Last night, after working with a young rider I have been using, and struggling with communicating to her the concept of contact and softness through the hand and to the (horse's) mouth and THEN schooling a horse o/f, a word popped into my mind: numb. I tried to explain tactfully what I meant, but at the time, the word wasn't in my mind. But now that it is, it troubles me a bit and I'm wondering if others have encountered it and what you think about its ramifications in developing a young eventer (the horse, that is).
This rider, a marvelous, tiny almost-adult, has been riding everything under since a young age, but has only had her own horse for short while. This may be where the numbness comes from or it may be from riding western with curb bits and big, bulky saddles between her and the horse.
But while it's a physical problem in the sense that she can't seem to feel gradations of rein contact or recognize when a horse does or doesn't respond to differences in leg pressure, it's also a mental issue, I think--and that's the part that has me most perplexed.
It troubles me that I have to tell her to praise the horse. We've talked about this frankly--we've even talked about how she pats a horse and why she doesn't use her voice to reinforce that the horse had done the right thing. As I write now, I realize maybe I should use the word "communicate" in this conversation. It's like she is pushing buttons rather than communicating with the horse.
And I really worry about how that is affecting our jump schools. I have a brave but easily worried young horse and a lazy but cocky young pony, both of whom she rides exactly the same way. Both are ready to move on, but in spite of how tight the rider's seat is (and her incredible timing o/f--she has some strong, natural traits), I fear her "numbness" will become a real issue xc when I'm not there to actually say for her, "Good boy!" or "easy now, sloooow" while she's schooling, which I do all the time in the ring (because she doesn't).
Am I making sense here? Anyone dealt with this specifically schooling xc?
You may have to actually teach her some things that other riders do intuitively. It might take months, but building in lots of questions - "right now, which rein feels heavier in your hand? what does that mean? what can you do about it? and what are his shoulders doing - look down, do you see ...." blah, blah, blah. Make it explicit, ask HER the questions, get HER to answer you before you move on, get HER to make comparisons between the horses she rides and TELL you about them as part of her lesson. It might not be part of your usual teaching style, but it sounds like she's been able to pick up some good skills while glossing over a few holes. I'm amazed at how many people don't really pay attention to what the horse is doing underneath them and say they can't feel things, but part of it (I think) is that they never learned to slow down and really key in to the other partner in the dance. I love the idea that it's an ongoing conversation between the horse and the rider, rather than a set of commands and responses. Another thought: has this girl worked with a particular breed, or with a particular trainer, who brings along every horse in the exact same way, so that they really would feel almost interchangeable to her? and now she has the opportunity to ride horses that are more distinct and just doesn't know how to adapt?
As a rider, I have gone through the same numb feeling. I grew up riding and showing western, but several years ago got tired of it and changed to english. I primarily ride dressage now, so I don't really have any insight to problems over fences, but feel is feel. If she doesn't have it on the flat, she won't have it over fences either.
What really helped me gain seat/leg feel was my trainer taking my reins away and making me go back to doing very basic exercises using only my seat and legs. She also had me ride the tests I was practicing bareback (with reins this time) so that I could feel exactly what my horse was doing.
Rein feel is harder to teach, I like the suggestion of playing music and getting your student to be more expressive. It could be that even though she is brave and talented, she may be nervous during lessons and tense up. She may not even realize she is doing it.
Do you have a place where you can go on a trail ride? A more relaxed setting with both of you riding and maybe popping over a few easy xc obstacles might help her loosen up.
It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.
Forgive me in advance if the following is somewhat flaky...
It is a hard thing to allow what one feels to take precedence over what one thinks. It requires a certain confidence, open-mindedness and maturity. And it requires a real connection with one's own body and sensitivity to what that body is trying to communicate to one.
Furthermore, I have noticed that some younger riders who have been successful in the show ring or in Interollegiates (just examples) seem to have been successful because they do the "ideal thing" in position and timing despite the horse under them. I think they learn to turn off the feedback loop, or at least never really use it.
Maybe some body awareness between herself and her mount would help?
They don't call me frugal for nothing.
Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.
Am I making sense here? Anyone dealt with this specifically schooling xc?
I wouldn't take her XC schooling except on the most packer-ish horses, until you're confident that she can read and react to the horse underneath her.
It sounds like she needs to learn body-awareness, both of herself and of the horse underneath her. Lots of asking her what she sees and feels, and, frankly...if she doesn't start to get it, maybe she's just best suited to those big western saddles and huge curb bits, and the deadhead horses underneath them.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what
lies with in us. - Emerson
You may have to actually teach her some things that other riders do intuitively. It might take months, but building in lots of questions - "right now, which rein feels heavier in your hand? what does that mean? what can you do about it? and what are his shoulders doing - look down, do you see ...." blah, blah, blah. Make it explicit, ask HER the questions, get HER to answer you before you move on, get HER to make comparisons between the horses she rides and TELL you about them as part of her lesson.
