opinion is that all disciplines require the same basics, from jumpers to
gaming horses, from trail riders to dressage competitors.
An ideal ride would be on an enthusiastic, attentive mount that
responds when asked and performs as asked.
Key words and
questions Sam Harvey uses to start off a ride:
Where is your horse’s mind today? Is he physically next to you but mentally
How effective is your physical communication with your horse?
Why do you use the tack and equipment you are using?
Is it necessary?
When does your horse respond to you?
When do you use one aid versus another?
Can you see the whole picture - or do you get distracted and focus
on small details?
What are your riding goals? For:
term? Long term?
What can you do to achieve them?
Are they realistic?
has found that a great way to answer these questions is to ASSESS.
What, who, when and where, and why do
This is a combination of evaluating, measuring, considering, and
attempting to gauge the mental and physical status of each the horse and
can your assessment tell you about your ride?
assessment will help you understand that although you may have certain
expectations or goals for your ride that day, your horse may have other
Emotion Physical condition
you distracted with: the
bills you have to pay, being on time to pick up the kids from school or
extra curricular activities, the errands you still have to run, deciding
what to cook for dinner, stress from work, or ???
the rider is not 100% present mentally, it is unfair to ask the horse to
be. We are supposed to be
their leaders, but if we are distracted or have other things on our
minds, they know.
are constantly assessing and reacting -- this is their instinct for
survival. We humans have to
concentrate to do it. As
soon as the horse is caught in the field or stable, he is evaluating and
assessing us. He knows when
we’re not paying attention. So
by the time we get on, he has already made the decision whether or not
to respect us and respond to our aids.
Your Horse --
Where is his mind?
How is he physically today?
he emotionally present?
his brain with his buddies? Is he stiff or sore from age, health or
earlier exertion? Has he
recently been vaccinated or received other medication? Is it feeding or
and where should the
· For me the assessment begins when I catch my horse. Did he come up and “happily” greet me? Did he turn his tail to me, but tolerate my catching him?
Did he run away?
· As I closed the
gate, was his attention with me or was his head on the ground looking
for grass? As I moved away from the enclosure, did he follow promptly or
was his focus elsewhere?
· When I led him to
the grooming area, did he walk along happily and pay attention to where
I was? Or was he distracted
by the other horses or events? Did
he bump into me? Did he
stand still when I tacked him up or was he fidgeting constantly?
the time you get to where you’re ready to get on, your horse will have
told you a lot about the upcoming ride -- did you listen?
This ground assessment can help you decide what expectations to
have for your horse that day.
Why do we assess?
assess because we view the rider and horse as a partnership rather than
a dictatorship. We need to
have the patience and understanding to recognize realistically what can
be achieved in a ride and what might not.
This is not to say that your horse is permitted to decide what
you will and won’t do, but rather a way to better educate yourself
about your horse’s feelings, mood, mind set, and physical state -- and
how it will affect the quality and enjoyment of the ride for both the
horse and you.
we get on…
basics should our horses have so that we can accomplish our goals?
· Lightness- carrying
themselves so they are not
hanging on the bit dragging you around
· Suppleness- relaxation
while carrying himself with the ability to bend and give any part of his
starting at the
ribcage flowing in two directions: towards the neck and the tail-
causing the haunches and the shoulders to operate independently of one
· Flexion- starting at the
spine, a stretching of the neck while staying relaxed, light and
· Balance- ability to go in
any direction and carry his own weight equally
· Relaxed- no tension in
any part of his body no matter what is asked of him
lifting of the
back so that the hindquarters can come underneath the spine to shift his
weight from the front end to the haunches, causing the power to come
from the rear so that the horse’s shoulders and neck are free and
light to bend, flex, be supple and maintain balance
time to an aid
· Creation of
a smile: the look on our face when the above is achieved :) and
you experience a fabulous ride and have a great time
to create clear communication with the horse and have a quality ride
doing as little as necessary to achieve as large a result as possible
promptly getting the reaction you asked for
feeling, seeing and sensing what is happening underneath you
not just seeing the “now,” but being ready for what might come next
constant checking of results -- self
and horse -- to make future decisions
always expect the unexpected
· Planning Ahead-
if something were to happen what would/could you do to resolve,
fix, or isolate the issue and make it a positive experience?
the horse- are you
telling the horse where to go or is he “taking” you
Respect- does he
really believe you i.e. that what you ask is what you mean
· Feeling what
is happening- not
just seeing and focusing on the obvious, but maintaining sensitivity to
feel your horse
teaching ourselves to become this aware and focused every time we play
with our horses, their respect and desire to please increases.
We also become improved riders because we are now open-minded
about communicating with the horse rather than just making demands of