworthiness. Because they are herd animals, they are mindful of leadership, hierarchy, rules, and ramifications of behavior. They are instinctively drawn to strong leadership, with a compelling desire to be accepted in a herd and a profound fear of banishment from the herd. Both horses and students thrive when leadership, rules, and structure exist, and they flail in the absence of it. Horses can be a reflection of our leadership skills with students and clients, as well.

Horses and students usually know when they are breaking a rule or pushing a boundary, and they usually responds well to fair discipline. But when rules are unclear or inconsistently enforced, when you say one thing but then do another, when you inadvertently punish even though no punishment was intended, or when the punishment does not fit the crime, both horses and students will feel that they are being treated unfairly, and trust in you diminishes.

So how do you know if the horse feels like the rider is treating him unfairly? Reactions from the horse may range from a slight tensing and lifting of the head, to shaking the head, refusals, running through the bridle, crow-hopping, bucking, or shutting down (becoming nonresponsive). While there can be a variety of causes for these reactions, whenever a horse is frustrated, it’s always important to consider your own actions and how they may be viewed by the horse. After all, none of us are perfect leaders for our horses or our students.

Here are some common scenarios which a horse might consider unfair. It’s important to coach riders not to do these things or the horse will question their leadership skills.

Unfair Treatment #1: Asking him to do something then punishing him for doing it
An easy way to test a horse’s sense of fairness is to cue him to canter, then hit him in the mouth with the bit when he does. How he reacts to that will tell you how tolerant he is. This happens far more often than you think, regardless of rider level. Sometimes it’s related to lack of skill; other times it is reactionary—a rider fearful of the canter often snatches the horse up as soon as they respond to the cue. From the horse’s point of view, you asked him to do something then you punished him for doing it. Responses from this kind of conflicting signal can include: a small shake of the head, crow-hopping, a refusal to canter anymore, or bucking. Usually it is the horse that is blamed, although from the horse’s point of view, this is not fair or honest.

Unfair treatment #2: Asking for one more time
Let’s say you or your student has been working on something challenging with their mount—like jumping gymnastics. You started with a few rails in a line of jump-every-stride obstacles and gradually added more until it’s a very challenging and strenuous exercise. After some stops and starts and failed attempts, the horse finally goes through the full gymnastic correctly. You are thrilled! So what’s the first thing you say? “Let’s do that one more time.”

So, he’s already given you his best and that wasn’t good enough; now he’s tired and emotionally spent and you ask for more. Things fall apart, and what should have been a great training session turns into a salvage effort. Fairness would dictate that you recognized your horse’s best effort and let him rest on that.

Unfair treatment #3: Setting the horse up for failure 
This is the actual real, unedited scenario that stimulated this article. A past clinic attendee whose horse had come uncorked due to the clinic atmosphere wrote to me about how her horse had recently done great in an arena full of 15 other horses. When they finished, he loaded without hesitation into the trailer. However, since her horse was tired and away from home, she then decided to practice trailer loading. Her horse balked, and a nearby rider had to assist her.
It was indeed unfair to finish and then ask her horse for more. Clearly the horse had given of himself, worked very hard, and done the right thing. He had every reason to believe he was done and would receive the kindness of comfort from his leader. Instead, he was set up to fail. He had already loaded once without resistance.

Should we expect perfect patience from our mounts in every situation or at the same level we expect from more patient or experienced horses? No. Should we make our horse, or our students for that matter, jump through hoops when they are anxious or aggravated? No. Should we ALWAYS set our horses and our students up for success? YES! That is what makes a good training exercise.

Good leaders do not expect their followers to do things beyond their capabilities. If we think an individual (horse or human) may not be capable of giving us what we want in that moment, it’s best not to ask. Do something else instead. Come back later and address it when the chances of success are greater or when you have removed other obstacles.

Always make sure your expectations are realistic and attainable. Have high expectations, but always remember to recognize efforts from both your horses and your students. Everyone wants the feeling of a job well done.

[Author Bio]
International trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight is the international spokesperson for CHA, a CHA Master Instructor, and the star of RFD-TV’s “Horse Master with Julie Goodnight.”

Lisa Lombardi in CA

Finding Your Career Path

By Sarah Evers Conrad

Members of the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) have an abundance of career options, including riding instructor at a public riding facility, owner of one’s own facility, a camp instructor, an instructor associated with organizations like the Girl Scouts, instructor of riders with disabilities, teaching at the college/university level, being a trail or overnight guide, etc.

Managing one’s career can mean making some big decisions over time. Those decisions can mean the difference between a carefully crafted career or one that can take you down a variety of side trails before you end up on the path that is best suited for you. Everyone is different, and there is no one right career pathway, especially in an industry as vibrant and diverse as the horse industry.

Owning a Lesson Barn
Some of the most common options for instructors is to either work for a lesson facility as one of several instructors, to run their own lesson program and lease space out of a facility, or to run a program out of their own their own facility. CHA Certified Instructor Corinne Lettau is the owner of Denver Equestrians, LLC, and the Colorado Equestrian Center in Littleton, CO, a full-service boarding and training facility with lessons in English equitation, western pleasure, dressage, and jumping for youth and adults.

“I started my own business, which featured a horse camp program in 2009,” she says. “It grew by 400% each year until we were able to purchase our own facility.”

Even though it is stressful, Lettau likes having control of her own facility. “While it was definitely easier to lease space from another barn owner, the ability to secure the facility gives us stability that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Lettau has the most experience within the disciplines of dressage, however her views have broadened beyond that one niche. “My appreciation for kids and allowing them to choose their own disciplines after learning the basics has become a new passion,” she says.

Scouting the Way
Many instructors get started in Girl Scout or Boy Scout riding programs and summer camps, just like Julie Fischer did. Fischer is a CHA Certified Instructor in western disciplines in Allenspark, CO, and an assistant site manager at Meadow Mountain Ranch Girl Scout Camp during peak season and a camp volunteer in the off season.

“The career path with Scouts has led me to work and live in some amazing and remote locations, go on some great trips, and change the lives of many scouts through horses,” says Fischer, who adds that the down side can include a lack of job security.

Fischer shares that her skills in accounting, bookkeeping, management, training, grant writing, non-profits, and facility management have been helpful when working for these non-profits.

“Being valuable to an equine business is important,” she says. “I was constantly improving my knowledge and traits so I could provide more to any program I worked for in addition to horse knowledge.”

Camp-Related Career
Camp Morrow Ranch Manager Teddy Franke of Pine Hollow, OR, says the great thing about working in a camp program is that there are always opportunities and directions to grow. Franke is a CHA Certified Instructor with a certification to teach riders with disabilities as well, a CHA Equine Facilities Management Assistant Clinic Instructor, a CHA Certified Trail Packing Guide, as well as a graduate of Mission Farrier School and an American Stock Horse Association judge.

“If I can dream some program up and get a pile of people to come along on the adventure, it will usually fit the mission and generally be effective,” says Franke, who knew his ideal career would be to combine horses and ministry. “Having the freedom to pursue those ideas and the ability to scrap the poor ones is what makes this line of work worthwhile.”

Franke has really enjoyed traveling to horse-related events, clinics, conferences, and a host of other functions. On the flip side with a camp career, he cites never having enough time to accomplish everything he wants to or being able to develop a specialty within the horse industry because to help people use a camp horse, he has to teach a wide range of disciplines.

In addition to the camp, Franke runs a small side business involving training, instruction, and farrier services. This has helped him diversify his income streams for when one part of the business is slower.

Academia Instructor
Instructing at the college level and/or coaching a collegiate equestrian team is a calling that many CHA members find appealing. “I love college students,” says Amanda Love, the horsemanship director and women’s equestrian team coach at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, TX. “It is a very fun age to teach as they are now responsible for their own decisions and are excited to pursue new information. College is a place where I have an opportunity to help encourage others while they pursue their riding passion and balance that with choosing their own career path.”

Love adds that the college kids keep her young at heart. However, she jokes that she doesn’t remember what a day off looks like with this career path, because in a college environment, one teaches all week and then must take the equestrian team to competitions on the weekend. However, this can also be true for any instructor who take their students to shows.

How CHA Helps Career Development
CHA certification can open up a lot of great career opportunities. Fischer says that the connections, resources, and relationships one makes through CHA can last a lifetime, while Love adds that the CHA network of people and the interaction at CHA clinics and conferences is the best way to find new ideas to bring back to the barn.

This ability to always be learning is what Franke loves about his career. “I feel fortunate that I will likely run out of life before I come close to learning all there is to know about the horse,” he says.

Fischer adds that the various CHA certifications allow instructors to branch out and become skilled in working with riders at all levels and in various disciplines.

In Summary
Love encourages instructors to try out different careers before deciding on a final path. “I think it is important that as instructors, we have a bigger view of the horse world than just what is out our back door,” says Love. “Being involved in different facets of the horse world gives you more to offer your students.”

Lettau says that by experiencing multiple career paths within the horse industry that instructors will be able to find the exact niche that they are meant to provide to others. And finding that ideal career path can lead to a lifelong passion and contentment with one’s career.
Sarah Evers Conrad is the editor of CHA’s The Instructor, and is also published in a variety of equine publications, such as The Horse, Arabian Horse Life, American Quarter Horse Journal, American Paint Horse Journal, USDF Connection, Equestrian, and others. In addition, she helps equine businesses with their marketing through her company, All In Stride Marketing. Visit

Risk Management is a Must

By Jill Montgomery

Most riders are well aware of the risks that come with horseback riding. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, one in five riders (20%) will suffer a serious horse-related injury that requires medical care or hospitalization. In addition, an equine professional such as a riding instructor, may face legal action if someone is injured in their care. We should all pause for a moment to consider exactly what that means. However, there is a lot we can do, and that we should be doing, to manage the risks in equine activities.

Equine professionals should create an environment where clients can enjoy their program and have the necessary tools to make their experiences with horses safe; this leads to repeat customers and more business. Conversely, the old adage “bad news travels fast” is never truer than when a client is injured in your riding program, and it could damage your reputation.

With such a broad range of potential problem areas, you may ask, “Where do I start?”

Key areas for managing risk in a horse program include:
• The horse’s training and suitability for the activity,
• The education and expectations for the participants behavior;
• The education and expectations for the behavior of staff;
• The equipment used in the equine activity; and
• The environment in which the activity takes place.

Proper handling skills and training may reduce risks of injury for both humans and horses. Safety-oriented facility design and advanced planning for emergencies and disaster planning may substantially reduce environmental risks.

Ensure that your well-trained staff and clients practice safety every day with every interaction with a horse or another rider. Train your horses to accept the tasks asked of them calmly and obediently. Check tack and equipment every time it is used, and repair or replace damaged equipment. Plan for and create policies for dealing with environmental risks.
The equine professional must also constantly educate participants about equine behavior and continually identify, assess, and analyze risks associated with the services they offer. However, even with good management, training, and preparation some equine behaviors are largely unpredictable and can cause injury to a client. Unpredictable behaviors such as bucking, shying, rearing, bolting, tripping, or stumbling are collectively referred to as inherent risks.

Legal Liability
Almost all states now have limited liability statutes to offer protection from legal liability for the inherent risks of equine activities. While these laws don’t prevent injured parties from suing, they are very helpful to defendants and limit the complaints to the exceptions in the law, which vary by state. Equine professionals need to know their specific state laws. However, despite these statutes, the best defense is to take practical steps to avoid injuries.

