So much of great riding is about intention and attitude. When you are mentally focused on where your horse is going, rather than where your horse is at the moment or where it just was, then you are thinking ahead. When your intention is focused on the future, then it is easier for your horse to follow those intentions. This is something I have had to practice as a musician — if I think too much about a piece of music in the moment, then not only am I under-prepared for what is coming up, but if I want to make a correction, then I end up correcting a moment that has past rather than charting a course out of the mistake.

As an example, I often see riders who are unhappy with their horses’ bend try to “fix it” by pulling on the inside rein. This generally results in a horse that is over-bent in the neck, falling out over the outside shoulder, and restricted on the inside hind leg. Instead, I council riders to think of riding towards a better bend by using their inside leg to encourage the horse to swing its ribcage more towards the outside of the bend, while at the same time encouraging the horse to reach out towards the outside rein. These are active, forward-thinking aids, instead of restrictive and backwards-thinking aids.

Similarly, in lateral movements, I see riders so intent on “holding” their horse in the shape of the movement, that the horse ends up restricted from actually following those orders. Instead, I think it is important for riders to focus on where the horse should be traveling with its body. If you want to leg-yield or half-pass across the diagonal, the horse must first of all know the direction it should be going. And then, instead of trying to mold the horse’s body into a shape, the rider should think of riding it into the desired bend. Of course, the rider must apply a little restraint here and there to shape the direction of the movement, but the overall focus should be on showing the horse where to go.

This concept is not only true at the beginning of a movement, but is a continual process throughout a movement. Especially following any restraining aid, the doors showing the desired way to go must immediately be opened and the horse encouraged to go through them. I give my riders a couple of metaphors to grasp this concept. One is of a pinball machine: the ball is the horse and is set in motion by the player (the rider), who then tries to direct that motion at strategic moments by applying a little nudge here and there, and occasionally the ball must be re-energized. The other is to think of the horse like a lump of clay on a potters wheel: the clay must keep spinning around with a certain force while the potter uses their hands and tools to shape the direction of that force and create beautiful shapes.