Ever wonder where your riding is going? Or perhaps it is trying to figure out how to do a new exercise or movement with your horse. You know innately that something isn’t right but “how” to fix it is beyond you. You go to riding instructors and they tell you “what” to do – “more bend”, “more forward”. These and other commands you diligently attempt to perform to satisfy their demanding commands.
You go home from your lessons and “work hard” attempting to do as they requested hoping that by the time you go back for you next lesson you have somehow miraculously found the answer. Or maybe you know you don’t have the answer and neither do they. At least not as far as communicating it to you. Clearly they have the answer for themselves. And they can produce the results in their horses and yours.
So what is the missing ingredient? HOW. How are you supposed to move your body in a way that produces the desired results in the horse? How are you supposed to make the horse go “more forward” willingly and freely? How are you supposed to increase the bend? That’s really the missing question – how.
For most of us it has been years of searching, trying, getting on other horses, riding under different instructors that seem to be able to create a different response in our horse so that we can hopefully feel it. But this takes so much time. Given the way that riding is most commonly taught – through the horse, it can takes years or lifetimes.
Yet there is another way we can learn – through ourselves. Then we can allow the horse to mirror what we know. If we take the perspective of the horse showing us what we can and cannot do with our own bodies perhaps we can approach the problem from a different perspective.
For example – if you have difficulty with lengthening the horse’s stride do you understand how to lengthen your own stride? Perhaps you have never considered “how” you lengthen your stride. I suggest you take yourself for a walk.
Observe the stride length you have. Now what does it take to increase your stride? Well obviously you have to push off the ground a little more with your back foot. This provides the support and force to carry your body further forward. Now just take one longer step and stop. What has to happen to your hip joint in order to take the longer stride? What happens if your hips are tight? How long a stride can you actually take? And what about your pushing foot? If you curl up your toes can you take a longer step? Also, how is your breathing? If you hold your breath can you take as long a stride as when you breathe?
By thinking about what we have to do to perform the movement, we can learn how and what to do to help our horse perform the movement with us. I know the dance analogy has been used to death – but it’s true. Dance with a bad partner and you get your feet stepped on. Dance with a good partner and you feel like you are floating. The difference is in how the dance partners use themselves.
As we observe ourselves in our daily lives, moving, sitting, and driving our car we get a better perspective of our riding. For example, notice how you put your foot on the gas pedal. Do you press off the ball of your foot (heels up) or do you put your heal on the floorboard and press down through your whole foot? By using this information we can choose to make changes in our selves that will assist the horse in moving better.
So here we are back to lengthening stride. Did you notice that your hip joints were tight? That will restrict the horse’s hip joints. Did you notice that you curled you toes in your boots? That will prevent him from getting a good push off the ground because you will tip forward every so slightly with your toes crunched up.
Feel what it takes to make a good long stride on the ground then carry that thought with you when you ride. You can translate this same experience into other movements. It might be time for you to crawl around on the floor again and figure out your lateral work. You might be surprised how much better a partner you can be with just a few moments asking yourself how you would do your horse’s steps. So enjoy the process and crawl, run and stride around a bit. I think you might be surprised by the results.
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