Letting Go

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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Since we went to our first Buck clinic, I’ve been working hard to change the way I ride in any number of ways. The biggest is to do with my legs. Before Buck, I thought I used my legs, but really, I didn’t. I hadn’t been that great at using my legs before Steen, but he was so sensitive to any leg pressure I ended up riding him in this ridiculous posture, my legs held straight out to the side most of the time to avoid brushing him and causing a leap/surge/meltdown.

What I’ve learned since then is how to support a horse with my legs. This has done wonders for me and Steen. I figured out all of Steen’s anxiety essentially came from never knowing when someone was going to pull on his mouth. When I’m communicating with him with my legs, that takes the guesswork out of it for him. He always knows what I’m going to ask him to do next.

But I still have been struggling with the legs/hands progression. I know I should ask with my legs first, then reinforce with my hands if necessary. The problem is Steen will feel the subtlest little tip of my hand, and rely on that instead of legs in terms of steering.

I’ve been working on riding him without my hands at all for a least a little portion of every ride for a couple of months now. We’ve made a lot of progress. Today I got on and started the ride without hands, walking circles in both directions and then progressing to figure-eights.

this is Steen’s ultra lazy trot

We were in the outdoor arena, and Brian was on Zoey. He’d been doing a lot of groundwork with her, and before I got on I’d decided to see how Steen was with the tarp. I’d never exposed him to a tarp before, so I was curious to see how it would go. When he first saw it, he arched his neck and snorted, but then I touched him with it and he quieted right now. I rubbed him all over, whacked him with it, moved him with it, laid it on the ground and walked him over it. He didn’t mind. But he was pretty awake and soft by the time I mounted, so maybe that was a factor in terms of the ride that followed.

Whatever the cause, our ride was amazing. I started out with no hands just to sort of check in with it, but then I just kept going. I must have spent 90% of the ride with the reins looped around the horn. Once every five minutes or so we’d miss a turn, and I’d have to reach down and tip Steen’s nose in the right direction. I also spent a few minutes working on softness and collection and canter departures from standing still. But that was it. I have never ridden so long and so freely without reins in my hands, and I didn’t really set out to do it today. But as the ride went on I got better at riding with my body, and Steen got better at listening to my body. We were trotting some very nice no-handed figure-eights when Brian joked, “I want to see your no-handed lope.”

I laughed too, but then a few minutes later we came through a turn and I thought, why not? I pushed Steen into a lope. We went a few nice circles. I didn’t keep him on the rail, but turned him off into a small circle. We went a few laps, then stopped from the lope, all of this with the reins looped around the horn.

my hands think they have reins in them, but they don’t

I’m not actually someone who aspires to bridleless riding, but great communication and control with the legs alone is a critical thing to have in place before advanced into the two-rein. After this ride, I’m realizing Steen and I are closer to the next step than I had thought.

Ride Time: 1:20
Horseback Hours YTD: 105:15

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Louisa Valentina;Suzanne Hodges Recent comment authors
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Louisa Valentina;

I definitely find that riding sensitive horses, especially Jingle, has really messed with my "proper" riding posture. I have the same issue you were having earlier with your legs, in that a part of me thinks I shouldn't be using them because it'll just turn my horse into a scared speed demon. However, lately and with all our slow work, I've been doing the same and practicing towards clearer communication in my seat and legs, and taking my hands out of the equation.

Your photos sure show how far along you guys have come, you're both looking great!!

Suzanne Hodges

Still loving the blog, Robin. Such good stuff in here.
The more you practice, the more second-nature it becomes. It took years of clinics and Buck and Paul hammering it into me that you ask with your legs first before I actually started to do it…progressing to every ride, every time. But then it took some time for me to understand that asking doesn't mean squeezing. Your session with Steen looks to have been such a great experience for you.