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DEAR DANA: What riding tips do you have to help older riders keep their balance?
— Dea Helm, Placerville, CA

DEAR DEA: That is such a good question! For your safety and enjoyment, it is best to be aware of what you can do to maintain and improve your balance while riding.

First, I recommend that you stay in good physical condition. If you are not already on a workout program, start one. Walking is also very good for you.

Second, make sure you have a very safe horse, and preferably one that is smooth to sit and ride.

Third, a very good exercise to use is to stand in your stirrups. Now, do this and ANY exercises only when you feel safe and confident with yourself and with your horse. When you stand in the stirrups, hold onto the horn if you need to and strive to remain balanced. Fold and drop your ankles and lower your heels, grip with your inner thigh, and tuck your fanny. Stretch up toward the sky and open your breast bones and take deep, full breaths using your diaphragm. Start at the walk, and when you get tired, sit and take a break. When you stand back up to reposition yourself, remind yourself how to get into position. When you feel ready trot – and if you feel safe – you can even do this at the lope. I love this exercise to help people improve their balance.

Last, learn the beats of each gait and how to move with the horse. One of the most common reasons riders lose their balance on their horse is that they have not learned the concept of how to move with their horse and how to unlock their body with their horse. Unlock your pelvis, learn to feel the rhythm of the horse. Learn that the walk is a four-beat, the jog or trot is a two-beat, and the canter or the lope is a three-beat.

Remember practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. So stay at it, and good luck!


DEAR DANA: My 11-year-old daughter and I went to a Thoroughbred racing farm and looked at horses for sale. Do you think a Thoroughbred would be fine with the right amount of training to be a barrel racer?
— Wayne Mejia, Santa Clarita, CA

DEAR WAYNE: I am assuming that since you mentioned your daughter that you are looking for a barrel horse for her. If that’s the case, I would highly recommend a finished seasoned barrel horse. Even if she is an excellent rider, at her age she is much better off with a horse that is already trained. Another reason why I would steer away from a green unfinished horse is that an untrained horse is a prospect, and as a trainer I know from experience that some prospects do not finish out as well as I had hoped. Some never make it at all! You can put a lot of time and money into prospects and later realize you could have spent less and had a finished horse.

The other concern that I have is that at most racing farms, the horses that are already broke or started have no foundation except to run. I like to always put a good foundation on my horses and teach them to respond and give willingly. This makes for a better long-term horse! Also as a mother of daughters who started out riding at a young age, I recommend you build good positive experiences by matching her on a horse well suited for her that will build her confidence!

Best of luck to you and good luck finding the right horse.


Do you have a question for Dana? Simply go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Dear Dana” section, then submit it! If your question is selected, you will be entered into a monthly drawing for a FREE “Winning Strides” DVD from Dana’s training video series.

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