Training takes time. There is no shortcut to having an ability to accurately respond to — and correct — a horse’s behavior in a way that progresses their training. So, if it takes time for the rider, it also takes time for your horse to put together the skills you are asking him to perform.
How do you learn? By making mistakes, correcting those mistakes, and moving on. Making mistakes is the name of the game, and you will make many. Each mistake will shape you, strengthen you and teach you. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.
But don’t get stuck or dwell on the mistake; instead, learn how to correct and move on. You will improve IF you move on. So many times I have heard clients label themselves — “I always lean too far forward”, “I’m always tight on the reins”, and so on. They are equally accusatory about their horse — “he always goes too fast (or too slow)”, “he’s always looking around for something to spook at”, etc.
Research tells us that we have about 60,000 thoughts a day that swirl in and out of our minds like a windstorm. Just like static, these thoughts can be distracting, tugging at your sleeve like an impatient kid. When the lesson doesn’t go well, it’s easy for doubt, fear and judgment to set in, and when they do, all learning stops.
This is when you need to take your time, slow down, and break it down. There is no redeeming value in beating yourself up or threatening to quit. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and developing technical skills in order to improve your horsemanship abilities is a rewarding and lofty goal. Clear your mind of any thoughts that have the power to sidetrack you from accomplishing your objective, and get your head back in the game.
Develop a feel or awareness of what your body is doing when you are asking your horse to perform a specific task. If your horse gooses off when you ask for the lope, be aware of the pressure you used in your request. Did you stab with your spurs? Break him back down to the walk and try a lighter pressure with your calf until you get a nice easy transition to the lope. As you lope, does he increase his speed? Quiet your mind and bring awareness to the position of your shoulders. Are they hoovering over the horn of the saddle? If they are, consciously bring your shoulders back slightly behind your hips and lower your shoulders, creating distance from your ears. Sit deep in the saddle by softening the lower part of your back. Think about polishing the seat of the saddle with your pockets. Relax your legs. Are you holding your breath? BREATHE!
You should notice him slow down as soon as you make these adjustments, and when he does, be aware of your body position and put it into your memory. You will have these moments of success in the beginning, and as you increase your awareness, these moments will expand. Are your feet pushing down on the stirrups? When you sit in a chair, what happens when you push your feet against the floor? You stand up. People tend to push their feet in the stirrups thinking that it will keep their seat in the saddle, but it actually lifts the rider, creating a brace in the lower body leaving them more susceptible to coming out of the saddle. Relax your feet and just rest them on the floor of the stirrup.
Now bring awareness to your hands. If your horse’s head is high, chances are your hands are as well. Lower your hands to the pommel of your saddle below the horn of your saddle. Are your reins tight? Loosen the reins. Three words that sound pretty straight forward; however, it’s the hardest thing to get riders to do. Having a tight rein gives the rider a false sense of security; they balance on the horse’s mouth and never learn to develop a good seat. Riders who hold on tight also tend to micromanage; the horse has no idea how to travel straight on a loose rein. If you think you have loosened the reins, loosen some more. This will feel awkward, and your horse will wander about. This is normal. Pick up one rein, guide him back on track, and release — and use your seat and legs to direct him. Bring awareness to your body, focus on what you want to accomplish, and let go of past mistakes. Many of us have lost touch with feel or awareness. This is one’s natural ability to learn. The more awareness you can bring to your riding, the more feel you will bring to your riding.