Throwback Thursday: Making Use Of Good Form Is Important To Achieving Success In Riding

Feb 1, 2018 - 7:30 AM

In the early days of his career, legendary horseman Bill Steinkraus penned a regular column—Equitation and Horsemanship—for The Chronicle of the Horse under the pseudonym “Proctor Knott.” In the Jan. 29 & Feb. 5 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse, we published an in-depth look at Steinkraus’ life, and for Throwback Thursday we unearthed some of his Chronicle columns from the 1940s.

Making Use Of Good Form Is Important To Achieving Success In Riding

Published in the September 12, 1941 Chronicle

Going around to horse shows tends to make one forget about other phases of riding and that there are people outside of the ring who may have quite a different viewpoint. At least one point of view is brought out in a recent letter, expressed in vigorous terms. We felt it should be published, as we are aware that it presents an opinion held by many. The letter reads:

Dear Proctor Knott:

I am surprised that you would tell anyone to spend their time taking riding lessons, which is just about the biggest waste of time I can think of. If anyone wants to be a better rider let them get on a horse and ride. I never could see the sense of having a teacher nag you about how you hold your arms and legs all the time.

I seem to be able to get anywhere I want to go on my horse, and as for jumping it isn’t important how you get over, so long as you get over. I grant you that if you go in for showing and such things you might need some lessons but even then, for every good rider you can name me from the show ring, I bet I could name you a better rider, who wouldn’t be caught dead at a horse show.

I ride every day and love it, but if I had to pay attention to a lot of silly rules there wouldn’t be much fun in riding.

Yours, Rider.

We give “Rider” 100 per cent on courage and spunk–not much on judgment. Before we attempt to make us reply, let us consider a few fundamentals. In the first place, good form in riding is not a collection of frills, or some scheme of things which clever teachers have hit upon to get money from the gullible through lessons. It is a result of working principles evolved through many years, yes, even centuries, which show the safest, most comfortable and best way to ride a horse.

Good instructors know these things and try to teach them. They are pretty hard to acquire by yourself. True, riding lessons are expensive. But the upkeep of horses is expensive, too, and we know of no instructors who are amassing fortunes. One teacher with a fine following remarked recently, “I’m in this game because I love it. If I break even I’m satisfied.”

Of course seat and form change over the years as horses themselves change, and instruction differs in different sections of the country as circumstances demand, but good instructors and judges agree on all fundamentals.

It sometimes works out that the instructor is the forgotten man in any sport, when in the main they have perfected sport for all. This is true of modern tennis and golf, and in swimming the Australian coaches who taught the “crawl” made swimming a new sport for everyone. The slow “breast stroke” was the standard 30-years ago, now swimming strokes have streamlined speed.

So good riding instructors teach the correct way to ride, which saves the learner time and money in the long run.

There is also satisfaction in correct form. That does not mean just looking pretty on a horse. But really beautiful riding is correct, and correct riding is beautiful. Doing the thing right gives yourself, and everyone else pleasure.

Who has not seen a bad rider kicking and flopping on a horse while he labors over his jumps, and you say, “Look at that poor horse and that dreadful rider.” Who has not also seen a good rider in rhythm with his horse, going beautifully and gracefully over his jumps, and you are moved to say, “What a perfect picture!”

To be sure, the first rider gets over, but that is about all you can say for him. Neither rider nor horse enjoys the experience.

The only persons we can think of who might not profit by instruction are the “Sunday riders” who view a couple of hours on a horse as a pleasant social occasion on par with going to the movies, or the portly gentleman who sits on a horse to keep two inches off his waistline. Such people are not interested in riding as a sport.

Now it happens that we know the identity of “Rider.” He is sincere, and he doesn’t have to apologize for his riding to anyone. We venture the opinion that he holds all his views here expressed as a direct result of an unpleasant experience when he first started to ride–a poor instructor.

He was nagged, as the letter states. No instructor can handle boys as they do girls, who really like details. Boys are more interested in principles, and like to be told why. This boy, who could bring a horse first in a point-to-point, was told how much better the girls in the class were, because they all had their hands just right–his, an inch too low!

We saw him once in a horsemanship class, and despite an excellent seat and good hands, did not make the ribbons, and was later told it as because he was not riding a saddle horse. Experiences of this sort are discouraging to boys. They get a few bad breaks and quit. We wish our friend had stuck to showing a little longer, for with his natural instinct with horses, he would have gotten to the top, as in the long run merit is recognized in the ring, as elsewhere.

Not one in a hundred could teach himself and pick up things as “Rider” has done. But there comes a time, no matter how good a person is, when they can’t improve by themselves any more. They cannot see themselves in action. An instructor can. Too, our friend unconsciously has had instruction. He probably does not realize it but he has ridden every day with a fine rider, and perfectly naturally, he has copied many of this rider’s best qualities.

We think he is interested in good form, otherwise he would not have bothered to read a column such as this, in the first place. While it is neither here nor there, we recall an incident when we were both watching a horsemanship class in the ring. The judge handed in his card saying “That was a close decision. One rider had bad legs, the other bad hands.” Our friend exploded, “Bad hands are a lot worse than bad legs! With bad legs you ruin yourself, but with bad hands you ruin your horse!”

Thanks for your letter, Rider, we have a lot of respect for you, and believe you are more interested in good form than you think.

Read a selection of more of Steinkraus’ writings for the Chronicle as Proctor Knott.

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