Sunday, 31 December 2017

Finding out about Claire

Okay, I have to admit, I always hate having to talk about myself. Talking, making conversation, isn’t something that generally comes easy to me, unless I’m teaching, then that’s a different story. So, to try and help me overcome my struggles of introducing one’s self I decided that I would sit and write this article. So, here I am and already I feel the urge to make a cup of tea to distract me from the task in hand. I’ll be back in a minute! 

Now armed and ready with a cup of tea, let's get to it! 

Sylvia Loch once said to me that I had a hunger for knowledge and you know, it is true. I love to learn. If you’re a rider, you’ll soon discover that you really never stop learning. Each horse will have something new to teach you, if you are willing to listen. This is one of the main reasons why I love horses and riding as much as I do. There is always something to learn. Even the great masters of horsemanship admitted that they still had more to learn. Riding is a quest. That is how riding should be considered. A quest. A never ending discovery. If riding is considered as a conquest of the horse, your horse will surely suffer as a result. 

Over the past twenty-two years I have been fortunate that I have had the opportunity to ride and work with a variety of breeds, characters and temperaments. Each horse is unique and with this brings the challenge of figuring out what you need to do to help the individual. I have learnt something from them all. There is more to riding than one first realises!

Ever since I met Prince, my first pony, I have wanted for us to be a partnership. To work together as a team. I’m not going to lie, this took a few years. I am not a 'natural' rider and as Prince reminded me often, I had a lot to learn! Hacking out was for focussing on position, sitting tall, shoulders back, trying to keep my hands together and still! As I improved, I found my love for schooling, and the thought process and the connection it brings to you and your horse. I longed to be an invisible rider, just like the great masters of the past. At this time, I didn't know of classical riding or the existence of these great masters until I discovered Sylvia Loch’s book ‘Invisible Riding’. This book helped me to discover what I had been searching for. A whole new world to riding that I was eager to discover and learn. Nearly 7 years later, I finally had a taste of true collection during my first lesson with Sylvia Loch and her wonderful Lusitano stallion, Prazer. 

You truly appreciate the importance of symmetry when you have a horse so sensitive to your weight and every move you make, no matter how small! A dressage rider’s aim is to have a straight horse, but how can your horse be straight if you yourself are not? It’s not possible. This led me to Sylvia’s unmounted Balance and Bodywork workshop. This workshop is invaluable in helping you to feel how you move naturally on your own two feet, how we unconsciously use our weight and how we can transfer this into the saddle. Feel is the language of riding. Feel is developed through riding schoolmasters and becoming more aware of your own body whilst practicing good posture. 

Fascinated, I asked Sylvia if it would be possible for me to teach her workshops. Excitingly for me, Sylvia agreed, giving me a rather intense, 3 hour written exam followed by a practical! Happily, I passed! I thoroughly enjoy presenting the workshops, meeting like minded people who all want to improve themselves for the benefit of their horse. It is always interesting to see how people respond to the workshops and the revelations they have! 

The rider’s position is a fundamental element to good riding. Without good posture, the rider will not be in good balance, unable to aid clearly and with subtleness. It will be harder work for the horse. As Grisone said “You must ride and sit upon the horse, not only with great heart, without fearing him, but also envisioning that you and him are one as the same body, feeling and will." 
Without this heart and sense of being one with your horse, there is no partnership, only dictatorship. A partnership, riding, should be a two way conversation and you should listen to your horse as you expect your horse to listen to you. 

I want to help riders improve their position and their feel, enabling them to understand their horse better. We should always strive to work in harmony with our horse. Our horse should take delight in being ridden. Riding should be rewarding and joyous for both horse and rider. We should be reminded or this often. Our horse didn't chose to be ridden. It is only right that we can make it as easy and as enjoyable for him as possible for him to carry us.

What is Classical Riding? Classical riding is the embodiment of good riding through gymnastically developing the horse’s physical and mental wellbeing and longevity of life. Classical riding is the result of written and verbal teachings handed down by the great masters for over thousands of years. It has stood the test of time and is equestrian knowledge of best practice. Classical riding has survived amongst those who have sought it. There are no short cuts when it comes to the training of the horse and rider as the masters of the past have confirmed time and again. Classical horsemanship is to develop a horse who has confidence and trust in his rider. We must always endeavour to work with nature and not against. Admittedly, we do defy nature in asking the horse to carry us and this is why we must ensure that we put the horse’s wellbeing at the foremost of his training and teach him how to carry us with ease and in balance. We must aim to conserve his happiness both mentally and physically. Classical horsemanship is the art of riding. 

