Relaxation

If you have ever taken many riding lessons I'm sure you have heard the word "relaxation". It seems to be a staple in every instructor's vocabulary. Have you ever wondered why so many teachers, trainers, and top riders place so much importance on it? Sometimes they are referring to relaxation on the part of the horse and other times it's the rider being encouraged to relax more. What is it about this one aspect of riding horses that makes it so universally important?

Something that we must realize before going any farther in this discussion is that there is a difference between riding a horse and working a horse. If we are simply out for a trail ride or using the ring just to enjoy the beautiful day on horseback, we are riding. On the other hand if we are preparing for competition, trying to progress to the next level of accomplishment in our chosen discipline, or practicing what we learned in the previous lesson, then we are working our horse. When we are just riding we are not doing anything in particular to bring about specific results within the horse. However, when working our horse we have a real purpose, that purpose is to systematically and effectively bring about improvement in the physical and mental condition of the horse.

When our horses are tense their mussels, tendons, ligaments, and joints are not able to be as fluid in all of their actions as they need to be. Since we are trying to progress and improve, we need the horse able to perform to the best of it's ability. If our horse is not relaxed while trying to accomplish this then there is no way to truly make the kind of progress we are looking for. Not only does it make it impossible for us to attain the desired results, it makes our horse more susseptable to injury. When the horse is tense their movements become sudden and abrupt. This can cause them to strain or pull something quite easily without us ever asking them to do something difficult, or unusual. Remember, even though they are very large animals they are in many ways quite fragile. When we take over the controls and start telling them when to stop or go, how to move, which way to look and bend, etc. we had better be correct, or we put them at a disadvantage when it comes to saving themselves from injury. The more relaxed we can keep them the easier it is for them to take care of themselves when working. That relaxation enables them to remain fluid in their movements. This is crucial if we want to avoid injuries.

The relaxation keeps the horse mentally able to understand and accept what we are wanting them to do. When they are not worried about self-preservation from injury they are better able to cooperate with us. They must be able to trust us. If every time we attempt to work them we end up with a nervous, excited, frustrated horse then something is wrong. If this is often the case than they will have a very difficult time trusting us. They are creatures of habit, and have excellent memories. Why should they trust us to give them a good experience today if the last time was as unpleasant for them as it would have been for us? They will trust us when we have earned it, and not before.

If we are doing things correctly, each time we work our horse should be better than the last time. We are building on the previous work. Each workout lays the foundation for the next one. Of course, if we don't have the relaxation to begin with than it's not very likely that we will have the progress. The two go hand in hand. You can't separate them.

Now, what about us as the rider. If we are tense, uptight, worried, whatever, that transfers directly into our horse. If you are worried about something and unable to shake it than it might be better to lunge that day rather than ride. Be realistic about it. How are you ever going to make progress if you upset the horse? Now I'm not talking about letting the horse get away with things, or spoiling, or just taking the easy way out. If you really feel that you are not doing anything to cause tension in your horse, get some other opinions. Most of us are not vary good at self-critiquing. None of us has the time or interest in spinning our wheels for nothing. If you are not making progress, something is wrong. With the amount of time, money, and effort it takes to bring along a horse these days, you and your horse deserve to do it right and make progress. Don't hesitate to get the help you need. One of the most common things I see over and over again is a parent who rides and has children who ride. They are more than willing to do anything to enable their child to improve but simply are unable to justify spending the money on themselves. What kind of example are they setting for the child? One that says it's ok to flounder around making mistake after mistake going nowhere. Think about it that way for once and you just might be able to do something about it. Remember they learn much better from example.

So you see relaxation is a crucial element for both horse and rider regardless of the chosen discipline. All of the top trainers and riders value it because they know from experience how difficult it is to get maximum cooperation, positive performance results, and remain injury free without it. This is not a new concept. It is something that has been an indispensable part of training horses handed down through the centuries. When so many who have gone before us place so much emphasis on this particular aspect of training, why would any of us feel that it isn't that important. We all need relaxation in both horse and rider for hunter/jumper, dressage, barrel racer, roper, etc. It is the foundation that enables us to build everything else. Without a solid and stable foundation nothing can stand the test of time. Build on a firm correct foundation and your work will enable you to show steady growth and progress with a much happier and relaxed horse.

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