Risk management in regards to legal action can be described as a three-legged stool, and removing any of the legs from this stool leaves you in an unstable position. These three legs include:
• Acknowledgement of Risk or Liability Waiver—More than just a release of liability, this document should educate the client about the risks they may be exposed to in your program. Your attorney and insurance company should review and sign off on the language. Everyone in your operation that comes into contact with horses should be taught the material and be asked if they understand it before they sign. Keep the signed document as a permanent record.
• Liability Insurance—Ensure the activities in your operation are adequately covered with insurance. To find the correct policy, work with an insurance professional who understands your operation.
• Refrain from Negligent Behavior—Negligence is an exception in every state’s statutes. Be familiar with the laws in your jurisdiction that effect your program. Know what your community expects from you as a service provider. Build a culture at your facility that is safety aware using training, procedures, and policies. Post barn rules so everyone sees them and can enforce them. Document your safety efforts.
Identifying Risk Scenarios
One technique for prioritizing risk management is assessing the relationship between the likelihood (frequency) of a risk and the severity of the damage if it occurs. Identify the high frequency risks in your program and always be prepared to handle them should they occur. Examples of risk scenarios ranked using frequency versus severity, include:

The Barn Fire—Any barn fire can be catastrophic. However, if you have a disaster and emergency plan in place, it could save lives and reduce the amount of damage.

A Loose Girth/Cinch—This type of tack failure, as well as others, could result in the saddle slipping and/or a fallen rider. Yet, this type of incident is avoidable. Always check if the saddle is off center or if it has moved forward or backward from its normal position before having a rider mount. You can also reduce this risk by adjusting the cinch as needed, adding breast collars for increased stability, and by helping the rider to stay centered on the horse.

Horse Steps on Handler’s Toes—This is one of the most common risks, although it’s often not severe. Teach your horses to be respectful of their handlers’ space and teach handlers to be aware of the potential for crushed toes and to wear proper footwear.

In Summary
Providing clear and consistent messaging to your clients and staff about your safety policies and practices will help build a safety-conscious culture and create a foundation for your horse program’s continued success.

[Author Bio]
Jill Montgomery is CEO of JRAM Enterprises, Inc., Equine Business Consulting. She is also a CHA Certified Instructor, CHA Certified Equine Facility Manager, and a Region 9 Director.

CHA’s Further Resources
Webinars: Risk Management in a Horsemanship Program; Risk Management—What You Need to Know About Liability, Contracts, and Releases at
Books: CHA Standards for Equestrian Programs
Blogs: Emergency Planning: When It Really Counts, Will Your Farm Be Prepared?; Three Must-See Safety Guidelines for Equestrian Facilities; Three More Important Standards for Equestrian Programs; Safety Standards for Managing Equines Important for Equine Programs and Clients; Horseback Rider Safety Apparel from Head to Toe; and 7 Pieces of Equipment for a Safer Ride at

Secrets of Successful Riding Instructors

Secrets of Successful Riding Instructors
By Sarah Evers Conrad

When riders are asked why they ride, it often comes down to one prevailing answer—passion for the horse. And it also explains why so many riders become riding instructors. It’s important for riding instructors to have that passion for horses and teaching. Riding lessons are often the stepping stone into the horse industry for many participants, which makes horseback riding instructors the lifeblood behind a thriving equine industry. Therefore, it’s crucial for instructors to be able to have successful careers so that there is growth and sustainability within the horse industry as a whole.

Three of CHA’s experts, all who have had successful careers as riding instructors and who have given back to the industry as CHA board members and volunteers, share some of the secrets behind their success.

Various Avenues to Success

CHA Master Instructor and Clinician Tara Gamble of British Columbia, Canada, went out on her own with Tara Gamble Horsemanship in 2009 after working at a variety of facilities. Gamble got her start teaching at age 18 at Birch Bay Ranch in Alberta after 10 years of being a camper. She says she wanted to give back to the ranch that had been such a big part of her life. Gamble was introduced to CHA early in her career because the ranch required CHA certification.

Gamble’s excitement for running the games station at Birch Bay Ranch led her to to one of the most important decisions of her life. “It was at this moment I realized this was my passion, and I was going to become a horsemanship instructor,” she says.

Not only has she been an instructor at a variety of facilities, the past 27 years have seen Gamble serve as CHA President, as Vice President of the Miss Rodeo Canada Board of Directors and a pageant coordinator, as President of the Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF), and as an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) board member. She also became an AQHA Professional Horseman. CHA has recognized Gamble’s dedication by naming her the 2013 CHA Volunteer of the Year and the 2006 CHA Clinic Instructor of the Year.

Peggy Adams of Greensboro, GA, retired a few years ago from teaching on her farm, PLA HorsePlay. Adams is the current CHA Past President, a CHA Master Instructor, Clinic Staff, and a Certified Overnight Trail Guide. She spent almost 30 years with the Girl Scouts outside of the Atlanta area in a variety of managerial positions, including as the supervisor of the year-round outdoor programs for youth and adults. Because one of the most popular activities for the Girl Scouts was horseback riding, Adams was charged with designing and developing the riding lesson program at three equine facilities.

“Having been a horse enthusiast my entire life, it became my mission to help make sure that campers had an opportunity to be introduced to horses,” says Adams. “Many of our young riders wouldn’t have ever had the chance to ride if not for our programs. It was a wonderful way to take my passion for horses and share it with others.”

Due to her lifetime achievements and her dedication to CHA since 1996, Adams was named the 2016 CHA Distinguished Service Award winner.

Anne Brzezicki, CHA’s Vice President of Regional Relations, is most known for her work as the Director of the Equestrian Program at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and coach of the MTSU Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) teams. She also taught at the University of Connecticut and Virginia Tech, worked for AQHA Professional Andy Moorman, and ran her own business in Tennessee, which was focused on amateurs and youth inside and outside the show arena.

Brzezicki’s first horseback riding teaching position was at the Connecticut 4-H Camps, where she worked with 500 riders every summer for seven years. She says her career chose her. “It was there that I discovered my passion for teaching riders to get the best from their horses rather than to simply look good,” she says.

Due to a hiring freeze, she and another student were allowed to coach her university’s equestrian team when she was a student at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Due to that experience, she was hired to teach at UConn before she got out the door. That position led to her other teaching positions and a lifetime of dedication to college students in equestrian programs.

She is a now a CHA Master Instructor and an Assistant Clinic Instructor, and the 2015 CHA Instructor of the Year. For all of her contributions to IHSA, the organization awarded her with the 2003 IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award. She retired from MTSU last year.

Reflecting on Success

Gamble points out is that the diversity within her career has helped her enjoy a variety of experiences and continuously offers up brand new opportunities. While she gained a lot of experience subcontracting at different barns for lessons for 17 years, transitioning to her own facility was a new challenge that required business, management, and public relations skills in addition to her horsemanship knowledge and experience.

“Going the private route allowed me more control over my client’s and their horse’s needs to increase their satisfaction,” says Gamble, adding that great communication skills, people skills, and organizational skills have been important. She encourages instructors to always keep learning and adding to their experience.

Adams recommends that instructors learn to communicate with students as easily as possible. “This requires the ability to break skills down into easily understandable small steps,” she adds. “Being able to teach with a rider’s learning style in mind goes a long way to achieving success.”

Brzezicki advises instructors to teach respect for the horse and to share their enthusiasm with their students. “Pay attention to what works for your students and what doesn’t, and change what doesn’t,” she adds. “Take advantage of every opportunity to teach and to watch and listen to other teachers. And understand that your students will also teach you every day.”

Common Problems

Some of the common problems that instructors experience include: miscommunications with students, burnout, lack of self care, how to keep up with progress within a discipline, and dealing with fads, and barn drama.

“Keeping a positive attitude through adversity is paramount,” says Gamble. “It’s important to keep a direct, clear line open and check in often with your students/clients. Try to be as proactive as possible and think of potential challenges.”

Marketing Tips

Marketing is an important aspect of running any business. Gamble recommends that instructors become involved in the local horse community and network as much as possible. “I recommend remembering that you are always an ambassador, and your actions are a reflection of your reputation,” she says.

Adams reminds instructors to tell others about their CHA certification and to use this credential in their marketing.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are key for riding instructors to market themselves. People will often market a business that they can stand behind. “Students and customers having a good time with their horses, supporting each other and winning, draws others to your program and makes the best advertising,” says Brzezicki.

Additional methods of marketing that have also been beneficial to Gamble, Adams, and Brzezicki are:

  • Hosting their own websites;
  • Participating on social media platforms;
  • Hosting free or low-cost clinics for local 4-H or saddle club kids; and
  • Helping state organizations with their novice programs.

The CHA Impact

Adams shares that she used the CHA standards to design the programs and facilities for the Girl Scouts. “These industry standards were very useful in helping others understand why we did things a certain way,” says Adams, who adds that both parents and students appreciated that she had the CHA Certification to back up her experience.

“CHA offered me the tools to develop a riding program focusing on safety and progressive skill development for my students,” says Gamble, who has been certified with CHA for 27 years.

Even though she found CHA late in her career, Brzezicki says CHA’s teachings validated what she had been doing in her career and gave her more confidence to help her students who wanted to become riding instructors. It also broadened her network.

“I have found CHA to be the most inclusive, accepting, creative, and helpful set of horse people all dedicated to the progress of their students and other instructors,” adds Brzezicki.

Gamble encourages instructors to familiarize themselves with all of the information, resources, and opportunities on the CHA websites, and In addition, many CHA regions have their own websites or social media platforms with additional information. One important resource offered by CHA is the ability for instructors to advertise their businesses on the CHA instructor database.

Additional member benefits that Gamble, Adams, and Brzezicki have found valuable include the insurance discounts, this magazine – The Instructor, the ability to participate at regional and international conferences, corporate partner benefits, products on the CHA online store, and educational materials, such as manuals and DVDs.

“Use the CHA student books and materials with your riders,” suggests Adams. “Have students and parents watch some of the video shorts on the CHA YouTube channel to reinforce topics taught during lessons.”

In Summary

Adams emphasizes the importance of continuing education and certification for today’s instructors. “My advice is to keep learning and challenging yourself to become certified as an instructor,” she says. “This will allow you to see how you stack up with other instructors by having a third-party evaluation of your current teaching skills.”

Brzezicki says that CHA certification is a great resume builder, especially since many employers are looking for certification as a sign that someone has been tested and found to be competent. She says it’s important for instructors to challenge themselves to always work toward higher levels of certification.

Adams recommends instructors serve as mentors to less experienced instructors in order to help the horse industry as a whole. Gamble and Brzezicki remind instructors that it takes time for success to happen.

“This is hard work,” says Brzezicki. “Approach each lesson with positive energy, a plan, and a goal. Look at each student with hope. And if you don’t love it, find another job.”

Gamble sums it up with the why behind why she teaches. “The rewards of teaching are much greater than monetary and have enriched my life immensely,” she says.

Sarah Evers Conrad is the editor of CHA’s The Instructor, and is also published in a variety of equine publications, such as The Horse, Arabian Horse Life, American Quarter Horse Journal, American Paint Horse Journal, USDF Connection, Equestrian, and others. In addition, she helps equine businesses with their marketing through her company, All In Stride Marketing. Visit

“Being able to teach with a rider’s learning style in mind goes a long way to achieving success.” – Peggy Adams

Julie Goodnight Photo by Whole Picture

Succeeding as a Clinician

By Julie Goodnight

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “clinician” as “a person who conducts a clinic,” with “clinic” defined as “a group meeting devoted to analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or knowledge.” After decades as a horsemanship clinician and thousands of clinics worldwide, I think these definitions make perfect sense. In the horse industry, a clinician is an expert trainer or instructor who travels to various locations—regionally, nationally or internationally—to teach horsemanship on a one-time basis.
To me, being a clinician is not a career in and of itself but rather the result of a successful career as a horse trainer or riding instructor. And it can help diversify your revenue streams.

