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A Funny Story - With an Important Message! (Current freebie!)
About 10 years ago, I was coaching the very talented young rider in the above photo at an Event at the Carolina Horse Park in North Carolina. Her horse absolutely loved cross country, and could get very strong with her.
So, as we were warming up for that phase, I was trying to show her how to better control her strong horse in a galloping position. And to use this technique well, a rider has to have a fairly flat back (as that makes it possible to push your hips back.) Since this rider was noticeably rounding her back, I kept telling her to "arch her back" - which to me means something like this:
Which of course, is not correct either, as a rider should never ride with a hollow back like this. But often when a rider has a deeply ingrained bad habit like rounding their back and shoulders, it can be extremely helpful to ask them to try doing the opposite for a bit... which then makes the middle ground that we are looking for more possible for them to achieve. I was really hoping to see her simply straighten her back, like this:
What she actually did in response to my request to arch her back was to round it even more. I yelled across the crowded warm up ring a few more times for her to "arch her back." And pretty soon she was cantering around the cross country warm up area in a position similar to this:
Just imagine what a rider would look like galloping around on a horse like that! She could barely see where she was going!
Her mom was standing right next to me, and the look on her face was priceless. She said, "What is wrong with her?? I have never seen her ride like this. She must be sick or something. I think I should pull her from the competition."
So, I then did what I should have done immediately after she responded to my first request for her to arch her back with even worse posture. I stopped her and told her to come over to me. It turns out there was a simple explanation for what was happening.
She honestly thought that was what I wanted her to do.
That's what "arch your back" meant to her. And she was trying hard, awfully hard in fact, to do what she thought I wanted her to do!
So we all had a great laugh about this after the fact! But the moral of this story is this... If your student (or your horse!) doesn't do what you are asking correctly the first time, yelling it a few more times is probably not going to help!
Instead - stop, go back a step, and take the time to make 100% sure that you are really on the same page - that they absolutely understand what you are asking them to do, and how to do it. Otherwise, you are setting everyone up for possible frustration!