Becoming a Horseman... or Horsewoman

I only started really riding and working with horses about a year and a half ago, so it goes without saying that I had a lot to learn about becoming a horseman... or horsewoman, in my case. I still have a great deal to learn but I am well on my way now. Much of which progress I owe to MMSC. Here, I've learned a new discipline and about the process of re-schooling off-the-track Thoroughbreds. I've seen first-hand how re-learning ground manners can transform an unruly horse into a giant teddy bear and a mounted police prosepect.

When we listen to the horses and speak their language, we can really help them and accomplish so much more. Horses say "hello" by sniffing each other and exchanging puffs of air. We can say "hi" and bond with them the same way. Bubba and I blew in each other's noses and "bonded" one day and afterward, he followed me like a puppy. Such a simple gesture can do so much.

The same goes for riding. We spend so much time pulling on reigns when our horses will listen to simple cues and movements. A slight shift of weight can entirely change a horse's movement, especially when delivered at precisely the right moment. Another thing I've learned about is physics and riding. Yes, physics. It may seem daunting but it's actually easy to understand. Imagine you are walking along and someone grips your shoulder blades to stop forward motion. They don't have to pull back, just squeeze and stop the back and forth motion of your shoulders. We can halt our horses by doing the same thing. When halting your horse, simply sit heavy and square your shoulders, instead of moving with the horse, while simultaneously squeezing with your thighs. The queeze of your thighs on the horse's shoulder blades is just like is someone gripped you from behind.

Also, horses move off presure from our legs and hips. By shifting the weight of our hips and guiding with our head and shoulders, we can direct our horses simply off our seat. It's pretty amazing when you can turn your horse in a circle without using hands or reigns.

The same goes for leg yields. Horses learn to move whenever we apply pressure with our calf, but really, this is even easier when delivered at precisely the right moment. If the front leg is on the ground, the horse cannot move it over. So, it must wait until it picks that foot up to yield to the pressure of the calf. But by detecting the footfalls, we can time our leg yield perfectly with when that front foot is in the air and subject to pressure. If we want the horse to move to the right, we should apply leg on the left side while the left hoof is in the air and visa versa for the other direction. This makes it easier for both horse and rider. As does any time we listen to the horse.

And, as with anything in life, becoming a horseman is about being able to handle the ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. Falling down comes with learning anything new. I had been lucky enough not to fall off a horse until just recently. I had the opportunity to really ride bareback for the first time. I stayed on the first time I did the sitting trot, but the second time I tried it, I got off balance about the same time I tried to halt and well, I fell off. But, after lying in pain for a few minutes, I got up and got back on and didn't let it mess with me. I also came to find out that apparently you have to fall off many time to become a horseman. Well, one down and many more to go. Life will always knock us down but we must get right back up and keep on chugging. Riding and success are really about heart, determination, and confidence. As the saying goes, "Head up, heels down."

This is my last blog seeing as my internship is coming to a close and I just want to thank everyone for reading and for your support of MMSC. -Andrea Compton