The worst thing to do is force your horse into an exercise he (1) is unprepared to understand (2) is uncomfortable doing. “Sink or swim” is a bad teaching tactic for people and for horses.
Once you have answered The Most Important Question to ask at the beginning of the training ride:
What Does My Horse Need?
You now need to ask The Next Most Important Question to ask at the beginning of the training session:
What Exercises Will Supply What My Horse Needs?
The constellations of exercises for use in training sessions are as numerous as stars in the galaxy. Let’s narrow down our focus with a couple of observations and goals.
1. Does your horse need confidence?
Open the file in your mind labeled “Exercises that we know how to do well”. Perform the exercise and praise the horse for the effort, then make a small alteration in the exercise that draws the exercise out past your comfort zone and perform that version and then praise the horse for the effort even if it is a little shaky. If the horse is frazzled then follow up with the simpler version and praise.
Example 1: Your horse finds a walk “head to the wall” leg yield fun. Ask for a more difficult version: “down quarter line push to the rail” leg yield. Then try out a more demanding version: leg yield from rail to quarter line and add on another quarter line leg yield to the rail to finish up a fun sequence.
You build the exercise by laying a foundation of simple and moving up in increments. Go back to simple if the horse begins to get fearful or worry.
The worst thing to do is force your horse into an exercise he (1) is unprepared to understand (2) is uncomfortable doing. “Sink or swim” is a bad teaching tactic for people and for horses. When the horse fears an exercise then you prepare the horse with a deconstructed version of the exercise and work on the simplified parts of the exercise.
Example 2: You are introducing a “down the quarter line and push to the rail” leg yield. In response to your aids your horse throws his head up and rushes forward instead of going sideways. Keep calm and offer Deconstructed Leg Yield Exercises:
1) go to the rail and practice a turn on the forehand with a pause between each step “around the clock”.
2) Then ask for one or two steps of turn on the forehand on the wall until you are at a 35 degree angle to the rail Pause, then put the haunches back on the rail instead of going all the way around.
3) Walk a couple strides forward on the rail, and then two steps of turn on forehand, then put the haunches back on track, and resume walking on rail. Praise him or her. 4) Then without stopping the walk, push the haunches one or two strides in turn on forehand. Remember to ask for only a couple steps in the baby leg yield and use lots of praise.
5) When your horse can comfortably do a leg yield on the rail, return to ”down the quarter line push to the rail” leg yield and see if he balanced better on your aids.
2. Does your horse need “Waking Up”?
When your horse is sluggish and not interested in the riding session it is up to you as the teacher to make the session fun and engaging.
What attitude did you have while preparing for and performing the exercise? Where you happy, confident and encourage, maybe a little playful? Feel the way you want your horse to feel.
Go for a hack and drop in some small lessons during the hack
Change the work arena for a pasture or another venue
Play Red Light, Green Light. Make several quick changes in gait and speed. Challenge and do not punish. Reward at the slightest effort to “play”
Integrate cavaletti, ground poles or small jumps during the exercises
Give your horse a reason to view you as interesting, not alarming, and not boring
3. Does your horse need a quicker response to the aids?
Again be “playful” with your aids and your geometry. Light and quick aids incite activity. Squeezing, monotonous aids elicit boredom and irritation.
Drilling is boring. Limit your tries at an exercise to 3 times (whether it worked or did not work) and move on to another exercise. Go on to another exercise that is fun and active. The next exercise can be related but simpler than the failed one.
The worst thing to do is “Spank and Crank”. When you use the “go forward “ aids never give a simultaneous “don’t go anywhere” aid!
Use light aids and follow up with a quick, light tap with the whip to emphasize that you want a quicker response.
Example 3:Play a version of Red Light/Green Light. Begin trotting on a twenty-meter circle, upon crossing the centerline walk three (or four) steps then trot briskly on. Upon crossing the centerline on the other side of the circle walk three (or four) steps and trot briskly on again. Repeat the walk steps every time you cross the centerline.
Does your horse need clarity of aids?
You should take a lesson on a horse with quicker, more confident responses to get the timing of aids, and then go back to your horse with that improved feeling and see if you can get the same response on your horse.
Communicate that feeling to your horse and encourage. Do not punish!
Avoid using conflicting aids.
Secure aids (especially outside aids) feel more like you are “catching of cradling” and strong aids are more punishing and suppressive.
Allow a small window of time for your horse to respond. Praise any effort.
Be consistent with the lighter aid that precedes the stronger aid; ask, then tell.
5. Does your horse need a better rider?
Please be honest. We admire your resolve to work through to the next level that you have never ridden or trained before. But every bumble you make delays the innocent horse’s progress.
Do the exercises in your comfort zone that work in today’s session
Put your horse in training with someone you admire and whose riding style complements your body type. (Find a way to afford it. It will cost you more by delaying your horse’s education.)
Take lessons on a horse that can help you develop the skills to ride at that next level so you are ready to pick up where the trainer leaves off.
A competent trainer can progress your horse faster than you can imagine. Set certain goals then match you education to that shared goal.
Congratulations! You did a very horseman like thing for the happiness of the horse.
You have a training plan already outlined and you have a lesson plan for that day’s training session.(read You Gotta Have a Plan if You Want to Succeed ) You have just swung up into the saddle and are walking to the training arena. Youknow what you want out of the session but… now is the time to ask that very important question: What does my horse need?
All your hopes and dreams, all your plans and schemes mean little to your horse. He has his own set of plans for the day. It goes like this:
Breakfast! My favorite thing!
Pasture! My favorite thing!
Dinner! My favorite thing!
“Being ridden” is quite often very far down on his/her list of fun things to do today. Only clever and empathetic riders can get their horse to look forward to being ridden. How many times have you seen a rider holding a halter approach the horse only to have the horse take one look and turn away from the rider? In some cases, the horse runs to the far end of the pasture. The horse that greets the rider at the stall door with ears forward tells the tale of a rider that knows how to supply what the horse needs to have a real partner in training.
A clever rider finds the key to the horse’s interest in the task at hand. Each horse’s needs are different but they generally fall into several categories.
The horse needs comfort.
The horse needs confidence.
The horse needs courage.
Let’s look at each of these needs.
When the horse needs comfort.
Is the horse sick? — Get his temperature, take his pulse, take his respiration and capillary refill time, has he/she pooped, has he/she drunk water— then get a vet!
Is the horse hurt/lame? —Get poultice/bandages/bute/wraps or Get a vet!
Does the saddle fit? — Get a saddle fitter!
Does the bridle and bit fit? — Fix it! Change bits, lower/raise bit, buy new bridle that fits better
Do I sit easily and in balance with the horse? — Work out more, do more core work, do more yoga, take lunge line lessons!
