Friday, May 11, 2012

A Way Of Thinking

As I warmed up for my last lesson, I realized that I had a tense horse.

It had stormed that morning, and the weather had cooled off.  I was left with a horse that was spooky and reactive.  But, I had a lesson, so I needed to work through it to get my horse warmed up and ready.

When my trainer arrived, I was not even in the arena.  I was just outside of it, confronting this:

Little known fact:  White plastic jugs are a natural predator of equines.  Particularly Thoroughbreds.

He waited patiently while I made Spider stand right next to the Scary Thing until he relaxed, then I went back to the arena and we started the lesson.

The theme of the day was "roundness".  Spider needs more of it.  Especially when he's feeling tense and spooky.  He needs to work over his back more.  He needs to stay round and soft through all the transitions (even the hard ones!).  I need to stay soft through the transitions, too.

Eventually we graduated from simple transitions to actual exercises.  And Spider decided to balk at a puddle in arena.  Now, puddles are not something that Spider has a problem with:

Spider not having a problem with puddles.

Incensed, I called a time out and made him stand in the puddle.  If he can stand in a puddle in his pasture, he can stand in the damned puddle in my arena.

"Please excuse us for a moment", I said to my trainer, "We just need to work through this."

"This is good", said my trainer.  "I like that you make him confront the things that he doesn't like, rather than letting him avoid them.  It is the same with the roundness."

It took a few moments for that to sink into my brain.  When it did, I laughed and replied: "But, it's so much easier to make him stand in this puddle than it is to make him stay round!"

But, is it really?  If I can make him confront the Scary Thing, and get him to stand in The Bottomless Arena Puddle, why can't I get him to stay consistently round?  They are all matters of training.  I have trained Spider to my aids, I have acquired his trust enough to make him do far more difficult and scary things than merely staying round.

It boils down to a way of thinking, really.  I need to think about Spider's frame and activity level in the same way I think about scary things and puddles.  He must do as I ask, even if it is scary or hard or he doesn't want to.

After Spider had to stand in the puddle, he didn't give me any more problems about it.  I suspect there was a glare on the surface of the water and he didn't realize that it was just a puddle.  A horse's eyesight is not as acute as ours, they aren't always able to see objects as clearly as we do.  When I made him stand in it, he figured out what it was.

It is the same idea with roundness.  Once I make him do it, he understands that it is a more comfortable way of going.  It's just a matter of getting over that initial resistance and showing him that it's not so scary or difficult.


  1. Very interesting thoughts.

    I think that could be a very effective way of approaching riding.

    1. Thanks!

      It's working well for me so far. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure it out!

  2. Excellent concept. I like your grit.

    1. Grit in the saddle keeps me from meeting the grit on the ground. ;)

  3. I like this idea.

    And another thought on tension (or rather, half a novel):

    I need to figure out how to link directly to a post. But since it's my only post so far....

    On roundness - in my lessons with Jeremy Steinberg he would tell me "take this opportunity to shorten your reins" because as we bent and did lateral he would round just a bit - and in that bit, I could take the chance he was giving me to shorten the reins, and he'd become rounder. Eventually, my reins were as short as needed, and he was round with haunches under him - and my hands were helping support him. Previous attempts to shorten my reins (which I knew for sure I could do - I saw my trainer on him with shorter reins, and he stayed soft and happy and rounder through his whole body!) instead felt like a tug-of-war. It was interesting help to solve a lack of roundness issue!

    1. If I had a dollar for every time my trainer told me to shorten my reins, I could buy an FEI horse! Very good point, the training scale is very interconnected. It should really be a "training circle", or perhaps a "training spiderweb". LOL. The contact, suppleness, relaxation and impulsiveness are all connected together.

      Thanks for the link!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, your trainer sounds like a card! I love those moments of finding those "if it were a snake" truths that were already there. :)

    1. My poor trainer has to have a sense of humor to put up with me!

  5. Ah, yes the incredible epiphany of the puddle.

    It does make a lot of sense, and I honestly never did quite think of it that way. Certainly, I've always trained my horses to do what I want, mostly when I want them to, but I never did equate it with the puddle.

    What images will flow in my brain when I ride from now on! *G*

    1. I am always amazed at how the most mundane activities bring about my biggest epiphanies!

  6. I love the photo of Spider not having problem with puddle. HAHAHA ^-^ Typical.
    Well though and written post.
    Shorter reins also mean to following hands. When I finally got it, my reins stayed short instead of lengthening. I feel like my elbows belonged their hind legs.

    1. I think riding with correct contact is my biggest problem to overcome as a rider. I'm always too loose. Luckily, Spider is very sensitive to the contact. He lets me know if I'm not following with my hand correctly! He's such a delicate little flower.


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