How often do you struggle when you ride, trying to fix something about your position or something that you do?
Quite often, I bet! Now ask yourself, when you are trying so hard to fix something in you, how much focus do you have on what is happening with your horse? Maybe not so much? Hmmmm…..interesting thought to ponder, isn’t it?
Now don’t beat yourself up for this as it happens quite a bit. In fact, shifting the focus from the rider to the horse is the main theme when I teach riders in lessons and clinics. It’s not because I care more about horses than riders. It is because once a rider begins to focus on the horse’s way of going, performance and connection there will be improvement in both the rider and the horse. You may be thinking, why is this the case?
When a rider only focuses on themselves their ride becomes separate from the horse underneath them.
This often leaves a rider locked up trying hard to maintain position. Their minds are totally focused on themselves and they are not listening to the horse through their body and mind and thus they have no feel. In this case, horses can become unbalanced, crooked, numb or resistant. Just think about how you feel when you are the recipient of a one sided conversation. It’s not so much fun is it?
Moving focus to how the horse is going, as far as their straightness, impulsion, rhythm and balance, helps a rider begin to relax. Riders begin to let go of the worry about fixing themselves and pay more attention to creating the best ride in their horse. The focus is now on having a two sided conversation with the horse, where the rider listens and then responds thoughtfully to what the horse is telling them. To best create a positive two sided conversation, riders should first educate themselves on horse anatomy, movement, behavior and balance. They should understand what the ideal horse is, as well as what the best way of going should be. Then they need to understand that no horse is perfect, just as no rider is. They are all individuals, so horses need to be ridden as such. A single horse can be different on different days.
If rider focus is only on themselves there will be no awareness of what is happening with the horse they are on in any given moment.
In my clinics I have been developing a way of teaching to shift the rider’s focus to the horse. I ask riders questions about horse anatomy and way of going in general and then I ask about their horse in particular. Many riders struggle to answer my questions. It’s not because they don’t care or that they don’t work hard. It’s because their focus has been somewhat myopic. What is so interesting is that rider confidence grows as the focus begins to shift to the horse. They get out of their own way and start to have fun paying attention to the horse and making the corrections needed to improve the overall ride. At the same time, horses generally improve their way of going and are happier. The rider’s position begins to correct itself organically when the focus turns to using position to connect with the horse and to make regular subtle corrections as needed.I am not saying that good work on position shouldn’t happen.