Getting the Best Ride...Who is Responsible for What?

It can be very confusing to understand what will be the best path to follow to help you achieve what you wish with your horse. Whether you are at the show chasing ribbons, on the trail doing geo cashing or obstacles, or enjoying your horse on the ground, our time with our horses is OUR time together and it is precious. Many times, the emotional ties that we have with our horses lead us to question what we would not necessarily question if the emotional component was not there (ever notice how easy it is to pass along advice for someone else’s horse challenge?). Now we are well into summer and heading toward fall, many of us may be looking at what we have accomplished and may be left wanting in one way or another.

Overall, I can share that the long road is always the shortest one, because when we take the long road we have a certain level of commitment to the process and therefore build a more solid and full foundation in whatever it is that we pursue. We are determined and obstacles no longer hold us back. If we take the longer road, we also tend to build a more mindful and solid foundation in whatever we pursue, which in the long term allows us to do the stuff that is a bit more fun at times, sooner!

There are three areas of focus that help us to get the “best ride” with our horses as well as in our life:

  1. The rider’s balance
  2. The horse’s balance
  3. The rider’s confidence and leadership

Each of these areas of focus involve contributors from the physical, mental and emotional state of both bodies, the horse and the rider. If one area is out of balance, it will surely effect another area either in a subtle or more dramatic way. We often do not pay attention until the challenge is more dramatic, but if we were to have greater awareness and address an out of balance situation BEFORE it becomes dramatic, we would be ahead of the game each and every time.

In the this one and the next two newsletters, I will expand on each of these areas of focus and bring everything into connection. Let’s set the foundation this month with rider balance!

Rider Balance

  • Expansion versus compression
  • Rider weight and body awareness
  • Tension and release
  • Mental state and self-talk


Expansion versus Compression

Let us imagine your body is a spring. If you have space between your coils, then you’ll have maximum amount of spring. If your coils are compressed, there will be no room for to spring and you will be compressed. When you are compressed in your body, you are not moving, and your horse will feel a heavier weight overall. This heaviness also impedes our balance since we cannot follow the horse’s movement as well as when our own bodies are moving. A stiff body on a moving body will create drag, or what we often feel as being behind or in front of the motion, as well as an overall instability. When we “open our coils” and create maximum room for spring by finding neutral in our pelvis, we allow for freedom of movement in all four limbs (arms and legs).

Try this simple exercise. When you are sitting, just THINK about standing. What do you feel? What happens to your upper torso? Do you feel an overall elongation of your upper body? Do you feel lighter? This is just one of many ways to find elongation where compression may exist!

Rider Weight and Body Awareness

Many rider’s share with me that they are concerned that the weight that they carry in their own bodies will impede their horses ability to move, or even hurt their horse. Understand that the topic of body weight is a very sensitive topic and I am not here to discuss this topic in detail and judge any right or wrong. However, if YOU feel that your body weight will impede or injure your horse, then you will physically carry your body differently, and mentally you will ride and approach your horsemanship differently. You may be guarded in the saddle and on the ground, which will translate into tension and tightness. This tension will be perceived as compression and immobility by your horse, which will challenge the breadth and depth with which you will be able to progress. Your horse may even perceive your tightness as a reason to worry or a lack of leadership on your part. More on that when we cover Mental State below. From a health perspective, being at YOUR optimal weight (not determined by a chart) will help you physically and it may also contribute to a kinder mental self-judgment that you may have for yourself. We are our toughest critics and when we are self-critical mentally, it is very difficult to be kind physically, resulting in an ever-present physical tension.

Tension and Release

There is no better way to learn about release than comparing and contrasting with tension! The great news is that we all have a pretty good grasp of what tension feels like. Release happens when we let go of the tension that we are holding and it is usually done in varying degrees. Sometimes, we do not realize how much tension we are holding on to. You can be directed to “relax your back” which you then do, and once you are reminded to breathe, you realize that you were still holding on to a significant amount of tension even though you thought you released it! This is why I like to think of many things in the way of layers or levels. Each time we release tension (mental), we release a layer of tension (physical). Once we feel this process over and over, we start to expect this “release in layers” and become more accepting of where we are in our journey. This, in turn releases yet another level of tension that we tend to hold, which is mental tension.

