There are many parallels with being an effective parent and being a good partner with your horse. One of the most important aspects of good parenting or good riding is consistency. Horses, like people, want to know what the boundaries are and what is expected of them. Just as a child will question a parent, horses will challenge a rider’s position as the “alpha” partner in the relationship.
Most amateur riders have to work a full day before they have the luxury of riding their horse. That means bringing all the stress and pressures of the day to the barn with you and chances are, it will have a negative effect on your ride. You must discipline yourself to leave your emotional baggage at home and greet your horse with a peaceful but eager mindset. Your horse can provide you with a wonderful hour of enjoyment when you close out the rest of the world and focus only on being a good partner.
Listen to what your horse is telling you. Notice as you tack hi up his mood and mannerisms. Give him 10 minutes or so to walk on a long rein at the beginning of the ride. Remember that this is probably the only time he gets to interface with you in a 24-hour period.
When it is time to go to work, the horse must be either on the clock or on the buckle. From the moment you pick up the reins, you must give your full attention to the horse. You must be aware of where all of your body parts are as well as the horse’s. The first priority is to develop a harmonious means of communicating by riding your horse in a way that lets him feel balanced and comfortable. From that platform as the ride progresses, you can change the horse’s way of going to suit the training goal for that day.
You should always approach your riding with a plan, yet be flexible enough to know when your plan needs to be changed. Horses are very much alike in that they prefer to be on the forehand, they never choose to bend to the inside on a turn and they possess a strong flight instinct. What makes them individuals are their personalities, their conformation and how they respond to training. It is your responsibility to know what type of approach works best when training as well as what their conformation strengths and weaknesses are and how that affects their ability to master the new balance you are trying to create.
This is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Your horse’s opinion does matter, although they don’t always know what is best and sometimes you have to be more like a parent and guide them to the right decision. You have to make them feel that their vote counts, you just have to limit the choices so that they vote for the right thing. It is all about setting your horse up for success. Think ahead and orchestrate the training session so that he makes few mistakes. Remember that mistakes are a normal part of the learning process and cannot be avoided entirely. The crime is not in making the mistake, but instead, not learning from it. Help your horse celebrate the things he does well and not dwell on things that were difficult. A certain amount of struggle outside of his comfort zone is necessary for him to grow and progress.
Progress in dressage is in small increments. Sometimes until it accumulates, you don’t recognize it’s happening. Just like when you walk on the beach, you don’t notice the moment that the tide went from low to high, you only notice it when the water starts lapping at your feet.
Hold yourself accountable 100% of the time and realize that your horse’s future rests in your hands. It is your duty and responsibility to protect, nurture and develop such a wonderful, noble and humble creature that has agreed to serve your interests with no motive of his own.