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Keeping It Simple Horse Training
by Beth Esfandiari-John Lyons Trainer
Beth Esfandiari - John Lyons Certified Horse Trainer

Or you don’t need to fake it when you understand what you are doing.

Ok, so I faked it, haven’t we all faked it at some point in our lives?   There he was in the middle of the ring looking so expectant, and hopeful.  “There!” he announced cheerfully.  “Did you feel that?”  “It is harmony! You are as one with the horse.”  I tried my sweaty best to look pleased, and sure of myself, yet here I was feeling for all the world like an out of time base drum.  So far from “oneness” with my horse that I was sure in just two more strides I would be caught in my lie and dragged from the back of the wonderful dressage horse I was torturing, marched to the end of the driveway and unceremoniously pitched into the middle of the street.  Fellows riders would, shake their heads in solemn silence, whispering amongst themselves “Its such a simple concept.” Or “ Can you imagine such a farce?”

Ah well, this may seem a bit dramatic but when faced with such pressures in our riding lessons/clinics, we feel the need to keep up, assimilate, don’t rock the boat.  After all we are reasonable adults, it’s sure to sink in later.  But when it doesn’t, what then?   We have invested our money, our time, our emotions and our physical effort.  Usually enough to succeed at anything else.  But no, not riding. Maybe it’s the language, “into the outside rein “ or “between the aids” or “through the bridle” and my personal favorite” the horse must fill your seat”.  That’s not to say there aren’t moments, and inklings.  The definitions for most of the terms are so simple: Collection: to bring together, flexion: the art of bending, suppleness: pliant or flexible, control: to regulate, yielding: to comply or accommodate. We can find all of these in the dictionary. It’s the “how to get there” that is the mystery.

 This is where the seeking starts.  Finding that one explanation that makes the light bulbs flare.  For me my personal nemesis “the filling of the seat and the rounding of the back” was achieved on my very green mares back while being used as a demo by John Lyons during my certification program.  He was actually explaining a technique on how he wanted us to perform something called “collected flying time”.   I was astride, and he was “driving” (directing the horse with the rein from the ground) .  As he picked up the rein for another go at the trot, my mare suddenly grew and widened in preparation for the next request from John.  Well that light bulb flared and that feeling of “OH!…DUH!” came over me. I’m sure John still wonders about that goofy grin that was on my face for the rest of the demonstration. 

The next bulb to flash was the ease of canter transitions, which then led to lead changes.  Let me preface this next statement by saying, I have heard many ways of accomplishing these elusive changes, some worked and some didn’t however the one that sticks in my mind was so dismal that I chose to use it as an example here.  I was told to “ride the horse into my outside rein, feather (huh?) my inside rein, push my outside hip forward and to the inside close my outside leg behind the girth and my inside leg at the girth pushing simultaneously with my seat”…..  and viola a canter would ensue.  Honestly!  I couldn’t keep track of half of that will bouncing along on a horse in a dusty indoor ring.  After failing miserably for an hour compounded by my instructor climbing on and cantering around to “show” me how easy it was, I was quite convinced trotting was a noble achievement.  Then came the icing on the cake, which was, the “why” of it all. What did these cues mean after all?  The answer? “ That’s just how you do it, it helps the horse canter.”  Sigh.  Imagine my elation when it was finally explained to me that the horses outside hind foot was actually the first step into the canter and for the correct lead this is the leg you would need to have control over.  That’s when I began to have a bit more success at the canter.  But there where all those pesky body positions to memorize.  I was assured it had to do more with timing than all the technique I had painstakingly memorized yet still I felt I was fighting my horses. 

The moment of clarity came while at a walk practicing moving my horses’ hip to the inside with my one draped rein, on a 10-meter circle. It dawned on me that at the end of this exercise I would be able to ask my horse to leave her hips to the inside therefore allowing me to apply my go forward cue to ask for more foot speed thus facilitating a correct lead canter depart! Control of the hip. In Lyons terms, riding one piece of the horse at a time. The key to my canter, with no body positions to distract me.  It opened other doors as well, like that pesky haunches in, turn on the forehand and half pass.  All things that the terms “ more leg! ” and “more seat” where used repeatedly, to my consternation. Yet here during a simple and relaxing exercise at the walk, I was able to see the big picture. Boy was I excited!  It was like that perfect golf shot, that nothing but net throw.  It was a home run on horseback. For some people, this is an everyday happening.  Maybe they have “the “ instructor, “the” horse or simply” the “ talent.  For the rest of us, there is only “the “ hope that one day we will not have to fake it any more.

Contact: Beth  Esfandiari
12294 Lilac Hill Road
Valley Center, Ca. 92082
Phone: 760-580-2414

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