Gotta Have Rhythm
Developing rhythm will help improve your horsemanship.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Richard Shrake with Larri Jo Starkey of The American Quarter Horse Journal | May 17, 2016
Rhythm is the rider’s ability to feel the movement of the horse, and that comes from the horse’s feet. Each gait has its own rhythm, like different types of music have their own beats.
Learning to feel those different beats is a matter of learning to feel ripples of vibration from your horse’s feet through your seat bones and the stirrups.
Learning to feel your horse’s rhythm is useful no matter what discipline you choose. If your discipline of choice is reining, check out "Reining for the Rider" with AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning.
There are several exercises that can help you learn to feel your horse’s rhythm:
In your riding, post the trot, even in a western saddle. The rhythm of the diagonal beat helps you feel the timing of the horse’s feet.
Try trotting around the arena for two or three minutes, posting five strides, sitting five, posting 10, sitting 10 and then repeating the exercise. Make sure to keep the two-beat gait going. It’s the easiest way to feel the energy from your horse.If your horse doesn’t have big gaits, try working him over cavaletti or logs to exaggerate his movement so you can follow his rhythm.
To try this exercise, start trotting your horse. Make sure to keep the rhythmic two-beat gait going. Now take your arm and swing it over your head, as if you have a rope in it. Swing in rhythm with the horse’s feet.
Do this exercise in both directions, using both arms. The more you do it, the more rhythm you’ll develop. Later, you can try it at the lope, too.
With another person longeing your horse, put your reins down or tie them in a loose knot. Hold your arms out to the side and swing them like propellers in time to the trot. As the horse’s inside front foot hits the ground, your arms should swing with the diagonal beat of the horse toward that front foot. As the outside foot hits the ground, swing your body to the outside.
There are far more methods to improve your horsemanship than just those listed here. Try watching "Reining for the Rider," with Al Dunning, to get some more ideas about how to improve.
When you learn and practice these exercises, you’re developing what’s known as muscle memory. That means that when the time comes to do something — chase a cow or collect your horse for a dressage test — you’ll be able to adjust to the horse’s rhythm without thinking. That makes you a better rider.