When and When Not A Schoolmaster Helps

Judging and watching events at a recent show for the Iberian Horse, I was suddenly struck by the fact that a very highly schooled horse could in fact be a hindrance rather than a help.  I say this, despite the fact I have always recommended students to take the opportunity – when they can – of taking lessons on a schoolmaster.  But of course, that is done under guidance.   The instructor demonstrates or explains to the student how the horse should be ridden and then leads them step by step to a greater understanding of how horses react to the slightest aid, the smallest change of weight etc.

This can be the most rewarding process.  A humble student will recognise that the horse knows more than him and responds by riding quietly and carefully until he begins to attain the right responses, the right feels.  He will not want not try to ‘run before he can walk’!

What I had never witnessed before was the sight of a rider mounted on a highly schooled, versatile horse which appeared to have absolutely NO idea of what the rider was telling it.  I have seen many horses and riders at odds with each other, we all have, but never to this degree where nothing worked.  And it was alarming.  There, before my eyes was an anxious, worried horse being manoeuvred this way and that, often at an alarming rate but  ONLY DOING WHAT THE RIDER ASKED.  The problem was, the rider was clearly unversed in the classical principles and was trying this and that to achieve a result.  Only, it was the wrong result.

All this proves how vitally important the teaching of the weight aids must be at this level.  Forward, stop, go and how to rise or sit to the trot is fine - practised on novice horses, but even those simple commands incorrectly applied on a schoolmaster can turn into a minefield.

It was also interesting but tragic to see how the incorrect use of the reins could affect a finely tuned horse.  The rider I have in mind simply could not ride a straight line down the edge of the very fine indoor school, simply because his horse was permanently bent to the outside, not so much by the outside rein – but because the inside rein was pressed against his neck at the wither.  This turned the rein aid into the ‘indirect rein of opposition’ (as per the teachings of the French School).  Of course none of this was helped because the rider’s inside shoulder and inside hip was advanced which immediately caused the horse to assume a head to the wall position.

Instead of quietly soothing the horse, and dropping the legs, relaxing the hands, matters got worse as the rider tried to make corrections.   Only, they weren’t corrections.  They reinforced the problem.  At one point – nay, I tell a lie – twice, I was nearly run down,  so even standing in the middle of the school was a dangerous place to be.  Had it not been for my courageous steward, literally stepping in front of me and putting herself in the way – who knows what might have happened next!

So when people say – ‘I’m going to buy a schoolmaster and learn how to ride better!’ I no longer applaud the decision unless it’s made very clear that they will have help on hand and the quality of instruction which befits a schoolmaster.  In other words, NOT ‘the very nice local girl down the road who’s just got her AI...’ but someone who has ridden and trained to the level that the horse is working at.

A quick peep at our Trainers List might help!!! And remember, although lessons with an erudite trainer may be more expensive, you will save money and a lot of heartache in the end. You will also save your horse’s good nature as well as his future as a schoolmaster.   SL


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