I always learn something every time I teach a lesson. Whether it is a big, lightbulb moment or something small that I don't realize until later on, I never finish a lesson without having learned something.
Not Teaching Nearly as Many Students Since My Accident
Since my accident, I'm only able to teach my more advanced students—the ones that can catch, tack up there own horses, and get on and ready all by themselves.
So today, I taught three lessons, which is not many compared to what I used to do, but it seems that now more than ever, with fewer students, I pick up more details than ever before.
The First Lesson
The first lesson I taught was two sisters that have been riding with me for years. They were on Marley and Molly, who are good horses, but typical lesson horses with typical lesson horse behaviors. They cut corners sometimes and have trouble picking up one lead or another.
The footing in the ring was not very good today. In fact, it was pretty sloppy, and there were quite a few spots in the ring that we had to avoid altogether.
We worked on walking and trotting without stirrups, then worked on being able to get their feet back in the stirrups without slowing to walk. They had a hard time with this. I did not think this would become their whole lesson, but it practically did.
Obviously, they have been riding for a while so have lost a stirrup here and there before, but had always stopped to get it back. It never occurred to them that they could work on getting their feet back in as they were moving, not to mention how useful this could be at any time to know that they can get their foot back in if it slips out. So they perfected this skill, and I learned that this is an exercise that I should incorporate into my program regularly.
My students will benefit from learning this skill earlier on in their riding careers, so I need to add this to my arsenal of important exercises to do with all my students.
My second lesson was a slightly more advanced student on one of our greener lesson horses. Green isn't really the correct word – he is more so just out of practice. He's been sitting around doing nothing for a long time, so he has lost his work ethic.
His rider is one of my more experienced girls, but she has mostly ridden the horses that already know how to do their jobs, and don't need a lot of guidance or constant correction.
This is the perfect horse for her to be riding at this point in her career. She needs to be challenged and learn the "big kid" stuff, like how to ride a horse on the bit.
Today I watched as she tried tirelessly to get Cool to stay on the bit. She would get a few good strides, but her timing wasn't quite right with when she was softening for him and he was getting frustrated, making him want to brace against her hand.
His head wasn't totally up but he was tight through his neck and jaw and his trot strides were short and choppy. And I know he is capable of them being long and loose.
I had to come up with a way to break the cycle they were embracing against each other. She would ask him to bring his head down, he would brace and go faster, and then if he did lower his head, his riders timing wasn't quite right to soften and make him want to reach down into the bit. We were building tension, not relaxation.
So, I decided to incorporate canter transitions. She would ask him to get around and soften for her, instead of expecting him to keep carrying himself, which would have lead to them getting tense and fighting again. I had her to ask for a canter. He would go into a nice soft canter, and she would canter a circle or two then come back to trot and try again.
Breaking the cycle of tension and allowing him to go forward into the canter changed his whole attitude about the ride. I could tell the rider was getting frustrated since she was doing her best and not getting any results. Once we added the canter circles in between the working on his trot frame, they both loosened up and they were trotting around in a beautiful frame before we knew it.
Obviously, he has to learn to carry himself properly at the trot and shouldn't have to canter in between trot circles to relax enough to do it. It is a learning curve for both horse and rider, though, and at this point, those canter circles are what was allowing her to come back and get those really nice trot moments. Riding is all about muscle memory. The more she feels those good moments the more naturally they will come. So, in my opinion, even if an exercise is a little outside the box, if it helps her and the horse to feel those lightbulb moments, I am all for it!
The Last Lesson of the Day
My last lesson of the day was with my adult student (and friend) who was interested in learning some groundwork exercises she can work on if the ground is not suitable enough to ride.
We worked on the concept of establishing personal space. It was up to her to decide what her personal space should be and only she could invite the horse in and out of that space. The horse isn't allowed to barge into it on her own.
We worked on backing the horse up without moving towards the horse. Using only her body language and a tap with the whip, she moved Zoe out of her space without moving herself at all.
It was cool to see how my student was realizing that her body posture and her position in relation to the horse's body makes a huge difference in how much control she has.
I could see her energy changing and affecting the horse, pushing her when she needs pushing, as well as relaxing her when she needed to be relaxed a bit.
Doing groundwork with a horse is a lot harder than it looks, and it's so important for everyone to learn. Everyone should learn basic groundwork exercises so that they can have a true understanding of how their energy and body position effect the horse.
Having a true understanding of this and being able to work a horse on the ground in a way that the horse understands fosters a level of respect between horse and handler. One that will translate to work under saddle.
I have known this for a very long time now. Seeing it though, first hand, was a good reminder of how important it is. It also makes me want to find a way to incorporate it into my program more, and earlier on in my riders education.
So Yeah, I Taught Some Lessons Today
So yeah, I taught some lessons today, but my horses and my riders taught me too. Horsemanship is a journey, so never stop learning!