Is the footing comfortable for this horse? — Work in the level field, find an area of the arena that is not too deep or hard or worst of all, uneven
Is the weather causing anhidrosis (non sweating)? — Work in the cool of the morning, work in the shade, splash water on horse during session, stop working so hard and just hack lightly. Try supplements designed just for anhidrosis.
Is the work I am asking too hard for this horse? — Consult a trainer for scaled down versions, work shorter versions, do something within the skill set of this particular horse.
Am I pushing the horse too fast? — Go back to the preparatory schooling figures or work on the purity of basic gaits and come back to the harder movements in a couple weeks.
Am I approaching the difficult movements with tension and negative attitudes? If you approach a movement or schooling figure like a trip to the dentist or gynecologist office your horse will reflect that negative attitude with fear or resistance.
When a Horse Needs Confidence
Cultivate your own positive and encouraging attitude during the training, even in the face of your horse’s panic or anger
Take baby steps to conquer the insurmountable difficulty
Make sure your aids are clear, consistent and timely
Reward with your voice, or patting, or a treat quickly at ANY sign of your horse attempting to do the new/difficult thing
Limit repetitions of a movement to only THREE tries (good or bad move on to the next skill/movement/schooling figure)
Never ask for anything new or stressful or difficult when your horse is tired
Never ask for anything new/difficult when your horse is frightened
Now is the time to ask for something your horse likes to do
Never ask your horse to repeat something he/she performed correctly for the first time ever. Walk away in glory! Ask again tomorrow after your horse has slept on it with that reward and good feeling of being your partner.
When a Horse Needs Courage
What is the difference between confidence and courage? Confidence is the ease that the horse has with his rider and his job. Courage is the attitude with which your horse greets any new/frightening experience.
Never force your horse with kicking/hitting/spurring while driving the horse’s face is in (or over) the frightening object! Your horse will associate the punishment with the object forever more.
Come at the fearsome object sideways, not face on
Work your way closer with a couple of passes
Allow the horse a moment to come to terms with the fearsome object
Do not let the horse become mesmerized, move on!
Ride behind or alongside of another horse that is brave
You must be brave and confident (not angry or nervous)
Distract your horse with a well known and loved movement or project when something frightens him
Present the horse with an easy project that tests the courage without overwhelming the horse first before asking facing the exceptionally frightening object. After these early success where you develop trust between you and your horse, then increase the excitement level as you develop your horse’s courage “muscle”
Have a plan where you develop your horse’s courage muscle over days and weeks
When you supply what the horse needs
it allows the horse to perform as your partner.
One more suggestion:
Build your partnership from the ground up!
A partnership formed on the ground does transfer to an under saddle partnership
Let’s face it. The reason that the horse is spoiled or a bad actor is because some arrogant biped caused the horse physical or emotional injury. 99% of the time it was not a congenital bad attitude.
Let’s face it. The reason that the horse is spoiled or a bad actor is because some arrogant biped caused the horse physical or emotional injury. 99% of the time it was not a congenital bad attitude.
Riders assign the label “bad attitude” to any action of the horse that the rider did not intend on eliciting or that the rider did not like. In most cases the horse is mirroring his own emotional conflict. The horse is telling you “Hey! I am “see the list below”
Any emotion exhibited by the horse, unpleasant or pleasant can cause the rider to punish the horse. Picture a young horse on a cold windy day that becomes happily excited and begins leaping nimbly about. The frightened rider then punishes the horse. The young horse thinks, “The rider does not like it when I am happy”. The rider probably wanted to discourage the leaping about but did not intend on the horse thinking he was being punished for feeling happy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is when a frightened horse spooks and runs off. The rider punishes the horse for “being disobedient” without addressing the horse’s reason for the spook—Fear.
The trainer charged with recovering a spoiled horse must be observant, disciplined and have a plan. If the horse is considered “spoiled” then the horse has ingrained habits to certain situations or disciplines. The trainer must have a plan for interrupting and replacing this unwanted behavior.
It is important to ask “What does the horse need?” because by addressing the horse’s problem you take away the trigger for the unwanted behavior and in the process develop trust between you and the horse.
Whole libraries of books and online articles are available for case-by-case examples and solutions. I cannot cover everything in this blog post but here is a thumbnail guide to finding a solution to your horse’s problem.
1. Rule out a physical complaint.
Come on, if it were you hurting then you would want someone to fix that first, right? Would you happily run a marathon in too tight shoes, would you?
2. Exactly what is the emotional problem?
Take a look the emotions listed above
Build a plan that addresses the base complaint.
For the love of god, don’t just grab the lead shank and make it up as you go along! That is probably how the horse got into the situation to begin with.
The hard part about this is accurately seeing what the horse’s problem is and not casting your own feelings into the horse that the horse does not own.
3. Change the venue
You may not have control over the horse’s meltdown but you have control over where it happens
When the horse’s behavior is triggered in the arena start by addressing things in the pasture or by riding out of the arena. The important thing is that you have a plan to lay a foundation of trust in the non-trigger area. You build the trust with some increasingly more stressful projects
4. Use the Buddy System
Herd animals use the example of their fellow herd members to decide to be frightened or to be brave. Let an older horse show the young horse correct behavior and confident attitudes
5. Change the Cue
When a certain use of the aids causes an angry reaction in the horse then simply teach another cue for the same movement. Be smart. Figure out a compromise.
I rode a horse that was taught to lope by touching the shoulder of the leading shoulder with the toe of the boot. The old trainer was a long legged guy and it was just easier than folding his leg back. It worked for him. But there I was, a short girl in a western saddle with stiff fenders. I was a comical sight trying to reach the shoulder with my toe. Worse, I could not even get close to “the spot”. The horse was a good egg and we eventually got a hybrid system of leads going that he was happy with and that I could physically accomplish.
6. Teach Don’t Punish
The famous teacher, Ann Sullivan, did not teach the blind-deaf child, Helen Keller, sign language by beating her.
By the time it gets this bad the horse has already had his fill with punishment. He/she probably has his dukes up ready to fight before you even ring the bell. Be smart; don’t even climb into the ring. Start by setting an example of cooperation on the ground with some exercises or even “feel good” projects on the halter. Whatever you do that builds trust will bleed over to under saddle work. Yes, the saddle may trigger the “bad attitude” but at least you will start off with a whole list of things you both agree on. You’ll have to be persistent. You will have to be clever. You will have to be disciplined.
To paraphrase Helen Keller “Be the Light in the Horse’s Darkness”
7. Catch the horse doing something “right” ten times every ride (at least every six minutes). Ignore wrong answers.
This will probably be a novel experience for the horse.
Keep praising any attempt at any behavior (no matter how “wrong”) that is NOT the trigger behavior. It’s a game of You’re Getting Warmer. Play it. You both will win.
