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"TURNING HEADS" AND "TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP!"
February 10, 2018
Many things happen when we first get taught to ride and many pieces of misleading information get transferred into our riding and our body. One of the most universal of these is the instruction “Look where you want to go!” So now the World is full of people riding horses and turning their heads wildly this way and that, hoping or thinking that it is necessary in order to guide the four-legged beast. Young green horses can benefit from some O.T.T. head turning from the rider, but in the main there are quite a few disadvantages to doing the head-turning thing on a horse:
If the rider is looking off to the left or right across the arena they can’t actually see anything the horse is doing, eg with the bend or carriage or where the horse’s eye, attention and gaze are.
Turning a 5kg lump of bone and brains (your head) which is precariously placed high on top of a vertical human body which in turn is placed up on top of the moving four-legged herbivore can cause a very exaggerated impact on the balance of the whole horse/human structure.
On a mental level, whilst the rider’s head is turned away from the horse it is almost impossible to maintain that most precious mental/emotional connection between horse and rider - in the same way as if you talk to someone and they’re staring away from you it doesn’t make you feel like they’re really ‘with’ you.
Swivelling your head around to the ‘inside’ of a circle or turn makes it almost impossible to retain any sense of what the outside aids (leg, rein, seat) are doing, because the human brain generally concentrates on what its owner is focussing on and a head looking around to the right is not likely to find it easy to concentrate on what is on the left and vice versa… The outside aids are arguably more important than the inside aids.
Turning the rider’s head almost invariably leads the rider’s upper body to tip significantly in the direction of the gaze. It usually makes the rider’s hips and lower body slide off centre too, either inwards or outwards, depending on the rider’s and horse’s one-sided-ness… And this is what I’m interested in discussing here:
It is easy to understand in terms of simple biomechanics that the tipping of the rider’s body makes the horse’s task of carrying them a lot more complicated… And what happens when a rider is not sitting centrally on a circle or turn the rider usually complains that the horse is falling in! (or occasionally on the other side falling out). The tricky thing for the rider is actually to stay perfectly upright and not even remotely lean or ‘motorbike’ unintentionally when turning or riding circles and to achieve that it helps greatly to look between the horse’s ears even on turns and NOT twist the head or even the eyeballs to look around the circle. If tipping inwards is the normal thing for a rider, then sitting in perfect vertical balance can feel for all the world like they are tipping out, but the horse will make it immediately clear if the vertical balance is helping by going miraculously better, making a better balanced shape and producing a far more accurate turn or circle… instantly!
“TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP?”
There can be useful occasions when tipping ‘gets a job done,’ maybe it shifts the horse’s centre over to correct or realign it beneath the rider, but this needs to be done as a conscious act with feel and awareness. For example horse’s that fall inwards on a circle onto the same inside shoulder all the time (most often the left shoulder) can be rebalanced by the rider tipping appropriately over to the right momentarily to correct the horse’s front end. At a more advanced level some horses find an expressive half-pass easier - especially half pass in canter - if the rider tips well into the direction of movement, almost to the point of lightening the opposite seat bone up off the saddle.
So it all begins with mis-information at the outset of our riding career by being told to turn one’s head around the corner to steer the horse, which ultimately leads to all kinds of gravity-defying interference with the horse’s balance, mental/emotional connection with us and his general way of going. Try looking between the horse’s ears at all times and see what happens: aside from the horse going better on a variety of ways you will look more cool up there on your horse… and who doesn’t want to look cool on a horse?!