Saturday, October 1, 2016


Hello friends, I have exciting news! Later this month, I will be teaming up with Jo Bunny, yoga teacher and masseuse, for a full day of transformative instruction! Hosted by the Hampshire Country Riding Club, this clinic will help horses and riders connect like never before. I hope you can join us!

Partnership Through Body Awareness

A Clinic with Jo Bunny and Rachel Hackett
Presented by the Hampshire County Riding Club

Saturday, October 29th from 9-4
HCRC Grounds, Goshen, MA
Club members $125
Non-members $150

In this full-day clinic, riders will learn basic yoga techniques, as well as groundwork and mounted exercises, to enhance their partnership with their horses. Unlock your ability to move with your horse, and find balance together! No yoga experience is needed. Riders of any discipline are welcome!

           Space is limited to 10 participants, so register now by emailing

Breathing more freely and clearing the mind of distractions can help you feel more
relaxed and less tense while on the horse. By reducing physical and mental tension, we can give clearer aids and achieve greater freedom of motion. Learn to use your body and breath to inspire your horse!

Jo Bunny is a Certified Yoga Instructor and Licensed Massage Therapist for both Horses and Humans in the Pioneer Valley. She has taught yoga in Texas and Massachusetts since 2000. Her workshops and classes take a fun, heart-centered approach to yoga. Participants will experience various ways in which Yoga (meditation, breathing, and body awareness) can be used to increase relaxation and centeredness as well as to enhance the relationship between Horse and Rider.

Rachel Hackett is a freelance riding instructor and horse trainer in the Pioneer Valley and Central Connecticut. Using a combination of Connected Riding, TTeam training, and other techniques, she helps students in all disciplines and levels to achieve softness and balance. A graduate of Smith College with four years on the Equestrian Team, Rachel has studied with Peggy Cummings, Jill Kreinbring MS, and Kim Walnes.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stirrup length makes all the difference

Once a week, I ride a Quarter Horse named Nicky. (He's the grey in the banner, above.) He and I go way back; when his owner was a young girl of 11 or 12, she began taking lessons from me at a local riding school. A couple of years later, I was leasing a small barn, and she was ready to buy a horse. So together we trooped around New England, looking at horses. We found Nicky at a sales barn in VT, with the help of my trainer, Jillian Kreinbring. We brought him home, and I've been helping his family keep him happy and fit ever since.

Last night, Nicky and I had the best ride we've ever had.

Many things went into making last night great. My recent return to an old habit of bodywork (not just groundwork but actual massage and dynamic stretching) before and after each workout helped. So has an increased emphasis on working him harder, getting him stronger. It also didn't hurt that last night was our third day in a row working together. But the single most influential change, the thing that helped me ride him more effectively than I ever have before, was this:

I shortened my stirrups.

I was both thrilled and chagrined at how much of a difference this made. Elated, because of how good it felt to help Nicky move forward more freely. Embarrassed, because I know better than to ride too long. For years, I've been encouraging my students to shorten their stirrups, and seeing the wonderful results they've achieved; the improved position and communication which can result from even as small a shift as half an inch. Though not every rider is guilty of extra long leathers, the vast majority of us have allowed our 'normal length' to get longer and longer. So what is the correct length, and why is it important?

For the vast majority of riders, a correctly adjusted stirrup should hit them in the ankle bone when they drop it. This is true whether you ride English, Western, even Dressage. This length allows your ankle, knee and hip to have peak flexibility. Any longer than this, and the thigh is drawn in and back, which in turn pulls the pelvis into a slight forward tilt. This creates tension in the lower back and inner thigh, blocking correct motion through the horse's back and rib cage. With your stirrup adjusted correctly, you can release through the thigh and the lower back at the same time, sitting on your seat bones with a long spine, and allowing your horse's energy to flow from the hind end to the front end.

So why doesn't everyone ride with their stirrups adjusted correctly? For many, it is a style issue. Especially when it comes to Western and Dressage, the trend is for an extremely long leg. But while this creates an elegant aesthetic picture, it is an exaggeration; it mimics a leg which appears long because it is relaxed. But instead of creating relaxation, the longer stirrup actually creates tension.

Another reason people may choose to lengthen their stirrups is for comfort. Many riders (myself included!) can experience discomfort in their knees and hips on a long ride. The fix for this, though, is not to lengthen the leathers, but rather to lengthen one's spine. By finding a neutral pelvis, releasing tension in your lower back, and allowing your knees and toes to roll away from the horse, you can align your joints such that they experience a lot less strain while still enjoying the support of a correctly adjusted stirrup.

