Watch good riders, it’ll improve your own riding. It’s very interesting; I can walk into my arena, watch a student ride, and can tell whom they’ve been riding amongst. Riders tend to be visual learners and often are able to mimic what another is doing, by watching. This can be a valuable opportunity without requiring any effort, except making sure you have a positive example you’d like to copy. Watching the poise and use of one’s position and body to influence a horse can help illustrate some of the more elusive, difficult skills to explain, to another rider. The good dressage rider should demonstrate what a good seat is, how the legs drape, how vertical the body is, and how this can affect and influence the horse. The horse will have self-carriage, rhythm, throughness and straightness. The jump rider can also show good posture, a secure position and the timing to influence the horse. The tempo and balance are also clearly noticeable. For me, I often translate what I see into how it would feel; how I would feel riding like what I see. Additionally, I consider how the horse would feel under me. A couple of times I’ve been in awe at how watching can influence a student. I recall a couple of years ago watching the entire Intermediate and Advanced divisions show jump at the Southern Pines Horse Trial with a young Novice level student. Afterwards, during her jump lesson, she demonstrated what she had absorbed by watching. She was able to execute the changes I’d been trying to teach her, with ease! Funny thing, she was relatively unaware she had changed so dramatically, only aware her ride was going better! I had another young student who had grown up riding around a specific individual who had a unique bad habit she would display when asking for upward canter transitions. This young girl had inadvertently copied that. As a year went by and she no longer saw the same individual ride, she dropped the weird habit. However, I could still tell who were the new riders she was riding amongst, as she would pick up on some of their specific idiosyncrasies, all without trying. Surround yourself with good riding. It may not always be possible to ride amongst riders better than you are, but it’s still possible to immerse yourself with images of better riders. Go to competitions to watch the good riders, watch videos or DVDs and place photos of riders you admire in and around your riding/work space so you can’t help but see them daily. It’s a free riding lesson.
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