Tanja Mitton “I believe that the mindset part of our equestrian sport is rarely considered when teaching riders. I teach riders that every thought they have turns into body language which has a significant effect on how they communicate with their horse.”

Tanja is a Master Coach in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), NCAS Level 1 Coach and Author of “SEVEN STEPS TO THE MINDSET OF AN EQUESTRIAN CHAMPION” and the DVD “Crash Course In Confidence”.

Last night I was watching my daughter have a riding lesson. The instructor was talking about using inside leg to ride around the corner when approaching a jump.  He was explaining to a group of 12 year olds how important it is to use the inside leg in the first half of the corner and then change to the outside leg half way through in order to get the horse straight.

horse and rider trainingNow in principle all of this is correct, but the problem was that most of the horses ran through the corner with their heads up in the air, hollowed back and therefore wobbled instead of getting a straight line on their way to the fence. He kept repeating the exercise and explaining how important the lower leg is.

Now my question is, did he really say what he meant?

As his frustration grew he finally decided to get on one of the horses to demonstrate how he wanted them to ride and straight away I could see what he was doing.

He sat up tall with both seat bones in the saddle, relaxing this thigh, he checked if the horse was responding to his seat bones and therefore allowing him to sit in his back rather than just on top of his back. Then he spends a few minutes to get the horse soft and responsive through the back by using this seat and his lower leg. Finally he cantered towards the fence with a horse that was round through the corner and straight when approaching the jump.  He then handed the horse back to the child with the comment, ‘see this is how you do it. You need to use more lower leg.’

Now was it really just the lower leg he was using? No it wasn’t.

My point is that we need to become aware of what we say and what we actually mean. So often I see riders coming out of lessons frustrated and disheartened because they think they can’t do what the instructor asks them to do. The reason simply is that most instructors only verbalise 50% or 60% of what they would do when they are actually on the horse. This is such a common problem that I hear all the time and we need to become aware of it.

2814824048_f05a61dfa0_zSo firstly, if you are just about to hang up your boots because you think you just are not good enough in your instructor’s eye, just hang in there a bit longer and if you are an instructor who quietly puts up his hands saying ‘yes this is me’ well done for being honest to yourself.

So what do we do to change this all too common problem?




Tips for instructors:

  •  Next time you ride become aware of what you are doing when you ride and pay attention to every movement you do. You will be surprised how much you do unconsciously and automatically without even thinking about it any more.
  •  Then put into words what it is that you are doing so you become even more aware if it
  • In a lesson look at your rider and the horse as a combination and imagine that you would be riding this horse. How would it feel like and therefore how would you ride it. Then remember the words that you have used to describe your action and use them to explain to your student what they need to do.
  • Often it’s not as simple as just saying “put your leg on” but rather

“relax your groin and thigh, then feel your seat bones and check that the horse allows you to sit and shows response to your seat. When I say sit, I mean that you can clearly feel the horse relaxing his back and starting to swing freely (this in itself is a lesson). When you can feel all of this then approach your corner and use your inside seat bone and your lower leg to ask for the initial bend before changing the weight slightly half way around the corner bringing some weight to the outside seat bone and then following this by using your outside lower leg to get straightness.”  Now I haven’t even gone into checking that the rider is experienced and capable to do all these movements at the correct time.

Now this is a much better way to communicate then simply saying use your lower leg.

Also it acknowledges the fact that riding correctly is an art and can’t be learned in a couple of years. If you make it out to be too simple, your students will feel like a failure if they can’t master what seems like a simple exercise.

Tips for the rider:

  •  Be brave enough to ask questions. If what you are doing seems not good enough for your instructor ask if this is really all you are supposed to be doing. (use the’ put your leg on’ example)
  • Ask your instructor to get on the horse and demonstrate and then ask if he/she is really only doing what they asked you to do.
  • Sometimes you might be asked to do something that is far to advance for you and your horse. Rather than feeling like a failure, talk to your instructor about it. If there are not prepared to listen go and look for someone else.

images (3)Finally we need to lose the attitude that seems to go with a lot of riding instructors that says “I am always right and you are wrong so don’t you dare question me.” At the end of the day the student pays for the lesson and is entitled to get respect and kindness. Sometimes as instructors we all have an experience where the lesson is not successful and the horse and rider just don’t seem to improve at all. I have to then be honest to my students and say “I am not sure why it’s not working for you, let’s go back a few steps and work on it again. I am here for you and together we are going to figger out what we need to do to get it right.


Now to me this is a much better approach rather than yelling or belittling someone just because I haven’t been able to get the result I was looking for.

Happy riding:)

Tanja Mitton 2011©