As a good student of horsemanship (trying to be) I sometimes think riding lessons ought to include a classroom element. Now, if that truly were the case in most lesson programs I would grow to loathe that portion of my studies and probably be doodling horses in my notebook and failing to pay enough attention. Hey! just like REAL school!
Maybe it is because I am more of a visual learner or maybe it is because it is just really hard to understand vague concepts but sometimes those aha! moments hit me when the concept is illustrated and explained more thoroughly. During a riding lesson there is rarely enough time to give a full explanation of the “concepts”. Instructors tend to favor guiding you into (hopefully) correct positions/actions to start you building some muscle memory. Obviously this is also super valuable but sometimes I need a little more than “see how Horse did what you asked there? good job!” as explanation/validation of those actions.
Here’s an example:
Bending. I work on it quite often in my lessons and it is a huge part of what every rider must focus on at some point during every ride. I know that my past instructors have vocally guided me into better positioning that, in turn, allows the horse to bend. But I never really understood the mechanics behind it. Until I read this blog post by Bonnie Walker on Dressage Different. The way she explains what the rider’s body must look like and why, tugged on a spiderweb-covered chain and FINALLY lit up that light bulb for me. Because honestly, if no one breaks this one down for you… it’s a little counterintuitive. It would not be my natural inclination to allow my hips to be separate from my shoulders during a turn and allow my hips to point away from the direction of travel. Humans are vertically oriented so my shoulders stack on top of my hips preventing me from having to “account” for a back-end when turning but, as Bonnie explained, any four-legged critter (even a crawling human) does! It was hugely illuminating to me to think of myself in the position of the “four-legger” while riding and mirror hips for hips and shoulders for shoulders with the horse.
Okay go ahead and sneak in a big old eye-roll and, for all you 90s kids, a great big DUH!!
Maybe Equinovice has been living under a rock but I’m telling you I didn’t understand this concept until mere moments ago and I have been taking riding lessons for over 6 years now with 6 different instructors and multiple disciplines. Now you might be thinking well, your instructors were not very good then. This is simply untrue. I have actually been quite lucky in that respect and have had the privilege of learning under some fabulous instructors. I am just acknowledging that there are some instances where “in the saddle” experience alone may fall short of truly teaching. My call to action is really to the STUDENTS here: Actively seek fuller explanations of riding concepts. If something is unclear in the saddle, remember to ask your instructor about it later and do your own research.