Thursday, October 7, 2010

Look to yourself first

If I'm having training issues with my horse I always look at myself first.

One of my favorite horse books is "There are no problem horses, only problem riders," by Mary Twelveponies. That statement sums up almost every training and behavioral issue faced by riders and owners. Horses are just horses and will behave like horses when left alone. Riders and trainers create the bad behaviors/habits because every time we are with them, in any capacity, we are training them, both good and bad.

As I've written previously I've been having some "energy" issues with Gabe. He just can't get his hind end powered and moving like it should be. I've nicknamed him Mr. Lazy Pants, because that's what he feels like quite often.

I thought it might have been the hot weather sapping his energy, but, now that we've had a few weeks of cooler weather and chilly nights, he's still not got much up and go.

So, I looked to myself. What could I be doing in the saddle that might be preventing or inhibiting him from really moving forward with good energy?

I took stock of my position...closed my eyes at the walk and really felt every part of my body, how each joint was responding to his movement. Toes relaxed and not clenched, ankles relaxed and acting like shock absorbers, knees loosed, relaxed and not pinching, hips....whoa! Wait a minute here. What the heck is going on with those hip joints? Holy cow. Locked up good and tight and not moving with him AT ALL.

I found my issue, the one that is creating HIS issue. Once you lock those hip joints you're telling your horse to slow, slow, slow and blocking any kind of relaxed forward movement.

Basically, I was riding the brakes without even realizing I was doing it. I do a lot of yoga and relaxation visualization so, keeping my eyes closed, I thought about my hip joints being loose, elastic, supple and following and I felt them loosen. As they loosened I felt myself sink deeper and more solidly into the saddle. I'd been riding in a perched and "protective" position. I know I adopted that position when I first started riding him because he was so reactive and prone to moments of silliness.

As they loosened I felt him relax and start taking bigger, more energetic strides. I "walked" my seatbones bigger and faster, really working on keeping those hips relaxed and following, not blocking those hind legs from stepping forward and under me. And he responded in like by taking bigger, quicker and more energetic strides. When he's really striding out and using himself properly, his walk is AMAZING. When I bought him, I definitely bought the walk!

I had to think about it or those pesky, tight hip joints would start tightening up as soon as I wasn't thinking about it. I know it will take some time to "re-condition" those joints, but it can definitely be done. I'll be adding hip-loosening stretches to my stretching and yoga routine from now on.

I could have just strapped on the spurs or energetically employed the whip to get him up and moving forward, but I KNEW he had the energy and I knew somehow I had to be doing something to prevent him from using himself fully and properly.


  1. What a great time for me to read this! I do the same thing and then wonder "where's the energy?". I rode in a deeper, more following way before Rogo, my current horse, but I backed him and he's a 17 hand 5 year old and I get nervous if he gets forward - even though I want the forward! So, the cycle goes on. My riding teacher pointed out the stiffness in my hips today, although she says it's getting better...
    Anyway, really good for you for sorting out the root of the problem and sharing it with readers. Thanks!

  2. Have you ever read Sally Swift's book Centered Riding? She uses imagery like you do. It's a wonderment how something so simple as what we do with our bodies affects our horses. Now if I can only figure out what can do to get Chickory back to her sweet self...sigh...

  3. Good stuff - 90% of the time - no, more like 99% - it's a people problem, not a horse problem. Body awareness is so key!