To be a successful clinician, you must have:
• Expert ability
• Exceptional communication skills
• Years of experience training horses
• Years of experience teaching horsemanship to people
• An established reputation in your field
• Business sense

Business Model
The purpose of a clinic is to teach, correct any issues, and to improve the performance of the horses, riders, and handlers involved. With experience, you’ll learn which techniques, business models, and clinic structures work best for your teaching methods.
Some horsemanship clinics involve group lessons while others teach back-to-back private or semi-private lessons in front of an audience. Some clinics are discipline, breed, or ability-level specific, while others are open to all niches. Usually there are spectators and auditors.
Administering the clinic requires organization, communication, and attention to details or the clinic will fail—no matter how brilliant the clinician. If your organizational skills aren’t up to par, consider outsourcing.

Here are some ways to structure your horsemanship clinics.

• Find a clinic host that will foot the bill, pay you a flat fee per day, or guarantee a minimum number of riders or a percentage of the profits. The host provides the facility, promotes the clinic, recruits attendees, collects all the money, and—after paying you—makes all the profit (or may take a loss). Pro: This model is easy—just show up and teach. Con: If the clinic is well-attended, the host may make more money than you.
• The clinician foots the bill, rents the facility (or trades for spots in the clinic), promotes the clinic, registers attendees, collects the money, and accepts all risk for profit or loss. Pro: This is the most profitable if the clinic fills and you have total control. Con: More work is involved, and there are no guarantees.
• Combinations of any aspects of the above could be used to structure a clinic, as well as bartering for services, partnering with a promoter, and non-profit or philanthropic partnering (e.g, you teach a 4-H clinic for free in exchange for being able to host a for-profit clinic for adults).
However you structure your clinic, make sure you consider all expenses, including travel, advertising, liability insurance, care of your horses at home, and labor at home and at the clinic. Before you price your clinic, ensure the profit will adequately compensate you while you are away from home.

Marketing Clinics
It’s up to you to convince attendees to take your clinic, but the marketing tools below can help.
• Website—Include all the information people could want or need on your website, such as your bio, your teaching techniques and philosophy, what a clinic is like, policies and procedures, your calendar of events, and registration information. Enter your clinics on free online event calendars (e.g.,,, and link to your website.
• Social Media—Social media—especially Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube—can raise interest in your programs. Keep your brand active, share your training philosophies, spend time visiting relevant online horse groups and chat rooms, and allow people to get to know you.
• Horse Expos—Speaking at horse expos is the easiest way I fill clinics because it gets me in front of an audience who will then come back a few months later for my clinic.
• Flyers—I send a flyer to be printed at an office store near where the clinic will be held. Then a local volunteer will pick them up and post at places horse people frequent.
• Newsletter—We always include informative articles plus a list of my upcoming clinics and expos. Staying connected to your customers is key.
• Word of Mouth—Followers of your training methods are happy to spread the word if asked. Sometimes we offer a discount off a rider’s own tuition for each rider they sign up.

No company is eager to invest in a clinician unless they will get a nice return on their investment (ROI). You will have to work very hard for them if you expect to get a deal and maintain the relationship. What you have to offer is influence over the buyer and things like media exposure, arena banners, wearing their logo, product placement, a trailer decal, website exposure, social media posts, etc. The sponsor will want evidence of how your efforts impact their ROI.

It’s important to get a feel for the landscape of sponsorships in the horse industry and to distinguish between readily available product trades and harder-to-come-by cash sponsorships. Product trades should offsets your costs. Some companies may only offer a sales commission, which may or may not be lucrative because you must repeatedly close a sale.

Don’t forget to protect your brand. Taking on too many sponsors, changing sponsors regularly, or endorsing fly-by-night products could devalue it and repel bigger sponsors. One big cash sponsor may be better than a bunch of product trades.

Some categories of products are highly competitive for sponsorships, so sponsors will want exclusivity. Supplements, feeds, tack, saddle pads, pharmaceuticals, and apparel are categories with many brands competing against each other and areas where horse trainers have a lot of influence with the customer.

Tread carefully with exclusivity, because this rules out having other sponsors in that category. To me, exclusivity is like getting married to that company. Think about the long term. Are your values compatible? Is it a brand you can use and stand behind? Can you positively impact the company’s sales and conduct yourself in a manner that the sponsor wants you to? Can the sponsor make a long-term investment in you, or is this going to be a one-time thing?

In Conclusion
It’s important to develop the traits mentioned above to succeed as a clinician. Developing horsemanship clinics can be rewarding and lucrative. Find ways to stand out from the crowd. Develop a loyal following at home, decide on your business model and marketing, and then take your show on the road!

International trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight is the international spokesperson for CHA and a CHA Master Instructor.

Laura Jones

Sample CHA Lesson Plan

Tips for Lesson Planning

By Sarah Evers Conrad

Lesson planning is an important part of developing a cohesive and organized lesson program focused on goal achievement and rider progression. According to CHA’s latest manual, The Equine Professional Manual: The Art of Teaching Riding, a lesson plan is “a clear, flexible, and individualized teaching aid for conducting a class or a short-term instructional session.”

Each lesson plan is based on the individual needs, interests, and abilities of the students involved in that lesson. It should always focus on safety and be specific, sequential, and progressively build on the student’s skill level.

Why Lesson Plan

“Lesson plans make you organize your thoughts, arena, focus, and energy,” says CHA Master Instructor Tara Reimer, who owns Cloud 9 Ranch in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, with her husband, Derek. This CHA Clinician, Region 2 Director, and 2013 CHA Instructor of the Year teaches Western, English, jumping, and vaulting, while also training horses at the ranch. “A lesson plan keeps you on track time wise.”

CHA Master Instructor Cheryl West is a USDF Bronze Medalist, CHA Standard, IRD, and Equine Facility Management Clinician, and director in Region 8. She owns and operates West Equestrian in Sand Springs, OK; teaches at Stormwalker Ranch; and gives clinics nationally.

“A well-thought-out lesson plan allows you to have a creative lesson for your riders,” says West. “It gives you the ability to teach to the lowest level, but allows you to be prepared for those riders who catch on a bit quicker or even a bit slower.”

Since West works with a variety of instructors, having a lesson plan ready means that another instructor can fill in and use her plan if West needs to miss a lesson. It also creates a record of skills, attendance, and horse usage.

CHA Certified Instructor Donovan Dobbs of Dobbs Horsemanship in Ozark, MO, considers a lesson plan a map that guides the rider to a specific goal. Dobbs teaches riding lessons, starts and trains horses for a variety of disciplines, offers horsemanship clinics, and serves as the Missouri representative for Region 9.

Parts of a Lesson Plan

The Equine Professional Manual advises each lesson plan should include the following sections:

  • Destination, which refers to the lesson’s main goal, aim, or objective
  • Preparation, such as the number of students and horses, assistants, equipment, tack, how the arena will be set up, etc.
  • Explanation of the new subject or skill to be taught, which includes a step-by-step progression highlighting key points and phrases of that lesson
  • Demonstration by an instructor or student who can perform the skill mounted or unmounted
  • Application of the new skill by students, either as a group or individually
  • Observation and Correction by the instructor as students try to master the new skill
  • Repetition of the skill by students, which sometimes is done via games, patterns, etc.
  • Conclusion of the lesson with a summary, review by the students, and a cool down for the horses
  • Evaluation by the instructor to see if the new skill was achieved, what the strengths/weaknesses of the lesson and teaching techniques were, and what changes to the lesson are needed

Creating the Lesson Plan

Each riding instructor will have their own methods for creating a lesson plan. West, Dobbs, and Reimer start with a general list of skills students learn in their lesson program.

Dobbs uses his master list and general lesson plans as a basic blueprint to develop individualized lesson plans based on the students in each lesson. He focuses on general topics with an overall goal for each rider per lesson. Each lesson with Dobbs focuses on that overall goal until it is achieved.

He likes to cover at least two or three points under that goal, although he may be able to cover more material beyond those if time allows. Dobbs keeps lesson plans to one page or less and never works more than five lessons ahead.

Both West and Reimer use the levels provided by CHA.

“I create goals at each level,” says West, adding that next she focuses on the aids or part of the rider she wants to focus on.

She always includes a pattern of some kind, even if it’s just one that has the rider ride in and out of cones or poles. To create her lesson plans, West reviews old lesson plans, articles, books, and websites that have patterns from several disciplines, including dressage, jumping, and western riding.

Each of Reimer’s lesson plans addresses the natural aids of weight, voice, legs, hands, and energy. In addition to the lesson plan, she always has a progression plan for how students should progress through the skills.

Reimer recommends instructors write out lesson plans, and if they end up teaching more than planned, to revise the lesson plan afterward. In addition, she gains invaluable insight for lesson planning by asking for feedback on the lesson from her students afterward.

Mistakes to Avoid

One of the biggest mistakes West sees in lesson planning is not including how to do the activity. “It’s important to the rider to understand how its done, not just what,” says West. “Tell the rider specifically how to use each part of their body and when.”

Reimer warns not to overcomplicate the plan. “Some students really struggle with left and right or memorizing patterns, so keep patterns simple, and repeat them several times,” she adds.

Dobbs reminds instructors not to get so focused on what they want to teach that it affects the effectiveness of their teaching. “Keep it simple and flexible,” he says, adding that there are many ways to complete a goal. “The instructor should not get too frustrated if circumstances get you away from your lesson plan. Remember, we are dealing with horses and people with minds of their own. It should never be a one-size-fits-all program.”

After the Lesson

Taking notes on the lesson plan can help with future lesson plans. “We always write notes on each student after the lesson on what they succeeded with and what they could work on, or the next possible step,” says West. “We also will note how horses rode, any issues, or if the plan was changed.”

Reimer shares that her notes, which she archives for two years, are detailed enough that if another instructor has to step in, then they will know each rider’s strengths, weaknesses, and skill level.

However, while details are important, says Dobbs, he warns that too many can be problematic. “Some lesson plans I have seen have so much going on that I even got confused,” he adds.

Reimer’s final piece of advice is for instructors to think back on how they learned all that they know. “Don’t expect your students to learn it any faster,” she says, especially if they only ride once a week. “It took me trying to learn piano as an adult to appreciate muscle memory and retention of the skill from one week to the next.”

While lesson planning is never an exact science, being organized and fine-tuning what works for you and your lesson program can make the time invested well worth it. And CHA’s various resources, including advice from fellow members, can always improve any lesson program.

Sarah Evers Conrad is the editor of CHA’s The Instructor, and is also published in a variety of equine publications, such as Horse Illustrated, The Horse, Arabian Horse Life, American Quarter Horse Journal, American Paint Horse Journal, USDF Connection, and others. In addition, she helps equine businesses with their marketing through her company, All In Stride Marketing.

For more on lesson planning and to see a blank sample lesson plan and several additional completed sample lesson plans, you can purchase CHA’s The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding from

  • Pull Sample Lesson Plan from Equine Professional Manual from pg. 191 and 192
  • Show the cover of The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding

Drill Team Maneuvers


Tack Room

Lessons getting stale? Tired of traveling in the same circles? Try doing mounted drill team work with your riders! You can do drill team maneuvers with two riders or more. It develops rating skills in your riders and helps them learn the true meaning of teamwork. For extra enthusiasm, let the riders pick the music and choreograph the pattern. There are numerous maneuvers you can make with drill team riders, from basic school figures to fancy wheels and pass-throughs. Drill team patterns can be done for all levels of riders and may be done at the walk, trot or canter. We recommend starting at the walk and reserving canter movements for only the most advanced riders.

Kathy Reimer,
BC Canada

CHA Asst. Clinic Instructor

Rainbow reins, the multi-colored rubber reins made popular by pony club, are helpful teaching tools for young riders because the instructor can easily tell the student what amount of contact she should have by saying, “Put your hands on green.” But rainbow reins can be expensive so we just use colored electrical tape to mark our reins for the same effect!

Amy Habak,
Wheeling, WV

CHA Asst. Clinic Instructor

Herd Management

Horse Lingo

Never a farrier around when you need one? Try scheduling your farrier to come once a week, rain or shine, during your busy season and keep the herd on a rotating schedule. Not only will this make things easier for you, but also if you have problems in-between shoeings, you can get the horse fixed up and back in service quickly.

