Do you *really* ride every stride?

I had the pleasure of riding two spooks over the last couple days, including a pretty big one on Saturday.  Derby was apparently stunned to see humans walking around the outdoor, and teleported sideways and then thundered across the arena.  During the episode I lost a stirrup, and had enough time to think “Oh, crap” and then “I’m coming off” and then “No, I’m not coming off, I’m okay” and then “Can I get my stirrup back and keep him in this this canter for a good long while?”

I couldn’t regain the stirrup while Derby continued to be silly, but I was able to get him down to a trot pretty quickly, at which point I grabbed my stirrup and put him back to work.  I did the ‘cloverleaf’ pattern I used to ride when I needed to get Maddie’s head back in the game.  I use relatively small circles (about 12m) and change direction and bend constantly.  It’s my default pattern for those “sit up and ride” moments. Once I had his back up and a good connection and was in control of the hind legs, I headed back down the long side. Derby tried to spook again, earning a spur firmly in his side, while I growled and gave him a spank with my whip.  He did veer off course but I was able to block a bigger reaction.   We did another couple turns of the cloverleaf again, crossed the diagonal, went back down the long side with no incident going the other way. I switched direction, went down the long side going the same direction as the original spook, and Derby was fine.  At that point, we were more than finished for the day.

This got me thinking about something Christy and I’ve spoken about several times – riding every stride, meaning that you literally manage every moment of the ride.  I don’t do this. I should.  I do ride every stride when I’m dealing with a situation like the aforementioned spook.  Which drives Christy a bit nuts, I think, because, when I really ride with intent and attention, things get a lot better.

I really need to get more out of myself.  One thing that has helped me is “homework,” meaning I take exercises from my lessons and really practice them, not going through the motions but really working on quality results.  I’ve also noticed that Derby is more likely to spook when I start to get tired, toward the end of the ride. That, I suppose, is more incentive for me to get my act together, and keep it there. Though if anyone out there has any ideas for maintaining focus,

Maintaining position while Maddie takes a close look at the jump standards.

The good news is that I’m regaining my seat and balance, and my confidence is intact despite Derby’s recent antics.  The work I did while riding Maddie on my seat has continued to pay off, and my lower leg is now pretty steady and quiet.

An ugly moment but I'm plugged into the tack. My lower leg hasn't moved and is providing a good base of support.

However, the recent events have recommitted me to improving my seat even more.  I’ve agreed to start dropping my stirrups in lessons (just a bit to start!).

I know from personal experience that (for me at least) confidence stems from building my competence. I’m glad I was able to stick with these recent spooks, which have been good tests of my seat.  But in my mind, I don’t think one can ever have too much stability int he saddle.  This won’t be terribly fun but it will be worth it.

Maintaining position as Maddie takes a really close look at some jump standards.

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital marketing executive and strategist with a long track record of success in content marketing, social media, demand generation, event marketing, sales enablement, product management and business development.

7 Responses to Do you *really* ride every stride?

  1. Net says:

    To me, “ride every stride” also means “allow and follow when he gets it right.” Especially with TBs, they try SO HARD to get things right, there needs to be a lack of aids, but you’re still RIDING, because you must still have your seat in the correct place, supporting yourself with your core, and following movement making yourself as light as possible to your horse. That’s enough reward for many TBs, but I know mine would get frustrated if I were always cueing. I’m learning to always ride as I’m discovering his little ways of evading work – not wanting to use his right obliques, wanting to drop his left shoulder… little things he’ll do if he can get away with it, so I am constantly monitoring him if not correcting anything or asking for anything additional.

  2. Sometimes riding every stride means relaxing and going with the flow too. I guess you need to be focusing on / assessing the quality of every stride – is it what you are asking for, when you asked for it, how you asked for it?

    I irritate my horse when I fiddle too much and when I try to prevent things. Ask, for an aid, get a response, coast for a while. Adjust ’em and trust ’em. Let something go wrong and then you have an opportunity to correct. (wise words form my trainer) 🙂

  3. tbatx says:

    Sarah’s trainer chiming in here…. I agree with you guys that “fiddling” every stride is a great way to irritate a horse, and especially a more sensitive horse that tries very hard like a tb. I think “riding every stride” is as much a mental exercise for the rider as a physical one. It doesn’t mean that you have to DO something with each stride, but maintain an awareness. When you are actively “with” every stride, when the horse *starts* to lose balance all it takes is a small shift of the seat to half-halt him back into balance. If you don’t notice when he *starts* to lose balance and wait until 5 steps later when he’s completely upside down and inside out, and only then do you notice what happened and start to have a conversation “Hey horse, remember me up here on your back? Yeah, I know we haven’t talked since that last corner half a mile ago, but I want something from you again…” then your aids have to be much louder and you have to DO more to get your horse completely reorganized.

    So it’s not fiddle, fiddle, fiddle, nag, nag, nag(which the horse will learn to tune out). It’s more about noticing the small shifts your horse makes with different body parts and adjusting your body accordingly to help him stay balanced, straight, and forward. It’s a very quiet conversation going on all the time, and of course if he keeps himself balanced without your help that’s great! But then maybe it’s time to move the work up a level 😉 I do like my own horses so tuned into my body that even my following seat has meaning to them, and I am therefore “riding” every stride even if I sometimes choose to ride it with a following seat that simply says “this is good, keep doing what you’re doing”, so the “riding every stride” is a mental focus between my horse and myself vs making corrections with each stride. When my horses are focused and listening to even my quiet following seat, they stay alert for every small shift I make and tend to be less distracted by noises and activity outside the arena, and therefore less apt to spook, which is where I’d love to see Derby and Sarah get to! So “riding every stride” is really about keeping the horse focused and tuned into the rider so the rider can ride quieter and do LESS as far as aids go, rather than letting the horse’s attention wander so that quiet aids go unnoticed, or equally as bad, constantly nagging with reins/spurs so the horse again tunes out the teeny tiniest request and the rider has to use bigger, stronger aids to communicate.

    Ok, you’ve inspired me… off to start a blog post!

  4. Sarah Skerik says:

    As usual, Christy explains perfectly. Riding actively “with” every stride is a better way to think of it. And is exactly what I need to do! (And Christy, point taken about mental focus.) 🙂

  5. cleanpolos says:

    Sarah- You look badass in that picture!

  6. cleanpolos says:

    I don’t think so! You look like you aren’t going to stand for all that silliness today!

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