Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mixed Messages, and the "Go There" Game

Red's bracing on the first walk/trot transition is telling me that I'm sending him mixed messages - "trot now" and "I'm expecting you to balk".  His bracing/fussing is him saying "make up your mind, woman! - how am I supposed to do it when I don't know what you want!"  And I'm introducing physical bracing by pushing him with my legs/seat and the going to a secondary aid (tap with dressage whip) when that doesn't work.  Those are all braces on my part, and he's entitled to expect more from me - it's perfectly fair for him to react as he does.

So we're changing how we do things.  I'm working on getting out of my mind - into my energy and feel - Red demands this and expects it from me.  He's a great teacher/taskmaster for this stage of my horsemanship journey.

So we've been using what I call the "go there" game.  Once we warm up at the walk, our job is to "go there" - wherever I decide "there" is - with as much energy as we can muster - fast walk, trot or canter, it doesn't matter.  We go to the various arena doors, we go to objects - barrels/jump standards/other things.  We go to marks on the wall.  My job is to lock on to an objective with my eyes and pull us there, together, with energy.  No leg aids, no seat aids, no secondary cues, no thinking rhythm, no anything.  Just my eyes/focus and intent/energy.

Know where you're going and go there, together.  There are a bunch of things in there - let's unpack them.

Focus only on what you do want, not on what you don't want.  A mental brace is an example of focussing on what you don't want, and this pulls your horse's attention to that instead of what you do want.  By the way, this isn't about the power of positive thinking.  If you haven't prepared your horse for what you do what, you won't get it just by thinking that you will.  If your horse hasn't learned to stand still for mounting, because you haven't consistently, with softness, asked for it and rewarded it, thinking it won't make it so.

Focus on where you're going, not on the horse.  Up and out, that's my mantra - it opens my posture and allows the horse to move.  If I focus down, on the horse, it drives the energy down instead of up and out.  If I resort to mechanical aids/secondary aids, that introduces braces.

The horse and you go there together, with the energy and feel you bring and which the horse joins you in.  How do horses go from walk to trot in the field?  They just do it, they don't think about it, they intend it (go there, and the gait follows) and it happens.  Everything I've learned so far about asking the horse to do something has been an improvement - from mechanical aids, to softer mechanical aids, to just thinking the new rhythm and feeling it in me.  But there's still just the slightest bit of separation between me and the horse.  All of my horses have brought me this far, together with the very fine instruction and supervision I've had from Mark and Heather.

I think what Red's inviting me to do now is to take that next step. To go out of my mind and use pure feel and intention, no words or "labeled" thoughts, to take the horse and me, together, as one mind and body, where we want to go - this is how I rode as a kid.  He doesn't like the feeling of my slight separation bumping up against his mind and body, and is telling me so - he says I can do better than that.

We've been playing around with it together, and although it's not always perfect, it's already better.  Other than keeping his head pointed towards where we're going, I ignore any fussing and just ask for "there, with as much energy as we can get".  And he goes, sometimes at a fast walk, sometimes at trot and sometimes at canter.  We're working on refining it - he's already happier.

At the end of our session today, we did some dynamite canter work - figure eights with simple changes in the middle - he does a great counter-canter already and I think flying changes will arrive soon . . .  His canter just gets better and better - very uphill and elevated which gives us a lot to work with.

This journey of discovery, together with my horses, is very exciting.  What they have to teach me is so profound, and so wonderful, that it takes my breath away.

Let go of expectations, just go together.  Just let it happen, don't try to make it happen.  It's not something you do to the horse, it's something you do together with the horse.


  1. It sounds like you and Red had a great session. I like how you think about what you and your horse need and then find a way to achieve your goal.

  2. Excellent post. Thanks! Up and out- I will start using that, because you are so right- I tend to focus downward on my horse when there is an issue: with Clancy that tends to get her bound up instead of free flowing, if you know what I mean. I am going to use this go there exercise. It is pretty much what my old mentor taught us when starting colts- just pick a place and have them go there, don't worry about the speed; I had forgotten of course.

  3. LOVE this post and your insights on this. I have been experiencing similar things with my horses and with one in particular, Rosie. Just wrote a post about it the other day too.

    I don't comment much but want to let you know I really enjoy your blog :)


Thank you for commenting - we appreciate it. No spam or marketing comments will be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.