Dressage Horse Training:  What to do about a bobbing head?!?

Hello Everyone

For anyone who’s tracked my progress with Donzer one of our challenges has always been Donzer’s head.  At training and first level Donzer would always carry his head behind the vertical.  As he got stronger, Donzer would carry his head but when tired, duck his chin towards his chest for a quick break.  The real challenge began at 3/4th level when I was asking the question, “How do we start creating an FEI frame?”  I received lots of feedback on what you cannot do.  You cannot ride front to back.  You cannot simply create a headset.  You cannot achieve the correct frame with a small trot. So I was full up on what I couldn’t do and was light on a positive direction to move.  A few trainers said I could “fluff” Donzer up and this works for maybe a stride or two but this was not the final answer.  Losing your temper or making any kind of strong corrections with the reins was not working.  I’ve received guidance and now have two strategies to address a rude and/or unsteady head.

One, Alfredo Hernandez had me simply open my inside rein and hold until Donzer quit moving his head around.  To clarify, I had Donzer on a 20 meter circle with equal contact in both reins and while keeping the outside contact steady, just move the inside hand straight sideways.  What I found is the first few times Donzer would fuss and pull but each time he settled his head, I would move my hand back to his withers and Donzer would have immediate release.  After a few rides, when I started to move my hand to the inside, Donzer would settle because he is smart that way and wants to be ahead of me.

What remained after this gross correction was some head bobbing-not in a rude way but more unsteady.  This is where strategy two comes in to play.

Two, Judy Farnsworth explained that the head bobbing was a result of the hind leg not carrying.  It is very helpful for me to understand the dynamic of what is happening to be an effective rider.  To help Donzer carry himself, Donzer needed to find his balance.  Judy had me counter flex and leg yield together effecting a diagonal aid.  So, if I’m on a 20 meter circle to the left I would counter-flex to the right.  I then use my inside (left leg) at the girth (for some reason I keep moving my inside leg back towards the haunches and the aid works better at the girth) and move Donzer out on the circle in a leg yield.  I hold this correction until Donzer relaxes his neck and then move back to true bend.  Initially I did this on a continuous cycle because as soon as it was fixed the head bobbing began again and after a few rides; Donzer has learned this correction and is starting to find his own balance when he feels me start to counter flex his head.  I did this at the walk first and have added the same exercise at the trot.  As a rider this is a coordination challenge and I did the process at the walk until I created the muscle memory in myself.  That sounds grand.  I repeat this process each day in my warm-up at the walk and am creating muscle memory in my body.  I think it will take me at least the six weeks I’m here under daily observation to start adding this correction to my riding pattern.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training:  The first day at the barn

Hello Everyone,

Fox Lea Farms is a great facility and the people are very nice.  The biggest task the first day was body clipping.  Overall one of my shortcomings as a dressage person is my grooming—my guys look like dirt balls most of the time.  Their coats were so thick for the Colorado winter that Donzer and Ava were sweating when I got up in the morning.  Sweat and dirt slow the clippers down a lot—and I’m still working on the legs a few days later.  Washing with soap helps a lot.  I also have to figure out how much hay my horses eat.  At home they have free choice from a round bale.  Here the hay is $22 a bale so I’m not so keen to see wasted and peed on hay.

Figuring out how the daily routine is going to emerge is taking some time as well.  In a big group it’s not possible to have hard and fast schedules.  I like to get turn-out time and I have to admit that coffee time in the morning is something I really treasure.  I’m also taking time each day to continue clipping, I need to pull manes and such.  I also want to watch every ride and work on my book each day.  So many things to do so little time—life is good!

