Well, now that you are on your horse (see How To Ride A Horse In Better Harmony – Part 1), what do you do next?
You allow your horse to walk and stretch on a long rein. Just like you wouldn’t jump out of bed and run a race, you can’t just jump on your horse and ask him to work right away either.
He needs to stretch and warm up his muscles and he needs to re-establish his balance with a rider on his back.
Having been fortunate enough to have both ridden in, and observe, monthly clinics with Walter Zettl for many years, I hear him say to each person that gets on their horse that it is of the utmost importance for the horse to find his balance with a rider on his back.
Just think about it. Your horse is nicely balanced horizontally and then you throw a vertically balanced burden on his back that is always shifting and moving. It is an amazing feat that horses perform!
You want to give the horse a chance to stretch, find his balance and relax.
While the horse is doing this you want to allow yourself to relax and follow the horse’s motion.
A common mistake that I see riders make when trying to follow the horse’s motion is that they try too hard and end up pushing, or “pumping” with their arms and /or body.
Learning how to ride a horse in better harmony is about allowing things to happen, not forcing them to happen.
Now is a good time to think about what the “aids” are. Aids are how you communicate with your horse.
There are both natural and artificial aids. Your natural aids are your hands, legs and seat, and I include voice.
Artificial aids are things like whips, crops and spurs. They are designed to reinforce your natural aids…not to be used in place of them!
First of all giving a horse an aid has two phases; active and passive. The active phase is when you apply the aid and the passive phase is the relaxation of the aid…doing “nothing” as a reward for the horse’s correct response to the active aid.
This quiet part of the aid also gives the horse the chance to continue to maintain the response.
ALWAYS use the lightest or softest aid that you can to get the desired response. If your horse does not react correctly to the soft aid then you must immediately give a stronger aid, either by increasing the intensity of the aid or by reinforcing it with your stick, to teach him that he needs to do what you ask.
As soon as your horse responds, reward him by relaxing/softening your aid, even if it is only for a brief moment. The next time you ask, you must ask again with the softest possible aid, giving him the chance to show you that he has learned the correct response.
In order to make this all work you must be balanced in the saddle and able to use your aids independently of each other.
Even though a horse is large it is an extremely sensitive animal. They can feel a fly land on their side, so you definitely don’t want to give them aids that are any stronger than necessary.
In fact, you want to be able to “whisper” your aids and have your horse “shout” its response. Loud or clashing aids have no business on a horse!
And because their survival in nature depends on quick reactions and flight you want them to look at you as a leader that they respect and trust.
Make no mistake, respect goes both ways…in order to get it you have to give it.
Next time I will post about giving a horse a good grooming and then I will follow up with some exercises to help you with how to ride a horse with improved balance. 🙂