The Effect of the Rider

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about horses having a better rein and whether one rein is always better – A Better Rein – and someone commented, with a valid point, that does the rider affect which rein is better.

Which leads me to this blog post…

How does a rider affect a horse’s way of going?

Firstly, the actual physical size of the rider will affect the way a horse goes. I school one of my young client’s pony and I know that he physically works harder carrying my fat bum than the stick insect that is his owner. So when he’s in self carriage, engaging his abdominals and working over his back while I ride I know not to work him for too long without a break because his muscles will tire quicker than when his rider has him working correctly.

So a heavier rider can be detrimental to a horse’s way of going, particularly if they are weak over their back. But we all we should only weigh 10% of our horse’s body weight … Another post to read here!

However sometimes a horse can ignore a featherweight jockey and try to just pull through the rein contact or go behind the leg, so it’s very important to make sure you and your horse match.

Apart from the size of a rider, there are also elements of our physique, such as having long legs to wrap around the horse or a strong core, that will influence the way a horse goes.

Like my original blog post said, horses can be right sided or left sided. Just like humans. The perfect rider is ambidextrous; totally symmetrical. Unfortunately none of us are perfect and tend to have a dominant side. So if you take a symmetrical horse and a left sided person rides him they will probably find the horse goes better on the right rein because they can maintain a more stable outside (left) rein and the outside leg is stronger to push around turns. However, a right side dominant rider may find the left rein easier for the same reasons. Or, if the horse is crooked on the left rein the right sided person will be in a better position to correct and support the horse, whereas the left sided rider will find more of a marked difference between reins because the horse has the same weak side as the rider.

Have you ever heard people saying “you’ve got an electric bum?” Or a “hot seat”. It means every horse becomes more forwards when you ride. I’m not sure precisely how the mechanics of the rider causes it, but it could be to do with muscle tone, strength, or position in the saddle. I know I used to have a “hot seat” but I did ride lazy ponies and as I moved onto the whizzier ones I learnt to cool my seat down. So some riders will naturally drive the horse forwards, which will alter their way of going. 

Your position also influences the horse, particularly when jumping because some horses will take off a stride too early if you lean forwards, but another horse will refuse with you in the same position. 

Riders will also alter the horse’s way of going intrinsically. We all have different knowledge and experience of horses and subconsciously we will draw on this when riding a horse. For example, if you are used to riding an unbalanced horse and ride a more balanced horse, you will probably further improve it’s balance around circles and turns because you are automatically dictating the exact movements of the horse. Or if you are used to riding a collected, uphill canter, then you are likely to sit up and collect the canter on a bigger moving horse more than their rider who perhaps isn’t as confident in their knowledge of and ability to collect.

What the rider focuses on and how finely tuned they are to a horse’s movements will also affect the way a horse goes. A rider who is very attuned to the action of the hind leg will pick up and adjust the movement of a horse quicker than a rider who is perhaps more focused on whether the horse is leaning on the reins and falling onto the forehand. This means that the same horse will go slightly differently with these different riders.

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