Learning to ride a horse is a lifelong pursuit

By Cassie Astle, Special to the BDN
Posted July 05, 2013, at 6:07 a.m.

One of the funniest things I have ever seen was a little paperback book titled something like, “How To Ride Horses.” The book itself wasn’t funny as it was a serious book, but it was 38 pages long. How to ride a horse in 38 pages, that’s a good one! If I rode for 38 years, I would still be learning how to ride horses.

Sometimes I get calls from people who want to ride on trails. When I explain I don’t offer public trail rides, only riding lessons, the reply is often, “I don’t need lessons, I already know how to ride.”

The polite response on my end is to say, “I’m sorry I can’t help,” and I give the name of a stable that does offer public trail rides. The uncivilized response blaring through my head to the tune of Gilbert Gottfried, including spittle, says “Are you all fools? No one ever knows how to ride!”

It’s semantics really, because someone could say she is “familiar with riding” or “has riding experience”, but there is never a finish line on the trail of knowledge you set upon when you start learning to ride.

Every horse is different so riding Horse A, does not insure that someone can ride Horses B, Q or Y. A lifetime can be spent riding different horses and there would still come along one horse that asks a different question of its rider. In my own experiences as a horse trainer, even having ridden hundreds of horses, once in awhile a horse will present a problem that causes me to stay up all night puzzling over a resolution.

So far, thank goodness, I have been able to solve each problem, but that doesn’t mean I know how to ride. I can take the sum of all my experiences and take from each scenario a dollop of information, then roll into a new recipe of communication for the new horse.

There are trainers out there who categorize themselves as “natural horsemanship” trainers, but there is nothing natural about riding horses. It is completely against a horse’s nature. In the wild, if something jumps on a horse’s back, it is in an attempt to kill it and eat it, so the horse’s natural reaction is to try and get rid of whatever is clinging to its back. For a horse to let a human being sit on it’s back without going into survival mode takes tremendous trust on the horse’s part.

A horse doesn’t naturally know that it should go faster when a rider squeezes her legs around its ribcage or stop when the rider pulls on the reins. That is all taught to the horse. The aids, or ways of communicating with a horse, include the legs, seat and weight, hands, and voice. The horse has to be taught how to respond to each of those aids, except for the rider’s weight.

Amazingly, a horse will follow a rider’s weight. If I get on a horse that has never been ridden before and I shift my weight to the left, the horse will start going left. If I sit to the right, the horse will drift right. Unfortunately, if ridden by uneducated riders, a horse will soon learn to ignore the rider’s weight if it is given conflicting signals. Then the rider has to resort to pulling harder on the reins or kicking harder with the leg to get the horse moving in the right direction because the rider is combatting the horse’s instinct. A rider can know that and know to keep the heels down, and how to hold contact on the reins, and a thousand other details about riding, but that doesn’t mean she is done.

Riding is like medical school. Even when you think you’ve finished and gotten as far as you can go, by the time you get there, there is a new technique being used. And just as each person responds differently to a medical procedure, each horse responds individually to a rider.

I am glad that I will never know how to ride. The process of learning how and why a method works for a horse is intriguing to me. My riding continues to evolve and develop, and each horse I work with makes me a better trainer for the next horse I will ride. Other riders may only wish to enjoy the occasional trail ride (sans lessons) and that’s OK.

With riding horses, there is something for everyone. Just don’t expect it to be explained in 38 pages.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/05/outdoors/for-friday-posting-a-lifelong-pursuit-of-learning-to-ride-a-horse/ printed on September 19, 2014