Or, Why Going Forward Matters


“You want them riding forward, thinking forward for themselves. If you always have the handbrake on, then the horses are going to be behind your leg because you’re constantly telling him to slow down. Ride them forward, try and create that energy and enthusiasm in your horse first.”

– Charlotte Dujardin, World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, as quoted in The Chronicle of the Horse.


I read this quote yesterday, and I was struck by how important the concept is, in all riding disciplines, as well as in life.

One of the primary tenets of correct flatwork is getting the horse to push with his hind end, to be free and forward in his way of going. I constantly tell my students to ride forward, that a working gait means GOING SOMEWHERE. There’s no dallying, no hesitation. The horse pushes well and travels straight, and that’s the foundation for all the other work we do. Without forward and straight, you cannot turn well, nor collect or extend the gaits. All of those are needed to get the best, most correct jump possible.

Explaining the plan. Go forward!

What interests me most about the quote above is the use of the word enthusiasm. It implies that there’s an interest in the work the horse is doing. By going forward, the horse enjoys what’s being asked of him and is eager to do it. The rider has opened the door and invited the horse to go through it with her. What a positive concept!

Conversely, many riders so desperately want to hold the horse back or they only want to ride the kicking quiet horse because it WON’T go too forward. I loathe the thought of riding with the handbrake on all the time. Especially with our American Forward Style of Riding, we are supposed to let the horse find his pace and balance and we go with it, not against it. Of course adjustments need to be made, as so few horses will pick up one pace (balance, length of stride, speed) and keep it throughout an entire jumping course. In general, however, good things come from riding forward not backward.

My riders often hear me say, “You can’t gather nothing.” It refers to when a rider attempts to shorten the horse’s stride, but didn’t get the horse going with impulsion before that. Usually, the horse will either jump in a weak fashion, or he may break to the trot on the approach. The rider can avoid this by getting the horse in front of the leg, so there’s some energy or flow, prior to asking for the shortened stride. You must have something that can be gathered before asking the horse to come back to you.

“This is not about going back. This is about life being ahead of you and you run at it! Because you never know how far you can run unless you run.”

– Penny Chenery, owner and breeder of Secretariat (from the movie)

You can use the concept of forward motion to life outside of riding. As Penny Chenery said, life is about moving forward. Going through life with the handbrake on is a life half-lived. When you choose to go forward, to go toward something – your goals, achievement in school or your job, fully committing to your team or a romantic partner – you become free, you find enthusiasm, you fully embrace life. Even if there are tough parts associated with moving toward your goal, forward momentum will generally help, while choosing the status quo often leads to regret and stagnation.

Commit to flying at your goals! (My apologies, this fabulous photo of Kent Farrington did not have a photo credit anywhere I saw it online.)

Acknowledging fears is important, but the point in doing so is to move past them. We need to free ourselves from the burden of the fears (or a pessimistic outlook) that hold us back – our self-imposed tethers – so we can find our enthusiasm and reach our goals.

Some ways you can move forward, in riding and in other areas:

1). Keep a gratitude journal. We all have things in life that we love. Keeping those in perspective can help after a hard day or when you are finding it tough to get up in the morning.

2). Create a vision board. What are some things you would like to achieve or attain in life? Are you hoping to move up to the next level/division at horse shows? Want to get into the college of your dreams? Want a corner office? Get praise in a newsletter? Want to buy your first home? Keeping a photo of any of those in your sight, whether it hangs on the wall of your bedroom or sits on your desk helps your brain envision them happening, and will help shape the decisions you make and the way you act every day.

3). Hold yourself accountable for the changes you seek. If you have trouble doing this, find someone who will hold you accountable. Let’s say you want to get improve your strength in the saddle. You know working without stirrups is one of the best ways to do this, but you find it hard to commit to working without them each ride. Try asking a friend to join you when you ride, so you do your no-stirrup work together. Or ask a friend to shoot you a text after you ride to check to see if you did it. These are just two examples of a way you can harness peer pressure for good, when you are having a hard time doing things you know will benefit you in the long run. There are so many ways to do this in all areas of life. Knowing how to overcome your own resistance and ask for help will help you move in the direction you want.

Are you living life with the hand-brake on? Are there other things you do to help move toward your goals? I’d love to hear from you!

You Can’t Gather Nothing

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