So, after an interesting week of riding work at Woodfield Ranch – the yearlings are progressing nicely…with many of them beginning to ‘lope’ on the track. Which brings me to writing this blog…..
How do you know if your horse is truly listening to you?
Something I find really refreshing about these youngsters is none of them have any bad habits (different characters for sure) UNLESS you teach them some or let them become bad. They are naive, once you have gained their trust they trust you back and if you follow the rules – you can do pretty much anything with them. Yes, we can even switch their leads with a pretty acceptable flying change – on the track – 5 abreast! These horses have been under tack two weeks.
At the start, I had the tendency to guide the horse too much with my hands (sensible right?) – WRONG. The harder you pull on a horse, the more likely it is to eventually run the bridle and actually take off with you. “Turn his head loose” – is something I have heard a lot this week, and “Close your leg”! Easier said than done – it takes balls on these babies!!
The next rule is, they HAVE to be in front of your leg. Sounds familiar right? We all know that. But if these babies aren’t truly in front of your leg – if they spook or bulk…you’re skrewed. It’s a true test. If you don’t have it – they will expose you. No faking it here.
So with the horse absolutely in front of your leg – we have been working on getting them settled in the bridle. Head not to high – head to not too low and the lightest of lightest holds on their mouths through bridged reins. We can move them left, we can move them right with a squeeze of your calf – a tiny feel through your fingers brings them back, then they are immediately rewarded with an even softer rein when they do come back. Close your leg – the horse does not get flat – he comes under himself and engages. Turn his head loose – repeat, balance, repeat. The end result is a truly fabulous feel with a horse working 100% with you and a feeling you could ride them anywhere – at any pace.
This feel – is something we forget about. We’re too busy walking lines / distances…taking lessons, changing tack …..finding excuses. Hyper-analyzing minor details…LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE! As an eventer, it IS THE ESSENCE of what we do. There is no faking it at the higher levels, particularly XC. If you don’t have this harmony, things don’t work out. Think of the riders you admire – Nicholson for me – is the master.
So I get home this afternoon – yep…loping for the eventers! OK – not on the track, but I’m lucky enough to have a nice big farm to practice. Boy were there some holes in my horses!! I got run off with, spooked with and worked out that my advanced horse is probably 99.99999% of the time behind my leg (hence the problems I’ve had XC sporadically) and actually found it a really good exercise.
How many times (honestly) between fences XC – do you actually think about how your horse is travelling? Is he in front of my leg – can I accelerate without him taking the bridle? (This is the key to riding fast & safe) Is he leaning? Do I need to soften one side? Can I half halt the gallop? Well, I know I don’t do it enough – of course we have instincts – I’m more focused on the jumps that are coming up, than what I’m doing in between.
I guess my rather long winded point is – next time your on a hack – think about these things. It sounds obvious – but as a relatively experienced rider at advanced level – I learned a lot this week, and hopefully my ‘off track’ horses will go better for it