Hills and Valleys

Or when giving up and getting off is not the worst idea you have ever had.

When riding horses, those ‘bad rides’ come with the territory. That being said, they are no easier to cope with knowing that they do happen. In a sport where everything is the riders fault there are times when there is nothing a rider has done or can do to fix a problem. Before the training pyramid can even come into play a horse must have obedience. When obedience is lost there can be no hope for a ride to go well, and usually the rider cannot make the recovery on his or her own. If a rider becomes emotional about the ride then problems can only escalate from there. There is no shame in getting off before things go from bad to worse – it is a skill I wish that I was more proficient at, in fact. There is also no shame in admitting ‘defeat’ when problems are beyond the scope of the capabilities of the rider. Late last summer Val and I went through a period where I could not make him do anything. I could beg, plead, cry, scream, and nothing worked. Val got sent to pony boot-camp for a week of training where I was removed from the process so we could each take a step back and better come together in the end. I think it is an important quality of a trainer and a responsible rider who are humble enough to accept that something needs to change. The best trainers don’t want to get on and do it for their students, but recognize when it is time for them to take the reins and aren’t afraid to hop in the saddle and work it out. A student needs time to figure things out on their own, but never need to feel abandoned and stranded, sinking into the ocean blue. There always needs to be someone who can throw that lifeline out when it things start to head south.

A friend this week had one of these traumatic rides on her pony which resulted in tears and not a lot of fun for her. I came up after a work out with Val down in the dressage arena and we swapped ponies so she could walk the boy and cool him out while I tried to figure out what the issue was. She was pretty quick to duck out of the contact but this wasn’t a surprise as most horses don’t understand what I want for the first couple of minutes. Then as I finally got her to relax and drop her head down and stop stiffening and bulging to the inside the little pony began trick #2 – backing out of the forward. Most horses aren’t as quick to respond to aids as the dressage scene likes them to be (Val isn’t even as quick as I would like him to be most of the time! It’s always a work in progress…). Usually backing off of the leg tends to yield some spectacular results. There are the horses who do A) Nothing, they might be the worst because they just shut down and there is not a lot you can do to motivate them – the can be very tricky, B) Hind-end Acrobatics, the buckers/kickers/swishers/hoppers who respond to your leg by throwing their back legs around in avoidance of putting them under the body (Hello Val, nice of you to join us!) and C) Front-end Acrobatics, the rear/crow hop/spin/paw which can be a little more intimidating for a rider to deal with the idea of possibly going up-and-over. Our star pony-mare is a Type-B which is not fun to ride on any size horse because you feel like you might go over their ears whenever you get the urge to really mean an aid. Upon taping her with the whip I was rewarded with a fantastic buck, pretty sure even the Russian judge would have given in a 9.5. My pet peeve is when people carry whips and don’t use them however, so even though the buck was not the desired reaction, at least it was something and I wasn’t afraid to get a little tough with her when she tried to crawl around the arena instead of trot. We ended in an okay place – not where I would have liked too but all horse people know you can’t always get what you want. Another girl from the barn, not the owner, rode the little red-head today with better results, less bucking although it was still present, and better connection even when she pushed her a bit.

So what is the point? Don’t get discouraged when something goes bad! You are the one with the brain, so you have to use it and be smart. Know that horseback riding is a cycle with up’s and down’s, just like all training, and that sometimes you need to abandon all those classical training principle’s and find obedience. Leg means go. Hand means woah. You respect my space and you respect what I am asking you to do. The rest of the fancy-smancy things will come back after you once again establish yourself as Alpha – horses are herd animals and sometimes even that low guy on the totem pole gets it in his head to put up a good fight. Consistency is the only thing that will win this war for you however, and with any program you can overcome a rough patch as long as you stick to it and ask the same questions which require the same answers everyday. Don’t be afraid to go back to the beginning, you will find that once you have a base firmly established anything can be built upon it.

As for the big red-headed boyfriend, he has been schooling in the snaffle for the last two weeks and will have seen the vet twice as of tomorrow (for nothing serious I assure you all!). He has finally settled into a steadier connection once again – a serious issue before the last show – and is showing some serious work ethic these days. The walk pirouettes, I hope, are improving by keeping the steady walk rhythm and an active hind leg and his transitions, within and between the gaits, are seriously improving by quick transitions with quicker aids and coordination on my part. Shoes tomorrow since he lost a front one on Wednesday and is long anyways and a LESSON!!!! on Friday! Show next weekend is going to get here too quickly, of that I am sure!

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