Over the years, I’ve ridden with many different trainers. I’ve listened to and learned from countless others, through conversations, clinics, DVDs, books and articles. I’ve been teased that I seem to understand riding better than I actually do it (probably true), but that’s because I’m constantly searching for anything that will improve my ability to achieve a true connection with my horse. I’ve experienced a few glorious ”moments of brilliance” and I want more of them.
I watch people ride as often as possible. It doesn’t matter what level or what discipline. We all have the same goal. I look to see how they use their aids and how the horse responds. Of course, it’s the Olympic-level riders that truly teach me. I see that line running from the horse’s mouth straight back to the rider’s elbow remains consistent, no matter what the horse does. I note slight movements of the riders’ shoulders or hips and the big results they get in the horse.
And balance! Talk about being one with their horse. These riders appear to be an extension of the horse’s body (or vice versa). There are no gaps between the rider’s body and the horse. Any direction they give the horse is simply an increase of an aid that is already there . . . in place . . . ready to react. These riders are the very definition of harmony. Poetry in motion.
It’s a picture I keep in my mind every time I mount up: Back straighter than I think it should be. Horse held firmly between my shoulders. All requests for bends and turns originating from my hips. My legs whisper against my horse’s sides, always feeling her warmth.
So when Performance Editor John Strassburger mentioned the disturbing trend he was seeing with riders being told to keep their legs off of their horses, I knew we needed to look more deeply into it.
How could you possibly communicate with your horse with the most basic aid of all — your leg — off of your horse’ When you ask the horse to move forward is it a sneak attack’ A big ”thump” with your legs’ The very idea brings up images of Thelwell’s cartoons — riders bouncing three feet out of the saddle with their legs splayed sideways like a double-jointed gymnast hovering over the horse.
While all trainers have their own methods of teaching, each should still drill the basics of good equitation. That means you should be able to mount a correctly trained horse and ride (assuming you have the skill to match the horse you’re climbing aboard — no one will ever convince me that any rider should be able to ride any horse; some horses are more challenging).
But, if you’re frustrated with yourself or your horse or — like the riders in the story on page 13 — wonder why you and your horse can’t seem move in harmony, do some investigating.
If you’ve been riding with the same instructor for a while, take a couple of lessons with another trainer or ride in a clinic. Clinics are wonderful, because they’re usually conducted by people with a diverse, strong background. Your present instructor will probably ask you what you learned and then help you build on that. If he or she doesn’t, maybe it’s time to find a new teacher. If that’s not possible, recruit an experienced friend to give you feedback on your riding or get someone to videotape you so you can critique yourself. That’s one of the most enlightening things you can do.
Otherwise, if you’re content with the way you ride, you’re golden. It’s all about horse and rider communicating to your own satisfaction. Not everyone likes the same poems, but we all crave that beautiful rhythm.