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April 7, 2014

The Effect Of A Horse On A Rider

The rider's position influences the horse, but maybe it works the other way around too, Emily Wagner wonders. Photo by Lisa Slade

I think spring is finally here! We are expecting the first foal any day, and we can ride outdoors again.

 

Yay! I’m pumped for this year! The horses feel great and ready to go. I have been watching the videos of our top riders and love how motivated and determined it makes me.

I was riding a training horse the other day and Mama offhandedly tells me that I am riding him better than a couple months ago. Of course, I didn’t take it at face value and said, “What is that supposed to mean?” She says simply, “You are sitting quieter; it looks nicer.”

So that got me thinking…we know what a huge influence the rider has on the horse, but do we pay enough attention to the effect the horse can have on a rider? Of course, it is far easier to fix the rider and we should always start with our own shortcomings, but the effect of the horse on the rider cannot be neglected.

As a rider I know I need to be conscious of my riding and ride all horses as if they were brilliantly trained. I can’t lose my position because a horse is strong, crooked, running or lazy. However, in order to sit quiet with invisible aids, the horse must be in front of my leg and accepting the aids… see the catch 22?

As a teacher, if my student is constantly raising her right hand, maybe I need to go beyond the symptom and figure out why he/she feels the need to do so. Is it just a bad habit? Or is the horse stiff, uneven or crooked in the connection causing the raised hand? What can I do beyond making the rider aware of the fault?

On the flip side, maybe the ability to ride beautifully and effectively no matter what is the difference between a good and a great rider. Elmar Schmiehusen, a longtime friend and student of Rudolf Zeilinger, recently came for a week-long clinic. He is a beautiful rider with an incredible seat that is so effective. Every horse he got on responded to his invisible aids, and he never moved!

I learned so much from just watching, and yearn to have that finesse. I know he wouldn’t change his position for a lazy 18-hand gelding or a bucking, nervous 15-hand young rascal. So maybe we need to understand the influence of the horse on the rider, but not use it as an excuse.

It was nerve-wracking but incredibly fun to see Elmar ride WakeUp. We need help from all angles and Elmar only says about five words during my lessons, but he is the only clinician that has ever schooled Wakey.

Getting Elmar’s feedback on WakeUp was great, and it was so interesting to watch him go through the process of trying different techniques and ideas to help Wakey learn the piaffe to passage transition. In the end we came back to the idea of making the passage smaller and always keeping him thinking forward.  I can’t tell you how much Elmar stressed the use of the seat and core as an aid.

I love that it was all done in a super relaxed, focused and strategic way, and I am so appreciative how wonderfully willing WakeUp is. He never quits trying to figure out what these crazy humans want him to do.    

Hope everyone is enjoying their spring!

Blogger Emily Wagner, 25, shows and trains dressage horses out of her family's farm in LaCygne, Kan. Her WakeUp is one of the rising stars of U.S. dressage, having won the 6-year-old national championship in 2011 and winning the Developing Prix St. Georges national championship in 2013. Read her introductory blog to get to know her better.