As a rider who struggles with this very issue ("feel" definitely does not come naturally to me) I might ask my coach to do this for me so I can work on concrete ways to improve. I am constantly frustrated with myself for not knowing what is happening underneath me. My trainer is always telling me to half halt on my outside rein so his shoulder doesn't bulge when we are bending, but I have no idea what that bulging shoulder looks or feels like! It's exasperating to feel so disconnected, believe me.
I don't agree with you FlightCheck- maybe intuitive feel can't be taught, but I think hard work can be just as good as natural talent if you find the right way to get the information across.
I'd be interested to hear how you get through to her OP- maybe it will help me!
betsyk, I really appreciate your perspective on that. It makes me think about ways I can control what she feels and guide her on it more. Maybe I didn't spend enough time holding the reins like I was the horse's mouth? But, gosh, I wish I could think of other things. I've tried and tried, for example, to soften and "sensitize" her from fingertips to shoulders by getting her to develop a rounder arm and keep her thumbs at 45 degrees (instead of the either flat or 90s she adopts when I'm not getting after her). I thought I saw progress for a while when I focused on that. Perhaps I didn't keep at it long enough (sigh).
Which rein feels heavier in your hand? Oh, I really like that question!
Has this girl worked with a particular breed, or with a particular trainer, who brings along every horse in the exact same way, so that they really would feel almost interchangeable to her? Exactly! She told me that four years ago (when she’d have been only 13!) her trainer put her on a greenie that tossed her head first into a wire fence. She was riding about a dozen horses for him--at that age!
She also had me ride the tests I was practicing bareback (with reins this time) so that I could feel exactly what my horse was doing. Oddly enough, she rides her own two horses bareback a lot, even over fences.
Do you have a place where you can go on a trail ride? A more relaxed setting with both of you riding and maybe popping over a few easy xc obstacles might help her loosen up. I’m working on finding the time to get the youngsters out (with her). She goes on our dirt road with them quit regularly, but it’s not the same, IMO.
It is a hard thing to allow what one feels to take precedence over what one thinks. It requires a certain confidence, open-mindedness and maturity. That is a great point! One thing that I still haven’t quite managed to break her of, for example, is her need to tell me the way “we do it” (how western riders do “it,” how her trainer had her doing “it”). Sometimes, I admit, I get a little snappy about that because I’ve indicated several times that “it” is simply not the same thing, especially if you have a curb bit in the horse’s mouth, but also because the sports are just dramatically different—which I’m not sure she’s quite convinced of yet, on the flat. "Openmindedness" may indeed be a significant obstacle, too.
You might wonder why I am using her. Well, she IS brave and she IS such a natural--never gets left behind, even on greenies. Long or short distances, hiccups and all: She just never gets left behind, never gets them in the mouth, and does an automatic release with ease from jumping bareback and not knowing the crest release even existed!
So, I appreciate all of your advice. If I can figure out how to help her progress, she would be such a great pony jock--she's even eligible to compete on ponies for one more year.
Make her read Centered Riding. Lot's of good imagery and a review of proper technique and body mechanics for our sport. I grew up similarly, could ride anything tough but the only real instruction were 'heels down' 'sit up' etc. It was a couple lessons with a former UL eventer ( when I first heard about using my outside rein properly) and a college riding class that used CR as it's text that I started to get it. Until then I was just posing and staying on.
How about paying for some regular lessons (on your horses) with a trainer that exemplifies the more sensitive approach you are trying to impart, and is also skilled at teaching that approach to others? It might be less frustrating for you, help her to learn faster, and also help to neutralize any tension/frustration on the rider's part if you are telegraphing (consciously or subconsciously) your fear that her riding style will damage (or at least inhibit) advancement of your horses. I was the very lucky beneficiary of several arrangements like this when I was a similar self-made seat-of-the-pants type of young rider. It always worked much better than having the horse owner micromanage my riding style, probably because (1) the situation was more depersonalized, (2) the instructors were professionals that had worked through the same issues with countless other riders in the past and knew how to get their points across in a way that would work for each rider, and (3) the instructors were usually excellent horse trainers who were likely to be know better than the owner what the best approach for a given horse was. In other words, some degree of depersonalization was better for the horse as well as the rider.
This may be way off base, but how does she interact with people? Is it possible she may have Asberger's or autism? Some people with these disabilities don't pick up on social cues or can't empathize... Just a thought...
