It sounds simple, doesn't it?
Just go with the horse.
Isn't that what you're supposed to do? I mean, if you're on the horse's back, and the horse is moving, you're undoubtedly going along with him (unless you're off his back and on the ground - fairly undesired).
So what's the fuss about "go"ing with the horse?
The novice rider, of course, can attest to how difficult it can be to learn to move with the horse. The rider's entire body has to learn the up-and-down and forward-back sways to the various gaits. It's not like picking up a tennis racket and learning to hit a ball (as hard as that may be initially); it's your whole body.
After a while, though, it gets easier and you learn to "stick" in the saddle better and you sway merrily along in tandem with your horse. But still, there's more to the going than just that.
The fact is, we will hone our "go with the horse" skills for years and years to come.
When Should You Go With The Horse?
While we often speak of half-halts and transitions to maintain balance and prevent the horse from running heavily to the forehand, there are many moments during a ride when we should make significant attempts to get out of the horse's way, so to speak, and let him do his thing while we do our best to avoid interfering and being a hindrance.
These are the moments when we just flow along in the horse's movement. We neither augment the movement nor stifle it.
Pushing power - that's when you've asked the horse to move along in response to your leg and/or seat aids. You've asked for increased energy, and the horse obliged by bounding ahead in the movement. In these cases, you just ride that wave of energy and let the horse know that you can be a partner in his larger movement. You can always go to the half-halt a few strides later - but after the initial ask, you should "just go."
Think of two dance partners as they step and twirl across the dance floor. They both move as one, and this is what we must do in many riding instances to:
... encourage the horse: can be done when the horse takes initiative to offer something you weren't expecting
... reinforce the right answer: after he makes an attempt at what you've asked, then surely, you can just ride along for a few strides to let him know he's on the right track
... develop confidence: "just go" after the horse has overcome a mentally or physically demanding task (such as ride past a spooky corner) - get out of the horse's way and let him do his thing
It's a simple concept: allow your body to move with the horse. But let's break it down a bit for the sake of clarity.
1.Loosen through the lower back
Many of us need to teach our lower backs to move with the horse, especially if we start riding in our adult years. Tight ligaments and tendons contribute to the body simply not being able to move enough with the horse, so one of our initial goals must be to be able to move through the lower back and seat. Here is a great exercise to try to isolate the area that needs to "find" movement in order to help you stay in the saddle.
2. Soften the elbows
Sometimes, it's useful to just loosen through the elbows. We often maintain tight elbows (and shoulders) in attempt to maintain adequate balance and connection. If you find yourself being a little too clutch-y, focus on loosening through the elbows. Avoid letting the reins get longer, and avoid the opposite - pulling backward on the reins. Instead, find the feeling of just loosening within a consistent rein length so that the horse can find a release but doesn't become suddenly unbalanced either way.
3. "Swing" through your body
Think of this as letting your horse move your body. You kind of trampoline along with him - with adequate tone - so that you become light and buoyant within his movement. Just remember that it's not like becoming completely jello. Too much flop becomes a hindrance for the horse as well as allows you to lose balance.
4. Travel further
If you're on the right track and your horse actually reaches further and strides out (rather than just speeds up his legs), you might find that you're being left behind. Your horse will feel you and stop his movement. Instead, be prepared for the energy surge. Maybe you should make sure your shoulders stay above your hips (might require a very small lean back in preparation) and get ready to travel further with each stride.
The sooner you can learn to go, the sooner you will be able to communicate good "feels" to your horse, and the clearer your communication will be. While it may take many repetitions of just going every time you learn a new movement, it surely is worth the time spent. OK! Get out there and just go!
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