Can changing one thing really help you to improve your riding? I think so, and the great news is that regardless of how well you ride, you can begin to implement this the very next time you’re in the saddle.
This exercise is suitable for you to ride in walk, trot, and canter. It is also something you can use for lateral work and even grids and jumping.
Begin by Assessing How ‘Straight’ You Are
Your posture and position are important when you ride. When they are working for you, they allow a clearer use of your aids. So, first and foremost check both and make any corrections. Take note of what you are having to correct here as well; chances are that the parts which are not working for you have become a habit and will need diligent, consistent attention if they are to work for you and support you.
Also, assess how ‘equal’ or ‘symmetrical’ you are as you ride. Ideally, you will want to have an equal amount of your body on the left side of the horse as is on the right.
Any tilting, leaning, collapsing, or crookedness will cause you to incorrectly use your weight aids. And this has the potential to confuse the whole conversation with your horse!
Your Aids Are the Banks of a River
From here, begin seeing your aids as being like the banks of a river. The more consistent, symmetrical, and effective they are, the easier it will become to keep the water in the river.
Notice in particular what happens when you ask something different. Maybe a transition, or a half halt. It could be riding around a bend or riding in a circle. It is easy enough to keep things equal and symmetrical when riding on the straight and doing one thing. It can become a whole different ball game when you add something different to the mix.
Developing your different aids, independently of each other, will improve your riding.
Again, take note of areas where you drop something (maybe a hand). Or where you grip with something (like an inside leg?). Maybe where your seat migrates to somewhere it shouldn’t (hello corners, we’re speaking specifically about you here!).
Put ‘Water’ Into the River (Energy)
Once you are pretty aware of your straightness, your symmetry, and your use of all your aids, begin experimenting with putting more ‘water’ into your river. Basically, put more energy into the container that is created by you and your horse.
When you ask for ‘more’, what notice what happens to that energy… Is there somewhere in particular where it leaks out? Maybe an outside shoulder for example. Or, is the energy simply flowing out too fast; maybe it’s all running out of the front end?
When you create more energy and actively look for the weak points in your ‘river banks’, you can begin to identify where to focus your development and work in your riding.
Keep Energy Flowing & Inside of the Banks
Finally, the goal of all of this is to be consistent with allowing the energy to flow inside of the banks you have created using your aids. Notice if your seat is blocking the flow of energy? Or if your inside hand and arm are blocking your horse from ‘stepping into’ the energy more.
Once you are aware of the energy contained and channeled by your aids, you can begin to experiment with this energy to produce different results.
You can ask for your horse to restrict the flow momentarily with the half halt. Also, you can ask for the flow to take a different course or track through turning and bends. And, you can ask for lateral work, lengthening, shortening, half halts, transitions, and everything else in between.
If you start, today, working on this concept every time you’re in the saddle, you can have a huge positive input on how you ride.
And to how your horse ‘goes’ as well.