Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Work Ethic

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have a work ethic - whether you're a horse or a human. What my daughter and I have been doing with Maisie has made me think about these things.

Maisie's already making progress. Yesterday my daughter rode her and things were already improved. Maisie had had some turnout in the morning, but my daughter didn't let her run in the indoor before riding, she just got on. By the end of their work, Maisie was able to trot using half the arena and maintain a proper pace without rushing or falling in, in both directions. The day before, she'd only been able to manage a circle at one end of the ring. And my daughter said she was listening and responding to what was asked.

My ride in the afternoon was good as well. We only walked - I can't do more than that and still need help picking feet and tacking up - and ended up going to the outdoor arena since the indoor was being watered. Maisie hadn't been out there before, and it was windy and a bit chilly, so this was very exciting. There was a horse being lunged in the small arena and some folks driving around in golf carts across the street on the golf course - lots to look at. She was nervous and somewhat distracted. My objective for our session was to get some nice forward walk (not a problem) and then start to work on her softening.

We started doing small circles and figure eights at one end of the ring. We started with 3 steps of softening - it took a while to get even that correctly: I'm not looking for head position only - it's easy to fall into the sin of "riding the head" - but for relaxation of the jaw, poll, and whole top line to the tail and engagement of the core - followed by a release, and then repeated, and so on. We also worked on not falling in around the corners. By the end of our 15 minutes of work (that's all I was able to do), we were up to 7 steps of softening in a row, and were able to make a bigger circle in each direction using the end of the ring. We also made some expeditions up and down one of the long sides. The longer we worked, the more focused and engaged she became - she was still noticing things around her and got distracted, but would come back and reengage with what we were doing. My daughter came out to watch for a bit, and said that she was going to be a great riding horse again. We're both very pleased with her progress after only a few days.

I think for me work ethic describes how I want both the horse and myself to approach what we are doing - and I think it takes both of us, not just the horse, to achieve this. I think I have to engage in the work as much as the horse does. It certainly isn't just a matter of working, or exercising the horse, it's a matter of having a specific plan with thought-out steps and working together with the horse to achieve that. I have to provide direction, but the horse has to step up and engage with me, even if only to tell me that they don't understand or are having trouble concentrating. I often find if I can start with a task the horse can accomplish - like Maisie doing small circles at one end of the ring - and can get a conversation going while working on that, that the horse becomes more and more engaged and both my and the horse's concentration on the work increases. If it's going the way it should, there's a continuous conversation - ask/response - with both parties asking and responding so that a common goal can be achieved. There's nothing that feels better - exercise or just riding around is fun too but this has a completely different feeling - it's like having an intense conversation with a good friend.

I think this approach develops a work ethic in both horse and human. The objective is to have both parties really working when they're working, together. Knowing how much to ask for and when to stop is part of this too, and can be difficult. I also think there can't be a rigid program - each horse is different. I also think when we're working we need to be working - it requires concentration and effort - this means that I don't stop and chat with friends, and I don't answer my phone, and once the halter is on, my horse is working - no snatching grass. I need to make sure I accomplish something specific (sometimes less or more than I set out to do) - I can't leave the horse hanging, and bring my full attention to everything the horse says in asking or responding. I need to take whatever time it takes - horses don't wear watches - and take things as slowly as needed - impatience or being in a hurry doesn't work. I'm hoping as we work more consistently with Maisie, that very soon when she comes out of the stall we will be able to buckle down together and go to work very quickly - so far the signs are encouraging.


  1. Sometimes I swear my horses thinks she is wearing a watch! She seems to think it's time to get out of the ring and back with her buddies!

  2. Wow. I think that in 15 mins you accomplished a whole lot.
    Looks like I should go back and read older posts to find out why you're not able to ride for very long. I hope you weren't injured?

    I apologize for not stopping by for so long. I've been a little overwhelmed with schedules and activities around here. I've missed reading your blog, though.


  3. Progress is progress no matter how small one might think it is. This is something that I have to remind myself of as well.

    I hope your back continues to heal quickly, I'm sure being back in the saddle helps.

    Have a great day tomorrow!

  4. Lisa - I hurt my back (housecleaning!) about a week ago - I have a long history of back trouble - icing, Ibuprofen and stretching/massage are improving things slowly.

  5. Good work. You can accomplish a lot in ten or fifteen minutes of riding, provided you are focused on work the whole time.

    Every now and then I do ride without engaging my brain, but most of the time when I am in the saddle, I ride with a purpose. It moves the training along really well that way.


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