Thoughts On Preparation

I have to admit, I’ve been kind of in a funk lately.  I had a bad case of writer’s block, and I guess rider’s block too.  Nothing seemed to work like I wanted to with my horses, though I got by ok.  It just didn’t impress me, and it didn’t impress my horses either.  Lately when I rode my mare, every time I picked up a rein or thought about doing something, she threw her head up and “wagged” her nose, as if I had ripped her head off with my rein.  I thought it strange since I had made it a point to be very careful and methodical in the way I handled my reins, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t working for her.  I’d go to pick up a soft feel or slow down, and she’d throw her head up and jig.  I’d go to stop, she’d throw her head up and jig.  I’d go to turn, she’d wag her head and brace her neck.  I was getting a bit frustrated, and obviously so was she.  For a few days I gave up and just did some point and shoot trail riding where I promised myself I wouldn’t touch her mouth, but even then she felt crooked, and I’d try to point her back on the trail and again that head would shoot up.

I got to thinking about what I needed to do to get from “turning left” to “turning left together.”  Obviously my horse has no problems turning left on her own, but somehow when I got involved, problems crept in.  My mare is not the best mover, and not the most athletic horse in the world, but I watched her run about in the pasture in an extended trot followed by a nice, balanced stop over her hocks, then a rollback and into the correct lead in the opposite direction, all in perfect balance and without the heaviness on her front end we experienced together.  What was it that enabled her to stay light in that way?  She obviously had an idea of what movement she was about to perform, and her body could get ready to do it before doing the movement.  This got me to thinking, maybe I was too focused on the movement, and not enough on preparing my horse for the movement.  Then, I figured, the rest would take care of itself.


Samson here is prepared to go any direction he needs to – up, down, right, left, or forward.  He does that without my help; nature gave him this amazing ability to gather himself up and send his energy wherever it needs to go to keep himself safe, happy, and sometimes to just express himself!  IMG_0055

Looks like he chose to go forward….and how effortlessly!

So today I rode my mare with the intention of not just getting her to go, turn, stop, speed up, slow down, leg yield, bla bla bla, but rather to get her ready to do any of the above.  The change in her was noticeable right from the start, and within minutes she was buttery soft…something I don’t think I’d ever felt from her.  Her trot went from jarring to smooth and her footfalls just floated over the thin layer of snow.  The effort on my part to get her to leg yield, straigthen, slow, stop, etc, was reduced by a million percent, and I found once I had her prepared for the next movement, she took care of the rest.  Our ride took on a new flow, and the head tossing and wagging stopped altogether.  What’s even better is because she was constantly checking in with me, getting ready for the next thing, she achieved much better self carriage without me pestering her, constantly picking her up just to have her fall apart again.


These horses are getting ready to leave.


These horses are getting ready to turn.


Horses are born with an innate ability to move in any direction they need to at a moment’s notice.

I guess what I’m getting at is that you can “get it done” in many ways.  You can make the horse do any movement you want, and there are scores of books written about doing it.  But getting it to be his idea, to naturally take the lead you want because his body is set up for it, or whatever it is you are interested in doing, that’s hard to write about.  That’s a lifetime endeavor, and one I’m really glad my horses have the patience to teach me.

Photos are by Pamela Bell and Bob Schiel

One thought on “Thoughts On Preparation

  1. Where’s the first suggestion of a change in direction originate between the rider and the horse? I’ll assume it is the turning of the head and shoulders, followed by a shift in the seat / hips and then legs. If I remember what you’ve taught me, this is in syncopation with the horse’s lead foot-fall. I’m sure this varies where stops are concerned. I’d appreciate pondering your approach to ‘cuing’ the horse in a methodical manner. Many thanks Amy for these posts. Better I learn these subtleties with my boots on the ground then when I’m raising dust. TS


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