Riding is an enjoyable pastime. Spending time with a horse does more for an equestrian’s soul than most other things on earth. Non-equestrians will never understand the obsession, the amount of time we spend in the muck, or why we let our vehicle smell that way. We do it to repay the horse for what they do for us. For some people, horses give them a sense of purpose. For others, an escape from the rush of daily life. Some it allows them to have a better social life. But, for all, it has to do with that unique feeling that the horse gives us. A sense of safety, a feeling of love, a feeling of freedom, a feeling of friendship. These are only a few of the things that fulfill the purpose of why we have our horses but, what about our purpose for the horse.
Horses help heal and prepare us for more than most of us even understand. It is important that the things we do with our horses are beneficial to them as well. There are lots of activities we can do with them. It is more about how we do the activity that will either help or hurt our horsey friends in the long run. It is sometimes a specific moment that you can remember that may have caused your horse to be sore or even lame. Most of the time, it creeps up on them from doing things incorrectly over a period of time, and the owner has no idea what happened. The reason for most lameness is a result of the horse not quite moving the right way for a long enough period of time that they eventually start to wear themselves down.
Biomechanically the horse is one of the best, if not the best, designed animals on land, which is why they are so athletic and are able to maintain that athleticism while being ridden. The kicker is that in order to have a long healthy career, they need to move in a specific way so that they do not cause unnecessary stress on their bodies. It is important to work them in a way that also does not cause anxiety or any other mental stress as well. A horse has the structural integrity to carry a rider, but it does not naturally know how to carry the added weight of the rider. This is something that needs to be taught. It is one of the most important things a horse needs to learn, or they will not be able to move with grace and balance.
Every move we make while riding needs to have meaning and a purpose for your horse. Each time you ask your horse to do something, you also have to think about how they need to do it and what balance they need to accomplish what you are asking. Helping your horse find a balanced position for whatever movement you are asking for and doing it in a way that lets your horse be supple are the two best things you can ever do for your horse. Focusing on those two things while working will ensure that your horse is happy and will continue to be a willing partner for you.
It takes time to develop the feel for what, when, and how things need to happen with your horse. Do not be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Your horse knows the difference between an honest mistake and you doing things in malice. Once your horse figures out that the reason you are doing these things is for them, they will begin to be more patient and willing. Know exactly what you want before you ask. Be clear when you ask. Give your horse time to think through it and help them where they need help. If you think about these four things when riding, you will find more success in your rides. We all love our horses, the stubborn ones, the lazy ones, and even the crazy ones. Because one way or another, they are fulfilling their purpose for us. It is your purpose to help them become better as they help you become better, in whatever way that is. Long ago, horsemen coined the phrase “the rider’s aids.” They are called aids because they are to help the horse. Not to dominate or punish or even control. Work with your horse, for your horse, so that your horse can continue to help you as the two of you enjoy your own unique experiences together for many years to come.