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Don Jessop

When it comes to collected riding, are you a puppeteer or are you a coach?

The answer to my question may not seem important but it is perhaps the most important thing related to finesse or collected riding. Why? Because, if you believe you're guiding your horse but find out your simply "controlling" your horse (there is a simple test I'll give you in the next paragraph to know) you'll finally understand that a horse, being a free spirit, free thinking animal, just like people, don't like being controlled. But they don't mind being coached. That is, if the coach is a worthy coach.

Here's the test...

Saddle up, warm up, get on, and simply ask your horse to canter. If you cannot or are not willing to drop the reins and canter happily on a loose rein, you are using and perhaps abusing the technique of controlling hands instead of guiding hands. You are a puppeteer, manipulating the movement of the puppet. There is no dignity in this kind of horsemanship. If that is a slap in the face, well, sorry. It needs to be said.

Now let me be clear. In an emergency, holding and controlling IS the best strategy. Even in training, holding to a point to guide the right idea followed by balanced rewards and further testing to ensure the horses brain, not just their feet, are connected to what's being taught, is also a good idea. But if time has passed, training has been done, and you're still holding tight to those reins, it's time for a new perspective. I'm not saying let go and hope your horse doesn't run away with you. I'm saying this... Learn to have catching hands rather than holding hands.

With catching hands, your reins are loosened just an inch or so, just enough to allow the horse to move freely. Just enough to prove you aren't holding anymore, and you can feel it in your hands, it's light, it's easy. Most likely you know the feeling already because most riders can do this while casually walking on a trail or cooling down after a workout. But I'd like you to be able to stay that way, soft and light through everything. Not everything all the time, just most the time. Like I said, there are emergencies that demand a firm, holding hand. But in between the emergencies, there is true horsemanship through feel.

Don't be fooled by people who teach you about collected riding being "on the bit." It's an old saying that doesn't mean what most people think it means. You can get the most advanced maneuvers without being "on the bit." You know it's possible because you've seen horses do this without a rider in their free, playful states. In fact, all advanced maneuvers are inspired by the horse's natural state. So why shove a heavy bit in their mouth and hang on to it? It doesn't make sense, except, like I said, in a few extraordinary circumstances. And if you've been paying attention to the internet for the last two decades you might have come across examples of excellent riders doing everything you can imagine without a bridle. Just google, riding without a bridle. Add to the search, dressage, jumping, reining, you name it. There are many examples. Some will inspire you. Some will turn you off because the horses are all upside down and grumpy. Those ones are clearly done by people who are still experimenting and haven't' yet put it all together.

The point is riding on a looser rein doesn't prevent you from achieving great things. In fact, it's the opposite. It's more difficult, naturally, because you have to become a coach instead of a dictator, but it's also more beautiful, more desirable, and makes the experience for the horse measurably better. As a known trainer in the horse industry, I'm still shocked, how decades have passed, and the rules haven't change for excellence. The standards are often still based on puppeteering instead of real horsemanship. All of that can shift though. I'm still an optimist. I still believe we can get this ship (horseman-ship) turned around in favor of the horse, offering more dignity, more fun, more enlightenment.

This simplest way to move forward starts with you. Are you willing to take the test and find out the truth about how you ride? Are you willing to have catching hands instead of holding hands?

In case you're not sure what I mean by that, imagine a baby learning to take their first steps, independent of any support. Any good parent will set their hands close to the child, ready to arrest the fall, but not on the child because we know, in our hearts, if the child is to grow, he must have a caring coach, a supporter, not a dictator. It's the same for our horses. They can grow beyond the myths of traditional horsemanship. And all it takes is you developing the hands of a coach. Soften your grip and guide, rather than hold tight.

In case I've offended anyone today. Sorry. It's not my intent. My intent is clear. Let's be better, smarter, together. I've studied the heart and mind of the horse, and the horse rider. We all want the same experience. We want to enjoy our time and have something grand to look forward to. We are the same, you and I. And our horses, believe it or not, want the same thing to. They just need a guide to get there.

Thanks for reading. I can't wait to hear you feedback. Comment below. Even if you think I'm wrong, comment. I'm an adult, I can take criticism. Let's make this world a better place together. Don

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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Don Jessop


Don opened up a community, full of people on the same journey you are!
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Don shares his  passion for writing with his passion for helping horse owners see the horse and themselves for who they truly are.

Don Jessop


Don believes every horse owner should have access to the Principles of Horsemanship and he shares them freely here.

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