(“You might wonder if this dang horse will ever get it!”)
Each year at the national instructors’ seminar circa 1980s Colonel Aage Sommer would conclude a lecture with a Scandinavian rhyme called the Three T’s:
Mind these three: T – T – T. Hear their chime: Things take time.
Many people learning Dressage don’t at first realize the magnitude of the task they are committing to, to wit: to develop your own physical coordination, to learn the horse’s language, to state your case persuasively – this stuff takes a long time to figure out! Oh, and then there’s the part about your horse as an individual and discovering what works best with his personality.
There is a counterpoint to this. In my book I reminded people that in some ways putting your horse on the bit is like solving a Rubik’s cube – too many people in their riding sessions do the equivalent of wandering around the house for the first 45 minutes looking for where they left the cube (as opposed to just picking it up in their hand and trying to solve it!)
As you might guess, there’s a middle ground. The problem, especially if you’re working on your own, is where to draw the lines – which things do you just go ahead and “make happen” and which things are supposed to take (what seems like) forever? Allow me to offer some words of reassurance. Having observed them for more than 50 years, I am still fascinated by how horses learn. Progress is rarely linear!
Let’s take flying changes for instance — not hunter or western “swaps” but real dressage changes. Even with riders who have done a zillion changes and put them on horse after horse, any given horse can still be quite a project! Some will be dense and indifferent to the aids. Others will worry, anticipate, and get themselves in quite a frazzle. And then there will be horses who manage to do both! There’s a long list of exercises and figures you can use to help a horse see the light.
Occasionally you’ll find a horse who will pick up the idea in nothing flat. More often you’ll try and fail, try and fail, try and fail… and you’ll get to the point where you might wonder if this dang horse will ever get it. But when you persist – and that means to take as long as the horse needs – eventually they come!
And just when you think you’re in clover, he forgets. And acts like he’s never heard of a flying change. [See comment above re: taking as long as he needs] And when he does finally figure it out for good, don’t be surprised if you go through the same thing with the tempis.
As I am sure you have heard, dressage is all about the journey. If you have journeyed very much, you know that that includes a lot of sitting around in airports waiting for the relief crew to show up.