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  • phdevlin

Go, Steer, and Stop

As simple as it seems, without the skills of go, steer, and stop, we wouldn’t be able to compete in any mounted horse sport except bronc riding. Done well, these essential skills are the only ones needed to compete at the top of many disciplines. Having other skills helps of course, especially dressage, but not having a deep set of skills can be compensated for by our horse. After all they are autonomous creatures too.


Go, steer, and stop, can be rated up there with not falling off. Done poorly it can be hard to watch if we have any empathy for our horses. Yet these skills often do not have the reverence they deserve within the hierarchy of training principles. We too often stop considering them critically if a rider can make their horse do them. This is evidenced by the plethora of tools available from bits to spurs to give us the manipulative ability to control these functions so we can move on to the more complex requirements of our competitive disciplines.


Certainly in my areas of experience; showjumping, dressage, and eventing, we were all taught to manipulate through resistances and evasions while “training” the more complex movements. The more complex the movement, the more submission required. Sure we rode with compassion and feeling, making submission a safe place for our horse, consciously avoiding abuse at all cost. Yet underlying all this, we issued the commands to go, steer, and stop without remorse, clearly letting our horses know what is expected of them.


All resistance and evasion is rooted to the autonomy of the horse. These are simply manifestations of our horses preferring not to participate in what we’re doing at that moment. We’re taught to solve these challenges by taking a step back and trying again. Unfortunately, measurable success only requires they accept our request so we can move on. Stepping back is the right idea, but the measure of success needs be challenged. Is accomplishing the complex performance the goal or is doing it gracefully? How well do you perform in any situation where you’re made to do it compared to when you want to do it? How far we step back depends on whether we understand autonomy is a foundation of performance.


What would it look like if our horse would go freely, follow where we lead, and allow us to regulate its pace, stopping if we choose without ever having to resort to a coercive aid to accomplish this. This is achievable. This is go, steer, and stop without resistance or evasion. Not how to go, just where to go, we’ll work on how when your horse chooses to let you steer them where. This is the destination we ought to step back to when we encounter resistance or evasion.


Steering without force requires leading and encouraging. Guide your horse with light hands, release your aid pressure upon commencement of the action you asked for, let your horse respond. Provide the encouragement in such a way your horse wants to try. If you need to make your horse go, you will encounter more resistance when you start to tell them how to go. We don’t have to be here. We can teach our novice riders how to go, steer, and stop so they can do it without coercion before we get them on a show horse and add complexity to their relationship.


If your horse doesn’t want to go, steer, and stop without force, then your performance will suffer. We see this affecting performances from the olympics on down. In disciplines such as showjumping, go, steer, stop, and a great horse are enough to win it all if you do it exceptionally well. And you don’t fall off.


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