Guest Blog post # 92: "Responsible S’il Vous Plait" by Bill Woods

"I’m going to supple her a minute." That’s what a student announced to me as she was riding. Because I have a kind and generous soul and always display good temper, I did not act incredulous that she should seek permission to do something that riders should automatically be doing all the time.

But the exchange highlighted a differing perception of what a rider should be doing in a lesson situation. When you take a lesson, you mustn’t act like a puppet who takes no action other than what you are told to do. I don’t mean you should spontaneously disappear to the far end of the ring and freelance around when you feel like it, but no instructor can tell you everything you should be doing in real time. Keeping your horse soft, supple, and attentive is an assumed part of your job whatever project your coach is helping you with. If he or she doesn’t like the way you’re doing it, count on being told so, but don’t just sit there like an empty bucket waiting to be filled with knowledge. Ride your horse!

A caveat: if you’re asked to do something- let’s say to make a shoulder in at the beginning of the long side–- and your horse resists in the corner, most instructors will be perfectly happy that you interrupt the plan and get him back on the aids with a 10 meter circle. However, to my way of thinking if everything I ask a rider to do is preceded by “Wait, I have to get him on the aids first,” it means the rider has not been doing her job all along. Depending on the circumstance, my response may be “He IS ready. Just do it. NOW!” or “Okay this time, but he is supposed to be ready without extra circles. And I refer them to my vending machine analogy in which your horse is not allowed to tell you to “make another selection.”

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