One of the first lessons you learn is how to sit properly in the saddle. It Is now time to think in more detall about why you sit like this, and how your seat and position affect your pony.
The ‘modern’ seat has taken many decades to develop. Every aspect has been thought about and improved by experts. The result is that the ‘correct’ seat is the one that is most effective.
Any faults or weaknesses make the rider less able to get the best from the horse. A bad rider has to work much harder than a good, properly instructed one to achieve the level of success that he or she would like. A rider who sits quietly in the saddle doesn’t interfere with the pony’s movement. Imagine carrying a fidgety, young child on your own back. Then think how much easier it is to give a ‘piggy-back’ to one who holds on carefully and keeps still.
A sloppy rider gives confused aids, with legs working in different places and hands unsteady on the pony’s mouth. Clear, precisely applied aids encourage the pony to listen and be obedient. Such aids are difficult to spot for anyone watching, but the horse is responding.
Some simple faults are easy to understand. A rider with her legs round the horse’s shoulders sits heavily on the pony’s back, and has to make a great effort to apply a leg aid. A rider tipped forward with legs too far back is unable to use her back and seat. Her legs then have to do extra work to keep the pony active.
The power of thought
Horses are very sensitive to their rider’s mood and mental attitude. A calm and gentle rider generally does well on a tense horse, which responds to the calming influence. A tense and aggressive rider upsets some horses, while waking up the lazy ones.
If you have a chance to ride several different types you should soon learn something about yourself! Try to adapt your mental attitude to suit the horse you are riding. If you are upset and angry about something then you are not in the right frame of mind for schooling, so go for a hack instead.
The same applies if you are very tired or feeling unwell you won’t get the results you would expect on a good day. It is rarely the pony’s fault if he doesn’t go well.
Seeing yourself on film is the best way to discover how you really ride. It’s easy to think you are doing everything right when in fact a mistake has crept in. If you don’t own a video camera, why not rent one for a day or a weekend?
Make the most of the opportunity and work on the flat and over a few jumps. You may be in for a few surprises! Look at your hands – are they steady or do they interfere with the pony’s mouth?
Are you tipping forward, rounding your back or hunching your shoulders? Is your back hollow with your hands fixed? Do you react quickly enough when something goes wrong? Do you look good until you ask for a transition to canter, when you suddenly jack-knife forward?
Once you have been critical of yourself (and of your friends!), make a few mental lists. First your good points, which you don’t want to lose. Second, the points which you could easily correct now that you are aware of them. Third, the more serious faults which you are going to need help to overcome.
Allot yourselves a period of time – say, four to six weeks – and then have another filming session to see how you have improved. This makes sure that you really work hard and encourages you when you can tick off some old weaknesses and start a new list to work on.
Looking at others
Start to look critically at other riders -Whether at a local show or on the television. What makes you admire some riders and dislike the style of others?
There are people who appear to be quite the ‘wrong’ shape to ride well and yet can produce a succession of beautifully schooled horses. There are others who look stunning until the horse moves, When there is immediate tension and discomfort. This is all down to technique and mental attitude. Study the riders closely and see What it is that makes them individual.
Be careful not to copy faults. Few riders are perfect and some get good results in spite of and not because of an obvious fault, If you can spot this fault, look very hard for the good points as these are the ones to try and copy. You have your own faults and do not need to pick up other people’s.
If you can start to think: ‘if only he could keep his hands still’, or ‘if she could ride with more determination’, or ‘she had a refusal coming up ages before the jump and didn’t do anything about it’ – then you are beginning to be an educated ‘horse person’.