Riding Level 2

Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in July 2013

Now that we’ve finished with the curriculum for Horsemanship Level 2, it’s time to move on to Riding.

Riding Level 2 Overview

A Level 2 Rider is someone with a good basic seat position, capable of riding with one hand or two and switching posting diagonals, who has begun to work on canter, gaming skills, and dropping the reins or stirrups while riding.  This is someone I would feel comfortable taking on a trail ride on a steady horse, and who is ready to start jumping and cross country schooling.  Level 2 is our prerequisite for mounted archery, and for intermediate games. The skills we assess are:

1. Adjust tack from ground unassisted

2. Lead horse, mount & dismount independently

3. Exercises at halt & walk

4. Adjust reins at walk & trot; switch from two hands to one and back

5. Basic seat position: walk & trot, sitting & rising with correct diagonal

6. Drop stirrups at sitting trot and regain at walk

7. Single hand (overhand) reining at walk & trot with transitions and direction change

8. Pick up an object from a standard, carry at trot to another standard and deposit

9. Progressive transitions (halt, walk, trot)

10. Half circles & 20m circles at walk & trot

11. Canter both directions (without emphasis on position or lead)

12. Identify leads while watching another horse

13. Vaulting dismount from halt

14. Demonstrate safety and good manners in group

15. On a longe-line or lead-line, ride with reins dropped at walk & trot

The Tack Check

To assess the first item on the checklist, adjustment of tack, you will present your horse to a tack check.  The examiner will check that your tack is clean and adjusted properly.  She also may loosen a piece of tack and ask you to readjust it to the correct fit in front of her.  These are the things she will be looking for:

Rider Turnout

Although we don’t give specific marks for rider turnout at this level, you still should be dressed safely and appropriately for riding.  This includes

  • an approved helmet
  • long hair tied back and loose jewellry removed
  • your Academie Duello t-shirt
  • breeches or well-fitted trousers that cover the lower leg
  • boots with a separate heel
  • gloves are optional, but suggested

You won’t loose marks for turnout at this level, but if your clothing is unsafe for riding, you may be asked to retire from the test.

Horse Turnout

The horse should be neatly groomed, but braiding, trimming, and spotless white markings are not necessary.

Tack Adjustment

Your tack should be adjusted as if you are ready to ride, so do a last minute check before you present your horse, to make sure that your

  • Noseband is snug but not tight (1 finger should fit between noseband and horse)
  • Throatlatch is adjusted properly (4 fingers)
  • Curb chain (if present) allows 2 fingers between chain and chin groove
  • All straps are in their keepers and runners
  • Saddle pad allows wither relief
  • Girth is through saddle pad keepers
  • Saddle is properly positioned and not pressing on spine
  • Girth is tight enough (hand should fit between girth and horse, but not be able to pull girth away)
  • Stirrups are adjusted to your height.

Be prepared to explain or show how tack is adjusted, and give reasons.

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April Allaigna Sale!

Ebook lovers rejoice!  From April 11th to 18th, the ebook version of Allaigna’s Song: Overture will be available for a mere 99 cents on Amazon.ca, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and through Pulp Literature Press as part of a Bookbub deal.*

If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance to nab a copy for the price of five timbits.  And lets face it, 400 pages will keep you happy far longer than those 350 calories.

And what would make me super happy would be a review from you on one of those sites listed above.  Books with more reviews get more eyes on them, and therefore more sales.  So even if you’ve already read the book, I’d love it if you could drop a review this week to help the promotion out. **

Don’t delay, get it today!

*Note:  For some of these retailers the special will not be available in the US, but US customers can go directly through Pulp Literature Press.
**It’s perfectly legit to copy and paste your review from one site to another, and another.  I am a big fan of minimal effort for maximal results.

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Rules of the Road

Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in June 2013

Horsemanship Level 2: Riding in Groups

Much of the last item on the Horsemanship 2 checklist

9. Rules for riding in a group

is covered in the Riding 1 post, Safety in Numbers.  At the second level however, you will also be asked about group etiquette and safety when riding outside of the ring and off property.

