Thursday, July 5, 2012


I've been working a lot on engagement lately.  I had wanted to take Spider to a show on July 1st, and wanted to get everything squared away before then.  So, I spent a week drilling the simple changes, flying changes and lateral work.  In my zeal to get Spider where I wanted him, I made the most common error a rider makes in the saddle:  I pushed too hard, too fast.  Luckily, Spider is not a horse who simply tolerates such shenanigans from a rider.  "Oh", he said, "You want engagement?  Well, here's my levade!".

It started on the weekend prior to the show.  The first day it was just a bit of popping up in the front, which I wasn't concerned about.  It's not all that uncommon, you just have to fix it and move on.  I laughed it off, we pushed through it and did some really good work.  The next day the popping up became outright rearing.  I became frustrated, and the ride degenerated into a fight.

Now, I know that fighting with a horse is never a good solution.  The horse outweighs me 10 to 1, there's no way I can win.  But, when you're frustrated and pissed off, common sense frequently flies out the window.  I eventually came to my senses, kicked him into a very forward working trot for a few minutes, then got off and cried.

I knew exactly what I had done wrong.  I had been working too much on the changes and collected work and not enough on stretching and lengthening.  I had also likely pushed Spider beyond what his developing muscles could handle as far as collected work went.  And, I lost my temper (probably the biggest mistake of all).

But, a thing like rearing can't just be ignored and brushed off as an "oops", so I had to continue working him.  I just needed a new game plan.  First, I cancelled my plans to go to the show (ended up scribing for it instead).  The next day I rode him like a 3 year old: long, low and very forward.  The most complicated thing we worked on was changing direction.  The day after that we jumped and then took a hack, because he enjoys that and thinks of it as a "break".  Plus, jumping helps with hind end strength issues.  I gave him the next day off, then we returned to the double bridle, but we only worked on mediums.  No changes, no lateral work... just lengthening the frame and then bringing it back.  He seemed happy and content with that.  No rearing.  Then the storm hit, and he had several days off while we scrambled to get the well up and running in 90+ degree weather.

He's been back in work since Tuesday, with no issues.  But, we've made some changes.  First, we're stretching a lot more.  Two of the last three rides were spent just stretching.  Second, we're (me) remembering to have fun.

Spider still thinks dressage is #1!


  1. The bright side is that you knew what was happening and how to remedy the situation. Horses are so forgiving.

    I learned an exercise at a clinic once that was very helpful in getting the horse connected to his back end in transitions. I went home and practiced it like crazy. By the time we got to canter, Harley had had enough. He basically did a small rear into the canter complete with an irritated head-toss. Like you said, I knew that I had to keep riding, but by this time I had seriously pissed off my horse. It took some time for him to believe that I had come to my senses. That exercise has since gone bye-bye.

    1. Horses are forgiving. I find that aspect of their personalities so amazing, because they don't have to be. They could over-power us with almost no effort, but they don't. Of course, that immediate forgiveness just makes me feel worse when I screw up!

      And thanks for sharing your screw-up! I think it's so important for us, as riders, to talk about these things. I have always believed that you learn the best lessons from mucking things up royally, but so many riders are afraid to admit their mistakes. We all make mistakes, and we can really learn a lot from each others' mistakes. Plus, you've got to own the mistake before you can ever hope to fix it!

    2. Important for teachers, too. I share my mistakes with my riding students and my classroom students. The students usually get a good laugh out of their teacher's stupidity. Hopefully, they also remember the story!

  2. Thanks for this very honest post. I know I saw myself in your ride, and your reactions. It's so hard to be consistent and kind and build those blocks and have fun sometimes. It sounds like you figured it out pronto and have a good plan in place. I think Spider approves.

    1. Thank you, Annette. I believe in total honesty when it comes to riding and training. Like I said in my reply to Val, we all make mistakes! But so many riders and trainers refuse to admit their mistakes! I like to call them the "sancti-mommies". I learned that term from a parenting website, but it applies to horse people, too. It describes a person who claims that they have never made a mistake or a bad decision, who has never gotten carried away in a moment and lost their temper. A "sancti-mommy" is a person who is vastly superior to you, because they are lying through their teeth!

