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!
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.
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: clairewhitfield.co.uk