“Now take a feel, but don’t take away from him.”
Silvio Mazzoni instructed me as I cantered a circle in preparation for a technical course he’d set up at a clinic in Southern California. I hadn’t been all that prepared to take a private lesson with the (at the time) U.S. Eventing Team’s show jumping coach, but my own coach’s generosity made it possible and, well, here we were.
My horse and I had been schooling around Training level jump courses, but we struggled a lot with impulsion and staying in front of the leg. Life lessons, I’ve found, are best learned when you’re least prepared for them – and I was in for a big one.
Silvio was all about rhythm and balance, not interfering too much with your horse while attempting to create a rhythm. Achieving a good rhythm, in my mind, is a bit like swinging your legs to gather momentum on a playground swing. It’s a steady build-up that requires help from all parts of your body – but once you’ve gotten to that rushing pendulum motion, you just need to maintain with some adjustments of your leg. Minor adjustments, mind you – too much might take too much away from your hard-earned momentum.
Accurate, right? But, much easier said than done.
Case in point during this lesson, where my horse – as game as he was – struggled to maintain a good pace, which caused a domino effect of poor distances and off-kilter turns. Silvio instructed me to lower my hands and lengthen my reins a bit, in more of a flowing, following motion, while encouraging my horse with a strong leg aid and then backing off – teaching him to respond steadily, like swinging. Take a feel, but don’t take away. Minor adjustments. The repeated reminders in my head almost helped me create that rhythm I so wanted.
This accomplished two things. First, it helped me create a nice, strong, forward rhythm out of which my distances seemed to flow. Second, it helped teach my horse to respond instantly to my leg instead of after a few strides of constant prodding.
Think of it this way: you don’t get a swing going by sticking your legs straight out in front of you and pushing as hard as you can, do you? No. Rather, you swing, and then swoop, and swing, and then swoop. The same concept applies to your leg – apply and release, apply and release. Expect a reaction and thus, a steadier gain in momentum, with each application.
My horse had a bit of a bewildered look in his eye, having been asked to go much more consistently forward than his previous days had required. But it paid off – our turns flowed, we landed more consistently on the correct lead, we didn’t lose (as much) momentum in the turns. Rhythm.
The same concept can apply to any discipline – most issues, it seems, can fundamentally be at least helped by a bit more rhythm. It’s a thought I slid into my back pocket, for a later day when I was frustrated with my work, my riding, or any other sort of general life situation: put the pressure on, but don’t be afraid to back it off and release for a bit too – it’s all a part of creating something bigger.