Over the last week a few things have happened. To begin with I was watching a riding clinic with a friend of mine, and we were discussing horses, training, and competing in the break. She commented that she was no longer sure exactly what direction her riding was taking her.
After a stormy few years she has had some bad experiences, among these were trainers that she had trusted to help her with her horses, her trust was not justified and her horses have suffered, which she blames herself for, even though the results were not her fault. If you ask credible trainers to help you with your horse then you don’t expect your horses to be ruined or your requests to be ignored.
It is often impossible to know exactly what ethics some trainers and professionals actually have. There is no overall body to uphold values, so even if you have a very bad experience there really is nowhere to go.
As far as our own riding careers go it is pretty important to question ourselves throughout our lives, it helps us to evolve and it shows our ongoing commitments to the horses that we love.
This unfortunately doesn’t happen with all riders; while feeling nostalgic about Prince’s death I was searching for a clip on YouTube featuring one of his songs, and what popped up was a clip of a professional rider doing a ridden demo in the presence of the public complete with draw reins. My question is why? What is good, or ethical about showing a horse to the public which is behind the bit and disengaged? As far as I know this is why draw reins are used. What happened to developing strength and suppleness in the horse? Why has that rider not valued the horse he was riding more? This comes full circle to my friends worry and consternation regarding her feelings on what is going on within the horse world.
So why do we ride? What are we aiming for when we are schooling and working our horses? I have lost count of the times someone has guiltily confessed to me that they felt they were “wasting” their horse.
The conversation generally goes something like this….
“I bought Horatio to compete, he has really good showjumping bloodlines and now I am unable to compete and I feel that the work I am doing with him just isn’t enough. I am wasting him!”
My question in return is always-are you enjoying him? Are you happy riding him? If the answer is yes to both questions then it is a no brainer-it doesn’t matter! The horse may have good bloodlines but that doesn’t necessarily make him a top level showjumper, and does the horse care? I can assure you he does not!
So how should we ride and train our horses? Firstly I would like to return to the word “teach” I am beginning to be very bored with the word train, and secondly we ride to become better riders. We are often told by “trainers” that we have to repeat and repeat exercises until our horses perform things perfectly. This is not the right mindset. It is unbelievably difficult for our horses to reach what we would think of as improvement, and it is unbelievably difficult for them to become perfect at performing exercises if their balance is being compromised by us. If we are out of balance, or the timing of our aids is inconsistent, then how can they possibly get things right? It is us, the riders that need constant reflection, education and improvement.
Instead of aiming towards glory and competition we need to think in terms of making sure our aiding is precise, working on how well we ride around corners and turns and the journey should be more valued. Time and teaching are everything in riding, and one very subtle correction from us can produce amazing results and clarification in our horses minds.
Ask your horse for one step into a difficult exercise and then give him a break, then return and ask once more and then go away and do something else. Work his body and his mind with care, and by all means challenge yourself-we should in fact do this regularly,but we should take care with our horses.
Just as a finishing paragraph I have just started learning to dance, I like learning new things, I think I owe it to my students as I am constantly teaching, and I think it is important to keep in touch with remembering just how difficult it is to learn new things.
When you dance you have to learn to follow another persons movements, you have to learn to synchronise and stay in balance and in rhythm-if you have never properly danced with someone else, please try it. It is very very difficult, and you need to trust the person you are dancing with and be able to think clearly.
The one thing that has really stuck in my mind is that our horses have to do that everyone time we get on them. They are not mind readers, whatever we think, and neither are they being difficult when they can’t stay balanced, they are just trying to synchronise with the rider with no prior knowledge of what we are about to ask…..if we DON’T aid them correctly.
So before you get onto your horse tomorrow, give him a bit of credit and start with your mind in the right place and teach and help your horse.