Several years ago, I was in a voice lesson with an operatic coloratura soprano. (Now, what does voice have to do with riding? A lot, actually, especially if you want to be an instructor without wearing out your voice, but that’s another story) I was struggling with a note or a passage in a particularly difficult song, and she shrugged and said, very matter-of-fact: “Just insist.”

Just insist? How can that possibly work? Well, voice is funny. The more you try to control it or demand it do something, the more it will rebel. On the other hand, the more afraid you get that you won’t do what you want, the more it will rebel. Biomechanically, it’s because you’ve introduced tension, and the vocal folds don’t work well under tension. However, when you “just insist” without fear or expectations, the notes often come freely. The higher or lower the note, the more this is true.

With horses, it’s often the same. People frequently get anxious or demanding when working with their horse, usually with a difficult movement or with a horse that can be a bit testy. As a result, tension creeps in, and the horse senses this. Biomechanically, it blocks the horse’s movements, and even on the ground, it psychologically introduces tension.

On the other hand, if you “just insist” with calmness, leaving the demands or fears at the arena door, it frequently just works out. I have found time and time again when riders (including myself) get frustrated or anxious about something, going back to “just insist” frees things up, and it just happens.

It sounds simple because it is. It’s not exactly easy, though, to check demands and fears at the door, but it’s necessary. So next time you find yourself getting nervous about that difficult canter depart or frustrated your horse won’t trot peacefully on the longe, “just insist” in a matter-of-fact way, and see what happens.

by Emily Wright