I had a horse that would “lock up” and freeze anytime I began to cue piaffe. She loved passage and had no worries about that. I was reduced to leg yielding—then pausing but keep “prancing”—then leg yielding before she froze. I would not ask every day, just a day here and there. Immediately after a few piaffe steps I would go into something she enjoyed doing (passage, extend). It took months but we succeeded and had fun.
Some Additional Thoughts
You may never know just what happened to sour the horse to something. It is your job to figure out how to solve the horse’s problem.
If your riding skills are not equal to the challenge it is smart to hire the perfect person for the job.
What tactics do you use when recovering a spoiled horse?
I now had trouble finding and keeping Heroes. When looking for heroes in the real world should I expect my heroes to be infallible? Was my hero bar set too high for mere mortals? Just how human will I allow my heroes to be?
My heroes changed, as I grew older. At an early age I adored Mighty Mouse. He would come to save the day. I just knew it. He told me this every Saturday morning. When I was older I dreamed about National Velvet. Oh! How the wind blew in my hair as I galloped around the living room when I won the Grand National on Pie! With more maturity I read about and idolized William Steinkraus. I had graduated to idolizing real people. Now at 63 my heroes are Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charlotte Dujardin and my Mother.
At a young age I did not differentiate between the real world and the made up world. Good was good, the same in a book or a movie or during school. If “it” made me feel protected, cherished or special then “it” was good. Superman never hurt a nice person. Roy Rogers only fought the evil people in the defense of the defenseless. There was a clear division between evil and good to my naïve, young mind.
My intention to overcome adversity and be good at something was sparked by the story of Velvet Brown and Misty of Chincoteague. I was still stuck in the dream state of how I wanted the world to be, but I was now aware that the going would not be smooth or easy. I grew up swimming and diving competitively so I already knew that discipline and persistence was required to be ”good” at something. Swimming taught me that you could be “good” at something and still get beaten by someone faster than you. No shame; just work a little harder or longer and then you’ll be “good” and also win. I was closer to realizing the “Trouble with Heroes” but still in a dream state.
As I matured from awkward teen to newly minted twenty-something with a university degree I started looking for my heroes in the real world. I was always an avid reader of books and especially books about riding. These book heroes included William Steinkraus and Alois Podhajsky. Horsemanship that was based on compassionate personal behavior towards horses and people became central to my own behavior. It wasn’t easy finding real life examples that measured up to this lofty ideal. In fact it was easier to find the example of how NOT to behave. However, I was sure that “I was better than that”. Arrogant youth, thy name was Carol.
Personal Aside: I want to stop to thank my friends and family members that coped daily with my idealistic (and possibly insufferable) attitudes while on my quest for superior horsemanship. I saw myself as a kind and dedicated exponent of the equestrian arts. I must have been an insufferable and narrow-minded bore to be around. I hide behind the banner of “I Meant Well”. Thank you for sticking with me during this awkward learning phase.
Let’s flash forward 45 years (or so). It was a very bumpy ride. There were quite a few real life people that at first look I would think, “Hmmm, I like what I see here; this is effective and compassionate riding”, only to later witness these same people in an all too human loss of patience and more violent use of aids. How do you know when an aid or a harsh word has crossed over from effective to abusive? This was an important question with a slippery answer.
I now had trouble finding and keeping Heroes. When looking for heroes in the real world should I expect my heroes to be infallible? Was my hero bar set too high for mere mortals? Just how human will I allow my heroes to be?
Good training requires a clear idea of where you are going and how you’re going to get there. However, we know every horse is different and needs different approaches to learn well. I needed examples to emulate. But who do I trust to have the right answer?
Living a good life is not easy. How do I cause no harm to others while I work towards my life goals? I know there were times that I never saw the hurt I caused in others. Forgive me.
Here are a Three of my Grown Up Heroes.
1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice since 1993, showed me that you could be of the minority opining and still express your opinion, clearly and confidently in a quiet voice. Here was a human being that overcame life obstacles without trampling others beneath her feet. Here was someone whose opinion may have been in the minority but was justly recognized as valid.
Here are two quotes that resonate with me and I carry them with me through the rough times in the saddle and out of the saddle.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg: ON CRITICISM AND NOT GETTING A MAJORITY VOTE (on the Supreme Court Decision)
“I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”
Ruth Bader Ginsberg: ON BEING REJECTED EARLY IN HER CAREER BY A FIRM THAT HAD ALREADY HIRED A WOMAN
“You think about what would have happened … Suppose I had gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably I would have climbed up the ladder and today I would be a retired partner. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”
Was she without fault? No. Ruth Bader Ginsberg acknowledged that she had spoken hastily without thinking about the consequences. In general the Supreme Court Justices are to avoid commenting on political candidates. As reported in the LA Times 9/19/2016 “Ginsburg said that she despaired for the country if Trump were elected, and she described him as egotistical, inconsistent and a “faker.” She faulted Trump for saying “whatever comes into his head at the moment,” but then acknowledged that she too had spoken without thinking about the consequences.
A younger me may have said, “Well, she was a disappointment” and not value her heroic example. Now I say “Well, that is how to respond if I ever speak without thinking about the consequences”.
2. Charlotte Dujardin
Charlotte Dujardin earned the hero status in my eyes by not just her words but also her actions personally and professionally. As an elite International Competitor you are under constant scrutiny. Every day cameras are poised to capture any blunder or bad training or awkward personal moment. News outlets can’t wait to offer good money for any sensational photo, however misleading, which may cause an increase in their readership. Instead there are landslides of videos on YouTube and photos in many news outlets that confirm a history of steady, quiet and cheerful riding/training/showing. I had the good fortune to witness her competing at the World Cup in Las Vegas 2015.
Riders knows that training is never easy and never simple. How could Charlotte be that even tempered? How could everything she do be that easy? Answer: it wasn’t. Carl Hester (Charlottes mentor and coach) and she point out publicly that there was more than one short-tempered exchange between them during training sessions. Charlotte has had her personal problems publicly scrutinized when her long time partner Dean Wyatt, separated from her due to Charlotte’s overwhelming career demands that resulted in a lack of time and attention to her relationship with him. His very public marriage proposal after her triumph in the Rio Olympics drew (mostly) acclaim. Her entire competitive career was an important part of who she was, so he would accept her as she was as long as she made room in her life for him. Charlottes riding and competing example, year after year, showed a heroic consistency of virtues that has her at the top of my Horse Heroes List and her public acknowledgement of her personal missteps and correction of her priorities shot her to the top of my Personal Heroes List.
