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Knowledge separates responsive riders from reactive ones

By SHERYL LYNDE - Horsetrader columnist - August 21st, 2014 - Special Section

Are you a responsive rider or a reactive rider? If you are a reactive rider — responding to the reactions of your horse and are riding whatever he presents whether it be a spook, a buck or a bolt — you likely feel as if you are taken by surprise. Or, you feel at the mercy of what your horse presents and you do what you can to ride through an issue. When you return from a trail ride, you feel lucky to have made it back safely. Your confidence begins to wane, and you become more fearful – trail riding is more stressful than fun. You start eliminating things you used to do, places you used to go to.

If you are a responsive rider, you are tuned to your horse and you can feel when he has anxiety building, or you see his ear-pinning or tail-swishing and you seek and identify his irritation. You are prepared for your horse’s response and are able to safely diffuse it. When you return to the barn from a ride, you feel like you have accomplished some great training and your horse is better for the ride. You look forward to the next ride and start increasing the level of difficulty in your trail rides or you look forward to events that will challenge both you and your horse, as well as increasing your horsemanship.

What is the difference between being a responsive rider versus a reactive one? Knowledge. Knowledge replaces fear and builds confidence. It’s an investment in your safety.

Whether you are riding in the arena or on the trail, tune into your horse. If you are driving your car down the freeway, are you tuned into your car’s performance? Does it drift to the left or the right? Are the brakes grabbing? is the wheel shaking or the tires slipping? Your safety depends on proper maintenance — whatever issue you notice today in your vehicle, if you don’t address it, it will worsen.

Similarly, if you ignore the warning signs of your horse and continue to “ride the issues”, there will be trouble ahead. Being a reactive rider is like driving your car from the passenger seat. Would you continue driving your vehicle with all the issues as they continue to deteriorate until ultimately you get in a wreck? Being a responsive driver is like driving from the driver’s seat, addressing each issue as it becomes apparent and providing the appropriate maintenance in a timely manner.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you are riding in the arena and you are loping circles to the left. You notice on the first circle as you pass center of your arena on your left lead, your horse dives into the circle just past center and drops his shoulder.

The reactive rider would continue riding, allowing the horse to dive in and cut the circles’ diameter. As the rider makes the second pass, just past center of the arena, the horse makes a more dramatic dive and cuts the circle in half. On the third pass as the horse approaches center of the arena, he makes a dive into a tight small circle and comes to a stop. Now he is refusing to go forward as well as make any attempt at loping a circle. Both rider and horse are frustrated.
The responsive rider would feel the horse start to dive, put pressure on with their inside calf and lift the inside rein to pick up the shoulder and guide the horse out of the circle, releasing the pressure as soon as the horse has responded. The inside rein is lifted up as it makes contact with the horse’s neck – not over the neck – just contact. The outside rein is held away from the horse’s body.

The circle or pattern is secondary to the horse responding to the rider’s cue. Once the rider’s horse is responding correctly to their leg and rein, he returns to the circle. Now his horse has already shown him that he will dive into the circle, just past center. As the rider makes the second approach in the circle – prior to getting to that point where the horse dove previously just past center — the rider will put pressure with his inside calf and inside rein and move the horse outside the circle with as much pressure as it takes for the horse to respond – making the correction BEFORE the horse thinks about making the mistake. This correction may need to be repeated and reinforced a couple of times, then the rider gives the horse a chance to lope the circle correctly, without diving.

Just like driving, being a responsive rider reduces the risk of injury down the road. It’s not a matter of if you will come off or get into a wreck, it’s a matter of when and how bad. Being responsive and tuned into your horse’s behavior will keep you safe.


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