Why oh why won’t you just do what I want?
There was a meme going around on social media the other day that caught my eye. It went something like this:
Other people’s horses: “Oh, is that your inside leg and outside rein? OK, I’ll just start collecting myself and getting into a nice frame for you and working on my topline. No worries, you just relax and enjoy yourself and I’ll just carry myself nicely for you!”.
My horse: “Arrrrggggghhhhh! What is this ‘topline’ you speak of? I’m not a horse, I’m a giraffe! Oh my God, what’s that over there? Is it grass? Did you see that butterfly? Can I go chase it? Collection is for losers! What’s a topline anyway? Can I have a carrot…?”
Now, I like a good laugh just as much as the next guy and I can definitely see my younger self in that story too. But it also struck me that there’s a widespread belief that causes of a whole lot of trouble for both riders and their horses.
It’s easy to get sucked into believing that horses should just ‘know’ what we want them to do. And if for some reason they don’t appear to want to do what we want, then it must be because they’re ‘difficult’, ‘lazy’, ‘bone-headed’ or otherwise just want to make us look like we don’t know how to ride… right?
But the problem is that just riding from your inside leg to your outside rein isn’t the full story. And in some cases, as you might have already experienced, doing so just makes horses desperately unhappy and riders exasperated and frustrated.
When that simple description does work, it works because of one of two reasons. Some horses are just born with a conformation that makes it very, very likely their bodies will respond in a certain way when a rider uses their inside leg and outside rein.
Others (actually the vast majority) need to be ‘schooled’. In other words, they need to be gently and progressively educated and shown how you want them to respond when you use your aids.
If you’re lucky enough to have a horse who falls into that first category then, congratulations! Appreciate how fortunate you are and enjoy your riding together.
If you ride one who falls into the second category – and maybe hasn’t yet had the benefit of the explanations and help he or she needs – then please don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re just out to give you a hard time and make you look stupid.
That’s almost certainly not the case.