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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A little bit

Barbs etc. made me contemplate today the concept of asking for a little, and then being happy with, "good enough". She also makes an excellent point in that you may have to ask for something a different way. Think of the horse as a painting of your riding. If you don't like the painting, change your riding. I had an interesting ride this afternoon where I explored this concept.

I swing between 2 extremes. I will either:

1. Never ask for excellence and always be contented with a mediocre try, (addressed in this post) or,

2. Demand excellence and then drill it to death. (the most recent example being this)

I'm talkn' horses today, but it applies to everything else in my life too - music, relationships, and knitted socks (actually slippers currently, but I digress).

Let's take the canter.

Some of its her, some of its me.

The "demand a decent transition and keep asking until it happened" approach did not work. Both of us were so stressed over the transition that by the time the canter DID happen, it was tight, rushed, and stressed. In short - completely un-salvageable.

A different approach was called for. Here was was transpired today and over the weekend.


This weekend I did not ask Farley to do anything on the bit above the trot. Any cantering or galloping and the transitions for those gaits were done on a loose rein, with plenty of time for her to "self organize" into and out of those gaits. What I wanted was relaxation. That was the only goal in those gaits. Farley started out tense and stressed when I asked for the canter, but by the end of the weekend, she was giving me some beautiful, relaxed canters.

Today, I wanted to keep the relaxation of the weekend, while building on that and have her do a "couple" of strides of canter on the bit.

I decided "screw the transition". Right now asking for a pretty transition causes her to be stressed and stiff. Instead, I asked for a nice relaxed canter on a loose rein.

Gradually, while encouraging her to be forward, I pushed her into my hand into light contact. For a few moments she became very soft and flexed. There was my 1% improvement and I stopped. I didn't try and repeat the miracle, I didn't say - "good lets do that again to make sure you 'have it'". I stopped. I praised her. And then I asked for the same thing on the other side.

Nope - my transition didn't improve at all today. But my canter did. And Farley and I are still on speaking terms.

Someday, after our canter is solid, I'll ask for that trot/canter transition. And just maybe - because I've put aside a battle I can't win today, she'll offer it to me in a distant tomorrow willingly.

So much of being successful with horses is being able to judge what we can ask of the horse in that day, that session, that moment. And not asking what they can't offer. Not asking enough devalues the horse, asking too much devalues the relationship.

Enough of wordy, contemplative posts!!!!! I'm swamped at work for the next couple of days so it will be quiet. This weekend I'll be riding with Jaime of Lullabelle's Managerie (see blog on right) and her new endurance horse, "Ocean". Then it's off to the Desert Gold 55 miler and then, before you know it, I'll be popping balloons off of Farley with a pistol at the next cav practice day. As you can see, I should have fodder for some excellent blogging coming up!


  1. In your defense, trying to buck off the rider is NEVER acceptable for a horse to try. It's easier to understand with a horse that's green to cantering under saddle, but it's never acceptable. It's like biting or kicking - the horse must express herself some other way!

    I have noticed that the dressage training scales are really like musical scales. Sometimes the horse can't play a chord, and you should just ask for one note that session. Sometimes you can put a couple of notes together and get, say, forward AND soft. At least that's the analogy that works for me, right now. :)

  2. I have found that the biggest difference across the board between amateurs and good trainers is the level of expectations they place on the horse. Trainers want the horse to do ti right every time because they know what right feels like and how to get it. Us Ammys just want to ride! I feel your pain in this post!

  3. Good Job Mel- and thanks for rading my post and finding something useful for your own training program. Sounds like you made some good progress!

  4. Finding that happy medium can be sooo hard! Kudos to you for being able to find it!

    Lately I have been more concerned with having my horse still like me at the end of our ride, ever since I almost ruined Lucy and I's relationship pushing her too hard.

    Can't wait till this weekend! (I'm getting rather nervous about the ride next week!)

  5. Oh, Mel, I hear you so loud-and-clearly! I think what you're doing is fine, and you are making progress.

    I like Funder's analogy of the scale...and will try to remind myself that it doesn't matter how many "right notes" my horse gives me if I'm "out of tune" myself!

  6. I too like funder's analogy of the "chord". I'll definately be keeping that in mind.

  7. I will say that yesterday I got the most beautiful, slow canter I have EVER gotten out of her. I think all that running around on Saturday and then all that cantering/galloping under saddle on sunday made a HUGE difference. The arena was so big on Sunday I was able to do lots of straight lines without worrying about a corner coming up.


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