Good Riding,

Tara, Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: Words Matter

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.  We all heard this at one point or another in school when learning how to deal with a bully or mean girl.  There is value in this mantra as it is a tool to defend you when at the mercy of a less evolved soul.  This skill continued on in my military training experiences and having a thick skin was worn as a badge of honor.  Writing my book, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding, I researched and discussed the power of positive thinking.  I discussed moving past the negative self-talk we all have.  And, I challenged my readers to listen to the people around them to see how many people are truly positive and how many people come at life through a negative lens.  For example, ask a rider, “How was your ride today?” and hear back, “Well, I was not able to get the horse to give me a good place to sit or reach for the bit like I wanted but I guess it was okay.”  Instead of saying (and thinking) “My ride was great!  I almost got the stretch to the bit and now I’m closer to making it happen.”

So here’s what happened.  I was taking a lesson with Judy Farnsworth on her schoolmaster, Bo.  Judy very kindly suggested I should keep my shoulders more aligned with Bo when we were going to the right as I was overturning my shoulders right.  I am aware l over rotate my shoulders but it has become ingrained in my muscle memory so I told Judy, “You don’t need to be so kind in your correction of my position, I have a thick skin.”  Judy’s reply was, “The way I approach and coach you impacts how you approach your horse.”  This floored me.  Here I was still stuck in a personal space beating myself up about how I overturn my shoulders and giving my trainer permission to beat me up, too.  This very subtle nuance in Judy’s approach is not going to end up being subtle at all.  Words Matter!

Good Riding,

Tara, Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: The cross country drive

Dressage Horse Training: The cross country drive

I have to say the trip to Florida was blessedly uneventful.  We found a round trip ticket for Kris from Fort Meyers to Denver and back so Kris was able to make the trip with me.  I had planned to go alone but it was much better to have a second brain involved in driving and finding the horse hotels.  Before we left we did our check list—changed oil in the truck, check the lights, got health certificates—you know, the long list of picky details to attend to for a long trip. My horses are used to turnout so I found overnight spots in pasture so I think this helped the horses mentally and physically to be able to move around for 12 hours and roll.

Special thanks to Susan DeSylva and Andrea Doelling for having dinner and discussing planning and lessons learned–this helped make my trip smooth.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: The Tools in Your Tool Box

Dressage is a fickle mistress indeed.  Once you are lured into her charms, you realize that you must give yourself over very fully or you will never get to experience the depth and feels offered.  In Abilene Texas as a new C-130 pilot, I decided to look for a trainer to take some “English-type” lessons to get a little better at riding.  I met Michie Cavouti and my first encounter was Michie riding, Donji, her warmblood down the long side at a canter slower than I was walking.  At that point in my riding I had two primary gaits, hand-gallop and walk and I was hooked immediately—although I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Over the next ten years I worked on dressage between deployments with various trainers depending on my location.  My partner was my quarter-horse, Red, who was ready but not necessarily willing but he did work hard for me at the end of the day.

As an autodidact my education was varied—books, videos, auditing clinics, etc.  So I find myself now almost 15 years later with a tool box full of all kinds of exercises, biomechanics, training processes, horse personalities and not a clear understanding of which tool I should reach for in a given moment.  For example, I can teach any horse the basic aids for moving away from pressure to affect a leg yield or haunches in; but, what do I do when my horse is out of the blue being very rude with his head, not pulling but bobbing up and down?  What is the correction?  In the toolbox analogy do I reach for a screwdriver, a hammer or a pair of pliers?  I have all the tools available so which tool is the right tool for the job!?

This year I’ve taken a step back and revisited what I wrote in my book, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding.  It’s funny I had to take the time to go back and listen to my own advice.  I started analyzing what was causing a plateau in my progress.  I am still physically capable and have not reached an impasse in riding requirements (not counting the constant development of core strength).  I am a good student.  Once challenge is I am very literal and do exactly what I am hearing the instructor say.  I receive information in almost a digital manner and individual bytes of data.  Writing is one way I integrate the new information into my knowledge as a whole.  Many rider/trainers are kinesthetic learners and do not process information like I do so I need to keep that in my “cross-check” (pilot term for the scan of all the airplane instruments used to keep the plane flying straight and level) as I am learning and ask pertinent questions.  The trainers I have been working with are all top-notch and experts in their respective niches and I have many good tools in my tool box.  My assessment is my communication needs have changed.  It does seem logical looking at my plateau from this perspective. I am in the process, growing, changing and learning my communication style is evolving.  I’m in the phase of “I don’t know what I don’t know.”  Just like at a clinic when the clinician points out something your trainer has been telling you for months and all of a sudden the light bulb moment happens, I’m giving six weeks of immersion in a new environment (bucket list Florida trip) a try to see if I have movement in my riding progress.