Holly Fox,
Davis, CA

CHA Asst. Clinic Instructor

Fishing and horses are two sports that just don’t mix all that well. And while horses are known to have a condition called FOUNDER, that is not to be confused with a tasty, but funny looking fish known as a FLOUNDER! Founder is a layman’s term for the serious and sometimes life-threatening disease technically known as LAMINITIS. Laminitis can be caused by many things known and unknown, such as over-eating grain, excessive weight, excessive stress, etc., and manifests in a an inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. The laminae are the highly vascular connective tissue between the inner structure of the hoof and the hoof wall. Since this is a closed space, inflammation and swelling causes severe pain and distress for the horse. A foundered horse needs immediate medical attention and the rehabilitation will be a joint effort between a skilled farrier and your vet.

Joanne Young,
Houghton, NY

CHA Clinic Instructor

Teach the 3 Different Ways that People Learn


Tack Room

A good reminder for instructors, as we approach the busy teaching season, comes directly from the newly released CHA Instructor’s Manual. People learn in three different ways: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. The auditory learner will benefit most from the explanations that accompany any effective lesson, while the visual learner will learn more from the demonstration. A kinesthetic learner will learn best from actually practicing the motor skills. All of us learn in all three ways, but typically individuals will favor one method over the other two. For this reason, it is important to make sure all of your lessons present information in all three ways. Remember, that for a visual learner, a poor demonstration may leave a lasting impression of the wrong thing. For this reason, it important for the demonstration to be very good and you should avoid demonstrating the wrong thing or how not to do something. (The new Instructor’s Manual is now available by calling the CHA office; it is a valuable tool for instructors and trail guides).

A bit frequently seen in tack rooms everywhere is the “Tom Thumb snaffle” or western snaffle. This is a shanked bit with a jointed mouthpiece. This bit is commonly misunderstood and believed to be a very mild bit, because of its jointed mouthpiece. In fact, the bit can be quite harsh since the jointed mouthpiece allows the bit to squeeze the chin of the horse, an action referred to as the “nutcracker effect.” Additionally, when the shanks come together from a pull on both reins, the jointed part pushes up into the roof of the horse’s mouth, which is a highly sensitive area. This bit is definitely a leverage bit and is not a direct pressure bit like a snaffle. Horses using this bit will frequently open their mouth to try and escape the pressure. The bit definitely has its use, but if it is a mild bit you are looking for, this isn’t it.

Herd Management

Horse Lingo

Funguses and skin disorders are common problems in the summer, especially when the same grooming equipment is used for a large herd. Brushes and grooming tools should be disinfected regularly through out the season. Place the brushes in a five-gallon bucket and soak in a mix of bleach, detergent and water. Allow the brushes to soak for at least an hour, rinse VERY thoroughly (to avoid skin irritation caused by the bleach and detergent) and allow the brushes to dry in the sun. Disinfect brushes and grooming tools every time a horse shows signs of a skin disorder or on a routine basis, weekly or monthly. Whenever a horse shows signs of a skin disorder, be sure to disinfect and isolate his brushes and tack, so that it does not come in contact with any other horses.

Stride Vs. Step: a stride refers to one complete cycle of all four feet during the gait. For instance, the canter (or lope) is a three beat gait and one stride of the canter includes all three beats (the outside hind, then the inside hind and outside fore as a diagonal pair, then finally the inside fore). A step is the action of one beat during the stride. So one step in the canter stride would be when the leading fore leg moves forward as the final beat of the canter stride.

Are There Thief Horses in Your Barn?

Are There Thief Horses in Your Barn?

By Doug Emerson

At some point, all professional horsemen realize that they can’t keep forever every good horse that ever walked into the barn. Buying and later selling horses is an unavoidable part of the horse business. There is no doubt about it, becoming fond of your horses is a terrific benefit of being in business. However, your affection and familiarity can also be a financial tie down that will ruin your business. It’s not always easy to accept, but the profitable horseman understands that horses in his or her barn are assets; they aren’t pets.

From a business viewpoint, all horses are either appreciating in value or depreciating in value. The horses in your barn are either generating income as: lesson horses, brood mares, stallions, or are inventory for sale. With no revenue or potential revenue source attached, all other horses are ongoing operating expenses. With no revenue offset, the horse becomes a financial dependent on your business’s welfare roll.

Not only is it an operating expense, it is also an opportunity cost. Think about it, if a horse occupies a stall and generates no income or has little or no potential for future income, it is a thief horse. Unlike a horse thief, a thief horse steals your potential to earn profit from the space and resources it occupies. That stall could be used for:
Horse for training
Lesson Horse
Brood Mare
A speculation horse “bought right”
An empty stall for attracting the next opportunity
In economic terms, there is an opportunity cost for every decision you make in your equine business. An opportunity cost is defined as the cost of something in terms of an opportunity foregone. Said a different way, unlike Yogi Berra’s classic line, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, every fork in the road you come upon requires a choice. The road you choose is the path you follow. The road not taken is your opportunity cost since you cannot travel two paths at the same time. Choosing the more profitable path that fits your business vision is the correct choice to make every time.

It’s the right time of year to consider whether or not you have any “thief horses” in your barn and if you do how to find a new home for them. Just like any business, the horse business requires that assets produce revenue. A manufacturer or retailer has the opportunity to mothball equipment and machinery in storage if a future need should arise. The cost of storage is relatively cheap and is a good option to have assets available for future use. Obviously, mothballing your horses in a warehouse is not a choice for the professional horseman. While the manufacturer’s machinery can be put back into service easily with a dusting and a few drops of oil, our equine friends require consistent feeding and care along with conditioning.
What are the solutions for finding a new home for your horses that no longer fill the job intended for them at your farm?
Find a buyer who doesn’t need the performance out of the horse that you are expecting. There are many buyers that don’t need a Ferrari; they’re looking for a Chevy.

Donate the horse to a good home as a companion horse. Even if performance or soundness is an issue, horses with good manners are always in demand as pasture buddies for other horses. Giving away a horse may at first seem to be a poor business practice, but as you analyze the costs of maintenance, instant relief from the expenses is worth the sacrifice of marginal sale proceeds.

Maintain ownership and lease to beginner riders who want to care for and love a horse of their own. The lessee gets the horse she has always wanted; you get some relief from your overhead expenses.

As a business owner, if your assets are non-producing, then it’s up to you to make changes. Undeniably, it’s easy to become emotionally attached to good horses. But, when horses can no longer fill the job description in your equine business plan, the right thing for you to do as a professional horseman is to find a new job for them where they will still be loved and appreciated.

About the Author: Doug Emerson trains, consults and coaches professional horsemen and horsewomen struggling with the business half of the horse business. You can reach him and receive free eblasts by visiting or by calling (716) 434-5371.

Benefits of the Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

Benefits of the Cross-Under Bitless Bridle

By Dr. Robert Cook

I am proud that my company, The Bitless Bridle Inc. is sponsoring CHA. Our objectives are so compatible that the ‘marriage’ might have been made in horse heaven. For 57 years, I have been a veterinary surgeon and teacher, with a research focus on the horse’s head. Eight years ago, my research spawned a product and I became a salesman. I declare this conflict unashamedly as I know that I am doing more to help horses and riders now than at any previous time.

Before you assume that the product is snake-oil, please read an independent opinion from Dr. Jessica Jahiel’s newsletter archives that contains the quote, “By giving up the use of the bit, you don’t sacrifice any control…” (read)
See also her article “What is this new Bitless Bridle?”.

The cross-under bitless bridle (CBB) is painless and it eliminates the fear and nervousness responsible for most of the hundred or more behavioral problems caused by the bit (click here). Without a bit there is also no impediment to breathing, so the horse performs more willingly and accidents caused by fatigue are less likely. Because a bitless horse can stride in time with its breathing, the gait is more rhythmic and graceful. It is also more efficient because the CBB doesn’t interfere with the energy-saving ‘head bob’. As bits frequently cause painful bone spurs on the bars of the mouth and problems such as headshaking (facial neuralgia), the CBB avoids both of these serious side-effects.

The mode of action of the bridle is simple but subtle. At no time can rein pressure be anything but trivial as it is always well distributed. For signaling to slow or stop, intermittent tension on both reins hugs the whole of the head. The greatest pressure, such as it is, occurs across the bridge of the nose, with less pressure on the chin and cheek, and least pressure on the poll. As seen in the line drawing for steering, tension on one rein (black arrow) nudges one half of the head (white arrows).

The longer stride of the horse translates into greater speed. Obviously, this is of special relevance to the racehorse, but other horses also walk and trot faster. The more energy-efficient stride promotes greater stamina. Freedom from pain allows a horse to focus on the job in hand, engendering confidence and courage. Absence of oral pain means that the horse’s neck is not tense. Consequently, the back too remains flexible and stiff, choppy gaits are avoided. Elimination of bit-induced head shaking allows a horse to perform better in dressage, show jumping and all other disciplines. Removing a steel rod from a sensitive body cavity eliminates a major physiological confusion. A bit triggers dominance of the digestive mode, whereas what is needed in the exercising horse is the respiratory and cardiovascular mode. Problems such as a gaping mouth, protruding tongue, excessive salivation and repeated swallowing are eliminated when the oral foreign body is removed (

The key to success with a bitted bridle is ‘good hands.’ The term describes the minimal use of hands and, therefore, the minimal amount of pain. The less a rider depends on hand aids, the more her performance and that of her horse improves. The ultimate of ‘good hands’ is no bit at all. By definition, therefore, the CBB guarantees ‘good hands’ and focuses the rider’s attention on communicating by seat and legs, balance and breathing. It makes for better riders. It also avoids the need for riders to constantly correct a resistant horse. Instead they ride a compliant horse and can foster that harmony and partnership which is the goal of good horsemanship.

The bit – incorrectly viewed as necessary for control – frequently causes loss of control and a host of negative side-effects. For example, bit-induced pain triggers bolting. A horse that defends itself from the bit by placing it between its teeth or under its tongue deprives the rider of all control. Bit-induced problems such as bolting, rearing, bucking, and rushing or refusing jumps, are causes of serious injury to the rider or even sudden death. Bit-induced fear can be the cause of a horse becoming aggressive (biting & kicking) in the stable. A bitted horse may become dangerous at the moment of mounting. Hair-trigger responses to the bit or over-reaction to bit aids are to be avoided in an animal as powerful as a horse.

The CBB is easy to fit, versatile and universal (read more). It can serve as a bridle, lead halter and lunging cavesson. It is usable on all sizes, types and temperaments of horse and by riders of all ages and experience. It is a particular boon for handicapped, young or novice riders as they cannot hurt their horse. Apart from limitations on use of the CBB for certain competitions, currently imposed by FEI rules, there are no contraindications for its use in any discipline.

Grab Hands

“Grab Hands”
It drives me crazy to see people lead a horse by holding onto the halter, instead of using a lead rope. This action is both dangerous and poor horsemanship. Wrapping your fingers around a halter can very quickly and easily turn into a dislocated shoulder, by the horse throwing his head or spooking. Additionally, horses don’t much care for hands in their face and grabbing the horse by the halter positions the handler far too close to the horse’s head and front feet. This close proximity to the horse’s head can lead to claustrophobia on the horse’s part (which may in turn lead to a pull-back problem) and puts the human in a dangerous position which may lead to being butted by the horse’s head or run over. Not to mention how easy it is for the horse to throw his head and get loose. Whenever you handle a horse, use a lead rope and hold the rope 6-8″ below the halter, so as not to crowd the horse’s head and front end.

Who’s in Charge Anyway?

