horses, riding, riding lessons, Saddlebred

Lessons Learned From a Legend: Riding 102

Now that you are learning to be aware of your horse, this next checklist is crucial!

The issue at hand is how do I correct myself in order to help my horse perform better? I think I mentioned in my book that Chablis Premier and I would typically get second in the qualifying class at every show. After the class, I would go through the ride in my head, creating a new checklist of what to do differently to win the championship class next time. A process of fixing the issues takes a lot of persistence and guts to admit it’s you and not the horse’s fault. I personally love a challenge, so fixing my faults with a ride wasn’t a deal breaker but a challenge I needed to win. Winning three World’s Championship titles in a row with Chablis proved I put aside my ego and conquered my checklist.

This checklist is best done simultaneously with the previous checklist, but I wrote them down separately to make sure I included everything. If you go over these in your head before a lesson, during a lesson, and after a lesson, they will become automatic after a while and get shorter because legs and feet become one, basically hands and arms become one, and body and eyes are the only ones left. Unlike the horse checklist where there are no wrong answers, this checklist must be done correctly to establish proper and safe riding habits.

Body Control Checklist:

• Leg control:
o Are they underneath your body? If not, why
o Do your legs move while you are riding? If so, why?
o Do your legs fall behind the saddle? If so, why?
o Do your legs rest in front of the saddle? If so, why?
o When you glance down at your kneecap, do you only see your toe? If not, why?

• Arm Control:
o Do you have control over the movement of your arms? If not, why?
o Do your arms move while you are riding? If so, why?
o Do your arms move a lot when posting or cantering? If so, why?

• Hand Control:
o Do you have control over your hands? If not, why?
o Do you always pull softly on the reins and feel tension with the horse’s bit at all times?
o Do you feel the horse’s bit at the end of the reins?
o Do you feel like you are playing a game of tug-a-war with your horse?
o Rein grip: Do you have soft hands or light hands style grip?
o Rein grip: Do you think you have a heavy-handed grip on the reins?
o Rein length: Can you shorten/loosen reins without a fuss? How fast can you shorten/loosen the reins?
o Even hands: Are you holding your hands at the same level?
o Steady hands: Do you think you could balance a glass of water tied to your hands without spilling a drop of water while riding?

• Eyes: While riding in a walk, trot, or canter:
o Where do you look while riding?
o Do you look in front of you, beyond your horse’s ears?
o Do you look down (horse’s shoulder, your hands, toes) with your eyes only or do you move your whole head to look?
o When you look down, do you become off balance?

Body Placement Check List: Start with toes and work up to your head. This first time, we will start with your anchor—or the roots of the tree—your heels. If the roots of your tree come up, the tree will fall!

• Are your heels in a slightly downward position? “Anchored to the ground!”
• Are your toes facing forward?
• If you stand up in your stirrups, do your legs stay underneath you?
• When you look down at your knees (not bending over, look mainly with your eyes) can you see your toes? “You should only see your toes!”
• Are your knees and thighs tightly against (gripping) the saddle?
• Are you sitting where your thighs are directly below your torso?
• When you sit in the saddle, are you sitting squarely on top of and in the middle of your saddle, over your legs?
• Are you centered? If your horse jumped sideways, do you think you would be centered enough to stay on top?
• Are your ribs out of your pants/belt? Take a deep breath and make sure.
• Are your shoulders down and back? Are they relaxed?
• Are your hands relaxed, but holding a firm grip on the reins?
• Where do you look when you are riding? “Head up. Straight forward.”

Before you start to walk/trot/canter:
• What is the first thing you do when someone tells you to trot? Shorten reins.
• Where are your knees? Forward.
• Where are your heels? Down.
• Where is your head? Up.
• Where is the horse’s head? Up.
• How do we get the horse’s head up? By shortening the reins and raising hands.

As the saying goes: Eyes on the ground – Body will follow!

If anything covered in these checklists are out of check, you must adjust. It shouldn’t take long, but these are important things that have to be correct to make you a good rider. You must unlearn bad habits! A human’s bad habit equals a horse that knows he can get away with some of his own! This is an inventory that you can put in the bank! If you learn to take inventory of yourself and your horse, you will ‘win’ all the benefits of this lesson!

In my book The Last Crabtree Girl, I leave the horse farm to live on the ocean for a whole school year. Yes, I lived on a sailboat for about eight months. When I flew back to the farm and started riding again, my whole body was out of whack. Plus, I wasn’t near my family farm to ride my pony or horses at home, to help me get my balance back. At the time, I felt like I went from having perfect balance on a horse to being nothing more than a wet noodle in the saddle. This check list was what helped me get back into good habits, and that year, I remained on top in all of my classes at the horse shows, but it took a lot of work and these checklists to get me through it.

These questions were written to help you think about communicating with your horse using your mind and your body. It doesn’t matter how you answered the questions. You are now aware that your horse has a nickname for you. You are now looking at your horse’s movements and your own body movements in a different way than you did before. This could be a big first step for you and your horse. Remember, he is your teammate. If you work together, it will be a wonderful friendship. You should respect your horse, especially since he is approximately 1000 plus pounds of muscle. The lack of body control and not being aware of your horse can end up delivering a hard lesson.

Remember my old saying: “A rider not aware may find themselves in the dirt.”

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