by Lisa Wysocky
As both an able bodied and a therapeutic riding instructor, I really enjoy teaching people to ride. But, as most horse people know, there is a lot more to riding than just staying on a horse. In addition to learning to care for horses and the tack, and developing stable and pasture management skills, a rider needs to learn about the horse, and that is best done on the ground.
This concept was recently brought to the forefront during a lesson I taught a month or so ago. A young teen was having terrible difficulty getting her horse to respond correctly to her cues. It wasn’t that Sarah wasn’t giving the cues correctly, but that her horse, Tramp, was ignoring them.
It was clear that Tramp did not respect Sarah. He was generally a kind and genial fellow who was quite safe for beginners, so he never did anything to put her in danger. His disrespect took the form of making Sarah ask four or five times to move from the walk to the trot, or from the trot to the walk. If she pointed tramp at a trail obstacle, he’d veer two feet to the left or right, no matter how correct her steering was. I could see how frustrating that was for Sarah.
I had to work hard to convince both Sarah and her mother that Sarah getting had a better chance of learning to ride off her horse. But, convinced they finally were. With no round pen in sight, we spent the next lesson doing leading exercises. Walk, trot, turn, stop, move the hips, and back. At first Tramp was sluggish, but as Sarah’s focus increased and her body posture became more businesslike, her giggles and frustration decreased and Tramp's ear focused in on her and he began to respond quickly and correctly.
The next lesson we did walk/trot reining and Dressage patterns on the ground, and Tramp became engaged and responded so well, that by the end of the lesson, she was able to do the exercises without touching the lead rope. When Sarah got back on during the third lesson, Tramp was a different horse.
Most of us are just like Sarah. We love to ride, but do not take the time to do foundation work with our horse. A riding instructor once told me, “if you can’t do it on the ground, you can’t do it in the saddle.” That is so true. Groundwork is consistently a part of my interactions with my horses.
I am so proud of Sarah. I am honored that she trusted me enough to try something different, and excited that she listened and took direction well, even though she was out of her comfort zone. Students like Sarah remind instructors like me why we do what we do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
If you'd like a copy of some of the leading patterns Sarah did, they are a free download on my website. Enjoy!