As I look back on the hundreds of blog posts I have written, one recurring theme is the need to be clear and definite in the way you communicate with your horse . . . not to be passive, to be the Alpha, not just to ask but to be sure your horse understands, responds, and is rewarded.
I said to a student, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but if I had to describe you as a rider to someone, I would say that you are incredibly naïve,” A polite-ish away to intentionally rock her world a bit. This was a woman who had all the best intentions and had read all the right books, and thought she was doing all the right things. “I was being really strong!” she’d say as her horse trickled to walk about 20 m after she had begun to ask her.
Sitting with Major Lindgren at the Aachen show in Germany one day he jocularly observed that international judges only needed to know four words – “more,” “less,” “faster,” and “slower” to accomplish their task.
Lesley Stevenson of myvirtualeventingcoach.com posted this analogy on her Facebook page: “The inside rein is like the directional in your car. You use it to indicate the direction that you plan to go, but not to actually turn your car.”
I vacillate between being monstrously irked by certain Facebook posts or dismissing them as totally irrelevant to my riding life. But they’ve bothered me long enough that the alternate reality which they present deserves to be examined and accounted for. Let’s leave out names. I don’t mean to get in a p***ing contest with self-proclaimed experts or inexpert zealots, but try these quotes on for size:
All problems are fundamental problems. I think Erik Herbermann said that. Or maybe it was Philip Roth. In any event as I look back on all these months while the blog has been on vacation, I recognize that, Washington aside, not much has changed. In the dressage world. It still comes down to “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”
Pretty much in all of life how you are permitted to behave—what you can get away with—depends on how people perceive you going in. I once heard that the difference between a hotdog and a schmuck is that initially they each behave the same way, but the hotdog can pull it off successfully while the schmuck cannot.
The question at hand is how do you behave when you’re invited to ride someone else’s horse? For the moment let’s exclude two scenarios: the instructor climbing on her student’s familiar horse after watching her fumble around in a lesson and how you might ride if you’re trying out a horse for purchase. That’s all for a later blog.
This might be a “preaching to the choir” situation. A lot of riders will instinctively do what I’m suggesting, and many who will not, won’t change their behavior even if I hit them over the head with a shovel. But in the hopes that this might strike a chord with some of you, let me proceed.
If you get on a friend’s horse, I’m not counseling that you be passive or wimpy. But I am exactly suggesting that simple politesse requires that first you meet the horse on terms which he is used to. You may sense he’s slower to the leg than you want him to be, but insulting the horse (and the owner) with bolt-from-the-blue violence isn’t a very good solution. Getting on a new horse is an exploration. Figuring out not only how he reacts but WHY opens pathways of communication. Incremental and experimental aids spiced with immediate rewards will help you determine how this horse thinks. “Too Much Too Soon” is apt to either shut him down or make him anxious enough to lose his confidence in you. It’s OK to hotdog, but it better work and of course his owner better still be your friend when you get off!
Peanut butter? No, in this case PB stands for personal best. Once again I want to revisit the notion of why we go showing and what we get out of it. For a certain group dressage IS showing, and showing means trying to win. For the moment we’ll set aside the pathologies that develop when this segment of one’s character is taken to an extreme. Other people show as much for the camaraderie they share with their barnmates on a weekend of play and an escape from “real life.”