Last night, my stirrup kept my leg at just the right angle, so I could utilize the crease where my thigh met my hip. Every time I creased at this spot, Nicky was able to reach his hind legs further under him, lift his back, and go forward more smoothly. Since he has a tendency to get 'stuck' on the forehand, this was a wonderful feeling for both of us! I no longer felt like I was chasing him, or that my leg aids were being ignored. Instead, sensations that I'd been seeking for months, even years, were suddenly available to me. I could release my lower back, and keep it relaxed while still giving leg aids. I could rotate without Nicky leaning in on my knee. Suddenly the horse who inverts and offers to buck when asked for trot was trotting figures of eight while swinging freely through his legs and back! I can't wait to get back out there next week and ride him again!

Questions? Comments? Want me to help you find a more comfortable, effective position in the saddle? Contact me anytime at


Saturday, July 23, 2016

An email conversation about lunging

My friend and student Lisa lives in Pepperell, MA, so we don't see each other often. In order for her to get her questions answered, we've begun corresponding about them via email. After writing back to her the other day, I decided to share our Q & A with all of you. Please feel free to add a question or comment of your own, or email me with another topic!

 In her last email, Lisa asked:

  1) What are the main "goals" we are trying to accomplish with lunging?
  2) What is the optimal equipment? What's acceptable equipment?
          -Connected riding halter, which you said you'd don't like for lunging
          -Lunge cavesson, which I don't own, but could buy
          -Surcingle (which I own) - would be used for long lining.
          -Regular bridle, and if so, do you prefer lunge line to go over the poll, or under the chin? If  under the chin, [one trainer I've worked with] has people loop the lunge line around the inside bit ring before passing the line under the chin so that the line doesn't pull the bit as much.  

And I answered,

Okay, lunging:

      1) The goals and priorities of lunging depend on the horse. In general, though, lunging should provide an opportunity for the horse to get exercise and education in a way that promotes softness, balance, and confidence. Proper posture MUST be prioritized throughout. The only exception to this rule is the rare occasion when one must prioritize leadership. For example, many horses on the lunge line will suddenly stop and pivot on their front feet to face the handler. (This is usually preceded by the handler getting ahead of the horse and out of the driving position.) This is a challenge of authority, and when the handler sees it coming, they need to use body language or occasionally the lunge whip to keep the horse's shoulders on the track and keep them moving forward. This sometimes results in the horse throwing their head up and tightening their topline for a moment. All efforts should be made after the fact to get the horse soft and long again as soon as possible, and avoid making this mistake in the future. It is also worth noting that if the horse is going to such great lengths to challenge the handler who is asking them to go forward, they are probably pretty unhappy about being asked to go forward, either because they don't feel right in their bodies, or in the relationship.
       I feel I should go into detail here a bit with regard to posture. One crucial element of good posture is a slight bend, or flexion. (Like what we ask for with a cheek press*, or when we ask a horse to 'walk the S.'*) Without this gesture, a horse cannot be in self-carriage. The temptation, then, is to continually ask for the inside bend while lunging. This is nearly impossible for a horse to do, unless they have built the required strength and flexibility over a very long period of time. The alternative is to ask the horse for an occasional outside bend. This can be achieved simply by the handler gesturing towards the horse's shoulders for two or three strides to move them out. (There are other ways but this is the simplest.) This should happen no less than 3 or 4 times a circle at the walk and once or twice at the trot, depending on the size of the circle. If the horse or handler doesn't know how to utilize both bends on a circle yet, then groundwork with changes of bend should be executed after no more than 5 minutes of lunging, after which it's time to change direction.
       Another element of creating good posture is physical input from the handler. In other words, there's very little sense in having the horse go round and round without the kind of support a good yoga teacher offers with occasional assists. Everyone has their own way of doing this: Peggy [Cummings] with her combing and sliding*, and meeting and melting*, and also body awareness exercises at the halt and walk; Manolo [Mendez] with his long bamboo cane, tapping or supporting different spots; Linda [Tellington-Jones] with her body wraps, and also her wand, stroking and pointing. Even just using ones body language, one can activate different parts of the horse. The important thing is that the handler should be involved in the dance, supporting the horse and helping it release tension and move more freely.
        It is also important to note that anything fixed will result in tension in the horse. This is obvious when one thinks about equipment, like side reins or tie downs, but also applies to the size and shape of the circle. To prevent physical (and mental) fatigue and tension, alternate between going long, then shrinking the circle to 15 metres, etc. It's important to mix it up, and to do it without creating resistance in the horse. Just like riding, we have to be careful not to drag the horses around by their heads, and instead guide and support them with our whole bodies. If they are heavy on the line, or the handler is muscling them around that way, remedial work for both handler and horse is immediately in order.
       A side benefit of lunging is that moving the horse forward off of our own body language creates a certain authority that can put the horse very much at ease. It puts the handler in a position to be the one to decide how to respond to a potential threat, and most horses like knowing that we are 'on it'. It also shows them, when done well, that we 'speak horse', since movement is their primary form of expression. For this reason I usually don't do much lunging until I've had a chance to do liberty work, but even without the aid of a round pen, we can get a lot done on a loose line with very clear and concise physical directions coming from the human. I believe a lunge whip can be very useful in this context when used with finesse.

