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.
People often tell me that their horses leg yield very well as far as going sideways is concerned, but they tend to toss their heads and show resistance to the contact. In desperation, some riders even use a tie-down to put pressure on the nose to discourage their horses from yanking at the reins.
If your horse finds it fairly easy to cross his legs and move sideways with his body, yet he’s tossing his head during leg yields, it sounds like he’s objecting to your contact with his mouth. Any effort to steady his head with methods such as tying it down or using draw reins is simply treating the symptom rather than the cause.
Leg Yield vs. Rein Yield
The first thing that occurs to me is that you might be “rein-yielding” rather than leg yielding. Often when riders begin to teach their horses to leg yield, they try to move them sideways by pulling them over with the reins. As a result, their horses feel restricted and unhappy.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever learned to do is the one-tempi changes. It’s like a whole new gait I didn’t know I could do. I was confused and a little bit frustrated when Jane started teaching me to do them. There was a point when felt exasperated, and I wanted to give up. But I know that life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you. They’re supposed to help teach you what you’re really made of. These challenges help you discover who you really are.
I’m an athlete. I know that. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to accept failure. So after a deep breath, I calmed my mind and really concentrated on what Jane was asking. Suddenly I was doing multiple one-tempis down the long side of the arena! Jane was so thrilled; she stopped, jumped out of the saddle, and hugged me around the neck! I knew I’d finally done it!
Today the one-tempis are easy for me. But it’s taken a lot of practice to get to this point. The key has been that we never even considered giving up. We accepted the challenge, took it one day at a time, and spent a lot of time visualizing, breathing, and practicing each piece of the puzzle. And now I’m showing at Grand Prix!
What is excellence to you? Is it finding a specific purpose for your life? Or perhaps it’s getting over 70 percent on a dressage test? Or maybe it’s as simple as getting the right canter lead every time you ask.
We all have different ideas of excellence. And there’s nothing quite like the amazing feeling of knowing that you did your very best, and it all came together perfectly in that moment.
Excellence doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a decision. It’s hours and hours of practice, coupled with a burning desire to be the best you can be. It’s doing everything you can to learn, improve, and achieve; while not accepting less than your very best. If excellence is your goal, you must give it your all and not settle for anything less.