So many of my students come to me frustrated with how difficult it is to ride well. Whether is it jumping, dressage, western they all seem to think that riding is more difficult than it really is.
It breaks my heart to see them struggle against their horse who is only trying to find a momentary reprieve from the constant pulling, banging and smacking. Sad for the rider who is trying so hard to figure out how to balance and ride a movement while fighting their frustration with their horse who they love so much when on the ground. Sad for the horse that is trying to avoid what is so uncomfortable while simultaneously trying to figure out what their rider wants so it can conform.
Whether you ride English or Western - newsflash...it's EXACTLY the same. Whether you ride Competitive Trail, Dressage, Eventing, Jumping, Reining, Western Pleasure (I put them in alphabetical order FYI), ride Gaited horses, Mustangs, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Warmbloods, it's EXACTLY the same.
I heard you gasp in disgust. I heard you shake your head and tell me "NO IT'S NOT!" with a wave of your finger. You can't ride a gaited horse like a jumper! You can't ride a J-U-M-P-E-R like a dressage horse (that's my favorite).
If you can stop believing that for just a minute and follow along, you would understand the simplicity of riding, in all its' disciplines and in all breeds. Despite our own (minor) physical differences at the end of each day we are all humans and they are all horses.
If you would like to truly find the beauty of each movement with your horse, I ask you to start with focusing on your movement at the walk. Release your hips and let yourself move from your hips with the horse's legs at the walk. Now as overly simple as that sounds, especially for those of you that already can ride a solid sit trot and canter, that should always be your starting point. Usually I make my students drop their stirrups or put them over the front of the saddle if hanging stirrups upset the horse. Before we begin, please make sure that you do this with a loose rein. (We're not attempting to collect your horse so please...hands off the horse's face.)
Every stride that you follow with your hips originates from the back legs of the horse (you are not feeling the horse's back moving, you are feeling the back legs move and you interpret it as the horse's back). Practice finding the flow of the movement. Once you believe you have found that movement consistently, check your upper body that you are not slouching or being sloppy by unintentionally looking at your horse's ears, neck or shoulders. Look forward and have self-carriage in your upper body. Practice slowing your horse's stride with only your seat, making your movements smaller, less active. Practice transition from stop to walk.
Whatever you do, please do not (ask I like to say) 'skootch' your seat forward to get your horse to walk (trying to use your seat to force the movement from the horse by 'pushing' forward with your seat). Use your lower legs to cue the horse to move and be ready for your hips to go with that movement.
You may find that your horse will actually lower its head after a few minutes of your new work. You may also find that if your horse is normally a fast horse, that with practice your horse will slow, lower its head and begin to match the movement of your hips.
Once you have a solid movement with your horse at the walk, focus on how you are moving as you ask (again, lower leg only please) for the trot. Stay with the movement from walk to trot and you will find that you are either jolted from your rhythm or you go with the rhythm. If you are jolted from your rhythm, transition back to walk and begin again. Although new, your horse will pick up on it very quickly.
If you transition from the walk to trot and continue following the movement and finding the rhythm, the transition you just rode should be far superior to your normal trot transition.
This transition work is not some remedial concept for beginners. It is the absolute foundation that brings you to collect with ease, increase competitive speed and accuracy. Transition your horse to gait and all other (somewhat evasive) aspects of your riding. Yet somehow you have been taught to believe that the only way to change your horse is with more hardware, more leather or different shoes. How strange that you've been sitting on the answer the entire time!