I had the pleasure of attending a two day clinic in Ocala, Florida this week. This was a unique clinic in that its purpose was to build a bridge between Natural Horsemanship and the discipline of Dressage. Linda Parelli asked Christoph Hess to help her lead this charge. It was a very inspiring two days as I watched Christoph Hess teach and inspire other riders through his vision of the spirit of good riding. Christoph Hess is a Dressage Judge and former director of dressage training for the German National Federation.
The focus for this particular clinic was Dressage, but for me it doesn’t stop there. I believe Natural Horsemanship principles can and should be the foundation that every rider of every discipline builds upon. Because you are communicating with your horse in a language he understands, it will enhance the performance of your horse whether you are a show jumper or a trail rider. Below are some highlights from the two days that really had meaning for me as I continue to grow in my own horsemanship.
The horse is never wrong! The spirit of good riding is the belief that the horse is only doing what he was put on this earth to do. It’s our responsibility to try to communicate with the horse to achieve a flying change, climb a steep rocky trail, or effortlessly jump a difficult combination. And if these things are not happening as soon as you’d like, never punish your horse, but instead consider that he may be confused, or out of balance or even sore somewhere in his body. It’s our responsibility to explain more effectively, communicate better, or show what we want in a different way.
The spirit of good riding is to realize that every horse and rider combination is unique. What may work for one horse, may not work for another, and same for the riders as well. There are many different training methods and many different things we want to do with our horses, but ultimately there is right riding and there is wrong riding. And we all know it when we see it, and we know in hearts when we feel it.
Smile more! Anytime you are with your horse working him on the ground or in the saddle, smile! If you are like me, having horses as an adult was a childhood dream that has come true. We are with some of the most majestic and beautiful creatures put on this earth, so we have every reason to smile about it. Smiling changes our mindset. Smiling causes us to relax and feel, and when you feel you become sensitive to your horse. When you are sensitive to your horse, the horse will in turn begin to read you and your intentions with more accuracy.
Be a mirror for your horse. Whatever you want your horse to do, do it also in your body. If you are turning left, right, or backing up do it in your body as well. If you want your horse to carefully pick his way down a slippery, rocky trail then ride like you are walking down that trail paying close attention and holding your weight back and balanced in the saddle. Mirroring your horse will create the harmony that we all seek with our horses. Partnerships create harmony. Instead of demanding that your horse do things, try thinking of it this way, ask your horse how about you? I’m going to trot down this trail , how about you? I’m going to gallop across the field and take that jump, how about you? I’m going to cross that bridge, how about you?
I think if we hold on to these principles, we will be successful riders on happy horses. A happy horse will be a great jumper, trail horse, or dressage horse. Happy horses have owners that smile a lot, communicate effectively, and are forgiving when their horse doesn’t get it. Happy horses have owners who are playful and creative in their training. A happy horse is a horse that says yes, lets go jump that fence, yes lets go cross that stream, yes lets go side pass that ground pole. There are endless opportunities with a happy horse and rider!