3. My Mother
My Mother rounds out this list of heroes. She was not a Supreme Court Justice. The height of her participation in the horse world was when she carefully petted a pony over the fence. Once. Her triumph was to raise me to adulthood without murdering me in my bed. (Spoiler alert: she was provoked. Constantly.) Her success at raising two boys and a tomboy who seemed to spend all their waking hours hell-bent on pushing her buttons raises Mom’s status to Personal Hero List Topper. Instead of moving to a fancier house she made due with the fixer upper that Dad worked on in the evenings and on weekends. She was happy beyond words the year Dad put in a second bathroom. We ate meatloaf every week and ate out only once a week at the local diner, who offered dinners for fewer than five dollars. Why? So all three of her kids could go to college. Yes, Mom lost her temper. We (her charming children) would say to each other “there she goes again”. We were not very sympathetic children were we? But still, she loved us knuckleheads. Whatever we wanted to do with our lives she was behind fully. (Well, it took me until I was 16 years old to convince her that horses were not a phase.) Yes, I had to sit on papers in the car on the way home from lessons so I would not “stink up her car”.
I learned perseverance from Mom. Things went badly regularly with three kids. She would yell. She would stomp around, growling about our latest transgressions. But she saw to it that her beloved family always had three things: a comfy house, good home cooked meals, and love. (Whether we wanted it or not, no matter what stupid behavior we exhibited that day.) This trifecta of unadorned life is something that happens daily in the horse world. Be like Mom and care for your horse(s) equally in the rough times as well as the easy times. Tomorrow will come. You’ll have another chance at making something good happen.
I learned to valuefriends for life from Mom. Dad and the kids were a focus of her life but her sanity was in her group of friends from childhood. Her best friend from childhood continues to be my God Mother and good friend (on Facebook no less) long after my Mother went to her grave. My Mother taught me how to value these relationships by example. Honoring the horse you ride is an important part of training. Never Forget, the horse you’re riding knows whether you regard him/her as a valued friend or not. They will never forget that friendship.
I learned forgiveness from my Mom. There were major upsets amongst my Mom’s family. She grieved her emotional separation from her sister long after her sister’s death. “Don’t let that happen to you,” she would say to me “Forgive what ever happens. It’s not as important as having family and friends”. My Mom’s mother was “difficult”. But several times a year we would, as a family, visited her. “Be nice. She is my mother and important to me.” She did her best to do the right thing even when “the right thing” was not always easy or even welcomed. Your ability to do “the right thing” and forgive any bad behaviour during the heat of a difficult training session will lift you to Hero status in the horse’s eyes.
The many things that I learned from Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charlotte Dujardin and my Mom, personally and professionally, follow me into the saddle when I ride today. These heroes are not idealistic constructs but people that show the way to handling our all too human feelings. They show us how to treat people and horses with more compassion and respect.
Here are some thoughts from my Heroes.
*Have a well thought out training plan or opinion and say it clearly and confidently. These words turn into actions (or riding) worthy of doing.
*The majority of the time it’s not necessary or helpful to yell (or use rough aids). However you probably will yell from time to time. Apologize and move on. You are still a good person.
*Try not to say thoughtless things (or use thoughtless aids) but if you say or do something thoughtless then apologize. You’ll get over feeling embarrassed eventually. Use the embarrassment to learn how not to be thoughtless the next time.
*Offer your friendship to all you meet (or all horses you ride). It is the only correct way to deal with angry or aggressive people (or horses). There is usually sadness and hopelessness behind their anger. More anger from you will only fuel further anger.
*Value the small things people (or horses) do for you. Big expensive things come with very large karma price tags you don’t want to pay. The small generosities add up to a fortune in happiness over the years. If you ignore a generous action from a person (or horse) you risk that it will never be offered again.
Who are your Heroes, horse or non-horse? Why are they your Heroes?
Gone are those awful days of following every new fad and fashion hoping that we would fit into the cool kids group. The heck with that nonsense. If others don’t like what you are doing, they don’t have to watch. You found your passion and along the way you have grown strong and sure of yourself. You have met some fabulous friends that you would have never met outside of the horse world. Never again will you waste your time trying to please people that don’t understand or care about you.
2. We have already learned the value of a budget
Yep. Learning how to use your money wisely is part of growing up. Very few of us in the horse world have an unlimited budget. Remember that day when you realized that people admired you for cleverly finding that bargain outfit from the resale shop? (They wished they had found something like that.) You looked great and still could afford to go to the show that month (or take a lesson, or clinic with someone). “Put your money where your mouth is” doesn’t mean we should go into debt pursuing what is important to us. Wear that Calvin Klein dress from Ross Dress for Less to the banquet when you pick up your award.
3. We are experts at negotiating with our body parts
Our younger selves flew unheeding into every activity that came our way. When our teachers asked us to change something about our posture or the way we reacted we were quick to say, “I just can’t do it that way”. Years of experience have taught us patience with the eye on long-term gains. We have learned that practice allows us to learn a better way to do things. We now recognize that what seems impossible to change at first, if you persist, becomes easier and easier. We no longer take our bodies taken for granted. We have learned to curate what can be done with our aging framework and have acquired a large bag of tricks that work around what truly cannot be changed about our bodies. Example: with a height of 5’3” I was never destined to be a center on the girls basketball team. Put me on a horse and I’m a force to be reckoned with.
4. We have learned that feeling stupid means you are learning
By now we know that staying in your comfort zone means never improving or growing. You have to risk something to gain something. The best lessons for improvement are the lessons where you get corrected for making mistakes or pushed when you’d rather stay in your safe zone. We know that these lessons do not feel good at the time. The lesson where the instructor verbally pats you on the head and says you’re doing fine may make you feel supported but did you learn something new? Did that lesson show you that you were capable of doing more? Did that “feel good” lesson push you up to a new skill level? Probably not. Risk and Persist is your motto now. Go for it. You’ve got this.
5. We are thrilled to be living the horse life on any level
Luminaries like Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin inspire us but most of us do not want to live their lives. We love our family, our work outside the horse world, our homes, and our children. Don’t get us wrong; we value learning important lessons from these horse idols. We apply these important lessons to our non-Olympic bound horse. These small successes are very important to us. When we feel our 12 yr. old OTTB move freely into a balanced shoulder in we are as euphoric. We won our own special Gold Medal in personal bests. These small but mighty moments with our beloved horse is why we are and will continue to be, Rocking Adult Horsewomen.
The 2017 Census of the US Department of Agriculture reports
Out of an estimated 2 million horse owners the majority are women in the 38 – 45 age range with a median income of $60,000.
The survey indicated that a whopping 85% of the 2 million horse owners are recreational riders.
An estimated 30% like to compete.
Fact 2: Adult Horsewomen are Herd Animals
Let’s face it. Humans are herd animals. We thrive when we feel supported by a group. We share our joy of our riding successes with our barn mates. We vent our frustrations with our barn mates. Our “Barn Herd” can be a blessing or a curse. We feel threatened and afraid when we feel rejected. A malfunctioning barn social structure can poison the joy we feel while immersed in our cherished horse life. We feel secure and satisfied when our barn mates supports and accepts us. We enjoy our barn mates while knowing that we are not exactly the same as them. Our differences make a stronger herd and make us more interesting.
