“I always, whether I’m on a young horse or on a grand prix horse, ALWAYS count down (to the canter): 3 -2-1 pop!” Natasha Althoff, Equestrian and Author.
Picture this: you're out for a leisurely walk, enjoying the scenery with your significant other, then out of nowhere he turns it into a workout. He grabs your hand, pulls you into a run, yanking you out of a casual stroll into a jog without warning. Not cool! Any tender thoughts you may have been having towards your partner evaporate into absolute annoyance.
That’s why Natasha and every other considerate rider give their horses a heads up when a change of tempo to the ride is coming. As a bonus, I use the countdown for myself also: On “3” my seat bones are connected to Sportie’s backbone and I see his eye flash back to me attentively; on “2” my hands are in their correct position on the reins and I feel Sportie is on the bit; on “1” my calves tighten and engage Sportie’s hindquarters. We are clear for takeoff. For the “Pop!” I click for a trot or kiss for a canter and we’re flying.
The nature of the horse herd is always about warning. Heads go up from grazing with their ears forward if they’re on alert for an encroaching coyote, before the stampede occurs. The lead mare flattens her ears back to tell a lesser mare to get out of her space before a bite follows. Any sudden movement means something has gone instantly horribly wrong. Sudden movements in the saddle should be avoided at all times.
Consistency and consideration will take us a long way in our riding, resulting in a more enjoyable experience. Our horses will feel connected to and respected by us, and that’s where a good ride begins and ends.