Thursday, March 4, 2010


they're called that for a reason. Really. Its because they work... and they will work for everyone, and they've worked for a long, long time. Now, I understand that "the right way" varies for certain disciplines- in the hunters a front to back change is commonly accepted, in the AQHA circuit, they're all about the "headset" and "see-sawing" and "framing up" are commonly heard there and in other disciplines.

I'll also be the first to admit that sometimes you have to shortcut things. I mean, I don't like to admit it, but there are some things I can think of that I'll use a cheat or a shortcut to accomplish.

A kid thats a bit over-mounted on a horse or a pony, for example. If the horse goes out of its way to make life harder for the kid and there is an easy way to squelch that silly resistance, by all means, as long as it keeps kid and pony safe. I'll do this for novice adult riders as well. I KNOW my clients are not made of money, they can't have lessons every day, they can't keep their horse in full training, they're not as fit as they could ideally be and they don't get to ride enough to work on some things. Why torture everyone involved when the rider only gets to ride once a week or even twice a month? I just make it fun and enjoyable and I'll keep working to make it better when I'm the one riding.

Another time I've "quick-fixed" or "short-cutted" is with a barn full of sale horses I had. They were all various shades of green and needed to find new homes fast. I omitted some of the basics to give them a wider base of knowledge to make them more sale-able. Okay, so maybe you don't pick up your leads 100% of the time, BUT you can now jump around XC and have been to a horse show or two. With full disclosure during the sale, there was no problem. Horses found good homes and are continuing their education as needed for their new jobs.

So, all that said, I'm not about to preach that dressage is the only way. Its not. You have to do whatever makes you happy in your world, but the more I learn about dressage, the more I love it- its like the pieces of a life-long puzzle are just falling into place. I have little "duh" moments every once in a while that really remind me about the pieces.

Shasta is the one who keeps making me knock myself upside the head with the dressage pyramid. She is broke. I'm not REALLY teaching her anything she doesn't know, I'm just conforming her to "my" way of doing things. She is also a mare and thinks "my" way is a little bit silly. It requires her to do more work than she's used to.
Shasta is so social- she always comes over to say hi when I ride by her gate!

So, I spent my first couple rides with her trying to teach her to bend and be supple and got nowhere. Hm. So, I backed up and stopped to think... what was I missing?

Yep. I had no rhythm. You don't think of the walk as having rhythm, really, but if they're just trudging along, there is no "oomph" and you have nothing to work with. So, I had to get the walk to be "marching" and in front of my leg. If you don't know what "in front of your leg" is, you'll know when you feel it. The hard part is keeping it there!
So, I spent the next couple days making sure we had a good rhythm at the walk and the trot. The trot was harder... she didn't want to maintain anything- it was lurching and ugly. NOW, though... it is lovely. She will trot around and have a steady rhythm all day long. She will do it without hanging on my hands, too! So, once we got that down, I added some leg and made sure I could move her shoulders a little and then began to add the next step of suppleing- making sure she can swing her neck from side to side. I thought she was a lost cause for awhile, because she would do anything she could EXCEPT soften. But I kept asking gently and now she'll do it! Another victory!

I had another frustration the other day because while I can get her to soften from side to side, she has yet to show any sign of being round and dropping her head. I got a little over-enthusiastic and tried to force it... did I mention she is a mare? She steadfastly stuck her nose out in the air and I saw her cute little snip get closer and closer to my face until I finally went "LAUREN! NOT WORKING! Wait it out!" So, I went back to our nice rhythmic trot and "supple-soften-supple-softened" until I wanted to stab my own eyes out, but toward the end of the ride she really responded and all the tension left her neck and she started to reach down when I gave her my inside hand. She held a lovely trot circle on the outside rein both directions and we quit. 

The other nice thing about her is that shes pretty good about picking up where we left off. So today, we worked nicely in a soft, low shape for awhile and I was very happy. When Shasta came to me, she only had a right lead. Well, I've been able to trick her into the left lead a couple times, but with no consistency to speak of. Not today, oh no, not today. Since I had a REAL inside bend and she was very light off my leg... I was able to yield her over, keep her connected on my outside rein to keep her from bulging her shoulder and VOILA! Three left lead canter transitions in a row. 

