A lot of cars have a sat nav nowadays. They’re handy if you’re lost or you’re on your own but sometimes don’t you just want to scream “SHUT UP!!” as the wretched thing tells you once too often to “Take the next right … turn right … turn right. …”?
Nagging is a destructive habit. It creates tension or ‘convenient deafness’ depending on the personality of the recipient. In the case of the sat nav at least you can switch it off. Your horse doesn’t have that luxury. You may think you don’t nag but some kinds of nagging aren’t immediately obvious. You may not know you’re doing it.
When you ride round the school and come to a corner what do you expect your horse to do? Trot straight through the fence? No? So why do you feel the need to check, squeeze or pull your reins as you ride into, round and out of a corner?
Your horse doesn’t need you to steer him round a corner. He’s perfectly capable of trotting round the school without any direction from you. Your aids are there to give orders or corrections. They’re not there to tell him what he knows already!
The trouble with this kind of nagging or over riding is it fills your horse’s head with too many unnecessary aids. With so much flying around in his head how is he meant to filter out the aids you’re really want him to respond to? He’ll find it hard to focus which will affect his rhythm. His flow from one movement to the next will be broken.
Many riders feel they should be directing their horse every step of the way. They don’t. Once a sat nav’s told you to “turn right” you know, don’t you? You don’t need to be reminded every ten metres as you drive towards the junction. You’re not stupid and nor is your horse.
Go large round the school. Concentrate on what you’re doing before, during and after each corner. You probably check before the corner, ask for more bend to the inside on the corner and push on out of it. That’s a lot of work – and fiddling – for one small corner. Is it any wonder you’re fighting for breath at the end of a test? It’s also a lot for your horse to try to understand. You want him to relax … right?
Your horse will forgive you a misjudged dig in the ribs but give him a pull in the mouth and he’ll tighten his back every time. Think of the number of checks and pulls you did on that first circuit of the school. Is it any wonder your tests don’t flow?
Now go large again but this time fight the urge to fiddle. Ride forward but don’t pull back. It’s not easy. When you feel the urge to pull back use your leg instead. Trust your horse. It’s just a corner. Seriously - he can do it!
Test yourself on turns, circles and changes of rein. Once you’ve put your horse onto a circle stop asking. He knows where you want him to go. Trust him to take you. You’ll be amazed at the difference. If your hands are still he’ll relax and move smoothly from one movement to the next.
Think of the sat nav one last time. When you’ve driven on a motorway for half an hour without a word from it doesn’t it make you sit up and listen when it suddenly pipes up with “At the next exit …”?
Give it some thought next time you ride.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.