Warning: Hefty and wordy blog ahead. Sorry not sorry.
First and foremost, thank you to Denny Emerson and Daryl Kinney for taking the time and effort to give such amazing lessons and for sharing all of your indescribably valuable knowledge of everything from A to Z when it comes to being a rider and horse person. I am SO grateful to have these opportunities to learn from you both.
This past week I had the incredible good fortune to be able to bring my pony to Tamarack Hill Farm and take lessons with Denny and Daryl. Now let’s be perfectly honest right off of the bat, I am a very tense rider and I have a very strong draft cross pony who is kind of just not built “properly,” but hot damn does he like to have fun. And I would like to point out that at NO POINT in my time at Tamarack did anybody say to me, “That pony can’t do these things that you’re trying to teach him to do, why even bother?” Although Denny did ask me why I didn’t at least show up with him pulling a cart of beer. Fair question as far as I’m concerned!
(Sorry Denny! Next time the Yellow Wonder will come equipped with a beer cart!)
So here are a few things I learned in my very fast, far too short week of lessons with Denny and Daryl.
Take your time! You can win the battle, but you don’t want to lose the war. We are asking horses to be our partners and to help us achieve our dreams, yet we endlessly see people pushing them to the point of breaking; whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally, or all of the above. Why not take your time to achieve your goals, and do it right?
You MUST use the same language every time you ask for something. Use the same commands. You can’t train a horse, or yourself for that matter, by giving different signals for something every single time. Your aids are your language to your horse. If you stand next to your horse and say, “Move over, horse” he’s not terribly likely to do what you ask without any further instruction. You have to use an aid to reinforce what you’re asking. At some point, after learning what that aid (Your hand, seat, and/or leg) is asking for, plus the verbal command, your horse will probably move over when you say, “Move over horse.” But it simply can’t happen without them learning the “alphabet”, learning the “language”, and then learning what each command stands for.
The three things you need in order to become a good rider are:
1) An independent seat
2) An independent seat
3) An independent seat
The four legs of the Table are:
1) Independent seat
2) An adjustable canter
3) Eye for Distance
4) Position over the jump
Learning to sit the trot without bouncing. This was possibly one of my favorite lessons as it (well, generally having an independent seat) is something that I struggle with. You can’t learn how to sit the trot without doing it. While trotting post for four strides, then sit for two or three, then post for four, then sit for two or three. If you need to hold the pommel of the saddle or get a grab strap to hold yourself in place, do so. Eventually you’ll post for four, then be able to sit for four strides, then five, then six, and someday it will become effortless to simply sit. But you can’t learn without practicing. And riding without bouncing, learning how to be fluid with the horses movement and absorb the motion, is essential to becoming a good rider.
Get a good eye for distances: By playing the Hoof Print Game every time you ride, you can train your eye. Some people are born with a perfect eye, most need to learn. By playing the hoof print game you train your eye by “jumping” every time you ride, but without actually jumping. Every time you canter choose something in the ring, a fixed spot on the ground. It can be a hoof print (hence the name), a leaf, a pole, a shadow, a stick, a dead bug…..it doesn’t matter. Choose that spot and as you canter count your strides, “3, 2, 1” and try to have 1 be at the perfect take off spot, as if you were jumping. You will miss, you will miss a lot, but over time it will become easier and you will learn to see distances the same way the greatest riders see them.
The adjustable canter. Oh, the adjustable canter. My pony is a Belgian/Haflinger cross. So to say he’s on the forehand is an understatement. He is literally a bulldozer. With the help of my trainer at home, plus Denny and Daryl I’ve managed to finally start making some headway on teaching him how to step under and use his hind end a little more. It is a work in progress, and it will take a long time and frankly may never be perfect! But hopefully someday we can achieve the ever elusive adjustable canter (or any canter for that matter. Right now it’s kind of a hot mess). Anyway, you want to be able to lengthen or shorten your horse’s canter as needed to make the proper approach to a jump. An adjustable canter is just as necessary as a good eye for distances.
With all things, you must practice as much as you can. Obviously don’t overdo it, but it’s not fair to ask a horse to work one day a week, and then the rest of the days just let him putz around. Either do it, or don’t do it. But don’t half ass it, because that achieves nothing. That would be like going to the gym one day a week. You can’t ask a horse to do things he is not fit to do, just like nobody can wake you up tomorrow and tell you that you have to go compete in a triathlon with no training.
What personal advice did I, myself, receive? Ride all of the horses that I can. I have the building blocks along with a difficult draft horse. I need to ride some horses that don’t have such a physically difficult time doing these things so that I can learn how to do it properly and then apply it to my pony. When I’m jumping, I need to sit up and sit back. I have a terrible habit of falling forward on the last second of the approach and dropping my horse. I need to not only gain confidence, but gain strength. Practice, practice, practice. Practice everything I’ve learned, because why bother taking these lessons if we don’t go home and practice the knowledge we’ve gained?
And now, I must go practice and have fun. Because I love to learn, I love to apply what I’ve learned, and I also just REALLY love my Franken-pony and riding.