Art. Now, there’s a connection. My other passion in life is to draw. I enjoy working with various mediums from pencil, pen, brush and ink to pastels and oil paint. As you’ve probably guessed, the horse is my main subject. I love the challenge of capturing the essence and character of the individual horse, just as I endeavour to bring out these same qualities when I’m in working with my horses. 

One thing that is always clear to me when I draw, is that I cannot force myself to draw. If I am in the wrong mind set, it’s not possible for me to draw. Yes, I can make some marks on the paper, but I will never be satisfied with it. There will be no beauty, no flowing of movement, just forced marks. The same applies to the horse. You cannot force the horse to work. The horse must want to work with you. 

Having watched Nuno Cavaco’s demonstration of in hand work at the Classical Riding Club’s 21st Anniversary event, I jumped at the chance to train with him when he visited Northumberland in early 2017. Nuno has been a great inspiration to me this last year. He has helped me with the finer details in my training as well enlightening me to the captivating intimacy of horse and human through work in hand. 

Through systematic, progressive lungeing, in hand work and work under saddle, you will begin to establish a good relationship with your horse. You will understand him for the better. It’s so important to get to know your horse, to understand him and why he reacts the way that he does. Do you observe his body language? Do you question his reaction to your aids? Why has he reacted this way? Is he relaxed or tense? Does he move in rhythm? Is he balanced? What do his eyes tell you? Throughout, you should be asking yourself questions like this. As I have learned, the horse will always tell you, it is just a case of whether you’re able to hear and understand what he is saying.

I am still learning, and I will be forever learning. I am on the quest to learn as much as I can to help the horse. Every horse should take delight in their work. Riding, dressage, should be for the horse, not the other way around. The horse should feel better, stronger and confident in himself as a result of the work. He should never fear his rider, or the work. There should be no pain. I want to help riders to gain a better understanding of their horse, a better partnership with their horse and a more secure, balanced and effective position for their own and their horse’s sake. 

Imagine, you have the opportunity to ride a horse that is relaxed, accepting and willing to work with his rider. He is supple, his movement has improved and riding has become effortless. You are at one with your horse. This is possible for anyone. All you need is to be willing to learn and to be patient. Yes, it can take a little time, just as with any good painting, but boy, it will be worth it. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am now, but, you know, that's what makes you who you are. I would never change the experiences I've had, they are what makes me who I am. After all, riding is a quest and we all know the saying ‘patience is a virtue’, well, it truly is! 

If you would like to get in touch with me, or would like to know more about me, please visit my website:

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Why learn to ride?

Why learn to ride? This is the first sentence I read from Captain Holmelund’s book ‘The Art of Horsemanship’. Again, these words stand out. Why learn to ride? That got me pondering. How many rider’s, no matter their level of riding, are actually learning or still learning to ride? With the ever growing number of riders I think it’s fair to say that not half will take the time to learn to ride. By this, I mean, that they are able to keep their weight forward in the saddle and stay over the horse’s movement. Secure in the saddle and so, in control over their mount. 

Now, I have to be honest here, I was also a rider that wasn’t accomplished (and still striving towards the ideal), to ride before owning my first pony, and not the ideal situation either! He was a 4 year old and we both began our education together which involved a lot of confusion and heartache on both parts. Why? I was not in a position to actually ride him. I was just a passenger with no control over myself or him. In my favour, I was determined to improve and to learn and that I did. Twenty years later I am a teacher in my own right, helping people to learn how to ride. I like to be thorough with the basics which is so overlooked in the rider’s education. I know I am not the first or the last to begin this way, but if I can stress the importance of learning to ride, it will help a lot of riders and their horses to take pleasure and delight in riding. 

Horse riding has the illusion that it is easy. Easy when they are on a tired riding school horse, this leads them into a false sense of security that they are able to ride. It’s growing more common for novice and beginner riders to buy their own horse and here is where the illusion is shattered, the problems arise and it’s not so easy as was once thought. 

