Friday, July 3, 2009


As it turns out, there is much more to riding a horse than merely sitting in the saddle looking good. Which is fortunate, or I’d be doomed from the outset.

Convincing a horse to do what you want, when you want it, involves “cues”. These cues are generally transmitted via the hands, thru the reins and bit, or by leg pressure applied with the calves, heels, or spurs for those of that wear them. The better trained the horse, and the better the rider, the more subtle these cues are. Take this video of Stacy Westfall, for example (it’s a bit long, but please watch):

That’s right; she’s riding bareback, with no headstall. That is a combination of an amazing horse and an amazing rider.

One of the challenges, for me at least, to owning an older horse, is deducing how he was trained, and what his cues are. I have most of them down, although Smokey’s modus operandi is to pretend that he has “forgotten”, particularly when we haven’t worked on something in awhile. He’s not a pushbutton horse. If I don’t cue exactly right, he frequently gives some bizarre response that isn’t even close to what I’m trying to get. This means I’m doing it WRONG. It’s always the rider, never the horse.

For some time I’ve been trying to master the side pass. Side passing means walking sideways. This is not natural for a horse. Watch them in the pasture. You will never see them side passing. Getting Smokey to side pass has been a huge struggle. I usually end up moving his shoulders or his hips, but never both at the same time. The harder I try, the worse it looks.

Wednesday night, after working on collection on turning off leg pressure, we were standing in the middle of the arena, relaxing. Almost subconsciously, I shifted my weight to the left, and gently pushed my left spur into his ribs. He side passed perfectly! Thinking that perhaps I entered the Twilight Zone, I repeated the cues. Again, he side passed. I repeated it again in the other direction.

I frequently relearn the lesson that trying too hard does not always render the desired results. Sometimes you just need to relax and let it come naturally.

I’ll be the guy on the horse that is walking sideways around the arena.


Ann from Montana said...

That video is beautiful on so many levels - thanks so much for posting it!

I don't know much about horses or riding and maybe my own wish-projection, but it looked like the horse was enjoying also - I hope so.

And once again..."sometimes you just need to relax and let it come naturally" - life lesson :)!

Happy 4th to you and the BR family - both 2 and 4 legged members!

Buck said...

Like Ann... I know next to nothing of horses and riding. But I DO know excellence when I see it, and that video was most excellent. Thanks.

It's interesting to read your progress with Smokey and to try and assimilate the lessons therein. Thanks yet again for the writing, BR.

And a Happy Fourth!

SuzieQ said...

Working a horse is a true partnership. You actually do teach each other what is needed. Sometimes we hurry too much to get the lesson being taught. Looks like you're doing great. A great 4th for you and yours.

Christina LMT said...

Yay! Relaxing is important no matter what you're doing. And that apparently goes double for horseback riding!

Have a great Independence Day, Buckskins. :)

Christina LMT said...

Oh, btw...the video was INCREDIBLE. I'm not only amazed at how she got the horse to do what she wanted, but that she could stay ON.

Buckskins Rule said...

Ann: While I don't think animals experience emotions the same as humans, I do believe that they have emotions. Most dog and horse owners I think would agree. And yes, I tend to think that her horse was enjoying himself.

Buck: Excellence, indeed! Imagine the work and trust required for the horse and rider to achieve that.

Christina: I too am amazed that she can stay on the horse.

westsoundmodern said...

Yeah but can he moonwalk?
I've had my horse since he was green and he and I are in perfect synch most of the time. Just when I think I'm getting to be a pretty good rider however, I get on someone else's pony and am brought back to reality. It's a real eye opener to watch someone who really knows what they are doing as in the video.