In general when hacking out, pick a steady horse and experienced rider to lead the group.  Another experienced rider should bring up the rear to keep an eye on everyone. Horses are herd animals and will feel much safer if the lead horse is calm and unbothered by the unpredictable enounters of the trails.  However, one panicky horse can set all the others off, so it’s best to keep the greenies and spookers near the back of the ride.

General Rules

  • Ride single file on roadsides and trails, and keep to the agreed order of file.
  • Keep approximately one horse length back from the horse in front of you
  • Ride at a walk unless everyone in the group agrees to a short trot or canter.
  • Always ride to the abilities of the least experienced rider or the greenest horse in the group.
  • Cross roads as a group, with 3-4 horses abreast
  • Stop and wait for the slowest horses in the group to catch up if necessary.
  • If one person calls a halt, the rest of the group should repeat the message till it reaches the front or back of the line.

On Roads

  • Wear bright clothing, fluorescent vests, or safety lights
  • Horses are considered vehicular traffic, and permitted to ride on roads.  However, most riders prefer the verge out of courtesy to drivers and kindness to their horse’s feet and legs.
  • Travel in the same direction as traffic if using the road.  If using the verge, pick the side of the road with the widest shoulder and best visibility.
  • The lead rider should use hand signals to indicate changes of direct and halts.  Following riders should use the same signals to indicate to cars behind them.
  • Yield to pedestrians

In Open Fields and Trails

  • Remember that horses wind each other up.  Only canter as a group if all the members are sure they have good stopping power.
  • If riding several horses abreast, keep to the pace, and don’t move ahead of that horse.
  • Warn riders behind you of hazards you spot, such as holes

This brings us to the end of the Horsemanship Level 2 series of posts.  Coming up next, Riding Level 2!

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Pulp Literature Spring Cover Reveal

Take a look at this gorgeous cover by Akem for Pulp Literature Issue 18!  Along with the latest installment of Allaigna’s Song: Aria this issue features the amazing short story ‘Stones’ by Genni Gunn, and the conclusion of ‘We Come Back Different’ by AJ Odasso (part 1 can be found in PL issue 17).  Plus a stunning trip to the moon from Jessica Barksdale and a brand-new Stella Ryman mystery!

Pulp Literature Issue 18, Spring 2018

The issue will be released at the Pulp Literature Spring Launch Party on March 16th at the Cottage Bistro, and pre-orders on sale for $2 off, print or ebook on the Pulp Lit website.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the print version!

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Show Your Saddles You Care

Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in June 2013

Horsemanship Level 2: Saddlery Care

In Dom Duarte’s 15th century treatise on riding, horsemanship and mounted combat, Bem Cavalgar, he states:

We must take good care of the saddle, the bridle and the stirrups, ensuring that they are strong, that they have the necessary resistance and are of good quality to avoid failure of any of them; othewise, we might die, meet with an accident, or be shamed.  And we will achieve this if we frequently check them and if we detect any problem, we fix it immediately ….

(The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting and Knightly Combat, translation by Antonio Franco Preto & Luis Preto, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)

Caring for your tack is still important.  Leather that is properly cleaned and oiled lasts longer and is more supple and comfortable for you and your horse.  Not only are saddles and bridles expensive, tack that has dried out or been over-oiled becomes weak and prone to failure.  Routinely cleaning your tack not only protects your investment, it allows you to check for frayed stitching or cracks that could pose a safety hazard.

For Level 2 we ask that you know and practise

8. Basic care of tack

Every-day cleaning

After every ride you should at minimum wipe your tack down with a damp cloth to remove sweat, dirt and grease.

Follow up with a tiny bit of saddle soap if necessary, but avoid over-soaping.

‘Put up’ your bridle, hung by the crown piece, with the reins neatly looped through the throat latch, and the noseband wrapped around the whole bridle.  The saddle should sit on a stand or rack, covered by a saddle cover or the upside down saddle pad (the clean side goes against your saddle, the damp side to the air to dry).  The stirrups should be run up or removed, and the girth detached and hung separately.