I have ridden with Judy Farnsworth a few times in Colorado and had the rare opportunity to sit on her schoolmaster for a few lessons.  Sitting on the schoolmaster was invaluable because Judy knows her horse and could more easily parse out what was me and what was the horse.  In my lessons we have been on a 20 meter circle doing very basic work, honestly, nothing new in terms of the aids but the timing of the aids has been creating a self-carriage I’ve been lacking.  The horse always tells the story. Judy has been able to see where I am right now and apply the correct instruction.  My job is to keep my ego in check, be a good listener and do what’s being handed to me.  As I remain open to the instruction, I can play with the tools already in my tool box and see how they flow into the ride.  When I select and use a tool in an additive way, the ride becomes better, the horse rounder and softer and Judy says, “Yes, like that.”  If I try out a tool and it is not the correct moment for the tool, Donzer will let me know almost immediately as our energy flow shifts like a water hose with a kink in it.

Writing is a wonderful tool for me to process and integrate new information.  I am going to keep a running blog during this trip and hopefully by reading this you will have some personal “aha’s” and jumps forward in your riding.  My goal is to get to Grand Prix as long as I am physically and mentally able to keep moving forward.  Like I said, dressage is a life-long pursuit and the constant dynamic of, “I have time and no money and now I have money and no time.”  I’m getting old enough that I added to this is I cannot wait until I retire to start!  Please share any insights you have as well on my face book page because we all learn together.

Good Riding

Tara, Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: Bucket List trip to Florida

Hello everyone,

I’m finishing packing up and heading on my 4 day drive to Florida with Donzer and Ava tomorrow. Luckily my husband, Kris, is going to make the drive with me.  We have horse hotels in place and are ready for 6 weeks of immersion.  It’s wonderful that the internet will allow me to travel and still keep up with my financial clients as well.  I plan to keep a running blog of the experience and see what “aha” moments we have that some of you out there may benefit from reading.

Good Riding,

Tara

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: Finding and Fixing holes in your riding

Hello Everyone,

I rode Donzer today in my first Alfredo Hernandez clinic and it was just what I’ve been looking for at this stage of my riding.  From the beginning Donzer has been a challenge to connect from back to front.  Donzer has always ducked behind the vertical with ease and quickness.  I have a very ingrained habit to let me reins either get long or give my hands forward as a “reward” to my horse going back to my early days of reading and working on my own.  When flying airplanes we have two sayings.  One, What is learned first is learned best –for good or evil and, Two, there is a concept called negative transfer.  Negative transfer happens when you are transferring from flying one type of airplane to another and some muscle memory’s are not good.  I flew the T1 in training and this plan did not have hydraulics so I got used to a certain amount of force in my hands and feet to turn the plane.  In my first flight in the C-130, I overbanked past 60 degrees because I just assumed a much bigger airplane would need the same amount of control input.

With Donzer I know of some of  my riding “holes.”  I do not consistently use my outside aids, I give my reins forward are two prominent in my head today.  The saying is that you need 10,000 correct repetitions to create a habit and more repetitions than that to correct a bad one (negative transfer).  Alfredo quickly assessed my gaps and selected this exercise for today because you obviously cannot fix everything at one time.