There is also the other end of the spectrum, riders that have been riding for years that never really had lessons, it was the norm, ‘back in the day’ to just get on and do it. So here is the second issue, rider’s who have a relatively ‘secure’ position through gripping, not through good posture or balance. What is in their favour is they realise, as they get older, that they no longer feel as secure as they once did and want to relearn how to ride. 

What we need to remember is that we rider at our own risk, no one else’s. It is our sole responsibility to ensure that we are in the safest position to control our horse. If we are not, the horse will have the control and this can be dangerous. Even the most docile horse is not immune from falls or stumbles or even fright. Falls can be avoided by taking the time to learn how to ride.

“… the ignorant rider will never know what makes riding the most fascinating of sports. He will never experience the heady exhilaration that comes only with perfect control of the power, spirit, and courage that a good horse displays to those who understand him. 
Most people take pride in looking their best under all circumstances. Why shouldn’t this be true on the bridle path? It is perhaps fortunate that most Sunday riders are blissfully ignorant of how funny they look.” Capt. Holmelund

It is this ignorance to their appearance that is part of the problem, these riders sadly know no better. Why? 
I see and hear comments about how they want to ride like Charlotte Dujardin - what is stopping them? They lack the determination involved to try and get themselves to that standard of riding. They accept themselves as they are. This applies to a general number of riders. Fortunately,  there are some who are determined to work on their position. This isn’t enough. 

Although it may have the appearance of simplicity, riding is a demanding sport. Those willing to put the work in will be rewarded in mind and body. If you have curiosity and intelligence from the beginning, you will never lose interest in riding and will be given ample pleasure and benefits. 

“From the horse’s point of view the difference between an educated rider in the saddle and an ignorant one is the difference between pleasure and play and tormented slavery.” 
Capt. Holmelund

The horse is continually punished due to an unbalanced, cumbersome, uneducated rider. He is punished for trying to do his best. He doesn’t understand what the rider is asking because his rider lacks the knowledge and skill to make his horse understand. The horse is helpless, blamed for his rider’s incompetence. How is this fair? It isn’t. So, why aren’t more riders listening to their horse, turning to themselves to improve? Captain Holmelund is rather blunt in his words;

“… the rider does not know the difference between a horse and an automobile. He is kept pounding over hard roads and stony paths until his feet are sore… because the stupid rider does not know that the inside of his hoofs is soft and sensitive. He is punished with a sore back and painful kidney trouble as the rider does not know enough to keep his weight forward in the saddle.”

Have you ever considered your horse’s point of view? Place yourself in the mind of your horse for a moment. try to feel what your horse experiences. Quite a revelation isn’t it?

I’m not going to lie, as I know through my own experience, it is hard work. You need determination and patience. A lot of patience. You also need to believe in yourself. This belief gives you the strength to keep going, to search for a better way, to enable you to sit forward in the saddle, to keep over the horse’s movement and most importantly of all, to be safe in the saddle to keep you in control. Remember, if you are not in control of your own body, you are not in control of your horse. This is why you should learn to ride.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Qualities of the horse: Generosity

How often do we take the time to realise just how generous horses are? Not often enough.
I was teaching Sylvia Loch's Balance and Bodywork workshop on Saturday. We were focusing on balance and how the most subtlest change in our position affects not just our own balance, but our horse's balance too. It became clear to everyone as the workshop progressed, just how important it is to support our own weight, and to ensure we position ourselves over the horse's centre of balance to ride, as Sylvia says, 'the crest of a wave'. How many riders actually strive to ride in true balance with their horse? Sadly, not enough. How many riders do you see slumped in the saddle, collapsed to one side, bouncing hard on the horse's poor back? Too many.

This is where we need to feel and see the difference for ourselves, only then will we realise that there is a purer way of connecting with our horse.. We need to be making the effort to thank our horse for being so generous and allowing us on his back. Thank him by looking to ourselves to improve our own balance and posture. Our horses will then thank us for it in return!

