The Key To Riding Well

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Most people can learn the principles and mechanisms of riding horses reasonably well, if they have decent instruction and spend the time. it's the mental part of the sport that separates weak riders from strong riders, and the primary mental attribute that differentiates riders is confidence, starting with confidence in your ability to stay on a horse's back, a mental state that depends highly on training.

Confidence is largely about your partnership with your horse or horses. Do you fit together physically and mentally' We all get along with some horses better than others. it's like finding your perfect dance partner. But have you also had good training and competitive experiences together, experiences that have taught you to believe in each other'

Horses perform because they trust you, because they have confidence in what you?ve taught them to do. When they know what you want, they perform confidently. You know your training is working if your horse is eager to go.

But often the rider or the horse (or both) becomes fearful about their ability to answer even the simplest questions. Sometimes that fear is the result of a specific incident, and sometimes it's the result of a dysfunctional relationship.

We often encounter riders with horses that are poorly suited to their abilities and aspirations, horses that are too athletic or high-octane, horses that are too spooky or sensitive, or horses that weren?t made to do the job. it's happened to us, too.

Often problems between a horse and rider can be solved with good and consistent training. But sometimes one, or both, is simply unable to work with the other, so the rider stops riding and the horse just stands around. What surprises us is how often riders in this situation are unwilling to sell or find a new home for their dysfunctional partner so they can find a more suitable one. I'm not at all suggesting that every time you fall off or have a problem, you should discard your horse like a plastic cup you're done with. But if you and your horse simply aren?t compatible, be honest and move on to a new relationship. Your horse isn?t enjoying this unhappy relationship either, so give both of you a new chance.

In my life, I've been fortunate to have had six horses with whom I've had rewarding long-term relationships?I'm still riding two of them. they've all been horses with whom I'd ride almost anywhere and jump almost anything. But, two years ago, another horse, whom we'd bred, threw me twice and severely injured me. We gave that horse to another trainer.

As a result of that experience, along with my advancing age, whenever we get a new horse in for training (especially a youngster or a horse with whom the owner has been having problems), it takes a few days for me to develop total confidence in the horse, to learn how he reacts to my aids (especially the driving aids of legs and whip) and to the environment. I always put a yoke around his neck to grab on to, and I wear a body protector the first day or two.

But once I've become confident that he or she won?t object unexpectedly to my directions, I can feel my trust in them, and them in me, develop, allowing us to literally and figuratively go forward.

John Strassburger, Performance Editor