When I started riding lessons at age eleven, I was put on kind horses with smooth gaits next to an instructor mounted on another horse. A lead line tethered my horse to the instructor and all I had to do was stay on. That was plenty at the time. Once I gained some security in my seat the lead line came off. When I proved I had sufficient control not to be a danger to those around me I was put into a class. We followed each other around the arena, nose to tail, doing as the instructor directed. Variations of that scenario are experienced by pretty much everyone who takes formal riding lessons. We learn how to balance, anticipate and follow the movement of the horse. In fact there’s a official name for all of that. It’s a badge of accomplishment to have someone say you have “a good following seat,” or “good following hands.”
Little by little the novice rider is expected to influence the horse; slower or faster, turn here or there, stop and go. Pretty basic stuff. We learn that we follow the horse until we want to change something. Then we apply a specific aid for that change and if all the stars are aligned the magic happens.
But progress and knowledge also happen. We can’t help it, it’s part of our nature to want to improve, discover new things, and open new doors. We expect the horse to take us there, and sometimes they do--if we’re lucky enough to have one who is highly educated. More often, we don’t. And often we expect our horse, who we have been following dutifully for some time, to lead us into that new territory.
However, that’s not a horse’s nature. Their nature is to be the follower. That’s why they like hanging out in herds. Generally speaking, they make terrible leaders and at some point in time we have to realize this as we improve and want to do more. We must become the leader, not the follower. We must ride as though we are working the gaits and movements independent of our horse. The transition for the rider from follower to leader is gradual, and often lags behind the horse’s transition from leader to follower. It’s a confusing state to occupy for both horse and rider. The majority of misunderstandings occur here. Progress bogs down and frustration skyrockets.
We go through a similar progression when we grow up, leave home and build lives for ourselves. We have names for the stages; student, teen, adult, mother, father, and so on. And we mark transitions with ceremonies; graduations, weddings, voting, drivers’ license. But despite our efforts to mark these changes as times of greater responsibility the real change-over is often out of sync with each rite of passage, hence the frustration and struggle. It’s never easy to grow into a leader--whether you’re sitting on a horse or standing on your own two feet--but it’s how we make progress.