Later that afternoon, one of my students was having her weekly lesson and asked if I would like to work with her horse, Marco, first. I decided to take this as an opportunity to focus on the rider's position to teach my student the effects of riding over the movement and in balance and then the opposite, being behind the movement. I began by encouraging Marco to stretch forward and down to warm his muscles up to begin working through his back. I do this in walk and trot including lots of changes of direction and turns. This naturally progresses into a contact, Marco rounding up to self carriage when he is ready to offer this. I ride a serpentine in sitting trot, making sure I maintain position on my 3 point seat, as close to the pommel as possible, Marco remains balanced underneath me, listening, bending and turning well. I can still feel his back relaxed under me. Still in sitting trot, slowly, I then allow my core to collapse, my back to round/flatten and my seat to slide to the back of the saddle. Instantly, Marco's ears are begin to flatten back, his head and neck hollow and his back drops away. I immediately return to my previous position and praise Marco for allowing me to demonstrate the effects of a poor position. 

I turn to my student, 'This is why we need to strive to ride over the horse's centre of balance, if we don't, as Marco demonstrated perfectly, the poor horse isn't able to do what we ask of him as we are causing him discomfort as well as making him loose balance.' 

Riding momentarily behind the movement reminded me of just how little control we have over our own body when we are not balanced. I found it very difficult to keep my hands quietly as a pair - how would I be able to give any light, clear signals down the rein with unbalanced hands? I felt unable to sit quietly and to absorb any of my own or the horse's movement. I felt very heavy on poor Marco's back, but also, what damage was this doing to my own back? I had no control over my legs, as my student rightly said, they had shot forwards, there was no way I could send clear signals. Marco would have to try and guess what I was asking off him - no wonder so many horses get called a 'problem horse' when really, it's the rider who needs to learn how to communicate with sympathetic, coordinated aids then the horse can begin to understand what is being asked of him. 

My student is quickly developing an eye for balanced and an unbalanced positions and can feel when she is riding with the movement or behind the movement. It just takes time, core stability and understanding through feel and watching other riders, this is the first step to becoming a more balanced, feeling rider.  

It was only later on, preparing my own horses for the evening, that I began to think about just how generous these beautiful animals truly are. I still have my first pony, Prince, a pony that has had to deal with, in his early education, a totally uncoordinated, unbalanced rider - yes, that was me! As a result, there were a few times when Prince bolted off, which, at the time I considered naughty (lack of knowledge!) now I know it was my inadequacies as a rider that these moments happened. Prince was patient (despite the bolts, which I'm sure were a sign of frustration!) he taught me a great deal, I think he knew I meant well, in time we became a strong, balanced partnership. 

Then, there's Amber, who has recently become my faithful horse I use to teach bareback lunge lessons. Amber is so willing to please and will do whatever she thinks you are asking of her, she's also very good at telling me if someone is using too much lower leg or are clenching their buttocks! Another sign of generosity, she is willing to have various riders on her back (after only having myself and my mum occasionally, as her riders for several years) with their various strengths and weaknesses and imbalances and never getting agitated. A quality we humans should take note off! 

I could go on , but I think you get my point. We should aspire to become more aware of our horses and their generous natures and reward them for it. The world will have more happy horses if their riders would only take the time to thank them by improving themselves, not forever blaming the horse when it is we who are clearly lacking the skills to speak clearly to our horses. 

I will leave you with this thought as Charles De Kunffy has written previously: 'The horse knows how to be a horse' it is down to the rider to learn to ride the horse with balance, co-ordination and feel, then, we can begin to show our gratitude and thank their warm, noble hearts.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Magic of Classical Equitation

My riding journey began almost 20 years ago, though it was only recently, in the last 6 years or so, that I finally found what I had unknowingly been searching for. It was the book's title that captured my attention 'Invisible Riding', the author, you ask, is of course Sylvia Loch. 

From the beginning, all I aspired to be was a good rider. Applying aids onlookers couldn't see, a private conversation between me and my horse. I wanted to work in harmony and in partnership with the horse's I was fortunate enough to ride. This very book, 'Invisible Riding', was the key to opening the door to the world of Classical Riding, the Great Masters of the past and of modern day. Little did I know that this was going to influence the rest of my life both for me, my horses and future students. 

