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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

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:

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.

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?

11 Comments

  1. As my friend and mentor always says, riding is “simple, but not easy”! I think it’s different from any other athletic pursuit because we commit our whole body to someone else’s four legs! 🙂

  2. yes, the thrill of victory and the agony of de’feet’, or 6 legs – and some days it would be easier to sit like a christmas ornament – use this time to analyze and plan

  3. As they say, “if it were so easy everyone would be doing it”.
    Very interesting post and makes everyone think! This is great,

    “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.”

    It’s not the destination but the journey getting there that is the prize…
    ~Laura

  4. I love horse riding I hate the idea of unsettling or hurting my charge. Its strange that every day I make progress and yet I find it equally difficult. My instructor explained that she was constantly challenging me by introducing new skills. Every single element is easy perhaps in itself its putting it altogether in that sometimes feels impossible. She says always ride with happy thoughts, frustration is forbidden because it can only transmit as tension and have potential to hurt your horse. So relax relax relax and try as hard as you can with no effort whatsoever. My dream is to communicate explicitly with the horse I ride with the slightest touch.

    1. I find it’s all “simple” in concept but so hard to put together. One word on frustration – don’t worry about it! Frustration (and confusion) means you’re about to learn something – it’s a normal and exciting part of learning! Know that after your bout of frustration, you will probably make a huge leap – either in your conceptual learning, or in being able to do something much better physically. Just always give your horse the benefit of the doubt. Thanks so much for reading!

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