Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two Challenges - Part One: Ride All Your Horses the Same

At the clinic in June, Mark Rashid set me two challenges - he said it was time for me to do these things.  The first challenge was to ride all my horses the same - he noted at the clinic that I wasn't doing this.  The second challenge was to develop my own style of working with horses, not just imitate my masters.  These are hard things to get your mind around - I didn't ask Mark for clarification since part of the exercise is for me to figure these things out on my own and he made it clear that it was my job to do so.

I've been thinking a lot about these things, and have some preliminary ideas of what I need to do. I expect as I move forward in my horsemanship journey that these things will change and come into better focus, as has been true of many other steps along the way.

First, the concept of riding all your horses the same - this sounds wrong, doesn't it, since all horses are different in terms of their physical abilities and prior training/mistraining.  But Mark said a couple of things at the clinic when talking to me about this idea that have clarified what I need to be doing.  First, he said that he (and also Heather), regardless of the horse they're riding or the stage of the horse's training, have the same "look and feel", and the horses often end up displaying the same softness, energy and focus on the work.  Mark also said that it's our job to offer the horse the idea - the feel - and that the horse will make the connection - humans are good at ideas and horses are good at connections.

So here's where I am in my understanding of this challenge.  To ride all my horses the same means a couple of things - that I need to offer all my horses the same feel, from me, that they can connect with.  The consistency has to come from me.  I also need to let go of any "stories" I have about each horse and how they will act and behave, and expect them to rise and meet my consistent offer, each in their own way.  So - and I think this was what I was doing at the clinic that Mark noticed and commented on - I need to not label/prejudge my horses, often based on old behaviors that we're long past - Dawn as the nervous, skittish, reactive prima donna, who I have to coddle; Pie as the stolid, somewhat dull and slow ranch horse, who I have to push and urge on; or Red as the high-strung, fussy, dominant gelding, who I have to give a strong ride to so he won't push me around.  Having my three so different (and wonderful) horses to ride and work with is so helpful in working on Mark's challenges.  My three horses can only be the horses I want them to be if I offer them a consistent soft place to be with me, and expect all of them to be sensitive, responsive and soft, each with their own way of moving and mind.  This has to come from me, first, before they will be able to respond and connect, and it has to be consistent from me.

However you ride your horse is how your horse will be - if you ride them from the inside all the same, and offer them the same feel, they will rise to the challenge and ride the same, within the limits of their experience and physical abilities.  It won't make them the same - they will each have their unique personalities, natural way of moving and preferences, but they will each be able to meet you half way and meet your feel/softness with their own feel/softness.

It's very hard to describe this in words, but maybe an example from today will help.  Oddly enough, Pie is the horse I find it hardest to connect with.  Dawn and Red are both so super sensitive and responsive to even the slightest thought, and oh so willing (although I still need to let go of stories I have about them), that offering them a thought and having them connect with it is not that hard.  Pie, on the other hand, can be somewhat reserved and even stand-offish, and had to let go of his "stuckness" to be able to move freely forward.  But I've still been riding him like he's insensitive and dull, which isn't true at all - in fact it isn't true of horses generally - those that are dull have been trained to be so and the sensitive, responsive horse is still in there if you can find it.  I think Pie perhaps was insulted by my approach to him . . .

Today we tried something a bit different, to develop our mutual feel and softness.  I've been riding Pie entirely too much from the front end, from front to back, and he has a long neck and body, so we've ended up with a lack of straightness, softness or engagement.  He and I have both been frustrated.  So, today, I wanted to work with him on activating the hind legs - particularly the inside hind - something I've done a lot of with both Dawn and Red and found fairly easy with them.  I wanted to leave the head and neck alone, using the reins only as a boundary rather than an aid (if this makes any sense - more about this in a later post).  We worked first in the halter in hand and then in the bridle in hand and then under saddle and things went very well.

We started by doing an exercise involving him turning in a tight circle, crossing over properly with the hind legs - inside hind crossing in front of outside hind - and with a very live, soft feel on the rope/rein. Then we moved on to some in-hand work around the arena corners and some cones, with him using the inside hind to step over and to the outside - very little rein and my working to activate the inside hind - it's hard to describe what I actually did since it really was about the feel.  We even moved on to some lateral work continuing the bend around the corner as if it were a circle and then taking several steps down the long side, maintaining the bend and the stepping over with the inside hind leg.  Pie and I have never done this sort of work before, but it went very well.  He seemed to grasp right away what I was asking, and rose to my offer with lovely softness.

We moved on to under saddle work, with my trying to ride the inside hind leg rather than the head.  Once again, he was soft, responsive and just plain great - I could see him saying to himself "it's about time she figured this out"!  We did short and long trot and lots of corner/bending work.  He's just as sensitive and responsive as Dawn and Red - I just have to ride him that way.

