Many riders have a desire to school and develop their own horse. Yet, a lot of these riders don’t actually know what horse riding skills they need in order to make this a reality. The fact of the matter is that you are always training your horse. Every single interaction.
Through your actions, intentional or not, you are always communicating to your horse. Telling him about what is allowed and what is not. What is ‘acceptable’ and what needs to change.
However, if your horse riding skills are not consistently improving and developing, it stands to reason that this will eventually impact your horse. Riders are often the cause of the plateau many horses reach in their training. Their own lack of development becomes their horse’s glass ceiling.
So, in order to maintain the horse riding skills necessary to help your horse develop, you must revisit, upgrade, and develop certain skills regularly.
1. Understanding ‘Why’ – The Nitty Gritty
For many riders, when they initially learn to canter, they know ‘what’ to do. Outside leg back makes up a big part of this ‘what’. However, the vast majority of these riders don’t really know ‘why’. When they learn why they put their outside leg back to ask for the canter, they also begin to understand the sequence of events. Which leads to them learning about timing the aids for the canter. The next obvious step is to begin using the more subtle aids to ask the same question; weight and seat.
And all of these progressions become possible when the rider is interested in finding out ‘why’ in the first place.
Doing things for the sake of doing things won’t help you to improve your riding. In order to consistently develop the necessary horse riding skills to develop and train your horse, you must go deeper into growing your knowledge first.
2. Develop Your Actual Horse Riding Skills
Just like your knowledge of ‘why’ you are doing things needs to grow, so too does the actual horse riding skills to do it! Knowing something conceptually and actually taking action and doing it is different. Developing your aids is an ongoing, never-ending process. There is always more that can be done to improve coordination, timing, and the balance of aids.
It helps to try and ride more advanced horses every now and then. This is especially true if you are working on training a young or green horse. The more advanced horses will help to keep your riding skills ‘tuned up’.
Many riders experience a deterioration of their overall riding skills when they only ride a young or green horse. Horses can truly invite you to ride badly! Part of your responsibility when training your horse is to ensure your skills are improving. Not remaining ‘so-so’ or, even worse, deteriorating.
3. Create a Feedback Loop
Reviewing your progress is absolutely essential when you’re working on developing your horse. This is one of those horse riding skills that many riders fail to see the value in. And this is such a pity, as this is truly the only way to really begin identifying what is working and what’s not.
A feedback loop can be something as basic as a riding journal. Or it can be taking regular videos of your riding and reviewing them.
Working alone with your horse can often feel lonely and confusing. You may find that you’re not quite sure of what to do. Or what not to do, or stop doing. It is for this reason that I suggest all riders begin having regular reviews in their riding. It allows you to see things from a different perspective.
If you are training your horse alone, you need to begin playing the role of trainer. Trainers give feedback.
4. Be Intentional with Your Riding Plan
Whenever you begin learning something, there will be a system in place to help you. Honestly, think back to the last 3 things you learned. Whether it was gaining a diploma or degree, cooking a meal for the first time, or assembling a piece of furniture… There was a system created to help you achieve your goal. Curriculum, recipes, and instructions are all systems.
It stands to reason that if you are teaching your horse new things, you will also need a system in place in order to get consistent results.
Winging it might get you there every now and again. But I’m going to assume here that you want more than just now and again. You want to consistently move forward with your horse and his training. Taking time each week to review your goals is important.
So too is creating a plan for each upcoming interaction that will help him to consistently learn new things and feel confident in doing more while being ridden.
5. Your Suppleness
Lack of suppleness in the rider is one of the biggest roadblocks to a horse’s development and training. Suppleness is both physical and mental. A rider who physically blocks their horse’s energy from flowing will also hamper any progress in his training. All of your horse riding skills will require you to regularly upgrade your suppleness.
Suppleness also is about how you think of both yourself as a rider and of your horse. Mental suppleness means that you can overcome challenges while remaining calm and focused. It is a skill that must be developed!
It is important to regularly notice what you are telling. yourself. The internal conversation. Noticing where you are becoming ‘stuck’ in your thinking will allow you to consciously develop your mental suppleness. This is one of the absolutely essential horse riding skills you will need to successfully train your own horse.
Successfully Training Your Own Horse
One of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do as a rider develops a horse. Bring it on. However, it is also one of the most challenging things to do. You will question if you are good enough and able more times than you will want to!
By consistently upgrading, developing, and learning your horse riding skills, it is possible.
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