I believe the hardest thing about riding is really what's between our ears! It's the thoughts we think as we ride that make or break a riding experience. Last week in the US was our Thanksgiving holiday, so I had a lot of time off with my family and cooked and ate a lot of food. I also was able to ride a lot during the sunny, warm afternoons, and I found that improved my riding considerably because my overall mood was better. And then it hit me as I started back to my evening rides under the lights: although I didn't have sunshine, I still had the same horses and they needed me to be in the same mood as I was in during the sunshine. Sure, they feel the weather and the changes in daytime just like we do, but at least as their human leader, we should set the example.
So, as I was riding I realized my mare was shaking her head at me and I knew it wasn't flies. But I was still grumpy about it and was wondering what her issues were today. Was she not liking the bit? Was she trying to just get above, below, or away from my hands? Was she in heat? And then I trotted by the mirrors and noticed my hands were bouncing. Sigh. It wasn't her. It was me. I actually did a walk transition and apologized. Then I said, thanks for being so patient with me. Let's see if I can quiet my hands and give you a better place to put your head at the end of the rein. So I reached my pinkies down and touched the pommel. My favorite alternative is to hook my pinkies on my 'monkey grip,' AKA buck strap. I have them on all the saddles at the barn as it's a super-useful training aid. As I trotted down the long side my mare started shaking her head but then it slowly went away as she found a quiet place to reach her nose out to and 'connect' with my hand. This time I kept trotting but I also said out loud – thank you! It put a smile on my face and hugely improved my mood. As I went through the rest of the ride I kept looking for ways to verbally thank my mare for her understanding of what I was asking or, if not, to ask her again until she got it and then give her a walk break reward. I also kept an eye on my connection as she was fussy in that today. It's true she has no idea what I'm saying, but she can feel the emotion in the words I say and my body reflects that as I sit on her back, touch her with my legs and follow her head with my hands.
Try this in your next training session: use the monkey grip or pinkies on the pommel and see if you can go letter to letter and then every other letter without lifting your pinkies off the pommel. Make sure you open and close those elbows! Keep looking to where you want to ride your horse to so you don't look down the entire time, and let the touch of your hands signal if you raised your pinkies.