All horseback riders know this sound. That comforting, repetitive sound of leather rubbing against leather as the horse moves underneath you. For new tack this noise can be harsh, uncomfortable, but with a good cleaning and conditioning, the sound fades into a comfortable murmur that becomes part of the experience of sitting astride such incredible animals.
Horseback riding is not simply about control, winning points, your own personal gain, or any other selfish or material gain. Every ride becomes a journey, a learning experience and even a self-discovery. Maybe it’s your first time on a horse and you find yourself with sore muscles that you never even knew existed. Or maybe you’re an experienced rider who suddenly realizes that your hands remain slightly uneven with concern to pressure on the reins. My years in riding have taught me that my left hand is stronger than my right, and my right leg is slightly shorter than my left. I also have a long lower leg that doesn’t wrap easily around a horse’s sides, and I have a tendency to anticipate my jumps. I must be aware of all of these things if I am to give myself and my horse a good ride. Similarly, my hunter Rolex fights to switch his canter lead from left to right, and my jumper Dante is a little stiff in the neck on circles to the left. As well as fixing my own flaws, I have to address the horses’ shortcomings and ride them appropriately.
Whether you are just starting out or you have been riding your entire life, every horse and every person are different. When you are lucky enough to ride, always be sure to listen first. Be aware of how you feel way up there. Are you tense? Are you leaning? You can be sure the horse is listening to you and feeling out your abilities as a rider, so you bet you ought to do the same. And also be sure to feel out your horse. What is his walk like? How does he carry his head? How does his mouth feel when you touch the reins? The quickest way to lose a horse’s trust and respect is to ride him blindly, sawing on his mouth and clenching your heels against his side. Always relax first, and it certainly helps to have good instruction. So get out there and do some listening- it doesn’t hurt to practice this quality, it could even help some personal relationships. This is just another way that horseback riding enriches your life, even outside of the stable.