“You are utterly insane and irresponsible, how awful” or “Oh my, wonderful, I am so jealous” are the two comments most commonly offered by people when I tell them what I do for a living – freelance coaching. With a twist. The area that I cover is – anywhere in the world. Some locations are recurring, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, England, Germany and Spain, while others are one offs – such as Italy or Costa Rica.
Growing up and learning to ride, I was the good pupil, who tried desperately to follow my coaches prompts – make the horse forward, get the horse round, use more leg, ride the canter, being some of those shouted instructions that I would be furiously trying to follow. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to voice my inner thought of – How? How do I make the horse rounder? How do I keep my leg still? How do I get my lazy horse more forward or my whizzy horse to settle? Somehow, lots of excellent coaching produced a rider able to compete across the disciplines and produce horses, but there was always that little inner dialogue of – how is this working? Teaching was a challenge, because I could always see the problem, and see what I wanted to change but often lacked the words or linear set of cues to get the changes I wanted for my pupils.
Thousands of miles in dressage arenas, jumping arenas, cross country courses, race tracks, endurance tracks, bridle paths and lunge rings later, my back started to give out, partly due to a lot of incorrect posture along the way. At that point I was already experimenting with many ideas, but discovered Mary Wanless and her “Ride With Your Mind” system. Finally, I had some of the “how to” answers. How does the horse come rounder? How can I protect my back? In her words – she teaches a “tool kit” – things that we as riders need to get our head around. I became a certified RWYM coach, and that opened my mind to more possibilities and thoughts, creating an eclectic mix that I use today.
I count myself lucky in that I have managed to experience a lot of different things, partly for fun, partly as teaching research, which allows me to connect to my pupils existing skills and has put me in front of some amazing coaches across a lot of different sports. This year, a rider with scuba diving experience was battling with her horse’s flying changes to the right, while to the left was great. Our discussion revolved around how, when asking for the left changes, she put her body into scuba diving positive buoyancy mode, while when asking for the difficult right changes she went into negative buoyancy mode. Instantly, by accessing muscle memory that her body understood, she could ride the changes in either direction. A young rider was battling with her jumping position and a discussion around our shared interest in rock climbing fixed the issue. (You can’t pull up with your arms, you have to push up with your core and legs). And yet another rider was constantly slightly behind the movement, causing frustration and irritation on her sensitive pony, which we worked through… How? That morning, I had climbed off a plane with a heavy back pack. On getting onto the escalator going up towards immigration, the back pack had pulled backwards on my shoulders, almost pulling me off my feet. I had to engage my core, match the packs backward force with my own forward force, so keeping me vertical on the escalator. This rider was being the back pack pulling her little gelding backwards. As soon as we worked through how to engage her core to match his forward momentum, all was better in their world.
Lessons are eclectic, thoughtful and make a rider stop and think. “Be a frog” or “more tennis balls” have been shouted across arenas, after discussion with riders has made this the explanation that puts them where their horse and I need them to be. My business is Kuda Guru, which means Horse Teacher. People assume it means I am the horse riding instructor, but the spin I put on it is, your horse is your teacher, I just translate.
The first question I ask of a rider during a lesson – if I could fix one thing, what would it be? They will answer, I wish he was more forward / straighter / rhythmic / slower / had impulsion / was balanced. And in my mind, I always think, if I could ask the horse, what would he wish for? Generally, the answer I imagine is the same as that the rider just gave. The rider who says, I wish my horse had a better rhythm, is often a rider who is not riding in a rhythm themselves. And I bet their horse is thinking, I wish my rider had a better rhythm. We can’t make the horse have a better rhythm, but if the rider and I can put a better rhythm into that rider, the horse now has a dancing partner that he can work with. At that point, the horse generally finds rhythm, breathes a sigh of relief and I get to translate – look at that, your horse has rhythm, don’t believe me, believe him. When your horse goes better, believe that you are doing something right… He is the expert at being the horse, all I do is translate.
So, what do you wish for when riding your horse? Would he wish for the same thing? How can you create that in your own body?
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