I heard a good analogy recently, which I thought I`d share with you. It`s all about communicating clearly and precisely with your horse.
Imagine you are sitting in a library. You want to speak to your friend. So you whisper to them. And they hear perfectly clearly.
Now, imagine you`re sat in a crowded café. There`s no point whispering to your friend. If anything you need to speak loudly.
These situations directly relate to the way you communicate with your horse. When in the crowded café situation you are asking with heavy, repetitive aids. I call it white noise to some clients. In an ideal situation everything is quiet and motionless, and then you can give a refined, discreet aid and your horse will respond instantly.
So which of the two situations do you fit into?
I`ve done a lot of work about this recently. With Otis, I`ve worked on creating a totally consistent and quiet rein contact to enable us to perform harder lateral work, and to improve our collection work.
With clients I regularly tell them that they want to think about speaking clearly to their horse, and not nagging them. Children find it amusing when I liken it to their Mums nagging them to clean their rooms. Sometimes the children listen more when you speak firmly, clearly, and only once.
Sometimes, when you`re schooling a horse you have to “shout” at them a couple of times to get the message across, and then the horse will be very switched on to you and listen to a whisper of an aid. You know that feeling when your Mum has ranted and raved at you for not washing the dishes … and how you tread on eggshells afterwards. As a rider, you have to shout to get your horse`s attention, and then you can continue your conversation in a whisper.
Last week I rode a client`s pony and spent approximately half an hour in walk. Or trying to. He has the slowest walk imaginable and his young rider has gotten used to tapping away at his sides. So I gave a pony club kick and the pony shot off into trot. So I brought him back to walk and when he slowed to a snails pace he had another pony club kick. This went on until I could squeeze my calves around him and he marched forwards. His trot and canter work were beautiful after that.
Today, I rode him again, and his owner`s mother couldn`t believe the speed of our walk as we left the yard – he had remembered the correct response to my leg aids. Right from the off today he worked nicely, taking the contact forwards and using his hindquarters.
Interestingly, I had a conversation with a friend about improving the walk. She schools a 3* eventer and his Olympian rider has the same problem as a thirteen year old girl in improving the walk of their mounts – crazy isn`t it, to compare the two ends of the scale. We both agreed that a couple of loud leg aids were effective to get the attention of the horse and to get them respecting the leg and responding correctly and then you can use much quieter, more subtle aids.
Now this doesn`t mean we all want to go around pony club kicking, like the infamous Thelwell cartoons, but it does mean that riders shouldn`t be afraid of being a little bit loud in order to be effective in their riding, so long as the horse is rewarded for responding, and the rider reverts to a discrete riding style.
Again, I had a good example of this last night. My client`s horse jumped badly through the grid – he tried to fit in two strides when there was really only enough room for one, which resulted in a great feat of athletics to wriggle over the last fence. This meant that his confidence was knocked so he ran out. I took the first two elements down to rebuild his confidence. However, once he had run out once, the gelding decided to take advantage of his diminutive rider and run out every time. So I reminded my rider to be effective, not pretty. She could go back to looking pretty when her horse respected her again and was behaving. It took a few tries, but once the left leg and right rein were engaged the horse flew over the fence happily and we finished the lesson with the full grid up and my rider could revert to her quiet style of riding.
To conclude, we all want to aim to communicate with our horses as if we`re sat in a library, but the reality is that sometimes we need to shout to be heard, but once we`ve shouted we should try to eliminate the white noise so that the library situation is created.