How to be a quiet rider


It is a badge of honour to be described as a “quiet rider”, but what does that mean to a horse? And why do I tell some riders to “stop being so quiet!”?

There are three types of quiet rider 

  • The first is calm, consistent and decisive in their communications with their horse. They use the relevant strength of aid in order to get the desired response from their horse. And they react quickly to their horse’s “tries”. These are the riders that horses love; they are predictable, easy to understand and have a physical and mental connection with their horse.
  • The second is a rider that is quiet out of a lack of confidence or knowledge in their riding. They don’t ask too much of their horse, and this is fine as long as the horse decides to be willing. But this is a gamble! If you are too passive, your horse may lose respect and take matters into their own hooves…
  • The third is a rider that holds their breath, doesn’t move, make a sound, or ask anything of their horse because they are scared of their horse’s reactions. This can be an entirely natural reaction when riding a young horse during the starting process, riding an excitable horse that is “ready to explode”, or when riding a horse that has a tendency to bolt, rush, buck or rear.  It is tempting in all of these situations to sit as still as possible and take off all contact. But in doing this, you lose your connection with your horse. It will have the effect of making them feel alone, which for a herd animal, is unnerving. At worst, your horse may think that you are the predator waiting to pounce! Either way, your horse will not trust you and their flight or fight instinct is going to kick in.

So that is why I tell riders in some situations, to stop being so quiet! You have to connect with your horse through touch and understanding. Your horse isn’t truly desensitised to the rider unless you can touch your horse while you are riding them, move around on them, make a noise, take your jacket off… If you can’t your partnership will come unstuck at some stage, usually resulting in a flight situation.

Ridden desensitisation of your horse

Obviously, just jumping on an uneducated, nervous or excitable horse and being loud and unsubtle is a recipe for disaster! As with all things in horse training, you should follow a systematic training program that your horse can process. This should be done in a safe environment and “teach in walk, train in trot and test in canter.” The video clip is from a lesson I had with Emily Baldwin, an international eventer, and beautifully quiet rider! She had recently bought a lovely newly backed youngster, but he was displaying a little rush and was still nervous about his ridden work. I rode him first and went through the processes of:

  1. Teaching him one rein controls to redirect and manage his flight should he rush
  2. Teaching him to accept me touching his neck, shoulders, rump whilst riding him
  3. Teaching him to accept me moving my arms, stroking my jacket to make a noise, tapping my riding hat etc
  4. Teaching him to accept my leg contact
  5. Adding energy by doing these processes in trot and canter, and increasing y movements

Once he had settled to this work, Emily got back on and gained confidence to do these processes herself. In this short video clip, you will see her making movements with her arms and touching his neck and behind the saddle whilst in canter. These are movements she wouldn’t have done before, for fear of him rushing. She will now use these processes as “homework” (repetition is key to success with this process!). In time, she will introduce other desensitising exercises, until he has truly accepted her as a rider. She can then train him for an eventing career.

You can find out more about managing flight by checking out the desensitising module, ridden desensitising exercises and riding fresh, or flighty horses lessons (links will only work for logged-in members). If you’re not a member yet, check out all the benefits and membership options here!

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