     2) Optimal equipment is anything that a) attaches directly in the center of the nasal bone b) fits the head snugly such that it won't rotate out of place when a contact is taken. The best example of this is an Iberian lunging cavesson (like Manolo [Mendez] uses). I don't have one of those, so I take my Connected Groundwork halter and tie the rope directly to the center of the noseband when I want to lunge. (If you do this be sure to tie a knot at the far end or the whole thing can slide right through your hands.) You'll note that what the two have in common is a jowl strap as opposed to a throatlatch. The latter can be attached snugly, preventing the equipment from sliding into the horse's eye; the former has to be left loose because of the windpipe, and thus requires that the chinstrap be cranked down to keep the equipment in place. This isn't ideal because it creates tension in the jaw. I would never lunge in a regular bridle unless I could clip or tie the longe line to the noseband, which sort of defeats the purpose. I suppose it is possible to teach the horse to respond correctly to the pressure of the lunge line on the bit, but it is much more likely to result in tension in the jaw and poll, and twisting in the neck.
       Surcingles are great for attaching bodywraps or therabands, or for ground driving/ long lining. They don't need to be used every time. All the previous ideas apply for long lining. It's crucial to do the groundwork first to make sure that the horse understands how to release at the poll and lengthen their neck in the direction of the rein aid. Long lining can be done in a regular bridle, or a Connected Groundwork halter, and is often a great way to help the horse integrate their Connected Groundwork. If long lining is done with a bit, in-hand work to create correct (soft) response to the bit should come first. Here's an example of the beginning of that process [from Mark Russell]:

Thanks for reading. Happy lunging!


*cheek press, walking the S, combing and sliding, and meeting and melting are all copyrighted Connected Groundwork terms.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Looking for an opportunity to see what Horses with Rachel is all about? Here you go!

Join us Saturday for the next Upper Main Farm Learning Circle!
Combine the personalized instruction of a private lesson with the camaraderie and learning opportunities of a group! We meet in the tack room at 3 for a brief introduction to biomechanics, then decide on a riding order. Before and after their lesson, students learn from watching other riders. We finish up with potluck dinner in the tack room! Message me to sign up or audit.

OR, check out this FREE EVENT:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

There are still a couple of spots available in this clinic. Don't miss this opportunity to understand and improve your horse's way of going!

Barre Riding and Driving Club & Horses with Rachel present:
Taking the Struggle out of Horse Training
A clinic with Rachel Hackett
Sunday May 15th, 9-4, Felton Field, Barre MA

Do you want to develop your horse into a healthy, balanced, comfortable partner for riding?  If so then this clinic is for you. Learn to better recognize and promote correct motion, both on the ground and under saddle. Help your horse relax and go forward with ease!

Sign up for the day and bring your horse, or come to audit!

For rates and information, contact:  Lynne Goodnow 978-544-3773, or Jane Lynds,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Three upcoming clinics

If you're interested in one of these clinics, it's time to register to hold your spot! Email me if you have any questions. Thanks!

Three exciting clinics to get you and your horse working together!

The Horse-Human Mind-Body Connection: Spring Tune Up!
A Clinic with Rachel Hackett at Full of Grace Farm
Saturday, May 1st from 9-4, Full of Grace Farm, Hadley MA

Start the season with softness! In this full-day clinic, riders will learn how to promote self-carriage in their horses, by releasing tension and finding spinal alignment in both horse and rider. Both will gain confidence and better balance. Riders of any discipline are welcome!

A limited number of horses and stalls are available for lease for the day from Full of Grace Farm.For more information, please contact Laura Litterer at 413-244-3785 or


Barre Riding and Driving Club & Horses with Rachel present:
Taking the Struggle out of Horse Training
A clinic with Rachel Hackett
Sunday May 15th, 9-4, Felton Field, Barre MA

Ever feel that you are not in sync with your horse, or there is something that is just not clicking but you don’t know why? Want better softness and balance?  Do you want to develop your horse into a healthy, balanced, comfortable partner for riding?  If so then this clinic is for you.

Contact:  Lynne Goodnow 978-544-3773, or Jane Lynds,


The Path to Softness
A Clinic with Rachel Hackett at Upper Main Farm
Saturday, June 11th, 9-4, Upper Main Farm, Hatfield MA

In order to be properly balanced, the horse must know how to soften through his topline. We’ve all heard this before, but what does it really mean, and how do we get there? Learn how to see, feel, and create softness in your horse on the ground and under saddle at this full day clinic!

