. . . on her walk diagonal– her horse was “looking at the cows so she let her turn across 4 steps beyond the letter.”
(“. . . immediate but with calmness.”)
(“. . . catch the evasion at the earliest possible moment.”)
(“. . . things which are independent of how well he performs dressage movements . . .”)
(“I do let him peek.”)
When you fly commercial now and then you encounter turbulence. The wings may rock a little. You may get a washboard effect for a minute or two. Rarely your Bloody Mary may slosh over the rim of its cup. Not to worry. When they have to scrape the flight attendant and the contents of the beverage cart off the cabin ceiling, THAT’S the time to worry!
Think of random horse behaviors the same way. Normal horses will sometimes do “a this or a that.” A little stumble, a small spook, a shy, a bounce, maybe even a kick out at your leg. The more experienced you are, the more you can judge whether to pay it no mind (usually), to make a small correction, or—when really necessary—to make a big deal about it and make it clear that certain improprieties will not be tolerated.
Recognize that these are simply natural behaviors. Much of the time they are done reflexively and without guile. If your horse is inattentive or daydreaming and the world suddenly intrudes, should you be shocked if he reacts? Sometimes horses surprise even themselves. When your bombproof (or not) creature of flight resorts to his natural defense, don’t get all in a dither. As long as it’s not of a life threatening magnitude and it doesn’t persist, cut your horse some slack. Ignore it and just keep riding the way you mean to. The more fuss you make, the more he’s likely to believe he really did have something to worry about.
Here are two strategies which can help. The more exposure your horse has, the more over time he is desensitized to changes in his surroundings and accepts them as of no consequence, the easier he will be to ride. You will do him no favor by wrapping him in a cocoon and sheltering him from every conceivable distraction. Pay your dues and put up with his antics in the short run. Trying to avoid them will always catch up with you in the long run!
At the same time the more you are able without coercion to seriously focus him on his job and put him 100% on the aids, the more he’ll expect to trust you. His confidence in you and its growth in himself will go hand-in-hand. I have found that if your horse is wanting to shy, the more you try to physically restrain him the worse it usually gets. Unless he is very green or the situation is off-the-charts weird, I don’t usually let a horse stop to sniff and explore, but I do let him “peek.” I counter position him letting him look and ride by with an assertive leg on the side of the distraction. Usually after a few times by it, his reaction is “ho hum. What was I worried about?” Try not to hold against him. Resist, soften slightly to give him space, and resist again.
A non-horse person observing a shy asked me, “Why did he do that?” I could have shrugged dismissively and said, “Because he’s a horse.” Instead I patiently explained that horses are capable of seeing things in an extra dimension, and while these objects remain invisible to us,” they are perfectly reasonable concerns to them. Whether you believe that or not, the bottom line is to develop yours and your horse’s coping skills. Keep your own focus, and stay suave and blasé throughout. (Pronounce them SWAVE to rhyme with “save” and BLAZE. It will help.)
I have a past middle-aged novice student with physical insecurities and a passion for over-reading and over-thinking about her riding. She has been progressing nicely – appropriately — but she recently rode in a clinic where both she and her horse were overfaced and overstressed well beyond their abilities. Roweled spurs, a lot of driving and struggling. Two unhappy campers. What should I do or say?
(“It certainly beats bulldozing him around.”)
(“. . . and they wonder why their horse is dull. “)
BILL— First, have someone whose knowledge you trust look at what’s going on with your horse and see if your perceptions are correct. There’s butterfly light, chiffon light, and “light truck” light. There’s heavy cream, heavy rain, and a 747 Heavy. If you’re tentative in your riding or new to dressage, it’s not unusual to err on the side of lightness, often to the point of barely taking a passive contact. In training, “lightness” is an ongoing goal, but you’ll run into instances where it can’t be your primary concern. You never lose the thought of it, but solving another issue short term may take precedence.
(with apologies to Grace Slick and Paul Kantner)