Gold Horses, Green Horses & Color Coordinated Riders

by Faith Meredith
Director, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

When new students first arrive here at Meredith Manor, we need to evaluate their current riding capability so that we can match them up with appropriate horses. So everybody starts out with evaluation rides on our "goldie oldies" to see how they do and moves on to other horses from there.

A "goldie oldie" is a schoolmaster, a horse with a rich and sophisticated vocabulary or understanding of aid pressures. These horses are not the same as "babysitters". A babysitter is a horse that is programmed in a routine and will perform that routine even if its rider asks for it the wrong way. The schoolmaster, by contrast, understands and responds to a full range of nuances within a corridor of aids. Since we know that the horse is very knowledgeable, its response to the new student's application of aids tells us volumes about what the rider already knows or still needs to learn at this point.

The "green" horse is the opposite of a goldie oldie. This is a horse that has no vocabulary at all yet or only a limited one. The most sophisticated rider cannot get on a green horse and perform upper level dressage movements or run through a complicated reining pattern. The rider could ask for shapes and movements correctly but the horse, no matter how willing, simply would not understand what was being asked.

The schoolmaster that understands and responds to fine nuances of aid pressures can help a less sophisticated rider develop better feel and timing. The rider who understands more than the green horse can help that horse develop a richer vocabulary that will enable it to communicate with its riders with more finesse and precision. Most horses and riders fall somewhere between these two extremes. Our challenge, of course, is to match each student with a variety of horses so the student has a chance to both learn and teach.

Sophisticated communication between a horse and rider requires that both develop a rich vocabulary. That is accomplished step by small step with each step building on the ones before. First, both the green horse and green rider need to become mentally and physically relaxed. Then both must develop balance and rhythm. Next, the rider needs to understand what sequences of aid pressures create the feeling of certain shapes in the horse. The horse must develop an understanding that when it feels pressures in a certain sequence and it shapes its body a certain way in response to those pressures, they go away.

These aid pressures form a very basic vocabulary that communicates to the horse what the rider wants. When the horse understands the shapes those aid pressures communicate, their communication moves to another level. Then nuances of aid coordination and feel within a whole corridor of pressures can be added that alter the meaning of the whole corridor to create new understandings.

Developing relaxation, balance and rhythm is like first learning to talk and say words that someone else can understand. You can think of aid pressures as those words and a sequence or corridor of aid pressures as a sentence made up of those words. The larger the rider's vocabulary and the larger the horse's vocabulary--the more words they know--the more sentences they can build and the more precisely they can communicate specific meanings. Changing nuances like timing, intensity of a pressure, or the co-ordination of aids can then subtly alter the meaning of a rider's communication just as changing the tense of a verb or the declension of a noun can alter the meaning of two sentences built of basically the same words.

You can talk to an adult and to a 2-year-old but the complexity of those conversations is going to be very different because of your different vocabularies and degrees of understanding. Similarly, you may have a fantastic vocabulary in English but if you learn to speak Spanish or French, your communication will be much more limited because you lack the same richness of vocabulary.

Understanding the differences or similarities between a horse's vocabulary and that of its rider is important in understanding how to react to a given training situation. If a sophisticated rider is on a green horse, for example, the rider will make allowances for the horse's limited vocabulary. If the horse doesn't respond to a sequence of aids, the rider may simply reapply those aids and quietly reapply those aids again until a light bulb goes off in the horse's head.

If that same rider was on a goldie oldie, however, and the horse didn't respond as they expected, the rider would consider the horse's feedback and decide if they had co-ordinated the aids imprecisely or whether the horse's understanding needed to be reinforced by intensifying some part of the corridor of aids.

Developing and using a rich riding vocabulary takes time. A horse doesn't go from green to goldie oldie overnight. A rider doesn't go from beginner to expert overnight, either. A rider can't apply the aids with real sophistication until he or she has learned how to ride in a relaxed way, in rhythm with the horse, with an independent seat. Even then, a rider cannot ask the horse to perform at the upper levels until the rider has the strength and fitness to apply the aids correctly with the proper nuances of vocabulary.

Meredith Manor is an equestrian career college dedicated to preparing students for hands-on, equestrian careers as trainers, instructors, equine massage therapists, stable managers, farriers and more. If you want a career with horses and are considering attending Meredith Manor, request an information packet to learn more.

The Manor has not only prepared me for the horse industry, but has helped me grow into the person that I am today. I couldn't have done this anywhere else.
Jennie Blanchflower: 2008 Riding Master VI Graduate