“Who’s in Charge Anyway?”
Julie Goodnight, Master Instructor and Clinician, Poncha Springs, CO

Many people mount up on their horse and no sooner is their seat in the saddle and their foot in the stirrup than the horse just walks off, with no cue from the rider. In short order, the horse, which is by now used to making decisions unauthorized by you, is walking off before you sit down and then when you put the foot in the stirrup to mount. We tend to want to blame the horse at this point: my horse won’t stand still for mounting, when we have effectively trained the horse over time to not stand still for mounting by condoning his unauthorized decisions. A horse should stand perfectly still when you mount, as you adjust the saddle and get settled and should wait for you to actually cue him to walk before he goes any where. Allowing a horse to walk off at any time without a specific cue to walk, is teaching the horse that he can do what he wants, when he wants. When I am teaching a group lesson, I like to explain to the riders that your horse may try to walk off when the horse in front of him walks, but to make him stand until he is patiently awaiting y our signal. This is a great exercise for both the horse and rider. If you ride your horse with awareness and control, he will learn that he has to wait for a directive from you in all things and at all times.

Emergency Dismount

I am the Riding Director at a horseback riding summer camp. Over the winter, I like to go through the program and re-evaluate our policies and procedures. My question is concerning our current emergency dismount. Presently the dismount goes as follows:

1) Make a “butterfly” with your hands so the reins are just resting on your thumbs.

2) Put your hands on your horse’s neck (not touching the saddle)

3) Bring your feet out of the stirrups, swing legs three times and jump off using your horses neck

4) If possible, bring your horse’s reins over his head and hold them (under shanks with right hand, extra rein in left hand)

First off, can you see anything wrong with this dismount? We have been using it for 30 years but, I know that doesn’t automatically mean that it’s right. I am considering changing the last part (#4): Instead of bringing the reins over the horse’s head, leaving them over the saddle horn and holding the reins under the shanks with the right hand. That way, if the horse is spooking, he can run away without getting the person stuck to him, causing rope burn or getting the reins around his legs. I would like to know what you think of my change and of our current emergency dismount. Thank You! Sincerely, Jennifer Willey Hi Jennifer, This is somewhat of a controversial subject. Whereas many of us used to teach the emergency dismount, in the past few years it has gone out of favor. Many people feel (myself included) that you increase the risk of injury to the rider by practicing the emergency dismount and also that it is often better for the rider to remain mounted than to bail off a moving horse. If it is truly an emergency worthy of an emergency dismount, it is probably not a real controllable situation. In my experience, I have seen too many sprained ankles and pulled muscles from practicing it, not to mention the aggravation the horse goes through at being repeatedly mounted. I have also had riders that were far too quick to jump off a moving horse and though I have not had any serious injuries this way, it is only by luck. On the other hand, my son (13 y/o), who is prone to ride bareback and bridle-less out in the pasture, was taught the emergency dismount from GaWaNi PonyBoy (a popular Native American clinician) and uses it frequently. I am very glad that he learned it. PonyBoy teaches the Native American technique of rolling off the horse. I have not seen his presentation on this particular topic, but you might want to check it out. He has a website at As for the specific question on your technique, the only thing I can see is that we do not recommend that the rider hold onto the reins at all, for the risk is too great of pulling the horse onto you if you lose your balance. While it would be nice if everyone remained in control of their horses, if an emergency dismount is truly warranted, it is likely the rider needs to get away from the horse (a horse being stung by yellow jackets comes to mind). I was glad to see you mentioned taking the feet out of the stirrups and you might want to emphasize it more by making that its own step. It is amazing how often people forget that one really important step. I know of one lawsuit where that was the cause of injury, the rider tried to do an emergency dismount but forgot to take his feet out of the stirrups and suffered a badly broken ankle. It is refreshing to hear of someone improving written policies. Just the fact that you have written policies indicates how well run your program is. Since I spend a great deal of time traveling around the country giving lectures urging professionals to establish written procedures, it is great to hear when people already have them, let alone, updating and improving them! It is a testament to your dedication to safety. Keep up the good work!

Beginning Teacher

I’ve had my certification for about a year now, (English-1, Western-2. Trail-2), but haven’t really taught much, so I am a little intimidated about taking formal students. Foremost, I want my students to be safe. What are some of the most common ways beginner students get into trouble? Also, the facility I’ll be working at doesn’t have an arena yet, but does have designated “arena” areas. Do you have any tips to mitigate that issue? I also want my students to have fun. What are you favorite games for small lessons? Most of my lessons will be individual, and I plan to cap them at three riders. Thanks so much, I appreciate any advice you have.

– Logan


Even though you have not had much experience, you must have good communication skills and horse sense if you received Level 2 instructor and trail guide. That tells me that you probably are okay on knowledge and ability, you just need experience to gain confidence. With each lesson that you teach, you will gain this valuable experience.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad experience,” Mark Twain. This statement is all too true in the horse business. But the fact that you are Level 2 certified leads me to believe you have had enough experience to make good judgments. That’s how beginners get into the most trouble: poor judgment; either on the part of the individual or the instructor.

Part of having good judgment includes using only the safest of horses; having qualified and complete supervision; using safe equipment and inspecting all tack before each use; having safe facilities; developing solid lesson plans; establishing and rehearsing emergency plans; and finally, imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could happen with horses and plan for that contingency.

Honestly, every time I look back on a horse wreck that I was involved in, I can find a way it could have been foreseen or prevented. Of course, the more experience you have, the easier it gets to make good judgments. But if you think it through, you’ll prevent many incidents.

As for your question about the open riding area, it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. CHA standards mandate that riding arenas are of suitable size for the activities performed (which in your case is beginner riding lessons—so you need a minimum of 32 linear feet of rail per horse); with a minimum 3’6” high fence made of wood, plastic or metal; good footing; free of hazards; as level as possible and regularly inspected and maintained. Since you are CHA certified, you have an obligation to uphold these standards because knowingly disregarding them makes you appear to be negligent.

The good news is that although beginner riders must start in a confined area, the space you need to teach a maximum of three beginners is quite small. It is only 96 linear feet of rail; or a square pen of only 24’ X 24’. That’s only 8 twelve foot coral panels and if you found some used panels, it would probably cost you less than $500. Put in a post at each corner (you could even use metal T-Posts if you had to) and you’ve got yourself a beginner arena for small group lessons.

Looking for ways to make your lessons fun, like playing games, it a wonderful idea and it meets the second of the three mandates for a good CHA lesson: Safe, Fun & Effective. There are many ideas on the CHA website ( in the Q&A section on how to make lessons fun, including many games. With beginners, the main thing you are teaching them is position and control, so your games should focus on building and reinforcing those skills.

Logan, I am confident that with your commitment to safety and excellence, you are going to be a great instructor and keep your beginners safe. Get your arena in order, make sure your horses and equipment are top notch and keep your eagle eye focused on your students and their safety and before you know it, you’ll be giving advice to other new instructors on how to build a successful lesson business. Good luck!

Teach Conformation


Tack Room

I always like to ask my students to evaluate the conformation of the horse they are riding. It makes them think about the horse’s way of going (paces, straightness, and flexion) then we discuss how to improve. It teaches them to think for themselves and to understand and empathize with the horse a little more.

Jennifer Diggle

Sweaty Stinky Saddle Pads

Saddle pads are awkward to store and generally need airing out to diminish the sweaty horse smell that can get oh-so-pungent in the summer. Make a space in your tack room just like a hanging closet in a bedroom, with a hanging bar. The more pads you use, the longer the bar needs to be. Get plastic pant hangers, with the pinch-clamps and you can hang each pad so that it dries and airs out. You can store a huge number of pads in a relatively small space and best of all, you can retrieve any pad on the rack, just like you pick a shirt from your closet.

Julie Goodnight

Herd Management

Horse Lingo


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Product Review: Western Safety Stirrups

Product Review: Western Safety Stirrups

By Julie Goodnight

The risk of severe injury or death by dragging from the stirrup of a runaway horse is a serious concern for ride providers and riders everywhere. The risk of getting hung-up in a stirrup exists even when proper footwear is worn, but the risk is greatly increased when riders are allowed to mount in improper footwear such as athletic shoes or sandals.

While CHA standards recommend that ride providers require riders to wear proper footwear, we realize that this is not always an option, particularly for programs dealing with tourists right off the street. Even when proper footwear is required, the risk of dragging still exists, especially when riders wear lace up boots that will not pull off when stuck in the stirrup like a non-lace up boot will.

Saddle Technology Incorporated, of Laurel, Montana has invented and patented a safety breakaway stirrup, which looks just like a high quality Western stirrup and comes in several styles. Invented by a veteran cattle rancher and former PRCA cowboy, Mike McCoy, these stirrups were actually made to protect the professional rodeo cowboy. However, their application to recreational riding programs is perhaps even more significant.bearkaway stirrup

The safety breakaway stirrup is designed to release itself from the stirrup leather when it reaches a 45-degree back angle or a 70-degree forward angle. The back angle would be activated when a horse shies out from under a rider or when the rider is thrown. The forward angle of release is generally activated when a horse falls. Whether the foot is through the stirrup or the toe is wedged in the stirrup, this stirrup will always rotate around the stirrup leather activating the release mechanism.

The mechanism controlling the stirrup release is a spring-loaded pin holding the stirrup in place that fires inward, releasing the stirrup when it hits the predetermined angle of release. A torsion pressure feature restricts the flopping or free-swinging motion of the stirrup at the end of the stirrup leather. This feature will prevent 70% of those situations where the rider’s foot slips out of the stirrup, causing the rider to lose balance and fall.

One of the best features of the stirrup, according to professional riders, is that it will not release under normal riding conditions. Another important safety and financial consideration is the stirrup’s durability. The stirrup is made from high quality, high tensile strength materials and comes with a five-year warrantee. It appears to me that the stirrup could last for the entire useful life of a saddle, with reasonable care.

The stirrups come in three different models to meet the needs of a variety of riders. It is available in an Oxbow style, a roping stirrup and a traditional style western stirrup with a wide footrest. All three styles are available in nylon, leather or rawhide coverings and range in price.

I had the opportunity to test the traditional style stirrup, which would be used for a trail riding operation. The stirrups are very attractive and once on the saddle, there is no indication that it is anything other than a normal high quality stirrup. It rode just like a regular stirrup but with its weight and stability, there is less slipping around on your foot. Fortunately, I did not have the opportunity to be drug or thrown to see how it releases in an emergency situation, but I could simulate the circumstances and it released effortlessly every time when cocked to the release angles. The only downside I could find to the stirrups is that if you throw your saddle on the ground (instead of hanging it from the saddle rack), it could cause the stirrups to release inadvertently. But there is an easy fix for this problem: treat your saddle properly and it won’t happen.

Although the cost may seem a little high at first, it is important to consider the longevity of the product and compare it to the potential cost of an injury or death caused from dragging. It is quite possible that your insurance company would offer a discount if these stirrups are used across the board.

For more information on the STI Safety Breakaway Western Stirrups, contact STI at (406) 248-7331 or

No Rubbing

No Rubbing
It can be dangerous and annoying when people do not teach their horse to respect the handlers’ space. Do not let a horse rub their head on you after removing their bridle. You can give them a rub on your terms, but allowing them to rub on you shows a lack of respect. I have seen people knocked over when their horse head-butted them after removing the bridle. This can be especially dangerous with children. When handling your horse, do not allow them to come too close into your personal space unless you invite them in. If they get too close, ask your horse to back up or move over. Your horse will start to see you as the leader instead of someone they can literally walk all over.
Tabatha Gullikson – WI

Accidental Frequency

Accident Frequency: What is Normal?

I work for a large lesson/boarding facility – we have about 50 school horses, 50 boarder horses, and a couple hundred students come through each week. I am concerned because we have had a string of pretty nasty falls recently and I am wondering if this is normal for such a large facility or if there is something unsafe happening. Is there an average number of falls that is acceptable for a facility? Is it pure chance whether a fall is minor or requires an ambulance?

