Essays of an Equestrian

Finding the best instructor you can is really important. They are not all created equal. Although I know there are good ones out there, there are also many who are not worth their salt. It should be noted that there are varying degrees of good and bad, and it’s up to you to decide for yourself. I only offer you up things to consider.

I am writing this based upon my experiences and of things I remember being taught or not taught, as it were.

I have calculated that during my time with horses that I have taken 847 lessons. I have watched an additional 113 lessons. That equals at least $45,000 spent on lessons alone. Since my childhood there has to have been at least twenty five people who have instructed me.

Mention this to my family and they’ll ask why I still take lessons. “Don’t you know how to ride yet?”

Gggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr maybe not!!

After that much money being spent I should be an expert. Yet I am not. I’m just like the rest of the amateurs out there still trying to learn and to become better. So no dear family, I apparently do not yet know how to ride.

Thanks for noticing.

Rather than blame myself I’ll chose instead to pick on one American phenomenon as to why I am not better. The phenomenon that I have noticed is that here in America we have developed certain bad habits in both riding and teaching.

So now I must rag on those bad habits. I am hoping you knew I would.

I’ll begin with this rant: Here in the States, way too often riders are taught to ride off the front of the horse and because of this we’ve done ourselves a terrible disservice. It should also be noted that we are also terribly lacking in patience.

As a result, there are a lot of amateurs in the U.S. who quite frankly don’t ride very well. We have become a nation in a rush and as such the US horse scene is full of jumpers who want to jump before they can canter and dressage riders who want to piaffe before they can sit and balance a horse well.

And how do we compensate? By using our hands to steer, to balance and to write $45,000 worth of checks to instructors.

I could not possibly calculate how many people I’ve watched instructed over crossrails or jumps who were not yet even proficient at the canter. We’ve all seen it! Some even post videos like this on the internet thinking it looks good.

Now let’s look at posting diagonals. It is my guess that two thirds of you reading this (if not more) were taught to post the diagonal when the outside foreleg comes forward. It’s okay, you can admit it.

Yet when I went for a lesson with a Master and was on the incorrect diagonal (a stunning duh moment on my part) he instructed me that I was on “the wrong hind leg”.

This made me stop in my tracks and turn to look at him like a big, red faced yutz.

“Pardon? What’s wrong with the hind leg?” I said.

Oh, poor poor clueless me.

He took a deep breath and mustered up some patience. “You were posting on the wrong hind leg. You needed to bounce once.”

There was this instant conversation in my brain which went like this: “Oh. Okay, think brain… think.Forget about all the people watching at this clinic.I am posting on the wrong hind leg, and at the trot diagonal legs move in unison, so (insert light bulb here) duh…. I’m on the wrong diagonal! Oh thank goodness….now do”

I went on, making sure I was posting on the right diagonal. I did what everyone does. I looked down to make sure.

I could then hear him address the clinic audience. It was important what he had to say, even if I was the lab rat that caused him to say it.

“Too often riders are taught to look down for the correct diagonal on the front leg. We should not do that. We should feel the correct diagonal by concentrating on the hind leg always, the inside hind for the diagonal. Feel it, not see it. When we canter we must make sure we engage the inside hind leg as well”.


Crap. It then occurred to me that in order for me to change this one little thing I would have to do an awful lot of work and an awful lot of relearning.


That day sparked an odyssey of some two years, muscle memory-ing my way out of looking down at the front to know what the horse is doing. That was the day I consciously had to relearn riding the back. Ride the front end like a baby and the back end like a gorilla. Okay, got it.

So for two years at every ride I would test myself over the developing of “feel”. Two years where I’d sit the trot, close my eyes and then lift up to what I believed was the right diagonal and then opening my eyes to test and see if I got it right. In the beginning I got my guesses wrong a lot. Soon I adjusted that to when I thought I should go up I should wait once, then rise. From there I moved on to learning THAT feel.

Two years of this either makes me very dedicated, or very stupid for having taken that long to learn it.

Then again, let’s not be too harsh on me. I had had oodles of lessons in various disciplines with a myriad of instructors. Each and every one of them had told me, instructed me, been paid good money to teach me how to ride and every last one of them had instructed me to look down at the trot for when the outside foreleg goes forward as opposed to rising when the inside hind goes forward.

As it turned out, this way of instruction not only took two years to fix, but then had other results as well. I eventually had to learn to feel the body a lot more and my core and butt where better able to stay in tune with the bodies swing.

Yet I was lucky. At least I didn’t have to relearn the canter as much. It wasn’t as bad for me at the canter as it is for so many people I see. How many of us look down to check for correct lead at the canter, when all we have to do is be taught to feel if it is correct from the back end? Can you feel the inside hind reaching forward well? Can you?

Thankfully, looking down at the canter is not something I’ve had to do in a long time and I think it’s because I really tend to sit up in the canter and really weight my seat. My butt and the horse’s back are together and it’s easy to feel correct lead from wrong. It is because at the canter, I am in the habit of “feeling”.

But no so much in the trot. Why?

I think it is because there is a lack of emphasis on riding the horses body. We are instead focusing on where to put our legs or our hands. We get too busy worrying about our pose that we don’t discover feel and we lose our effectiveness.

How many instructors teach where to focus our brains? We ride our hands way too often and not our butts enough, or our horses butts enough.

Basically, we should be focusing our brains on the horses butt. Stop thinking and feel. Stop thinking and put your brain in the horses butt. This is the one situation in life where it is literally okay to have your head up an ass.

We need to ride  with less finger feel and with more fanny feel.

Like DeKunffy said, the hand should only verify.

As I wrote this my brain reminded me of a conversation I had a long time ago with someone who rode English. I rode western at the time. We were discussing how we cued our horse for the canter or lope.

At the time I thought rather highly of myself and when this English rider told me that she cued her horse from the inside leg I rather scoffed. EVERYONE knows you cue from the outside leg! Geeze, some people are just so dumb! You see back then I knew that I knew everything.

But scroll forward a few decades: I cue for the canter somewhat with the inside leg but more with the inside hip going forward.

As it turns out, she was right and I was wrong.

There I said it.

Am I entitled to a refund on that $45,000?

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.