There are times in every riders life, where you can’t ride as well as you wish to. Be it an injury, or illness, or your mind is just stuck on something outside of horses, and you can’t seem to find that connection you need to really communicate with your friend the horse!
These times can be very frustrating mentally, as most horse riders will agree that riding sort of, at some point, is what keeps our minds functioning at a productive level. After a bad ride people will ask you what’s wrong, and if you say, my horse didn’t understand me today, they will look at you like “Oh wow what a crisis!”
The truth is, for people who grew up riding, who breathe riding, who know themselves better through the eyes of their horse, a bad ride, or not riding, can really cause an emotional crisis.
It can sort of feel like your world is falling down around you, but trying to explain this to a non-rider makes you seem like a complete drama queen because by the look of you nothing is really wrong.
I found that it’s best not to try and explain to those people why your down. I complain to my mum, who has been riding all her life, and absolutely gets it! She doesn’t then ask, what’s wrong, she just knows.
During these times, it is great to have a back up plan. The question is how to keep your horse engaged, interested, and working his muscles, while you are not at your best?
Some people would think that flying around the arena at 100 miles an hour is how you make your horse work hard…WRONG! Others believe that extended trot is hard for the horse, extended canter also…WRONG! In fact, most of the more difficult exercises, (in terms of mind and body engagement for horse and rider), are performed at the walk!
The ones riders are most familiar with are traverse and shoulder-in, at the walk, often done on a circle or up the long side. However, a more difficult movement to perform is the walk stepping over.
It’s very similar to shoulder-in on a small circle except that you aim to keep the horse straight using the outside rein and very gently allow the horse to cross his back legs, trying to keep the shoulder on the inside of the circle, but not blocking it in the one place.
This is not a pivot around the shoulder, but a small circle, where the horses back legs cross in a wider circle, around his front legs crossing in the centre.
Imagine two circles, one of a small radius at the front, and one of a wider radius at the back.
The key is to get the horse to move off a light leg aid, or even, as he learns, off a seat bone aid, and then release the aid until he learns to keep stepping over alone.
It seems so simple, and yet for the horse this exercise is extremely difficult. Imagine our bodies, many of us can go for a run, but if we try to hold a plank position for 60 seconds we collapse in a heap.
These exercises at the walk, if executed well, will make you tired by thinking, which is the key to good riding. More importantly, if you can get the horse to move into lateral exercises at the walk, off a seat or very light leg aid, you will be AMAZED at how much difference that makes to the work at the trot and canter.
So, next time you stub your toe, have a migraine, back ache, neck pain, etc, don’t let it get you down. USE this time to work on the very simple, yet hugely important aspects of dressage…