Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Need a Plan

I did a post back in February called "Maisie is Heavy", which I was just rereading as I was thinking about today's post.  As I was working with Maisie a few days ago on her conditioning, we were trotting around the outside of our arena on the grass (the arena was too wet to use), when Maisie started her "I'm really excited!" routine, which involves her wanting to get more and more forward (she really wanted to gallop, not do a medium trot, which is what I wanted to do), and then when I ask her to slow down, slowing down in the front, appearing to soften to the bit but starting to pop up in the back, which can quickly devolve into bucks and leaps.  This of course means that she's not really soft at all since she's not engaged in her hindquarters.  For all of you out there who have trouble getting your horses to go forward, you have my sympathies, but that's not one of our problems - excess forward is our problem as well as hot-headedness (on Maisie's part).

I've been thinking about some things Jean at Horses of Follywoods has talking about, which made me realize that I've been starting up my riding this spring without a plan.  If I don't have a plan, how am I supposed to get anywhere with Maisie, and if I don't know what I want and how I'd like to get there (subject to course corrections, of course), how in the world can I clearly ask her to do it if I don't have a clear idea of what "it" is?  Having a plan before you start riding was one of the first things I learned from Mark Rashid, but I seem to have lost track of that - I just started riding Maisie this spring thinking that we'd do some conditioning, but didn't really have a plan.

For example, this morning when I turned the mares out, I had a plan.  The mares are in one of our far-away pastures, so I've been letting them into an intermediate pasture (less walking for me), and when I bring out my last horses, walking down to the gate of the far pasture and letting them through.  They know what I'm doing, and as I start to walk down to the far gate, they build up steam behind me, and by the time I open the far gate we have the thundering herd that gallops through the gate and up the hill into the far pasture at an alarming speed.  Today, when I went out, as I walked through the pasture, every time the mares started to trot behind me, I stopped.  They stopped and grazed.  Then I kept going.  Repeat.  When I got to the gate, the mares were walking behind me.  I let them settle and opened the gate.  A couple trotted through, most walked, and they started grazing inside the gate instead of galloping into the distance.  Much better.

So I had a plan, and put it into action, and it did what I intended.  With Maisie, my objective is to have her do a consistent medium trot without getting heavy, and to carry herself at this pace with minimal (1 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least and 10 being the most) pressure on her mouth.  (My earlier post talks a bit about the idea that you usually don't want to use a stronger aid than you want to end up with.)  At this point, due to her lack of fitness, I'm not really looking for much softening or engagement at the trot.  I know how to get a consistent speed - every time she thinks about speeding up (better if I catch it before she actually speeds up), we do circles, as small as necessary until she adopts a correct pace, and then go on.  Then repeat as necessary in both directions until she gets the idea.  I can't really do this on the trail or even on the grass - the area to work in isn't large or level enough - I need the arena.  We should be able to drag it sometime in the next day or so.  So I have a plan, which is better than what I was doing (or not doing) before.


  1. I hope to start conditioning our boys very soon too. As soon as our weather improves and our riding area dries out some. I cannot wait!! But, I'm with you on the plan...hadn't really even thought about coming up with a specific outline, but it's a great idea. I'm not a great planner, more spontaneous and unprepared...but, if you come up with a good outline, will you share your info?? I can always use guidance from someone who has a better "big picture" than me.
    Hoping for the best for Maise and Blackjack!

  2. Plans are good. As you know, I currently don't have one.

    However, each time I do get in the saddle, I always have a goal or plan for my ride. It's kind of an ingrained habit. I might, however get sidetracked by a beckoning spring breeze or the far off call of the wild and hack out instead of schooling. *G*

    Riding does need a little creative freedom now and then.

  3. I sometimes feel like my rides are too planned, but its better to have a plan if you want to get anything accomplished. I ride with my trainer several times a week, so there is not much fooling around.

    One good thing about our weather is there is no down time for riding, so unless I have to lay my horse up due to an injury, there is no reconditioning.

  4. Thanks for all the comments!

    Jean - I agree that spontaneous variations from the plan are a good idea - particularly in nice weather!

    C-ing Spots - I try to have an overall plan - say to work towards a movement (like getting to flying changes, or to go to a horse show and compete, or to go on more challenging trail rides) - and then there all the little tiny intermediate steps, over a period of months or even a year or more, that may be needed to get there. And then each day, as Jean says, I try to have a specific idea of what I'm going to be doing before I get on.

    Five O'Clock - I don't ride with a trainer, so I have to provide my own discipline - sometimes easier said than done! I vary my plan as needed - sometimes I can't do what I set out to do and have to work on something else that crops up instead - "ride the horse you have today".


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