Don’t Get Stuck in the “Oh, Craps”

horse earsI had a really great lesson on Husky yesterday, where we focused on changing gaits by using just our energy. Here’s what we did:

The Exercise: Visualize yourself as an hourglass. When you want to go from a walk to a trot, imagine all your energy moving from your legs up into your shoulders. Feel the trot in your body before it happens. Same goes for downward transitions, in reverse: imagine all your energy draining down into your legsThis works for any transition; we even did walk-canter-walk transitions this way (with varying degrees of success).

The Key: Feeling the gait in your body before it happens. It sounds strange, but Mr. K explained by getting off his horse and demonstrating. If you’re walking along and want to start jogging, you change your body just before you speed up. The same goes when you’re riding – you prepare your body to trot or canter, which is the horse’s cue to take that gait. When you’re on your horse, their feet become your feet. So, just like if you were going to start running, you have to make a change in your body change before you can move your hooves.

Why It Works: What you’re really doing is changing your seat and training your horse to take his cues from your smallest shift in weight. The image of energy draining from your shoulders into your legs makes you sit more heavily in the saddle, while visualizing your energy moving into your shoulders lifts your seat slightly. Feeling the canter in your body before it happens moves your inside hip forward a bit while shifting your outside leg back slightly.

Challenges: Be careful not to get too heavy in your stirrups, especially in downward transitions. It’s easy for this to happen when you visualize the energy draining down into your legs. Don’t brace in your stirrups or push off on them. We also need to be ready to clarify requests with the reins sometimes; if the downward transition is sloppy or slow, the reins are there to say, “nope, you’re not quite understanding my seat; please slow down now.”

The Coolest Part: We did all our riding on a very loose rein – even the downward transitions. Yes, the reins were there for clarity when needed, but Husky did a nice job of being in tune with my seat. It’s amazing when it all clicks. There was one particular walk-canter transition that felt incredible. I barely even had to think the word canterand he picked up up softly and as relaxed as I’ve seen him. Husky stayed long and low pretty much the whole lesson. He wasn’t terribly collected, but relaxed and stretched out. I also decided not to use a crop with him. Generally I carry one since he can be a little dead to the leg, but this style of horsemanship is helping a lot with that. I didn’t need it at all yesterday, though Husky did require a couple of firm kicks at the beginning of the lesson to remind him to be mindful of my aids. The beauty of this kind of riding is that after I got big with my cues once or twice, I was able to get very small with them and have a very successful ride while feeling very in tune with Husky.

The Lesson: My favorite takeaway from tonight was, “don’t get stuck in the ‘oh, craps.'” It basically means that mistakes are going to happen, but those moments aren’t the important thing. Instead, when we focus on the great moments, we give our horses positive feedback when they get it right. In a perverse sort of logic, if we are so focused on making something not happen, we’re probably actually making it happen. Example: if you’re worried that your horse is going to pick up the wrong lead and be tense, then he probably will be. But if you focus on how it felt the times when he picked up the correct lead and was relaxed, then you are setting yourself and your horse up to succeed.

In Other News: I met Leanne’s baby last night! He is so little and precious and makes the most hysterical faces. He started crying after awhile and Husky was like, WHAT IS THAT THING, I DON’T LIKE IT AT ALL. Silly boy, nervous of a baby that’s about the size of a loaf of bread.

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