Through my work with CHA, I have worked with numerous large program operators (50-100+ school horses; 200-300 students per week) that have virtually zero incident rates. I am not a believer in the statement that falling off and having injuries is just a part of the sport. I believe if you have that attitude then you will have wrecks and injuries.

I am not aware of any statistics that say how many falls or injuries are normal, but I think we should all have a zero tolerance policy. Without question, riding is a risky sport and there is nothing we can do to totally eliminate the inherent risk involved with horses. However, risks can be mitigated and with a serious focus on safety, there will be fewer injuries. Certainly some riding activities are riskier than others, such as jumping, and you would expect a higher fall rate with the riskier activities.

Whether or not there is an injury associated with a fall depends on many factors, however, many people advocate teaching people how to fall by relaxing and rolling into the fall rather than bracing against it. There are many good models for this in martial arts and it may not be a bad idea to address this with your students.

Every time there is an incident, whether someone is hurt or not, there should be an incident report made and careful scrutiny by managers as to how the incident might have been prevented. There are few, if any, freak accidents and almost every incident is preventable in some way. When incidents are reported and reviewed, they become excellent training tools for improving the safety record at the facility.

I have spoken with many instructors that share your frustration in seeing the opportunity to improve the safety record at a facility, but feeling powerless to take action. The best you can do is work within the system and be persistent in making suggestions on how to improve. If you have exhausted this approach and made no progress and you still feel that the safety at the facility is unacceptable, then you may have to consider resigning. If that is the case, you should write down all of your concerns and send them in a certified letter to the owner/manager and/or board of directors. Also send a registered copy to yourself, but do not open it, just save it for your files, in the event that any future litigation arises.

The most important thing is for you to keep your high standards in safety, maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward incidents and injuries and when incidents do occur, always examine them closely and find a way to prevent it from happening again.

Hanging High & Dry

By Julie Goodnight


Cheryl loved Sunday mornings at the barn. If she got there early enough, it was quiet and peaceful, no other boarders to bother her, no dogs and kids running crazy. Some of her best rides happened at this time and a Sunday morning ride was the highlight of her week.

As usual, Cheryl got her mare out, groomed and tack and decided to ride in the arena and do some specific schooling on some of the maneuvers she had been trying to learn. The barn was some distance from the owner’s house and the only other person around was the Charlie, who was in the back barn cleaning stalls. She virtually had the whole place to herself.

There was a little chill in the air this early in the morning so Cheryl was dressed in her favorite barn jacket, a fleece-lined, nylon shell zip-up. After a lovely ride, Cheryl sat on her horse, reflecting on the great things they were achieving. She was riding Western this morning and without thinking Cheryl dropped both feet from the stirrups and vaulted off her horse, as she was accustomed to in the English saddle.

As she swung her leg over the horse’s rump, she leaned forward, snagging the bottom of her jacket on the horn. By the time she realized what had happened, she was already hanging by her jacket from her 15.3 hand horse. Fortunately, Cheryl had done hours of ground work with her mare, so the horse stood perfectly still, even though having a human attached to her and hanging was a new and somewhat disconcerting feeling to the mare.

Cheryl hung for a few moments, with her toes barely able to touch the ground, but not enough to bear her weight. She immediately realized the dangerous predicament she was in and could visualize the outcome, should her mare decide to spook. First she tried to get enough contact with the ground to jump up and release herself; to no avail. Then she tried calling Charlie, yelling repeatedly as loudly as she could; again to no avail. Realizing that she was in an extremely dangerous and precarious position, Cheryl recognized that she was going to have to rescue herself; no one else was coming to her aid. Suddenly she missed the normal hustle and bustle of a regular day at the boarding barn.

Next, Cheryl spied an old bale of hay in the corner of the arena and she toyed with the idea of trying to get her horse to walk over to the hay bale so she could stand on it. But even though Cheryl had done plenty of groundwork with this horse and her manners were impeccable, she was reluctant to ask the mare to move, realizing that once movement began, she might not be able to control it. So she abandoned the hay bale as a possible means of escape.

Then it occurred to Cheryl that if she could unfasten the cinch, the saddle would slide off and release her jacket. She tried and tried to get this accomplished but since she had one hands on the reins to control the horse if she should try to move, and she was not willing to release that grip, she was unable to make any progress with the cinch.

Finally Cheryl realized that she had no way out and she knew that she couldn’t wait forever for someone to appear, sensing that the mare was starting to get impatient. With one last effort, knowing that it could make the difference in whether or not she lived to tell this tale, Cheryl made one last attempt to jump up and clear the jacket from the horn. Miraculously it worked and Cheryl’s’ feet hit the ground solid; she was once again free to stand on her own two feet and she had escaped a near-disaster.

The Analysis

Another crisis averted and lesson learned! It was immediately obvious to Cheryl that her nylon jacket, while great for baseball and other sports, was inappropriate for riding. As she did a little exploring, she discovered that most jackets made for riding horses have snap closures, the purpose of which is to pop open if you get snagged on something; made specifically to avoid the type of problem Cheryl had. Her new favorite riding jacket, purchased later that very day, has snap closures and a gathered waist, to prevent the snag on the horn to begin with.

But there were some other more subtle lessons to be learned from the near-miss incident. Cheryl had to rethink her Sunday morning routine. Perhaps it was better to ride when others were around to come to your aid if needed. On the outset, it didn’t seem like Cheryl was alone and she certainly wouldn’t go out on the trail by herself. But having Charlie in the back barn and the farm owner some 400 yards away in her home, was clearly not enough presence to render her aid if needed. From then on, Cheryl made the commitment to only ride when there was at least one other person in or around the arena.

Although Cheryl was already a firm believer in ground work, now she had a whole new perspective. Her control over the horse from the ground was perhaps the one thing that really kept this from turning into a total disaster. The hours she had spent developing this kind of control over her horse paid off in spades because she had the ability to make her stand perfectly still when it was critically needed. Not all horses would have been so cooperative, especially with a strange thing hanging off them.

Finally, Cheryl’s decision not to ask the horse to move toward the hay bale was very smart. Once you start a horse moving in a situation like that, you would probably lose control. As the horse moved, it is quite likely she would become anxious about the weird thing attached to her and as a horse’s anxiety builds, her desire to move her feet to flee would increase. With limited means to exert control from her precarious position, Cheryl may have ended up being drug around and seriously injured.

There are countless stories about being hung up on the horn of the Western saddle and this one had a happy outcome. Remember when dismounting English or Western to slide down your right hip as you can also rip your breeches on the stirrup keepers in an English saddle.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Frivolous Lawsuits and What You Can Do About Them

By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law

“Can I be sued if I do this . . .?”

People ask me this question all the time, hoping that some special action or precaution will forever insulate them from the burden, aggravation, and expense of a lawsuit. Unfortunately, despite every precaution we take, we live in a society where a person or businesses can be sued for virtually anything. Right or wrong, the fact is that anyone can file a lawsuit against you. Merely because someone has sued you, however, does not mean the case has merit. This article discusses frivolous lawsuits and shares ideas about how to protect yourself and what to do if you are targeted with one.

What is a “Frivolous Lawsuit”?

A weak lawsuit is not necessarily a “frivolous” one. Frivolous lawsuits are typically cases that have no legitimate factual or legal support and are not even based on a good faith argument for the extension or reversal of existing law. Frivolous lawsuits are sometimes brought for an improper purpose, such as to harass someone. Examples of lawsuits deemed frivolous are those sometimes brought by people against the government claiming that the government has no legal authority to assess and collect taxes. “Frivolous” is not always used to describe baseless lawsuits. The term “frivolous” is occasionally used to describe equally baseless defenses that are sometimes asserted in defense of valid litigation.

Fighting Back Against Frivolous Cases

If you have become the target of a lawsuit that you believe is frivolous, you will need to defend yourself effectively. Never assume that a judge will, on his or her own, discover the weaknesses of a case or defense. Consider taking several possible actions. Your options will depend on the applicable law, your litigation budget, and the nature of the case. Here are a few:
Ask the court to dismiss the case. At the appropriate time, you can ask the judge to dismiss the case completely before it ever proceeds to trial. Lawyers call these requests “motions for summary judgment.” In bringing these motions, lawyers will very carefully organize each of the claims in the lawsuit and compare them to the facts and the applicable law. Through this analysis, the motion will explain to the court in writing why the case has no merit and should be dismissed outright.
Demand that sanctions be imposed. Under state and federal court rules, judges have discretion to order the party who brought a frivolous case (or defense) against you and/or that party’s lawyer to pay financial penalties that are sometimes referred to as “sanctions.” In my experience, judges rarely do this, but a few will. Consider making an appropriate request and letting the judge decide.

Seek to recover costs, where allowed by law. Lawyers know that applicable law might allow for taxation of costs through which the winning party can, at a minimum, recover certain costs and expenses from the losing party. The financial benefit might be minimal, since taxable costs tend to be limited in scope to deposition transcript costs, filing fees, or subpoena fees. Nevertheless, you might have the satisfaction of imposing extra expense on the one who wrongly sued you.

Bring a suit or claim for “abuse of process.” If you believe that a lawsuit was brought against you for an improper purpose, you might have a claim of “abuse of process” against the one who sued you. Your lawyer can discuss this with you.

Sue for “malicious prosecution” after you defeat the frivolous case. After you have successfully defeated a frivolous case that was brought against you, you might have a basis to sue the one who brought that lawsuit under the theory of “malicious prosecution.” To bring a valid case for malicious prosecution, however, usually requires proof that the suit you defeated was brought with malice and had no probable cause.

Avoid Liability

To protect yourself against lawsuits of any kind – frivolous or otherwise – you can consider the following:

Liability insurance:

Liability insurance will not prevent lawsuits from being brought against you, and insurance policies cannot protect you against every type of lawsuit. Nevertheless, if your insurance policy provides coverage for a claim or lawsuit against you, the insurer will hire and pay a lawyer to defend you. This would spare you the out-of-pocket expense of hiring a lawyer.


As I have written for many years, well-written contracts can help prevent disputes and lawsuits. Contracts in the equine industry can include sales agency agreements, sales contracts, training contracts, boarding contracts, and liability waivers/releases. Effective contracts can also include “attorney fee” clauses in which the other party agrees to pay your legal fees if a dispute arises (where allowed by law).

This article does not constitute legal advice.
When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

About the Author: Julie Fershtman, a lawyer for over 20 years, is one of the most experienced Equine Law practitioners in the United States. She has won numerous courtroom victories around the country for her clients. She has drafted hundreds of equine contracts. Contact her at (248) 851-4111, ext. 160, or visit her websites, and Let Julie Fershtman’s books help you avoid disputes and understand your rights. The books, MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense and Equine Law & Horse Sense, are easy to understand. Order both books on the CHA website shopping cart at

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Small Arena

By Tonya Rossman


I am well into my second season as a CHA Certified Riding Instructor with much success. The other day I took a 5-year-old for a pony ride on my 12 hand pony inside a 60 x 80 arena at the Community Fairgrounds where I operate. I was leading her around on my pony who will tolerate just about anything, well except moose.

As I was leading the pony around against the rail with a side walker on the right side, I decided to cut across the arena as this was her first ride and she wanted to be close to her parents standing at the end of the arena. Just then we heard a snap and whoosh in the thick alders beside the arena and the pony crow-hopped around to see the tail end of a moose. I was able to get him under control with a good Whoa, but not before the rider lost her balance and slid off the opposite side of me. She had a well-fitted helmet and boots and landed on her side. She was shook up but brushed herself off and got back on. It could have been much worse.


