When your horse decides to express himself, do you ride it out? Or do you panic?
Of course, we'd all like to say that we can just float along while the horse shakes, rattles and rolls (the equine version) but it does stand true that stickability is probably one of the strongest determining factors of how well you can work with your horse rather than against him. Without being able to ride through a bobble, you will almost likely always be at the very least, left behind, and at the worst, left without (a horse)!
Where do you fit on this scale? The higher the number, the farther you can go in helping your horse through difficult situations.
0 - No stickability at all
If we aren't at this level now, we definitely were at the beginning of our riding careers. So all of us should know what it feels like to not be able to stick around. It's not a good feeling. The smallest hiccup, and we get to kiss dirt. Not only does it hurt, but it's also very humiliating. Aside from that, it teaches a young horse to lose confidence in the rider, and it plain scares the older, more educated horse - imagine that the horse is doing what he knows he's supposed to do, and before he knows it, off pops the rider!
All kidding aside, hopefully, you will go through this stickability level quickly. If you find you are falling off at any unexpected moment, you probably need to be working on your seat.
1 - Sticks to the horse - sometimes
You will eventually get to a point where you can follow the small misstep/deek/stop/start. This is when your confidence begins to build. Now, if your horse does something unexpected, you can move almost fast enough to right yourself if you lean too far. You can sit through a small buck if the horse happens to go straight and bucks only once. You can grab onto a fistful of mane and drag your body back into the saddle. How many of us have gone through this?
2 - Sticks more often than not
At Level 2, you are beginning to be able to take on more of a challenge. You can now sit through several bucks as long as they aren't too big, wild or sideways. You can keep a more upright body while the horse spooks. Hard starts and stops don't phase you as much. You still have that sinking feeling once in a while, if your horse slips out quickly from underneath you. You fall less often than you used to, and you're generally more sure that you can have a chance to correct the horse once the romp is over.
3 - Stickable
Ah! You have "arrived" once you reach Level 3. At this point, you are able to sit through many of your horse's inconsistencies. Although you still do fall off when something happens when you aren't expecting it, you can stay on most of the time and come through the episode with your senses intact. Not only can you stick, but you can ride well enough to recover your balance within several strides and carry on. The adrenaline you get from the almost-fall is lower in intensity and you have more control over it. If you are riding in a lesson, there is only a small disturbance of the rhythm of the ride and you can usually recover quickly enough to not lose everything you had been working on.
4- Sticks to train
The next level is to be able to stick well enough to ride out most of your horse's expressive maneuvers. This is when your riding can become more about the horse than you. Most Level 4 riders will be able to ride young horses at this stage, because they can handle most of the horse's missteps. This rider will allow a horse to make mistakes and still be there afterward.
If you get to this level, you will start to discover that you have a riding sense of humor. Things don't matter nearly as much as they used to. You will happily enjoy the horse that shows you his personality even if there is some up-and-down hops along the way. Although there are times when you might still be reactive rather than active, most of the ride is intentional and most of the time, you have enough control over your emotions that a bobble can be just that - a bobble.
5- Sticks - almost always
This is the epitome of stickability. Not only will you be able to ride out the young horse's initiatives, not only will you be able to correct the more educated horse's exuberance, but you will be so stickable that with the additional training you have had to get to this level, you will be able to actually improve the horse's way of going. You will be able to ride through problems as if they weren't problems at all. In fact, you will probably be able to stop problems from the get-go.
The only one disadvantage to being completely stickable is that although the probability of falls is drastically reduced, you still can't predict when the horse is going to fall. And if you stay on well enough, there is a chance for you to fall with him if he is the one that does the falling.
What to do
There is always going to be a certain amount of danger when riding horses. You can never eliminate the possibility of falling. However, developing your stickability factor will help you go a long way toward improving both your and your horse's level of confidence.
How can you improve your stickability factor? Work on the seat. There is no other answer.
If you can improve your seat, you can improve your balance, your timing of the aids, your core muscles, your movement with or against the horse - pretty much everything. Lunge lessons are excellent, no matter which level you are at, to help you develop confidence and allow your body to learn to do what it needs to without worrying about where the horse is going.
Everything, including stickability, begins with the seat.
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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Read more here:
6 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Riding Seat: How to find and use your seat.
What Do Leg Aids Mean? What they don't mean, and what they do mean.
From A Whisper to A Scream: How Loud Should Your Aids Really Be? Deciding on the level of strength you put into your aids.
Done With Going Round and Round on the Rail? Try the 10/5 Challenge: A challenging exercise that will improve your horse's level of impulsion.
7 Reasons Why "It' Depends" is the Right Answer in Horse Riding: Why we need different skills on different days.