Thursday, May 10, 2012

Changing Ourselves to Change the Inside of the Horse

Dawn and I had an excellent session today.  Her softening work at walk and trot is now very good and consistent - which means I'm being more consistent with my following/allowing and also mental softness. We did a fair amount of shortening/lengthening work at trot, using my mental imaging of my own body and legs doing shorter/longer.  Her transitions were also very good.  Then we did a bunch of canter work.  My objective was to help her with her anticipation/anxiety about canter - she tends to get worked up and lose her softness.  We made a lot of progress today in some important ways.

Here's a comment that I left for Story on her post today on her blog All Gear No Skill, where she was talking about how her mare tends to anticipate:
My Red is a big anticipator, too, and he's also a mind reader - if I even start to think about something, he's already on it. And he tends to brace when he anticipates - it causes him anxiety, I expect due to the way he was ridden in the past. I have to be really clear in my thoughts and energy with him - only thinking it if I want it and being sure to think - and direct him to do - something else [instead of what he's anticipating] so there are no mental gaps (in me), if that makes any sense. So getting ahead and leading him with my thoughts and never leaving him to fill [in] with his own ideas of what might be coming next. And I also have to always stay very soft with him, even when he braces - never brace against brace but instead redirect - don't know if that makes any sense either. Because I don't up the ante when he gets anxious or braces or starts to anticipate, he's starting to let go of the behavior. So it's not so much that I'm trying to change his behavior - bracing, anxiety, anticipation - as trying to change the degree to which I'm engaged but still soft with him. In my experience, horses that anticipate tend to be worriers, so helping them let go of the worry will reduce or eliminate the anticipation - making a change on the inside of the horse results in a change in the outside of the horse. Hope that helps.
This is also so true of Dawn - she works herself up because she anticipates, and wants to perform oh so perfectly, and becomes more and more up and braced as we do canter work.  My job is to stay very centered and calm, direct her and not worry about her anxiety but instead reward those moments when she's able to calm herself and respond to the softness I'm able to offer.  So we did a number of canter departures, right and left lead, and then I asked her to soften for a number of steps - on the straightaway for the right lead where she has trouble bending to the inside on turns, and on a large circle for the left lead - followed by a downwards transition - I didn't worry too much if she braced on these transitions at this point - all I do is think the new rhythm and exhale, then trotting until she's able to soften again, then walk on a loose rein as a reward.  The point for her was to end each canter sequence with softness and calm trot.  She was able to do this, and did very well not getting worked up as we repeated our canter sets.  I told her many times what a wonderful mare she was.

And then Pie and I had a very nice short ride - about 10 minutes of forward walk, working on getting softness and engagement, with some halts and backing thrown in - and once he was consistently soft at the walk, some walk/trot work, keeping our trotting sets brief and with big turns - about another 10 minutes.  He did very well, his trot felt good, and there were no bad steps.  There's one more day of his paste Oroquin-10 treatment to go, and then we're on the low-dose decoqinate for another 90 days.

And here, on the same topic of making changes in ourselves to help our horses, are a set of posts from The Horse in the Mirror about a recent clinic experience she had with Peter Campbell (I don't know him personally, but he reminds me a lot of Mark Rashid in what he says and also seems to be very much of the Ray Hunt school of thought) - the posts are very good and get right to the heart of the struggle that's involved when we need to make changes ourselves to help our horses make changes, particularly in circumstances where we've really gotten crossways with our horse - Red and I, and also Dawn and I, have been on this journey as well and a lot of what she said resonated with me - read them - I think you'll benefit:

One Right Way to Work a Horse
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Two
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Three
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Four

When I'm at the Mark Rashid clinic in Cedarburg, Wisconsin in June, when Mark asks me what I want to work on, I'll say I want to work on me - my horses are fine and if anyone needs to make some changes it's me and my horses will be happy to cooperate once I can do that.  (The clinic is at Black Star Farms, and the first clinic runs from Friday night, June 1 (the pre-clinic demo/workshop for riders and auditors), with riding from Saturday, June 2 through Monday June 4, and the second clinic (I'll be riding both Red and Pie in this one) from Tuesday, June 5 through Thursday, June 7 - hope to see some of you there - Pie and Red and I will be there throughout the seven days.)


  1. Shy is an anticipater, too. It seems that she knows what is going to be asked and works herself into anxiety waiting for it, then when it is asked, she bursts into the transition.
    Since her training is unclear, my trainer is re-training her in basic dressage and foundation work and she is getting so much better.
    We also use trot poles to distract Shy and get her mind off of the worrying about what is going to be asked of her. It helps!
    Thanks for the links, I am going to check them out!

  2. Thanks for posting the links over here, Kate. I really enjoyed your post today as well. Shortening/lengthening by imagining your legs . . . I am going to try that tomorrow! I bet that does get the transitions good!

    1. Good Hands - I've found Mark's advice to feel the movements you want to make in your own mind and body and do them together with the horse to be very powerful. It also works wonders for bending and getting deep into the corners and for lateral work - I just imagine my legs stepping over, and voila!

  3. Good post. I bookmarked the 'One Way' posts to read later. I liked you last paragraph about working on yourself at Mark's clinic in June. I'm going to a week long clinic in Tennessee the last week in May with Larry Whitesell, a gaited horse trainer. We have his DVD's and he reminds me of Mark in his approach. I'm going for the same reason - I need to learn to be a better rider. It's too far from New Mexico to Tennessee to trailer my horse so I'm riding one of his. That way he and I can focus on me and not the horse.


  4. Since I added canter into Rosie's work sessions she is anticipating it too. I'm finding I'm doing a lot of redirection,again, just like when I introduced lengthening at the working trot and she would blow through my hands.

    She's not doing that at canter - just getting what I call "strong" but still listening to half halts and my other aids.

    There is not a lot of lightness yet as she's just learning how to handle canter and she's often on the forehand. So I've started incorporating different sized circles as well as cantering from point A to B - transition to either walk or trot to point C - ask for canter again to point D. I'm also not worrying about correct leads - I'm fairly confident that will come when she works out how to balance all of her -and me.

  5. This is a very helpful post! So redirection can include almost anything that is different from what the horse believes is coming next.

    Staying soft through the brace is so difficult. It can be almost reflexive to brace against it. Today I kept your comment in mind and was very conscious of staying soft no matter what! When she'd brace I'd try to guide her into a circle and things like that and by the end we were getting some great walk work. I think it was a positive ride for both of us.

    1. Story - I think that horses that brace when they're anxious are often expected a counter-brace from us - and there can't be a brace if there's not two sides to it. This is one of the reasons I don't use gadgets - bitting rigs, tie-downs, side reins, etc. - because those devices can easily become the other side of a brace and there's no way for them to redirect the horse, as we can, if the horse does brace.

      These things are very hard to communicate in words, and are more a matter of feel and timing. I'm very much a newbie myself at some of these things, but have found this plus offering a mental softening to be very powerful.


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