There’s an old horseperson’s saying that goes, “Every time you do something with your horse, you are training him.”
So, how does this fit in with a riding lesson where you are the student, you have an instructor who is coaching you and you are on a horse.
Your riding instructor should know the horse you are riding. If not, the instructor should know how horses react to different cues. Horses don’t have push buttons, although some would disagree with me. But most o react the same way when they feel pressure, when they are startled, when the rider is off-balance, when they are having a bad day. (Yes, horses can have bad days, too.)
Your instructor’s primary responsibility is to transfer that knowledge to you, the rider. If you have a good instructor, you will be told the “why” along with the “what” when you receive an instruction. Heels down – secures your seat in the saddle. Hands together – keeps the reins alongside the horse’s neck to go straight. Each cue is given for a particular reason and the horse, if properly trained, will respond accordingly. Or at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen.
Yes, the horse can teach you how to ride, too. Did you ever notice that you think you are doing everything the instructor is telling you to do, but the horse isn’t responding? Our first impulse is to blame the horse! Old Red just doesn’t feel like trotting today. Goldie must be in a bad mood, she doesn’t want to go over the poles. But wait! The rider in the next class has Old Red trotting around the arena and you never saw Goldie jump so high before! What changed? Well, the rider.
The horse, even if he knows the cues, may not be doing it because the rider is not asking properly. Yelling “trot” is not the correct cue. Yes, there is nothing wrong with saying “trot” or clucking, but you need to say it with your body as well. Slumping, sitting heavy, or having no energy does not give the horse incentive to move. Next lesson, you are more awake, you are sitting better and you are balanced in the saddle. The horse responds with a touch of your leg!
The horse has just become your teacher, rewarding you with the correct movement when you give the cue properly.
You probably don’t feel like you’re a teacher, but you are. The time you took your horse on a trail ride and let him graze while you talked to your friend. The taught your horse that it’s okay to eat along the trail. Do it twice and you just reinforced that it’s okay to do it. Next time you ride, it becomes a habit and now you’re frustrated. Why won’t he go down the trail like he used to? All he wants to do is stop and eat the grass!
Or the time you were working a new pattern in the arena and the horse tried to go the opposite way. You were surprised and let him. Pretty soon he starts to test you every time you try something new. The next thing you know, you are calling him stubborn or bull-headed. But, who gave him permission to not listen the first time?
And so the circle goes, from trainer, to horse, to rider. Every time we interact with the horse, someone is learning. Let’s just hope we are all learning the proper way to do things.
Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.