There are several factors which could have prevented or decreased the chance for this to have happened. Where was my side walker? When the pony spooked, he was trailing along behind the pony with a confused look. Although young, he has done plenty of side walking but he never had to react to a quick incident before. I also did not have a back cinch on the pony saddle, although I have one on order. Also, the alder trees created a safe haven for moose (or anything else) to hide, the pony did not see it but heard and smelt it first. I will have them cleared all the way back to the next property line and choose more experienced side walkers. In addition, although all my lesson horses are gentle, older and have many miles, spooking is always a possibility for any horse or pony. I only put small children on small ponies with their legs at least reaching half-way down for balance. Had she been on my 14 or 15 hand horse and fell, it probably would have been much worse.

About the Author: Tonya Rossman is a CHA Certified Instructor from Haines, Alaska. She runs Small Tracks Stable & Saddlery.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Chain Lead Shank Tragedy

By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law


It was a routine day at the barn and after finishing with her lessons, Karen had some extra time to ride and enjoy one of her own horses, a solid, tried-and-true gelding. After a wonderful ride, Karen proceeded with her normal routine to untack and groom her horse and put him away.

After unbridling the horse, she put on the nylon halter and looking around for a lead shank to lead him back to the barn, all that Karen could find was a shank with a chain. The horse had just been ridden and was tired, so he certainly did not need the chain over his nose for control, but since it was the only lead handy, Karen decided to use it anyway. She ran the snap of the chain through the bottom ring of the halter and snapped it back on itself, doubling the chain, as most people do in order to shorten the chain and make it stronger when the chain is not needed over the horse’s nose or under its chin.

Enjoying the afternoon and savoring the excellent ride she just had on her gelding, Karen walked the horse slowly back toward his stall, deciding to offer him a treat and allow him to graze on the fresh green grass on the way back to the barn. Having used the chain lead shank in this manner dozens, if not hundreds of times before, Karen had no idea that she had created a noose for her horse and by letting him graze, she was setting the trap.

Within a moment of having his head down in the grass, Karen saw the gelding’s hoof in the loop of the chain. In a split second, before Karen could take any corrective action, he ripped his head up and reared; his leg was trapped in the chain and the horse began to struggle.

Tragically, the chain did not break, but the horse’s neck did. The horse could not untangle himself and in his struggle to get free, his neck broke and as he collapsed to the ground, he also broke his hip. Within an hour of their last ride together, Karen held her fine gelding’s head in her lap as he was euthanized.


Most of us have used chain lead shanks in this manner for years without incident and without thought. I think of how many times I have seen people snapping the end of the chain on the halter and corrected them, making them double the chain up, all the while thinking to myself, “What a geek!” Now I know better.

There are many lessons to be learned from this tragic accident and I am grateful to Karen for having the courage to share it with us so that we can re-assess the things we routinely do.

Obviously with the chain doubled, it is much stronger and when attached to a nylon halter without a breakaway, there is not much that could make either one break. If it is not safe to double the chain and it is not effective to leave it long, then the lesson is, use the right tool for the job. If the chain is not needed over the horse’s nose or under his chin for control, then a regular lead shank should be used.

Another lesson to be learned is that just because there is an accepted way of doing things and/or methods that we have been using for many years without incident, it doesn’t mean it is the best way or that an accident can’t happen. It pays to question everything that we do and consider all the possibilities, even if it seems like a remote chance. Horses have an incredible capacity to hurt themselves on seemingly benign objects.

With horses, it pays to always assume the worst case scenario. If it is possible, a horse will find a way to turn it into a wreck. Whether it seems likely or not, we should always operate based on the worst case scenario and take the necessary actions to prevent the wreck from happening, no matter how remote the chances are.

Breakaways are always a good idea with horses. Whether it is for cross ties, trailer ties, hay bags, reins, water buckets or anything that a horse could possibly get a foot hung up in, it is best if there is something that will break. Even just adding a loop of bailing twine to the object that will give way should a horse struggle is a great device.

A final lesson to be learned is from Karen and it is her selfless act of sharing this story, her courage in admitting her mistakes so that others can learn and her devotion to horses that will help ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen to another horse. Thank you Karen and I know I, for one, appreciate learning from you.

If you have a story to share that others can learn from that will help keep humans and horses safer, please contact Julie Goodnight at (800) 980-1410 or .

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Cart Before the Horse

By Christy Landwehr


Zippy Farms was busy that Saturday afternoon. It was snowing outside, so everyone was in the indoor arena trying to get a ride in. Samantha was driving her new horse around the outside of the rail in her new cart while Carrie was teaching a lesson to an amateur adult rider in the center of the arena on a circle around her. All of the other riders had left the arena when the horse and cart had entered the arena, but Carrie was almost done with her lesson and thought it would be safe in the center of the arena.

As Samantha was driving her new horse and equipment around, the belly band and wrap strap that prevents the shafts from rising up suddenly came disconnected and the cart started to tip. Sam jumped out and hit the arena wall. Then the cart fell over completely and her horse launched into panic mode and started running wildly around the arena with the damaged cart being drug sideways behind it.

Being of herd instinct, the panicked horse thought a safe haven might be with the other horse in the center of the arena, so it started galloping straight for Carrie and her student. Carrie quickly had her student dismount and told her to let go of her horse and run to the arena gate.


The saddled horse panicked when it saw the horse and cart coming towards it and ran to the other side of the arena. The driving horse ran with it and stopped at the other end of the arena, giving a moment for Samantha to get her horse under control, bringing a rather frightening incident to a close.

Very lucky. In this incident, the only injuries were to Sam’s horse and her equipment. The horse had a few scrapes and bruises from the cart banging on its back legs; the harness and cart were beat up as well. Fortunately, Sam, the other horse and rider and the instructor were fine.

This scenario could have turned out significantly worse. A thorough safety check prior to driving the horse would have revealed the faulty harnessing. This incident illustrates how a wreck with a harness horse can quickly escalate into pandemonium. Safety for harness drivers is of big concern these days and this is one reason why CHA is working to develop a harness driving certification program.

Many saddle horses have never seen a horse and cart before and can become very unnerved by the sight. Not to mention when that cart is tipped sideways and the horse attached to it is panicking.

If at all possible, horses should not be ridden in the same arena as someone practicing driving. Ideally, there should be a separate arena for harnessed horses to work; if not, the arena time should be divided so that harness and saddle horses are not using it at the same time. Also, do not teach a lesson to someone while someone else is driving. The two should be separate activities.

Busy arenas are dangerous places; simple rules should be followed to keep everyone safe. Without a driving horse in the arena, riders should try to track the same direction; if that is not possible then it is necessary for riders to follow the left shoulder to left shoulder rule for passing. Horses working at higher speeds should use the rail while horses walking or cooling out, stay toward the middle. Whatever the arena etiquette is at your facility, it should be taught to all riders and posted in the rules.

You also should not longe a horse in an arena where horses are being ridden. The potential for collision or for someone to run into the longe line is too high. If longeing must occur in an arena where horses are being ridden, make sure that the horse is longed in the direction the riders are going and far enough off the rail for the riders to have plenty of room to work. Follow these simple guidelines to keep everyone safe.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Helmet Safety


It was a perfect day for a family picnic out at the ranch, and Kay Silva’s whole family had gathered to enjoy the beautiful fall day in the high desert of southern California. After a delicious lunch and some family fun and games, Katy decided to saddle a couple horses and take her young niece out for a short trail ride.

Katy is an experienced rider, having owned horses and ridden on a regular basis for about 20 years, but her niece is a very novice rider. Katy saddled an older reliable horse for her niece and a younger, less seasoned horse for herself. Although Katy always wears a helmet when she rides, on this occasion she had only brought one helmet and decided that it would be better for her niece, the less experienced rider, to wear the helmet. Fortunately, at the last minute, someone else offered an extra helmet to Katy so she left on the short ride with both riders properly helmeted.

Katy and her niece had an awesome trail ride through sagebrush and red shank trees in the high desert (4,000 ft. elevation). As they were returning back to the ranch, they approached a telephone pole lying across the trail and Katy advised her niece on what to do if her horse chose to jump it. The experienced horse with the novice rider walked gracefully over the pole and Katy congratulated her niece on doing such a great job. All that was left was for Katy to negotiate her greener horse over the pole and then they were home free.

Katy decided to guide her horse around telephone pole instead of over it, since she wasn’t sure if the horse was accustomed to walking over obstacles or would try to jump it. However, just as Katy thought the horse would willingly go off the trail to walk around the obstacle, the horse suddenly veered back and leapt over the pole like a deer. Taken by surprise, Katy was caught off balance and as the horse landed, Katy slammed hard onto the horse’s back, causing the horse to explode into violent bucking fit. Katy felt that there was no way she could get the mare’s head up to recover from the bucking and the mare was bucking so hard that she started to fall. Katy decided to bail off to the left and at the same time the mare gave a buck which somersaulted Katy so that she landed hard on the ground on her helmet, neck, shoulders, and upper back, with the rest of her body flopping over as she hit.

As Katy fell, the horse also fell, scrambled back to her feet, and continued bucking. Katy scrambled quickly out of the way, not knowing that she had suffered a serious injury. Family members had seen the niece’s horse begin to trot back toward the telephone pole, so they were alerted that something had gone wrong. Katy’s brother-in-law arrived just in time to see Katy on the ground and the horse falling.

Katy’s family helped her back to the house and sat her in a gliding rocking chair with a high, straight back since she was complaining that her neck hurt. She thought that she may have suffered severe whiplash and she had the good sense to sit still for a while. Since the pain did not subside, Katy thought it would be best to have a family member take her to the emergency room or nearest fire station, because it didn’t seem serious enough to call 911 just for a sore neck. Luckily for Katy, circumstances changed.

Through a crazy series of events, another person at the ranch was injured about 15 minutes later and was knocked unconscious, so someone called 911 to attend to him. Since a rescue crew was already coming to the ranch, Katy sat and waited for them to check her neck after they had attended to the other injured person. At the hospital, the medical staff were stunned to discover that Katy had broken her neck-fractured C2 in 2 places to be exact– because she showed none of the classic signs that are usually related to a broken neck: loss of consciousness, tingling, loss of feeling or weakness in the limbs, or nausea.

In the hospital, Katy was fitted with a halo that was screwed into her head in 4 places, which she was to wear for three months while her neck healed. The follow-up treatment would include a neck brace for one month and physical therapy to rehabilitate her neck muscles and allow her to move her head again safely. Soon Katy will be released to ride again and she is eager to get back to her horses.


Katy learned many important lessons from this event that nearly cost her life and she is eager to share the lessons she learned with others. First, she learned not to take things for granted, especially her helmet, since it saved her life and reduced the potential severity of her injuries.

According to Katy, she has learned to, “Make every riding day a Helmet Day…no matter how ‘bomb-proof’ the horse, how soft the ground I will be riding on, how hot the day, how much I may not like having “helmet hair,” or how confident I may feel in my riding abilities. Even though I have always worn a helmet, I now realize that a helmet can make all the difference.”

Other lessons for us all to learn from Katy’s story is to take any injury seriously and deal with it carefully, since we never know what may be damaged. If the mechanism of injury indicates the possibility of damage, treat the person as if the most serious injury possible was sustained.

Katy will soon be healed up enough to get back to riding and she has a brand new helmet, just for the occasion. Katy has been working hard to share her story with riding clubs and youth groups in an effort to promote the use of helmets, “every time, every ride.” We appreciate Katy allowing us to share her story with our members and we hope that you all, in turn, will share this story with your students.

We wish Katy the best of luck and a speedy recovery. If anyone is interested in contacting Katy about sharing her story, please email her at

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

My Hands are Tied

By Julie Goodnight


A family reunion is an excellent time to share your life with those dearest to you, get caught up on all the news, see how much the kids have grown and kick-back with your family and friends. It is not a good time for a life-threatening injury.

