As a year-end article, I thought I would give you six things you can do to improve your riding and make your horse’s job easier. If you want to improve your horse, it starts with you.
1. Don’t pull. In past articles I talked about holding the bridle reins like you are holding hands with that significant person in your life. Would that person like it if you were pulling and yanking on their hand? No? Well your horse doesn’t do so well with it either. Horses react to what we do, so if you are pulling they will pull back. A good way to practice this is to ask a friend to hold the other end of a set of bridle reins.
Take a hold of one rein and apply light pressure until you feel the slightest resistance. Have your friend tell you when they feel pressure. I think you will be surprised at how little pressure it takes before your friend will feel it. Your horse is the same way. Take a hold of the rein and apply pressure until you feel the slightest resistance. If the horse does not give to the resistance, then work the rein by wiggling your fingers until the horse gives to the rein.
2. Don’t Be A Fat Head! I don’t mean to be insulting, but think about this for a moment. Your head controls 60 percent of your body weight when you ride. So if you are constantly looking down at your horse’s head by cocking your head to the inside, this action makes you drop your inside shoulder and shifts your weight to the outside. Your horse will mirror this by dropping their inside shoulder and flipping their hip to the outside. All hopes of collection go down the drain. Don’t believe me? Sit in a chair, or better yet on an exercise ball, tilt your head toward your shoulder and look down. Feel what happens to your body. This is what your horse feels. Let’s be kind to our horses and stop this nonsense. Ride like you have one of those neck collars on that they put on people who have been in a wreck! I’ve been tempted to have a few here at the barn for the compulsive ‘fat heads’!
3. Learn to count. If you can count to four, you can become a better rider. Do this exercise. Ask your horse to trot and count their footsteps; 1-2-3-4. The count should be a rhythmic four beat count. Feel how the count can change when you change your body position, such as tilting your head. Counting your horse’s foot fall teaches you to feel your horses movement.
4. Turn your toes out and don’t squeeze with your legs. You want to use the calves of your legs to control your horse, not your knees. When you squeeze your knees you start to push yourself up out of the saddle and lock your pelvis. When that happens, the horse cannot lift their back and move in a collected frame. By turning your toes out and bumping with your calves rather than squeezing, you start to ride with your horse instead of against them. Pretend you have baby birds nestled between your calves and your horse. If you squeeze too hard, you’ll have baby bird guts all over your legs. If you don’t keep some contact, the baby birds will fall and get stepped on. Now take that visual to the barn!
5. Get your elbows out of your sides. Whenever you clamp your elbows in your sides, you lock your shoulders and ride through your elbows. In this position, you are much more likely to lean forward and a whole lot more likely to be pulling on your horse’s face. The elbows have to be elastic and move with the horse, which cannot happen when they are stiffly clamped in your sides. You want to ride from your shoulders, lifting the rein not pulling the rein. This sits you back on your pockets and allows the horse to elevate his front end, which is the beginning of collection (elevation).
6. Do not arch or hollow your back out. This causes you to roll your pelvis forward and dumps your weight on the horse’s front end. In this position you cannot use your legs properly and it also puts you in a more precarious position should the horse bolt or buck. Think of your pelvis as a bucket of water. If it is rolled forward, you spill water out of the bucket. Roll your pelvis back into the saddle and sit on your pockets. This position allows you to use your legs properly and is a more secure seat.
These six tips will make you a better rider and develop a closer partnership with your horse. Practice them with a friend who will let you know when you lapse back into bad habits. The biggest tip of all is to have patience. If you are getting frustrated, think about what you are doing wrong and how you can change to get a different result. A teacher once said, “Lower your expectations to lower your frustrations.” Does that mean you should always have low expectations? Not really, just realistic ones.
Thank you to everyone who reads my articles and give us such great feedback. We are thankful to the Horsemen’s Corral for another great year as part of their publication. My wife Amy and I hope everyone has a Merry Chirstmas and blessed New Year.
Be safe and always strive to Ride-In-Sync with your horse!
Questions about this or any of our articles can be emailed to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.