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Think about when you are driving along, and not sure about where you are going, so follow Google Maps. The little map on your phone shows a blue line, and the voice says – follow the highlighted route. As you are going along, she is saying, in 400m take the exit left. In 300m, take the exit left. In 200m, take the exit left. In 100m, take the exit left. Take the exit to the left. During those 400m, you’ve looked ahead and seen the road, or at least the sign. You’ve got into the correct lane, you’ve put on your indicator. You’ve checked your mirrors, you and all those around you, know you are turning left. Awesome. Do you sit, staring at the steering wheel? Do you grip it with white knuckles and spin it to the left at the last moment? Did your Google maps wait until the last minute, and then yell TURN LEFT, and then tell you that you’re an idiot if you missed the turn? No? So, why do you do that to your horse?

Hemel Hempstead has their magic roundabout, with 6 mini roundabouts off the main one. Drivers are (hopefully) prepared and looking ahead, thinking of indicators and lanes. Would your horse be as lucky with you thinking ahead in a dressage test?

I’ve been spending more and more of my time teaching long reining this year, which is awesome, because I love it, it’s amazing to see the horses and riders changing, and the riders love it too. I couldn’t imagine training a horse without long reining, it’s just such a big part of what I do. And, it’s made it really clear to me, as I watch long reiners battle to steer – you’ve got to have a plan about where you’re going. It’s no good staring at your horse, staring at the reins, or at your feet. You need to be angling your shoulders where you are going and moving there with a clear intention. If you are going there, so is your horse.

Hannah is checking that Betty is straight, while Betty is marching ahead, looking right through those cones. See how Hannah's eyes have glanced across, but her body and whole directional force/intention are definitely aiming straight, where they are both going.

All too often, I’m saying to riders – do you know a secret? Your horse’s ears aren’t going to change colour, you really don’t need to keep staring at them. So, where should you be looking? 

That all depends on what you are doing, where you are riding. If you are hacking down the road, or through the forest, you’re looking up the road, up the track, checking for cars, or dogs, or whatever other hazards may appear.

Looking at this neck isn't going to help us navigate the mountains!

But how about in an arena? If you’re riding a 20m circle, you need to be looking at least a 1/3 of the circle further along than you are. I’ll often be standing in an arena and will hold my hand above my head, and ask the rider, how many fingers am I holding up? Or yelling out, you should be looking at the gate, the stable, the tree, the mirror, the jump etc. When jumping, how often do you hear your coach yelling – “look at the next fence”, generally the upright on the inner part of the turn. Use traffic cones as markers, use pole exercises, give yourself absolute points to aim at, and you’ll suddenly discover how much easier it is to get to a point if you are planning ahead. Yet another reason not to be riding along and thinking, “get his head down” since that’ll just make you look at his ears. Look up, plan ahead!

When out hacking, looking up at those glow in the dark exercise sheets is a lot more important than down at Light's lovely black ears!

Horses can’t read your mind, but they are experts at reading your body position and intention. If you become a little more like Google maps and show the highlighted blue route, you’ll be amazed at how much more steering you suddenly have!

Ashleigh Sanderson
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 27-09-2019
Ashleigh Sanderson is a riding coach who travels internationally full time. Part coach, part nomad, part thrill-seeker, Ashleigh is always looking for new ways to explain the principles of ethical, logical and horse-friendly riding and horse care. Her website name, www.kudaguru.com, comes from the Malay and Indonesian languages and so reflects the amount of time she spends in Asia. Kuda meaning horse, and guru meaning teacher. Although initially this was a nickname given by the local staff, she has turned the meaning around a little, thinking of it as, “Your horse is your teacher, I just translate”.