Center is a place of calm and peace. It is a relaxed state, free of tension; yet aware, poised and ready to act. Coming back to center with a horse means bringing both horse and human into this state of tranquil awareness. Both partners are balanced, attuned to each other, and moving in harmony without pressure. Riding towards the center means always coming back to this place of lightness and unity.
Centering on the rhythm and tempo is an exercise that I use with all horses and riders as a starting point from which all other movements can develop with ease. It is as simple as maintaining a constant speed and regular rhythm and can be practiced at any gait, both on the ground and ridden. It brings both horse and human into a state of focused relaxation.
Practicing this requires that the horse responds to boundaries and will slow down and move forward when asked. I think of this as “defining the horse’s bubble.” The horse should understand the parameters of this space and respond to aids to yield to a gentle pressure. Within this bubble the horse can move freely without pressure. We can teach the horse to stay in this place of lightness and ease through consistent reminders to return to the center. Each time the horse speeds up, slows down, or veers to the side he is corrected and moved back towards the center at a steady tempo. With practice the horse will begin to understand and will relax within this soft space.
The most challenging part of this exercise is staying mindful of the tempo and practicing good timing. Through observation we will notice patterns in the horse’s behavior. This allows us to be proactive with our aids rather than reactive. Delivering quick reminders (gently!) will help the horse learn without undue stress. If the horse challenges boundaries and does not respond to aids, preliminary groundwork will be necessary to prepare for this activity.
Maintaining a steady rhythm and tempo through various movements will help the horse learn to balance with a rider. Changes in the horse’s balance will result in a change of tempo, either rushing forward or bracing and slowing. By focusing on maintaining the rhythm, we leave it up to the horse to figure out how to balance through more complicated shifts without changing the speed. This naturally leads to improved balance and coordination.
Training a horse to respond to the lightest touch from the rider requires creating a space where there is no pressure at all. A horse ridden with continuous pressure will become dull and unresponsive to the aids. Achieving this ideal begins with a refined seat that can follow and allow free movement from the horse. Maintaining a steady tempo in lightness makes developing a balanced seat much easier. From this center of mesmerizing rhythm and mindful awareness, the rider can improve position and precision, feeling each response from the horse and always leading the way back to a soft, quiet