Our Responsibility As Riders

“If you interact with a horse, you have a responsibility toward him.” Christoph Hess, FEI “I” Judge in both dressage and eventing, explains this statement in an excerpt from his book Ride Better With Christoph Hess, reprinted here.

Photo by Jacques Toffi

If you interact with a horse, you have a responsibility toward him. This responsibility is non-negotiable and applies to every one of us who owns horses, rides them, or “uses” them in another way, such as for sport or breeding.

As people, we can do what we want to, for the most part. A horse does not have this option. Therefore, we are obligated to the horse to handle and train him in the way that best suits his nature. As riders, we must give the highest level of attention to the well-being of our partner. A horse’s general well-being is the basis for his performance capability. As riders in any discipline, we require performance from our horse—yes, we hope for this from our horse and even “expect” it of him.

But to perform, the horse must enjoy what he’s doing!

It’s with this core belief in mind that the rider can best understand my training advice. My goal is to impart to the rider more understanding and feel for the horse. Riders can only respond to their horse correctly when they are able to understand his reactions. Therefore, the rider must learn to communicate with her horse. It is her responsibility to get familiar with her horse’s nonverbal language. Horses must understand their rider—and that is especially important when problem-solving. Most of the time, problems occur because the horse has not understood the rider; generally, horses want to do everything right when they are ridden with correct aids. Therefore, we riders must carefully “explain” our aids to our horse and give these aids consistently—that is, always the same way.

In order to communicate harmoniously with our horse, we riders must invest a lot of time in our own education. In order to be able to influence our horse with aids that are “feeling”—but are also effective—we must first be able to ride with balance and supple relaxation. A horse will not “understand” an aid that is “half” effective. Horses require clear “instruction,” and only then can they execute our wishes.

Whenever I provide riders with advice to help with various challenges, I am always guided by the tenets of classical riding instruction, as relayed by The Principles of Riding (from the German Equestrian Federation, available in the United States from Trafalgar Square Books—www.horseandriderbooks.com). This is the essential base. These guidelines are the foundation for our system of riding. They must be put into practice consistently, even as they are customized to each individual case. The better the rider is, the more she will be prepared to customize the training for her horse to help with his particular challenges. In this way, she’ll be able to ride the horse more harmoniously and get along with him better. So, good riding is when all the rider’s aids come together masterfully.

I thank the riders whom I have had the privilege of teaching over the past years. Regardless of level, age, discipline, or nationality, in every case, I learned much from you. Each rider, each horse, was my “schoolmaster.” One fact we must always bear in mind: we riders were all beginners at one time and only a few among us are granted a major career in this glorious sport.

An excerpt from Ride Better with Christoph Hess by Christoph Hess, reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

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