Having a perspective when you are riding, training and schooling helps keep you and your horse going in the right direction. At the time you think you are having a problem, though, it’s sure hard to step back and take a look at what you are trying to accomplish, and change your approach. Your instinct is to want to work through it.
Say, for instance, you have a horse that is having difficulty with a scary jump in the ring. They find a way around it (refusing, running out, stopping) on several approaches, and you’re exasperated. Keep doing what isn’t working? Try punishment? Is he hurting? I think the answer, at least enough of the time to make common sense, is going to be none of the above. Instead, the answer could be, “ride smarter.”
When you are working with a good instructor, it’s often a lot easier to find perspective, because you’ve got eyes on the ground right there observing, translating, and offering solutions. Having an experienced instructor with several remedies at their fingertips is a valuable resource to a rider in trouble and should be the first stop of the Trouble Train. When you aren’t that lucky, go to a friend who can watch, ask someone to video, or ask yourself what your coach would do, or say, if he or she were there.
Perspective means not only listening to the eyes on the ground but listening to the horse under the saddle, and paying attention to your own equitation. Did you watch the video your friend made – what were you doing over that oxer? Are you giving your horse the freedom he needs in the air? Is he listening to your leg? Is something bothering him, or is he just being lazy?
My coach, in our monthly clinic, recently had us all laughing with the quip, “There is more than one way to kill a cat than to choke ‘im with butter,” which apparently is Irish for stop killing your horse with kindness when he does something wrong. We all do have a tendency to over-analyze but we often look at it from the wrong direction. Sometimes it is just as simple as kicking on, getting a position fix, changing tack, using more leg, less hand or something equally as simple but vital. My own horse was over-reacting to my leg and I changed to a smaller spur – voila – problem solved. Ride smarter. Yeah.
Perspective is a valuable tool and we all need to use it when we ask horses to learn their jumping jobs for us. Some of the best riders I know have a very laid-back attitude about difficulties with their horses. I think it is practice, a lot of it, with having perspective in your riding. Thinking while riding. Laying blame first on themselves.
Going to the simplest answer first – remembering the horse’s side – fixing our equitation – then expecting the horse to keep up his end of the bargain. Yes, we do this for fun, but we also need to know our partner has a seat next to us on the train.
Those of us with only one horse that we really love and sacrifice to ride often train ourselves to preserve the pony at all costs – it’s what we work for, what we love, the reason for the fun. We don’t want to give him a whack with the crop, even if he needs it. We want to kill them with kindness. So, take this advice: there’s more than one way to kill a dog than to choke it with pudding. Or, there is more than one way to kill a pig than to choke it with cream. Or…you get the idea!