There are more ways than one to let your horse know his efforts are appreciated and he is on the right track. Just as you need positive reinforcement, your horse needs to know that he can find his "happy place" while you are on his back.
The two tried and true methods of petting the horse and saying "good" certainly help to communicate your positive message. But did you know that there are many other more subtle ways you can say "yes?"
The Need for "Yes" Speed
As you develop in your riding skills, you will begin to recognize the ongoing physical communication you have with your horse during your ride. This communication goes much deeper than a verbal discussion we can have with our human friends.
Better balance and "quieter" aids will enable you to realize that...
... communication between rider and horse occurs as quickly as we can think - actually, no. It happens even faster than that. (Click here to tweet that if you agree.)
Because we are literally connected to our horse through our seat and legs, our "discussion" speed can happen as quickly as our central nervous system can respond to the horse's movements. In the long run, we might become even faster in our discussion than we can think (thereby leaving the "thinking" moments for when we are off the horse's back).
Another reason you want to say "yes" quicker than speaking or petting is that things can happen very quickly on a horse's back. So while you are flying off to the left riding through a buck, you might want to be saying, through your body language, "Stop the buck - GOOD!" instantly. Many horses will find relaxation and security in the rider that can follow them in their language pattern and speed.
When you can communicate this quickly through your aids, the onlooker will not have any inkling about the many and varied messages being sent back and forth between you and your horse. However, the experienced onlooker might notice the tell-tale sign: an active yet calm horse "dancing" enthusiastically with his rider. And of course, the rider appears to be doing nothing.
So how can you say "yes" quickly enough to help guide your horse effectively and efficiently while you ride?
9 Ways to Say "Yes" While Riding
1. Release through the inside rein.
That inside rein is the maker or breaker of the inside hind leg. This means that it also affects the horse's balance pretty much all the time. So if you can find an excuse to give a little "yes" through the rein, you will discover a significant method that communicates comfort and strength to the horse. He will appreciate being able to bring his hind leg underneath his body so that he can balance both you and himself better.
2. Release through your seat.
The seat release is almost as powerful as the inside rein release. While you ride, you can either brace your seat, ride passively or release. Most of the seat control comes through your lower back, which communicates your messages to your horse through his back. So if things are going well, you can let loose through your lower back so that you can synchronize your movement with the horse's swing.
3. Softening of the legs/knees.
We often grip tighter than we need to with both the knees and the legs. When you want to communicate harmony with your horse, try softening through your calves and even your knees. Work on lengthening your legs from the hip so that there is only a soft angle in your knees, and your legs can therefore "drape" along your horse's sides.
4. Opening of the seat.
This is a little different than the seat release. When you open, you in effect create an open space to invite the horse into as he is moving. So if you want to do a leg yield to the right, you can encourage a "yes" when the horse steps right by actually opening in rhythm to the right direction. This is tricky but the results can be awe-inspiring.
5. Stretchy walk/trot break.
Ah! The stretchy! Once a horse learns to release his top line into an active stretch, he will always look forward to a stretch in either walk or trot.
6. Do his favorite move.
Most horses have a favorite romp that makes them happy and lets them know that things are just great. Find out what your horse likes best and let him play once in a while after a particularly challenging maneuver.
7. Celebratory hand gallop.
Teach the horse to "stride out" when things go well. So instead of slowing down to a walk or halt, go for a run! Amp things up, get hot and sweaty and hear the wind whistle in your ears! You might be surprised to realize how much your horse likes this once he knows he is allowed to stretch out once in a while!
8. Lighten through the seat and body.
Do you remember how you used to be able to jump up into a loved one's arms as a child? You could hold yourself in a way that allowed them to hold you up for a long time because you were holding your own body tone to help them out. In the same manner, you can control how heavy your body feels to the horse. Say "yes" by lightening through your seat, holding your torso in a more toned manner and allowing the horse to have a bit more freedom underneath you as you ride.
9. Flowing through your body with the horse's movement.
This is the most important "yes" you can give your horse. If you can follow through not only your seat, but through your whole body, commit to the movement and "be there", you are able to give the strongest "yes" communication possible. And this can be done instantaneously, long before you can even open your mouth to say the word "good!"
So there you have it! Next time you ride, try some of these tips and see what your horse says. If you have any other ways to say "yes" please post in the comments below!
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If you enjoyed the above post, you might also like to check these out:
5 Ways to Amp Up Your Warm Up in Horse Riding: What to do if you get into a warm-up riding rut that becomes uninspiring and tediously routine.
Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: How to reward your horse while you are riding. A happy horse is a willing partner, and many horses will give everything they have if they feel your acknowledgement and generosity of spirit.
20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself: You could say that horses are our teachers. Not only do we grow in terms of physical ability, but perhaps even more so, we grow in character.
Why You Don’t Want to Pull on the Inside Rein – and What To Do Instead: We think that by pulling on the horse from the inside, the horse must obviously turn his nose and then follow it. Right?