Riding with Sam- Assessment, Awareness, Communication

My opinion is that all disciplines require the same basics, from jumpers to gaming horses, from trail riders to dressage competitors. An ideal ride would be on an enthusiastic, attentive mount that responds when asked and performs as asked.
Key words and questions Sam Harvey uses to start off a ride:

· Where: Where is your horse’s mind today? Is he physically next to you but mentally somewhere else?

· How: How effective is your physical communication with your horse?

· Why: Why do you use the tack and equipment you are using? Is it necessary?

· When: When does your horse respond to you? When do you use one aid versus another?

· Can: Can you see the whole picture - or do you get distracted and focus on small details?

· What: What are your riding goals? For:

Each ride?
Short term? Long term?
What can you do to achieve them?
Are they realistic?

What, who, when and where, and why do we ASSESS?

What: This is a combination of evaluating, measuring, considering, and attempting to gauge the mental and physical status of each the horse and rider.

What can your assessment tell you about your ride? Your assessment will help you understand that although you may have certain expectations or goals for your ride that day, your horse may have other ideas.

Who: You -- Attitude Attention Emotion Physical condition

Are you distracted with: the bills you have to pay, being on time to pick up the kids from school or extra curricular activities, the errands you still have to run, deciding what to cook for dinner, stress from work, or ???

If the rider is not 100% present mentally, it is unfair to ask the horse to be. We are supposed to be their leaders, but if we are distracted or have other things on our minds, they know.

Horses are constantly assessing and reacting -- this is their instinct for survival. We humans have to concentrate to do it. As soon as the horse is caught in the field or stable, he is evaluating and assessing us. He knows when we’re not paying attention. So by the time we get on, he has already made the decision whether or not to respect us and respond to our aids.

Your Horse -- Where is his mind? How is he physically today?
Is he emotionally present?

Is his brain with his buddies? Is he stiff or sore from age, health or earlier exertion? Has he recently been vaccinated or received other medication? Is it feeding or breeding time?

When and where should the assessment begin?

· For me the assessment begins when I catch my horse. Did he come up and “happily” greet me? Did he turn his tail to me, but tolerate my catching him? Did he run away?

· As I closed the gate, was his attention with me or was his head on the ground looking for grass? As I moved away from the enclosure, did he follow promptly or was his focus elsewhere?

· When I led him to the grooming area, did he walk along happily and pay attention to where I was? Or was he distracted by the other horses or events? Did he bump into me? Did he stand still when I tacked him up or was he fidgeting constantly?

By the time you get to where you’re ready to get on, your horse will have told you a lot about the upcoming ride -- did you listen? This ground assessment can help you decide what expectations to have for your horse that day.

Why do we assess?

We assess because we view the rider and horse as a partnership rather than a dictatorship. We need to have the patience and understanding to recognize realistically what can be achieved in a ride and what might not. This is not to say that your horse is permitted to decide what you will and won’t do, but rather a way to better educate yourself about your horse’s feelings, mood, mind set, and physical state -- and how it will affect the quality and enjoyment of the ride for both the horse and you.

When we get on…

What basics should our horses have so that we can accomplish our goals?

· Lightness- carrying themselves so they are not hanging on the bit dragging you around

· Suppleness- relaxation while carrying himself with the ability to bend and give any part of his body

· Bending- starting at the ribcage flowing in two directions: towards the neck and the tail- causing the haunches and the shoulders to operate independently of one another

· Flexion- starting at the spine, a stretching of the neck while staying relaxed, light and balanced

· Balance- ability to go in any direction and carry his own weight equally

· Relaxed- no tension in any part of his body no matter what is asked of him

· Engaged- lifting of the back so that the hindquarters can come underneath the spine to shift his weight from the front end to the haunches, causing the power to come from the rear so that the horse’s shoulders and neck are free and light to bend, flex, be supple and maintain balance

· Responsiveness- reaction time to an aid

· Creation of a smile: the look on our face when the above is achieved :) and you experience a fabulous ride and have a great time

how to create clear communication with the horse and have a quality ride

· Efficient- doing as little as necessary to achieve as large a result as possible

· Effective- promptly getting the reaction you asked for

· Sensitive- feeling, seeing and sensing what is happening underneath you

· Aware- not just seeing the “now,” but being ready for what might come next

· Evaluation- constant checking of results -- self and horse -- to make future decisions

· Preparing- always expect the unexpected

· Planning Ahead- if something were to happen what would/could you do to resolve, fix, or isolate the issue and make it a positive experience?

· “Taking” the horse- are you telling the horse where to go or is he “taking” you

· Establishing Respect- does he really believe you i.e. that what you ask is what you mean

· Feeling what is happening- not just seeing and focusing on the obvious, but maintaining sensitivity to feel your horse

By teaching ourselves to become this aware and focused every time we play with our horses, their respect and desire to please increases. We also become improved riders because we are now open-minded about communicating with the horse rather than just making demands of him.

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