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Sitzt, passt, wackelt und lässt keine Luft...

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Moderne Pferde mit dem Rücken zur Wand

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Fachartikel: Raus aus der Reha, ran an das Training!

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The necessity, difficulty and beauty of letting go

01. Oktober 2019

We demand suppleness of the horse in all major riding disciplines. However, riders and trainers typically have little insight into what actually produces suppleness in the horse and that a major ingredient for suppleness under the rider is the ability and willingness of the rider to let go. Only through moving in balance which is achieved when the horse is straight, can the horse actually carry its weight and the weight of the rider in a fashion which is natural to its body and its biomechanics, using its muscles correctly and moving freely in all paces without stiffness, without compensating behaviours and therefore without pain. Horses trained in Mr. and Mrs. Schoeneich’s facility in Goch, Germany, learn to do exactly this in a period of only 4-6 weeks on the lunge. However, once the horse has reached a state of balance and self-carriage through straightening training, it poses a major challenge to its rider. Now the rider also has to learn to let go. What does that mean?

Letting go of old patterns – As for the horse, each rider has his/her patterns of movements that are so automated that most riders are not even aware of them anymore. Continuous poking and kicking with the leg is one of these things. The horse that didn’t go forward in the past (hence the sustained leg aid) will feel very annoyed and intimidated when this pattern continues although it now would be willing and able to go forward. Alterations of the seat that helped to compensate for the crookedness of the horse whereby the rider for example follows the handed shoulder of the horse is another. A very strong outside rein that helped to get the centrifugal force under control is yet another and so on. All of these patterns usually happen unconsciously as they were built and manifested in the past on a crooked horse and demand a lot of attention and willingness of the rider to get rid of. Letting go in this case means to be fully in the moment with the horse, develop a new understanding of one’s own balance, feel the new movements of the horse and adapt the seat and aids accordingly – which sounds easy on paper but is with no doubt a very tough challenge.

Letting go of old habits – In addition to the automated movements there are a lot of habits that riders have formed around their training of horses which do not make any sense any more once the horse is in balance. The length of training is one of these things. A stiff horse that only loosens its muscles slightly after 30 minutes of exercise often gets ridden for more than an hour if being lucky. Some are even taking into the fields for an hour before and after being trained in the arena for them to “warm up” and “cool down”. This is not necessary once the horse is able to be ridden in self-carriage. Of course, muscles need to warm-up and stretching is inevitable, but suppleness can be reached in the very first minutes of training, making it unnecessary and even burdensome for the horse to exercise for hours on end. In this form, training can be short and intense – which prevents a lot of injuries that are caused through exhaustion. It also makes riding a much more time efficient sport. Letting go in this arena means to understand that everything gets easier once the horse is in balance. Old habits are formed around topics such as training, but also things like feeding, shoeing, veterinary care etc.– in essence everything covered under a holistic approach that is important for the horse’s balance. Maintaining the balance will however be the only habit worth keeping.

Letting go of preconceptions about the horse – “This is a lazy horse, I better put on my spurs”, “This one is crazy, I better show him right away who the boss is”, “I know anyway that he is not in the mood today, so I better don’t even try…” – who hasn’t heard these things or said them himself? It remains a miracle for me to see, how much horses, their character and their behaviour change once they have found their balance both inside and outside. It is then up to the rider to also let go of all these preconceptions and beliefs about his/her horse to be able to truly enjoy the new experience. And what an experience this can be when the horse does not answer with resistance anymore but is willing to give all it can offer to his/her rider. Letting go therefore means to fully embrace the being of the horse instead of putting mental concepts around it.

If the rider is able to do all this, a beautiful relationship with the horse is possible. A relationship in which both can strive to their highest potential and a partnership which is truly build on mutual respect. The horse learns through movement alone, but the rider (unfortunately) has a very active brain and mind, which also plays a major role in his/her ability to let go. Hence after training the horse, it is essential for the rider to also undergo some training no matter how experienced or professional he/she might be. Focus of this training is on feeling the new movement pattern of the horse, being able to ride without disturbing the flow of rhythm with one’s seat and understanding how the interplay of the aids actually influences the horse – in essence letting go of most of the things the rider used to do and has learned in the past. It is difficult and it takes time as well as true commitment - But the result is worth the effort many times.


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