Weekly cleaning

Once a week your saddle, bridle and other tack such as martigales or breastplates should be taken apart and given a thorough cleaning.  You will need:

  • sponges, towels and soft cloths
  • a tooth brush or nail brush for getting dirt from crevices
  • saddle soap
  • leather oil
  • metal polish
  • warm water

1. After dismantling your tack, wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove dirt.  A bit of mane hair is also useful for removing ‘jockeys’ (those dark collections of grime on the panels).  Take care not to get the leather too wet.

2. Dry with a soft cloth

3. Apply saddle soap with a dry sponge, avoiding lathering.  Work it in with a circular motion.

4. Oil only if necessary.  Leather needs oil if it is dry and stiff to the touch.  Too much oil will weaken the leather, and can rot stitches.  Apply a thin layer of oil with a light cloth.  If the leather is new it will take many repeated oilings to soften it — don’t try to do it all at once.

5. Clean buckles with metal polish.  The bit should be cleaned with soap and water only.

6. Clean nylon webbing and other synthetic materials with brushes and damp cloths.  Some synthetic saddles have proprietary brands of cleaners.  Never use oil or saddle soap on a synthetics.

Store your tack in a cool dry place — never put it near a heat source to dry, or leave it out in the weather.  Leather is an amazing, resilient substance, and if treated with care can last a lifetime.

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Free Review Copies Available

Further to the Eligibility Post, Pulp Literature Press is making free review copies of all their 2017 publications available this month.  That includes Allaigna’s Song, so if you want to snag a copy (in exchange for an honest review, award nomination, or other lovely other way you can help spread the word) head on over to the Pulp website.  No limit on the number of publications you can request, as long as you promise to read them!

Get your review copies here!

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Tacking up … again

Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in June 2013

Horsemanship Level 2: Tacking & Untacking

There’s really nothing different about tacking up and untacking in Horsemanship Level 2, except this time we ask that you do it on your own:

7. Tack up and untack unassisted

So rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the Level 1 post on the same subject: Another Tacky Post.

By the time you’re ready to test Level 2 you should have groomed, untacked and tacked up your horse dozens of times.  Take care to avoid the trouble spots listed, and you’ll do fine.

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Award Season: the Eligibility Post

I’m kind of late out of the starting gate here (what can I say, November and December were busy) but here’s my very short list of award-eligible writing for 2017.

Allaigna’s Song: Overture

ISBN: 978-0-9949565-9-0 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-98886500-3 (eBook)

When Allaigna was seven she almost sang her baby brother to sleep — forever.  She may not be heir to her mother’s titles and secrets, but she has inherited her grandmother’s dangerous talent for singing music into magic.  Allaigna’s Song:  Overture  is a love story, a family saga, and a coming-of-age novel that braids together the stories of daughter, mother, and grandmother.

This book is eligible in the novel category for the Nebula Award, the Endeavour Award, the Aurora, Sunburst, and any other general novel awards for fantasy novels published in 2017.  It is also eligible for awards for first novel / new writer such as the Campbell.

See?  I said it was a short list.

If you’re in the voting mood, however, why not consider the following:

  • The astounding Melissa Mary Duncan for her cover art on Allaigna’s Song.
  • Book designer Kris Sayer for the incredible job she did on interior and cover design, including the custom cover font
  • Inker Mel Anastasiou who improved my pencil illustrations a hundredfold.

I’m happy to send review ebooks to any SFWA or CSFFA voting members.  Just drop me a line here:

You can of course find the print and ebook versions on Amazon or at Pulp Literature Press as well.  Thanks for your consideration!



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Moody Mares and Grumpy Geldings

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in June 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Blue Spur, or second rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Horsemanship Level 2: Equine Warning Signs

Take a look at this painting by George Stubbs.  Who is the angry looking bay in the middle threatening: the happy bay in front of him, or the oblivious human and palomino behind him? (Answer below)Reading your horse’s moods is one of the most important skills you can develop.  Although they don’t speak English, horses can communicate quite effectively with their body language.  When you’ve spent enough time around horses you can detect their level of interest, boredom, anxiety and irritation.  For safety’s sake, though, the first bit of equine grammar you should familiarize yourself with are:

6. Signs of a horse about to bite or kick

Horses have two modes of attack, frontal and rearward.  Forward attacks, via biting or striking with the forehoof tend to be more aggressive and premeditated, while kicks are often a defence against a perceived threat.  That said, some horses do aggressively swing their hind ends around to intimidate, and I’ve seen some back up to other horses fully planning to start a kicking spree.  All horses, no matter how docile, have defensive responses, and it’s good to know whether yours tends to be a biter or a kicker, while keeping in mind that all horses have the capability for both.

