Pretty vs Effective Riding
Confessions of a Timid Rider,  Equestrian Life

Pretty vs. Effective Riding

Leave the Pretty for the Show Ring.


It is a universal truth that an equestrian must struggle with motivation from time to time. We all have busy schedules, vacations, or general ennui.  Occasionally horse lovers hit a plateau. Some, choose to make excuses while others reset. Today I was looking forward to a riding lesson with Ferrous. We’re preparing him for an Interscholastic Equestrian Association horse show at our barn at the end of October. The truth is, he has had the summer off because of his anhidrosis and the intense heat, which caused my own lack of motivation. As a result, he hasn’t jumped a full course since May.


Unfortunately, my daughter woke up sick and unable to go to school, which means my lesson did not happen. Motherhood means putting my own needs aside to care for my children. As a result, I asked Robin to ride Ferrous for me and help whip him into shape.


It was a lucky coincidence that I had to drop off something at the barn and my daughter and I arrived as Ferrous was being tacked for his training session. My little one was overtired from the weekend’s activities (horse shows, football games, and play dates), but did not exhibit any other symptoms besides a slight cold. Enough that I knew she needed rest to return to school the next day, but not enough to prevent us from leaving the home for 20 minutes. We stayed for a while watching Robin and Ferrous and it was enlightening.


*Disclaimer, I’m in no way saying my trainer isn’t a pretty rider. Quite the opposite, in fact. However, she would do things very exaggerated to show Ferrous and me the correct way he should be moving, and I found it extremely enlightening! 


I am a visual person. I learn well from watching others, and this was no exception. As Robin rode we laughed a bit at how our roles were reversed from our usual program. But it was extremely helpful to me. And the biggest takeaway from her lesson, because I did learn a lot, was that sometimes to be effective and provide what your horse needs, you can’t be pretty too.


Pretty Vs. Effective


Can a rider be both pretty and effective? Absolutely. But this isn’t always the case, especially when training. Leave the pretty for the show ring. I sometimes concentrate so much on keeping the correct bend in my elbow, shoulders back, and heels down that I am not focused on Ferrous’s body as much as I should.



That is not to say that I don’t work hard to keep him straight, to prevent him from dropping his shoulder on the corners, or to use impulsion from behind to move forward in a frame. I do all these things. But I know now that I do not do it ENOUGH. I think my aids are firm and clear, but I can do much more.


It is better to be an effective rider than a pretty rider. Save the pretty for the show ring. Share on X


For example, Ferrous has a beautiful head carriage when in a frame. He is hard to move forward off the leg, however, because he has a weak top line. As a result, he slows when in the correct position. From my lessons, I’ve learned to keep my shoulders and elbows closed while using my body to ‘dance’ from side to side. I feel that I’m being quite chaotic and silly, but it is extremely effective. My dancing helps my leg and hip to drive him forward while my hands gently move the bit in his mouth until he gets into the correct position. We don’t have mirrors in our indoor, which is a shame, but I always imagined I looked insane.

While Robin rode Ferrous I saw exactly how much she meant by exaggerating my aids if he needs me to. He tends to break on the corners, dropping his inside shoulder, especially on a slight grade uphill. He needs to be held together to keep him balanced. All this, while moving him forward off the leg from behind. He’s not an easy pony in that way because he makes you work to keep him moving correctly. Even a proper walk and halt need special attention.


There is a delicate balance between being an effective rider and an obnoxious rider. I have always felt less is more, and this is true for Ferrous in many ways. Often I have to ask gently and then get out of his way, for example transitioning into the canter. If I overbend or do too much, I complicate and confuse matters. Similar to his left lead changes, which are beautiful. His right lead changes are another story. He needs to be moving forward well and even then he tends to bulge in on his right hind to balance and switch. Otherwise, he kicks out to get it correctly. So he needs more help on this side.


Every horse is different in personality and conformation. As a result, each ride is a learning lesson. You learn the horse and the horse learns you. To prevent picking up bad habits, it is important to be an effective rider overall. When your horse moves correctly, reduce the aids, and then your form will follow.


Save the pretty for the show ring.

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