Many of us are Backyard Horse Owners. We spend hours of our horse time with no human barn mates around. This solitary communing with our beloved horses is soul satisfying but it can also leave us feeling separated from the rest of the horse population. Backyard barn owners join local clubs and national associations. We join their friends on group trail rides. We go to clinics and shows. We go to their lessons off property. We check their Facebook page for what their Horse Facebook Friends are doing that day and how it went for them. We post photos of our own horses doing cute/awful things for our friends to marvel at with us. We may be alone for many hours a day but we are still part of our Adult Horsewomen’s Herd.
As diverse as we are, the joy we find in the horse life connects us.
Fact 3: Adult Horsewomen Have Economic Power
As adult horsewomen there are whole industries devoted to us.
In America, the Equine Industry has a greater economic impact than motion pictures.
Horse sports engage a higher proportion than other sports of people with disabilities, women participants and participants over the age of 45 and nearly 40% of those taking part in do not participate in other forms of physical activity.
It’s unique as a sport in that men and women compete against each other at Olympic level with athletes aged from 18-7019
Ride with Equo: figures from 2017 Department of Agriculture
When I point a finger at you there are three pointing back at me
It happens to all of us. There you are, giving it your all: all your time, all your money, and all your emotional currency. But…you didn’t achieve what you expected to achieve. You did not win. You didn’t get a 60% on your dressage test. You disappointed your coach. You just can’t get that shoulder in right after a year of beating your head against that wall. Your heart and soul ache like you threw your heart against that wall 1,000 times.
What did you get for your supreme effort of mind, body and soul?
Nada, nothing, bupkus.
Your frustration ebbs and anger floods in. You gave it your all. You were right. There must be something/somebody else at fault. Your coach didn’t explain it right. Your horse can’t seem to do it. Your friends think you aren’t talented enough. That judge just doesn’t like you.
It’s their fault you’re unhappy and frustrated.
Well, my friend, look closer at that hand that is pointing that finger of blame. There is one finger-pointing outward. There are three pointing back at you. This is not a cruel joke. The universe is trying to help you understand that the answer is not outside you but inside you.
The universe is not blaming you (you’re the one pointing a finger of blame at someone else). The universe is showing you where to find the fix for your feelings of anger and despair.
Great, fine, it’s all my fault. I’m a failure. I give up. I’ll stop trying. I’m going to take up bowling. At least I can’t hurt my bowling ball no matter how bad I am.
Ahem. Take another look at that blaming hand of yours. As you assault others with the finger of blame, three fingers are saying we support you. Those fingers calmly curve towards you every time your blame finger explodes.
What are those three fingers trying to say?
When you fold you middle finger you acknowledge your intent of only compassionate actions in training.
When you fold your ring finger you accept that you will make mistakes and that’s ok.
When you fold your pinky finger you admire yourself for having the gumption to tackle a difficult problem.
Those three fingers remind you that you are walking a difficult path with honor and to stay true to yourself and your horse no matter what the crisis.
Notice that when you fold one back one finger the other two quickly follow. In fact it takes concentration not to fold all three together. They are stronger together. That single finger-pointing outward is brittle and lonely. Misguided.
When you feel supported and hopeful the finger of blame relaxes, curls inward to join the strong three and the thumb closes the door on the ineffective blaming.
Now you have a strong, supple and supportive grip on the situation. The hand is ready to flex more strongly or soften quickly at a moments notice. Whatever response is called for at the moment.
Uncontrolled anger and blame result in the middle finger shooting upwards insulting everyone. You broadcast the blame to every one around you and it isolates you in your own hell. No hope, no help. Avoid the Dark Side–fold that finger back in and let the other fingers follow. You have within yourself everything it will take to turn back to a compassionate course.
Riding goals and riding aids are all about flexibility, adaptability and appropriateness. The route your riding journey takes is never a straight line from beginning to end. Your ability to adapt to difficulties and avoid obstacles will get you both safely to the goal in good humor as companions, as a team. The aids you use to shape the horse’s effort must match your theme of no blame only support and guidance.
Hold the reins of your life and your training with compassionate knowledge. Look for the small steps of learning to be your bridge to your larger goals. Should your journey take a detour into frustration, anger and blaming let your hand guide you back on course to a successful mindset and journey.
Ask yourself the question “What does my horse need?” and you will find the help you need within yourself and with the help of others to find the answer.
“stay strong through your pain
grow flowers from it…
however you need
just bloom” — Rupi Kaur
The Story of Bucephalus (Bucephalas) and Alexander The Great became a romanticized story handed down over the centuries of historical recounting and story telling. There is some uncertainty to the exact dates of Bucephalas’ birth, meeting of Alexander and Bucephalas and Bucephalas’ death. Here is what I found among the several history sources found in books and websites when you Google Bucephalas.
Did Bucephalas and Alexander Really Exist?
Yes. Here are the dates generally agreed upon.
Bucephalas born 355 BCE died 326 BCE age 29
Alexander born 356 BCE died 323 BCE age 32
Alexander and Bucephalas met during 344 BCE
Alexander was 13 or 14 years old
Bucephalus was an 11 year old stallion
Fun Facts about Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon)
Father was King Phillip II of Macedon
Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor until he turned 16
Alexander succeeded his father to the throne at the age of 20 when his father was assassinated
During his 13 year reign with Bucephalus as his war horse, he overthrew Persian KingDarius III and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety.At that point, his empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River. (Wikipedia)
Alexander died (possibly of typhus) at the age of 32
What’s in a name?
Bucephalus: bous, “ox” and κεφαλή kephalē, “head” meaning “ox-head” (wikipedia)
“A massive creature with a massive head, Bucephalus is described as having a black coat with a large white star on his brow. He is also supposed to have had a “wall eye” (blue eye), and his breeding was that of the “best Thessalian strain”.
Other sources conjecture that Bucephalus was a dark bay and not black.
offers more information on the possible bloodline of Bucephalus.
“Few horses have captured the imagination like Alexander’s horse Bucephalus. Though not much is known about him, we do know he was a dark stallion, somewhat temperamental. Though he is described as black, it is likely he was the more common standard bay, which is usually described as “black”. And though most people imagine a tall stallion, the truth is probably somewhat less grand.
The best breeding of Greek horse stock took place in Thessaly, where prime existing stock was often crossed with Scythian, Persian (Nisean) and Ferghana horses. Philip of Makedon (who built on-going cavalry developments enough to be considered by many to be responsible for developing the cavalry as an effective fighting unit) is said to have imported 20.000 Scythian mares to Makedon. His son, Alexander, claimed a tribute of 50.000 Persian horses, which continued the infusion of Scythian, Nisean, Jaf, Ferghana and possibly Caspian and other blood into the Makedonian horses. Since the Persian Arab is thought to have been introduced into Persia around 2000 BC, it is likely that this bloodline was included.
