I spent a decade listening to Lendon Gray teach and then also to her students who became instructors themselves. One concept Lendon emphasizes is to “do nothing.” Lauren Spreiser, who used to work with Lendon, wrote an excellent piece on this recently in her own blog.
The basic issue that “do nothing” solves is when riders tend to nag with their heels, so that the horse can’t differentiate between an inadvertent nudge and a leg aid where the rider expects the horse to do a specific action. Lendon urges riders to be more aware of their legs and not touch the horse’s side unless that’s what they intend.
It can be very hard to “do nothing.” After all, if the horse is swinging along in his stride, or if the ankle is flexing down in a posting trot, or if the toes point out too much, the leg can swing against the horse’s side without the rider realizing it. Then, the rider starts to think his horse is lazy if he makes a deliberate leg aid and gets no reaction.
I’m spending a lot of time right now tack walking a rehab project. This means that I’m living too much in my brain when I ride. I’ve overanalyzed the biomechanics of the walk to death. I’ve been devising creative walk patterns and transitions within the walk. I wanted to try something new, so I put “do nothing” to the test at the walk.
I started out, as Lendon suggests, by waiting to see how long it would take for my horse to slow down after a specific leg aid, if I just then let my leg hang. I gave a leg aid at H and then waited. I needed another one before I got to S, less than 12 meters. So, I repeated the test a few times. Still under 12 meters. Next, a clear kick, rather than a calf nudge, followed by a really loose leg. The result? More like 24 meters! Within a couple more tries we were at 30 meters, then half way around the ring and, within 10 minutes, I had an active walk for the entire ring without an additional leg aid but making sure my leg hung steady and my hips/elbows followed the motion of the stride. Wow!
I get to trot more now, so I’ve been playing with the “do nothing” game at the trot as well, since I’m still limited to the same scenery. It’s more interesting at the trot since I have to help the horse with her balance due to her lack of strength at this point, coupled with her excess of enthusiasm, so to speak.
I feel that, overall, I need much less in the way of leg aids and definitely less of tap/tap with the whip if I want a shorter/quicker stride. What’s even more interesting at the trot than the walk is that making sure my hips rotate forward keeps my heels pointing North/South rather than East/West, making them parallel to the horse’s side. Thus, a light calf touch gets the job done, where before a clear kick (or two) might have been needed.
Sometimes, when you just walk, you can figure out some interesting stuff.