Inconsistency in my riding schedule has paved the way for me to let all of my old bad habits creep back in. I had a make-up lesson over the weekend which was the first time I’d ridden in two and a half weeks. For the most part, I was pleased with my ability to retain some of the finer points we’d been working on before the end of the year. There was, however, one glaring exception: I’m still a giant pushover.
The worst part about this particular flaw when it comes to riding, is that it masquerades as a positive quality. I give myself a pass knowing that I’m never going to be the one people are worried about being rough with their horses or hauling on a horse’s mouth. Nope. My flaws damage in a different way. I will let your horse get away with way too much shit. I am a poor match with clever, opinionated horses. I think I’m being nice, instead I am untraining them. I am working on it. (But apparently need reminders to work on it)
During my lesson we did an exercise working on getting some true bend to complete 10m circles- easy enough, right? We were doing okay, Lou was putting in some effort and I had a handle on most of his evasions. Then he started bracing a little and bending his neck in without bending the rest of his body. I recognized the problem and started trying to put him back in a more correct left bend. Two laps later, he finally gave a little and stood up straight enough to make the turn. “Well, he finally got there- you basically let him decide to offer that bend, but it took two laps- that’s not good enough. It’s not like you are asking him to try something difficult or new.” She was right, of course. The second I raised the expectations, asked first, then insisted, he was all johnny-on-the-spot. She also reminded me that while he is totally capable of easily honoring my request, he isn’t prepared to stay that way without reminders. I can give when he gives but then I need to re-ask before he loses it completely.
In summary: basically this post from this summer. How soon we forget… hilarious because he was pulling the same crap on me this weekend as he was in that lesson.
- Her aids are much more decisive than mine. Sometimes my aids have question marks attached to the end… sponging the right rein? Like I’m still not sure it is going to have the desired response so I pose it to Louie as a question. Obviously I am not going to have all the right answers now and I will make mistakes but I realized that I need to be more decisive with my aids if I am going to improve. Maybe it will even help eliminate some of those times when things go well but I have no idea what made the difference.
- Her aids are sharper and it makes him sharper. Don’t misread this- I realize “sharp” tends to carry a certain connotation. I don’t mean to say that she is overly forceful. I just realized that there is a difference between how she communicates with him and how I do, and she helps him be more sensitive and sometimes the way I communicate with him makes him dull. It is a little bit of an art to use as much (leg, rein, pressure) as needed and to apply it in the correct manner. You can tighten your calf muscle, you can brush the horse’s side with your leg, you can squeeze, you can tap, you can pony kick- and these all can create a different response. My lessons help me decide which combinations are the most effective. But I still find myself squeezing where there should have been a tap and pulling and leaning where it would have been much more effective and maybe even kinder to have used more initial force and then immediately release. I think I’m being nice and instead I am just muddying the message and giving him an out.
- She repeats things often. She corrects and asks quickly and then releases the second he complies. If the quality changes or he even considers changing it, she repeats the same steps. It was very obviously more effective this way than asking sooooo quietly and timidly for an extended length of time and then finally getting some semblance of the correct response and then holding your breath and hoping it doesn’t change and then not realizing it changed until it’s too late and you have to start all over from the beginning… I mean, I have no idea who would ride this way but they should really cut it out ;-). So, if you repeat the question early and often, eventually, you may only have to repeat half the question or you may not even have to repeat it. No one ever really explained that it might require repeating every few steps- and that’s actually just fine.
- That sweet release. This is straight up muscle memory for her. Releasing the pressure is like not an active thought for her but a trained, automatic response. I am getting better and better with this but it still isn’t automatic. It probably has more to do with how I ask in the first place- if my aids start to get long, drawn-out, too wishy-washy, and naggy, then it’s really hard to feel that moment where a release is needed. If I can make the whole process quicker and every “ask” comes with a “release” then I think it will become easier to sort out the timing of the release and, of course, not forget about the release.
- It’s not personal. He is not getting crooked, or swapping the bend just on you- he does that with her too (or tries to). So, it’s not necessarily because you are doing something wrong- could be, but not necessarily. She doesn’t make an issue out of it, she just fixes it or doesn’t allow it.
It was a good reminder and I am going to put these BACK to good use in my upcoming rides. What is the most glaring thing you forget after a long break from riding?