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.
A new horse came to the barn today. She is very young. I was in the arena with Jane when she arrived. She saw us practicing some upper level movements, and it embarrassed her. She told a friend of mine that she was ashamed that she didn’t know very much, and was afraid to talk to me since I obviously know a great deal.
That surprised me, and made me sad. She is young and hasn’t had much training. Why should she be shy about what she can or can’t do? I’ve been around awhile and have lots of experience. She’s just starting out. I don’t like it that she’s intimidated by me.
I heard Jane tell someone that you don’t have to be an advanced rider to be a really GOOD rider. Just be the best at what you’re doing now! My friends who are working at their training level foundations are just as hard working and dedicated as I am at Grand Prix. I’ve just been at it longer.
Dressage riders tend to be a very driven group of folks. It’s such a demanding sport, it’s natural that it attracts Type A personalities. It takes a real work ethic to be good at something this challenging, so those who get into the competitive part of the sport tend to over do much more than under do. Jane and most of her friends and students work very hard and have a difficult time taking time to just RELAX!
I’m not like that at all. Being a Friesian, it is natural for me to be fairly laid back. Sure, I get excited sometimes, but for the most part being quiet and easy going is natural for me. My gift to Jane is reminding her that someone can be relaxed and go with the flow of life, and still be very successful.
There is a time for work, and there is a time for play. There is a time to be driven and give it all you have, and, there is the time for rest and recharging.
If your horse’s shoulders are stuck, it’s like having a kink in a water hose. The energy can’t flow from behind, over the back, into your hands where it can then be recycled back to the hind legs.
Here are two shoulder suppling exercises for you to try with your stiff horse.
1. Make a 20-meter box with 4 corners in the walk.
To give you more control of your horse’s shoulders, do the exercise in counter flexion. (That is, you’ll just barely see his outside eye or nostril.)
If you’re going to the left, ask for right counter flexion with your right wrist. Stay in counter flexion during the entire exercise.
At the first corner, bring both hands to the left to swivel your horse’s shoulders around the corner.
Then, soften the contact without letting the reins get loopy.
After the corner, walk straight ahead in counter-flexion.
At the next corner, bring both hands to the left again.
Do this in all four corners.
As your horse’s shoulders become more supple, it’ll get easier to spin his shoulders around the turn without meeting resistance.
You can tell there’s no resistance when the weight in your hands stays the same as you swivel your horse’s shoulders around the corner.
2. Ride down the long side of the ring, and move your horse’s shoulders slightly to the left and right.
Walk down the long side of arena.
Flex your horse at the poll opposite the direction you’ll be moving his shoulders. For example, when riding to the left, ask for a counter flexion to the right by turning your right wrist. Then, take both hands to left to slide your horse’s shoulders over. Move the shoulders over only 1-2 inches.
Now change to correct flexion by turning your left wrist.
Move both arms to the right to pop the shoulders back out to the track.
Smoothly and fluidly move the shoulders back and forth as you work your way down the long side.
Wanna know what’s so cool about the Happy Horse course? People from all over the world have told me that it’s helped them sort out so many common problems quickly and easily.
See if any of these common problems sound familiar to you.
• You’re just plain confused and frustrated because trainers tell you what to do but don’t tell you HOW to do it.
• You can’t find anyone to explain things in a CLEAR, step-by-step, easy to understand training system.
• Sometimes you find training to be a struggle, exhausting, or a tug of war rather than a joyful process that creates a happy, athletic horse.
• You can’t get your horse consistently on the bit.
• You can’t afford to work with a trainer on a regular basis.
• You can’t find any decent trainers in your area.
• You can’t afford a fancy warmblood so you think training will be more difficult with your Quarter horse (Arabian, Haflinger, Friesian, Morgan, Saddlebred, Fjord, Thoroughbred, Draft Cross etc).
Do any of those issues sound like what you’re dealing with? Then the Happy Horse course was developed for you.
When your horse tilts his head, it’s often a sign that he isn’t “through”. So, if you’re tracking right and his right ear is lower than his left ear with his mouth going to the left, you’ll need to supple the left side of his poll. (Supple the right side of his poll if he tilts the other way with his left ear lower.)
Remember, you can’t use your connecting aids successfully if he’s locked anywhere including the poll. (Suppleness comes before Connection on the training scale.)