How Relaxed are You?

Make a decision about what kind of rider you want to be and go there. Take a deep breath, mount up and relax, says Linda Durocher.

If you live on this planet and are into western riding you are bound to have seen an effortless reining pattern that flows from one manoeuvre to another. Impressive isn’t it? You can’t see any obvious techniques that lead you to say, ‘Ah Ha! That’s it, that’s what he does!’ Why is he so much better than the next rider? So you ask yourself, ‘What is the secret?’ Well, if you ride with me or have attended one of my clinics, you’d know the secret. It’s always the first thing that comes out of my mouth - relax.

Unrelaxed western riding

Yep, it’s step numero uno. Relaxation is the key ingredient and the fundamental secret to improving your horse’s performance and your level of riding. As a fan of reining, I am sure that you have seen that rider who goes to a stop and their freehand rises up like a contestant on a game show screaming ‘pick me!’ That is the rider’s reaction to their own tension, not their horse’s inability or ability to stop.

How many times have you been embarrassed because your horse won’t stand still or jogs when you want him to walk? Not to mention when he takes off like a race horse when you ask him to lope. You may think you are relaxed but your horse is speaking the truth. First you need to understand that you lead and your horse follows. Tense rider, tense horse, frustrated rider, frustrated horse, confused rider, confused horse and so on and so forth. Your horse is a mirror image of who you are as a rider.It begins and ends with you. I have never encountered a horse that wants to be tense and worried over relaxed and confident. But, I have encountered riders that are tense and wondered why their horses don’t perform for them. Those riders look to their horse for the cause; don’t be that rider. Look to yourself first then take a deep breath, relax and just ride.

Here’s a test that will demonstrate how a little tension can take over your whole body. Sitting in an armless chair; imagine that you are in your saddle and create tension in just one arm. Can you feel the rest of your body tensing up like a sinner going to confession? It’s the same result in the saddle and believe me it’s not a good thing.

So, how do you get more relaxed? Here are a couple of exercises that will help you with relaxation...

  • While riding, take a deep breath and then push all of the air out of your lungs - all of it. You simply cannot be tense while emptying your lungs. You’ll know you’re relaxed when your horse stops or slows down. Listen to him, he knows.
  • If you’re riding one handed, loosely shake your free hand from your fingers to your shoulder. Keep shaking while trying to create tension you won’t be able to. You can do this exercise in any part of your workout. Although you don’t want your enthusiastically vibrating arm interfering with a stop or a turnaround, quiet it down some when doing rundowns and turnarounds but still lazily shake it.
  • As for the simplest fix? It is being engaged with your horse. Push with your hips in rhythm with his lope, sit back on your pockets and keep your butt in the saddle. Just as pushing with your seat makes it harder to be tense, slightly bending your elbows is another quick fix that reduces tension.