Confidence is a fickle friend. Some days, we’re on top of our game: our legs are steady, our seats are deep, our heels are stretched down. On these days, we ask for something once and our horse responds. But then there are the other days. The days where nothing is going right, we can’t get our footing, let alone our balance. There are days we can’t find the courage or collection to go forward, let alone go faster and keep everything together. That’s why there’s no shame in asking your trainer for a lesson on the lunge line.
I had a week where nothing was working right. I couldn’t get my brain to connect with my legs. When I did, my horse thought I wanted him to canter and, unlike the week before, I couldn’t keep it together. All at once, I felt like I was a beginner again, riding around the ring not knowing how to control my horse. I needed to work on building up my muscles, and my muscle memory, again. So just like when we work our horses, I, too, needed to be put on a lunge line.
At first, we just worked on me being able to keep a steady trot without my horse wanting to hop into a canter. On a physical and psychological level, I needed to be able to stay in control of my horse’s speed and be able to pull everything back together. Getting the bigger issues that mess with your confidence out of the way helps when you start to move onto other things.
Once we re-established control and a good trot, it was time to kick up the speed. Being on the lunge line, I was able to just keep my hands steady and remember how to use my elbows. Instead of hand aids, I used my legs to keep my horse trotting in a circle, moving him out with my inside leg when he started to get too close to my trainer. When we ride, our hands and legs need to move independently from each other. Working on the lunge line is a great way to re-establish the mind-body connection as well as remind yourself how to work body parts separately.
Finally, we were able to work on establishing a strong, smooth sitting trot without cuing my horse to stop. Often, this is when your trainer will have you drop your reins or stirrups so you can focus solely on what you’re doing with your seat. With my lunge line lesson, instead of dropping stirrups or reins, I focused on how my ankle and heel was taking the impact of the bounce of the trot while keeping a strong core.
There are so many small pieces that make up being able to ride a horse well. Your hands, feet, legs, core, shoulders, elbows — they all need to be able to work independently of but in harmony with each other. If you’re having trouble, don’t be afraid to ask your trainer to help you work on re-establishing skills and confidence you have, that your body might have forgotten about.