Teacher, pupil, trainer, rider

The relationship between all of the above and the different responsibilities they share can make for a complicated situation and no matter how inexperienced the rider, he or she must also learn about training the horse. A teacher will help a pupil learns how to sit correctly and apply the aids but the pupil is also responsible for training the horse to be either more responsive, equally responsive or less responsive to their aids. It is important that the rider insists that the horse responds, even if the aids are less than perfect. The worst thing a rider can do is give an aid and not get a response, or even worse, not expect to get a response! Horses are remarkably tolerant and while we don’t want to be rough riders, horses are (surprisingly in some cases) happier with a rider who is clear than one who is indecisive or inconsistent.

Learning to ride is like learning to play the piano while tuning it at the same time; C# must always be C# so when it goes a bit “off key” it must be retuned by a ”professional”. With riding you have to deal with a horse that doesn’t always obey the rules of equitation, or even of logic. Applying the same aids to different horses will not necessarily give you the same response, unlike a mechanical horse which is programmed to give consistent responses to consistent aids. Interestingly, experienced riders sometimes find mechanical horses quite difficult because they can’t “train” them and as an experienced rider they are used to training their horses to respond to their own aids, no matter how incorrect or inconsistent they are. Classical riding tries to standardise the aids which should make life much easier but even the Classical trainers can’t agree exactly how to ride a horse. Andrew McLean’s 10 basic responses is probably the most consistent and logical system as it is based on how horses learn but even his system requires a rider/trainer that has a high skill level.

And then there is the problem that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. It was explained to me recently that tailors and surgeons have a lot in common. Why? Because they both offer a bespoke service. The general procedures may be the same but there are subtle differences and they have to make adjustments and allowances to suit the individual whether it is a new hip or a new jacket. We teachers and trainers also offer a bespoke service as no 2 riders or horses are the same. The Classical principles are the same but how the individual translates those principles into practice must take into account their shape, build, temperament and that of the horse. Not easy, and not surprising that there is so much confusion.

Most teachers spend a ridiculous amount of time correcting bad habits in both horse and rider and this creates more confusion as TCMs (Temporary Corrective Measures) are not the same as training. For example, a poorly trained horse, (or a riding school horse that is frequently ridden by less experienced riders) may become sluggish to the leg or heavy in the hand or a bossy horse may become difficult or even dangerous to handle because its owner has neglected to teach it “boundaries”. This is always a challenge for the trainer/teacher as the horse that has been “de-trained” by such a rider or poorly trained by an owner will probably need to be “retrained” and sometimes this will involve some quite strong corrections which will look quite ugly or even harsh to the untrained eye. One has to remember that this is only necessary when the riding/training has been inadequate and that “normal” aiding and responses to light aids should be established as soon as possible. However, with Facebook and YouTube, trainers and teachers can have their reputation ruined by an ignorant and disrespectful person who only sees the imperfections, no matter how brief and no matter the cause. Gerd Heuschmann had a very damaging picture doing the rounds which seemed to show him riding a horse in rollkur. In fact, he had just got on the horse when it decided to “tank off” with him. He had been asked to help retrain this spoilt horse, and out of necessity gave a good “heave ho” on the reins to establish “stop now!” The horse had learnt to put its head on its chest and continue to ignore its rider. Now whose fault was that I wonder? After a short time, an understanding had been reached and the horse worked on a much lighter rein with a free and natural head carriage. Naturally, this bit was not shown on Youtube! But inexperienced riders sometimes assume that everything is sweetness and light in riding and while that is the aim, there will be times when a trainer has to “insist”. Some horses are quite bullish in nature while others are shy and fearful so OBVIOUSLY (!!) the trainer will adapt his aids to get the best response. (see above about “bespoke”) Even the most “natural” of “horse whisperers” will have met horses that are tricky and need a bit of reinforcement; they just won’t do that in public and I find this a bit disingenuous. Monty Roberts never takes difficult horse for his demonstrations; he chooses the ones that are going to show a good result in a short time and he knows enough to avoid certain types of horses. I am sure he is more than capable of handling them at home but it will take longer than is possible during a demonstration. Andrew McLean is much braver (or more stupid?!) as he will tackle any problem even if that puts him in the firing line of the “Holier than thou” internet experts.

Then there is the sensitive horse that gets a reputation for being difficult because its rider/trainer has not the skills to help such a horse. “Where knowledge ends, force begins”. The inexperienced rider has insufficient control over his or her body so gives a multitude of contradictory aids that the poor horse is desperately trying to understand and obey. When the horse responds to these random aids it gets punished for doing the “wrong” thing. This type of horse will get very confused and nervous with such a rider and will require retraining with a good steady rider for several weeks, or maybe months and may never be a horse for a novice rider. These are usually the easiest horse for a professional to retrain as they flourish with the right rider and it is how clever riders get great horses on the cheap!

There is a book by Alois Podhajsky called “My Horses, My Teachers” and it is true that ultimately it is the horses that either confirm or deny our skill or lack of it. Erik Herbermann’s latest book “From the Horse’s Mouth” has a similar message and is one that every teacher, pupil, trainer and rider should respect.

Previous Article   Return to Top