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.