The building blocks of horsemanship – RELAXATION

Since moving to Canada I have been asked what type of “horsemanship” do I follow?

I was rather confused about this, as to me there has always just been “horsemanship”. But since moving here, I have been exposed to many different names given to how equestrians feel horses should be educated.

Growing up, most people I knew followed the techniques that the British Horse society endorsed. There was always a copy of the Pony Club Manual in all its blue glory at the barn. For horse care and education of the rider, I still feel that this is a very good starting point. I then worked with a number of people that used the fundamentals of “Classical” horsemanship. While the general basics were the same as the “BHS” way, there was much more emphasis on the horse’s way of going. This led me to look into the classical fundamentals of equitation. The emphasis being on the harmony of horse and rider and training the horse to be the best it can be while ensuring a long and pain free life.  This should be the goal of any training method.

I have found that if we ride in a balanced and mindful way, the horse is more likely to be co-operative. What do I mean by that…?


As a rider we need to sit in the saddle in a way that does not throw the horse off balance, we need to be capable of holding ourselves together, with a balanced feel of the reins, without expecting the horse to support us. We need to be body aware so that we are not putting our horse off balance.


Understand that our actions will cause a reaction in the horse. If we are not clear, concise and consistent with our aids, we cannot expect the horse to respond in the desired way.


When working with horse and riders, I first thing I ask them to do is to RELAX. Being able to relax is the most import tool when working with horses.

If you are not relaxed, you are TENSE

There are two main reasons while riding when tense does not go well, one is emotional, the other physical:

Emotions take control

Horse are flight animals, if we feel tense they wonder why, and then become tense themselves, They do feed on our emotions, so we need to be able to control our own composure before we can even consider trying to train a horse to keep their own instincts under control. I tell my clients that if they have had a bad day, do not try to train your horse. If you are feeling tense, you may well be argumentative, and most horses will argue right back at you.  If this can be avoided, then do, you do not want to get into a flight you will not win.

Physically cannot move freely

If your body is tense, you will not be balanced, you will not be able to allow your horse to move, and your aids with not be clear, concise and consistent. Basically tense bodies don’t work very well.

How do I relax when I am riding?

  • BREATH!!

OK, I know this is something we sort of need to do, but to be able to control your breathing is important. When we are tense we tend to take quick, sharp breaths. We need to slow this down. Think Yoga…. In through the nose, inflate the belly and out through the mouth.

Sometimes I will SING!! Not much fun for anyone near, but it stops you holding the breath, and it gets the horse’s attention focused on you,

Generally, just the threat of making my clients sing will make them laugh, and so they relax and start breathing better.



Well not literally, I am not sure the horse would enjoy that :-p …

I work through my body from my feet to the top of my head (I find it easier this going from bottom to top, if it does not work for you, try from top to bottom…)  I feel for my foot and see is I am holding onto it or am I letting gravity take control of the muscle. There should be no tension in the legs, the aim is to have them in a neutral position against the horse’s side. (This is the beginning of the passive aid…)  I check that I can feel even pressure on my seat bones, that my hips moving with the horse,  my shoulders down and relaxed, and so on.

If I feel tension, I take a deep breath and let go of the muscle. I may add a little shake if I feel the horse is OK with it, but to be honest, they will just be happy they have a rider that is moving with them rather than an object they have to fight against!

Happy Riding!!


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