Under Saddle: Control and Freedom.

The equestrian world can seem kind of bi-polar. Some of us ride like headless (brainless) horsemen with little consciousness for our horse or surroundings.  Some of us are such control freaks that we slow every walk stride and micro-manage our horse’s nose into being afraid to take a breath. Most of us are working towards a middle ground.

Dressage seems to attract riders who like control a bit too much. From Intro level tests to international competitions, you can see riders working to over-control each stride -with varying levels of success. In some ways it reminds me of the apparent Vulcan mind meld that western pleasure riders have at the jog and lope.

But some riders and horses have a synergy and together they ride just to the edge of control -and balance there. There is brilliance in the art of the edge, but you have to give up some of the control to let the horse be there- you have to trust him. Those are the horses whose beauty and ability  we remember.

I’m always drawn to watch horses at play- how a horse moves and transitions at liberty is that particular horse’s natural movement.  It should be our goal to get that same movement under saddle.

Our intention is to create the illusion of perfection, but we end up over-riding. The more we hold our horse or correct the mistake before it happens, the more our horse loses confidence in his own ability.

Thinking that we need to micro-manage the horse is the ultimate vote of no trust. We damage their balance and rythm but most of all, we stifle their personality and individuality. We end up damaging the traits we love the most.

Riding is frequently compared to dancing and I always envision Fred and Ginger gliding across the floor. They had that perfect balance of freedom within control. There was a leader and a follower, but with such generosity that the movement of the dance was larger than either individual. Fred knew he benefited from giving his partner the freedom to fly.

(Fred Astaire was a stable owner and avid horse-racing fan for over 30 years. His second wife, Robyn Smith was a former jockey and shared his love of horses.)

The real reason to improve our riding is that it allows the horse expression and individuality. The more we release and let him carry himself, the more he gains the confidence to dance.

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.  ~Sharon Ralls Lemon 

Our riding should not limit those qualities but rather, encourage the horse to think we possess them also.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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