This was going around social media recently and I thought it was brilliant, did you see it?

Taking things too literally is something that happens so often, with our language or message not being what we actually mean.

There is a house in London which has been causing quite a stir.  A neat little cul-de-sac road, with about 12 townhouses.  One town house is owned by a lady, as an investment.  She’d just bought it and was dealing with other issues, so this little house’s front looked more and more neglected, run down and sad.  The other home-owners began making a lot of noise – it’s ugly, it’s bringing down the neighbourhood, you need to clean it up.  She kept saying, yes, no panic, it would happen.  They took her to court – the judge ruled, it must be painted immediately.  So, she did.  In lumo pink and white, candy stripes.  The judge had said paint it – she did.  Literally.  Did she do anything wrong?  Well, not if you listen to the words.  The other homeowners in the street, in despair, went back to court.  We cannot have a lumo pink and white candy cane striped house on our upmarket street…..  Make her cover it up immediately!  The judge complied – cover it immediately.  So, she did.

London House with candy stripes
London House with candy stripes

She did exactly as asked – she covered the candy canes.  And now, it’s even uglier than before.  The other homeowners have given up – how do you fight with someone who does exactly as you ask?  And now it sits – probably for longer than it would have if they had just left her alone in the first place.

Another extreme example comes from an old racehorse urban legend – did it happen?  A trainer had a new young exercise rider, who, although she could ride well, had never had anything to do with racehorses or riding work gallops.  On her first ride out, he said to her to canter the horse to the back straight, and at the corner, to “jump off and let him run”.  What he meant – hold him collected, balanced between hand and leg and contained until she reached a certain furlong marker, and at that point, to soften her contact, let him jump off, as in starting blocks, and to gallop as he could….  What happened…  At the marker, she dropped her stirrups, dismounted and…   well….  Let him go.

But, it’s something that I do encounter all the time in arenas.  Sit up straight – what is meant…  Go into a martial art state of strength and balance, from military days.  What happens?  A ridiculous hyperextension of the lower back as riders contort themselves into pretzels.

Put your inside leg on the girth – this was a magical instruction, in 1700 when girths were 6 inches further back than they are today. Now, it just puts rider’s in a chair seat, landing heavy on their rumps.

Use your contact – make the horse round.  The result?  Sawing away at his mouth or fixing the hand and dragging his head down.  The intention?  Hold a light, polite contact and send the horse into it, inviting him to lift his back and work throughout his body.

Heels down, often results in the rider pushing their foot forwards, (especially adults, from driving I wonder?) instead of allowing their leg to lengthen and their ankle to naturally shorten in front, allowing their foot to be parallel to the ground, or slightly toe up.  Toes up, would be a much better use of words.

We instructors need to be so careful of our language – when a rider is listening and working really hard to do as told, it’s only ourselves to blame if we give mixed instructions…

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