I hope some of this makes sense - I'm still figuring it out myself, and, I must say, it's pretty exciting!  (Read my reply to fernvalley's comment below - it may help to clarify what I'm trying to say.)


12 comments:

  1. This is a very interesting post, Kate.

    I think that I am starting to understand this in my riding and handling of horses. I mostly ride Harley, but when I handle other horses for lessons and such I find myself using the same end image for all of them and I am amazed that they all start to look like the same picture. Maybe, riding each horse to his differences is not the right idea after all, because it negates the idea of leading with a clear idea of how you want the horse to be.

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  2. Loved this thinking... thanks for articulating it!

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  3. ery interesting, I was about to say!!NO no No , but I read on and got thinking esp with my two girls, very different temperaments and ways of going , but in their own ways very similar, my niece was riding both and finding them evasive in different ways and yet the advice I gave her to correct it was exactly the same and it did work for both. She tends to lose elasticity in her frame and the horses both reacted one by tucking her head to avoid the bit ,one by trying to drive through. Once I caught it I got her softer and elastic, and the girls settled nicely

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    1. fern - this perplexed me at first, too. I think what it means is that I have to be the same - consistent and offering the horse the same soft deal - for the horse to find me and be able to connect with me - they have to rely on me to be that person. Also, I think it's about riding horses in the way you want them to go, rather than based on counteracting/bracing against the way you don't want them to go (the story you have about how they might be), if that makes any sense. It has to come from the inside of us.

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  4. imaging one's riding... seeing it and feeling it ... love that idea. And "with my trying to ride the inside hind leg rather than the head. " I have to give that some thought too!

    Thanks!

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  5. Love this post. That's exactly where I am with my horse, who is not only labeled and judged a lot by me but also by everyone at the barn. Tundra is the steady one, the bomb-proof one, the "old" (although he's not old!) ex-lesson horse, the slow clunky one. Yes, the "lazy" one. He's dearly loved by me and all the people at the barn, but he's got more to offer and be than these things. There are 50 horses or so at my barn, boarder horses and lesson horses, some rescues and retirees. It seems that we like to label and pigeon-hole them. Also I liked your as-usual wonderfully detailed and useful description of your work with Pie on the turns, the inside leg. Tundra always balances better after a lot of good lateral work. I like doing it to watch him improving in muscle tone in the right places. Makes me feel like the two of us are "getting in shape" together. Also liked the idea from Mark that humans are good at ideas and horses are good at connecting. Very helpful, inspiring and thought-provoking post! To you and everyone else who reads your blog regularly, I feel that we can learn more from each other (and our descriptions of the clinics we go to as well) than from hours with the Practical Horseman and Dressage Today magazines (not to detract from their value)!

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  6. It makes sense to me. I try to ride Blue and Dusty the same. I kid about Blue being insensitive and lazy and to a point he is but I ride him the same as very sensitive Dusty. After employing consistency he listens to the same cues and is just as sensitive as she is. Interesting.

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  7. That was a good post...certainly some food for thought!

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  8. It makes perfect sense to me!! Wonderful post!!! At first, when you said "ride all your horses the same", I went HUH??
    That's not right! And then you explained what Mark meant, and he's totally right on, of course! The same feel that you offer is something that all horses will respond to, because it feels good them. Offering up that soft feel, is offering them the best deal first, and work from there. Ray used to say, that "you work with the horse that shows up today". He meant, (I think) that horses can be a bit different from day to day, mood changes, outside influences, opinions, physical wellness, whatever...ride the horse where he is today, with no pre-determined mindset from the rider. Just what you said about Pie being offended. I'll bet you're right! Love it! Awesome job Pie!!!! That soft, sensitive boy was just under the surface waiting for you to notice, and appreciate. Wonderful job Kate!!! Love how you can explain everything as if I were right there watching...

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    1. Mark also said something interesting that made a lot of sense to me - one of the ways we end up riding our horses differently from one another is by riding them the same way their last owner rode them (!!!) - sort of a startling thought until you think about it. If there's a "story" - ususally not a good one - "my horse always does x" or "my horse is a [insert type] of horse", then we tend to ride the horse that way, which means you're riding the horse the way you don't want the horse to go. Instead what I need to do is ride the horse the way I want the horse to go by offering the horse a consistent soft place to be, from inside of me to the inside of the horse. Hope that makes some sense.

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  9. I find this to be very true. Although our horses are all different in temperment, I ride them with the same feel and the same expectations. Brett is constantly amazed that the Flash he rides and had to nag, is instantly forward and responsive -- and light -- for me. It's all in the expectation.

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  10. Great post, its going to help m think things through a bit more! Thanks!

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