I spent an hour this morning trying to teach a woman to ride forwards, so thought I should share my pearls of wisdom. Or just generally express my humble opinion. You may pick which one it is.
This woman I was teaching this morning is fairly new to riding, but has mastered rising trot, sitting trot with and without stirrups, diagonals and simple school figures. So at the end of the last lesson I stopped helping her keep her horse going (classic riding school mistress; can move when she wants to, but takes a lot of persuading) and had her riding round the outside, changing the rein, circling etc without my help.
So today, I decided we needed to take the focus away from the rider (she mainly needs more hours in the saddle to build up her core and stamina, and needs something to occupy her mind) and have a look at the way the horse is going. Now I`m not expecting her to engage the hindquarters and perform half pass or anything like that. I explained the basics, that a horse should work in a good rhythm, steady and consistent. So the first part of the lesson was devoted to looking at keeping the rhythm, through the straights, the corners, circles, change of rein etc. It improved slowly. I explained how having the horse working into a good rhythm and carrying themselves along the rider can work on their own position and skills, and the horse is less likely to trip or stumble because they are concentrating on themselves, not traipsing around ignoring the person on top.
The biggest mountain to climb was to stop my client working harder than her horse! Eventually I had to bring her in to the centre of the school and explain that the whip, which she`d had for a couple of lessons now, is to back up her leg aids. Additionally, the horse has a thick winter coat plus a good layer of fat, so whilst the whip shouldn`t be turned upside down and cracked down, she could also use it a little more than a tickle, so that she got a response from her horse rather than a mere flick of the ear. I also explained how she should approach the lesson in the first few minutes. Assert her authority and dominance over the horse. Not in the brutal sense of the words, but in a firm manner. So from the time she gets on and asks the horse to move forwards she should get a response when she asks for it. The first few minutes, like a teacher at the beginning of the new term, are vital in establishing the new order and respect. So my client should ask her horse to move forward and if she is ignored then ask much more strongly. Then the next time she asks the horse will respond with the first aid. She seemed to understand, and when she returned to the track to do some transitions, she managed to get them on the first aids. What an improvement! Then we had to counteract the cheeky sidestep off the track during the transition…
Then a bit of work without stirrups, before finishing off trotting actively and maintaining the rhythm and activity throughout school movements. She definitely has a way to go, and hopefully if she remembers my words next time, then the results should come quicker and the lesson run more smoothly, with my client being able to worry more about diagonals and the accuracy of her riding. Once the rhythm can be maintained we can move onto more interesting things!