Pressing Onward

gustafson_-_jack_and_the_beanstalk-726768A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original.

So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis.

Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse.

Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made.

And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us.

And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.

                                           Viral Thoughts I

(posted 3-30-20)

What can be said in these perilous times? Yes, we were the generation that grew up with The Bomb and an unspoken expectation that we all might be incinerated with little notice. However, we did so and comfort and prosperity. It was our parents and grandparents who knew the privations and suffering of the Great Depression and the world wars. We only heard about them.

We are in unknown territory. Will we skate through it relatively easily, and in a few years look back upon it as a Y2K sort of event? Or will we lose friends and loved ones and find our lives changed forever.

At the moment how bad it seems depends largely on where you are. Bad enough to shelter in place on a quarter acre at the end of a cul-de-sac or, worse yet, in a fourth floor walk up urban apartment….and then to have your daily visit to the barn where your horse is stabled denied to you! Joni Mitchell’s words, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Some of us are much more fortunate. Our horses are in the backyard. Double fence lines have kept them social distancing from the neighbors’ horses for years. The one thing I have learned for sure is that if this is a practice run for retirement, I just want to go back to work!

                 (Keeping one’s social distance)                     

                            Ours IS to reason why!

(posted 3-20-20)

An “air controller lesson” is one where the instructor supplies a nonstop series of commands to the student, in essence “riding” the horse from the ground through the rider’s body. The actual rider must be able to perform the physical functions promptly and exactly, but thinking is optional at best. It even sometimes just gets in the way.

Admittedly, there are certain times with certain riders that this technique can be useful. It can make them realize how many balls they need to keep in the air at the same time. But as you can surmise, it doesn’t do much to develop the rider’s decision making process. Rather, it develops a dependency on the instructor.

When I teach, I try to emphasize what the rider should be feeling with her partner. It puts the focus in a different place to say “Try to soften his right jaw” than to say “vibrate your fingers.” It helps the rider think less of what her hand is doing to the rein, and more about the tactile effect on the horse.

As a teacher you also want to share your thought process with your student. Other than simply learning to execute the movements, they need to understand why you choose a particular one at a given time or why you employ them in a certain order.

A long time ago I knew a woman who asked every visiting clinician for a warm-up pattern–-a series of exercises she could do every day the same way when she brought her horses out of the barn. She couldn’t grasp the individuality of each horse or that they could be different from day to day and would need their work tailored accordingly.

Riders must learn to read their horses. “Push, push, push,” for instance, is not a long-term strategy that can be employed exclusively without making most horses nuts! Learning when to challenge a horse, when to back off and do something he’s good at and can be pleased about, when to be physically less demanding, when to simplify an exercise that he’s having trouble with— these are all important skills for a rider who spends much time working on her own.

Watching a student develop the realization that her horse, unbeknownst to her, has been telling her these things all along is a significant milestone in her education. Michael Poulin has often spoken of the creative aspect of riding and training. This is not a one-way process of stuff you just pull out of your head. It’s a collaborative effort with your horse which can only be achieved when you understand what he’s telling you.                                                                                          

The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below