Contact for more information.

Friday, February 26, 2016

We're at it again at Upper Main Farm!

On Saturday, March 12th we're having another Upper Main Farm Learning Circle, and you're invited!

Does your horse need a spring tune-up? Are you tired of riding alone? Do you enjoy watching other people's lessons? Then this one's for you!

Each participant will be assigned a half hour lesson time, after which they can ride independently and practice on their own. Everyone is encouraged to watch each others lessons, then stay for potluck dinner in the tack room!

The cost is $35. Students trailering in will also need to bring a $20 ring fee and a negative Coggins. To reserve your space, buy a ticket on Eventbrite, or give Rachel a $10 deposit in person, up to 3 days before the Learning Circle. All balances are due on the day of the event.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Less Is More

Last night I had two marvelous lessons. They were both with horses and students I'd never worked with before, so much of the mounted time was spent helping the riders find a neutral pelvis, and begin learning to use it to move with their horses. In both cases, the results were phenomenal.

In the first lesson, the horse was a 7 year old Warmblood. Tall, leggy, and goofy, this horse had plenty of reach through his neck, but very little engagement behind. He lacked 'swing,' didn't bother to flex his lumbo-sacral joint, and dragged his hind toes on the ground. This all changed, though, when his rider put her back in the back, let her upper body buoy forward, and allowed her thighs and knees to roll out with the rhythmic motion of his barrel.* Suddenly, he was visibly lighter in the withers, and the sound of his hind feet kicking sand ceased.

An even more exciting change came when we began working at the trot. Because of her horse's tendency to lack impulsion, the rider had developed a habit of posting very actively, moving her lower leg dramatically with every stride to try to urge him on. This in turn led to her hollowing her lower back and gripping with her knees. When she softened her back, quieted her posting, and released her thighs, all of the sudden her horse began swinging through his back! His plodding, laborious trot became springy, buoyant, and free! His back and hindquarters were visibly more mobile. It was a joy to behold.

The second lesson was completely different. In this case, the horse was a small mare, with a tendency to be quick and spooky. I nonetheless began the ride by helping her rider get into neutral and find the forward buoy, but in this case, it was to promote soft, quiet, organized motion, instead of the mare's habitual hyperactivity.

We were in an indoor arena, and every time the mare would go by the end with the doors (read, bogeyman,) her head would go up, her step would quicken, and she'd come out of the corner crooked and tense. At least, this was true until her rider stopped trying to correct her, and instead unified her upper body (taking the wiggle out of her middle*) and found the forward buoy. This allowed the mare to soften her back under her rider's now-quiet seat, and go by the doors without panic, with a long neck and an even stride. Good girl!

The next challenge was to correct the mare's tendency to drift off the rail on the long side. Once again, her rider was valiantly trying to guide her horse using inside leg aids, but this was causing tightness in her thigh and lower back, and her upper body was getting stuck behind the motion. As soon as she concentrated on maintaining her buoy and following the swing in her horse's barrel, the drifting stopped, because the mare could no longer brace against the rider's tight knee and thigh, and instead felt encouraged to go forward evenly by the rider facilitating the rhythm!

What do these two rides have in common? Both horses benefited from their riders doing LESS. Instead of constantly using aids to correct their horse's habits, all these riders did was get out of the way. In so doing, they helped the horses break their habits of habitual tension which were causing the problematic behavior (ie, lack of impulsion, spookiness, crookedness, etc).

When we struggle against our horses with our muscles, it gives them something to brace against. It makes them tight. This causes pretty much every problem you can think of; too fast, too slow, cutting corners, refusing fences, you name it, a tight topline is involved. Thankfully there is a better way! When we learn to ride in a neutral pelvis, breathe into our backs,* and offer our aids without compromising our own balance, our horses can perform to their full potential with joy and ease.

Many thanks to my new students and their horses for their hard work last night, and to all of my students for constantly inspiring me!

Happy riding,

*This is a Connected Riding (TM) concept, created by Peggy Cummings.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lessons at Upper Main Farm in Hatfield, MA

Hello Friends! I have exciting news. I am now officially the in-house trainer for Upper Main Farm in Hatfield, MA!

Upper Main Farm is a beautiful and well-equipped boarding and training facility. The farm is operated by two chiropractors, Dr. Emmanuel Gonzales and Dr. Jill Esz Smith. Dr Smith is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and currently runs Berkshire Animal Chiropractic and Sports Therapy. Together, we are building a supportive, multi-disciplinary lesson program with a special focus on individualized training and healthy biomechanics.

On Sunday we're launching a new approach to riding lessons. Ever wished you could combine the one-on-one attention of a private lesson with the learning and socializing opportunities of a group, at a supportive and well-equipped facility? Now you can!

I hope you can join us, if not on Sunday, then for the next one!