Forward First

It’s no secret that I sit on a lot of green horses. Over the years, working with babies has proven to be my niche. Whether completely un-started or just beginning a new career, I’ve found a knack in bringing up the young ones, giving them confidence and direction to be successful where ever life takes them.

And with all the green beans I’ve sat on, I’ve come to realize that the key to creating confidence in the saddle is to establish forward first.

So, after doing groundwork to establish a proper foundation (you can read about that here), I swing up and we just go. Walk, trot, canter, in the arena, hacking around the property, over a few poles. It doesn’t matter where or how, one thing is always the same – forward comes first.

Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

Before anything else, the horse has to move, to go somewhere when I ask. Otherwise, they turn into a ball of nerves, questioning what’s going on up there and ready to explode. But, when you introduce the idea of going forward, the horse has a job to do, something to think about and all those worries just seem to fade away.

As training progresses, new concepts are always easier when the horse is in front of your leg. Bending, contact, jumping – even collection – all happens when a horse is going. So, I teach them the leg aid first and everything else after. I create a confident horse by making them go forward and tackle the world. We’ll worry about the rest later.

Forward into the contact.
Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer

But as I kick on, I realize that what I’ve been teaching my horses is something I haven’t quite mastered myself.

Being on the babies, I haven’t had a chance to reach all of my goals. I haven’t established a true competition record or moved up the levels. I’ve been so busy teaching my horses to go and do things without becoming a ball of nerves, that I’ve been doing the exact opposite for myself.

Just a few days ago, I was talking with my friend Diane about our upcoming show season. I was ready to actually show Java this season, feeling behind after being out of the tack last year. And as I was trying to put her back together after a bad lease situation while getting back in the saddle myself, I was feeling defeated and confused about what to do.

What I wanted was to go run her first recognized event. I knew we were capable and with the season opener a solid two months away, I knew if we worked hard we could get there. But, I found myself questioning it. Should I do a few more schooling shows? Should I drop down a level? Should I not go?

All of the sudden, there I was, with my confidence broken. The very thing I pride myself on being able to teach my horses, I failed to do for myself. I had lost of my sense of forward and had found myself overwhelmed and unsure.

Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer

Because when you get into the dance of kicking and pulling, of creating problems you can’t answer, of questioning your capabilities, you forget the most important thing — to go forward first.

A horse in front of your leg is happier, is more confident, and is ready to learn and tackle problems. And it will be the same for me. I’ll practice what I preach and learn because I go. I’ll create my own confidence by kicking on and establishing my forward first.

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