Riding effectively can mean many things to many people. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word "effective" to mean: "producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect"
But in riding horses, it's often difficult to know which part is the horse's doing, and which part is the rider's.
Or is it?
As riders, we are occasionally lucky enough to have a more skilled rider (or trainer) get on our horse. Then we can begin to understand the power of effective riding, because suddenly, our own horse develops far advanced skills - in a matter of minutes! That's when we witness for ourselves the effect the rider has on the horse.
For many, this "journey" toward effective riding is what drives them to keep practicing, keep learning, step out of their comfort zones, try new things, listen to new people, and essentially, try to become better riders. I don't think we can ever reach perfection when it comes to developing skills.
One of the key tips I've learned along the way is that you can develop an eye to detect the truly effective rider. And it's not always evident in their riding position (although many people look good AND ride effectively).
In fact, once again, it's the horse you can turn to. Learn to listen to the horse, and you'll know when someone is an effective rider.
You just need to know how to "read" the horse. Here are the top 7 ways you can spot them.
7. The horse is moving freely and energetically.
It's a feat in itself to be able to get the horse moving well, but then also stay out of his way. One way you can spot the effective rider is to notice how easily the horse can move.
Is he restricted in some way? Does he have an inconsistent tempo or unusually heavy footfalls? Is he rushed, or is he uncomfortably slow? Does he seem to know where he's going?
Or is it all the opposite? He steps forward boldly. He shows no sudden changes of balance. He's fairly light on his feet and keeps a consistent tempo no matter what he's doing. It all looks simple.
All that "freedom" is testament to the rider's ability to go with the horse, not interfere, and work with the horse.
6. Both stay in good balance.
The effective rider is a student of balance, both for herself and her horse. The reason? Balance is literally one of the most fundamental aspects of riding, no matter the discipline. Developing balance is a key focus at all times. Maintaining balance makes everything seamless and easier for the horse.
The effective rider can first create good balance in the horse, and at the same time, maintain her own body position in such a way as to enhance the horse's movement. Good balance is an accumulation of many little aids that add up to keeping the horse from falling to the forehand.
And again, it looks like she's doing nothing.
5. Easy transitions.
Another way to know the effective rider is to consider the quality of the transitions.
Are they lurchy or flowing?
Does the horse fall to the forehand, or maintain balance to, through and after the transition?
Does the energy stop through the transitions, or does the horse step through boldly?
Does it look like the horse is prepared for the transition, and knows what he is doing and where he's going?
The rider has influence on all of the above factors, and there's no doubt about it - the horse can only transition as well as the rider can ride!
4. Everything is getting done! (straight lines straight, circles accurate, transitions in place, bold movement).
Accuracy is a bit of a trickster because when everything goes right, it all looks so easy. The educated observer knows that when the ride is flowing and the movements occur where they are supposed to, there is a lot of fantastic riding going on by the rider.
Somehow, she has earned the teamwork of her partner, and the result is evident in their impeccable communication.
3. Rider looks like she's doing nothing.
When there's effective riding going on, there is little to be seen. Quiet riding is a key clue to knowing just how effective the rider is, especially when there are little disruptions, and lots getting done. If you see the horse moving boldly in balance, you know that the rider is up there doing some amazing things. And the more boring it appears, the better!
2. The rider improves the horse as she rides.
There is nothing more amazing than watching a horse transform into a majestic equine just minutes after the effective rider gets on.
On the forehand? Not after the rider re-balances the horse.
Rushing, short jagged steps? All smooth and longer after a few minutes.
1. The horse looks happy.
When it all comes down to it, there is no other way than to describe it: the horse simply looks happy! He is confident in his movement. If he was tense to start, he is relaxed and calm at the end. There is a distinct absence of pinned ears, tension in movement and expression, and a calm, flowing side-to-side tail as he walks.
Now, it must be said that it takes years and years to become this sort of effective rider. And we all progress at our own rate, and go through learning stages and plateaus as we develop.
But after you've learned the fundamental skills, you can begin your "effectiveness" journey fairly early in your riding career. You might not become effective in all areas, but you will begin to find that you can influence the horse in the above ways in some areas.
It just takes practice!