Spring of 2014, Amber, our Hanoverian cross (pictured left), appeared to become arthritic in both hind legs. The vet advised that she should be turned out as much as possible and very light work, mainly hacking. We followed his advice and turned her out with her companion, Eric, for the next few months. Her freedom of movement slowly improved. I was heartbroken, I was finally beginning to feel we were beginning to touch upon he ideal of 'lightness' and now, it appeared as though Amber and I would never reach those heights. 

In June, a student and friend of mine had arranged for us to both have lessons with Sylvia and her generous school master, Prazer. I can't quite remember the conversation, but at the end of my lesson, Sylvia said something that struck a chord, again, directing me back to the Classical Masters. I wish I could remember the exact words. They revolved around studying the literature and history of the Old Masters since much knowledge could be gained from them. 

I began with Stephanie Grant Millham's wonderful book 'The Legacy of Master Nuno Oliveira'. A book that compiled numerous conversations between the author and Master. In this book was a straight to the point sentence that transformed Amber from a semi retired 'Happy Hacker' to the horse I look to teach students on the lunge (bareback with a vaulting roller no less!) and my own personal teacher less than a year later. What was the sentence you ask?

"Shoulder-in is like aspirin for horses."

As soon as I read Oliveira's words, I knew this was what I needed to do and so the therapeutic schooling began. Sure enough, the words rung true. Amber has always been a forward going mare, naturally wanting to balance on her shoulders as that was her conformation. I always found it difficult to channel her energy and her weight back into engaged hind quarters. I know now it was through a lack knowledge, guidance, skill and one's own weak core that made this challenging and could've inevitably caused the onset of potential arthritis. I began to concentrate more on myself too, developed and improved my core stability, worked with Sylvia on my position in the saddle and on the ground and I studied. I soon found I was able to influence Amber's balance now I understood how to use my core and my pelvis now confirmed in the 3 point position. With the help of shoulder-in and other lateral movements, Amber became supple, more engaged behind, lighter in hand and balanced. Amber came back feeling and looking better than ever, proof of correctly used gymnastic exercises and the benefits of working with nature. I too, was feeling the benefits in my own body and position and mentally, I had grown in confidence, I was finally beginning to believe in myself. 

Following the Classical Principles, the tried and tested methods of the great Master's of the past and today, I have been able to give life back to a much beloved horse. In doing so, I have also grown both mentally and physically, becoming absorbed by Classical Riding, it's simplicity, it's logic, it's forever growing beauty and the love it creates between you and the most noblest and generous of creatures, the horse. 

This is only the beginning of my classical adventure, I still have much to learn. I now have the starting point of the Classical Seat and my posture is continually improving. I am inspired by the Classical Masters and I aspire to achieve their heights of Classical Mastery, knowing how right this path is for me and my horses... I only hope more people are able to open their eyes and see for themselves the simple, logical wonders of riding the Classical way and how it can well and truly influence your whole life for the better. 

If you'd like to know more about Classical Riding, please visit The Classical Riding Club's website:

Monday, 3 November 2014

Riding with suppleness

We want our horses to be supple and gymnastic, but how many rider's try to do the same with their own bodies?

I have to admit, I was one of those rider's that didn't give much thought to my own body's suppleness and flexibility until only a few months ago. I had my first ride on a Spanish horse, Amigo, so sensitive to your every move that if you wasn't clear he would offer you everything! My second ride and lesson was on Prazer, Sylvia Loch's very generous school master. I discovered the true subtlety of the aids. I also realised that I needed to become more supple to make it easier for me to apply these subtle aids but to also make it clearer and easier for the horse to understand me.
I also participated in Sylvia Loch's unmounted workshop, Balance and Bodywork. This is the time to really explore and understand your own body, how it moves, your strengths and your weaknesses. Everything you do on the horse is similar to what we do on the ground, we move forwards, backwards, sideways, and our skip is similar to the horses canter. By exploring these movements for yourself on the ground first, you really begin to feel what is right and how you can apply this when in the saddle. You can discover what you find difficult or comes naturally easy to you, everyone favours a particular side, this becomes highlighted. This is where suppleness plays an important part in riding, you to be able to apply your aids clearly on both reins to avoid blocking and confusing the horse. Good posture, mobility and flexibility is key to effective riding.

