Riding is honestly one of the toughest sports around ! While any sport is seriously challenging at the elite levels, a lot of the olympic sports are enjoyed by many as a social interaction or even a form of stress relief. Now “horse riding” can be both of these too, there are so many levels of riding and different types or styles of riding that can be done.. I will specify this blog post to Dressage but at the same time I believe the same for any equestrian discipline performed at a competition level..
I don’t believe that any one training method has any more or any less value than any other … my belief is to provide a consistent systematic approach to all training and allow the horse time to learn. As we all know people learn at different rates and in different capacities, this also applies to horse! Having said that I am trying to relate this to the topic of being a good student because the rate at which the horse learns can sometimes dictate the rate at which the rider learns! For example, a rider can not learn to ride a flying change before the horse is taught the aids for a flying change.
As a coach I see a lot of students coming and going, trying different things, expecting the horse to “just do it” and I hear things like “it’s hard”, “he won’t do it”, “you get on and do it” and amongst other similar lines my all time favourite “I can’t” !! While I have a small amount of knowledge, I still feel everyday is a lesson for me too. My journey as a rider is still very young and I am guided by those around me and mostly by my horses. I have and still experience difficult rides, not understanding exercises, managing my timing and feel, correcting my position and improving the delivery of my aids. I don’t truely believe I will ever stop trying to improve my own riding, my training and my knowledge for horses and horse riding. The one thing I keep in the back of my mind is to not give up, to work harder, to understand better and to stay open to other people’s knowledge and experience. Because no one horse is the same !
Now going back to the consistent systematic approach I try to maintain for the training of my horses, I also apply this same method with my riders as their coach. Every rider I see has already a basic understanding of the concepts of riding and more often than not have had lessons with other coaches prior to their first lesson with me. From my perspective I need to gain an understand of the knowledge each riders has and their understanding of that knowledge. I also need to work out what each rider feels in the saddle and what they don’t, this being one of the hardest things to not only teach but also learn. And then I have to set the riders on a path, with, like my horses training, a consistent systematic approach. Going back to the example I mentioned before with the flying change. We can also take this to another example towards the other end of the scale.. How do you make your horse walk? Some might say kick, some might say squeeze, some might simply just say leg! Then we pose another question, How do you get your horse to trot? Many riders will answer both these questions with the exact same answer. So is this right or wrong ? I ask another question, when I’m riding my test and I want my horse to make a nice big over track in the free walk, do I just kick more ? Or this asking my horse to trot? Either way if you train your horse through repetitively kicking to walk and kicking more to trot that is exactly what he will learn to do. Sometimes horses can be systematically trained to do the “wrong” thing without the rider even being aware.
If your looking to ride for pleasure and just hack out from time to time then there is nothing wrong with anything your doing provided you and your horse are both safe and happy! If you are looking at improving your riding into a specific discipline where you would like to be competitive you need to work and work hard. There are going to be times where things go wrong, there are times when you learn something new and the things that were good seem to fail, there are times where you feel like you get stuck and most of all there are times where you need to wait for your horse to learn!
Dressage is a sport where we take 2 individual minds with a massive natural language barrier and ask them to work as one ! A sport where you not only need a lot of knowledge but also great body awareness and control, timing, rhythm, quick decision making skills and healthy amount of confidence. Combine all of that into developing a language where the rider can talk to their horse and the horse listens and understands to be able to produce a beautiful performance in a test.
You might ask where am I going with all this?
In developing this language riders utilise coaches to help them on their quest to improve, we might just talk a little bit about what attracts coaches to a rider. A coach to me needs to firstly be someone that has worked and trained in the discipline I’m wanting to learn, I want my coach to have experiences similar to what I am having, I need to be able to trust them, I need to be able to listen to them and also ask questions of them to gain a proper understanding and most of all, for me personally, my coach has to like my horse!
So I have chosen a coach, to be a good student I need to respect their experience, trust their system works even though I might not be able to see where the result will be. Ask questions where I’m confused and listen carefully to the answers, understand the “problems” and also the “corrections”. I need to PRACTICE! problems aren’t resolved in a lesson, remember horses need time to learn! Lessons are for the rider to gain understanding and knowledge, every ride between lessons is where the horse gains understanding and knowledge. The single biggest importance for a student is to not give up! Training is hard! Your coach doesn’t give up on you, they constantly try to help you improve and to understand. Remember success comes from a consistent systematic approach and even though you sometime feel like your stuck in your training, you quietly keep pressing on and that problem will resolve. Stick with your coach and keep practicing, remember we spoke about giving your horse time to learn ? Sometimes the “rut” or the stall in your training is because your horse needs more time. Sometimes it’s because you haven’t really understood the timing or the feeling, sometimes it’s because the you have misunderstood the information from your coach and sometimes it just takes miles in the saddle for it to really sink in.
Every coach and every rider is out there to do their best and enjoy their horses participating in one of the most difficult sports. Remember your coach is there for you and often goes above and beyond to help you and their reward is seeing you do well. As a rider, believe in your coach and yourself and keep working, work hard and if it sucks or feels bad it probably is. But that doesn’t mean give up or stop training, there are so many reasons it could be like that and most of the time they get better by continuing on and riding through the ugly bits.
Trust you coach, give your horse time and enjoy your personal journey to success in the Dressage arena!
Happy riding 🙂🐴