Training the Rider: Advice For Less-Experienced Horses

In dressage you should insist
on correctness of the aids:
precise motion of knees, seat, heels, hands.

A schoolmaster horse of course
may simply refuse to do anything
unless the rider gets the aid right

but for less-experienced horses
I advise the “I’m confused” method
of training, which is to do exactly
what you wanted to do anyway
and pretend it’s what you thought
you were being asked for.

mg 2009


The Novice Rider At Her First Horsemanship Clinic

“Ride your eyes,” he says,
which I ponder over
and finally take to mean
turn your head, look where you want to go,
she’ll feel that tiny movement,
your seat bones in the saddle,
she’ll turn under you,
no need to steer with reins or  leg.
“You want their feet in your hands,” he says,
and also “Your hands are connected to your seat.”
No one asks what any of this means—
I imagine all the others know his language.

He’s perched on the rail, leaning in, squinting.
The day is bright and dry and hot.
His voice escalates when he thinks he’s unheard:

“Give to her.”
“Don’t hold onto her mouth!”
“Don’t pull on her head!!”
“Release! Release!! Release!!!”

Every so often he climbs on someone’s horse
to show how it’s done.

“This” he says, “is how I want you to back her up.”
The horse is a big red warmblood,
a misbehaving mare that’s given trouble
to the woman who brought her.
He widens the reins, squirms his hips down,
“Like a wormy dog, dragging his behind over the carpet.”

The red horse bows her neck,
backs up four or five steps, delicate as a ballerina.
He drops the reins, lifting his hands
like a rodeo cowboy at a calf roping.
“And when she does what you ask, you give to her.”

I squirm my hips down on the bleacher seat, whisper,
“Wormy dog, wormy dog, wide reins, quick yield.”

He lifts the reins in one hand, lopes the arena.
“A good rider on a finished horse can ride one-handed in the box,” he says.

I am not finished. And what is a box?

mg 2014