To ride your best, you must put mind over mechanics. By that I mean, rather than obsessing over the mechanics of cueing, use your brainpower to develop three essentials of good horsemanship: balance, decision-making, and consistency.
I’ve done a little of everything, including reining, jumping, all-around, and more. Each discipline has its own way of asking a horse to do something. In reining you take your leg off to stop. In Western pleasure you put your leg on. Ultimately, you can whistle Dixie to get a horse to stop—as long as you’re consistent in doing so.
Riders often confuse themselves by continually changing their mechanics based on what they most recently learned from a clinic or an article. I tell my youths and non-pros, you don’t have to ride exactly like me. You can’t, anyway! We’re all different. Just be consistent and use your head.
Mechanics will vary, but you always need balance, decision-making, and consistency to become a confident, effective rider. We’ll look at each of these qualities in turn.
Riders are most confident when they’re sitting in the middle of the saddle and everything’s in balance. Too often, though, riders tell me they can’t feel that balance point. I don’t accept that! I tell them, you walked into the arena from the parking lot and didn’t fall down once, or even wobble. You were trusting your balance.
But for some reason, when they get in that saddle, they want to trust their eyes instead of their body and their balance. So they look down. They lean this way and that. Their hands creep over to the side, confusing their horse.
Instead, just relax and concentrate on feeling your horse directly underneath you. Identify your balance point. You want your horse to feel confident coming up underneath you—and this will give you confidence, too.
As you prepare to ask your horse for something, decide in advance what you want to accomplish. It’s like the decision-making process involved in driving. If I need to get a load of rock, for example, that tells me where I want to go, to the rock pile. And I know I’ll need my truck, too, not my sedan—that’s how I’m going to get there.
Furthermore, because it’s been raining and the roads are slick, I’m going to drive a little slower—that’s my speed.
So, with your horse, you must make those same decisions in advance.
• Where do you want to go? This is the maneuver you plan to do or the direction you’re going to ride in.
• How are you going to get there? This is your horse’s frame and your balance.
• And, finally, at what speed will you travel?
These decisions dictate how you ride. When you plan them in advance, you have the best chance of setting yourself and your horse up for success.
As I’ve said, all of us trainers have different ways of training a horse to do something. We’re like math teachers, who may each use a different method to teach you that 4 plus 4 equals 8. Some may use dots. Some may count on fingers. Some may use some other method. But whatever the system, the answer is always 8. That gives you confidence in math.
But if some days the answer is 5 and on other days it’s 7—and you’re punished whenever you don’t get it right—that would destroy your confidence in short order.
It’s the same with your horse. Inconsistency is awful for him! Whereas reliability that enables him always to know what the right answer is builds his confidence and lets him learn.
The more consistent you can be with your horse, the more confident he’ll be. And this, in turn, will build your own confidence.