Riding is a conversation

DSC01800I must regretfully confess that for years I’ve been nagging my horses.

I give an aid and then I keep giving it, thinking that if I stop telling them to trot, half pass, or canter, the horse will stop moving. So I train my horses to expect continual reactivation again and again, and guess what?

Riding is tiring. Because I work HARD. Much harder than the horse, much of the time. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

My trainers over the years have tried to help me with this, reminding me not to nag the horse, to give an aid and expect a response, to keep my aids light, etc., and I’ve gotten much better, but I still have a tendency to cling with my lower leg – I put the leg on and I forget to take the aid off. See this picture below?

Clinging with the calf, pressing, pressing…and bracing with the back. Poor Finn.

Clinging with the calf, pressing, pressing…and bracing with the back. Poor Finn.

At the recent Corine Dorrepaal clinic, from the first moment we worked on this problem for THREE days, and for the first time, I really felt the difference in my horse and in myself when I gave an aid quickly and then let go. Wow! My horse had a chance to respond and then be free! He was so much less braced in his body, because he didn’t have me clinging to him with my legs. Instead, my legs were draping along his sides lightly. I could sit more deeply with a long, relaxed leg.

Corine considers riding a conversation with your horse. When the rider uses the leg all the time, she is doing all the talking and can’t hear what the horse is saying. If she relaxes the leg, then she can receive information back from the horse through her softly draped leg and through her seat.

Information such as Is the horse bending softly? Is there tension is his body? How is his back feeling? Is he responding quickly and softly to my aids? all becomes so much more clear when the legs are not getting in the way by gripping.

Finn and me at Corine Dorrepaal clinic

Finn and me at Corine Dorrepaal clinic

For my next stage of horse education, there is nothing more important I can work on than to learn to converse with my horse through riding with a more relaxed seat and leg.

I wish I would have understood this decades ago when other trainers tried to teach me (and they did try), but I guess when the student is ready, the master appears. Now is the time! Fortunately, my trainer is ready, willing, and able to move forward and will be so happy that I finally have a glimmer of understanding in this area.

My time with Corinne illustrates the benefit of going to a clinic, however. Sometimes going outside your comfort zone and hearing the same truths spoken differently by someone else with different illustrations finally gets it through your thick head.

I found it wonderful and fascinating that this week, as I am thinking about this, I saw several quotes on the same theme, and I thought I’d share them with you here:

As the blind person touches the object before him very softly and lightly with his fingertips in order not to interfere with the work of the sensitive nerve ends by too much pressure, so it is the rider’s first obligation to keep soft and natural those parts of his body with which he feels his horse. If his seat meets this requirement, he will soon feel the movement of the horse’s legs and will be able to distinguish each individual one; he will thus have the means at his disposal with which to control them as if they were his own.”  G.Steinbrecht (1884)

“The overriding theme the first day of the 2015 Succeed/USDF FEI-Level Trainers Conference was just that—that most of the eight participants overrode their horses.”

“Transitions, transitions, transitions are the name of the game,” Clarke said, explaining he wanted the horse to give an electric reaction to Morris’ aids in the walk/trot transitions.

“The horse’s job is to react,” he said. “The rider’s job is to sit and relax.” (It’s All About the Pace, by Sue Weekly, Published in The Chronicle of the Horse)

Finn collecting the canter

Finn collecting the canter

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