Hi Jessica! I'm sure you don't remember me, but I attended your lectures at Equitana some years ago, and you were kind enough to answer a couple of questions about my riding problems. You helped me so much just in those few minutes, I am in awe and I keep hoping that you will do a clinic near me someday! How can I get you to do this? But really why I wrote was about an entirely different question. The year I went to Equitana there was a woman there from England or Australia, I don't remember which, but she had a mechanical horse that was supposed to teach riders how to sit correctly and sit the trot, and so on. It sounded very interesting. I actually got to "ride" on a different mechanical horse once, but it was designed for jockeys and you had to sit in jockey position and all it did was "gallop" (which didn't feel like a real gallop to me, but maybe racehorses feel different?), the point seemed to be that you could learn to sit that way and move your arms with the horse's neck. It wasn't useful for dressage or even just regular riding. But I keep wondering about the other mechanical horse. Do you think that it's possible that someone could really make a machine that moves like a horse and could teach you to ride? Also, do you think that this kind of "riding lessons" would be compatible with classical riding? After talking with you about classical riding, I bought two of the books you recommended and got some of the others from the library. I feel that I have learned so much, and I try to apply it on my mare, but I don't always make the kind of progress I want to make, and sometimes it's very discouraging. I wonder if something like the mechanical horse at Equitana would help someone like me? Do you know anything about that, did it work, is it still being made, and where could I try one? Or in your judgement would something like this be a "gimmick" or a "gadget" and contrary to classical riding, like draw reins? I really want to improve my riding and I want to be a classical rider and I am so curious about this idea.
Should a person like myself even try to become a classical rider, or is it hopeless if you're just a regular person with a regular horse? I just feel that I am "stuck" right now and want to know if this would be an okay direction to go (if it even still exists) or if it would be a different direction from classical riding. Can you help me again, please?
The Equisimulator is certainly not a gadget or a gimmick like draw reins - it has nothing to do with coercing the horse, and everything to do with educating and training the rider (without causing the horse wear and tear and annoyance). And it is absolutely compatible with classical riding. In fact, it's brilliant for classical riding, because the welfare of the horse is always uppermost in the priorities of true classical riders, and the Equisimulator helps riders become educated whilst making life much easier for their horses.
Some riders manage to "pick up" the sitting trot easily and immediately, and never forget how to do it - but they are in the minority. Most riders struggle with the sitting trot, and many of them struggle with it for years. Sitting an active trot requires that the rider possess core strength, a straight, balanced torso, and a flexible, relaxed lower back and pelvic area. At the trot, the horse's back moves in many directions at once: up, down, and sideways. It adds up to a considerable amount of motion that cannot be accepted - let alone followed - by a stiff rider, or a rider who does not understand exactly how to move with the horse. To sit the trot, the rider must be able to make regular, repeated, precisely-timed flexions of the lower back in order to accompany the horse's movement and absorb the shock.
Add to this the fact that the rider affects the horse! The horse's movement during the first few minutes of trotting may change dramatically as the horse begins to tense and stiffen its back to protect itself from the pain of being bounced on by a rider who isn't able to accompany its movement softly. It's understandable, it's normal, you can't possibly blame the horse - but when the horse's back becomes rigid, it uses its hind legs differently, its gait changes, and at that point, the only thing to do is to go back to walk, help the horse relax and loosen its back, then ask for trot again, establish a good, steady trot, and attempt to sit AGAIN - with, almost certainly, the same results.
This, in fact, is the traditional way to learn to sit the trot! The intelligent, considerate rider knows that there is no point in trying to sit the flat, rigid-backed, short-strided, uncomfortable trot that the horse offers when it becomes sore from the pounding of an inept rider attempting to sit its REAL trot, so the intelligent, considerate rider will make progress almost literally one step at a time - or two steps, or three, or four. The method is to get a good-quality trot, establish the rythym, then sit one step - two steps - possible three steps - perhaps four - until the horse signals that it is BEGINNING to experience discomfort. That signal might be a slightly stiffened back, a slightly shortened stride, a lifted head, a change in the tempo (or even in the rhythm) of the trot, or a tiny hesitation that indicates that one or more of these things is about to occur. At THAT moment, the intelligent, considerate rider will begin to rise to the trot, and will continue rising until the horse becomes comfortable in itself, recovers its proper rhythm and tempo, and allows its back to stretch and lift once again. At THAT moment, the rider will sit again - gently - and remain sitting until the horse's comfort level drops and the quality of the movement begin to suffer. Then she will rise again - and so on, and so on, and so on. Not only does the rider have to pay a great deal of attention to the horse at a time when it would be advantageous to be able to focus on her own movements and sensations, but she doesn't have the chance to continue sitting long enough to feel entirely sure that she OWNS the position and the various lower-back flexions as each side of her pelvis is lifted and brought forward, then dropped, by the action of the horse's hips.
The "alternative method", traditionally speaking, has been for the instructor to longe the horse with the rider on board. This has certain advantages - it keeps the rider within range of the instructor's voice, it allows the instructor to keep the horse's gait and movement as consistent as possible, and it enables the rider to focus on her seat rather than on steering the horse. In fact, if the rider is longed without reins, it also enables the rider to learn to balance correctly, as there is no possibility of hanging on to the reins for balance. However, this method, too, has its downside. It's hard on the horse - sometimes very hard on the horse. Even if the arena footing is perfect and the longeline is a full 35' long, the horse is still working on a circle for a long, long time, and that is stressful for the horse's joints.
The Equisimulator makes it possible for the rider to achieve the sitting trot in record time, because the gait of the "horse" does not alter, and she can focus on learning HER side of the sitting trot without having to worry about hurting the horse's back or mouth or joints. It also keeps the "trotting horse" and its rider close to the instructor, which makes it possible for the instructor to offer additional help, explanation, or even "hands on" position adjustments to the rider - something that can't be done from the other end of a longe line.
Right - that's the good news. The bad news is that although I had hoped we would be seeing Equisimulators all over the States by now, alas, they aren't even widely available in the UK! You can, however, get directly in touch with Heather Moffett, who uses them in her teaching. If you happen to be planning a trip to England at any point, do find out whether you can possibly arrange to spend a few days or even one day with her. The Equisimulators are wonderful, and Heather is an excellent teacher (with or without the Equisimulators). Her book, ENLIGHTENED EQUITATION, is also very useful. Here's the contact information I have for her. I believe it to be current:
East Leigh Farm, Harberton, Totnes
Devon, TQ9 7SS
Tel/fax:01803 863 676
Classical riding is - and should be - accessible to ordinary riders with ordinary horses, provided that the riders have a strong interest and the willingness to make the effort to learn, work hard, and continue to work hard. It's a pity that so many interested riders, especially in the States, have no access to goo classical instruction. Rider balance and position are the KEYS to classical riding, and it can be quite hard to improve those when you're working on your own. An opportunity to learn on the Equisimulators will make your work easier. If you get the chance, go for it. You won't be sorry.
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