I just love show season. I’ve worked all summer long to get ready for the winter shows in Florida. There’s something about the camaraderie of the horses and the people that make a show feel like a special party.
Do you feel that way about showing?
Not everyone does. Some people get really stressed at shows. They know they’re being watched and judged, and it makes them squirm. That’s a natural reaction. We’re all conditioned to worry about what others think about us. And a show is the one place where you’re actually asking for someone to judge and openly “criticize” you.
If you’re trying to figure out what the judge is thinking about while he or she watches you, you’re creating a feedback loop that takes you out of the moment. Instead of concentrating on your ride, your mind has to make a full circle to think about what the judge is watching. As you try to see through the judge’s eyes, it’s hard to pay attention to what you and your horse are doing. WHEW! It’s confusing just to describe it!
Over the next two months, I’m going to address some common canter questions. This month I’ll talk about the aids for the upward transition to the canter. Next month, we’ll look at the aids for the downward transition.
Question: What do I do with my outside leg to ask for the canter?
Answer: Swing your outside leg back once, and then bring it back to its normal position on the girth. Think of it as a spring-loaded action or a windshield wiper action.
If you wait for your horse to answer, he’s not listening to your leg aid. If he doesn’t canter right away, give him a little bump with your outside leg or tap him with the whip. (Carry your whip in the outside hand for the canter work so you can use it to reinforce your outside leg aid.) Then ask for the depart again.
As soon as he responds immediately to this quick aid, reward him.
You can teach him to canter by holding your outside leg back, but when you start doing half passes in the trot your horse might get confused. He won’t know whether to stay in the trot and go sideways for a half pass or pick up the canter. It’s easier to teach him to canter from an aid that only means canter depart, rather than to teach him to canter from that aid and then have to reschool him when you get to trot half passes.
We’re all different. You know that already, right? I’m a cold blooded Friesian. My next-stall neighbor is a hot blooded Thoroughbred. We think differently, react to things differently, and like different things. Does that make one of us “wrong” and one of us “right”?
It’s a very basic instinct to be attracted to things that are like you. The old “birds of a feather, flock together…” idea. But many of us have advanced beyond such basic programming. Advanced beings learn to appreciate things that are different from what we’re used to.
This can be a very powerful thing when applied to working with horses. We get used to a certain way of doing things, of feeding, of training, etc, and don’t even notice that we’ve developed a habit that might benefit from a bit of tweaking. That’s why we read books, watch DVDs, hire a trainer… so we can learn from the collective knowledge of others.
Even if you’re not a dressage rider, it’s still important to sit straight and square in the saddle. Can you tell if you’re collapsing at your waist and sitting crookedly?
Ask a ground person to stand behind you and have them answer the following questions:
1. Are your shoulders level (i.e., the same height)?
2. Is your seat in the center of the saddle so that each seatbone (the bottom of the pelvic bone; in technical terms, ischial tuberosity) is the same distance from the middle of the saddle?
If one shoulder is lower than the other, then you’re collapsed at your waist and your seat isn’t in the middle of the saddle. Let’s say you’ve collapsed the left side of your waist; in this case, your left shoulder is lower and your seat is off to the right.
Your horse is perfectly justified in coming off the bit if all you do is give the aid for a transition. To do transitions on the bit, you need to give two sets of aids at once: the transition aid and the aid to tell him to stay on the bit — the connecting aids. When you give these two sets of aids at once, you’re telling your horse to do a transition on the bit.
Essentially, you’ll superimpose the connecting aids over the aids for a transition. That is, you’ll give the connecting aids before, during, and after the transition.
In this case, the connecting aids last several seconds. Apply them lightly before, during, and after the transition so that you “bridge” the transition with your connecting aids.
Yesterday, a gorgeous new mare moved into our barn. Wowzer… she’s a dish! She was being led down the walkway when I saw a young gelding in the turnout next to me strut and prance and flip his long mane at her. He kept telling her to look over and see how beautiful he is. He nickered and shouted to her that he was the best and smartest horse in the whole barn. When she didn’t react, he hollered at the top of his voice that the rest of us were nothing but old nags unworthy of her. She stopped and turned his direction. I watched her watch him, with great interest. She looked him up and down, flipped her tail at him, and walked off in a huff.
Later, I noticed this fellow was upset and depressed. I strolled over and stood by him, just to keep him company. Eventually he raised his head and quietly asked if I knew why the pretty mare had spurned him. I told him, as gently as I could, that it appeared to me that his superior attitude had turned her off. I shared my belief that when we act like we’re better than everyone else, that same everyone else starts to feel uncomfortable and stops wanting to be around us.
I told him that it’s okay to have confidence, and it’s okay to let our best light shine. But, if we go a step further and act arrogant and superior to our friends and peers, we are intentionally making them feel “less than.” That’s not right. It’s a delicate line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence energy radiates outward and feels good to be around. Arrogance energy sucks inward and is uncomfortable for others to be near.
When I see the new foals running around, I realize that I’m not a baby anymore. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take baby steps now and then.
Sometimes a job is just too big and overwhelming to figure out exactly how to get it all done. When that’s the case, baby steps is the way to go. It’s like when my stall gets dirty. Someone has to clean it out one scoop at a time. You may not notice one scoop being removed. But when you remove ten scoops, it really makes a big difference!
What do you have to do, or want to accomplish, that seems too big for you to achieve right now? Can you break it down into little parts? Can you take baby steps? Can you accept slow progress over no progress at all?
Horses live in the moment. We really enjoy physical sensations because we are NOW. We don’t think much about the future or the past. We live in the present.
Jane and I are back in Vermont now. The air here is so different from Florida! The smell of the spring storms and the pine trees is much more like my first home in Holland. I love feeling the coolness of the snow in my foot feathers and the crispness of the air in my nostrils. I like Florida, where the grass is always green, but Vermont really feels like home.
Dressage is as mental a challenge as it is physical. Many humans are drawn to it because it exercises the precision-yearning part of the brain as much as the physical senses of the body. I’ve noticed that sometimes people get too caught up in the mental part and forget to enjoy the physical part.