Academic Riding

Riding is a verb; it is an action word and I tell my students that all the time. Unfortunately, many trainers just get their students in a basic riding position yet forget the part about how to use the aids.  Yes, having a basic riding position is the most important part of riding because if your aids —the legs, seat and hands– are not in the correct position, they will not communicate to the horse in harmony.  A rider needs to be silently proactive and not passively sitting on the horse.

Basic riding position is the same whether one rides English or Western. The rider’s body is in alignment with the ankle, hip, shoulder, and ear in vertical alignment.  The rider’s legs ask the horse to move, the seat can regulate the movement of the gaits, and the hands direct the forward movement and also can regulate the speed.  All three of the rider’s aids need to not only listen to what the horse’s body is saying, but they also need to talk to the horse or tell the horse what to do.  Riding, “Academic Riding” in particular, is not a sprint but a marathon!

Many want-to-be riders just desire to get on and go with the horse.   Yeah, that could be fun but very scary!   Horses have a mind of their own, and some have more spunk than others.  Having a knowledgeable trainer or equestrian is recommended before even attempting to ride a horse!

At Coventry, I say what we do is academic.  We do not just teach riding; we teach riders how to train horses as well as how to know the horse’s body and physical needs.  We do not just get on and go. We get on and start thinking!  A few questions we  may ask once mounted are as follows: Is my horse a bent right or bent left, does my horse have rhythm, is my horse soft in the jaw and poll and on the bit, and is my horse happy?

When we mount, we start interacting with our horse using our aids to make the horse more supple. We bend left and right, create rhythm by applying half halts, and stretch the top line so that the horse’s back stays up and supported when we sit on it.  And, yes, we do all of these things all of the time and hopefully in unison with the horse’s rhythm.  We are not just sitting on our horses but proactively interacting with them to enhance the horse’s way of going without interrupting its natural flow.  Our two bodies, human and animal, have to mesh in such a way that we practically become one.  At least that is the ultimate goal of Academic Riding and the reason it is a process that focuses on the journey and not the end result.  Thus, Academic Riding is a marathon!

Academic Riding is not for everyone.  It requires a certain personality type, maybe one with obsessive compulsive ‘disorder.’  However, it is certainly not a disorder, but a passion.  We strive for a perfection that I doubt exists!  Marathon, yes indeed.  I love the saying, “Life, riding, anything …. is about the journey, not the destination!”

One of my students is getting ready for a horse show during which she has to perform compulsory movements on the horse in both directions at all three gaits.   Her circles are to be round, her horse’s spine following the arc of the circle, her straight lines straight and her transitions from one gait either upward or downward smooth and not abrupt.   When we Academic Riders ride, it is supposed to look harmonious!   She said to me, after practicing consistently, “I can see why you call this Academic Riding. I have been thinking the whole time of ways to make my horse go better with me on her back.”

Certainly there is something to be said for the rider who just gets on and goes or the one that enjoys trail riding.  Having the best of both styles is ideal, but for those of us with a passion for training horses to be the best they can be with a person sitting in the middle of their back and having a judge comment on how well we do, just leave us to our functional disorder!  See you in the show ring as we perfect our circles, make sure our horses are straight and rhythmic, and bend equally in both directions, but most important, knowing our horses enjoy their physical workout as we Academic Riders think (a whole lot) about how to harmoniously communicate with our equine friends.

Here is the author of “Academic Riding.”

This photo shows soft harmony between horse and rider, there is no tension any where.  You can also see the focused look on the rider’s face as she thinks and feels about what she is doing to achieve such harmony with the horse!

The horse also has a focused expression as well. Kristin her horse Bracchus won the  2014 USDF All Breed Award for the Spanish Norman Horse Registry. Bracchus and Kristin also won this national award in 2012.


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