How To Ride Your Gaited Horse
Part IV
© Beverly Whittington 2003

Begin Putting it Together

A horse in motion should carry his spine so that it mirrors the tract he is taking. When on a straight path his spine should remain straight, on a curved path his spine should follow that curve. For a horse to perform correctly his hind legs follow the same path and step in the same directions as the fore legs on straight as well as on curved lines. As soon as the horse is in motion and turning or bending the demands of balance and straightness dictate where the hands, legs, hips, and shoulders of the rider are at any given point in time. The ultimate result with a skilled rider means are no longer actions and reactions, there is only horse and rider as ONE UNIT. To do this you have to adjust your seat and posture on the horse to move WITH him. The rider adjusts to suit the form of the horse and to encourage the response desired. If you have achieved a center and have improved the balance of your seat as discussed in the previous articles, you have achieved as position on the horse that allows you feel the horses' motion and how your position can be an enhancement or an encumbrance to that motion.

Figure 1
In the turn you advance your inside hipbone, tipping the top of the hipbone a little forward, as if pointing it in that direction so that it is slightly further forward than the outside. It is often easier to think of aiming your knees the direction you are going, as this will accomplish the same results while incorporating a leg aid. Try these aids out on your horse at a walk and on a loose rein. You will find that you can turn the horse without any rein cues at all. The horse does not have to be trained to do this - it is just a natural response to the slight shift in your weight and the use of the leg aids. Of course, this is over simplifying the turn, and only part of the whole. 
Rider Crookedness or Sidedness

Try a simple exercise to see the degree of crookedness you have when you ride. This will also show your stiff side, or sidedness. Mount your horse and take the steps previously described to achieve a centered and balanced seat. Now put your horse at a walk and drop one stirrup. Try to maintain your seat and balance WITHOUT tensing any part of your body. Begin gaiting at first moving straight, then after you feel secure, ride in this pattern.
Evaluate the ease or lack of ease with which your complete the pattern. Put your horse back at a walk, then take up the stirrup you had dropped and drop the other one and re-do the pattern, in gait, without that stirrup. The stirrup that was most uncomfortable or difficult to do without is your "stiff" side and in all likelihood the side you tend to lean towards. As you feel comfortable with the exercise in Figure 1, incorporate the use of your seat bones and leg aids into this exercise. Try to make the turns crisp, the lines straight and the circles as round as possible. As your balance improves, try this in gait without any stirrups and in smaller circles.
Gripping the Saddle

One of the reasons you need to learn to ride your horse through balance and self carriage can be illustrated by a simple exercise. This will also show you if your horse has begun the process of responding to your aids, if your previous equitation had "turned him off".

Warm your horse up first and try the exercise in Figure 1 to see if he is awake to your aids. Get your seat and center correct and place your horse in gait, on a straight away. With your hands and arms in the correct position, ride the horse with light contact on the bit. You are going to ask the horse to slow his gait by seat AND reins,  just by tightening the tension between your hips and hands, NOT by pulling back. First tighten your knees and thighs against the saddle slightly as this blocks the horse's shoulder, make sure you are not raising up out of the saddle as you do so. Next use the seat/reins to stop by pulling your hips towards your hands equally as strong as your pull your hands towards your hips. Always use your seat first. Apply the aid, only until you feel a response and then relaxed again. Did your horse begin to slow BEFORE you added rein contact? Your horses response may be sluggish at first, as he will have tuned out your seat cues in the past if you rode gripping the saddle for balance. Repeat the exercise, praising the horse at the first response so he begins to understand that THIS TIME you tightened your seat on purpose! 

OK so is this beginning to turn any light bulbs on? With a Balance and Centered, Independent seat, you can communicate with your horse through your WHOLE body, not just by kicking his sides or pulling on the reins. The benefits of this are enormous, but one of the first you will notice is how LIGHT and responsive the horse's mouth will become. No more tugs of war to establish direction or speed and the horse will begin to move with impulsion, which is impossible in a horse braced against the bit. 

Other Articles of interest.
The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Achieving Response, Gait and Confidence through Relaxation

Rider Affect on the Horses Movement

MAKING CONTACT How to use a bit 


Exercises at the Walk

Conditioning a Horse to Gait

Equitation for Gaited Horses

Exercises for Increased Flexibility in Gaited Horses

The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Part I Part II Part III
Part IV Part V Part VI The Flat Walk
Part VII The Fox Trot Part VIII The Rack


To Be Continued...

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