Maria Sundin is a riding instructor and coach from the south of Sweden. I had not heard of her before this lesson and was just curious to see how she would let the lesson play out and what I might learn from her. I shared the one hour lesson with a friend from the stable, Sabrina, and her horse, Spex.
At the appointed time, Maria gathered us together, presented herself and her view on horses and riding. Maria’s philosophy is that in the most cases riders try too hard to get their riding correct. We know how a movement is supposed to be ridden and we start off by giving the horse a lot of aids. When the horse doesn’t understand we turn up the volume of our aids and the horse gets more and more confused. In the end the poor animal just stops listening, as nothing makes sense anymore. Maria has this idea that if we just stop trying so hard and start communicating with the horse instead, riding will be easier for us and more comfortable for the horse. To start us off on this new way of thinking we started with the simplest thing: starting and stopping the horse.
This exercise might sound easy, it is after all the really basics of riding, but it’s quite hard to stop doing all the things you usually do when you ride. When the horse walked we were supposed to just sit there, relaxed and focused, with a soft contact with its mouth through the reins. To stop the horse we should just close our hands tighter around the reins, relax and think “stop”. The aim was to do as little as possible and never move the hands backwards to stop the horse. To my surprise Nemah stopped. It was so easy! When this worked on just the thought of stopping we went on to do this from trot to walk.
This was harder, as Nemah prefers to go faster than she really should and slowing down is just for losers. With some extra focus I did get Nemah to transition from trot to walk. After some repetitions we went on to the next thing: transitions between trot and canter. As Nemah loves her canter and wants it to go really fast I had to struggle and Maria came to my help. She noticed that I didn’t trust Nemah to stop and that I used my hands more than once to try to stop Nemah. Maria repeated what I was supposed to do and what to focus on: close my hands, relax and trust Nemah to do what I wanted her to do. Wouldn’t you know - it worked! The trot was still a bit too fast, but we managed the transitions perfectly.
To let the horses (and riders) get some rest we moved on to a new exercise: riding small half-voltes over and over again to get the horse to cross it’s fore legs and get more relaxed in the shoulders. The trick was to turn by using only the outer leg. Nemah used her usual speed and I was told to slow her down in the same way as before, by closing the outer hand a bit more and think of the pace I wanted. This worked a lot better and Nemah responded by feeling more relaxed.
The next exercise was a leg yield on a diagonal. Maria told us not to do anything, just think about how we wanted it to feel. When we tried it the horses did perfect leg yields. It felt amazing. Usually I have to press Nemah quite hard to get her to leg yield, but now she did it perfectly when I thought about it. To get the exercise more specific I was told to focus more on the point where I wanted us to end up. This was the last piece of the puzzle to make it feel like Nemah and I was one and the same. An amazing feeling!
After the leg yielding we got to try and raise our hands straight upwards - never backwards - to feel the horses hind legs better. It was an amazing feeling to sense Nemah's legs working all the way up to her back. I could register every step she took.
As a last exercise we tested to lengthen the horse's stride. The horses were not supposed to go faster, just lengthen the stride. I just needed to think about it and Nemah did it, it was amazing. And then we got to shorten the stride again, and that also worked. I was in heaven!
This was a truly marvellous experience. This is what I have been looking for my whole life - an almost telepathic communication with my horse. I am definitely going to ride for Maria again, if the chance presents itself. This is something I feel a desperate need to explore more in order to become the great rider my wonderful princess needs.