I have many friends who are trainers, coaches and skilled riders, who I enjoy talking with on the subject of horses and how to get along with them. Yesterday morning I was having a conversation on the phone with Vincent Spiaggia a friend of mine who is a lifetime student of horses and teacher of horsemanship, like me. Many times we get onto the subject of the different methods of training that have been used over the ages in horsemanship, dressage and other schools of training. Talking with Vincent is always a rewarding adventure. We were both remarking on the fact that if you choose the right approach with a horse when riding, then less training is necessary. Also how training from the ground translates so beautifully to the saddle if you take the right approach.
The key to this is to have the same considerations in the saddle that you have from the ground, then the connection you have with a horse trained at liberty will translate to the saddle. People who don't believe that groundwork does translate to the saddle, do not understand the importance of relationship and the true significance of partnership with the horse. From a well-developed partnership, the horse has a much better ability, desire and willingness to be ridden and a better understanding of your aids when riding.
Even those who understand this, sometimes forget that horses are not like cars, which can be driven from a totally cold start. We must never take the horse for granted by expecting him to perform under saddle as well as he does from the ground without any preparation. We must always look to maintain the connection and so today's blog looks at how you can do this.
Things to consider: When you have trained in a certain area, it is a good idea to start riding in the area he is familiar with in the first weeks of riding. When you get on your horse, spend some time sitting on him while you ask him to stand quietly. You want your horse to adjust to you sitting on this back and to feel safe doing nothing before you ask for something other than halt. Take the opportunity as you are sitting there to feel what your horse is thinking and what kind of energy he is holding while you are sitting on him.
Every moment you are with a horse you need to keep and eye on what he is feeling and thinking. Is he relaxed or is he nervous? If he is nervous, get off and wait for him to relax and then get back on again. Do this until he is completely comfortable with you on his back and you are comfortable. Even though your horse is well trained at liberty, he still must adjust to you being on his back, this is a daily consideration.
Don’t think of riding your horse if you are in a hurry and unfocused and if in the moment your horse is not feeling comfortable. Warm your horse up from the ground before you get on his back. Before you get on, you need to check the mood of your horse and his feeling towards you in the moment. You want to make sure your horse trusts you, respects you and that he is focused on you. He must be willing to hold the right energy and understand your requests in order to perform what you ask of him. If your horse’s energy changes in a negative way when you are mounted on him, get off or pick a task that would bring back the connection in unity.
When you begin to ride, choose things that are very simple like walk, halt, go, stop and simple turns in the areas he likes to travel in, just like you did on the ground. Ask your horse to take directions, just like you did on the ground. Ride your horse for a short time and build the time you are on him, just like you did when working at liberty on the ground. Always train in short segments at first and build up.
If you approach your horse with the same consideration you did from the ground and always look to maintain your relationship, you will find that your groundwork does in fact translate.
A tip when you are riding: Ask your horse to move forward with your voice, with your intent, with your thoughts, your focus and from your seat and legs. When the horse starts forward, choose the direction you want the horse to go. Find out what direction your horse wants to go then ask him to go in a direction that you know you could get him to go easily. Choose the direction that would create the best connection.
Ask for halt if your horse does not listen to your directional aids. Wait until you can get him on a dropped rein and when the energy feels good and then direct your horse in the way you want to go. You might have to stop and ask again several times. Ask your horse to take the speed you choose rather that the speed he chooses as this way your horse will stay focused on following your lead. When I start a new horse I also ask him to turn in large serpentines on an unpredictable course so he is focused on following the path I set for him. I like to put tires down and ride around them so the horse has a job and sees the reason I am asking for the turns or I stay on a 20-meter circle.
If at any time the horse does not respond well to your direction, go back to liberty work and build the magnetic connection and the horse’s interest to follow your lead once again. Any time the horse is not responding to your direction, it can be fixed by choosing an approach that would create willingness. If your horse says “no”, don’t persist, do something that you know that bring back his willingness. If this does not work, seek guidance from a suitable coach.
All the groundwork you have put on your horse should give you an ability to make good choices on how to manage your leadership and how to set the dance that will give you the true support of your horse when you ride. It is the same when you ride at liberty, you need the seven heartfelt strings of connection to be there for you. You maintain the strings of connection by the choices you make when you ride.