Who Are You Riding For?

You never get on the same horse twice.

That’s a saying in the horse world that most people know. It implies that every time you get on a horse’s back, you’re training them, modifying them, whether you know it or not. This is why it’s so important to end things on a good note. That way, the horse can walk away from that experience learning to do their job better and not worse.

My coach and I had a discussion about this at the end of one of my lessons recently. She said that, when she was first learning to train horses, one of her coaches reminded her to always remember who she was riding the horse for.

This is quite an interesting topic actually.

See, you might be able to train a horse to work and move in a way that works with your riding style, but can he do the same thing with someone else? We all have our own habits and styles of riding so it’s important to get our horses to do things correctly. If a horse learns to always search for the rider’s aids to support him to complete a task, we haven’t done our jobs as riders correctly. Regardless if that’s the horse leaning in through the circles, ping-ponging against our legs down a straight line or waiting for us to tell him when to take off in front of the jump. A horse should be able to carry himself around without so much assistance from the rider.

Now, partly (and I’m guilty of this) it’s the individual rider’s fault. We love to micromanage our horses. We want to have total control. But this isn’t realistic and it isn’t good horse training. Other riders aren’t going to ride the same way you do and the chances of you keeping the same horses throughout your whole riding career are slim. So, even though you and your horse need to be on the same page and be able to communicate with each other, it’s more important that you are riding correctly and that your horse is trained properly. Not only will this improve your performance, it’ll also help your horse in the long run.

horse looking back

The other person at fault is our coaches. I’ll raise my hand up here and say that my riding basics didn’t have a solid foundation. My coach cared more about what I looked like on the horse instead of what I was doing. And their school horses were trained in a way that compensated for my bad riding. I get it, no one is going to be perfect when they first get on a horse and no one should expect them to be. What I do wish is that this riding school took the time to teach me how our aids work. How exactly should I squeeze my leg to get the appropriate response. How I should turn my body and not just open my rein to turn. How important my core is for stability and controlling my pace. All of these are things that I didn’t know. Instead, I tried to figure it out on my own and ended up developing bad habits. Habits that I started to create at the age of 7 and that I’m now fighting to break at age of 24.

So if those first few coaches took the time to actually teach me how to ride correctly, I would have been a better rider. Sure, it probably would have taken a whole lot longer for me to be able to canter or jump, but I would have been so much stronger because of it. Instead they rushed through the basics to get me to jump sooner and to compete earlier on the school ponies that were trained to compensate for that bad riding.

Now, I’m seeing the aftermath of all of this. I’m now riding horses that are trained to go around the ring like they should and I can feel the obvious disconnect. I have to remind myself that I’m breaking habits that were formed from the beginning and that I have to be careful to not try to fall into my old ways.

Horses are mirrors of us and what we ask them to do. It is our responsibility to ride them properly and to train them correctly. That way their performance is better and they stay healthier longer. At the end of the day, even if you own a horse right now, you may not have him for the rest of his life even if you’d like to. Especially if you ride competitively. It’s only fair to train him properly and this will allow you to become a rider too. You’re only as good as the number of horses you can ride. And if you can only ride your own, it might be hard to hear, but the other horses aren’t the problem.

So the next time you mount up, maybe remind yourself who you are riding for. You may be riding for yourself right now, but where do you want your horse to be? What shape do you want him in when you have to hand him over to someone else? Think of that person and train in a way that makes both you and your horse the best you can possibly be.

Until next time, happy riding!