The fine line between guidance and force

Today I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a good rider and the fine line that lays between guiding your horse and forcing your horse.


I’ve been told my whole life that I am a gentle rider and have a very quiet seat. Now I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, this actually has a lot of downsides.

One of my best friends has an extremely “hot seat” and any horse she rides will automatically fizz up and become very forward and responsive. Even the slow plods. I mean, she rode Cyryl and he was like a different horse! This is obviously good on a general day-to-day basis. But on the other side of the pendulum, she often finds herself in sticky situations because no matter who she is riding, they can tend to get a bit too forwards or a bit too excited! 

I on the other hand, have the opposite problem. I swear I could ride a racehorse and it would probably just plod along at the buckle. Actually, I have ridden a racehorse (well, ex-racehorse) lots before and the hot thoroughbred who used to be a nightmare for his owner, would happily bumble along with me.

For those of you who follow my blog, you will know that I struggle with Cyryl. He is soooooo hard to keep in canter. I mean I have to have my leg on every single stride. If I drop the ball for literally one moment, he will fall back in to trot again. It is the most frustrating problem ever and I still haven’t cracked it nearly two years on. My instructor says I need to get after him, and I do try. But here’s where my softness lets me down.

I cannot use my stick on him. I just can’t bring myself to hit him. I mean I’ve tickled him up a few times and it marginally helps. I’ve tapped him before and he bucks. But on a general basis I don’t even carry a stick. I never ever take one hacking. I’ve started wearing spurs more, but just little plastic ones.

I used to think the problem was Cyryl just being a lazy toad. Until I saw him being ridden by a couple of others and he cantered and cantered without stopping and without much effort.

But that leads me to the question of how forceful is too forceful? I have a girl (child) riding Cee for me at the moment (she is also having lessons with my instructor) and at first she gave glowing feedback and was really confident and positive, but recently Cee has started bucking with her. My instructor says it’s because she’s getting after him too much and bullying him. Cyryl will not be bullied and if she is “ragging” him around, then I’m not surprised he is starting to rebel. Which leads me to the question of when does guidance become force?

I certainly wouldn’t want to be forced to do something. Gentle encouragement, yes. But hit? No way! I understand using a stick for reprimand, but are they necessary for daily use? Do we use them because our legs aren’t strong enough or because it’s the easier option than to use an efficient leg? What if our horses don’t want to do something because they are sore or they find it hard, is it fair to whip them then? Or should we take a moment to think about why our horses are reluctant in the first place.

I’ve been trying to analyse why else he isn’t moving forward. I recently went to Equine Pilates and apparently I have tight hips. This makes sense as my instructor says that I grip with my thighs and my feet slightly turn out. I need to ride with a totally loose upper leg, turn my feet in and bring my thigh away from the saddle, as I am essentially riding with the hand-break constantly on. And this would explain why every single horse I ride is the same!

I’ve been doing lots of yoga to open my hips and I can really feel that they are tight. Particularly in happy baby pose!

Happy baby

My point here is that I can now see that I am the cause of my canter problems. Cyryl is lazy because I’m constantly telling him to slow down with my upper legs (and I didn’t even realise it). If I had hit him then how would that be fair? He’s only doing what I’ve been asking him to do all along!

I hope this post provokes some thought that sometimes we should anaylse why something is going wrong before we start using false aids and brute force.

Being a firm rider can be a great thing, but so is being a fair rider.


  1. Try looking at this website, it’s helped Nico and I sooooo much: everything they say makes so much sense, they also have a youtube account arttoride with instructional videos :). I have to say I do use a whip but most of the time I use it I only touch him with it, just as a reminder and now that I’m training in classical foundation I don’t need to use it very much/strongly at all

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always had very forward moving horses so using a stick as a go button is completely foreign to me. It’s so nice and self-reflective of you to consider the instructions you’re giving your horse before resorting to a different aid, though!
    For me spurs are more effective than a whip for forwardness. You’re not allowed to carry a whip in a dressage test anyway, so becoming reliant on it could be a problem. I use a dressage whip to reinforce my leg aid only when I’m schooling new lateral movements until my horse becomes more attuned to what I’m asking for and the whip is no longer necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

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