The walk would seem to be the obvious starting place for horse riding. But if you want to walk on a horse, first of all, you have to know how to sit. Because how you sit is important.
Now, there are lots of ways people will tell you to sit on a horse. Hold your feet like this, your legs like that, and keep your hands just so. There are books with pictures of perfect sitting on a horse, heels down, toes turned in, and back straight.
When I first started riding as a teenager, I had chalk and blackboard lessons at a local riding school – on how to sit on a horse. Dull as ditchwater, mostly because the person teaching had no enthusiasm at all – and from what I do now, didn’t have a lot to say about how to connect with your horse.
Years later, now I’ve gone back to riding, I’ve spent time listening to people telling me how to sit on a horse. And most of it’s still all about toes in, heels down, ramrod rigid back. Now, this has caused me no end of trouble. Because all the time and attention spent keeping your toes in, your heels down, and your back ramrod straight leaves you unable to connect with your horse. It just makes you stiff and achy – and worse than that, it doesn’t get you where you want to go and be with your horse.
So, after a disappointing start back to horse riding, I eventually looked around for other advice. What I found were writers like Sylvia Loch and Mary Wanless, who have a lot to say about staying connected. And then I found some old Parelli DVDs on eBay, spent far too much time watching them – but what a difference it’s made to my riding.
Now, I say Parelli, and yes, I know lots of people don’t agree with Parelli, but all I can say is that it has helped me. And of course, I have to say that the ideas I have used to help my riding aren’t mine – they are what I discovered by looking around for information from all sorts of places.
So, how do you sit on a horse?
Well, for a start, don’t lock your knees or your ankles, and don’t point your toes in, not unless you want to get stiff and achy. Just sit on your horse, and let your legs drape around her. Pointed toes and heels down mean legs with a lot of tension that gets transferred to your horse and makes for a stiff horse too. That’s not what you want. You want to connect with your horse.
Don’t sit too far forward, and don’t sit too far back. And if your hips are stiff and have a job to move, practice making yourself more flexible on the horse as well as on. Use an exercise ball, or learn to keep a hoop revolving on your hips – yes, just like when you were a child. Play a little bit until you become more flexible.
Watch how your horse moves on the ground. When you get on, copy those movements. From your sitting, move into a walk and try to feel how the horse moves with your body, and move the same way. Yes, I know it’s hard. To begin with, it makes no sense at all, but if you want to get really good with horses, you have to stick with it, watch as many horses as you can, watch all the DVDs you can on horse riding, and ride, ride, ride.
Another thing I tried when I returned to riding was kicking my horse to make her go because that’s what I’d been told years ago, and what people still tell me now. Well, she does move if I kick her, a bit. But reluctantly, and very slowly, and not for long, not without constant prodding from my legs.
So, I looked around for what would really make her go. Do you know, it turned out that to make her go, I had to go. To make her move, I had to move, and not just my legs, but my whole body. By putting energy into my body, she became energized. And a horse that I used to struggle to get to move at all, sprang into action like a spring chicken, and then my problem was getting her to stop!
Read some books, watch some DVDs, see what other people do – other people who know what they’re doing, that is. You’re not going to ‘get it’ right away, but then nothing that’s worth having comes easy. It takes time. But once you feel that connection between you and your horse, and you can move like a horse – wow! An amazing feeling!