We all are creatures of habit, good ones and bad ones. It is the things we repeat most that stick with us and we go to them without conscious thought most of the time. The definition of habit is “A settled or regular tendency one that is hard to give up.”
When I teach new students I always ask a lot of questions in regards to the proper and sequential use of aids, how one would structure specific movements, such as a shoulder fore or in, a proper up or down transition like a canter departure. Most of the time the answers are somewhat correct, though often not in the correct sequence. If I cannot put the pieces together properly in my mind, how can I make my body ask them of the horse in the correct sequence? The habit of executing something properly starts in your mind with having the right recipe if you will, just like baking a cake. You will only remember that recipe if you repeat it over and over again. My mother had baked certain cakes so often she never needed the cookbook to know how many and which ingredients she needed. It should be the same with riding horses, if you practice the correct habits over and over again, it becomes habitual to use them and second nature. There is no time in the heat of the battle to go to the “cookbook”!
I am adamant about having the horses on a loose rein when we are talking about the execution of an exercise or I am explaining something. The riders who do this on a regular basis will promptly drop the reins on the buckle. The others will continue to hold onto the horse’s mouth, that to me that is torture to the horse, past the few seconds that are required in a dressage test or to salute to a judge. The ones with the bad habit of holding onto the reins while the horse is resting need repeated reminders to please drop the reins and give the horse a break. Bad habits and good habits are learned exactly the same way, by repetition. In order to change a bad habit to a good one I first have to become mindful of what it is I am doing wrong, then I need to recognize it myself instead of being told by my instructor, then I have to implement the new habit and go to the repetition of the correct way of doing it. It takes time, diligence, often a mental note and awareness of what my body is doing.
I recently read in the Chronicle of the Horse that an amateur rider was sanctioned for kicking her horse in the belly after she fell off. This too is the sign of bad habits. If in the heat of battle, she resorts to such unsportsmanlike behavior I have to assume that similar infractions and unfair treatment of her horse happen on a regular basis, probably promoted and sanctioned by the trainer.
Often people bring me horses with problems and tell me a long list why their horse doesn’t do this or that and how bad they are. I always listen; however, the horse usually tells me a totally different story and I have learned to believe the horses simply because they have no ego to protect, and are incapable of deceit.
Be kind to your horse learn good habits, practice them every day, and it will make you a better rider and a better person. You will always bring to the game what is inherently inside of you, if there is peace and mindfulness, kindness and concern to want to do the right thing, you will always strive to do that. If there is anger, control issues, temper and impatience, coupled with a huge desire to look good and win you most likely will always go to the bad habits. Choose what kind of a person and rider you want to be!