To achieve this, stretching and stability exercises was the logical option. Stretches work the body evenly (when done correctly of course!), supple any muscles that have become contracted through incorrect riding and posture and can help develop core strength with the help of a hula hoop.

Do you continually lose your stirrups? This is a result of your thigh muscles contracting, loosing their depth and position in the saddle, shortening the leg making it impossible for you to keep your stirrups. Stretching will help towards improving muscle tone, security and stability and depth of seat in the saddle.

I've always been conscious of my inner thigh, the feeling of the fleshy part was pushing my leg away from the saddle, that I wasn't able to allow my knee and thigh to deepen because of this. I began with inner thigh stretches to stretch my hip abductor muscles. Within a week these stretches became easier and I was already beginning to feel a difference in the saddle. Both of my hips feel more open and I can allow my thigh to deepen, keeping the natural close contact of the thigh against the saddle (which I hadn't been able to feel before) enabling my seat to naturally deepen. I have had to drop my stirrups a couple of holes to accommodate my more comfortable leg position, my lower leg has let go and rests quietly in the stirrup, like my feet have become earthed to the ground.

Correct posture is vital to maintaining balance, on and off the horse. An erect upper body enables the core muscles to support the back, which, in turn, enables the rider to absorb and allow the horses movement through their own body. The rider's upper body is the horse's balancing pole. If you expect your horse to work in self carriage, you must be able to work in self carriage too! Collapsing your core will leave your back unsupported, losing it's ability to shock absorb. As a result, your position will be unbalanced, unable to give clear aids as well as putting additional strain on the horses forehand. Through an erect upper body, you increase the downward, central pressure and stability of your seat. You are able to maintain balance and ride over the horse's centre of balance, working in equilibrium. The back is able to yield to and absorb the horses movement. Imagine you are giving a friend a piggy back, how heavy they would feel and difficult it would be to carry them if they didn't support themselves. Now imagine that they are supporting themselves and suddenly how much lighter they are and easier carrying them becomes. It is the same for the rider on the horse.

Aim to get the best from your horse by getting the best from your own body.

A horse cannot be supple without a supple rider.

A horse can not be balanced without a balanced rider.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Position focus: Elbows

The positioning of our elbows whilst riding is so often over looked by ourselves and our trainers. Correctly positioned elbows play a vital role in terms of connection between the rider's seat, hands and legs and rather importantly the way we communicate with our horse.

The human elbow is a hinge joint that forms between the upper and lower arm. The elbow can extend to 180 degrees before locking and fixing the arm (the arm becomes straight). Our elbows remain naturally flexed whether we are standing, sitting, walking, running, writing and even driving. When I'm discussing 'straight arms' I mean that the angle of the elbow is more open, towards full extension of the arm. Have you ever tried to drive with straight arms? Have you tried to write/draw with straight arms? It becomes restricting and difficult to make an accurate movement in comparison to having more bend through the joint. It's a similar result when riding; unstable arms which clumsily move up and down with the body's movements. This makes it difficult for the horse to decipher what is a communication and what isn't.

So what is the ideal elbow position?

Ideally, the elbows should be bent and flexible. Thumbs on top which will lightly close the elbow against the body providing the elbow's position is contained within the body line, on line or slightly in front of the hips. In this position, the body will be able to absorb the entire weight of the arm from the shoulder to the hand. The elbow joint will remain elastic being able to absorb and allow the movement of the horse's head and neck through the entire arm and encourages light, steady hands.

It's important to remember that the position of the elbow effects the entire upper body position. If the elbows are placed forward of the body line this will round the shoulders, close the stomach (the core muscles, which are the centre of the rider's position) and round the back. The rider's balance and security in the saddle is compromised and signalling of your aids is unclear. There will also be too much movement in the hands.

Try this exercise:

In a standing position, similar to how you would be in the saddle; feet apart, knees slightly bent, elbows bent at your side with hands in front, thumbs on top... When ready, move your hips from side to side. Notice how stable your hand position is? Now, try the same but with your elbows in front of your body line, elbows more open and your arms held straighter out in front of you. Feel how unstable your arm and hand position has become?

