Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Riding with Reason

Riding with Reason 

Simulator provides insights 

by Pam Gleason

If you want to be a better rider and get the most out of your horse, you need to learn to ride in such a way that you help him perform. You must ride him in balance, with a sympathetic seat, and move in synchrony with his gaits. So says Yvonne Brookes, a riding instructor who has recently relocated to Aiken from England along with her husband.

Yvonne, who has more that 40 years of experience as a teacher and trainer in dressage, eventing and showjumping, is certified in natural horsemanship by Monty Roberts. She also holds a Level Three accreditation from Heather Moffett’s school of Enlightened Equitation. Heather Moffett is a British trainer who teaches dressage in the French classical style, helping her students to develop a correct and effective seat, aided by the use of a mechanical riding simulator.

Moffett has developed her own line of “Equi-simulators” and Yvonne has brought one over from England and set it up on her farm. It is installed in an air-conditioned classroom and is ready to help students of all levels, from beginner through advanced, improve their riding and identify imbalances and bad habits that might be holding them (and their horses) back. The simulator is shaped like the back of a horse and is designed to move under the rider in a way that mimics a horse’s gaits. Although there are motorized simulators, the one that Yvonne uses requires the rider to initiate and maintain movement through subtle actions of their seat and weight.

“This is how everyone should start,” says Yvonne, referring to the simulator. “It doesn’t matter to that machine if you lose your balance or kick it in the ribs. If you start out on the simulator you learn a balanced, secure seat to start with. Then when you get on the real thing, you are way ahead. You have confidence and you will learn quickly how to ride with finesse and lightness.”

Yvonne says that simulator lessons are invaluable for any rider who wants to improve, and they are especially helpful for riders who feel as though they are not going anywhere with their riding.

“The way we move our bodies can either help or hinder a horse, and most often we hinder him,” she says. “A lot of us have physical asymmetries and those translate to the horse. He relies on our balance for his balance, so if we are out of sync or out of balance, he will just do what he can to compensate. Over time, he becomes asymmetrical, too, and if a horse is not straight, he will not be working to his full potential.

“The most common thing we hear is ‘my horse is lazy’ or ‘my horse is naughty’,” continues Yvonne. “There is no such thing. It is the horse telling you he is uncomfortable and we have to work out why. Nine times out of 10, it is something we are doing that we are not aware of.”

The Equi-simulator is equipped with a special saddle that has a soft tree, which Yvonne says designed by Heather Moffett to provide better comfort and freedom of movement for both horse and rider. In a simulator lesson, Yvonne watches and analyses the rider’s position, identifying and helping to correct flaws that might be holding that rider back. There are some common ones: the rider leans behind the vertical at the trot, rather than inclining slightly forward with the horse’s motion; the rider pushes too actively with the seat during the canter.; the rider sits crooked, and so on.

Ideally, directly after a simulator lesson, the rider would then get on her own horse to practice what she learned and develop good muscle memory for the correct position and use of the aids. Yvonne’s set-up includes a riding area and a place for a horse to stay while his or her owner is having a lesson on the simulator. It is not necessary to bring a horse along, however.  “I had two women come down from Ontario over Easter,” says Yvonne. “They stayed for three days and spent 12 hours on the simulator, and then drove all the way back to Canada to put what they learned in practice on their horses.” In addition to the simulator, the classroom area also includes a bunk room, so people who come from far away can spend the night if they want to.

Yvonne says that she came to her methods of teaching and training because she was looking for a kinder way to ride that would be enjoyable for the horse as well as the rider.

“I felt like I had hit a wall with my riding,” she says. “I wondered what the key was. I knew conventional training wasn’t for me, because it seemed forced – you had drive the horse forward into a strong contact, and that wasn’t my style. I came across a British-born Monty Roberts trainer and I actually worked with her for about ten years. Then I got involved with Heather Moffett, and I found that her methods opened so many doors and provided so many lightbulb moments.”

Today, Yvonne says that most of her teaching is based on her own style, which comes from many decades of experience and things she picked up from different trainers along the way. Heather Moffett and Enlightened Equitation helped clarify certain concepts for her and gave her new ways of teaching and explaining.

“Heather’s mechanical way of explaining things is very simple to teach and people find it simple to understand. I think that is the key. You don’t have to have a degree; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn how to ride a horse correctly. You just have to be prepared to do it.”

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.