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Importance of the Rider

10th August 2013

How does my horse move and how does my movement affect my horse?       I want you to take a second to think about how your horse moves naturally, and moves with a rider. How the horse needs to compensate for the weight of the rider and tack, not just that, but a live, moving load. Think about how your body position can factor into how your horse performs. Riders that kick heavy during the pattern are kicking the air out of their horse. If you drop your shoulder (leaning your weight) your horse will drop their shoulder to compensate. If you pull on your horse’s mouth, or are over riding, you’re shortening your horse’s stride and therefore eating up the clock.      I want you to think of how a horse moves. How many people actually know how a horse runs and how their foot lands in the dirt? When a horse runs on the left lead (the left front leg reaches farther than the right leg) the hooves land in this order: Right hind, left hind, right front, left front, repeat. Which is why to cue for the left lead, you move your right leg back, asking for the right hind leg to pick up and the left lead foot to take off. There is also a short period where the horse is completely airborne after the last front leg hits the ground. Your horses run in four phases. As a hoof lands, the “impact” phase, the hoof lands on the ground and slides forward slightly to reduce stress of impact. Next, is the “mid stance” phase, where the cannon bone is perpendicular to the ground. This is the highest amount of vertical load to be placed on the limb. Third, is the “propulsion” phase, where the horse begins to propel himself in a forward motion. Most propulsion comes from the hind end and pulls from the front end slightly. The last stage is the “break over” phase, which begins as the hoof comes off the ground.    Any time that the rider is “over riding” or “under riding” their horse, therefore making the horse unbalanced, you are taking away from his natural ability to do his job. By understanding how your horse is naturally supposed to move, you can take the necessary steps to make sure you are keeping him as close to natural as you can. A horse running with his head up takes shorter strides, is more prone to pulling shoes, more susceptible to injuries, and will generally have more ground trouble.  In the same boat, a horse running with his head low that’s hollow, where the horse is giving you his face, but nothing else, is prone to the same problems. It’s very important that not only do you have a well broke collected horse, but that you are on top of your game as a rider. “I expect my horse to be an athlete and I should be too…”    The rider should be centered at all times. I tend to lean in coming on to the pattern and sit for all my turns. If I am centered and straight, I’m allowing my horse to move easier underneath me. By conditioning my horses to slow down and rate when I sit, I don’t need to get on their face to slow them down. In doing this, I usually don’t slow down any more than needed. I want some of their face, but not too much. Which means that I want some bend, but don’t want him to give me so much that again, its unnatural and difficult for him to turn.  I want his shoulders to move with his entire body as well and I want all the power coming from four-wheel drive. He needs to not only use his hind end, but also pull through the turn with his front end. I want him to continue using the power, and not stop (loosing momentum) and sling his hind end around. “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” By having your horse doing the correct movement and practicing the correct movements yourself, you will start to gain speed. As you practice, you will also build muscle memory, where your body just does it, without having to think. Don’t under estimate the power of slow work. This not only keeps you correct but also keeps your horses mind good and keeps them listening through all the gears. My last tip is to put in the work. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to be a winner and is not for the faint of heart. I believe that anyone who puts in the effort will be rewarded, not only with a willing, wanting equine, but will become a better rider themselves. A very successful trainer once told me: “I won’t say I have any God-given talent, that that’s what made me successful, I will say it was hours in the saddle, riding every day, and expecting from myself what I expect from my horses.”  

Tricia and "Streak" Susie has a Penny at Northside Rodeo. Notice how my body is very centered in the turn.

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