December 18, 2017

Ride the Horse and Ride the Exercise


            There is an ancient story of a rich and powerful King who gathered all the wisest men in his kingdom and asked them to take on a quest. The King asked them to search the world for something that was true… always and forever TRUE. The King wanted to know that there was at least one thing he could always count on, so he would always feel secure.

            The wise men traveled the earth and conferred with other wise men. They searched and they pondered. They meditated and they discussed. They gathered all the information and experiences they could, and finally came up with only one answer.

            The wisest of the wise men approached the King and informed him that they could only find one thing in the universe that was ALWAYS true. With great anticipation and longing the King asked what it was.. The wise man looked at the King and said, “The only thing that is always true, is that everything changes.”

            This is so very true with horses and riders. Our horses are always evolving and changing. As riders we must keep up. My lesson students are always looking for something they can hang their hat on. Such as if they want to trot they would always squeeze their legs against the horses sides while making a clucking noise and the horse would always trot off. While I instruct them in the correct cues, horses can sometimes get rather opinionated about what the rider can and cannot make them do. Therefore; all riders must do at least two things- Ride the exercise and ride the horse.

            Let’s assume the exercise we are trying for is trot. The normal cue for your horse is squeeze your legs against the horses sides while IMG_0418_cropmaking a clucking noise. Well in reality that should work because that is how the horse is trained to respond. However; even the best behaved horse may be distracted by a scary bag blowing across the arena or a giant bird that just landed on the rail. In that circumstance the cue may be entirely different. You may need to get the horses attention with your reins, voice, seat or legs first. You may even need to turn the horse away from whatever is grabbing his attention. Then you can start all over with your cue, but you may have to increase the intensity of your cue all the way up to kicking or tapping with a whip.

            If the horse is just not being a willing participant in today’s little jaunt, they may require an entirely different set of cues before you can get the requested response. Using the previous example, you have used the usual cue for trot and the response was something like this- Your horse raised its head and stopped completely. Or perhaps they turned around and headed toward the gate. That horse may need to be corrected before you can get back to asking for the trot. You may need to turn the horse in a tight circle to get his feet moving again. Then you have to get the horse walking in the direction you first intended to go before you ask for the trot again.  My mantra here is the horse must be “Framed, Forward and Straight” before you can ask for a more forward gait. The horse must be-Framed– The horse should be moving in whatever frame you usually keep him in. Forward– moving willingly forward, not stopping or slowing down. Straight– not turning right or left with either his head or body. If you don’t have those three things, you chance of success goes down considerably.

            Here’s another example- Suppose the horse is cantering and you want to down transition to trot. The cues would be entirely different than trotting from walk, but the end result would be the same, a trotting horse. In this case, you might use your seat to get behind the horses motion. Or perhaps you would begin riding as if the horse was trotting. For most of my school horses, simply taking your legs off while speaking the word “easy” would be enough to make them break gait, but unless you put some leg back on after the break, you’ll be walking or maybe even stopped before you say “trot”! But, if you put too much leg back on once they break, they might just pop back up into a canter again. However; if my trusty school horse had a few days off due to rain or it’s a breezy, cold day, some pulling on the reins in addition to the other cues may be needed before you get the desired response. Posting too soon after the transition may also cause a return to canter, so it may be best to sit a few strides before you begin to post again. Of course it’s also possible that the horse is a little slow that day and wanting to walk. In that case, posting right away will get him moving out quicker and perhaps prevent a break all the way to walk.  Wow! So much can happen when all you wanted was a trot!

            Regardless of the desired outcome you must remember that every exercise with horses comes with options. You have to be willing and able to change your cues. Sometimes the cues may change every stride depending on how the horse does or doesn’t respond to them. A good rider will make the necessary adjustments to their seat, hands, legs and voice every time the horse moves. This will keep the horse moving in the desired direction, frame, speed, collection and gait. Ride the horse and ride the exercise. Being flexible and responsive will help you become the best rider you can be. And always remember what the King learned- “The only thing that is always true, is that everything changes.”changes

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. Cheryl graduated from Rawhide Vocational College and Fullerton College. She is also an AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 35 years, training students from beginner up to world level competition. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to





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