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The Good Side of Equestrian Gadgets
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   16th Aug 2020   •   354 views   •   0 comments
The Good Side of Equestrian Gadgets

‘Gadgets’ often get a poor reputation in the equestrian world due to their misuse on equine athletes often resulting in harmful or abusive conditions. The debate on whether or not gadgets (like side reins, etc.) ought to be used on horses is one which will probably continue for as long as equestrian sports exist, but this article does not intend to engage with that debate. Instead, we’ll be discussing something a little different:

Rider gadgets!
These can range from something as simple as a crop balanced on your elbows, to complexly designed and tech-savvy devices like ‘Heels Down’ buzzers and sitting trot seatbelts. Like with ‘horse gadgets’, there will always be much debate on whether these are truly helpful, but unlike with horse gadgets, the affected party (the rider) has the option to refuse consent. Essentially, in the case of rider gadgets, we always have a willing participant who can decide for themselves whether the gadget is doing harm or good.

As a coach and a rider myself, I am very dedicated to identifying and rectifying weaknesses in one’s riding ability. Something I have learned - not only through my own experience but also through helping others – is that sometimes no matter how hard you work or how long you struggle, your brain and body will just not make that crucial connection that allows a new skill to ‘click’ into place, or causes an old habit to break. Very often the rider will become confused and frustrated with the required work before the breakthrough occurs and quit trying altogether, wasting plenty of hard work which might have eventually led to improvement.

Other times, bad habits (like rounded shoulders, creeping-up heels, and our many other ‘rider demons’) can become so ingrained in us that in order to stop us from practicing them, our coaches will literally have to remind us every few seconds.

Be honest; has your coach ever told you ‘heels down’, only for them to pop up again moments after?

Our habits become so automatic that we are not even aware of them without constant reminding, however, if our coach has to nag us too often about one particular thing, eventually that constant ‘heels down’ reminder just becomes so frequent and annoying that we begin to drone it out, and we stop truly paying attention to trying to correct the problem. I like to call this effect ‘White Noise Disorder’. Consider a horse that has become dead to the leg: the more you nudge and kick him to move forward, the less likely he will be to respond to your leg aid in future. The more you try to correct his laziness by nagging him forward, the more lazy he becomes, having adjusted to your leg aids being constantly occurring, with no clear assigned meaning. Every aid should have a clear response, and the horse should respond sharply to even the lightest aid. This requires skillful, clear and interesting communication on the rider’s part, with capability and understanding from the horse. In the same way, teaching (or unteaching!) a rider with ingrained habits requires skillful, clear and interesting communication from the coach. So, if you’ve tried every combination of words in the dictionary and your student’s brain and body are still only about as connected as your air pods are to the cellphone you left in your friend’s car, then what can you do to avoid ‘white noise disorder’, and still help your student to correct their habit?

This is where gadgets come in. In riding, like in love, sometimes words just aren’t enough. For many riders, improvement is a constant struggle between understanding in our brains exactly what we want our bodies to look like, how we want them to move and what we want them to do, yet feeling physically unable to actually make them do it. How often do you ride sitting trot with an image of Charlotte Dujardin in your mind, and think with a frustrated huff on each thumping step,

“Just - stop - bouncing - damn - you!”?

We know we shouldn’t do it. We tell ourselves not to do it. But our bodies do it anyway; constantly letting us down in their instinctual drive to keep us safe while we unreasonably choose to ride half-ton animals for sport. So, if having all the knowledge and understanding (combined with a huge amount of sheer willpower) is not enough, how can we train our bodies to let go of those instincts and do what we want them to do?

The Good Side of Equestrian Gadgets

Legs swinging back over jumps? Tie your stirrups (safely) to the girth, and feel how your body has to adjust to keep your legs in place. Hands bouncing all over the show in rising trot? Attach a neckstrap and grab on so your hands can’t move any more. All you need is the correct feeling, that one “aha!” moment of what the image you have in your brain truly feels like to ride, and then you can start fostering that brain-body connection that is so crucial to correcting problematic riding. Every person is an individual; our bodies work differently, we have different stiffnesses and weaknesses, and we all learn differently too. That means that something that comes naturally to one person with just a little explanation may never truly click for another unless they get some kind of helping hand to show them what feeling they are striving for. Perhaps eventually they would stumble upon it, but very often a well-used gadget in the right situation can speed up the entire process a hundredfold.

Don’t agree with this assessment? Share your views about gadgets in the comments! If you’re keen to find out more, follow this series to learn more about my favourite rider gadgets and how they can help you!
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