During the years I lived in Buenos Aires, I had the privilege of being a pupil of the well-known instructor Juan Manuel Romero Blanch. A lot of what he taught me has stayed present in my mind, but I especially remember one of his favourite phrases: “It’s not where you touch, it’s HOW you touch.”
These simple words, which may not mean anything to the less experienced rider, reveal an approach to equitation which is only sporadically mentioned in most traditional riding manuals, that of FEELING the horse: to feel his movements, his state of mind; to even predict his intentions and reactions; to asess at any time his physical and psychological capability, and considering these and other factors, to consequently decide on the technique and INTENSITY of the aids to be applied.
There is a big difference between SEEING and FEELING. A rider cannot see his horse’s movements. For this reason it is essential to have expert help from someone watching. Riding while looking straight ahead is difficult but necessary. A bent down head lessens the influence of the spine and therefore of the seat; looking down makes us lose our sense of space, causing mistakes in the precision of execution of the figures and even presenting a real danger in a schooling area shared with other horses. When we look at our horse (maybe to see whether he is on the bit), our reflexes are conditioned by the visual impressions we receive. Our aids and their intensity will depend on us weighing up images, putting sensory impressions received through physical contact on a second scale.
All the horse’s movements start from the hind quarters and that is why the rider must continually be aware of whether the horse’s hind-legs are stepping under his body, maintaining impulsion and transmitting energy through the aids applied. However, when we fix our sight at the front of the horse, we disconnect our minds from the hindquarters, reflecting this attitiude in our application of the aids.
Some readers will ask: what can we actually feel ? We all know that at the walk, trot and canter, on having each different foot-fall sequences, the gaits give us different feelings through the movement of the horse. We also know that within the same gait there exist various lengths of stride, and we will notice different sensations.
When we shorten the walk to the extreme , we can even feel each seperate foot-fall; if the horse trots with his head up we will be uncomfortable in the saddle; when he relaxes at the poll and the jaw, becoming round in his back, we will be able to sit to the trot with much greater ease, etc.
To be able to judge the horse’s attitude and the quality of his work, the rider must first of all “open his mind”; be ready to feel, besides concentrating as much as he is able to. Having practical experience in classical dressage is a big advantage when it comes to evaluating the sensations received. The expert rider looks for a certain feeling which the horse, through his movements, transmits. The aids to be applied, and their intensity, will be chosen to obtain a specific result, an exact feeling, created by the rider. Each stride which a horse takes in classical dressage is the rider’s conscious creation, which is why he should never limit himself to simply sitting on a horse in movement.
The rider’s mind will be continually taking in sensations transmitted to him by the horse. Assessing the correctness of these feelings will greatly depend on the rider’s experience or on the comments and instructions received from his trainer.
Once the horse’s movements are registered by our minds, we must immediately evaluate their quality and apply technically appropriate aids in order to correct, prevent or maintain, as the case may be . The strength of the aids will also depend on the feeling received during their application, thus making the creation of movement a continous process
We must not only consider the final effect, but also the gradual influence of the aids, considering as such any sign given through the use of our bodies, or by means of spurs, whip or the voice, in order to express our wishes to the horse and to convince him to carry these out.
Thanks to this article we might have achieved that some of our readers, next time they ride their horses, will do so with a new approach: experiencing a world of sensations . This way they will without any doubt come closer to the art of equitation and ride the way I demand of my pupils “ with art and feeling “