Pat Parelli explains the Parelli Natural Horse training method of achieving fluidity with horses in exquisitely simple language: “Do what your horse does, and do in your body what you want your horse to do in his.” This is just one of Pat’s great horse riding tips.
Pat spent years studying how horses move, trying to understand what their backs do and how to stay in harmony with that. The Parelli Natural Horsemanship approach to horse riding helps you start to feel like part of the horse and to go with the flow, naturally!
Fluidity in horse riding is about being in total harmony with the moving horse. A natural horseman is one who is part of the horse’s movement instead of restricting it, who sits naturally as opposed to artificially positioned, who is supple and flexible rather than rigid and stiff. A natural rider has his or her own self-carriage and deportment before asking the horse to have his, is balanced, and is in time and in tune with the horse’s energy.
Easier said than done. How do you actually learn to become a balanced rider so that you do what your horse does and the whole riding experience becomes fluid? You start by learning to be a passenger, which is why Parelli Natural Horsemanship includes “Passenger Lessons” in Level 2 of our natural horse training program.
Horse Riding Lessons for Harmony and Refinement
Horse Riding Lesson #1: Flow With The Go!
A good rider is part of the horse; he or she enhances the horse’s movement instead of getting in the way. Passenger Lessons are how you learn to be a good rider and passenger, much like you learn to respond in a car when someone else is driving. Have you noticed how you lean to maintain balance as the car turns, and how you adjust backward or flow forward as the car brakes or accelerates? Most people fail to do this when they are riding a horse. The Passenger Lesson surrenders your sense of control when riding (harder for some than others!) and teaches you to “flow with the go” of your horse… to go and slow, to zig and zag, not a moment too soon or too late. Until you’ve done this, you can’t imagine how much you can be out of synch on a day to day basis!
Linda Parelli talks about her own journey to fluid, balanced riding: “I remember the first time I tried a Passenger Lesson back in 1989. Being a self-confessed dressage freak, I had a lot of trouble controlling my horse, especially when it came to making the decisions as to where we were going/turning/and at what speed. It was suicide to turn loose to my horse on this! Although no self-respecting dressage fanatic would have ever consulted a cowboy, when I finally consulted Pat Parelli and learned how, I discovered a lot about myself. I found that I was so against my horse’s movements and changes it wasn’t funny. I resisted everything. Flow with the go? No way! I resisted it! The result was, of course, restriction in my horse. Not only did my horse have trouble moving freely, he also suffered emotional strife because my resistance upset him. This was a big “B.F.O.” (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) for me. Until then, I had always blamed my horse for being impulsive and difficult. Now, many years on, I realize that in opposing my horse, I upset him.
“To this day, the difficult horse that led me to Pat is fine until I get out of harmony with him. If I have any resistance in me, it upsets him. But if I do what he does (ride in harmony with him), it works like a charm. When he braces, I do. When he goes fast, I do too. It helps him become calm. And then when I am calm and confident and ask him to do what I want him to do… it works like you can’t believe. If I’m being a passenger, I should do everything my horse does – go fast, go slow, don’t be afraid. But most people (including me) brace against what's likely to happen and this upsets the horse!”
Fluidity is also a solution for stiffness: ribs that don’t bend, shoulders that don’t move, hindquarters that don’t work, sore backs, hollow backs, crookedness and poor flexibility. Adopting a particular posture in the saddle so that we look like good riders is no substitute for the actual skill of becoming part of the horse. Somehow, equitation lessons don’t quite help you get the “feel” – it’s more about the look. Many equitation students and instructors have a very difficult time breaking those hard-learned patterns of stiffness in order to become more natural and fluid.
Horse Riding Lesson #2: Use All Your Joints
Riders often overuse some parts of their bodies and under-use others. But a horse uses everything to move. When we don’t use our whole body to move, it’s going to compromise the horse’s movement. Be aware of your knees, lower back, ankles, shoulders and overall balance. If we lock up our shoulders and lower back, so does the horse! If we hollow our backs, so does the horse! If we can’t or don’t use our ribs, neither can our horse. This opens up a whole new responsibility as a rider…a new perspective on rider responsibility for the beauty and freedom of the horse underneath us. This awareness can take us to new heights of harmony, refinement and balanced riding.
Nearing completion of the Parelli Level 2 program, many people start riding in Bareback Pads more than in their saddles. In fact, they get to hate their saddles! Maybe it’s because of the weight and hassle of saddling, but maybe it’s because it just feels more natural and balanced than riding in a saddle where parts of your body, like your ankles, are challenged. As soon as horse riders put their feet into their stirrups, everything changes. Why? Because their ankles get stiff. When you stiffen your ankles, every joint from there up to your jaw gets stiff! When this happens, riding becomes uncomfortable, especially the sitting trot for us, and every gait for the horse.
Some students think they can just ride in the saddle without stirrups, but then as soon as you get into stirrups again, you will stiffen up because you have not yet learned how to flex your ankles as shock absorbers for everything from there up.
For balanced horse riding, work on making your ankles loose. With every step, your ankles should flex just as your horse’s hind leg ankles/fetlocks would flex. If you’re pushing down on your stirrups you will inhibit every movement and flexion your horse has in his lower leg. Move your hips like your horse moves his hips in each gait. Move your ankles like he would, too! Your feet should feel light in the stirrups, not pushing down or out, no matter what style of riding you do, English or Western. We’re talking natural locomotion, joint flexion, articulation and movement.
Is Fluidity Just A Dressage Thing?
It would be easy to think that fluidity applies only to dressage or English equitation, but it actually applies to all disciplines, English and Western. Fluidity and balanced riding are about using your whole body when riding and thus allowing your horse to use his. Every horse and rider combination can become more harmonious, comfortable and balanced through learning to be fluid as opposed to rigid. Your horse and your body will thank you for it!
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