We don’t always think about horseback riding as teamwork, but it really is. As the rider, we are directing the horse to do certain things. Whether it’s the gait or the direction or even the movement, we are requesting that the horse follow our cues. The horse, tries to respond to your cues the best she can. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not.

The horse has her own personality and training. Horses, because they are living beings, can have off days. They can, as they age, become arthritic or tire easily. They play hard and can get hurt. As a rider, we need to be sensitive to our horse. And, yes, some horses have learned to act up so they won’t get ridden. Can you tell the difference between a horse that is having an off day and a horse that wants a day off?

Many of the horses we ride have also had previous training. They may have been taught that a tap means to trot and the rider was taught that a squeeze with for legs is the cue to trot. This is where understanding and teamwork comes to play. Should we retrain the horse or ourselves?

As a rider, we need to keep our emotions in check. If we get frustrated, those feelings will be telegraphed to the horse and the horse will respond accordingly. When we get upset, we typically stiffen up. The horse does not respond well to a stiff rider. Stiffening up and getting frustrated are normal reactions when things do go the way we expect them to, but, if you were on another sports team, it would be bad sportsmanship to yell at your teammate. We need to think about our horse the same way.

By riding our horse calmly and asking patiently, we win the trust of the horse and the horse will continue to try to please us. When it all comes together, the rider and the horse appear to be moving as one with grace and ease. All because of great teamwork.

Linda Watson-Call 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. She is the author of the forthcoming book Fifty Blades of Hay.

Buttercup_MorganMy young rider and Buttercup have a great working relationship. Buttercup is no push-button horse, but she knows when her rider means what she it and usually doesn’t put up a fuss. But today something was wrong.

Our warm-up exercise went well. It was a new pattern, but the rider had no problem with it and Buttercup complied. Last week we started going over a low jump. The rider is ready to learn how to canter, has great form, and had enjoyed going over ground poles. She did fine last week, so I thought we’d do it again this week.

As I was getting the jump ready, I asked her to trot Buttercup. She did, but Buttercup didn’t trot the distance. She broke trot after a few steps. So we tried again. This time, she didn’t even attempt to trot.  She stopped instead. Really? Stopping instead of trotting? This is not acceptable behavior. I’m studying the rider and the horse. I don’t see anything wrong with the rider. The horse is moving properly but refusing to trot. Stopping. And when she stops, she is not square, but extends her back legs a bit. I’m wondering if she needs to urinate, but isn’t doing it.

My first impulse was to get after Buttercup for not being responsive, but my gut feeling said not to. So I changed the lesson and we worked on leg yields, which were done quite nicely by both the rider and the horse.

Class is over and I make a mental note to work with Buttercup later in the day to try and figure out what happened in that lesson.

A half-hour later I get a text from the rider’s mother. They may have to cancel the afternoon plans because she is running the girl to Emergency. I’m stunned. It seems the girl had fallen the day before and hit her head. No lumps, no bumps, not even a mark. She seemed fine that evening and didn’t complain about not feeling well in the morning.

Being the avid rider that she is, she came for her lesson, but on the way home told her dad that the ride home was making her sick to her stomach and dizzy.

The next text was – she had suffered a concussion.

Was she not feeling right but hid it well for her riding lesson? She says she was fine until the ride home. Did Buttercup know that she wasn’t well and shouldn’t be trotting (actually shouldn’t be riding!), Buttercup is not saying. But what she is saying loud and clear – I do know what is happening with my rider and will act accordingly.

And I will always trust my horses and my gut.

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.