Establishing a Connection to the Bit

We did the entire exercise on a 20 meter circle.  I had to pick up the reins a little at a time feeding the reins through my fingers instead of moving my hands so much.  At the walk we established my outside rein contact and made sure I kept the haunches on the circle (I let the haunches swing way outside at the beginning).  Donzer has a naughty habit right now of trying to pull the reins–just the opposite of going behind the vertical.  Alfredo had me open my inside hand by moving my inside hand sideways to my knee.  This changed Donzer’s balance, lifting the inside shoulder, putting more contact into the outside rein and brought Donzer’s head and neck back into a more correct contact without getting into any kind of wrestling match (another one of Donzer’s favorite things if you’re willing to play).  Next, we did a walk trot transition.  Alfredo had me open my hand before the transition and keep it open until we settled into the trot while using both of my legs to push Donzer forward into the contact.  Once I got my body to coordinate all these aids, Donzer and I were able to maintain a solid connection up.  The same applied for the down transitions.  In the trot, Alfredo made sure I was using my outside aides and then we did forward and back from shorter to longer strides and this solidified the contact over the back.  Anytime that Donzer tried to lift his head up I opened my rein.  The forward and back created some engagement over Donzer’s back and Donzer initially tried to avoid this work but settled after I repeatedly opened my hand to my knee as required.

This exercise is a long term kind of work because I will have to be very diligent on the 20 meter circle until I can unconsciously ride with this kind of connection.  I know this will have a positive ripple effect on the rest of my work.  Donzer understands moving sideways and many movements but working with this kind of connection will bring us up the next level.  I have lots of bits and pieces of all this work and I understand the theory.  Putting theory into practice is going to require some very good ground person help to keep me honest in my work.  It has been my experience that dressage is a process of rediscovering something you may have learned previously and then let slide off the daily work program.  Or, maybe it’s just that I have  4 brain cells and something needs to go when new info comes in  (ha ha,but really).

Good Riding,

Tara :)

Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: Symptoms versus Sources of Rider Position Errors

Hello Everyone,

I went ahead and showed Ava 3-3 this weekend (Aug 2-3, 2014) even though we were not quite ready.  I just didn’t want to let a second year go by without getting Ava into the show ring and we decided to ride for the ring experience.  We got to the Horse Park early and walked Ava around for about 2o minutes and Ava had a good sigh and dropped her head.  Then it was time to saddle up and warm up.  Ava did better than I expected but in the warm-up went through cycles of ok to snorting like an oncoming train.  Ava’s back was tight and although lateral work loosens her back, I also didn’t want Ava to get overtired.  Her right hind leg is not strong enough yet to do many canter departs and even though full of nervous energy, Ava can still tire her muscles before the brain relaxes.  As a result of managing Ava’s energy level, I allowed my body to regress back to a less correct body position.  If you watch my video of the Day 1 ride, you can see that my hands are too high and my legs are forward in almost a chair seat.

This is what I want to talk about in this discussion.

Symptom 1:  Fix your hands

If there is one mantra I want to repeat, rider’s hands are a symptom–NOT a cure.  How many times have you heard a trainer tell a rider to lower their hands or fix their hands?  This is a futile critique because it does not get to the heart of the matter and the problem will keep recurring when the rider is alone.  For me, my hands are high for usually 2 reasons.  One, sometimes when I “fluff” up on the reins, I never return my hands to the correct lower position.  I need a ground person to alert me when this is happening.

Symptom 2: Chair Seat

In the case of this ride, my hands were extra high because my lower legs were out in front of me so I did not have a solid base for half-halting or balancing the ride.  So, it’s a matter of gravity.  If your legs are out in front then the upper body must lean back a bit to balance and the hands will ride up to compensate.

For Day two of the weekend, I began the warm-up and my goals for the ride to fix my hands and seat.  I was not going to fix Ava overnight but I could address myself.  I worked my boots around so I could get my heels down.  This allowed me to find my more normal position I have when I ride in my half-chaps.  I had my warm-up coach focus on my heel hip shoulder alignment to ensure I was sitting correctly.  I also used my pinky fingers as a reference to make sure my hands were in a lower position (as well as my ground coach).  This combination allowed my hands to stay in a lower position with less concentration and also had Ava more under herself with less effort.

