Friday, January 29, 2010

Applying My Own Advice

And More Thoughts on Yesterday

Actually, the sun came out yesterday and in between bouts of really gusty wind, it was kind of nice out. So I managed to saddle up Tucker and give him a schooling session in the arena.

I am pretty sure something is bothering him in the hind end because he is crabby about canter, and is reluctant to keep going if I try to make a small circle--10-15 meters. What I get then is an up and down canter that feels as if it is going into a "stall" and then he finally does break gait. So, for now, I am not pushing it. The trot is fine and really feels nice. Since canter is a lateral gait, it does put more stress on one hind leg at a time, and that's when whatever it is shows up. I will continue to get him more fit in case it is his stifle and, weather permitting, have him built up enough so that a vet evaluation in another month or so will be worth the time and effort--and money.

Meanwhile, I applied nearly all the methods I mentioned yesterday, except I was not carrying my dressage whip as I had no intention of working hard enough to provoke anything as neither one of us is fit enough to do much. Also, Tucker very well understands the leg aids, and, when all is going well, responds when asked.

All in all, he was quite good that way. Canter was prompt but a little sticky once we got the gait and he did break on the right lead. But he was reasonable about striking off again, so I made no issue of it. I did numerous changes of direction and then ran through the lateral exercises.

There is no reason to drill him on any of these as he does them quite willingly. We did two sides of trot shoulder-in on each rein, two sides of travers, and then one leg yield in each direction at the trot, ending a shallow half pass in each direction. Tucker is just learning half pass so I do not expect him to really bend and sweep sideways yet, so I was very happy with his willing effort and some nice steps from the rail to the center line. Then we picked up the canter and we did a half pass on each rein as well. He is much better half passing to the right than the left, making me suspect his left hind might be the sore one. But he really tried, so that was just fine.

Then we did a good number of canter/trot/canter transitions on a large circle on both reins. This was the best exercise for "forward" as he got very sharp to my leg and was making some very nice departs. He also added a lot more energy to his strides, again a big plus.

Finally, we walked, halted did about four strides of reinback, trotted forward, halted and repeated the reinback with a good move off afterwards. This was exceptionally good because he was not at all resistant to the reinback and kept his head down and on the bit without one single question. It's been a problem in the past, but not yesterday.

I realized after my previous post that I'd said "what horses do wrong," and how that phrase might be scoffed at by so many riders who claim it is always the rider's fault. Sorry folks, but when a horse ignores a well executed aid or bucks when you put a leg on, that is the horse. Granted, it then becomes the rider's/trainer's job to figure out how to correct that and ride that horse better, but it was the horse that started the problem. In Tucker's case, I've had him ever since he was a yearling and there is nothing in his training history to undo, except perhaps for the ulcers. They well could have taught him how to balk, buck, and kick out to leg aids. It is quite possible that if I had been more aggressive back then and simply insisted that he work through his issues and go, no matter what, that he would not be so sensitive and frustrating now. But physical issues like that are not the rider's fault and, to my mind, making him work through pain is not necessarily how I prefer to train.

Some people do, however. And some horses are just fine with that. Somehow they cope with soreness, etc. with a stoic acceptance and just go about their jobs because they are told to to them by a dominant master. I have chosen another approach. It has "come back to bite me" more than once, I suppose, as I do tend to indulge my Boys' whims. (Remember Tucker and the water trough.) But I'd rather be a good listener. If, however, I find that Tucker does have spavins that need to fuse, and that hard work is the best solution, he will have to work despite his discomfort. When I was helping him recover from his stifle issue we trotted and trotted--including up and down hills--to build up his muscles even though it was hard work for both of us.

In the meantime, though, I prefer listening to my horse and letting his attitude guide my training. If the first canter depart is a little "rocky" and the next one is better, then I know he can manage, so we canter. If we try to do a smallish circle and he struggles, if a more moderate size works and I can't make the circle smaller without more struggle, then we simply don't have to ride small circles. There is nothing at stake now as I am not competing, so it's just fine.

Note here: When Chris, my previous trainer, was showing Tucker for me (before ulcer meds when he was dreadful in the warmups) he excused himself from a test when Tucker started to shut down in a canter circle. What's the big deal? Chris is a strong, determined, talented, excellent rider who will work a horse through most anything. For him to stop and leave the arena, telling me afterwards that "something is wrong with Tucker," said volumes. In that case, we had, as I recall, been battling an on/off front end lameness that eventually turned out to be a very well hidden hoof abscess that took months to resolve. Regardless, here was a rider perfectly capable of making nearly any horse perform who ended up listening to my horse's complaint.

Should I be any less sensitive?

Far too cold to ride today. The forecast was, I fear, accurate as winter is back in her most chilling glory. Hope your day is, at the very least, bright with sunshine. We can all use some.


  1. I agree with you 100%!!! Riders make mistakes, but horses have problems!

    My lovely mare makes sure I sit on her left side at the canter even on the left lead. I have to make a conscious effort to sit to the right.

    Horses will put us where they think it is more comffy for them. It is NOT all down to the rider.

    I guess people who say that(it is all down to the riders,) are dealing with beginners, or themselves are not very advanced. Because any good trainers will tell you all the biomechanics problem of their horses!

  2. Very thought provoking post! I often say "It's always the rider's fault", but I don't mean for it to have a strictly literal interpretation. Of course horses have physical and behavioral issues that aren't related to rider error, but I believe that it is our job as the rider to be aware of that and help the horse through those issues. From now on, I will be much more careful when I use that phrase and explain what I mean so it won't be misconstrued. Thank you for making me aware of that!

  3. I also agree with you 100%, not all horses are perfect and most of them need corrections at one time or another. I've never met a horse that was willing to do anything asked or hasn't put up some sort of fight or just blatantly disregarded a cue. Some horses test us and it's up to us to figure out how to deal with it. If one thing doesn't work I try something else.

    Like you I listen to my horses and if I think disobedience is due to pain I will stop and try and figure out what is causing it. The same thing applies to training, if they are not getting it, then it's up to me to figure out how to make them understand what I want. I'm very easy or indulgent with them because I always want them to have a good experience and want to continue to try for me.

  4. I'm going to shamelessly copy your past couple workouts. They sound great, and as long as I leave the advanced stuff out, they'll be perfect for Izzy.

  5. thought provoking last two posts, jean!