Few of these horses were tall by modern standards, averaging 13.2 – 14.2 hands, with the possible exception of the Ferghana crosses and some of the Iberian stock. We know that the Iberian horses mentioned by Homer were famed for their movement, size and spirit; the Nisean horses were known for speed and stamina, the Ferghana was noted for stamina, endurance and the ability to withstand hard conditions in desert lands. Along with imported stock, Philip had access to the native breeds such as the Pindos, Skyros, Pineias, Messara and Andravidas, horses known to be small but tough. Looking at the stock Philip used in breeding programs, one can easily imagine a hardy horse with stamina, endurance and longevity. It was from these bloodlines that Bucephalus may have been bred, in the fertile pastures of Thessaly.”
Fun Fact: Horses at that time were shorter. This made “leaping lightly up” with out a saddle a little easier especially when you are in a tunic and underwear (loincloth) was not common and tunics were common.
“Bucephalus was brought to Macedonia and presented to King Phillip II (Alexander’s father) in 346 BCE by Philoneicus of Thessaly. With a price tag almost three times the norm (13 talents), the beautiful black horse stood taller than the normal Macedonian steed but was considered too wild and unmanageable, rearing up against anyone who came near him. Phillip ordered him led away.
But Alexander bargained with his father for the horse. When Alexander successfully rode Bucephalas in front of his father and the crowd of attendants, Alexander demonstrated the true character of one of the greatest generals in all of history.”
What happened when Alexander and Bucephalus met?
Here is one account:
“Feeling the bit gently with the reins, he (Alexander) restrained him (Bucephalas), without whipping or hurting him, until he saw that the horse had given up all threatening behavior, and was only hot for the course; then he let him go, and urged him on by raising his voice and using his heel. The attendants of Philip (Alexander’s father) were anxious and silent at first; but when he turned and came back full of just pride and pleasure, they all raised a cheer, except his father. But he, they say, wept for joy; and after Alexander had dismounted, said, ‘You must go look for a kingdom to match you, my son; Macedonia is not large enough for you.’
Quote from Plutarch recounted in the book The Art of Horsemanship translated and edited by M.H. Morgan. Page 101.
“Bucephalus and Alexander were inseparable; only Alexander could ride him, and indeed he did, into every battle from the conquest of the Greekcity-states and Thebes through Gaugamela and into India. After the final defeat of Darius, Bucephalus was kidnapped while Alexander was away on excursion. Upon returning and learning of the theft, Alexander promised to fell every tree, lay the countryside to waste, and slaughter every inhabitant in the region. The horse was soon returned along with a plea for mercy.
Although historians disagree on the cause of the horse’s death – some claim he died from battle wounds – most agree he died of old age after the Battle of Hydaspes River (326 BCE). While Plutarch spoke of both possible causes of death, he cites Onesicritus, a historian who accompanied Alexander on his conquests, as stating the horse died of old age. However Bucephalus died, in mourning, Alexander founded a city in his beloved horse’s memory and named it Bucephala. It is also interesting that Alexander built another city after his favorite dog Peritas.”
“Others debate that Bucephalus was of a younger age and died of severe battle wounds he received at the Battle of the River Hydaspes, 326 BCE. What is known, however, is that Alexander gave him a state funeral and founded a new city, Bucephala (now modern day Jhelum/Djemoul) in Bucephalus’ honor.”
This list is for books that I consider Riding Manuals. The “How To” of the book world. This is not a complete list of books that I find valuable. These are the ones that are the most dog eared and highlighted ones in my library. In the future I will talk about “Art Book” types of horse books. Maybe you have suggestions on books that you value? Tell me your recommendations in the comments below.
1.The Complete Training of Horse and Rider By Alois Podhajsky
This was my first serious book on riding that I owned. My parents gave it to me when I was 19 years old for Christmas (It was at the top of my Christmas list). Eva Podhajsky and Colonel V.D.S. Williams translated this English language edition from the original German. This basic riding manual has chapters that are well organized for looking up a topic of interest i.e. the principles of training, definitions of the aids, lunging the horse, lunging the rider, information on saddles and bridles plus a section on The Spanish Riding School. The text is enlivened with 38 photographs of famous horse and riders as well as examples of horses in various stages of training. The line drawings of schooling figures and rider positions make clear the discussion in text on the subject. This is a manual with advice that has stood the test of time.
2. Riding Logic by Wilhelm Müseler
Dorita Konyot recommended this book as a very succinct and useful manual. First translated to English from the original German in 1937 and now in its fifth edition. Chapters are also well organized with titles such as: “How does the rider learn to sit?” and “How does the rider learn to feel?” as well as “How does the rider learn to influence?” With 90 pictures and illustrations of every topic this riding manual gives the reader a clear example of each topic of interest. Simply paging through the pages and inspecting the photographs or illustrations will spark a further study into the topic.
3. Complete Horse Riding Manual by William Micklem
In 2003 I was asked to have a photo shoot at my farm. The result was a cover photo of a student cantering a horse in training on my neighbor’s Lake Nellie beach. This 400-page manual modernized the riding manual by using colorful graphic blocks, pie charts, flow charts and comparison chart grids to organize valuable information. Topics covered range from advice to beginner riders on how to grasp the basics of riding (and safety) to mastering advanced techniques in dressage, show jumping, cross-country. Advice on mental and physical preparation for the rider as well as trouble shooting grids offer easy to find and understand help for riders of all levels. William Micklem is a highly regarded international equestrian coach and trainer now famous for the invention of the popular Micklem Bridle.
4. Advanced Techniques of Riding the Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation
This slim book is another go-to riding manual favorite of mine. The line drawings and succinct text are separated into three sections; dressage, jumping and cross-country. The first section is a short History of the Art of Riding. This manual is good book for quick reference and solid advice.
5. Basic Training of the Young Horse by Reiner Klimke
The year I opened my training business and took in horses to put under saddle I bought this book. Paging through the volume I see that I have highlighted parts throughout the little volume. How you start a horse will determine how the rest of his/her life will go. It’s important to do it right. Read this book. Think about what Reiner says about training the young horse. You won’t regret it.
6. Cavaletti by Ingrid and Reiner Klimke
I still have the original Cavaletti book written by Reiner Klimke published in English in 1969, which I purchased as a paperback book in 1983. This new version published in 2011 expands on the original book with photographs on every page. There are many exercises and tips that are easy to incorporate into daily training. When I bought the first little book I spent the whole year setting up the cavaletti as shown in the book and using them with every horse in training as well as in lessons. The new version is a great guide and a joy to read.
7. Teaching Exercises by Major Anders Lindgren
I was fortunate to ride in clinics with Major Lindgren in 1990’s at Tina Drake’s Pas de Cheval farm in Sorrento, Fl. Over a ten-year period almost 1000 participating instructors learned from Major Lindgren’s systematic, structured approach to teaching dressage. He greatly impacted and improved my teaching skills. This book clearly presents and defines developmental exercises to be used specifically from Training Level through Second Level. Small but mighty, this book should be in every rider’s library.