The weekend was perfect with clear, sunny days and crisp, starry nights. Kay was so happy to have her family around her, especially the grandchildren. She loved to spoil the babies and she eagerly waited for the day her first grandson would be old enough to ride. She could teach the grandkids to ride on her push-button, mature gelding, Prince. It was arguable who was more spoiled, the grandchildren or Prince.

The afternoon was perfect for a BBQ and while the coals simmered, the guys played football out in the field, and Kay decided to take Prince for a ride. As she groomed and tacked the gelding, Kay’s daughter-in-law and her grandson wondered up to watch the process. Little Bobby squealed with delight to be close to the horse and clamored to reach the horse’s alluring muzzle, giggling wildly at the feel of the horse’s warm, sweet breath on his face.

The gelding and the grandson were so enchanted with each other that Kay ran back to the house for her camera. After posing for a few shots holding the baby up close to the horse, Kay got the great idea to get a shot of the baby up on the horse, since Prince was already saddled.

Kay was very safety conscious and had done her research on when the grandchildren would be old enough to ride. She knew that the child needed to have the strength to pull a horse’s head up, the coordination to balance and the cognizance to control the horse. She was smart enough to know she could not put the 18-month-old up on the horse by himself since a fall from 8′ off the ground might kill an adult, let alone a toddler. She knew that even though he might be big enough to hold onto the horn and be propped up on the horse, that he wasn’t old enough to be properly fitted in a ASTM approved equestrian helmet; therefore he was too young to ride. Kay also was smart enough to know that it is not safe to ride double with a small child, since in the event of a fall, the chances of you falling on the child and crushing him were unacceptably high.

The baby was just too young to ride and she knew she would have to wait until he was six, but since she already had Prince saddled and he wasn’t going anywhere tied to the rail, it would be easy enough for her to step up on the horse and hold the baby for a quick shot that would be a family memento for generations to come. Baby’s first ride.

With only the baby’s mother to shoot the picture and no one to hold the horse, Kay decided to leave the gelding tied up to the hitching rail where he had been standing for the last hour, while she hopped on for a quick snap of the shutter.

Kay sat with her young grandson cradled in both arms and as she sucked in her stomach and put on her best smile for the camera, the horse bowed his back in two and started bucking like a bronc and squealing like a stuck pig, while tied up to the hitching rail.

Kay was propelled form the horse with the second kick of the heels and flew off at a great velocity, thrown even higher into the air, with a death grip on her grandson. The gods were with them that day because Kay was able to cushion the fall for the baby who was totally unhurt; suffering only from the indignity of having his first ride also be his first buck-off.

For Kay, it was a different story. The fall broke her back; two vertebrae broke clear in two. Again, the guardian angels were watching that day and Kay suffered no spinal cord impairment. She was properly treated at the scene, not moved and stabilized until the paramedics arrived to put her on a back-board. Xrays revealed her fate and she would spend the next three months flat on her back in a body cast. Thankfully, she had full movement and feeling in all extremities.


This incident involves some cardinal safety issues:

Never mount a tied horse
Never mount a horse without the means to control him
Never ride double with small children
Riding is not a safe or appropriate activity for very young children
It is never safe to mount a tied horse. We have all seen what happens when horses are startled and pull back in a panic attack. Every tied horse is capable of this behavior. Anything could spook the horse or trigger a panic attack and whether the halter breaks, the post breaks or the horse remains tied; you would be at extreme risk of injury or death to be mounted on a horse fighting the tie. The chances of the horse falling on you or slamming you into a wall, fence or tree are huge.

It is not safe to do anything unusual to a horse when he is tied, for the fear of causing the panic attack that ensues when a horse feels the need to flee and suddenly discovers that flight is not an option. The pullback episode is dangerous enough to people on the ground around the horse; being on the horse’s back would be a nightmare. The risk of injury to the horse in any pull-back episode is equally high.

We will never know what caused Prince to pitch a bucking fit at that moment; perhaps it was something about the saddle or perhaps he was sick and tired of standing there. The point is, horses are unpredictable, so you have to plan for the worst-case scenario and always keep yourself in a safe position.

For similar reasons, it is never safe to get on a horse without the means to control him. You need the reins or a mecate in hand to deal with any situation that may occur such as spooking, to running off or bucking. Even if someone is holding the horse for you, it is foolish to get on a horse with no means to control him. There is no one I trust enough to hold a horse for me while I mount without reins.

Considering the possibility that at any moment my horse could spontaneously combust, I’ll take reins every time. And while I may not need the reins at every moment I am on the horse, I’ll still keep one hand on the reins all the time, just in case I might suddenly need them. By the time I have grasped and fumbled to pick up the reins, my ride could be over.

As mentioned in the story, riding double with small children could be a death trap for the child. Even if the fall does not hurt him, the weight of the adult rider could crush him or ram him into a solid object, like the ground. Also, a rider needs his or her hands to communicate with and control the horse; holding onto a child seriously impairs the rider’s ability to influence the horse. The point is, at any moment a horse can trip and fall down, spook, bolt or become difficult to control. It is not worth the risk to the child for an activity that the child will not really benefit from.

Young children really do not mix well with horse sports. CHA is constantly asked to recommend a minimum age for a child to ride. We specifically do not publish a number because there are so many mitigating factors that influence this decision, like the staffing, the horses and equipment, the environment, the programming and the purpose for riding. For example, the potential for benefit in therapeutic riding may well exceed the potential for harm when specialized equipment, specially trained horses and knowledgeable and experienced professionals are employed.

Every riding operation should have a written policy on the eligibility of riders, which is determined by all of the factors listed above (this is a safety standard published by CHA). The eligibility policy should always include a minimum age, among other factors such as maximum or minimum weight, minimum height (sometimes height is used as a determining factor rather than age, since height cannot be lied about), physical capabilities needed, etc.

In my position as program director for CHA, I have the opportunity to be familiar with the polices and procedures of many large riding operations, a lot of which are virtually “incident free.” In general, I have found that the most common minimum age is 10 years old for trail riding, 8-10 for group arena lessons and 6-7 for private lessons. Children five and under should only be considered for riding with extreme caution.

There are also the individual characteristics of each child that would influence the decision on when he or she is old enough ride; such as size and strength, attention span, endurance, ability to follow directions, eye-hand coordination, maturity and desire, just to name a few.

It is easy to get over-eager to introduce a young child to riding, in the hopes that she will learn to share your passion and be a young protégé. The reality is that there is little to gain by introducing a child too young to riding; and there is much to lose.

As it turns out, Kay did her three months penance flat on her back, followed by intensive physical therapy and about six months later she was able to get on her horse again and now she is riding normally. She learned some important lessons about safety around horses and she is in no hurry to put her grandson back up on a horse, until he is ready to takes the reins, so to speak.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Got Kicked by My Horse

By Christy Landwehr


It was a beautiful fall day in Colorado. The event was the second annual Trail-A-Thon benefit ride for Front Range Exceptional Equestrians. The ride was held in Lory State Park, a nearby foothills and mountain park with varied terrain. It was well planned with different trails selected for riders with disabilities, hikers, and other riders. For the safety of the riders with disabilities and their families and caregivers, trailers were parked well away from the staging area. After Judy rode, she grabbed a quick bite to eat and then took her tired horse, Sparky, back to the trailer for water and to load up for the trip home.

Judy removed Sparky’s tack by the door of the truck and tied him to the side of the trailer. Then she climbed onto the rear bumper of the truck to get his water bucket — a full 5-gallon bucket with a tight lid — out of the truck bed. As she wrestled the bucket over the tailgate and went to step down, she caught her heel in the electric cable between the truck and trailer and fell flat on her back, flinging the 40-pound bucket into Sparky’s rear end as she did so. It was a pretty good mountain lion attack simulation and Sparky responded with a kick. As she was landing hard on her back and head, he was landing a hard kick to her upper right arm. Judy saw stars for about ten minutes, having struck her head. Fortunately, she had not yet removed her helmet so was not knocked out. Surprisingly, Judy’s arm didn’t hurt immediately and she was able to water the horse, load her tack and horse, call for help, and get Sparky home and put up before being in too much distress. Judy was lucky and sustained no broken bones or a concussion, only insignificant separation of the shoulder joint.

The Analysis

There are several lessons to be learned from this mishap. Although it was a good idea to park trailers away from the foot traffic of riders with disabilities at this event, there was some risk that a horse handler could be injured while alone at the trailers. In Judy’s case, she was not visible to other participants and, had she been seriously injured, she could have been unaided for some time; this is both a personal and organizational concern. Judy could have mitigated this risk herself by asking one of her fellow riders to accompany her back to her trailer and then she could have handed the water bucket to that person.

Judy could have opened the tailgate of the truck to take the water bucket out instead of trying to dead lift it over the closed tailgate. She also could have had her water supply in the trailer’s tack box instead of in the truck bed or could have had the water in numerous smaller containers.

The fact that Judy was wearing her helmet while working with her horse on the ground was a very positive aspect of this scenario. Often, we think about putting our helmet on after we are done grooming and tacking and before we ride and then taking it off immediately after we dismount. Many youth programs have riders wear their helmets from the moment they step onto the stable grounds. This is a good idea for all ages and abilities of riders as incidents do happen on the ground around horses as well.

Editor’s Note: CHA wants to thank CHA member Judy Jaffe of Wellington, CO for her submission of this incident that we can all greatly benefit and learn from. If you have an incident that you would like to share for possible submission, please contact the Editor of The Instructor, Christy Landwehr, at .

Feeding by Yourself

By Julie Goodnight


It was a typical afternoon feeding; I had a bridal shower to go to; so I had my mind on getting the feeding done and getting out of there. The farm owner and I loaded up the hay bales in the back of the tractor’s trailer and headed out to the fields to distribute the hay.

My horse, Red, is an older, docile, gentle gelding who has never been known to kick anyone before or since. My 4-year-old niece rides him and he is very popular with my younger riding students. He is excessively cute, and people-oriented. That morning my farrier had been by to trim his hooves, and we both noticed he was very grumpy; pinning his ears and “sulking”. The weather had been gloomy, and having to compete with 12 other horses in his field, even though it is a large field, I think, was taking a toll on his usually happy nature. Red is a bit spoiled and prefers one – on – one attention and feed also.

I got out of the tractor to fill the 100 gal. water tank, which sits next to an open gate that connects two fields. As I headed back to the tractor, my horse, Red passed through the gate. As he did, I reached out to pat him on the butt, without thinking. The next thing I know, I was in at the emergency room with my Mom, who was telling me that my beloved horse had kicked my face in.

Apparently, as I reached out to pet my horse, he kicked out, hitting me in the mouth, sending me flying through the air onto the back of my head. I had a concussion, deep, multiple lacerations to my mouth and lips, and four damaged teeth. I spent all night and the next morning in an ambulance and two different hospitals, having my face surgically repaired.


Of course, there is so much that could have been done to prevent this from happening, and as one who preaches safety to my students all of the time, I felt really dumb for not doing something about my unsafe feeding habits long before:

Keeping the horses out of the field I was putting hay in by closing the connection gate and opening it after I was done. It requires an extra step, but it is the conscientious and safe thing to do.
Not approaching my horse from behind and surprising him; knowing that a horse’s natural instinct is to kick out when surprised from behind. Horses can be touchy during feeding times, and it is even easier to startle them when their focus is elsewhere.
I am reconsidering feeding by myself in the mornings. If it had been a morning incident, it would have been hours and hours before I was missed and discovered. Although there may be times when feeding by yourself is unavoidable, I’ll make sure that I am extra cautious when that happens.
Haste makes waste; it never pays to get in a hurry around horses. Needless to say, I never made it to the bridal shower!
I am sure there are many other areas in which I can improve the safety at feeding time and I recognize now that I had become complacent. Just because “I’ve always done it that way,” doesn’t make it safe. One thing we have all learned in working with horses over the years, is that what can go wrong, will go wrong, eventually.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at