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Getting to your goals: Don’t settle – make improvements!

"You cannot make changes by focusing on what isn’t working; you make changes when you determine what you want to see happen, and then be open to trying something different."

Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader columnist - April 16th, 2015 - Trainer Tips

SherylLynde_170pxIf you want to see a different result, an improvement in your riding ability, or an improvement with a specific issue that you experience with your horse — no matter how big or small – then you need to make a change in your current approach. Learn to break down the task into smaller components that your horse can better understand.

They say the definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results. You need to change the formula.

If I’m having difficulty getting a horse to side pass, I’m going to stop struggling and take a look at the formula to see what isn’t working. If you are dissatisfied with the cake you have baked, you need to revisit the recipe and make appropriate changes in order to improve the end result.

If the hindquarters are dragging, then I will work on exercises for his hind end such as backing up, getting him to disengage off my leg with lighter pressure. If his shoulders are sticking, I will work on softening his shoulders by counter bending at the trot in both directions, really picking up his shoulders as I ask with the necessary pressure for him to respond to my leg lightly and move. To get the shoulders to move, my request needs to be clear by applying pressure with my leg just behind the front cinch. If I am addressing the hindquarters my leg needs to be just in front of the back cinch. Once I work on softening the hindquarters and the shoulders, then I will attempt the side pass again to see how my formula is working. The goal, which is the side pass, is only employed at this time to determine what else may be needed to adjust or expand upon in the formula. You cannot use the same recipe and expect your cake to be improved.

Use your words wisely — they bring your thoughts to fruition. Don’t use your words to describe a situation, use your words to change a situation. You cannot make changes by focusing on what isn’t working; you make changes when you determine what you want to see happen, and then be open to trying something different. It may take more effort, but you will be rewarded.

Here’s an example:
“My horse never backs up straight!”

If I hear a client label their horse with this behavior, I am going to look at their formula for backing up. As the rider tries the maneuver, do they apply pressure evenly with both legs? Do they pull on one rein more than the other? Are they sitting balanced in the saddle? Are they successfully getting the required energy they need by bumping their legs rhythmically with the necessary pressure required for the desired speed?

I’m going to break down the components of the back-up to see what needs to be adjusted in order for the horse to travel straight and create a new formula for improvement. If you back your horse and the hip moves out to the left – put your left leg at the hip and ask for it to step back in line, turn your horse to the left and trot off and try again. You can also back him with his left side along a rail or fence which will prevent his hip from drifting. Repeat this often and then try it away from the fence to see how you are progressing. Don’t settle, make improvements.

I’ve had clients complain that their saddles are always shifting to either the right or the left when they ride. I can tell you it isn’t the saddle. The rider is usually pushing down firmer in a particular stirrup in order to stay balanced. The stirrups are not to be used for balance. Your foot should just be resting on the surface of the stirrup just as they rest on the floor when you are seated in a chair.

Try pushing down with your feet when seated in a chair and feel the brace it causes in your legs as it lifts your seat out of the chair.

In order to be balanced in the saddle and move with ease to the rhythm of the horse’s gait, the small of your back needs to be soft, abs strong, knees relaxed and feet resting in the stirrups. If your saddle shifts, go back to the formula, identify which foot is pressing down more than the other and focus on balancing with your seat.

This is a different feel for most people and uncomfortable at first but once they master it they will find that they no longer get bounced out of the saddle but develop a better seat and the saddle will stay centered on the horses back.

If you don’t like the result, change the recipe.

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