Signs of an irritated horse:

  • ears back
  • tension in head and neck
  • nostrils ‘pinched’ or narrow
  • tail twitching
  • stamping or swinging a foot

A horse that’s irritated is not necessarily going to bite or kick, but may be gearing up for it, so use caution.  Try to find the source of the irritation, use calm and soothing words, and stay at the horse’s shoulder, keeping out of the ‘danger zones’ in the front and back of the animal.

Signs of a horse about to bite or strike with the forehoof:

  • ears pinned back
  • snaking neck
  • teeth bared
  • lifting or swinging foreleg

Signs of a horse about to kick:

  • ears pinned back
  • head high & tense neck
  • eyes turned back, perhaps showing whites
  • tail wringing
  • swinging hind leg
  • swinging hindquarters toward target

Some horses will make a warning noise as well, such as squeal or even a sort of whimper deep in the throat.  Horses in general prefer not to fight and risk injury, so their warnings to each other are an important part of conflict prevention.

All the above points apply to an irritated or angry horse.  A horse that is suddenly frightened may kick without warning, which is why moving safely around the horse, avoiding the ‘kick zone’ when possible, is good practice (see last week’s post on grooming and common sense).

Equine Expressions

George Stubbs was a keen observer of equine mood, and the horses in his paintings speak volumes.  These nursing mares are not pleased by the happy-go-lucky older gelding or mare that has come by to say hello.  The mare on the left is merely disgruntled.  Her ears are back but not pinned, and she’s telling the intruder she’s not interested in chit chat.  The mare on the right is clearly put out.  Her high head, wide eyes, pinched nostrils, and pinned ears tell the grey that if he takes one step nearer her head will snake out and she’ll take a piece out of him.The famous racehorse Hambletonian isn’t happy either.  His snaking neck, pinned ears and bared teeth may  be a sign of fear rather than agression in this instance, but if I were his owner I wouldn’t be standing in front of him and looking at the painter. (On another note, I will forever be in awe of Stubbs’s ability to capture the sheen of a horse’s coat on canvas).

Looking back at the triptych at the top of the page we can see that the bay horse on the left is fairly content.  His neck is high but relaxed, and his ears are forward in an interested, but not frightened, manner.

The palomino on the left has a bit more tension in him.  One ear forward and one back means he’s trying to pay attention to everything around him.  It’s possible the man is moving him backward, which is why he has to turn that ear back in the direction of his movement.  (As the study was being done the handler probably had to constantly move the horse back into position).

The fellow in the middle, however, has his eye on something behind him.  He’s not happy about it, as we can see by the white of his eye, his flattened ears, and the tension in his neck and muzzle.  While he’s not swinging a hind leg, the muscles in his croup and buttock are bunched as if he’s about to move that hind end.  This painting was done from three different studies, so the man and horse on the right were never at risk. If it were a single scene, I’d be a lot more more worried about their safety!

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Grooming Good Behaviour

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in May 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Blue Spur, or second rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Horsemanship Level 2: Grooming

By the time you are testing Level 2 you should be able to groom your horse quickly and confidently.  On the checklist for Level 2 is:

5. Groom horse; three reasons for grooming; common sense around horse.

Grooming, and the reasons for grooming are pretty well covered in this level one post: The Well Groomed Horse.  Take a moment to review that post, and the video of a complete grooming.

Grooming and Common Sense

The way you interact with your horse during grooming says much about your level of competence and confidence as a horseman.  A groom who takes charge of the horse and the surroundings creates a safe enviroment for herself, her horse, and bystanders.  Someone who is nervous, disorganized, or allows the horse to be in charge is setting herself up for mishaps at the least, or even serious accidents.


