Coordination; It's always a wonderful feeling when you can do something effectively without having to put too much thought or effort into it. Being able to cultivate this skill, regardless of what is being done, takes a large number of hours invested in practice. However in order for that practice to be beneficial, it must be correct or perfect practice.
This is the one element that trips many riders up when it comes to having more coordination in the saddle. Hours are spent moving through particular school shapes, years dedicated to specific movements; however unless the practice is correct and performed in the correct sequence, the benefits will be slow to appear - assuming they ever do.
You can listen to this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast HERE >>
Watching a rider who is coordinated riding side by side with one who is not is like watching a chicken trying to keep up with an eagle in the flight department! It is one of the most decisive factors in the outcome of each ride and quite unique in that each riders coordination, whether it be good or bad, has very little to do with the horse underneath the saddle.
You know that as a rider, being able to communicate with your horse about what you would like him to do requires you applying a particular set of aids, in a specific sequence. In fact, many different movements or directions we give to our horses have similar, if not the same aids, but it is how and when they are applied that make the difference.
Improved rider coordination makes the communication between horse and rider more fluent, more subtle and more effective
For those with a lack of coordination, each movement must first be thought out in their head - a list of sort created out of the aids that must be applied to achieve that particular goal. But having to think things through, step by step, almost ensures that the subtleties which make all the difference, go unused and forgotten. Things like the amount of pressure applied, or how long an aid is held, or making quick adjustment to timing, sequence and pressure as necessary.
Essentially, being coordinated in the saddle means that you can perform the 'sequence' of aids without having to consciously think about it; leaving you open to rather focus on the more subtle aspects of your aids and course correcting as the movement progresses
So how can we be sure that our practice is indeed helping to improve our coordination in the saddle? Let's focus on the idea of perfect practice. I see a lot of riders in the saddle who are happy with mediocre ways of doing things, particularly the basics. I think that riding must be fun and enjoyable, but a large part of that enjoyment is getting the basics right from the start. There are times with riders when I feel that they are really and truly just wasting time, money and energy because they do not see the importance in creating a strong and solid foundation from where they can then grow their skills.
Things like how you are sitting in the saddle. How you use your core to communicate with your horse - from the first time in the saddle. Where your leg is in relation to your body. Carrying your hands. Opening up your chest as you ride. As an instructor there is nothing as frustrating as having to repeat the same thing to a rider, week in and week out.
What is most ironic is that those same riders, who won't take responsibility for their own body in the saddle are very often the ones who are very quick to blame the horse or circumstance for their lack of progress
Becoming responsible for your body and how it moves in the saddle is something you can begin doing today. Is there one thing that you consistently do that you can start working with right now? For me it was a tendency to allow my left hand to 'turn'. My right hand remained where it should be, but my left hand... Knuckles on top and, if left to its own devices, it would dip an inch or three lower than its partner. It was something that, once it was pointed out to me, I became so aware of every time I was in the saddle. I would set myself a goal in each training session; not have my trainer mention my wayward left hand once in the time we were together. Initially I had to continuously 'check' myself; I created little markers around the arena where a mental alarm bell went off to 'fix my left hand'. It was exhausting, but it worked - In fact to this day I subconsciously correct my left hand when riding; without ever having to remind myself to do so.
The challenge for many riders is that they are not willing to make correcting one thing a habit to begin with. But becoming almost obsessed with the most basic of your riding faults and committing to 'fixing' it before even thinking about moving on to the next one is the most effective way to make your practice as perfect as it can be. One of the other benefits of doing this is that once that basic building block is in place, a lot of other issues you thought you had will vanish. Many riding faults are merely symptoms of a larger, and more basic, fault to begin with.
Putting that fault on 'autopilot', so to speak, frees your thinking brain up so you can begin focusing on the more intricate and subtle aspects of communicating with your horse when in the saddle
Create small checkpoints around the arena to remind yourself to 'fix' that fault. In doing so, you are building systems within your own schooling sessions, regardless of if you have a trainer with you or not, to help make your practice become better and better each time.
Another way to improve your coordination in the saddle is by physically improving your body and how it can handle itself. It always amazes me how riders will spend weeks, months and years planning their horses fitness program - while never giving a single thought to their own physical performance in the saddle
Having taken some longer breaks from riding at different times over the years, I can tell you from first hand experience that very often when I get back into the saddle often feels like my brain and body and speaking a different language! My brain knows what to do and how to achieve a particular outcome, but my body just physically can't / won't respond in order to carry the aids out. It is the most frustrating thing about being out of the saddle for any sort of period of time; in fact at 6 months pregnant right now, I am wondering if my body will ever feel like it used to again!
I see a similar situation with riders who only get into the saddle once a week. We spend the first half of our time together 're-tuning' their aids and coordination in order for them to be able to really begin riding. However there is a way to mitigate this; whether it be a prolonged break from riding like myself, or longer periods between less frequent rides like some of my students - exercise.
Fitness and exercise is like everything else, you get out what you put in. The quality of the movements and how well they translate across to your riding is what matters. For more information on how to become a better version of you in the saddle, you can join in the free 30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge HERE >>.