I often hear riders blame a difficult ride on their horse being naughty or not wanting to work, but seldom do I hear a rider blame himself for a ride going poorly. Perhaps the problem is not that the horse is misbehaving, but instead the horse is responding to a rider’s poorly used aids. It is important as a rider to analyze why a horse is behaving the way he is, instead of just blaming a bad ride on a “naughty” horse.
So often, we as riders accidentally give the horse mixed signals with our aids either by sitting crooked, being too strong with more than one aid at the same time, or simply by not having a steady hand, seat, or leg. Misused aids such as these can make the horse confused, angry, or worried, resulting in the horse reacting in what many riders perceive as “naughty” behavior. I do not believe most riders purposely make unclear aids, but every rider should try to improve their riding skills to eliminate confusing aids so that their horse can be happier and more willing under saddle.
A rider’s aids can be improved by developing greater body awareness, balance, and strength; and lunge lessons are a great way of doing this. I believe every rider can benefit from lunge lessons no matter their riding discipline or experience level. Having good balance, strength, and body awareness is needed in every discipline of riding, and they become increasingly more important as a rider moves through the levels or performs more difficult maneuvers with their horse.
I recently did lunge lessons with my riding class at school, and it was amazing to watch how all of the riders’ seat, legs, and hands improved. My class consists of western pleasure and hunt seat riders, a barrel racer, and me, a dressage rider; and every one of us benefitted greatly from the lessons. I feel that even as an FEI dressage rider, I still need to concentrate a lot on my own riding position to help improve my horse’s performance. Lunge lessons are not just beneficial to the beginner riders learning to ride a horse for the first time, but they are also useful for improving the balance and strength of more advanced riders.
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