In Front Of The Leg

Me - this summer. Photo by Jessica Snyder Me - this summer. Photo by Jessica Snyder

You think, after you have ridden for many hours, and many miles, over many parts of the world, doing many things with horses, that there is a wisdom you’ve come to know.

This wisdom stays with you. It makes you, at times, confident — and at times, cocky. Every once in a while you get a little lesson on the elusive, willowy, changeable nature of this wisdom you think you know about riding and schooling event horses.

When a horse is truly in your hand and in front of your leg (there’s the answer to the headline question), it feels like heaven, doesn’t it? In the old USCTA Book of Eventing, I remember Torrance Watkins describing it as feeling as though your stirrups start to hum. Your horse says yes, yes, yes to all your questions before you even ask.

This last week, I had a lesson with my coach, Tim. His patience and experience are amazing. While I am several decades older he still has something to teach me every single session. This last one was about getting my Thoroughbred, Lucky, truly in front of my leg. While he nearly put me in lung collapse, I did work through the problem and became a lot more active about making this horse do what I asked of him.

I had been worried earlier in the week about some attitude under saddle from this horse. I’d been softening my aids, treating him with kid gloves, making it easy. Well, as it turned out, that wasn’t the right approach. He was not listening. The leg meant GET THERE and he was simply making me work for it. After the lesson, the change was very obvious to me.

This entire week following Coach Tim’s instruction, I had a much nicer ride and a much more reliable canter and depart. Granted, I did carry the dressage whip for the rest of the week just in case the lesson’s focus got forgotten.

It’s not about pounding or pushing or getting after the horse. It’s about asking and getting an answer, all other things being equal. Lucky just “got it”. This has nothing to do with showing or competing but a lot to do with always keeping your mind open. You have to put your horse in front of your leg in this world. You have to put your education in front of your wisdom, too. They both need to march forward.