I truly believe that horses are our best teachers. Through their response, they clearly let us know if we are communicating correctly. They just do not get it wrong when we get it right! I learned this lesson many years ago when I changed my perspective from “why doesn’t he do this right?” to “what am I doing wrong?”
A wonderful Arabian stallion, McPherson, was my teacher. “Mac” was talented, sensitive, and intelligent. He was a champion in reining, western pleasure, and dressage. He could stop on a dime with just a breath, spin like a top, perform effortless clean lead changes, collect, extend, and move laterally effortlessly.
So why was I having so much trouble doing trot-halt transitions? I was certain I was executing the aid properly: my hips were in position, my thighs closing, my breathing correct – so why did he insist on hollowing his back and moving through my request? I resorted to clarifying (or so I thought), with my reins and voice – it did not help! I did what felt like hundreds of transitions to no avail. Confused and somewhat frustrated, I just would not give up.
As I paused in contemplation, I remembered something I had just said to a student…”stop trying so hard – less is more!” So, I walked off then simply quietly just thought of stopping. Mac stopped immediately. Was this a mistake? I wondered. I tried it again and again and again with “just a thought.” Each and every transition was amazing.
I realized what Mac was telling me: he was not stopping because I had been asking with an overuse of my aids, which caused him discomfort. It would be like I was shouting into someone’s ear instead of talking. Did this mean I only had to “think” and through telepathy he would “hear” me? Well, maybe not, but just the thought of stopping was shifting my position in a manner he could feel, without getting in his way. Mac must’ve thought, “It’s about time you got it right!”
His prior response was just him trying to avoid the unnecessary pressure. Being human, I assumed I was doing everything correctly. But I wasn’t asking, I was controlling. I wasn’t listening to my partner. I wasn’t being a partner, I was being a dictator!
Some horses with less independent spirit and sensitivity may allow you to overuse your aids, but not Mac. Mac taught me to listen to horses by paying attention to their reaction to my aids. He taught me to be a better rider. Most of all he taught me to be a better partner. I am so grateful to Mac for all he gave to me.