My thoughts about riding - Part 1 -

[ Prologue | Philosophy ]

Equine Journal Article Series

Kip Mistral, equine journalist from Tucson, Arizona, wrote last fall a 3 part article series about my riding philosophy and training methods.

With courtesy to Equine Journal, I can now publish the articles for everyone to read:

In 3 chapters you can only present some basics ideas, so the chapters describe some basic but challenging exercises.


My thoughts about riding

Through the years that I've been working with horses and riding, many people have told me that I think too much because I have always asked “Why?”. My continual questioning has often annoyed people and have often been taken as criticizing what they say. But I just want my teachers to explain their ideas…for instance, explain why I should use that aid or that rein in that particular situation, or why I should ride faster or slower towards that obstacle. It's only when they can tell me why, and explain to me what difference it will make, that I will then have the ability to do the exercise without them. It is only when I have things explained to me, that I have learned something.

Because of this, I have found it difficult to learn to ride. I thought for a long time that it was harder for me to understand than others. But the difference is that I don't give up until I understand. I can't do to things just on command, just because someone tells me it is better so. I want to know what was better, and why, and how things can be improved by this action. Sometimes it has taken a long time to sort things out, and I'm probably not ready yet.

I have never been able to limit myself to practical proof that things actually work. I also want to know why it works, and how works. For me, the search for knowledge about riding is more interesting and more exciting than to practice riding myself.

For this reason, I think my curiosity has made me a good teacher. I have gathered enough knowledge to analyze a situation and to find a solution, and also to explain and justify any action.

I try, and not only with horse riding, to peel away everything unnecessary to find what’s inside. In riding, this means that I've been through each part of the various exercises, and also analyzed how, why and when we have to use the different aids.

I do not think the horse gets another mentality just because we switch from a Western saddle to a show jumping saddle, or from a dress suit to an Icelandic sweater. A horse is a horse is a horse. Thus it should be possible to find a general, or universal, knowledge about how a horse works mentally and physically, and how we best communicate with him, so he can learn and continually improve.

It is this large, common, universal knowledge that I try to explore.

On this large body of knowledge there are some small parts, pointing in different directions. These are the different disciplines; the different ways that we want to use the horse.

The most knowledge, and most exercise, can be shared as the horse is the same regardless of what we want to do with him. To specialize the horse to do a sliding stop instead of piaffe, is a minimal part in the huge common knowledge.

I have tried to find out why we ride the exercises we do, and what makes the exercises useful.

Many riders search for perfection rather than function. Many riders believe that a exercise must be accurate and give a high score on the dressage competition to be useful and therefore many riders often ride the exercises after the demands on a dressage show. There is an enormous enthusiasm to center the turns on the forehand and every leg yielding must be from letter to letter all the way to the wall with... No. You better try to learn how an exercise is constructed, how it works and how to teach the horse the exercise, what parts of the exercise that are important and also why you should ride the exercise. There is, if one cares to see it, a very simple and basic purpose of every exercise. If we discover that, we have a much better opportunity to train our horses than if the purpose of the leg yielding is to get more points at next competition.

It is better to use the exercise to improve our horse, than to use our horse to improve the exercise.

I have come to believe that we give too many aids. There is an over-reliance in, for that particular horse, finding just that combination of aids that makes him get the correct contact with the hand or do the leg yielding.

There are no secret aid combinations. There are no advanced aids that solve one’s problems. On the contrary, it is important to remove all unnecessary aids and learn the purpose of each and every aid, and use the right aid and that one only. We should look for one aid, not a combination of aids. We should never give more than one aid at the time anyway. The horse's brain cannot cope with it, and neither can the rider's brain, as far as I am concerned.

Instead of searching for aid combinations we must train the horse to be obedient to the simple basic commands, which are five: Control of the rythm and gait, control of the speed, moving the front to the side, moving the hind to the side and to bend the horse. If the horse and rider master these five elements with only one aid at the time, they can do everything