You can try this. Put both palms together and squeeze them together as hard as you can. Where do you feel tension? Really be aware of ALL the areas where tension now exists. Now, release your first level of tension between your palms. Check in to the other places in your body where you noticed tension before. Are they all releasing tension to the same degree or are they different? Are there areas in your body that are easier to release than others? Are there some areas that are extremely difficult to release all together? Have fun with this when you ride and as you start to release your layers of tension. Take note on what your best teacher, your horse, is telling you. Is your horse moving more freely when you release? Is he releasing by blowing out, licking and chewing, or other signs of release? I invite you to keep playing with release. Here is a tip: by using your breath to “breathe into” the very places that are tight, you are releasing that area as well as creating a better steady rhythm for your breath.

Mental State and Self Talk

Our mental energy that we bring to the barn each day can make or break our time with our horse. Have you ever come to the barn and had your horse that usually comes to you turn away? Have you associated your current mental state with his actions? It is so common to get back what you project from your horse! By being able to mentally check in with yourself before you get to the gate, you can alter both your and your horse’s experience for that day. Give this a try. Come to the barn with a plan, but ensure that the plan is dynamic and can be changed. When you make your plan, start to visualize your experience using all 5 senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Use this imagery to “see” and experience exactly what you DO want. Too often, we are easily able to see what we don’t want (like how easily we can relate to tension!), and we lose the ability to see what we DO want. You can be assured that you are already VERY skilled at imagery. You may just have been focusing on the negative as opposed to the positive image. Our self-talk is also very powerful in creating this imagery. Remember when I mentioned that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to body image? Well, this also speaks true for our self-talk. The great news is that again, we are already skilled with negative self-talk, so when we draw attention and focus to positive self-talk we are using well developed skills!

Try this. Recall the positive imagery that I shared in the last paragraph. Now add positive self-talk. Share with yourself what your positive beliefs around your specific action are. Then look at what the positive results will be once you achieve your focused goal. If things don’t work out exactly as you tried, what can you learn from the adversity that you just experienced? For example, your goal is to get out on the trail with your horse. Your positive self-talk is to share what you have already accomplished towards this goal, such as working well in an outdoor arena with and without other horses. Now add the imagery of you and your horse out on the trail enjoying the smell of the evergreens and hearing the rhythm of your horse’s hoof beats. You see the birds flying and you are enjoying the light conversation with your trail buddies. You taste the residual of your morning coffee and you are feeling the light contact of your horse’s mouth on the reins. Your belief is that you know that you have already prepared well for this moment, and you are excited, but not anxious, to go on this trail ride with your friends. You are also open to giving yourself permission to do whatever you feel you need on this trail ride and you have prepared well by making sure that your trail riding buddies will support you with your needs. If there is something that happens (perhaps a spook or a refusal to go through water) you know that you will be open to learn from the adversity and welcome the challenge to stretch! By having all this in place, your mental balance is set to easily move through whatever happens on your ride, which releases any mental tension that might start to find it’s way into your thinking.

Finding the rhythm to what will help your overall balance will continually make your horsemanship fun. Your balance will always be dynamic, always shifting, and always changing. With a solid foundation to build on, you will be relaxed knowing that the choices you are making are sound ones. This process will allow for the suppleness that you strive for when things start to feel light and effortless. None of this can happen without balance first. So strive to start finding your balance in all three areas of focus. Balance will come and go, but the more you practice balance, the easier it will be to find it when you lose it, and you will stay balanced for longer periods of time.



Horse’s Balance - September 2015

-Where are his feet?

-How does he compensate?

-What is his mental state when he’s physically out of balance?

-How can you help him rebalance?



Rider’s Confidence and Leadership - October 2015

-What you’re really communicating to your horse

-Fun factor for motivation

-Things aren’t fun when you lose your passion

-The uncertainty of doing the “right” thing for your horse.