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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

It seems like everywhere you turn, someone has a different idea about what you should do when you ride.

There might even be the time when the SAME person tells you to do two completely opposite things during one situation.

Let's take your coach for instance. One day, she says you need more leg to get the horse going better. Another day she says to half-halt more often and slow the legs down. Bend more here, straighten up there.

Make up your mind already! How is it that so many variations apply to the same outcome?

Obviously, the last thing we want to know is that there are seemingly endless variations to a multitude of skills that we have to learn if we want to be effective riders for our horses.

But when it comes to horses, the only "truth" is that there are many truths. It is our calling as riders to figure out which one works when and why. The learning is never-ending and even when you think you know it all, another horse comes into your life to bring you back down to earth (hopefully not literally).

Here are 7 reasons why "it depends" might be exactly the right answer to your situation!

1. Your horse might be very accommodating.

When your horse works at his best, the sky is the limit! You can do almost anything you can think of - with very little effort coming from you! These moments teach you how much you can do and how the aids combine to make everything come together. Your aids can whisper and you can float along almost as if you aren't there. Your horse's responses might come easier, and he also appreciates the harmony.

2. Your horse might be excited.

An excited horse may need more guidance, simpler and quicker aids. The quiet suggestive aids from yesterday may not be adequate if the horse is distracted or unresponsive in some manner. You might need to seek his attention and work harder to make more basic requests. You might not be able to do the intricate moves from yesterday simply because his frame of mind is different.

3. The weather conditions might be different from the day before.

Almost all horses are affected in some way by temperature or precipitation. Riding the same horse on a hot muggy day or in pouring rain or in freezing cold temperatures might require different strategies. Discovering your horse's preferred weather condition makes the ride easier but working in less than ideal conditions is also necessary if you want to stay on a regular program. You have to learn how to ride the horse during various conditions.

4. You might not be as coordinated as your last ride.

You might be the inconsistent one. Maybe you had a rough day at school or work and you come to the riding session tense and frustrated. Maybe you have a cold and your reactions are slow and laboring. If you can be sensitive to your own emotional and physical state, you can take steps to counter them once you get on your horse's back.

5. You might be trying something new.

Whenever we step out of our comfort zone, we step into insecurity and frustration. It is perfectly normal to go backward before you move beyond your current level of expertise. While you try to speed up/slow down/quieten the aids, you discover that you lose some of the mastery you once had.

The same happens with the horse if you are trying to teach him something new. Awareness of what needs to be done during the confused moments is the ticket to making it through the learning curve, both for yourself as well as your horse.

6. Your situation might be different from someone else's.

You go to a clinic and watch as someone learns or develops her skill during the ride. You come home and apply the same strategies and for whatever reason, things don't go the same way. In horseback riding, it is often unfair to compare yourself to others in the sense that everything impacts your and your horse's performance. By knowing the specific factors that go into your situation, you can make better gains.

7. Training level causes variations.

Both you and your horse's background and skill impact the next steps you can take. More often than not, you will discover that you have to go back to the basics and develop them before you can go ahead with higher expectations. There is nothing wrong with identifying a missing building block and working on that before you try to do something more difficult. Learning things step by step is a valuable and safe approach to riding.

I hear people's frustration when they ask a question and the answer isn't black and white or easily predictable.

But understanding the variables in riding is the key to knowing that it is perfectly fine to learn many strategies that will invariably end in the same goal. And when someone asks, "What do I have to do when...?"

The answer might just be, "It depends!"

When have you had to change your riding plan because something unexpected came up? Let us know in the comments below.

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If you enjoyed the above post, you might also like to check these out:

Too Good to be True? Finding Your Horse’s “Happy Place”: Did you know that through riding, you can help your horse achieve a happy, content outlook on life? Sounds ridiculously far-fetched? Too good to be true?

How Do You Develop “Feel” in Horseback Riding?  Developing ‘feel’ in horseback riding doesn’t have to be an impossible dream! If you can ride with feel, you will be able to respond immediately to your horse’s needs.

Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: A happy horse is a willing partner, and many horses will give everything they have if they feel your acknowledgement and generosity of spirit.

Demystifying “Contact” in Horseback Riding: Does “contact” have other-wordly connotations? Here is why effective contact is within reach of the average rider.

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?

9 Comments

  1. This is a GREAT post, and it is really all about flexibility. There is a running joke about lawyers that our answer is always “it depends.” This frustrates non-lawyers because they feel the law is the law and it should be straight-forward. But “it depends” is the most truthful answer any good lawyer can ever give you. And the same is true with horses. A good coach and a good rider will listen to the horse and modify accordingly. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  2. I am working with a gal who has a Rocky Mnt. mare. I have never had a student with a gaited horse before and her dream is to ride dressage. I have taught K-12 for 37 yrs and Hunter/jumper, Combined Training, Sidesaddle and Dressage for 40 yrs. As everyday is a new day for both horse & rider, you can not always just pick up from where you ended at the last lesson. So I always have to assess using what school teachers call “dip stick assessment” and watch how the rider is communicating with the horse and how the horse is responding to the riders cues. My student didn’t know there were different aide combinations to ask for the canter on the inside lead. As I explained the outside lateral aides that would normally used to start a green horse on picking up the inside lead. I demo’ed the aides and had her visualize them. Then we went and tried asking. My student was over thinking and confusing the horse. I had her try diagonal and inside laterals to see if the mare had been taught how to pick up her leads. Nothing was succeeding and as I knew she had shown in canter classes. My student said that the mare would see other horses cantering and she’d canter.
    So I began to watch her as she rode the mare in Stepping Pace and look to see what was going on when the mare would offer a few steps of canter on the correct lead. Then I waited till I saw the mare thinking of cantering and I had the student ask with inside laterals with very soft shift of weight by advancing her inside hip with legs on but relaxed. Success!!
    The right side was the problem side as the rider always tensed and anticipated negative responses. I watched what was happening to the rider’s seat tracking right. I noticed she would sit more to the left, even though she was advancing her inside hip. I explained what I saw and why it was causing the mare to strike the wrong lead. I then slightly changed her weight and leg aide. Maintaining a slight bend right, we would weight till we could see the mare focus her eyes to the inside and then I had her lower her thigh and knee, in essence shifting her weight aide and there was the right lead on inside lateral aides. This mare is so sensitive that her rider needs to be very relaxed, but focused on what she wants the horse to do ie walk and what tempo she wants the mare to give her.
    As a teacher, you must be ready to differentiate in how you teach various concepts. In school you are only dealing with the learning style of the children, but in riding you are dealing with the needs of the horse and rider. It is so important to always explain WHY you are changing your approach to teaching the rider & horse a concept or skill. What they respond to on one day is not always what is needed on another. As the toolbox of the rider grows with understanding and exercises to deal with various circumstances, they can feel what is needed one day from the next.

  3. Well said. Riding in 90 degree weather your horse might be different than at dusk in autumn. I’ve noticed riding in an arena that certain personalities of other horses could be a distraction with my last horse. “Oh, there’s that fascinating little pony! I’m so curious. It’s so small. I must keep watching it because it’s so foreign, ” to “There’s that gelding I can’t stand. I must shake my head and pin my ears when I go by.” Whereas none of the other horses in the arena were ones he’d pay attention to. There’s always something to try to figure out with horses. They’re marvelous and complex!

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