Are you a complementary rider or a mirror rider? In order to properly self diagnose, let’s talk about the differences. According to my trusty dictionary, to complement someone or something means that you “fill in where there is a lack” or “add where needed” or (this is my favourite definition) “make something complete”. In contrast, to mirror someone or something means that you “show a direct reflection of” or “give an exact replica of” whatever is being done. Now that we have the facts, let’s ask the question again, do you complement your horse or do you mirror your horse?
Buck Brannaman once said that, “The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see in this mirror and sometimes you will.” This statement is true on so many levels. The right side of our brain immediately applies this to our emotions and this is true. If you are not happy, your horse knows. If you are not enjoying todays ride, your horse is aware of this. If you are still upset at the guy who cut you off in traffic on the way to the barn, your horse will pick up on this. Now different horses respond to human emotions in different ways. I have worked with horses that are acutely aware what is passing through my mind at any given moment and will respond accordingly. I have also worked with horses who seem to be eternally happy and unchanged by human emotion. Although their responses may be different, I believe that both horses are equally aware of our “condition”. Just like humans, horses have unique personalities. Some horses are more forgiving than others and some horses are more responsive, but they all know.
Although horses vary in the way they mirror us emotionally, the way they mirror us physically tends to be a bit more consistent. If your back is tight, it will be very difficult for your horse to relax his back. If you are crooked in the saddle, your horse will not be straight. If your body is full of tension, your horse will not be able to relax. At times, this feels unfortunate. When you are nervously warming up at a horse show, it is really inconvenient for your horse to mirror your tension. When you are having trouble controlling your body in the saddle, your horses mirroring this can really add to the issue. When you decide to work on one element of your riding and everything else falls apart, this can feel disheartening. Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Bad news first…. this will never change. Our horses will always mirror us and there is nothing we can do about it and in my opinion, we shouldn’t want to do anything about it! Allow me to explain… horses make wonderful trainers. No matter how much I develop my eye, I will never be as quick as your horse. So instead of becoming frustrated by this “mirror”, look at it often and use what you see to make yourself a better rider!
With the understanding that our horses mirror us, lets figure out how we can best complement (hint hint!) them during training…
Now, lets look at some of the affects of complementary riding vs mirror riding…
Affects of mirror riding:
Affects of complementary riding:
Striving to be a complementary rider is one of the best goals you can work towards. Since our horses mirror our actions, if we turn around and mirror them back, we will become stuck. You and your horse are partners and partners need to complement each other in order to get the most out of the relationship. We are supposed to be the leader in the relationship, but ultimately, we are only fully in charge of our own actions. Next time you are about to respond to something your horse is doing, think about responding with complementary aids to help “fill in where there is a lack” and make the feeling or the movement as good as it can be.