“Regardless of the horse, it seems that I have numerous habits that provide endless opportunities for improvement. And as in life, it’s one thing to recognize the problem, it’s another to do something about it. Fixing is hard!”

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A few weeks ago, as I was waiting for my lesson to start, one of our priceless grooms joked about him teaching the lesson. I quickly retorted that it would be pretty easy and rattled off three things that my trainer frequently tells me, day in and day out. (Broken record much? My deepest apologies to all of my trainers!)

Joking aside, whether I am riding dressage or jumping, I often have a running, internal monologue that’s a gift from trainers past and present:

  • Look where you want to go
  • Shoulders down and back
  • Shorten your reins
  • Soften your elbows
  • Hands down
  • Close your fingers
  • Engage your core
  • Sit up tall
  • Quiet your upper body
  • Use your seat
  • Slow your post
  • Close your hip angle
  • Don’t pump with your seat
  • Don’t pinch with your knees
  • Close your calf
  • Don’t nag with your leg
  • Heels down
  • Breathe

Sure, some of these are more specific to a particular discipline, but their commonality is that I’ve heard these refrains from trainers time and time again. Regardless of the horse, it seems that I have numerous habits that provide endless opportunities for improvement. And as in life, it’s one thing to recognize the problem, it’s another to do something about it. Fixing is hard! Add in the dynamic of a constantly changing and in-motion 1000-pound prey animal, this litany of reminders is pretty constant.

Having watched countless lessons and horse show warm-ups, I know I am not alone. And this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list. What is somewhat mind boggling, is that despite this laundry list of necessary adjustments, I can’t wait to try again the next day and the day after and the day after that.

The pay off is that fleeting sweet spot in which it all comes together for a brief moment and the horse rewards the rider with throughness and total engagement that is the embodiment of flow and the sweet spot. This harmony temporarily quiets the voices. And if we’re lucky, these moments begin to happen more frequently as we hold ourselves accountable for riding better, yet still staying relaxed at the same time! Practice makes progress.


About J. Marin Younker:

At the tender age of 50, though she’s old enough to know better, Marin relishes exercises in humility and opportunities for growth: parenting, gardening, writing, bee keeping, and last, but not least, riding. As an adult amateur eventer/jumper in the Seattle area, Marin is a self-professed horse nerd who wishes there was more time in the day for actually reading and watching all of the resources she collects to become a better rider.

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