One of the best perks of working for an equestrian book publisher (assuming you are just the littlest bit horsey) is the constant immersion in equine-related theory, philosophy, and how-to. There is so much opportunity to absorb the ideas of great horsepeople and to try their techniques and methods for oneself—or to come to understand their intentional lack thereof (yes, that happens, too). Because really, if I’ve learned anything in this job, it’s that there isn’t just one main highway to our destination. There are many, less traveled, circuitous back roads, and finding them, and being willing to venture down them to see where they go—that is the true journey of horse and human.
Here are 10 important lessons from some of TSB’s top authors:
10 When there’s not enough time, do 10 to 15 minutes of liberty.
“Many people don’t get to their horse in a day because they feel it is too big a task to gear up for,” says horseman Jonathan Field in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES. “So they don’t do anything. Short and fun liberty sessions can bring you out to your horse more often. You will be amazed at how your horse starts to meet you at the gate.”
9 Our own riding fitness enables the horse to perform what we ask of him.
“The way a rider uses her body greatly impacts the way the horse is enabled or blocked from using his,” explains certified personal trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom in FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! “The relationship is biomechanical….both species can impact one another. This is why the rider’s role of leadership through physical contact is so important, and why a rider who is fit for the task can ride better—and with greater resilience or prevention of injury.”
8 Sometimes, don’t ask for anything.
“The horse follows you with a lowered head and filled with a spirit of freedom…the result of your not asking for anything, just being, even if only for a fleeting moment,” writes renowned horseman Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling in THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE. “To be devoted without asking for devotion in return, to be friendly without demanding friendship…that is when the horse can give us trust and closeness.”
7 Control your emotions.
“Try not to go overboard,” recommends Grand Prix dressage rider Yvonne Barteau in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. “Don’t gush, fuss, and fiddle about…Be quiet, polite, and still, inside and out. Clear your head and self from all that troubles you, and give your horse your undivided attention.”
6 Invest in self-kindness.
“When you miss a lead change in a pattern or test or forget to schedule the farrier before your horse throws a shoe,” explains author and horsewoman Melinda Folse in RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, “extend to yourself the same warmth and understanding you would to a close friend who has suffered a setback….If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’ll probably struggle with riding to your true potential.”
5 Use all your senses to observe and explore your horse’s body.
“Be on the alert for symptoms such as body soreness, uneven gait, a tight neck, a sour attitude, explosive or resistant behavior, stocking up, and pinned ears,” writes equine expert Linda Tellington-Jones in DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL. “All of these problems, and others, can be avoided by alternating your training schedule with trail riding, ground driving, or other types of cross-training…expand your training routine, and keep your horse interested and engaged in his work.”
4 When it comes to the show ring, be flexible.
“One of the risks of competition is becoming so focused on achieving success that you miss the signs that your partner is unhappy,” says psychotherapist and riding instructor Andrea Waldo in BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS. “Horses have different rates of development and different levels of stress tolerance. Just because one horse is ready for a particular level at age five doesn’t mean that the next horse will automatically do the same. Some horses can show every weekend without a problem, but some horses need to compete less often.”
3 Be okay with “eventually.”
“Everything moves so fast in our modern world,” say horse trainer Susan Gordon and veterinary pioneer Dr. Allen Schoen in THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN. “Our expectation is to get instant results. Creatures of low technology, such as our animals, suffer the most for our desire to have everything happen in a virtual instant. On one hand, you need a quick, flexible mind to respond to a horse’s instinctive prey-animal tendencies during training, but it is also important to understand the value of repeating those responses with a lot of patience and consistency.”
2 Use dynamic friction instead of static friction.
“Whereas static friction relies primarily on force, mass, and energy to first stick an object before moving it,” writes world-renowned horseman Mark Rashid in JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS, “dynamic friction relies on establishing subtle movement first, then adding energy to build on that movement…establish contact with the horse, followed by the development of subtle movement to establish a flow of direction, and finally put the proper amount of speed into that flow so as to accomplish the desired task.”
1 Be willing to have a two-way conversation.
“When you are truly in a dialogue, you can never predict how a horse will answer you on any given day,” explains Sharon Wilsie in her groundbreaking book HORSE SPEAK. “Many of you value your relationship with your horse as much as you value his performance. Deeper bonds of friendship will blossom as you show your horse you are willing to listen and learn his language instead of just expecting him to respond to yours.”
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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.