Once you decide to ride horses, you put into place a domino effect of consequences, which will occur whether you are conscious of them or not. It is like a rule of nature - the results are the results regardless of your intentions, desires and motivations.
And so you proceed to put your weight on horse's back, asking him to move in tandem with your (sometimes uncoordinated) instructions, changing the weight distribution on his back and legs and (quite) possibly upsetting his balance. Most horses will proceed to do their best to support you even to their own physical detriment.
It is therefore important to know that there is "no neutrality" in classical horsemanship. One is either contributing to the horse's well-being by rehabilitation, restoration or gymnastic development, or one is breaking him down. There is never anything "in neutral" or on "hold" or ready to "just wait a minute."
Horsemanship is always working with full commitment towards benefit or harm. *
This is where brain must meet brawn. At the intersection of movement and time, you find yourself in a constant state of disequilibrium and re-balancing. And the question begs to be asked: what can you do to not only avoid being the source of damage to the horse, but instead develop enough skill to become the active agent that develops, "rehabilitates"**, and even improves the horse from its natural state?
Learning how to ride so that you are not a burden to the horse takes time, knowledge, perseverance, self-discipline, at least a minimal amount of athleticism and yes, even sweat and tears. Making the commitment to stick through the learning curves (so many plateaus and even some steps backward before going forward again) seems to at times test you to the depths of your character - to the point that you think, "Was this my idea of fun?!"
But don't despair - this is not a tale of doom and gloom. It is a hopeful tale, one that inspires rather than frustrates. For there are so many glorious experiences just waiting around the corner, if only you just stick to your daily work, and put in the (sometimes huge) effort into improving your skills. You will know when those moments occur, because those are the moments that keep you working so hard for more.
Regardless of where you are in your development as a rider, in the back of your mind you must always be seeking for the better way. This is the way that promotes confidence in both the yourself as the rider and the horse, the way that improves you to the point that you and your horse are of one mind and body, and most importantly, the way that allows your horse to develop positively mentally and physically, making him a happier, better adjusted, more settled, sounder horse for many years of partnership ahead.
And when that happens, relish the moment, and keep searching for more of the same!
* Excerpt from The Ethics and Passions of Dressage (1993), by Charles deKunffy, p. 81
** Charles deKunffy discusses the concept of "rehabilitation" of the horse at length in all of his books. He contends that horses must undergo therapeutic development before they can begin to perform at the athletic level. Read any of his books for incredibly insightful and technical essays.
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For more articles like this:
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When Do You Start Riding Your Horse? This question was being posed to me by a very respected and horse-wise mentor one day long ago, early in my riding development.
Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!
Ride Backwards, But Ride Effectively! Although the rider had developed the correct “look”, the horse was telling a different story.
From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Our Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?