Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm Still Alive, I Swear!

I've been fairly busy since I got back from camp. First I was just exhausted, and then once I started recovering, I started doing things like spending whole days visiting with friends in Portland.

So that's why I haven't posted.

But it's interesting -- the more I ride, the more I write. The more I write, the more I think about what to write when I'm riding. The more I think, the better I ride.

It's a nice cycle.

When I don't ride very often, I don't post very often because I'm not constantly thinking. I've noticed that as I ride now, I am always questioning: what is the guiding purpose of this ride? What am I trying to work on right now? What am I asking McKinna to do, and how am I asking? How is she reacting? Should I respond to her reaction, and if so, how? What can I do to make this concept clearer and easier for her? Do I need to push harder, or back off?

And so on. It makes for way, way better rides because I'm not just going up-down all around the arena for 40 minutes.

For example, the other night, I had an awesome ride. As I was tacking up, I was contemplating how lazy McKinna had been lately. In a way it's nice, because it makes it easy to work on relaxation and such at the walk and trot; on the other hand, it's really irritating. My first horse was an ex-racer, ladies, I don't like riding a horse that's like a jar of molasses in February. While it can be entertaining to see the feisty little mare look like an ancient lesson pony, it gets old pretty quickly. So I decided to lend a sense of purpose to our ride. I acted like we had somewhere to be.

I did not rush or hurry, but I tacked her up quickly and marched her little self over to the mounting block like there was a deadline to meet. Already she was waking up, her eyes a little brighter. When I got on, I could already feel the difference: she stepped out nice and lively at the walk, swinging through her back, and after a short long-reined walk I started challenging her. Move off my leg here, move back. Circle, serpentine, halt, walk, slow the walk, speed up the walk, turn on the haunches.

And through all of it I was polite but firm. "Excuse me," I was saying, "but we have a job to do and we are going to get it done now." And she listened!

We did a lot of trot work, where I was supportive but insistent that she listen. I didn't give her an option to evade -- my inside leg was pushing her into the bend, my outside leg and outside hand were right there to catch her and keep her from drifting out, my inside rein suggested a bend in the neck. I carried a dressage whip my whole ride, which I don't always do. I wasn't afraid to use it, either, because when my leg goes on, the response needs to be right there.

By the end of the ride she was going beautifully in this forward, relaxed trot, trucking along at a very workmanlike speed, moving very responsively from my leg, and paying very close attention to me. One of her problems is that she likes to change bend before you want to, i.e., she starts bending to the outside. Not a problem that night -- we changed bend when I said so, not before or after.

I think the slight urgency in my ride surprised her a little, and I was actually surprised at how big of a difference that change in demeanor can make. Our whole ride was shaped from the attitude I took at the very beginning.

If that's not incentive to leave your grumpiness at the door, I don't know what is.

Incidentally, leaving emotions at the door is what I talked about at leadership camp -- but I will get into that when I talk about my seminar.


mugwump said...

Leaving emotion at the door is the key to being an effective trainer.
Never turning my horse's behavior into a personal affront is what keeps my thinking clear.
Thinking clearly is what helps me make the best decision for me and my horse.
I like the way you think.

manymisadventures said...

It's a lesson that I'm learning over and over again, as I am more able to separate emotions from riding and as I observe people failing to do so. It's a real eye-opener to see how the horse responds.

I like the way YOU think - because it makes me think!

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