One of the (embarrassing to confess) things I knew nothing about when I returned to riding was the indirect, or outside, rein. When taking English riding lessons in my late teens and early 20s, my instructors taught me plain steering by direct rein, simply bending the horse's head in the direction you wanted to go. It's a wonder my hands remained light.
Inside leg to outside rein to help contain, shape and direct the energy of the horse while moving forward, on a circle or not. That's what I was thinking about while I warmed Saxony up, bending her through figure eights, turning her on the haunches, turning her on the forehand. I wanted Tim to learn about it if only because I hadn't.
I'd already explained to Tim that horses are ridden from the seat and the legs to the reins, not the other way around. The concept of "seat" is daunting for a newcomer, I think, and leg aids can be as well, but almost everybody has seen reins in use with a horse and it's natural to think their function is obvious. It's not, and that's why I elected to begin with the rein aids. "There are two reins and both are used to converse with the horse," I told Tim. It makes sense to say it in so few words, but teaching it in a way that enables a beginner to feel the actual mechanics of it takes some thought.
|I won't, but I could stop walking, couldn't I?|
This picture is not illustrative of what I'm talking about, I just love the sly look in Saxony's eye. She proved herself to be a perfectly adequate school horse for a beginner, with all that that entails, including making fun of her rider by feigning ignorance from time to time.
I know I'm lucky to be helping someone who is so willing and excited to learn about horses and riding. Because I'm not an advanced rider (I'm really thin on canter work), I can only give Tim what comes from my experience, and from the holes in it as well. My struggles with confidence keep me wanting him to always feel safe and open. That's why I put Tim in shorter stirrups, to give him a sense of security in our early going.
After Tim was aboard Saxony, we walked a couple laps of the round pen. As we walked, I asked him to tell me how he felt Saxony differed from Gambler. We talked about her height, her stride, her swinging back and long, low headset, all very different from what he'd experienced aboard Gambler, a shortbacked, upright little Arab, dawdler or not.
Then we spent a half hour working on the rein aids. We began with contact and how to find and maintain it softly, so softly, and consistently. To get there meant Tim learning to take up the reins and learning to release them, sometimes just in the fingertips, sometimes through the wrists and up fluid arms. Saxony likes to look at her environment, and the movement of her head and neck created a natural opportunity for Tim to learn about following hands. He did really well, and I enjoyed seeing him comprehend how little pressure is required to stay connected to the horse.
Once I felt Tim had begun to find a sense of the reins, I asked him to bring Saxony in off the fence and cross to the other side of the round pen. I pointed out a specific route. Focused on following my instructions, he spoke to Saxony through the reins, and even with his body, but he didn't notice because he was concentrating so intently on the route. It's wonderful what can be taught when the student isn't looking.
We worked on simple changes of direction in wide, gentle turns. We worked on halting and walking, walking and halting, worked on opening the inside rein, worked on maintaining the outside rein. There's a light that comes into a person's eyes when suddenly they understand something in their own way, after just a little guidance and practice. That's what I saw happen for Tim when Saxony began gently chewing in the bridle. Their conversation had begun.