Classical Riding Tips: Riding Through the Springtime Ha-Ha's

by Nancy O'Neill (aka M'Lady Violante d'Osteriche)

Ah...springtime, the daylight is growing longer, the grass too, and you're discovering there is a horse under all that hair! But, with the lightness of hair seems to be a lightness in feet and an absence of attention too. Frustrating, frightening, frazzling? Yep, so how do you get through this without losing the joy of riding? Here's some riding tips that will help with even the most Pepe le Peu of horses.......

First, recite after me: Breathe, breathe, breathe....the reason? Do you notice that you hold your breath when your horse starts tensing up? Natural reaction, start teaching yourself this new reaction of breathe, breathe, breathe. Remember the last two lessons (1/2 Halts and Quiet Hands/Feet?), keep those in mind while we add onto them.

Second, make sure that you approach the ride with the attitude of " I love to ride." When you approach it with, "I'm in for a fight", or "wow, this is going to be not fun. You are automatically gearing your adrenaline up. Instead, when you see your horse kicking up their heels when you approach to catch him, think; good, some of the excess energy is leaving!
Third, as you're grooming and saddling your horse, even if they're being twitchy, talk soothingly to him and keep grooming, take your time and don't rush. (Seeing a pattern yet? You are keeping your adrenaline level down and believe it or not, your horse will be sensing this from you as well.)Sounds fluffy, but it actually is very effective. And remember, there are no *quick* fixes. Riding is an investment of time and energy, because you enjoy the companionship.

The one best precept-the golden rule-in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily. - Xenophon

Let's ride:

First, let's get on, if your horse is being fidgety about the mount, yep, take your time mounting until they hold still and then, once you are able to mount when they are still, REWARD him! I like sugar cubes, a pat is good too with a statement of affirmation.

Once on, at a stand still, do some breathing for yourself and suppling exercise to get your horse's attention focused on you. Start by getting your posture, picking up the reins, then still standing at a halt:

Hold left rein firm and with the right rein, squeeze your hand open and shut until you see your horse bring the head just slightly to the right so that you can see the right eye. This is flexion at the poll. Release, affirm with pat and words.

Now do the same thing to the left, hold right rein still and with left hand squeeze the rein until you get the same flexion. Pat the horse with those words of affirmation.

Now, bring horse back to center and ask for a back of 3 steps. Remember to hold reins and tilt your center slightly forward (if a line is drawn from the center of your head through your seat through the horse, it will be approximately 10 degrees forward of your ideal riding position: the idea is that you are shifting your weight onto the front of your seat bones and positioning your weight so the horse will move away, properly.) If you know the feel of the sitting on the fore front of your seat bones, then the outside observer won't even noticed that you have tipped your pelvis and you won't have to even move your upper body!

You can practice this feeling by sitting on a hard floor with your legs out in front of you. Sit up straight, now lean forward that 10 degrees and feel your seat bones crunch! You should feel your weight is now on the front part of your pelvis. Then sit upright again, they'll crunch again and you should be centered on the seat bones. If you lean back slightly, you will feel your weight sitting on the back part of your pelvis, this is your "driving" seat bone position.

Notice that your horse is now on the bit and listening? Let's keep the momentum....

Now every horse has a different temperament depending on gender, breed and age. It would take volumes to address each and every issue. And if you are having serious irresolvable issues, consult your favorite trainer to come out and help you hands on.

This is where we get to *utilize* the springtime energy, ha-ha's,....remember, forward motion is GOOD! What is your horse's favorite thing to do? My horse loves trail rides. My husband's horse, she likes to gallop. They are both Arabians, both mares, and one is 12, the other 6...still young for that breed. Keep your horse's favorite in mind and remember that after each command, when the horse gives you what you want, to stop the asking for the command. Now...

Start with transition work at the halt to trot, walk to trot to halt, canter, to trot...etc. Remember your half halts and your hand and leg positions and BREATHE! If your horse seems inattentive or has that "gee, I want to spook, what can I spook at?" feeling, BREATHE, and force your mind to relax with the awareness of the energy but not the *fright*. Remember to reward *every time* he does as asked. You can hold your position, rein, seat and pat on the neck (not slap) with affirmations... Once your horse accomplishes a small task like the above transition work, now let him have some play time, whether it'd be galloping for a bit, running a barrel course, small trail nearby. Then, once done, go back to a small amount of what you would like to accomplish...smoother transitions, etc. And always, remember your position and breathing.

Flexibility is key, if you are having an altogether "bad horse day" (see footnote on this) 1) it might be a good idea to just do the suppleing exercise until well achieved and call it quits for the day. Always, always, always, end your riding sessions on a *good* note. Whether the last thing your horse does is come to a nice halt, or a turn on the haunches. End on a good note. If you keep your fear in check, be flexible on what you're going to accomplish for the day, then all the springtime riding will be a *good* ride!

"'I have time' should be the guiding words especially of dressage riders during the entire course of training and remind him of the fact that the goal of the classical art of riding is to be attained only by the gradual increase of demands." Alois Podhajsky

(1) There are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders by Mary Twelveponies....I don't always agree with what she has to say, but she has some valid points.

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