Here is a small video clip of Vip, showing his recent progress. He is a horse that really wants to please – sometimes even too much! He’s starting, though, to become more confident and relaxed in his work, which has meant we’ve been able to attempt some of the higher collected movements, such as flying changes. Each time we train, we work on small progressions – satisfaction comes from a simple improvement done well.
Quite often while teaching clinics or lessons, I’m struck by the way that we can all too easily focus on small detailed things rather than the bigger picture of what we’re trying to achieve with our horses and ourselves. I think it’s very important to have a holistic sense of the training of horse and rider – what we want to achieve and how we’ll try to get there. Every exercise we do in training is then a preparation for the next, progressing steadily toward the objective of a supple, light horse that enjoys work and moves in self-carriage and balance without getting injuries or other problems.
Of course it can be our private goal to perform a really nice shoulder in, or half pass or piaffe, but we can all perhaps reflect on the fact that mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns – there is a lot of satisfaction to be felt from achieving a beautifully simple circle where horse and rider are in balance and sync with each other, for example. Performed within the context of a more holistic view of the horse and rider’s development, these simple successes will steadily build into something very meaningful.
I think it can often help to take away the magic of different exercises, or the thought that any exercise is unreachable for you and the horse. In fact we shouldn’t really see specific exercises as goals in themselves at all. Instead, it’s helpful to think of them as simply a help for both of you move toward suppleness and lightness.
We as riders are all different, in our body, mind and the historical experiences that have shaped us. The same applies to horses. And so too for the trainers we take advice from. We will never be an identical rider to that person we train with, or the rider we most admire. In working on our developmental programme, it’s helpful to reflect on the things that influence our riding – our physical abilities; ambitions and fears with horses; state of mind; technical understanding; the influences and ambitions of those who in turn have influenced us and so on. It’s always worth thinking about why you are doing something the way you are doing it, and whether that is the only way, or the best way. Seek new possibilities for broadening your understanding and abilities, as well as those of your horse, rather than closing doors on them. After all, there will never be a point at which your work will be done – so why not enjoy the learning journey as an objective in itself?
Importantly, just as we talk about our horse being in ‘balance’ physically, this is a useful metaphor for the whole relationship between horse and rider. We need to be in balance – both in mind and body – and to find a way that suits ourselves and our horses together. When we want so badly to achieve deeply held ambitions, it’s all too easy to get frustrated with ourselves or with our horses from time to time, but what is important is how we deal with these experiences and use them. Depending on how we see the whole picture – these small challenges or problems can become a significant focus, a hurdle or a barrier. Or they can be used as a reason to reflect, broaden our focus and think about new opportunities for communication and understanding.