As a child I took piano lessons. For me, the most boring thing was practicing the scales for an hour or so each day before I tried to play a new song on the piano. Practicing my finger motions over the keys, I felt these repetitions were dull and were not nearly as exciting as learning a new song. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was learning more with those boring scales than I was when I was trying to play the new piano piece.
As each finger instinctively stretched for the correct key I didn’t credit where that ability actually came from, at least until I stopped practicing my daily scales. When I didn’t practice it was as if my piano playing took a nosedive. The songs became difficult, the “off” keys were struck more often and piano playing actually became a chore. The only thing that changed was that I was not practicing my scales daily. This almost mindless exercise was so effective, not just in limbering up my finger motions, but in creating a feel and confidence along with muscle memory that I didn’t even know at the time I possessed.
By taking the piano lessons to the realm of horseback riding we can improve our rides each and every time, without even trying. As a riding instructor, I have found the most effective way with my students is to always start and end the lesson on a positive note.
I begin each lesson with an exercise that is familiar to them and that they know how to do well. We then progress to the challenge lesson of the day. If we encounter a problem, we stop, go back to the beginning lesson exercise, complete it, and then attempt the challenge exercise again.
Usually we find the challenge lesson has magically become easier and we finish the overall lesson by practicing our beginning exercise one more time. By structuring a lesson in this fashion, the rider learns much more quickly with less stress and frustration.
The single most effective way to drastically improve your riding is to practice your gait transitions as you ride. Gait transitions are the ability to change your horse from one gait to another.
These transitions teach the horse without trying. The transitions let the horse use its motor – its hind end – to generate balance and drive. By thinking about riding your horse from the motor end rather than pulling him around by his face your horse instantly becomes lighter in the bridle and more responsive.
Below is a great riding exercise to practice and it can be used for Western or English riding, it is best practiced in a smooth, jointed snaffle bit:
Ask your horse to trot, then ask for the walk and then go back to the trot again. Each time making the walk time shorter and shorter until you just start the downward transition, but then instead ride on at the trot without going to the walk.
During this exercise, keep your hands soft, use shorter and shorter reins, reach slightly out, to allow the hind leg of the horse to come underneath and drive you forward allowing the horse’s forehand becoming light.
As you ride, close your hands softly on the reins without pulling back and you’ve reached the level of transition where the horse is using its hind end to push forward and his front end and shoulders are now light and free moving.
Sit even and square in your saddle and open your knees and keep them soft and movable. Open your thigh and let the weight of your body go softly down your heels.
During this exercise remember to always keep your horse straight. You do this by using your outside rein. The outside rein will keep the horse straight, it controls the outside shoulder and will help you in halting as well, but don’t drag heavy on the outside rein, keep it a soft connected feel.
If you put too much pressure on the outside rein it will block the inside hind leg and the horse won’t be straight. Remember, in any riding you do, the contact with the reins must remain soft and elastic in both, just use the outside rein with a little more feel to help keep the horse straight. Happy Trails!