Had a really spectacular lesson with one of my students today. Despite some really challenging body work and her horse being a bit fresh, you want to know what the absolute hardest part of the lesson was? Letting go of the reins.
I understand, it’s instinct. As creatures with opposable thumbs, we cling to just about anything we can for dear life. But it’s indicative of a deeper problem - a need for control.
“But Erin! We must control our horses! They are so BIG and DANGEROUS.” Why yes, mysterious voice, I agree to a point. But if you really think a few pieces of flimsy leather are going to give you that control merely by holding onto them, you’ve missed the point entirely.
Sure, we can tow a horse’s head around with a rein, or hang onto the saddle horn while we push him sideways, but more and more I’m seeing riders who cling to the reins because they know they DONT have control.
Having a partner that listens and does his best to do as you ask shouldn’t change because you drop the reins. Further, if you are in control of YOURSELF, he will have clear requests to listen and respond to. Control isn’t about putting a horse’s nose at your boot, or his hip to the inside. It’s about managing your own body so he wants to listen, understand, and respond accordingly.
People ask how I taught Sid to ride bridleless. The truth is I really didn’t. I focused on myself. I made my cues lighter, my seat more stable, my intention more clear. And one day I just let go.