Almost all clinicians/instructors, regardless of the riding discipline involved, give horsing lessons rather than riding lessons to their students. This puts the horse at a disadvantage since it is the rider who forms the horse and not the other way around.
Over the years, I have heard these clinicians and instructors during their clinics say to their students such things as: “Keep doing what you are doing until the horse can’t do it wrong”; “Use more leg”; “Don’t let the horse pull on your hands; “Kick him hard if he won’t go”; “Pull back hard to make him stop” etc. without providing any further instruction.
Equally horrendous are the demonstrations put on by these professionals whether in person or through DVDs and YouTube videos showing them, to cite just a few examples, pulling on the reins; riding horses that are moving on the forehand; riding horses that are behind the bit or curled up in front with their noses almost touching their chests; horses with their poll below the withers; leaning into turns instead of being perpendicular etc.
All this has a lasting impression on the audience who generally do not know what the correct shape of the horse should be to allow it to be ridden or developed in the proper manner.
The end result is that the horse gets punished by the rider who has no other way to accomplish what he or she wants the horse to do other than what they have been told to do by the clinician or instructor (who may or may not know what they are talking about relative to the time-honored system of developing and schooling the horse).
It can be summed up as follows: The horse reflects the ability of the rider, and the rider reflects the depth of knowledge of the teacher.
This whole atmosphere is, in my judgement, the antithesis of good riding and an egregious betrayal of the beauty and magnificence of the horse. So how can this present-day abominable situation be remedied?
FIND A TEACHER
First of all, a better horse cannot be ridden or developed if the rider is clueless about how to go about doing it. The task of riding a horse is an art form composed of thousands of details, and if the rider forgets one of those then the following work is not going to be correct.
The rider must find a teacher in his or her discipline who is steeped in the time-tested traditional systems of developing a horse and then immerse himself or herself in what that person has to offer.
The prospective student should ask the teacher three important questions to find out the depth of the teacher’s knowledge:
- What are the five rein effects and how are they applied in communicating with the horse? Answer: The opening rein and the neck rein influence the actions of the forequarters; the direct rein, the indirect rein in front of the withers, and the indirect rein in back of the withers influence both the forequarters and the hindquarters
- What is the footfall sequence of the horse in all gaits and why is that important? Answer: The legs of the horse move with a lateral push and a diagonal pull. For example, if the right hind leg moves first, it pushes the right foreleg forward which pulls the left hind leg forward which pushes the left foreleg forward which then pulls the right hind leg forward and the sequence starts all over again. This is important so that the rider can know which leg is on the ground and which leg is off the ground and moving so the aids can be used at the right time
- What must the horse give to the rider in order for him to be trained Answer: The horse must give the rider his undivided attention when they are working together
THE BALANCE OF THE RIDER
Second, the rider must attain balance. No matter what the rider does to balance the horse it will be work without end if the rider himself or herself is not first balanced.
To accomplish this balance the rider must develop what is generally referred to as an independent seat. This means that the rider can sit on the horse through both longitudinal and lateral moves of the horse at any gait and speed without exaggerated body movements; hanging onto the reins; or tightly clinching the horse’s sides with their legs.
A posture conducive for a rider to attain this balance for general riding purposes would be for the head to be positioned over the shoulders; the shoulders to be positioned over the hips; and the legs to be positioned under the hips with the shoulders and hips of the rider aligned with the horse’s shoulders and hips. Development of strong and supple abdominal and back muscles are also important to achieve success.
Unless the rider becomes master over his/her own body, they cannot hope to achieve mastery over the horse’s body.
THE BALANCE OF THE HORSE
Third, once the rider has achieved balance, he or she can now help the horse to enhance its balance.
Horses in their natural environment are as balanced and supple as they need to be to ensure their survival. The problem arises when the human gets introduced into the equation. Horses are not built to carry things on their back. It destroys their natural balance.
So, for the horse to carry the rider it must be developed to sustain the load and to adjust itself to a new way of balance.
It is not the various movements of the horse in and of themselves that makes them difficult to ride. The real challenge lies in re-establishing the balance and the required suppleness of the horse which are essential for him to effortlessly perform without resistance what is asked of him.
This new balancing of the horse is done slowly and over time by carefully and progressively developing the right muscles, tendons, and ligaments through an ever-ascending series of gymnastic exercises ridden in a variety of patterns, gaits and situations. This was the original purpose of dressage prior to the sport of dressage arriving on the scene.
It must be pointed out that dressage is not only having a horse with its head placed properly and executing movements at the request of the rider. It is about obtaining a flexible body that gives the rider pleasant sensations without effort. Likewise, it is also not about having a ‘trained’ horse with just a collection of movements. It is above all having a horse that is balanced, content, and moving without resistance.
A horse moving correctly means that it can perform fluid, seamless, and effortless transitions without losing its balance and without loss of tempo or alignment of its hips and shoulders on the line of travel; nor will it lock up and brace anywhere in its body while doing it.
Lastly, once the rider and horse are properly balanced, only then can the education of both begin. This is how today’s problems can be remedied.
ONE FINAL NOTE
If you are satisfied with how, you presently ride and are content with your current relationship with your horse then continue doing what you have always done. Just remember that, in the final analysis, you are liable to end up with a not very happy horse, and one who may get prematurely worn out from being continually ridden unbalanced. Consequently, you will have missed the opportunity to have accomplished something that was good and genuine for both you and the horse.
However, if you really want to ride better and have a more responsive horse then you need to ‘light a fire’ within yourself and develop a work ethic to make that happen.
Those who want will go further than those who can. If you want it bad enough you will get it, if you don’t want it bad enough you won’t get it. Your choice – no excuses!