The same as people having different characters, horses do as well. Their attitude, movement and the way they distribute their weight all depend on what they are like as an individual. The ability to ride different horses at any given time is a skill that not many horse riders have. The reason behind this is their seat, balance, posture and legs.
Paces that scare many…
Riding a new or additional horse can often mean a stressful time for many riders. Some forget how to ride as they normally would – the intensity of the new ride underneath them means they are more off balance than they are used to.
A lot of horses will read unbalance as a sign to go faster and we see many horses going into canter from trot “without” (in the rider’s mind, anyway) asking. This can lead to the rider panicking, which then leads to further problems. Panicking is something that should always be avoided, as although we may feel out of control, we still should ride the horse through and follow its motion. Slowly applying our aids, we get the horse used to us too. By applying seat, then leg and then rein (if needed) the horse will quickly return to trot.
Don’t overthink it…
When you lose your balance or encounter a situation where what usually works on your own horse does not work here – do not put yourself down. Think about the fact that in the same way you are not used to the horse, he is not used to you either. Give the horse some time to understand you, and take time yourself to understand the horse. Show him what you mean by your aids with repetition (I use the rule twice is my fault, third is yours) and reward system. If a horse understands your aids before the third repetition then reward him.
Rewarding too quickly…
After previously being guilty of this myself, I will give you a little tip for rewarding horses. You don’t need to pat your horse immediately after he has done something amazing. Please first ensure that your happiness of achievement has not affected your posture, your seat and horses’ outline before you pat him. If you pat and not checked those points before you might be rewarding a horse that is not in outline and can send confusing messages to them.
When your aids prove too much for the new horse…
When a horse gets quick with me, I mentally tell myself, “I asked for that.” That allows my body to stay relaxed and automatically increase its swing into the extended trot or lengthened canter the horse offered. Since my seat continues to follow the horse’s motion, I can still influence the horse with it. Now I can reverse the thought and say to myself, “Now I want to transition from the lengthened canter to a collected canter.” And I am back in control of the situation. Riders need to prepare themselves mentally for these situations so that they do not allow any thought that conveys, “something is going wrong.” That kind of thinking tightens their muscles, throws their body into a defensive posture, opposes the horse’s motion, and makes the situation worse. It is better to ride offensively rather than defensively.
Going off the seat…
Another common seat issue that riders encounter as they change horses is the tendency to come off their inside seat bone when they apply their inside leg. Many novice riders grip to some degree with their inner thigh muscles. This pulls their leg up and pushes the seat bone off the saddle ever so slightly. They need to go back to the relaxation level of the riding tree to fix this.
To stay seated equally on both seat bones, riders must think of using their hamstrings to lengthen the leg and stretch out the hip flexor. Before a rider puts her leg against the horse’s barrel, she should think of relaxing all of the joints and muscles as though she were stretching her leg under the curve of the horse’s barrel. Any tension in the hips, knees or ankles will prevent this lengthening. Gripping with the inner thigh muscles will pull the leg up.
Being aware of your own size…
Obviously, the size and shape of each individual horse and the length of the rider’s legs will affect how easily a rider can ‘wrap her leg’ around a given horse’s barrel.
As you start riding other horses it is very beneficial to complete few simple exercises:
- Lift your leg away from horse’s side and away from your hip
- Roll your ankles and knees inward from your hip’s ball and socket joint, grip the saddle tightly, then relax without allowing their knees and toes to roll back out.
This simple, yet effective exercise will very quickly help you to wrap your legs around a horse from inner muscles.
Riding your own horse, you very quickly realise where your gravity centre is and where you should position yourself. Riding other horses provides you with a good sense of when you are ‘centered’ in the saddle.
Most of us will notice we seat to one side on another horse and they will feel perfectly normal. This is normal due to certain factors:
- We all have a strong and a weak side to our bodies. When we sit on a horse, the stronger side tends to grip and draw up, pushing us over to our weaker side, which stretches and lengthens.
- When our own horse is crooked or has an underlying problem (that we might not be aware of) you will carry that position over to other horses because it feels ‘centred’ to you. (Please note that is how I noticed my own horse has a sacroiliac problem..)
Unless an instructor sees this and points it out, the rider may be completely unaware of this off centre position. Sometimes you have to pull yourself physically over to centre on the horse. This, of course, feels ‘wrong’ to us. However, we need to ride through that awkwardness until being correctly centred over until horse feels normal to us. Riding multiple horses helps riders develop a proper feel for being centred on a horse.
Each horse tests a rider’s skills in different ways…
Working with an instructor on other horses can help you strengthen the riding skills in a safe environment. Personally, I go on riding holidays where I ride professional horses under a very professional eye to build my confidence and skills.
Please be prepared that once you overcome a fear of riding another horse you will be able and you will push yourself towards horses and situations that are more challenging.
Most importantly though, as you work through problems on different horses, you will begin developing a truly independent seat and take your riding to the next level.
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