California Riding Magazine • April, 2013

Horsey Humor:
Crooked Riding

by Bob Goddard

I once swore that I would never wear riding clothes with Lycra or anything resembling Lycra. I resent clothes that cling to me. And I saw no reason to punish the public with disturbing visual images.

Of course, that was all B.S. (Before Sores). Soon after my riding instructor decided she was going to teach me how to post at the trot, I started getting sores. I got an ugly one on my lower right leg, just above the ankle and a pretty one on the inside of my left knee – about the shade and consistency of blueberry yogurt. Despite my appreciation for beauty in all forms, I broke down – way down – and bought a pair of jodhpurs. I had become Lycrafied.

The jods helped, for sure. But they were treating the symptom, not addressing the underlying cause. According to The Great Book of Horse Knowledge, my favorite resource for equestrian related information, the underlying cause of my sores was "asymmetrical riding." I had no idea.

The Great Book says that every ride is a conversation between the horse and the rider. While this may seem like hippie talk, the authors don't mean an actual conversation with actual words. For that, you need a prescription. Or a close friend who "knows a guy." Sure, words are used (note: by us) here and there, but it's all about tone and inflection, not meaning. For example, I can get my lesson horse, Vinnie, to trot by uttering the names of items off of McDonald's Dollar Menu. I don't think my instructor has actually heard me do this yet.

The communication between a horse and rider is physical. This conversation is conducted within the context of the current psycho-emotional state of both parties. If the rider is physically balanced and the horse is mentally balanced (and vice-versa), the conversation can be warm, cooperative and mutually pleasant. The horse responds to cues with less resistance and is suppler on turns and whatnot. This kind of conversation has the ambience of a relaxed, but engaged discussion with a good friend after two, but before six beers.

On the other hand, asymmetrical riding is more akin to an argument with a family member. Physical imbalance creates unequal pressure and thus excessive friction. The horse and rider rub each other the wrong way, both figuratively and literally. And the rider ends up with pretty/ugly sores on his legs and other areas to be named later. This is not fun!

Asymmetrical riding is particularly uncomfortable for the horse. When a rider lacks balance, the horse has to compensate by contracting his muscles on the "weak side" and is unable to easily bend his body in that direction. This makes turning difficult and painful and thus the horse hesitates when so cued.

Compensating for a rider's imbalance also can make a horse stumble and unable to easily lengthen his stride. To the rider, this seems like the horse is being resistive and argumentative. In this situation, the rider may resort to increasingly forceful physical cues, but this often serves to anger and confuse the horse. And the accusations start to fly: "He's acting stupid!" says the rider. "He's acting stupid!" thinks the horse. The resentment is mutual.

These unfortunate miscommunications manifest themselves in many different ways. For example, while I could get Vinnie to go on "Cheeseburger, Vinnie!" I was having trouble getting him to stop. It was as if he lost all sense of what "whoa" with declining inflection means: Whoaaa…. Maybe I should have gone right to the dessert menu.
I lodged a complaint with my instructor.

"Why is he acting so stupid?" I asked as we whisked past her.

"It's because of the way you're sitting on him. It's uncomfortable for him and he's trying to get away from you."

Logic seems to be the first casualty of a heated argument.

"Doesn't he realize that running away doesn't work while I'm on top of him?" I hollered as we zoomed past again.

"Right. And you better hope he doesn't figure that out before you figure out a way to stop him!"

That makes sense. It's more important to win an argument when we know we're wrong then when we think we're right.