Symptom 3: Leaning Back

The third aha I had was the comment “sit up straight and don’t lean back.”  For me what needs to happen is to actively engage my core (belly).  I am now strong enough to use my belly but it is still my habit pattern to keep my belly relaxed.  If I just lean forward, I can do this with a relaxed belly and it just leads to getting my horse on the forehand.  If I am leaning back and then I engage my core, then this brings my shoulders forward and helps the horse engage as well.  It really is true that the horse is just a mirror of our bodies.

Communication is such a key part of learning to ride.  Many times I’ve had a trainer tell me to fix something and either I think I’ve fixed it or the trainer assumes I am unable to fix it so the problem continues.  I like to video as often as I can because sometimes when I listen to the lesson and watch what I’m doing, I can usually make a simple correction.  I recently had a lesson and was told not to let the horse pull my hands.  After watching the video I saw my hands were high.  In my head pulling forward is a different axis than up and down so I made no attempt to lower my hands–until I saw the video.  I think this is why communication is not complete until the receiver of information has reiterated the concept back to the teacher to ensure complete understanding.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author “Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding”

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dressage Horse Training: Are gymnastics for the horse or rider? Alfredo Hernandez Clinic

Hi everyone,

I have been riding very regularly since my arrival home.  I spent Jan/Feb in DC for the Air Force and then spent almost 16 days in Shanghai, China.  So, with my late start I’ve been bringing Ava and Donzer back to work at a pace that keeps them engaged and ready to work.  It’s always amazing how quickly horses do build fitness and I’ve been adding an extra circle or canter each day.  I have been doing a lot of work at the walk focusing on what I am actually feeling.  I have a connection with my sits bones and at the walk it is easier to feel when I am pulled off center.  Added to this feel, I am becoming more aware when the horses are “behind my leg”.  By this I would describe the feel as if I needed to learn forward just a bit to get some forward momentum going.  I think horses are genius at teaching riders to do this.  Donzer is always trying to get me to lighten my seat just a little bit so he can do what he likes with his hind end.  On that note I wanted to share a great nugget I learned auditing an Alfredo Hernandez clinic recently.

In Hand Training

Alfredo Hernandez is a great horseman known as a Piaffe/passage specialist.  As a lifelong learner, I’m always interested to watch and learn something new.  I would say that watching Alfredo work with some horses learning Piaffe, it reminded me of some of the great natural horsemanship I’ve learned–just highly specialized for Piaffe.  Alfredo was able to read the horses quite well and each horse finished with a soft eye and some licking and chewing.  I am looking forward to working with Alfredo with Donzer on Piaffe because in hand Donzer gets stuck at three tries and then gets so far underneath himself that Donzer cannot move.  I did get a better effort and some success with Donzer but it was funny because although I gave Donzer sugar, it was obvious Donzer was not sure what he did that elicited the reward.  So Donzer was not sure but still happy for the treat and ready to go again.  I am eager to see how Alfredo shows Donzer what it is we are looking for with the hind end and body.

For the Rider

Alfredo Hernandez  introduced what he calls the “Pasta” exercise.  You begin on the long side in a half pass to centerline that becomes haunches out.  You keep the haunches out around the short side, turn down centerline and immediately half pass back to the long side.  I recommend you try a few times at the walk to lay down the pattern first and then add trot and canter.  This is an amazing gymnastic for the horse and Ava is still struggling to hold the haunches out through the turn on the short side at canter.  But, each day Ava is getting better and finding her balance.  The real beauty of this exercise is what it is doing for me.  The first time I did the exercise with Ava I was so focused on Ava that my shoulders were against the bend, I was up in a half seat “helping” and definitely had haunches leading.  I had to go back to the walk and enlist my ground person to focus on me.  I am still finding the breakpoint between enough bend and haunches leading and my ground person is essential.  I am almost always now turning my shoulders with Ava’s shoulders for the half pass without having to think about it.  The hardest thing to do is to keep my butt in the saddle and allow Ava to struggle.  When I try to help the struggle is bigger.  As I am focusing on keeping my center of gravity aligned with Ava and simply allowing Ava to struggle with the bend, where to put her feet, etc, Ava is getting better.  The rider in the clinic made the exercise look far easier than the exercise is to actually ride.  What I like is I am finding more moments to lightly lift my legs away from the saddle and really keep my sits bones in balance with the change from half pass to haunches out back to half pass.

