Just a quick-ish post today on something that I’ve been pondering on for the last few years when analysing different teaching methods and tweaking my own.
I am going to hazard a statement that the only truly difficult and time consuming skill of all the riding skills is the development of a functional and horse friendly seat. Once the rider sits well (not just visually well – although let’s not discount that – but functionally well), the rest is down to hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks and years upon years of patient and well directed practice of imagination, understanding of horse’s locomotion, common sense and body awareness in motion.
My image of technically good seat is like a well put together watch where all the turbines and screws do their work as if by magic. From my experience and observations riders become frustrated most often by an inability to perform certain movements well or get certain amount of effort out from the horse. It’s not so much that they don’t know what to do…sometimes they even know vast amount of theory on exactly how to do what they want doing.
To make things picture rich, let’s assume a horse has that “seat” to master too…the horse’s seat (way of carrying oneself, way of shifting weight from side to side and from front to back) also develops over time and is most difficult skill for him. Not the moving away from the leg, not halting square, not stepping under upon leg cue. It’s the “seat” – the basic ability to remain in own balance with rider’s weight on board in all gaits, all turns, all circles – that’s potentially most difficult skill.
The issue arises when the rider (or horse) attempts something they have no turbines and screws for in the first place – in own seat and also in horse’s “seat”…Putting together the latter takes time and in horse riding language that equals hours in different saddles, on different backs, on differently pushing hindlegs. Similarly, the horse develops his posture through being ridden by rider with a better and better seat, the weight he carries becomes his best and intricate balance indicator rather than a burden. Eventually, the horse can potentially achieve better precision, rhythm, cadence, quality of steps with the rider than without one…
You know the old dealer trick that rider can make any horse look lame (er) or sound (er)? If we agree that skilled riding was about precise and effective weight shift, the rider’s ability to create (or damage) certain movement pattern shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Language of aids
All that seat development is like nursery, pre-school and primary school put together. Rider and horse work on their “seat” in similar ways to us learning to write letters, then sentences. From time to time, there would be a child out there who writes beautiful poems, play extraordinary music, wins professional golf tournaments and maybe even writes stories at the age of 9. However, we wouldn’t change entire schooling system to match that benchmark…From time to time, there are riders and horses that seem to flow together without apparent effort, time investment and long practice. Should this mean that hundreds of other riders and horses ought to jump the 2-3 or so years of decent seat development?
As riders and instructors we can make things very difficult both for our horses and our pupils by asking them to speak a language they have no words for. We can also make things extremely frustrating for ourselves…
Sometimes I am asked what I think about that and this riders’ seat and although a beautifully sat rider with even body proportions might always look nicer on a horse than one with very short legs and long torso, it’s not that visual seat development that I am chatting about here.
Some people have terrible hand writing yet write beautiful stories…Some have incredible calligraphy that never produces more than a pretty looking word…Good seat and language shows in the quality of work of the horse and in the harmony between horse and rider.
We might have different levels of that work and different levels of that harmony from a beginner to an advanced professional but when I start teaching someone I look at building those words first (seat skills) rather than ask for essays. This means I like to explore many avenues of skills acquisition and I might ask more experienced riders to do seemingly unrelated exercises but it’s really interesting to see the results of well thought out play 🙂
So, how’re your aids’ language skills? Do you know why some riding sessions are frustrating for you?
All the best,