A Pro Tells You How

Horse & Rider - - Front Page - By Jody Strand, With J. Fors­berg Meyer

Do you get the jit­ters in the show pen? A lot of riders do, and it only serves to make their horses ner­vous, too. I’m go­ing to share tech­niques that’ll help you keep your calm, and your horse work­ing the way you want him to. I’ll do that the way I do with my am­a­teur and youth riders—by us­ing analo­gies that help you re­ally get what I’m talk­ing about.

These tips will help you per­fect your poise in the show pen, plus help keep your horse mov­ing smoothly, con­fi­dently, and at the pace you want in any sit­u­a­tion.

Stay ‘on of­fense.’ One of the key dif­fer­ences be­tween am­a­teur riders and train­ers is that am­a­teurs play de­fense as they ride, while pros stay con­sis­tently on of­fense. Train­ers let the horse play de­fense while they call the shots and con­trol the pace and di­rec­tion of the game.

How do you do this? By keep­ing your horse’s at­ten­tion on you. Use your legs to make sub­tle ad­just­ments in your horse’s pace, and to cue for col­lec­tion. Don’t let your horse get strung out and sloppy when you’re not in front of the judge—you’ll just have to fi x it later, and in the mean­time it gives him a chance to get silly. Keep him to­gether in the fi rst place by con­tin­u­ously ask­ing for sub­tle moves and ad­just­ments—his hip eased over a bit here, his front end el­e­vated a tad there.

When you stay on of­fense this way, you can “think ahead” of your horse. For ex­am­ple, if you see a dog on the rail up ahead, you can gather your horse up a bit more be­fore you get there, so you can ride right past the dog with­out in­ci­dent.

Lead the dance. Here’s another anal­ogy to help with the same con­cept. Con­trol the qual­ity and di­rec­tion of your horse’s move­ment at all times, the way the lead dancer con­trols the move­ment of his part­ner. You must al­ways be lead­ing the dance. That means us­ing your body and your cues in a way that’s con­stantly sig­nal­ing to your horse what you want, rather than just go­ing along with what your horse is giv­ing you.

For ex­am­ple: Your horse is mov­ing a lit­tle faster than you de­sire. You don’t “fol­low” that move­ment with your own body. You take a gen­tle hold with the reins and re­sist fol­low­ing with your seat. Th is is a sub­tle but ef­fec­tive way of slow­ing your horse down.

Re­mem­ber—only one of you can be the lead dancer; make sure it’s al­ways you.

Think ‘slow.’ Am­a­teur riders tend to be quick-handed, and this is es­pe­cially a prob­lem in Western plea­sure, where smooth and mea­sured is the goal. Work on learn­ing how to draw up the reins in a fluid and un­hur­ried way. I ex­plain it to my guy riders like this: “Be like the hy­draulics mov­ing a trac­tor—slow and smooth.”

Prac­tice these con­cepts ev­ery time you ride, and watch your con­fi­dence and ef­fec­tive­ness as a rider im­prove.

Jody Strand trains horses, coaches youth and am ateurs, and presents clinics; the three-time Western Plea­sure Trainer of the Year (Ara­bian Pro­fes­sional & Am­a­teur Horseman’s As­so­ci­a­tion) is also a na­tional level judge. Strand’s Ara­bian Sta­bles, a...

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