Articles by Francie Dougherty!

Perfect Passenger

What is the perfect passenger? In simple terms, it is the rider who goes along for the ride without making any difference to the horse. That is absolutely NO influence, negatively or positively. Unless you weigh nothing, it is actually impossible not to influence the horse somewhat just because every step has to carry more weight. Just look at the racing industry where the less experienced horses and jockeys are allowed to carry less weight in a race and an increase of just 3 pounds is considered a great disadvantage. However, carrying the very well balanced and secure 250 lb. person is much easier and more pleasant for the horse than an unbalanced, insecure 100lb. person.

The Making of a Ridist

There are may people who ride and among them there are a few “ridists”. There are people who have looked at horses and the riding of them from many angles and have examined all of the angles carefully. There are people who are passionate about horses as well as mindful that our use of horses in sport is OUR choice, not the horses. With that realization comes a huge responsibility to make use of these magnificent creatures with patience, skill and love.

The firs pre requisite of the ridist would have to be the love of horses. An incurable disease for some of us, as Jim Wofford so aptly put it. Breathing into a horses nostril and sucking in that warm chlorophyll scented air, catching a whiff of “horse” on your clothing or shoes, hearing the distinctive clatter of hoofs or the soft wuffle of nostrils are only a few of the soul filling cues on the passionate. That love/passion is what starts and finishes the journey.

Patience, either personal makeup or learned it doesn’t matter, is the second pre-requisite. Of course, on must be patience with our equine partner but one must also be patient with oneself as well as the journey down ridist road!

That leaves skill. SKILL: the word derived from the Middle English originally meaning discernment, reason, similar to another word skil akin to skilja, to cut apart, separate, the basic sense of the original word was “the ability to separate” or “discernment”. Mr. Webster’s definition:

1. Great ability or proficiency; expertness
2. An art, craft or science, especially one involving the use of the hands or body
3. Ability in such an art, craft or science.
4. Knowledge, understanding; judgment.

An archaic definition; to matter, avails, or makes a difference.

Did I say skill? It should have been skills! In referring to the ridist, I think of skill with each of the many tools necessary. Some of us are blessed with more than one or more of these tools as gifts of God others have had to seek. Part of my journey has been the recognition of just how many tools it takes and, while the “equipment needed” list seems to be an ever growing one, this is attempt to enumerate them.


Basic Daily Horse Care:

This would include the basic understanding of a horses needs on a daily basis. Their food, water, shelter, etc., while this may be a crude understanding at first, it grows to be much more in depth depending on the nutritional needs of the individual horses in whatever job the horse is being used to perform. (I.e., sport horse, broodmare, lawn ornament.)

Veterinary care:

An understanding of health care as pertains to horse in general as well as horses as individuals. The ability to recognize normal vs. abnormal conditions is a very valuable skill.

Care of the horse as an athlete:

Hoof care, grooming, care of muscles, skeletal system, careful planning of a conditioning program, today’s ridist has a myriad of modalities to assist this very important aspect of horsemanship.

Riding position:

First job if a budding ridist is to become a perfect passenger. This requires the development of balance on the animal in motion without interfering with the up/down, side/side, or forward/backward motion. The riders form being a “benign” passenger before one becomes an “influential” passenger. Once that has been achieved then the rider must learn to use each part of the body as tools to influence the horse. This should be done on a animal who knows how to respond to correctly given aids or cues that don’t disrupt the balance of the tool kit a.k.a. the different parts of the body. (See Perfect Passenger below)

Care of the rider as an athlete:

The rider must understand the proper use of their body as a tool requires tone, strength, stamina, good nutrition, positive attitude.

Horse training philosophy:

There are more parts than I know to this very critical piece. A clear understanding of the requirements of the particular discipline one is choosing is paramount. That would include the pros and cons of a horse trained to the heights of whatever discipline that is. It would also be very beneficial to explore the benefits of other disciplines and how they might complement the training of any equine athlete.

Horse psychology:

Many of the cowboy horse whisperer types are making this something more and more equestrians (of all disciplines0 are aware of.. These are not new ideas but they have been freshened by some modern horsemen into modern language. If someone is to take on the role of “horse trainer” they must understand the horse as specific type of animal, an animal of flight vs fight. It is also necessary to understand that if you are around a horse, you are training it even though sometimes unintentionally. Almost like an emotionally disturbed child, one must always take your actions seriously, avoiding thoughtless actions that might frighten, confuse, or teach the horse things you don’t want them to learn.

It would greatly benefit the ridist to understand a philosophy of positive reinforcement,. As horses aren’t good or bad, they have reactions or responses to things (in other words behaviors) and some of those are behaviors you want, and some are behaviors you don’ts want. A kind and constant domination, or telling the horse what you want, rewarding when you get it and just telling again, again, again, until the horse is seeking your rewarding action and therefore, what I did to product it. Jules Nyssen said to keep the horses confidence by “not making the horse wrong”. Alex Chtcherba had you seek a response to a simple stimulus that could become the place your horse “knew” hew was safe if he listened to your instruction. I think this is the area that patience is paramount, most often tested and in the long run, most often reward. This is also the place that anger is most likely to creep in and should never be allowed.

Physical development:

The ridist must understand the physical demands of whatever discipline they have chosen. Before even that thought, a a basic understanding of the biomechanics of a horse in motion, in freedom and an understating of movement under the weight and possible restrictions of a rider. Developing muscles to carry the weight, while doing the job asked is an enormous tool kit and linked very closely with the training of the horses’ skills. Both of these important elements must be approached systematically. Adding the skills as the strength comes to enable the horse to respond to the skill.

The person attempting to a “ridist” then must always seek the understanding of what is right about what is happening and what is wrong. She must analyze the questions asked of the horse, plan what will be asked and what answer is expected. If the answer is not what she was looking for, she must look at the way the question was asked, Was this the right question for the situation was it asked properly or was it simply ignored and then adjust accordingly. This is a problem solver, with a clear head, a clear heart and an even clearer idea of what is ideal. This person looks at good riding, no matter what the discipline and tries to see what makes it good. This person watches riding done imperfectly and seeks the answer to how it could ge done better and rather than criticize the bad riding, feels compassion, nobody I know wants to do use horses badly.

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