Basics. They're wonderful. 

Another two "moments" I had today involved Brandy, my lovely perchie cross with the pendulous head and Vanna, my newest charge.

Lets talk about Vanna. She is cute. She is white. She is friendly. She is STUBBORN. I rode her for the first time today, shes been a problem child for her mother, so she's in Lauren Boot Camp. 

I mentioned chunky, right?
Guess what her first lesson was today? Yep, the very first iota of rhythm- forward. If you're not going forward, you can't get anything accomplished. I had spurs on for the rest of the list today and didn't pull them off for her- thank goodness! Her first time being ridden in about a year and I NEEDED them. Next time I'll have a dressage whip. :)

She is cute, though, isn't she? Like a big Thelwell pony.

And then theres Brandy. Brandy is not one to give you anything easily. Over a year later and I'm still struggling with a steady connection. Every once in awhile I realize that everything I'm trying is totally useless if I can't move her off my leg. I insist that she is quick to respond to my leg and- can you guess? She is fine. Of course. So, I have to be more consistent with her... it makes such a difference and she is so willing to do when you ask the right way, I need to just make it easy for her AND me!
Brandy expressing herself after a hard workout...
I mentioned a post from Three Days Three Ways the other day. There is an interview with Holly Hudspeth in which she states this:
Q. What’s your philosophy on teaching? Riding?
A. The biggest thing is not skipping any steps. If there’s a hole somewhere you got to go back and fill it in. If you skip a step you will get caught out at some point. You have to be as well rounded as possible. If there’s a hole you’ve got to go back and fill it in. You gotta have your big picture.

Simply. Brilliant.

Eventing in inherently dangerous. Just this past weekend at Pine Top, my friend Stacy witness two rotational falls at the fence she was jump judging. She wrote a fabulous blog about her experience and what it meant to her, what she would take away from it and how to "let the fear make you smarter." On Tuesday, Stacy met Amy, Megan, myself and a couple others out for dinner, and naturally, we discussed the whole thing. Megan followed up with another awesome post.

Sure, at the tadpole (2'), beginner novice (2'7"), or even novice (2'11") and training (3'3) level, rotational falls are rare and I would venture to say, hard to accomplish because of the height of the fence... but it is STILL dangerous. I've said about a million times this year and I'll say it again "Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do something." Its not about being physically capable and making it "over a fence" or "around an XC" course. It's about doing it SAFELY and successfully. Luckily, at events, a rider can be pulled for riding dangerously around course or in warmup. What some people lose site of is "how" they made it around- not JUST that they made it around. Sure, the score board doesn't count near-misses and hanging legs and awful spots, but maybe it should.

At my first event with Brandy, I was whining to Amy (shocking, I know). Something to the tune of "I don't want to look like I'm floundering around on a horse thats not ready." She assured me that Brandy WAS ready and then told me that the best thing I could (I think she added "as someone who brings along youngsters") do was simply give her the best opportunity that I could to do her job. Another friend of mine, Juni, followed up with something to the effect of "you never know what those greenies are going to do, but if you can stay in the backseat and just support their efforts, they'll usually get themselves out of it!"

So, that is what I keep in mind as I ride now- on any of my horses- it is my responsibility to get them there safely. I'm not just talking about getting to a fence, mind you, I'm talking about the training that goes into getting them anywhere- their first trail ride, a set of ground poles, a big oxer... whatever it is I'm asking them to do- I just need to prepare them the best I can and then let them do their job. And it is MY responsibility to them to not skip any steps so I can jump higher or do more, because a skipped step may result in a refusal or a loss in confidence, an injury to me... or the worst thing- an avoidable injury to my mount... and that is NOT a risk I'm willing to take!

1 comment:

  1. I'ts so easy to want to skip the basics to get a certain "result" (ie: jamming them into a frame). But isn't the feeling of doing things right and then FINALLY, after lots of rides, getting the real result because everything has finally come together SO GOOD?!

    I have to remember this with Mia. I spent ALL of my ride yesterday on the first step and it was SO worth it. Part of that was waiting for her to stop BUCKING so that we could actually trot :)