by Wil & Beverly Howe
Wil Howe Ranch Newsletter, Summer 2000
As people turn to us for ideas and techniques for better communication with their horses, we help them discover that they are actually training their horse with every action that they make. However, working a horse on the ground and gaining some "feel" and finesse is only part of it. To relay the same message of authority with sensitivity and to maintain the leadership and trust of your horse while on its back is a totally different thing. We find most riders, no matter how much they've ridden, wanting to improve certain responses and "moves" on their horses, are still having to start at square one with us. This self-examining eye-opening experience can be very humbling. But one must come to this realization in order to learn and make lasting changes in their horsemanship.
We try to instill a style of riding that imparts a oneness with your horse, so you are able to ride without causing friction or interference with your horse. Most people merely "get in the way of their horse" or hinder the very moves they are working so hard to attain with their horse. To start with, we'll talk about seat and balance. Most people brace against their horse, rather than relaxing, especially in the saddle. We like to take the saddle away from our students for a lesson or two for starters--not totally bareback, but with a bareback pad or a saddle pad. This gives enough cushion to make the ride smooth, yet not let the rider slip and grip the horse's skin (which can roll). We then have the students focus on the rhythm of the horse and sheer balance while relaxing the entire body, flexing the hips and lower back to the shift of the horse's stride. We work on having riders use their stomach muscles to pull their belt buckle to their chin. By concentrating on the movement underneath you by closing your eyes and becoming like a wave, allowing flexibility from your head to your tail bone, we emphasize the concept "your hip pockets are your horses hip pockets" in order to move in sequence with your horse. This allows your legs to swing freely and naturally with your knees and toes out, thus encouraging our "calf first" rule of leg aides.
Balance and confidence is critical for a rider to gain harmony with their horse. There is no greater place to build both of these than in the security of a Wil Howe Round Pen.
When you have acquired an independent seat in which the movement of the hands is disassociated from the movement of the rest of your body, you can then ride fluidly and be able to work on more communication through the reins and master collection and use of your legs. If you are still out of sync with your horse, you are giving your horse mixed signals, often telling the horse "go" and "whoa" at the same time. This is why an independent seat is so important. Balance and coordination is attainable if you work at it. Next time you head for the round pen, have someone videotape your riding and make your own analysis!