#1 rider problem of the year
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Patience... sigh.

It really is a virtue, especially in horse riding.

But I might be referring to something other that what you're thinking. Not the kind of patience that results in lack of progress, doing the same thing over and over again, or basically being inactive in your own learning phases. In fact, I mean quite the opposite.

It takes quite a lot of skill - forethought, presence of mind, riding ability - to be patient while riding. To be honest, it might take years to fully develop these "soft skills", know when to apply them and know which will work for which horse.

Let's say you were cantering and the horse spooked away from a particular corner in the arena. What would the patient rider do? Here are some options.

1 - Adjust your aids.

Well, yes. Always check yourself first. There is a good chance that you did something or didn't do something that will make a huge change to your horse's way of going. Did you use your inside leg to stop the horse from falling in (away from the corner)? Did you ask for flexion to the inside so the horse wouldn't have to look at the scary monsters? Did you somehow tighten (tense) or strengthen your aids too much, which resulted in rushing the horse into and out of the corner? Did you stop riding as you started thinking about what the horse might be spooking at?

2 - Do it again.

Not in a negative, aggressive, rough manner. Just stop the spook (maybe go to a walk), turn around and go back to where things were going well. Start there again. If you were already in canter at that point, pick up the canter. Head toward the spook spot, clarify your aids (make sure you are actually using the correct aids) and just go through that corner as if nothing happened in the first place.

3 - Wait a little longer.

You could choose to ride the spook out. Sometimes, you can pretend that there is no problem - and transmit that feeling through your body, aids and actions to the horse. If the rider stays focused, the horse will follow right along. Do that a few times until your horse settles down. Give him the extra time, the extra strides, or more space to think the situation through - even at canter.

4 - Change the topic and come back to it later.

Sometimes, it works better to get away from that corner, go ride in your horse's "safe zone," and make your way back (almost as if by accident) some minutes and a few movements later. You're not actually ignoring the spooking problem, but you're showing your horse that it's ok to think about something else for a while and come back to it later when he's a little more on the aids.

5 - Quit altogether and work on it next ride. Lots of people think they MUST stick it out and ride through the worst of the worst. I'm here to tell you that you that there are times when it's not only good to quit, but that you must quit. Those are the times when you simply can't get or maintain control of your horse. Those are also the times when you might need to take a break yourself - either mentally, emotionally or physically. There is ALWAYS a next day, a next ride, and another opportunity.

6 - Scrap your plans and do what your horse needs that day.

This is the epitome of knowing what to do when. It happens when you've got your plans all set to work on the "next step" - or improve on something you did that last ride. And then your horse spooks through the corner. You realize it has little to do with actual spooking - it's more that you allowed the horse to suck back to and through the corner. It looked like he was spooking , but in fact, he lost impulsion, resulting in a sideways movement instead of a straight, forward-bounding stride.

The answer this time would not be to just keep working on the spook idea, but to completely change your focus to getting your horse to go "forward" (not fast). It's a whole different topic, and you might need to go to an entirely different lesson plan to address the lack of impulsion rather than anything about that corner. Fix the impulsion, and you'll fix the spook.

***

You can use these strategies for every type of riding problem:

  • not picking up the canter after trot
  • picking up the wrong canter lead
  • learning to do the walk pirouette
  • finding the correct angle and bend for a shoulder-in
  • maintaining impulsion through a corner

You might be able to think of any situation and one or multiple strategies listed above might help.

The amazing thing about having this kind of "patience" is that your horse might actually work through the problem much more quickly than if you were to ignore the situation altogether. Being a patient rider doesn't mean that you'll be a pushover, or somehow less than adequate.

It just means that you'll be willing to analyze the situation (very quickly) and come up with a plan that will help you overcome the problem swiftly, diplomatically, and as easily as possible. And that will help both you and your horse on your path to developing a true partnership.



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2 Comments

  1. If the problem is patience that is a human problem, not how to fix the horse problem. Looking to see what the horse needs (6) first, triggers brain interest – curiosity in the human. Patience problem solved.

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