It should come as no surprise to any of us that in many horse/rider combos the adult — the one with the most common sense — is often the horse. Someone has to be the adult.
In my own horsey m??nage, the adult is my trainer. When my mare plays her alpha card in both subtle and overt ways, my emotions take over. I suddenly forget all the things I’ve learned over four decades as a horsewoman. My trainer, who’s actually young enough to be my grand-daughter, is the one who settles things down.
I’m a USDF silver medalist. I judge and coach dressage. I’ve owned a dozen horses and a couple farms. But, in all her youthful energy and focus, my trainer’s seen and done more as a rider and teacher in 10 years than I have in 40. I’m reaping the benefit and loving every moment when she’s coaching me.
So, even though I know better, I want more and I want it now. With great coaching, I’m tasting success like I never have before, so now I crave instant gratification with my talented young mare. Let’s do flying changes! Let’s start piaffe and passage! My trainer has her focus on the end-game, not in the moment. So, what does she tell me to do'
She tells me to do nothing.
Well, maybe not nothing exactly but certainly a whole lot less. Stop pulling and nudging at the walk. Steady the outside rein at the trot and canter, don’t pull on the inside rein. Stop over-riding the canter. Trust small steps. Go for activity instead of huge strides.
Let the legs and reins hang at the walk. Keep it pure. Do nothing. Hold the fingers closed at the canter and let the legs hang. Do nothing. Okay, at the trot, activate in the corner, but then do nothing. Let the horse carry me instead of the other way around.
The point' If you’re kicking and pulling more than you realize, the strides get tense and small and the horse tunes you out. If you learn to do nothing, then when you do apply an aid it takes a lot less to get a lot more.
Of course I know all this stuff. I teach it myself. But when you’re sitting on your own horse you may not be the most objective creature in the ring. You’re responding to the problem of the moment and not considering how a thoughtless response can work against your training in the long run. You love your horse and expect it to love you and do anything you want in return, to read your mind, the equine version of a Vulcan mind meld.
Horses read our body language, our physical aids, not our thoughts. When our emotions take over, we get frustrated, tense or even angry. We over-ride and then the horse can’t figure out what we want. The result, depending on the horse’s personality, is a horse that under-reacts and slows down or over-reacts and does something scary. At that point, how can we best salvage the situation'
Use thoughtful, precise, effective aids. But first, perhaps, do nothing.