horse/rider communication

Barn, dressage, dressage training, equestrian, horse/rider communication

Eyes Up, Looking Where You Want to Go

Through the darkest, most difficult times in my life, horses have been my safe haven — a source of joy and a reminder to live in the present moment. Your mind cannot, should not wander when you’re in the presence of a 1,000-pound animal, no matter how gentle and good-natured he or she may be.
Through this past year, as my mother and I held one another up, watching my father’s health decline, horses remained my reminder that life holds happiness even when sorrows are deep. While I sometimes arrive at the barn with a heavy heart, the familiar faces of my friends and their horses help me set my troubles aside for hours at a time. The barn is a world where priorities are clear and simple. A place where I define myself as a horse person, striving to meet the mind and spirit of another species. I find it deeply satisfying.
As I approach my horse in pasture, his halter in my hand, I bring my best self to him. I’m asking him to leave the leisure of his pasture to come with me, not simply for treats but to do a job that is my idea, not his.

Skipper sees me coming

As I approach, Skipper hears my voice, lifts his head from grazing, and strolls up to me, knowing I’ll have a carrot in my coat pocket. His ears prick forward and he chooses to leave his herd. My heart lifts at the sight. He is saying, “Yes, I’ll come with you.”
Even on the most painful days, where my dad’s memory stings with loss, the simple steps of caring for my horse soothe my soul. I brush Skipper’s coat, admiring its bright chestnut color. I comb out the stubborn shavings that cling to his tail and tidy up his mane. With each grooming, I check to make sure he’s healthy,his shoes are secure, and there are no new lumps, bumps, or bites from pasture mates that need attention.
Before I saddle up, I rub Skipper’s forehead in the spot he’s taught me is his favorite — the white star at the base of his forelock. He nods his head in approval but stands stock still to tell me he appreciates the attention. Skipper likes having a person and I love having a horse. Like happiness itself, a horse is not a thing to take for granted.
As I swing my leg over Skipper’s back, settling gently into the saddle, I remember the words of my trainers … all of whom have reminded me to keep my eyes up, looking where I want to go. Don’t stare at the ground, unless you want to go there, they advised. These words ring true for any riding discipline you choose. And, after this tough, trying year, it strikes me that this is good advice for living, in general.
I chose to buy Skipper just months ago, when I realized that after losing dad, I couldn’t bear yet another loss. My little horse soothes my sorrow and gives me hope for the future. With each riding lesson, I make a plan for what I need to work on, looking for ways we can improve, with hopes for a strong show season. As my relationship with my horse blossoms, my heart heals. My eyes are up and I’m looking toward the future.

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dressage, dressage training, horse/rider communication, training

Conversing with Your Horse

Micah Headshot 2
This week’s focus has been on improving my riding to the left. It’s always been my most difficult direction and you can clearly see the difference in our work to that side.
The right side is so much easier, it’s tempting to stay in that direction forever. But that would be cheating.

Alas, dressage is about symmetry.

To the right, I can carry on an ongoing conversation with my horse pretty easily. My aids are faster, softer, and more responsive. I can sit correctly more consistently. Not surprisingly, everything is easier for Micah in this direction, as well.
To the left, I am sluggish. I have a tendency to give away the outside rein (although we’re making big improvements) and my fingers just aren’t as nimble on the reins. I also tend to push my left leg forward at the canter in this direction, stiffening in the saddle at the same time. I’m more likely to get pulled forward, out of the saddle. These are hard habits to break. Yet, I can’t expect my horse to improve if I don’t.
I’ve also noticed that when I’m working at something I find difficult, like haunches in, I freeze up once in a while. When I’m concentrating really hard, I’ll assume a position and lock into it — exactly the opposite of carrying on a fluid conversation.
I can now see (thanks to Natalie’s astute observations) that if the horse is locking up (usually coming above or behind the bit and glaring at me), I probably started it by locking up myself.
My new mantra is to keep the conversation going. To me, this means trying to keep my aids fluid and responsive at all times, in both directions, and especially when I’m doing something difficult.
We’ve all seen the polished rider who goes with the horse through a shy, kick, or a bolt — they just keep riding, no matter what. I want to be that rider minus the naughty horse.
As always, changing habits is hard but I love riding with a goal in mind. Chances are, you and your horse have one preferred direction as well. This week, try to feel the difference and work toward symmetry. Best of luck! Just by being attuned to this, you’ll make progress.

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