Most of us have one or two special riding instructors in our past who taught us some invaluable lesson. It might be that a-ha moment when you realized where your seatbones actually were, and how they worked. It might be when an automatic release finally clicked for the first time. It might have been a person, or it might have been a clever horse, who taught you that lesson.
I learned my most valuable riding lessons at the racetrack.
They may not be the prettiest forms of equitation, but six months on racehorses at Aqueduct taught me a couple
survival riding skills that I use all the time now. Here are my two favorites:
A “cross,” as I understand it, is when you hold both reins in both hands. It’s what event riders do when we “bridge” the reins over a horse’s neck for long gallops or a particularly strong horse.
A half-cross is when you hold both reins in one hand. When I am riding in any sort of uncertain situation, I nearly always have my reins in a half-cross like this: right hand on right rein, left hand on left rein, extra loop of right rein in left hand as well. It’s a wonderful feeling of security.
The Sort-Of Racetrack Half-Seat
I think there’s been some hate going around Facebook about some kind of pose where theoretically advanced riders balance their hands on their horse’s neck instead of maintaining an independent upper-body position, like a little kid when they first learn two-point. This isn’t the same thing. This is pressing one’s hands into the withers, just in front of the saddle, at either the trot or the canter, and letting your weight fall both into your heels and your hands.
This is a happy secure place if you keep enough weight in your lower leg, and keep your lower leg in front of you. This is approximately how one gallops a racehorse, except that you aren’t high up in short stirrups, and bent at the waist over your horse’s neck. The security comes from the weight in your leg, ahead of the motion, and the weight in the withers, a spot that tends to be pretty stable even if the horse stumbles.
I use this when riding big, strong horses with a tendency to fall onto the forehand and stumble. If they do stumble, my leg catches me. If they are just being strong and pulling, my anchor at their withers ensures that they are pulling against themselves.
No, I won’t be winning any awards when I use these techniques. But I haven’t been in the showing business for a long, long time, and I’ve found that for me, anyway, the riding that counts is real world riding — security first!