OK, I am just going to say it like it is:
“Most of the time horses do exactly what we ask them to do; the only problem is that what we actually ask and what we think we ask are often two different things.”
Now before you move on to the next page, let me explain what I mean by that.
Imagine this scenario:
You are riding in a lesson and your horse is going really well until your instructor asks you to change rein to the left; before you even change rein, you remember the last lesson, when your horse kept falling in on the left circle.
You are determined to stop it happening this time, so you make sure you put your inside leg on as soon as you change rein, determined to keep him out this time.
Before you know it, your worst fears come true and as soon as you are on the left rein you feel tense and your horse is dropping the shoulder in on the circle again.
At that exact moment your instructor picks up on it too and asks you to bring the horse’s shoulder out; after all, you spent the entire last lesson on this and it should have been corrected by now.
You start thinking to yourself: “He always drops the left shoulder in, I am sure he just wants to annoy me. I have been doing all this work on getting him to stay soft around the circle and he is doing it again. I am never going to do well in my dressage test if this keeps happening and my instructor is going to think I am incompetent and my friends are going to laugh at me.”
The harder you try to stop your horse from dropping his left shoulder, the worse it gets until, finally, he starts to resist through the neck as well and on top of everything he looses his rhythm and starts to get rushed.
Now it is official, you should give up riding because you’re never going to be able to ride decent circles. Sounds familiar?
Don’t despair, help is on its way. This might be a good time to take a deep breath, make yourself a cup of coffee and find a comfy chair.
So first, back to the deep breath, as this is exactly where we need to start.
Think back to the above scenario or any similar experience you’ve had in the past.
Think about what happens to your breath when you make negative predictions?
Your breath will automatically become shallow and move up into your chest area, this leads to tension and stiffness; the areas that tense up most are your shoulder and your groin area.
What does that mean to your horse? It’s simple: you are blocking your horse’s movement and allowing him to lean on you.
Let me explain:
your body responds physically to your thoughts. For example, when you think of something funny, you start to laugh and your body feels light and happy, which brings your breath down and as a result you feel relaxed.
When you think of something scary, you might start sweating and your body tenses up, your breathing becomes very shallow and you may often pant; you can feel it your chest, or even your throat. You feel tight and your body becomes rigid.
How does that relate to your riding?
If you expect your horse to behave in a negative way
* dropping the shoulder in on the circle
* playing up when asking for a canter transition
* spooking when riding through the top corner of your
arena or whatever else there is, your breathing will
increase and your body will automatically tense up. The moment you tense up, you also block your horse’s movement.
In our above scenario, you might find there is a physical reason why your horse behaves the way it does: for example, your horse has been finding it hard to bend to the left because his left hind leg is his more weight bearing leg and therefore stronger. Naturally then, your horse prefers to carry his weight on the left hind leg, which makes it easier for him to bend to the right. The best way to correct this problem is to stay relaxed through your hips so you can shift your seat slightly onto your left seat bone and by keeping your left thigh and left shoulder relaxed, the horse has nowhere to lean on and has to shift his weight onto his right hind leg, which will improve his left bend.
Now in order to make these seat changes, the rider has to maintain relaxation: if the body is tense we loose the ability to fine-tune our seat, as the groin and the shoulder tighten up and start to block. This is why it is so important to keep your breathing rate down and relaxed.
The more you focus on the negatives, the more your breathing will become shallow and this will limit your body movement.
So what do you need to do?
Its simple: think happy thoughts!
Instead of worrying about what might go wrong, relax, breathe out and focus on what is going well. The more you focus on riding a good circle, the more your body will trigger its muscle memory of what it feels like to ride a smooth circle and you can stay soft and supple through your seat, which allows the horse to improve and gives you what you are looking for: a soft bend to the left.