Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pushing The Right Buttons

This weekend was beautiful. I tacked up on Saturday evening intending to work on trot. Spider has been a little inconsistent in the contact at trot, I wanted to do some transitions and bending to encourage him to take the outside rein. Didn't happen.

As soon as I mounted I knew something was up. He was nervous and distracted, not his usual self. As I began to put him together he got worse: avoiding me, spooking, just being generally miserable. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on. He was avoiding engaging his hind end because he was muscle sore. Makes sense. We've been doing a lot. I'm sore. Why wouldn't he be, too? I decided to try to push him through it. After a few futile minutes of that, I realized we were getting nowhere. I was frustrated, he was frustrated and the entire ride was degenerating into a tug of war.

I can't win a tug of war against a horse. So, I did what I always do when I find myself getting angry or frustrated: I halted, dropped the reins, rolled my shoulders and breathed for a minute. As I pondered my next move, I thought of a comment Jean made on my last post about only working on the bit for a few minutes at a time. She has a good point. Dressage tests only last a few minutes, there's no real reason for a horse to need to be put together for any longer than that. We had already been working for 15 minutes by this point, much longer than any test. It hadn't been particularly good work, but it was still in a competition frame. I decided to scrap the trot work and the frame and work on what we were obviously lacking: relaxation.

Relaxation is the base of the training scale for a good reason, without it you can't really get the other components. So I put him on a fairly loose rein, maintaining the contact and forward energy, but allowing him to stretch forward and down. We walked, trotted and cantered like that with no resistance. All the nervousness melted away once I stopped asking him to go around in a competition frame. I ended up working him in a loose frame for about thirty minutes. We worked mostly on the rail, but did a few big figure eights to change direction at the trot and a few 20 meter circles at canter. It was actually quite nice.

I gave him Sunday off to rest up. When I rode this evening his attitude was much improved. We just had a light day: a few circles of trot, a few circles of canter, a lot of transitions. He stayed relaxed and happy throughout, which is all I should be looking for right now. He's still a bit wobbly in the contact, still unbalanced, but that will take time to resolve. He's got to get fit first.


  1. Glad my remark helped.

    My PJ used to get muscle sore from some old chronic injuries. Acupuncture was the key for him, but he too would get nervous and upset when I tried to work him. I always think he wanted to be good and tried as hard as he could but the pain was just too overwhelming.

    You were smart to go back to the easy stuff with Spider. Getting him legged up and more fit will go far in his ability to work for you.

  2. Well done! Glad to hear you listened to your pony and were able to step 'sideways' and try something different and it WORKED!!!!!

  3. It's great that you went to working on relaxation! We forget this too often. There's a reason that free walks and stretchy circles get double points in the lower levels.
    Glad you worked it out.

  4. Good advice from Jean, and good for you for listening to your horse!

  5. Good advice indeed and exactly what I did today with Anky. She has quite a few issues and we're only on the basic stuff at walk. Relaxation is difficult for her and we work on it all the time. Sounds like you horse really appreciated your thoughtfulness.

  6. Inspiring! I am learning a lot from what you write.
    I hope to remeber it all when I get Teena back to work. It is very enlightening and inspiring! Thanks


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