8. Balance in Movement by Susanne von Dietze
Do you want more in depth and technical about developing an educated and influential seat on a horse? Well, then, add this book to your library. The latest edition of this popular book features 250 full-color images.
Susanne von Dietze is a physiotherapist, riding instructor, and active dressage competitor. I needed more specific information if I was to improve my seat and overcome some “aging in the saddle” problems that were cropping up in my 60’s. There is an accompanying DVD (buy separately) for even more help.
9. Dressage in Harmony by Walter Zettl
I had the honor of auditing several clinics by Walter Zettl and immediately purchased this book. This comprehensive training manual with its helpful line drawings covers everything from The Seven Elements of Riding (the Training Scale) to Schooling Figures to Piaffe and Passage. The tone of this book reflects the tone of the man. His Chapter 2 is The Goals of Dressage Riding whose sections are titled; Harmony, Why Dressage is Difficult, How the Horse Learns, The Nature of the Rider, and Trust and Respect. The manual offers valuable information with an emphasis on compassionate horsemanship.
. 10. On the Art of Horsemanship by Xenophon
This book earns a place in every rider’s library if only to remind us that the tenants of horsemanship (or as Xenophon writes, horseman’s art) are centuries old. This first extant treatise on horsemanship is short but remarkably applicable to today. There are a few translations from the original Greek to English to choose from. Xenophon instructs on varied topics such as; how to mount properly (without a saddle because saddles were not invented until 365 AD), how to select a good horse, who should break young horses (young men because old men should be looking after family and government), to the grooming, feeding and care of the horse. Xenophon’s overarching theme is “be kind to your horse and he will do as you desire”.
I was a horse crazy, horseless pre teen growing up on the outskirts of The Main Line of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My young nose was pressed up against the window watching the horse community but I could not participate. My parents were sure that my horse obsession was “just a phase”. To be fair the household budget was stretched thin just providing my two brothers and myself all the advantages they already deemed necessary for our successful upbringing. We were groomed to be successful, literate members of society. Accordion lessons (Dad had a friend who played accordion in a pub, plus it was cheaper than buying a piano), clarinet lessons (Dad idolized Benny Goodman), chorus, drama club, swimming and diving teams (summer and winter league), soccer, football, marching band, economics club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, all while maintaining an A or B average in school. Horses were not part of the plan.
Lucky for me the horse community was covered in local newspapers and magazines as part of the Society Pages. I would read any article with any mention of the horse community. I would moon over the black and white photograph of any horse; I daydreamed of skillfully guiding a big, powerful horse around a show jumping course in the Wanamaker Oval to thunderous applause. I distinctly remembered that the spectators were applauding not because I won the trophy but they were applauding my skill and horsemanship.
Where did I learn to value horsemanship over winning when I was not even riding yet? The examples were reported in the newspaper features and the colorful magazine inserts in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. Top riders were quoted extolling the respect and skill needed to ride horses successfully. It took a person of strong moral character and humility to be a good horseman or woman, they reminded all readers. That was a fact printed in black and white in the Inquirer. I believed it.
William Steinkraus repeatedly appeared in print both newspapers and books on riding. His riding skill and horsemanship was held up as the example of good horsemanship. Fifty-seven years later I am reading the same tributes to William Steinkraus on Facebook.
George Morris wrote a February 2008 article for “The Chronicle of the Horse” titled “Bill Steinkraus’ Two Dozen Useful Aphorisms”. The wisdom in these “useful aphorisms” stood the test of time and was republished in The Chronicle on December 13, 2013. At the close of the article George Morris wrote “Aren’t Bill Steinkraus’ aphorisms wonderful? They are little gems, pearls of wisdom that keep you on the right track. That’s why I had to share them with you.”
In my formative years I learned that a Good Horseman or Horsewoman
Never lost their temper
Always treated their horse with respect and patience
Never cursed or acted crudely to anyone whether they were groom or a society maven
Never blamed their horse for mistakes
Learned to lose gracefully
Always sincerely congratulated the winner
Took time to encourage the younger riders follow their example
I was not so naïve to think that the uglier side of human nature did not exist. Every day I witnessed examples of cruelty to man and beast. I aspired to be a better human being just like my horse world heroes. I knew if I just followed their example I would become a respected horseperson also. Winning ribbons and trophies was secondary to displaying good horsemanship.
This picture of Bill Steinkraus and Fleet Apple gliding over a huge jump makes riding well look easy. The horse looks confident and unstressed. The elastic and balanced harmony the pair displayed is ideal. Here was proof that this harmony between rider and horse was achievable by anyone with the self-discipline and the persistence to practice.
Here is a slide show of William Steinkraus riding other horses over the years.
I salute my childhood idol who influenced me and many others.
You stand the test of time.
William Steinkraus October 12, 1925 – November 29, 2017
After developing your daily Riding Lesson Plan*, the next step to success is to keep a Training Journal. It takes a half hour to set up your journal and then 10 minutes after your ride to make an entry. There is a massive success return on your minimal time investment. Here is how to do it.
Step 1. Buy a notebook and a pen that can live in your tack trunk
Set up a word doc on you computer/mobile device
Utilize the United States Dressage Federation HART
online journaling program (membership required)
Step 2. Set up your First Page in your journal**
Picture of your fabulous steed
Description i.e. Color, breed, height, weight, age sex
List what skills the horse has now i.e. Walk, trot, canter, leg yield, shoulder-in etc.
State what skills you want to develop in the next year
State any hard goals for the year i.e. Attend a Clinic, Compete at Schooling Show, Compete at Recognized Show, show the next level
Step 3. Write a brief synopsis of your ride before you leave the barn.**
Keep this synopsis brief. Three to five sentences
Be accurate. Limit your observations to training skills or goals
Make helpful comments. “I sucked” is not helpful.
Include lameness, heat/swelling, illnesses or track mare’s estrus cycles, and medications
Step 4. Review your notes monthly to reassess your training goals.
As you succeed in one goal, write a ‘congrats to me’ statement
Set a new training goal
Important Thoughts about Journaling
It is key to make a short list of reasonable goals and skills (five-eight). Ask your instructor for help in making this list. The goals change as you progress in your training program, add new goals as you conquer the original goal/skill. To be successful you must be clear about your priorities and you need to communicate them with your trainer so you both are on the same page.
Stay focused on your planned goals. Veering from the lesson plan in response to a horse’s action may derail your development. Many times your plan already addresses the problem. In many instances by improving that skill (shoulder-in?) you will overcome the distraction (spooking?). Chasing after a distraction will have you feeling unprepared and overwhelmed. Stay the course. Your trainer will help you decide when to adjust your program.
