The Good Rider May Not Be the Most Educated Rider
Who is the good rider?
When I was in elementary school, my family lived near a state park with bridle trails, and my brother and I had horses. Several days a week we’d meet some of our classmates in the state park and and go riding together. I remember one classmate named Corrine who had a tall Palomino and Corrine had an unusual method for climbing aboard her horse. She’d get him to lower his head, then she’d step across his neck behind his head and when she was ready her horse would raise his head and Corrine would slide down the neck to his back. She rode bareback as I recall and her horse took good care of her. Corrine never rode in the shows held by the local saddle club — she just enjoyed trail riding with her horse. Was Corrine a “good” rider?
Many years later I audited a jumping clinic held by an Olympic rider. There were several horses refusing at the small practice jump and the instructor’s solution was to step out behind each refusing horse and use a lunge whip on the horse’s hind legs until it went over the jump. Was this Olympian a “good” rider?
Karen Rohlf’s Traits of a Good Rider
There are plenty of educated and experienced riders who I would not call ‘good riders’ and there are plenty of ‘good riders’ that are not that educated or experienced. Karen Rohlf, Dressage Naturally
- Your horse understands you; your priority is clear communication
- You do your best to see things from your horse’s perspective
- You don’t act from ego
- You don’t take your frustrations out on your horse
- You are able to follow that which you asked your horse to do
- Your horse sees you as trust-worthy
Karen also cites the Object of Dressage as a riding goal.
The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education resulting in a horse that is calm, loose, supple, and flexible, but also confident, attentive, and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider.
She says that the object of dressage can be met by a lower level horse working with a good rider. The object of dressage might not be met by a Grand Prix dressage horse with an educated and experienced rider who is not a good rider by Karen’s list of traits.
She cautions riders against adopting a single-minded focus on achieving a riding goal, and reminds us that “the most important judge of your riding is your horse.” If you’re acting from your ego — acting from anger, frustration, impatience — you won’t be making progress toward building a confident, calm horse with a perfect understanding with his rider.
A Level of Physical Preparation is Necessary
Later in the article Karen makes the point that horseback riding is a physical skill. She says, ‘[c]onflicting aids due to lack of balance or physical awareness can be just as devastating to the relationship as getting mad and frustrated.” I understand her to mean that you might have all of the traits of a good rider, but if you aren’t physically prepared for riding well, your won’t be one. A poor seat, an inability to give clear direction to your horse and a lack of balance can cause confusion and resentment even if the six traits are working in your favor.
As we get older, it’s harder to stay in shape and it’s easier to gain weight. If your weight or physical fitness are keeping you from having the body awareness you need, you won’t be a good rider.
A Saddle Up Again Version of Karen’s Traits
In looking back over the years, I think I’ve been a good rider with some horses at some times and not so good with other horses and in other times. These are the riding goals I’m working toward to be a good rider on a good horse.
- Focus on Communication. In everything you do with your horse from grooming, to groundwork, to riding you understand that communication is two-way. You’re watching your horse’s reactions to your aids, your body language and other signals and you patiently help your horse understand what you’re asking if there’s confusion. If your horse is telling you that something’s not right, you pay attention to it and find out what’s bothering him.
- Build a Trusting Partnership. You don’t ask your horse to do things you haven’t prepared your horse to do. You understand that progress is incremental and setbacks are inevitable. Your horse understands that you are someone he can trust if he’s troubled, he had doubts or he’s hurt.
- Leave Your Ego at the Barn Door. My horse doesn’t understand that I’m tense because I have a horse show to prepare for next week, or a big business assignment due tomorrow. He doesn’t understand why I might be angry over something I read on Facebook. He doesn’t understand my aspiration to be the star at the next Buck Brannaman Clinic. He’s looking for a rider without anger, fear, or frustration whose ambitions for the horse are tied to the welfare of the horse.
- Be Physically Prepared to Ride. This is tough for many Saddle Up Again riders, but it is absolutely required to be a good rider. As you get older, you have to work harder to maintain your fitness and your weight. You maintain a balanced seat and ride with stirrups short enough to allow you to get out of the saddle when needed.
As Saddle Up Again riders, we hopefully have the time and the awareness to build communication with our horses. We’ve become aware of our egos, and we can set them aside when we’re working with our horses. We’ve developed a fitness routine that maintains our leg and core strength and keeps us at a weight proportionate to our height. These are my goals. What are yours? Do you agree with Karen’s definition of a good rider? With my definition? Please let me know in the comments.