      We all lose our temper, get frustrated and do dumb stuff, whether we admit it or not. That's normal. Being a good rider means that you own your short-comings and you do your best to fix them.

      I just wish more riders would talk about these things, and not pretend they don't exist!

  3. Wanting to drill thing has got to be one of the biggest pitfalls in riding - I can totally relate! I once spent way too much time practicing head to the wall leg-yield, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches...and Barley promptly told me he had enough. I spent the next few rides undoing all of the tension I had created in him just from that one ride. Now my goal everyday is for marginal improvement in everything - so we practice our lateral movements, but also transitions, stretchy trot, free walk, and just basics like maintaining tempo. He's much happier!

    The best advice I ever got on this was from a clinician, who told me to imagine my horse was a battery. "Lateral work builds up potential energy, but if you do too much of it, the battery will overfill with energy and your horse will be fried mentally. Let him work forward just as much as you guys work on lateral movements!"

    I love the picture with the "Dressage is #1!" I need to find one of those...

    1. Thanks for sharing your screw-up! Like I said, it's so important for us riders to share these things, not only so that we can all learn from each other's mistakes, but also so we don't feel like such idiots when they happen!

      I love the lateral work/battery analogy! It appeals to my geeky side, and is just a great analogy in general!

      I pestered a friend of mine who went to Gladstone to get me my foam finger, but I've heard that the USDF will be offering them for sale soon, as well as SmartPak.

  4. Ditto what Annette said. It's refreshing to hear that others also get to their breaking point... riders and even very nice horses.

    You got to know when to hold 'em,
    know when to fold 'em...


    1. Oh, Kenny Rogers! You are so wise! That made me smile, I will definitely be singing it next time I ride!

      I've been in this business long enough, and rubbed shoulders with some of those so-called "Big Names" enough, to know that every single one of us gets frustrated and angry. And every single horse has an "ugly" stage. It doesn't matter if you're an Olympian, or just a rank beginner. A good rider, no matter their level, admits their mistakes and tries to fix them.

  5. Oh dear, been there, done that, including the getting off and just crying. I can be so hard to figure out just when to push on through or how long to drill an exercise or whether it's ever worth a fight.

    Interestingly enough, I had a trainer kind of "warn me" about Thoroughbreds. They are smart, learn fast and build muscle quickly, so "never drill." Ten minutes at a time is quite enough. I've learned the truth of that a bit late on in my TB "career" with Tucker. My other guys were generally generous enough not to offer a fight, but he's cut from a different mold. Push him too far and I'm in for it.

    Sounds as if you found a good remedy for Spider's rearing. It is indeed a behavior you need to deal with at once as it's probably the most dangerous evasion. But riding him forward and focusing on "round" is the best way to get rid of the tendency. Well done.

    And don't beat yourself up about it all. Riding is an ever evolving process. You can learn something new every day.

    1. My trainer says the exact same thing about Thoroughbreds! He told me, after I told him about the rearing, that I now have to work on convincing my horse that I am smarter than he is. A tall order, since I'm pretty sure Spider is much smarter than me!

      You are so right that riding is an evolving process. No matter how long you have been riding, every time you sit in the saddle you become a student.

      I'm still on target for the Horse Park this fall, though. I'll see you there!

  6. This IS a common pitfall. I think every rider falls into it at times (drilling one thing and leaving out others). I know I've certainly done it - getting ready for a show and drilling an area I felt was weak until I created problems in other areas. I've also become frustrated and lost my patience when riding, more times than I'd like to admit. Either of these topics could probably fill many posts for many bloggers!
    You're so quick to figure out what's going on and how to fix it. Great insights to share. Thanks.

  7. My TB mare that I've been riding for 10 years is still teaching me every day. She started her little rearing thing started when we moved up to 2nd level. She does it now when I come at her to hard, to fast, from to many ways. I thank her so much for doing this, because she is teaching me to be lighter with my aids. Well, now who is riding who???

    Since 98% of the horses I ride are Thoroughbreds, I have just learned that all I need to get somewhere is a 25-30 minute ride. What does 1 hour accomplish? Bad, bad things!


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