If you use this exercise as a work in progress–the journey not the destination–then it is an amazing teacher of balance, center of gravity, how to apply aids, body alignment and rhythm.  I remembered reading in one of Charles de Kunffy’s books about working a young horse slightly under tempo to allow the young horse to develop carrying power in balance with the natural tendency to pull themselves along with the front end.  Allowing Ava to struggle and keeping her under tempo I am now after a few sessions being able to add more impulsion without losing the quality of the pattern.  I’m not sure if this is Ava’s limitation or my own as a rider but in the end I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Good Riding,

Tara :)

Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horse Back Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook

Dresssage Horse Training: Behind the leg a subtle but showstopping evasion

Hello Everyone,

Today I want to share the next layer of the onion I’ve peeled back and it is more like remembering information.  One of the things about dressage is that a trainer or coach can tell you to do something but if you are not mentally or physically able to process the information, then you most likely lose if for the moment.  As a teacher and a student I can say that if you tell your student to do something and it doesn’t happen then one of two things happened.  One, the student didn’t hear or understand.  Two, the student thinks they are doing it!  It is so valuable as an instructor to pause and find out what the challenge is and help correct it.  You may very well find out that the student rider needs more core strength or balance to execute a movement and that will be added to the longer timeline.  But, as a teacher you can focus on a more attainable goal for the immediate lesson.  Even better is to discover there is simply a communication breakdown that can be resolved with more clarification.

I remember a trainer pointing out that slowing down is an evasion that is every bit as disobedient as a little bucking. I was surprised because no one has ever fallen off because their horse started walking more slowly.  Now, as I am working on Prix St Georges, I can tell you that this subtle evasion is very much a problem.  Donzer has always liked to curl his chin into his chest and while he has a great free walk, he does slow down ever so slightly when I pick a contact with the reins.  While I’ve felt this happen, I have not ever consistently done anything about it.

When I was first learning training level on my quarter horse, Red, my trainer pointed out that the horse needs to be focused and walk on with a steady marching gait.  That was 10 years ago and I’m now understanding the significance of the statement.  I didn’t register this as a big deal because we did not really focus on it or discuss it again.  So, I’m sure the trainer was busy teaching me other things but now this sucking back is showing up as a retraining issue for me at PSG.  A challenge of learning dressage when you are not at a barn full time is trying to figure out the order of things.  What aids, skills and responses can be works in progress and which aids, skills and responses need to be very correct to avoid downstream retraining time.

The Dynamic I am Retraining

Here is what I am now aware is going on with Donzer and I.  When I ask for more collection, Donzer slows down.  Donzer takes nice long strides but does not really do the more elevated higher quicker steps.  So, when Donzer slows down, he really gets behind the leg and it has been a bit deceptive for me to feel because we still cover ground with his long strides.  When I ask for more forward and keep the length of rein in front, Donzer disagrees because he does not understand/agree to go forward into a contact requires lifting his back.  He tries to do half-steps, pull, run side ways, etc.  What I am now aware of in my position is that I tilt slightly forward off my sits bones, balance my position with my knees and in essence support Donzer being behind the leg.

