My 8-year-old daughter is learning to pick out my horse’s feet. The challenge is that he is 21 years old and when he first picks up his hoof, he tucks it up into his body. Then he takes a few seconds to let it relax back to where she can work on it. My daughter doesn’t understand that he’s stiff and just needs a little time to get comfortable. In other words, she needs to listen to what he’s telling her.
Reading this issue, I was reminded of the importance of listening to our horses many times. The most obvious story is in grand prix jumper rider Lauren Tisbo’s profile (page 28). “I guess some people might say I go to extremes,” she says about her willingness to try unusual equipment on her horses, including a racing saddle and a bridle with no headstall, to make them happy and get the most out of them. But to me it seems she is really listening to what her horses are telling her they need and figuring unique ways to comply.
In our stories with Holly Hugo-Vidal (page 22) and Olympians Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut (page 34), there is a lot of discussion about making sure your horse is responsive to your aids, and a big part of that is listening to him. When you want him to go forward, “Ask and take your leg away,” Beezie says. If the response is correct, he will go along in self-carriage until he needs a reminder. If it isn’t correct, both Holly and Beezie review the sequence of stronger aids to get the appropriate reaction. Similarly, about developing connection, Anne says, “I feel his mouth. When he stretches down, I give. … As he accepts the contact, I give.” She must listen to her horses to know when to give.
In this month’s Jumping Clinic (page 12), George Morris discusses what seems to me to be the ultimate in listening: the automatic release—or jumping out of hand—where, as the horse jumps a fence and stretches his neck, the rider gives. “What the horse takes, the rider gives. Not more, not less,” George says.
So while encouraging my daughter to listen to my horse as she picked out his feet seemed at first like a small thing—I’m sure I said it in an offhand way at the time—I realize that it’s a skill she will use throughout her life with horses.