Classical Principles that respect the horse.
With a teaching approach that is gentle and analytical, we can first look at various aspects of the relationship between the horse and rider that are working well. Some riders are self critical and will under-estimate their ability to solve training problems. But when given logical guiding principles, that sincerely respect the horse, ordinary riders can create extraordinary results. A harmonious relationship of ease and lightness will create a positive unity in tune with the horse's mind and body.
An exchange of ideas
Improvement is also about finding elements of the relationship that are hindering progress or creating disharmony: resistances and conflicts and their cause and effect. For example; how ideas are exchanged, the interaction and mannerisms between the two. The language and tone of the gestures and cues given, and the subsequent qualities of the responses. The respect, confidence and attentiveness of both will form the relationship that creates the partnership.
Priorities can be established which are appropriate to the horse's physical and emotional needs. Progress then follows through step-by-step movements and exercises required to gradually build the muscle strength and flexibility for any discipline. The history, age, experience, physical and mental condition and ability of each horse is critical when considering its training program. Each horse will have particular needs, as will each rider. Though the path to lightness and ease may be somewhat similar; we all join the path at different points along the way. So, where to start a training session will depend primarily on the horse’s physical and emotional needs and habits.
Rarely do we see a horse who is perfectly straight or equally supple on both sides - most are born one sided. Likewise, many of us have physical problems. Unbalanced riders can create unbalanced horses and vice versa, but we try to see what is hindering the freedom and lightness of the paces. We aim for balance, straightness, flexibility, mobility, regularity, rhythm and suppleness, but these qualities come only when we are physically and mentally relaxed, balanced, and free of tension and pain. It is the same for the horse.
A balancing act
A balanced classical position, together with sensitive and educated hands, helps to create relaxation from the horse’s mouth, through the jaw, the poll, the neck, and all the way through the back to the tail. A good seat is also one that encourages the horse to develop and keep its balance through every movement, and so may at times need to be a light or forward seat to help a young or unfit horse find its balance while learning to carry the rider. More importantly, a balanced position is one that is comfortable and appropriate to the horse's level of training and fitness.
Being alert and completely present
Sometimes there is much tension in the horse that is accidently created by tension, nervousness or confusion in the rider. Overcoming tension by being calm, attentive and present in each moment is the first step towards harmony and lightness. It is difficult to focus 100% on the horse's responses when there are so many other elements of riding that we need to focus on, that is why it is always best to go to a schoolmaster if you are nervous or learning. (Particularly if we are still finding our own balance and confidence). Horse riding is perhaps the most difficult sport as it is the only one which relies on collaborating with another species to perform the tasks.
Planning to give
Planning is fundamental to horse training. Horses don't respond well to surprises. We should be clear and specific about what we wish the horse to do, while being ready and waiting to immediately reward the slightest try. If there is any 'whispering' in horse training, it would be this... the whisper of the quick reward; the instant release of pressure, the giving elbow and hand, the softening fingers, the relaxing leg aid... the kind praise, or the dismount.
Being prepared to plan each activity is the fairest way to train a horse. Remembering that with horses it is usually a 'moment by moment' plan, as any number of things can happen in any given moment that can require a sudden change of plan; falling in, falling out, rushing, slowing, shying, leaning, coming above or behind the contact, or any other undesirable response. That is the unpredicatable nature and spirit of the horse.
On the other hand, setting time bound goals can lead to dissapointment, self blame or undeserved pressure for the horse. If horses are overfaced or pushed beyond their capacity it can reverse the progress previously achieved.
Patience, precision and partnership
These are defining elements for effective training. As Xenophon said around 350BC: "Nothing forced or misunderstod can ever be beautiful". So naturally we should avoid restrictive or severe training methods or equipment - like side reins, draw reins, tight nose bands, or martingales. Forceful or restrictive equipment unfairly denies the horse its right to express pain, fatigue or confusion. This tack is often counter-productive to effective training. It is better to take responsibility for the horse’s behaviour and its tension, and to analyse the ‘cause and effect’ of relaxation or tension.
• 'Patience' (because it takes the time it takes, and it is one step at a time),
• 'Precision' (because tact and timing is critical for safety and clarity), and
• 'Partnership' (because it takes two to tango, and to trust each other.)