Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Your Riding Toolbox

A tool is only as good as the hands that hold it. So this week we're going to talk about the importance of the tools we have at our disposal, and how to effectively use them. 

As riders we have aides, either natural or artificial. Natural aides are voice, seat, hands and legs. Artificial aides include whips, spurs, martingales, bits, or anything added that isn't part of our natural body. We need to be able to use our aides appropriately in order communicate with our horses. The over use or abundant use of our aides can result in confusion and anger in our horses.  

I like using the analogy of texting for this example, since its something that most of us do now-a-days. When you want to text someone you normally just use plain text speak. When you want to get a point across you text in ALL CAPS. You wouldn't want to text a polite request by using ALL CAPS, you would want to be courteous and kind in your dialog. Translated to horse speak - if you would like your horse to walk from a stop, you gently squeeze both legs. If your horse ignores you, you progress by squeezing both legs and cluck. If your horse still ignores you, you kick with both legs, cluck, and say walk. Now maybe this usually works, but today your horse couldn't care less, so now you text with ALL CAPS. You give the horse a smack with your reins, while kicking and clucking, until she finally takes notice and starts to walk. Think for a minute if you had just gone straight for the smacking and kicking, (ALL CAPS), rather than gradually working up to that. Your horse may have bolted, bucked, or chosen another manner to YELL right back at you. Always start with the least amount of force necessary to achieve the result, then add your aides from there. 

Let's go back to our tool box. Each aide holds a spot in your tool box that can be used, or not used, accordingly. 
For example, a hand can be used for a half halt, direction or reprimand. Your seat can be used to encourage forward movement, or a halt. By squeezing your legs, you can ask your horse to move out or slow down.

On the other side of the coin, the over use of tools can render them useless. For instance, you close your legs to ask your horse to increase his pace, and you keep them locked on your horses side, so those legs don't swing. By not releasing this aid, you have rendered it useless. Your horse no longer feels the pressure because it is a constant, and because your horses side has become deadened you have to introduce additional aids to get the job done. These additional aids may now include Spurs or a crop, in order to accomplish a goal, a soft leg would have been sufficient for. The same thing happens with a heavy handed rider. The horse's mouth becomes deadened, and you have to resort to using stronger and stronger bits. Instead you should have been learning to use other tools to stop or steer, rather than just your rein(s).  

Moral of the story...Be thoughtful with your tools and how you use them. Be careful not to over use them. Switch your tools around, so you and your horse can communicate in several different ways. There should always be another tool to apply if the first one isn't working. Use your bigger brain before becoming frustrated, and rendering one of your precious tools useless.