Whether you’re grooming in cross-ties, at a hitching rail, or in a stall or paddock, make sure you have adequate room to move around your horse.  The last place you want to be is trapped between a 1000 lb animal and a wall, with no room to get out of the way.  Keep your grooming tools and tack organized and out the way, so neither you nor your horse accidentally step or trip on them.

Your Dress

Long hair should be tied back, and loose jewellry tucked away.  You should be wearing practical clothing and boots or shoes with a smooth firm upper.  Never wear flip-flops or sandals around a horse!  A front hoof concentrates about 300 lbs onto the rim of hard hoof, sometimes with an iron shoe.  If you work around horses I guarantee that at some point one will inadvertently step on your foot.  If you’re wearing boots, it will hurt, and you may temporarily lose a toenail; if you’re wearing sandals, it will crush bones.

Your Horse’s Dress

Always put a halter on your horse, even if you are grooming in the stall or paddock.  The halter is a signal to your horse that she’s on the clock.  No matter how placid and friendly the horse, if you don’t have a halter on and she decides to wander away, you’ve lost authority, and she no longer feels she needs to listen to you.


If you tie your horse to a post or rail, use a quick release knot tied to a loop of twine that will break if your horse suddenly pulls back.  It is much easier to catch a horse that has simply broken the weak link of a piece of string, than one that has broken its halter or pulled down a fence, frightening and possibly injuring himself and others in the process.

Cross-ties also need to be attached to a loop of twine rather than directly to the wall, and should have quick-release buckles that attach to each side of the nosepiece of the halter.  If a horse pulls backward in cross-ties that don’t break away he can flip over and seriously hurt himself.

My favourite method  is ground-tying.  A ground-tied horse is one who has been taught to stand with his lead-rope simply dropped in front of him on the ground.  It is not difficult to teach a horse to ground-tie, but it takes time and the patience to calmly move a horse back into position every time he takes a step out of place while you are working with him. However, its well worth the effort, as you know that, no matter where you go, you have a safe place to ‘tie’ your horse.

Your Demeanor

A good groom moves calmly and efficiently around the horse.  Keep one hand on your horse as you move to reassure him and let him know where you are.  Talking in a soft voice will do this as well.  When you move behind the horse stay as close as possible to him, keeping your arm over his rump as you switch sides.  If he kicks, he won’t get much momentum, and he’ll likely only nudge you or hit your lower legs.

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.  Horses almost always give warning signs before they kick or bite (more on that next week), and if your focus is on your horse you will notice these before they happen.  Most people who are kicked or bitten had their attention elsewhere when it happened.  Focussing on your horse also allows you to detect his moods, what he likes and doesn’t like during grooming, and what calms him or makes him more fidgety.

Your Horse’s Demeanor

Ideally your horse will stand placidly, not moving her feet at all, except when you pick them out.  In reality most horses fidget or shift to various extents while tied.  Your job is to be calm and insistent.  If your horse continually swings his haunches around, you need to continually push them back into place.  If she decides she’s held her hoof up long enough and puts it down before you’re done picking it out, you need to firmly prevent her from doing so (most horses will give up pulling their feet away if you calmly hold the hoof at the toe and lift when they pull).

A horse that steps into your space, whether intentionally or distractedly, is dangerous. By unemotionally moving your horse back out of your space whenever he does that, you set safe boundaries and let him know you are in control of the situation.  Be persistent.  Horses like to know someone else is the boss.  It makes them feel safe, and when they feel safe they relax and stand still.  You’ll know your horse is relaxed when he lowers his head, yawns, chews or lets his eyelids and ears droop.  Congratulations!  Your horse trusts you, and your job of grooming him is now that much easier.


The relationship you build with your horse during your grooming sessions goes far beyond the cross-ties.  A horse that trusts you and acknowledges your leadership is easier to catch in the field, easier to tack up, easier for the vet and farrier to work with, and easier to ride.  A horse that doesn’t yet trust you will be more prone to spook or balk in new situations, or refuse fences in the arena.  A relaxed horse can also stretch through his back, release his jaw, and give you his poll under saddle, making him capable of engagement, throughness, collection, and all those other higher level qualties we look for in a mount.

next week: warning signs


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