What should these goals and skills be? The United States Dressage Federation defines Dressage as a system of training that makes the horse a happy partner and athlete. This system starts at Introductory Level and builds up to Grand Prix. Each level has a list of skills associated with that level. The front of each score sheet states The Purpose of This Level. This statement clarifies what is being judged and rewarded during a judged test. Download the score sheets (click here for Intro, click here for training – fourth, click here for FEI score sheets). Use these statements of purpose of the level to set your training goals.
Study the test. Each box describes a section of the test that is scored. Next to that description are the Directive Ideas. This box tells you what the judging priorities are for that movement. Use these directive ideas to set specific training goals. If you don’t understand the directive ideas, ask your trainer to explain them! Videos of the test movements are available on USDF.org in the University tab (membership required). Look at examples of what well-ridden tests look like and then decide what you need to improve. This will be part of your list of skills in your journal. The test also has coefficients of x 2 to a couple boxes. This means that that movement is weighted heavier and therefore you should pay extra attention to that movement during your training sessions. Make sure you include those skills in your training journal. The bottom of the score sheet has Collective Remarks with 4 or more boxes. Understand each collective remark box and include work on each of those boxes every ride. The rider position box is especially important. When you (and your trainer) work on your position and the use of your aids every day the training gets easier. Your horse will enjoy your improved skill and balance.
After each ride, sit down on your tack trunk (or in your lounge or in your car) and write the date; then write 3 – 5 sentences about the ride. “I sucked” is not a helpful comment. Start by being accurate with your observations. Limit the comments to your stated training skills or goals. “Our canter departs were more uphill today after working on the walk/trot transitions” is an accurate and helpful comment. If you make a mistake you can state it but you must immediately state how you will avoid that mistake the next ride i.e. “I hung on my inside rein during shoulder-in today. Tomorrow I will practice releasing the inside rein during shoulder-in and focus on the feel in my inside leg to outside instead”.
Make entries in you Training Journal every ride, every time, and immediately after the ride while its fresh in your mind. You may think, “Oh, I’ll remember this. I’ll write it later”. No, you are going to forget or get things confused. Write it down. Now.
Health issues are sometimes related to stress or overtraining. Training should never degrade a horse’s health. Training should help a horse “bloom” with health and happiness. Schooling shoulder in can improve balance and strength. However schooling shoulder intensely for 20 minutes can and will make the horse muscle sore as a result the horse will be reluctant to do more of them. Limit your schooling on demanding movements to three efforts each side. Go home and think about your tactics, then return the next day when both you and your horse are both fresh. Present the movement again, not as a punishment but as a fun learning experience.
Riders have a tendency to focus on what they can’t do yet and take for granted what you do well. This negative attitude will soon lead to a sour or nervous training session. Your daily lesson program uses the warm up and the first work session to reinforce the correct and comfortable geometry or movements. This builds the horse’s confidence and prepares the horse for the more demanding exercises to come in the lesson plan. Never ride a difficult movement when the warm up/first exercise shows the horse to be able to move freely forward in a rhythmic and steady gait. Instead make the second exercise in the Lesson Plan a movement or simple geometry that will encourage the horse to relax on the rider’s aids and become more rhythmic and steady in tempo.
Do you need help identifying what’s wrong and how to fix it? Go to the Dressage Training Pyramid.
Now ask yourself:
Did your horse move in a steady and correct rhythm?
I.e. a clear two beat trot, a steady four beat walk or a three beat canter with a “pause”. Feel for the beat and listen to the sound of the footfalls for the rhythm.
Did your horse move forward in an energetic and steady tempo?
I.e. could you sing a happy marching tune to the tempo of the walk/trot/canter?
Did your horse move forward in a relaxed, elastic and supple way?
I.e. was the horse tense and stiff as a board?
Did your horse reach forward to accept/seek contact with your hand?
I.e. was the horse stiff in the jaw or neck and run through your hand or did the horse evade contact by ducking his chin towards his chest?
Did your horse move forward with good impulsion?
I.e. did you feel like you had enough energy to the trot that you could easily jump a small cross rail or did you feel like you were practicing for a western jog?
Did your horse feel straight?
I.e. were his shoulders falling in or were your horse’s haunches angled to the inside of the track?
Did your horse feel collected?
I.e. did you feel your horse gather his haunches under you? Did the forehand feel lighter and more uphill? Could you feel your horse move in self-carriage?
By identifying what part of the Dressage Training Pyramid was lacking you can decide how to improve it using your schooling figures or movements that relate to that issue. For example, if you decide that your horse trotted in an unsteady tempo you could set up some cavaletti to regulate the tempo or use a metronome to set the correct tempo (there is a phone app for that!). Another example: you decide that your horse is not reaching out the correct contact with the hand. You then decide to school the stretchy circle exercise (where you practice signaling the horse to reach out to contact and then down lower as if he/she were going to graze).
To sum up, keeping a Training Journal:
Allows you to identify reasonable goals for the short term and the longer term so you know where you are going.
Uses the Daily Lesson Plan for achieving reasonable goals
Keeps you focused on a system of correct training
Keeps you from continuing to make the same mistakes every day
Allows you to trouble shoot problems before they get to be habits
Reminds you of the progress you have already made
Keeps track of all important health and welfare issues
You get all these advantages for a modest amount of time and thoughtfulness. Ride smarter. Use your time wisely. Enjoy the process of training not just the end goal. Make training fun for your horse and yourself; then you both will be happy athletes.
My early riding efforts were (forgive the pun) “seat of the pants” riding. You rode around walking, trotting and cantering until something didn’t go right; then you fixed it. Dorita structured that training session until it became intuitive when to stop, when to go on with the exercise and how to decide what exercise to train. Then I attended a clinic with Major Anders Lindgren; eye opening and addictive! I had always kept a training journal but this was fantastic!
Major Lindgren was a pivotal influence in the development of United States dressage instruction. In 2003 Major Lindgren was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame. Over a ten-year period, almost 1,000 participating instructors learned from his systematic, structured approach to teaching dressage at the USDF Violet Hopkins National Seminars.
Major Lindgren gave a classroom session on how to be a good teacher. The Sample Lesson plan was projected onto the screen at the front of the living room we were gathered and he broke it all down for us. I was amazed. I was naïve. Dorita Konyot taught me to train but Major Lindgren taught me how to teach.
Here is what I saw on that screen:
Holy Cow! It was all spelled out and diagramed! When I rode for Major Lindgren, I felt what it was to be taught in the Lesson Plan format. He practiced what he preached. His delivery was calm and organized. He expected you to ride precisely what he told you to ride. Slyly humorous and exhaustively demanding I loved every criticism. I grew and matured as a rider, trainer and a teacher—and not without a few tears of frustration.
It was totally worth it.
What instructor had the greatest impact on how you teach?