Great (but unrealistic) Expectations

(“An uncorrected disobedience implies consent.”)

At some point we have all been led astray by our good intentions. When I was first learning to ride (Dark Ages), I read as much as anyone, and probably more than most. The more technical the stuff I read, the less sense it made. Of course, I had no context to put it in, and it hardly applied to the field hunters or horses right off the track that I knew. To be fair the books never really claimed it did nor was I meant to be their audience, but it was what I found in the library. Perhaps you recognize the authors: Müseler, Seunig, Wätjen, Podhajsky—a pantheon of what mid 20th century riders thought of as “the classics.”

Am I somehow opposed to them? Not at all, but before you get immersed too deeply in them, there has to be a reality check. The nature of classicism includes the gradual, progressive, step-by-step development of the horse, both physically and mentally. No shortcuts. If you as a rider don’t understand the system and your horse has never been exposed to it (or even worse if how he used to be ridden was inadvertently contrary to classical principles), there is no reason to think they are just going to work!

For example, if you have been allowing your horse to be casual to the leg going forward and indifferent to any stopping aids, don’t be surprised if a subtle shifting of your pelvis and a lifting of your sternum doesn’t impress him very much no matter how much you wish it would make him halt.

The fact is while we wish everything could play out as in a Disney fantasy, there are times that attention, respect, and obedience outweigh everything else. It would be great if subtlety and delicacy solved every problem, but if your horse has a history of being totally unimpressed with you, sometimes finding the gas and the brake pedals and affirming your horse’s belief in your opinions is the place you have to start. Of course I am not advocating being mean or crude, but if it takes you six steps to halt from the walk, you’ve got to do something meaningful or you’ll never get any place.

As I have mentioned before, every half halt begins with a push (usually a unilateral one), followed by a momentary non-allowance (read that as a brief resistance, not a pull), and then a release or a momentary cessation of the aids. It’s all about timing. If any part of the horse’s reaction doesn’t take place in real time in relation to the others, it screws up the whole thing and you don’t get the results you’re looking for.

So if you need to close the door, really close it! If you are half hearted or wimpy it allows your horse to draw a very undesirable conclusion. I seem to say this over and over: “Make something happen first. Reward it. Then refine, refine, refine!” Remember, an uncorrected disobedience equals implied consent. If under these circumstances some of your aids seem to be stronger than you wish or think they should be, that’s life. At times you have to get a horse to the point where the aids you would like to employ make enough sense and generate enough respect that they will work for you.