Does she talk more when riding outside of lessons? I know plenty of students who easily talk to their horses-- Good Boy this and that, when schooling alone. But when in a lesson, suddenly their voice disappears and they focus solely on what the instructor is saying, and sort of forget to ride the horse beneath them.
Can you have her talk out loud while she rides? Have her tell YOU what she's doing. You, as instructor, ask her to talk her way around a circle as she rides it. This will test her awareness of what she's doing, what the horse is doing. For example: "I'm trotting a circle at A. Squeeze inside rein. He's leaning, so I need more inside leg. (He responds) Good Boy. " See if she can "instruct herself" while you watch and be quiet.
As a teacher, it's tempting to create obedient Robot Students who do exactly as they're told, immediately when instructed. But without feedback, it's hard to know if the student is connecting the dots between what you're asking them to do-- Why and When. That's where feel comes in...can they Feel what's happening, do they know how to correct it, and can they get it done with proper timing? It takes a lot of repetition to develop Feel, even for those who are naturally inclined-- you may Feel Something, but need help identifying it consistently.
Personally, I chatter to myself and my horses all the time-- "more inside leg" through a turn, "half-HALT...good (let go)..." down a hill, "up, up, UP" with leg and shoulders to change the horse's balance, etc. Talking while riding reinforces what you're doing, and engages different parts of your brain, keeps you and your horse focused, and keeps you breathing (relaxed!).
“A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
? Albert Einstein
"Feel" and sensitivity...Some people have it...some don't. It is very hard to teach/install!!! One thing I've done...tie her reins in a knot and replace her reins with bailing twine. Makes the rider HAVE to be more sensitive. As far as horse appreciation goes...no one can implant "that"!! Some people have good riding mechanics, but ride like robots...might as well be on a 4 wheeler!! Good luck converting her!
Feel....comes more naturally for some and not others. Most kids do not connect their feel with thoughts yet. They do exercises...and gain feel without thinking about it....then you try to get them to understand what they are feeling. Adults you teach concepts first....they will understand the mechanics and purpose long before they can actually feel it.
For this kid...take her off the horse and do some isolation practice. Where she lays on the floor and tenses and relaxes small parts of her body at a time. Start with toes and work up...this helps them isolate and feel themselves.
On the horse, you need to do exercises where they relax and tense parts of their body. Then when riding....exercises focusing on doing something with as little as possible. No reins and yet stopping or turning.
The other issue you talked about was learning to ride different horses. Right now...she doesn't have enough tools or understanding to know how to change how she rides for different horses. This isn't unusual. It will come with experience.
The rewarding (or lack there of)....that is pretty typical too. I still have to tell people to do that---I'm not a trainer but used to teach kids in college and still help friends. She hasn't learned that it is as important of a training tool as knowing when to kick.
Bottom line...she may be a good rider but no way no how is she ready for training a green horse at this time. This is VERY common with most young riders. She doesn't have the maturity yet even if she has the riding skill.
** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **
Wynn, there are many exercises to use to develop this. An intermed. rider as you describe is right there esp. if she is as talented as you describe. Just a few little things and she'll get it.
Carry a bat across the thumbs. Introduce lateral work ASAP so get her leg and hands working independently. Bounces, and take the reins away, or knot them and allow her to use only one hand, alternate the hands. Use a neck strap ALWAYS and insist she use it. video everything and play it back in the ring while she can see it and then go try again. set different gymnastics for the two different horses and let her feel the difference in stride/jump thru the exercises.
PWynn, would you consider putting her on a horse/ pony and telling her that the ride for the next 30 minutes is about her developing a relationship with the horse: not being perfect, not training, but just developing a relationship using her aids and voice. Let her know that you will be chiming in with occasional questions like "Which seatbone is heavier right now?" as above "Which rein is heavier?", and "What part of your leg is touching the horse? Is it constant pressure or intermittent?". Of course the follow-on questions for each of these might be "And how is the horse responding? Is that what you wanted to have happen or were you expecting something else? What are some different ways to accomplish what you want?"
Huge props to you for seeing the talent in this rider and being willing to nurture it. If she can step out of her comfort zone, she'll learn so much from you and have many more tools that she can use when riding.
They don't call me frugal for nothing.
Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.
ridingagain, that was my thought also. It may not even be a definite "disability", just an inability to feel empathy or to be "sympathetic", or to show that in front of you. Perhaps it is her age, immaturity or whatever, but I don't think it is as unusual as we might think.
BFNE made a similar suggestion to what I was going to say. I think meditation, and an exercise a music teacher made us do as kids, where you think about each part of your body in turn, might be helpful. I can now relax almost instantly at night when I go to sleep because of this. I'm wondering if she is just not all that aware of her body?