Are your horse’s response times a little dismal? Do find yourself asking… and then waiting… and maybe asking again… and maybe, just maybe, on the fourth or fifth request you are lucky enough to get a response?! Responsiveness is the factor which can make all the difference with you and your horse when working together.
Riding is a little like day-to-day life in this regard; a quick response to something will often set the tone for how the relationship will proceed from that point. Slow or non-existent response times lead to frustration, hold ups, loss of attention and energy. They leave an overall bad taste in your mouth.
Riding a horse who is less than responsive to your aids is a frustrating place to be. It results in the quality of the overall ride or performance to deteriorate. Accuracy, energy, balance, rhythm, transitions, straightness and just plain old enjoyment all diminish when your horse seemingly ignores you.
Many riders will also notice that their progress stagnates; after all it becomes rather difficult to improve things when the basics are missing to begin with.
But before we get into how you can begin ‘fixing’ your horses responsiveness, it is first important to figure out why your horse is indeed ignoring you.
Many riders believe that horses who lack good responsiveness are lazy, unwilling and perhaps a little too laid back. This can be true in certain situations, however, it is my experience that many horses are rather trained to ignore their riders.
This ‘training’ is usually unintentional, but it happens none the less. When we speak about riding, it is good to remember that horses only learn what we teach them. We teach what we do repeatedly or consistently… If you are doing the wrong things consistently in the saddle, your horse will begin to think that is the correct way of doing things. I know, a bitter pill to swallow for many riders!
Focus on ‘how’ you are asking your questions
A good example of this is the walk to halt transition. When riders are ‘training’ or ‘schooling’ in the arena, special attention is given to the quality of this transition. The aids are timed to perfection, the coordination, the balance, the straightness, the rhythm – all beautifully carried out in the correct time and sequence to produce a wonderfully balance, square halt.
However – on leaving the arena, perhaps to cool down on a short hack or the walk back to the stalls, both horse and rider seem to switch to ‘relax mode’. While the relaxing itself it not wrong, very often the consistency of how things are done when in that mood is. Horse and rider arrive at the barn and rather than the wonderful, well planned transition which happened 10 minutes earlier in the arena being repeated – the rider simply ‘hauls’ on the reins, the horse ‘falls’ into a standstill, legs everywhere, and the rider slides off…
The next time they get into the arena, the same rider will complain and moan about the fact that their horse is ‘unresponsive’ to their aids. Meanwhile they told, no – asked, their horse to be just that on arrival at the barn the previous ride. Do you see the connection?
The same applies with all elements and aspects of riding. Your horses responsiveness is often a direct reflection of your consistency when asking
Pay attention to what you are doing ‘between’ questions
So once you become clear on how you are asking different questions, you need to also start focusing on what you are doing between those questions.
We often hear the term ‘quiet’ used when describing riders. It is a confusing term for many, but I suggest you begin associating the term with how the horse hears things, rather than us riders.
When we are in the saddle, we are communicating all the time with our horse. Understanding this simple concept is the first step to developing this ‘quietness’ in the saddle. Can you turn up or down the volume of your aids? Are you perhaps shouting at your horse, without even realising it?
Shuffling, moving, shifting, driving, leaning, nudging, swinging, banging, fidgeting, collapsing, wriggling, pulling, tugging – the list is endless – all result in you speaking with your horse. Is it any wonder that he begins to tune out and ignore everything.
Riders who have little or no control over their movements in the saddle are like the chatty 3-year-old child… You soon train your brain to ‘ignore’ the chatter, only paying attention when the tone / noise levels change. Unfortunately, many horses who practice non-responsiveness are treating you just like that 3-year-old chatter box! They only pay attention when you ‘shout’ at them, perhaps using your crop or an extra forceful kick…
Tweaking the conversation to improve responsiveness
All good conversations have a purpose. The reason you being to filter out the 3 year olds babbling, is just that, its nonsensical babbling! There is no purpose to it. The same applies to your aids.
You need to begin thinking about every move you make in the saddle, and filtering out those that are only there for the sake of being there. Become intentional about every single aid – regardless of where you are riding or what part of the ride you are on.
I find that one of the easiest ways to begin this process is to firstly correct your position and posture in the saddle. The correct position is hammered home by trainers and instructors the world over for a reason – it places you in the best place to be most effective with your aids
From here, begin doing your homework regarding how best to use your body to communicate different questions to your horse. Spend time learning about what aids are required the half halt for example. Then start working on in-graining that sequence of correct aids into your riding, so as you don’t have to consciously think about them every time. Put the basics on autopilot.
Let Your Horse Know the Conversation Has Changed
The final piece to the responsiveness puzzle is retraining your horse to understand and respond to your newfound clarity in the saddle. This may take a while and can only be attempted once you have streamlined your aids / chatter / conversation first.
Remember, by moving and ‘talking’ all the time, you have trained your horse to ignore you. Now, you need to retrain him to the mindset that anything you ‘say’ from here on out will be of value and will only add to your conversation
I suggest having a crop or riding whip for this. Ideally we want your horse to respond to your seat, but those aids need to be refined first, before he can differentiate between a ‘speed wobble’ and an actual ‘aid’ coming from your body in the saddle. Start with the simple lesson of ’cause and effect’ – you put your leg on, he responds to it.
Cause and Effect
The reason I say to carry the whip is because initially you may have to back your leg up with your stick. Leg – no response – leg and stick – response – reward. The next time you can try again; Leg – response – reward. It may take a few tries for your horse to realise that your leg is now a quality part of the conversation that must be listened to. In my experience usually 2 to 3 repetitions is enough to get the point across.
It is also important to remember that your stick / whip / crop is only there to back up your leg. Not to be used alone at any point in the ride
It should be used directly behind your calf muscle / lower leg / heel area, not on the shoulder or hind quarters. To use it anywhere else in this situation is, in my opinion, confusing and cruel towards your horse. It should also not be used with undue force. A simple tap – a reminder of sorts – is enough to draw attention to your leg and get the desired result.
Make sure that when you ask your horse to move forward, you are then ‘positioned’ correctly to ALLOW him to move forward. Otherwise, again, it becomes confusing for your horse.
Re-schooling your horse to become more responsive is a challenge, however once you have your position and aids streamlined, progress can be achieved quite quickly. Keep in mind that responsiveness is trained – unresponsiveness is also trained. Make sure that what you are saying to your horse is worth listening to and from there, set the basics on autopilot.
If you are finding that your horse is unresponsiveness to your aids, take responsibility and begin working on your coordination in the saddle. Your ability to control your body results in your being able to have more ‘meaningful conversations’ with your horse, through your aids, when riding. Join the 100% free 30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge today to begin reining in your ‘non-stop chatter’ when riding!
This topic is the introduction to 4 more audio programs specifically focused on improving your horses responsiveness when being ridden. The rest of the programs are created to be listened to while actually riding your horse. You simply download the programs to your phone, pop your phone in your pocket and work through the exercises while you ride your horse.
If you are interested in finding out more about these programs and all the lessons inside of Daily Strides Premium, you can visit HERE >> for more information.