Sunday, October 16, 2011

Considering The Horse

" Blue "
 When riding I think we all tend to focus on what we are thinking and how we are going to achieve our riding goals.  I’m the first one to admit that I’ve been guilty of trying to train the horse to my way of going.  But have you considered what the horse is feeling or thinking?  Contrary to some archaic beliefs, they do think and they do have feelings.  You may not be the first rider your horse has had to deal with.  Have you considered that the last person who rode your horse rode him differently to achieve the same movement that you are trying to accomplish?

I’ll use Blue as an example.  He has had a few riders before me.  He was originally my older daughter’s horse and she rode him exclusively for a few years.  So he learned her way of riding.  She hasn’t ridden in seven years because of work and children.  My younger daughter, who is a trainer, subsequently rode Blue and he learned a different way of going and had to respond to her way of riding.  Some students also used him lightly when we had a boarding/training facility for a few years.  When we bought the farm, my daughter occasionally still rode him on trails or in the ring, basically to exercise him.  Now it’s my turn. 

Poor Blue, he’s had riders who most likely all rode with their own quirks.  Sure, walk, trot, canter, basic steering, whoa and go aids may seem pretty standard from rider to rider, but there is a surprising assortment of methods and theories out there; and even if two riders come from the same school and use the same technique, every rider has different conformation and their own slightly different way of doing things.  So even between two very similar riders, the aids may be given just a tad differently.  Imagine how the horse feels when he has to deal with two dissimilar riders!  My daughter is 5’10; I’m 5’5, so even the placement of our legs is different.  Our balance is probably different.  We have different seats and perhaps different ways of holding the reins, degrees of pressure, etc. even if we both ride lightly.  We have different quirks and bad habits.  So Blue has had to figure out what all of his riders want and what they are requesting while taking all of these differences into consideration.  As I mentioned, the cues may be basic but, like fingerprints, there are no two people who ride exactly alike.

Maybe there is a certain amount of concern on the horse’s part too.  He may not only be trying to figure out what we want but also if we know what we are doing to help him take care of himself.   Will we get in his way, be harsh with the reins, clumsy with our seat, overbearing with our legs?  Could we unbalance him or put him wrong to a jump?  Perhaps the rider will pull his nose into his chest while grinding their seat into his back trying (incorrectly) to get “collection” or “impulsion.”  Or the rider could ask him to do something he’s scared or otherwise not ready or able to do.  Considering how the horse may be feeling—and remembering that he’s also trying to figure out what, exactly, the monkey on his back is asking him to do—might be something we should give some thought to when riding our horses. 

The point is the horse is adjusting to every rider on his back just as the rider is adjusting to every horse under saddle.  So if we give the horse as much consideration as he gives us, we should eventually be able to compliment each other and form a decent riding relationship.  So consider the horse the next time you don’t get what you want the first or second or third time you ask for something.  He’s probably trying to figure it out too.

Until next time

Quote for Today
Whenever difficulties appear, the rider must ask himself:  does the horse not want execute my demands, does he not understand what I want, or is he physically unable to carry them out?  The rider's conscience must find the answer.
    - Alois Podhajsky

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