Every movement your arm makes, your horse will feel in his mouth. Now, imagine that you are your horse with a bit in your mouth, think about every movement you will feel through the bit and your rider's hands... Then think about how you have to decide if the rider means the signal or is it a result of an unstable arm position. Not to forget also, the discomfort unstable, noisy hands may cause to the sensitive mouth of the horse.

It's also worth noting that you can have more than the ideal bend in your elbows through positioning your elbows to the back or even behind the body line. This results in a backward feel down the rein and placing continuous pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth.

See how important it is to be quiet and as light as possible with your hands?

Correctly bent elbows will stabilise the arm and encourage light hands, resulting in kind, and sympathetic contact with the horse's mouth.

So the next time you are in the saddle, make note of your elbows and their position. Remember to do regular checks, even just a little squeeze with your elbows on your sides is enough to know that they're in the ideal place for you and your horse.


Monday, 29 July 2013

The Rider's Role: Reward

                           "Ask for much, be content with little and reward often."
                                                                                                Captain Beudant.

How quick are you to reward your horse at the slightest indication of obedience?

How quick are you to punish your horse at the slightest indication of disobedience?

Sadly, it is easier to punish the horse than it is to reward and I for one want to make a conscience effort to try and change that. We should give the horse no reason to want to resist us but to work with us as a partnership and in harmony together. 

The majority of problems come down to the communication from rider to horse being unclear, leaving the horse to decide what their rider is asking them to do. If they choose the wrong reaction, they are punished for it. The rider can also unknowingly punish the horse for doing the right thing too. This is where we as rider's need to be more in control and aware of our own bodies.

It is our responsibility to be thoughtful, disciplined, respectful and consistent in how we handle or ride our horses. A horse is learning something every time we are with them and if we are not consistent this will give the horse mixed signals which can lead to problems.
The horse learns through trial, error and repetition.

Training your horse to become responsive is the first step.  A responsive horse will become supple and well balanced easier than a horse who is resistant to your aids.  How to teach your horse to become more responsive? By rewarding him. Reward is a powerful tool.
A common problem is a horse who has become less responsive to the rider's leg. This is the result of the rider not being disciplined with their application of leg aids. Less really is more. The less and more correctly you apply the leg aid, the more responsive your horse will become. The more you use and nag your horse with your legs, the more unresponsive he'll become. Excessive use of aids when they are not necessary is punishment to the horse, just like continually riding the same circle in the school is punishment to your horse.

A way to improve your horse's responsiveness is to go back to the foundation and start with a few halt to walk transitions using the release of pressure from the aid as his reward. Ensure your horse is listening to you in the halt in preparation of the forward transition to walk. Then 'hug' him with the inside of your calves, allow time for the horse to process and respond by moving into the walk. As soon as your horse moves forward the aid should be ceased instantly, this is his reward for responding to you. If there is no response after a second or two then reapply the aid with more volume, again, as soon as he responds, release the pressure to reward him. Keep repeating until your horse is responding to the slightest pressure. You should start to feel like your doing less but your horse is giving you more in return. Remember: less is more. You can then progress on to walk to trot transitions and so on.

Riders often make the mistake of thinking that they need to continually use the leg to keep the horse moving forward, this is why they become unresponsive. Your aids should only be used when they are actually needed, for example, if the walk should decrease, the aid can be applied to ask the horse to move forward again, but remember to reward the moment you have a response. As long as the rider remains disciplined through the repetition process, the more responsive and the lighter the pressure will be needed to ask the horse to go forward. It's that simple. The hardest part is getting the timing right and more importantly, being consistent with your riding language. Do not punish him if there is no immediate response, just make yourself heard a little more. Be clear. 

As riders, we need to explain to the horse what is correct (by rewarding) or incorrect (by correction). It is black and white. It is also beneficial to bear in mind during your next schooling session how important it is to leave your horse still feeling fresh and with a good impression of the work asked of him previously. The rider's demands should never be in excess as this is of no value for the horse and will only leave him with a bad impression for the next session. There is no gain from this. I believe your horse should enjoy their work, if they do, they will offer you so much in return. 

"The talented rider who is tactful will reward the slightest indication of obedience on the part of his horse, who will respond calmly, confidently and pleasurably to any further demand."
                                                                                                            Nuno Oliveira