Today on Horse Master, the episode “Turning to Western” is airing in an encore presentation. It features a young rider from Martha’s Vineyard who bought a horse from me a couple years ago—a finished reiner—who she promptly turned into an English horse. He’s a big, scopey horse (much too big to rein) and he has a real Hunter type look to him, so it wasn’t a really big leap.
The episode is about her learning how to ride this horse western so that she can broaden her experience and take advantage of the really well-trained horse that she has. Since the show is so limited in time, we always have to narrow down the topic, and since her horse was a good spinner, we focused on that. Lily is a serious student of riding and quite talented and she took to it right away. Almost immediately, they were spinning beautifully. It sure does help to have a push-button horse when you are learning new skills! In fact, they made the cover of America’s Horse back in January!
One of the most challenging things I ever did in my riding career was switch from English to western riding. There’s a lot of misconception out there that western is easier than English, and in some regards, that’s true. The western saddle definitely gives you more support and knowing that the horn is there for you to grab when things get rough is sometimes a real confidence booster. But what was difficult for me, was learning how to let go of my horse and allow him to carry himself without interference from the reins.
After years of riding English (about 15) and then riding on the race track through college, I had learned to ride with a LOT of contact. I was never a heavy-handed rider, but I was reliant on the contact. Like many riders I talk to today, I thought the horse was reliant on the rider to be rounded and collected, to stop and turn as needed and to perform certain maneuvers. One thing that really attracted me to the western disciplines was watching horses work beautiful with seemingly no rein contact. Imagine a horse that would respond to your seat and legs! But getting myself to actually let go of those reins took some time and concentration.
It took about two years of steady work and concentration, before I could ride a horse well on a loose rein. And then, how my horizons expanded! Since then I’ve come to realize that almost everything we ask of our horse, he is capable of as a natural movement. Take collection, for example. It is a natural behavior of horses and it is known as “prideful” behavior. You’ve all seen it, when your horse arches his neck and struts his stuff in the turnout pen. If he can do it on his own, then he is not reliant on the rider to hold himself in a collected frame—only to tell him when to do it and when to stop.
To me, it’s important to teach a horse self-carriage; whether he’s an English horse or western. Once he does what I ask, he should find a release and should hold that maneuver until I cue him to do something different, like stop. I talked a little about that in this episode, if I recall. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, more behavioral problems in horses are caused by too much contact and not enough release, rather than the other way around. There is a time and a place for everything and I think it is important to learn to ride your horse both on and off contact.
Thank you for all the great comments on my last post. It’s pretty interesting to hear how you see your life unfolding in the next 10 years and I agree whole-heartedly with everything that’s been said so far.
On a sad note, today we learned of the sudden and tragic death of the father of a boy who was in one of our shows last year—Zeke and his rude little pony. I know from what Zeke showed me at the shoot that he has the strength, courage and heart to survive this terrible loss and that he will be okay. But my heart aches for him. I hope he can turn to his pony and cry on her shoulder—I know I have used my horses for this kind of therapy in the past. It is a reminder that life is tentative and we have to live everyday to the fullest and be sure to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us every day.
Until next time,
For training tips from Julie, visit the Training Library at http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php and check out her online store--full of training tools and DVDs-- at http://juliegoodnight.com/products.html