The Retraining Process

I chuckle as I write this because it is myself that is in the retraining process.  Donzer was perfectly happy with how we were doing things.  When I sit back on my sits bones, carry my hands in front of the saddle, keep my armpits down and my heels down, I can feel Donzer trying to push me forward or at least off to one side.  When Donzer tries to slow down, the reins get a bit loopy because he is sucking back like a turtle.  When I keep sitting up and asking Donzer to go forward instead of just leaning a little forward, Donzer has a bit of a tantrum jumping around and generally expressing his displeasure.  I get it, I’m changing the rules on him.  The best thing for me to do is to keep my butt very relaxed and wait it out.  Donzer is working a little better each day when he realizes he is not getting a rise out of me because when I used to get more engaged and try to kick him forward, I would lean forward and get off my sits bones–what Donzer wanted all along.

It is very challenging to sit quietly and not engage when Donzer has dropped the contact with the reins, has tightened his back and is starting to jump around.  I really just want to slide my hands back towards my lap to keep the contact or lean forward and get a really good kick into his sides to just go forward.  The more relaxed and especially if I can exhale with one of those “I’ve got all day” sighs (and really mean it), the quicker Donzer gets on with moving forward.

Finding the Stretch Zone

There are been a few articles recently in the different magazines reminding us that in all athletic training (people and horses), you want to work in the stretch zone.  If you jump right to the do it perfect zone, many athletes will quit.  What I’m finding with Donzer is that I’m building up the mental stretch zone.  While he is physically capable of lifting his back, he mental stretch zone is smaller and he’s pretty sure he’d rather jump to fighting.  I am finding the agreement to work and starting to increase our mental stretch zone as well.  I don’t know what happens energetically but when I verbally acknowledge to Donzer that lifting his back is very hard work but let’s just try it for a few circles, Donzer is giving me a few circles.  I am honoring that effort by adding in a promised work break.  It seems that after each break Donzer is coming back a little better.  I keep trying to extend the stretch zone and have Donzer give me just one more time around the arena.  When I get greedy, then I have to back track and rebuild some trust.  But, it seems that as long as I do not get angry, Donzer is forgiving.  I am learning to create intensity and focus without anger.

Moving Energy from Back to Front

Donzer has a great free walk and a pretty good extended walk.  Medium is pretty acceptable as well.  Each time the collection level increase, the muscles being engaged are more towards the topline.  What I am more aware of now is that Donzer is figuring out how to let the energy flow over his spine, withers and up to the poll.  Donzer has great development of the muscles in the middle of his neck and when I ask for more collection I can see the baby trapezius muscles in his neck right in front of the saddle start to engage.  There is also only about a half inch difference between him engaging the underside of his neck to pull on me and Donzer flexing at the poll to engage the topline of his neck.

Now that I know I want Donzer to do this great collected walk, I just want him to do it now.  Donzer, needs time to find and engage these new muscles and then to agree to take on this next level of difficulty.  Steffen Peters has said many times in his lectures that you are always training or untraining your horse.  Since I’m learning with Donzer, I am often unwittingly untraining Donzer because I am not consistent when I should be.  That is what is happening as I am now aware of and insisting that Donzer march forward steadily into whatever contact I decide to establish.  I am allowed to change the rules and I need to be patient and very consistent for Donzer to adjust.

Readjusting neuromuscular pathways at the walk

As always, I am giving myself time to process and make my new adjustments at the walk.  I have time to run through my body position, check in with Donzer’s hind legs, see if he is popping through a shoulder, etc.  This is also giving Donzer time to rebalance himself with out me constantly trying to half-halt and rebalance him.  It keeps the conversation clearly on the topic I want to address–stepping forward with energy into the contact.  I have added some canter when the walk is in a good place–and tried not to get greedy.  I am adding in posting trot so I don’t accidentally block him with my hips if I am not keeping up with the sitting trot.

I am taking a few weeks off of lessons to incorporate this new awareness into my riding.  I find it very frustrating to take a lesson and have someone  point out things I am aware I need to fix.  I like to come to a lesson feeling pretty solid and ready for the next improvement.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author: Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook