Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Training Thoughts on a Cold Winter Night

 My Brain Does Work Even When I'm Shivering

Cold here in New Jersey. I put winter blankets on the Boys for the night. Hopefully they will be comfortable.  

But, on to the topic of the post.......

Interesting comment from Muriel on my last post about the western riders and flying changes.  She noted that they do not worry about collection and such for training or teaching the exercise.

I am in total agreement. In fact, aside from a few of the upper level dressage movements that might require collection to be done properly—piaffe and passage, in particular—most of the “tricks” of dressage do not require the horse to even be on the bit.

Now, hardcore dressage riders/trainers may scoff at that. There is a certain mystery to teaching the horse according to the “training scale” and at each level of expertise, there are specific exercises that should be mastered.  According to their theory, a horse cannot master, for example, a walk/canter transition when it first begins its training.

But, horses walk/canter in the field all the time. They do flying changes, as Muriel noted, and some of them even passage across the pasture. They are certainly not “on the bit” and the only collection they offer is whatever their bodies need to do to maneuver. Why should it really be any different under saddle once the horse is comfortable about the idea of how to carry a rider on its back?

I remember being taught and reading about how to get a horse to take the correct lead at the canter. It’s a rather complex process according to some experts. The cue to canter must be given as the off hind leg strikes off to encourage the inside hind to take a larger stride. The horse must be positioned “just so,” with a proper half halt to gain balance for the depart. You support with your inside leg and cue the lead with the outside leg (some people do use other cues, by the way) and if you do everything just right, you will get the lead you want.

Out in the field, horses take the correct lead for turns all the time, and if they change their minds about direction, most often will fly the change to make the new turn. Why not? They want to be in balance on their own and would much rather do it right than do it wrong.

Yet, we get in the saddle, and suddenly, we can’t canter on the correct lead at all.  In all my serious riding experience, I can only recall two horses that posed a problem for me about taking their leads. One was my friend’s horse that turned out to have a permanently injured stifle, so he was actually too lame to take the lead, and the other was my very on PJ, who had apparently broken a bone in his front hoof at some point and had developed the habit of never taking that lead.  I overcame PJ’s issues with lots of training, but other riders who rode him often could not get the right lead for “love or money.”  Otherwise, I have never found getting the correct lead to be a big issue. Sometimes, it might require a little mental work to find the right exercise to encourage the correct lead, but that’s about it.

I think too many riders—dressage riders especially—make too much of what needs to be done to simply ride. Certainly, creating a beautiful Grand Prix test does demand all the “magic,” but for just plain old riding? 

All it really takes is the proper cue to ask the horse to do what comes naturally. 


  1. Oh, I do agree with this! And I have been thinking about it quite a lot, lately.

    Training is subjective: what is a "trained" horse to me, is very different from what passes as a "trained" horse to others. I think most of what passes as a "dressage horse" is just a green horse! A trained horse can work in the curb, move off just the rider's seat and do all the lateral work.

    A trained horse is a working horse: if you need to do it, he can do it! That means that if I need to drop my reins to open a gate, cut a limb that's hanging into my arena, or just blast across a field for the sheer pleasure of it, I can do that. And I can bring him back from that and put him to "work". I can take a trained horse anywhere, and he will perform for me, because he is trained.

    The training is not in a method or an exercise. Those things can help, but they should never be dogma. The training must be tailored to the individual horse and the individual rider. Training scale be damned!

  2. Hear! Hear!
    I agree at 200%. I have just been on UDBB, the Dressage Queen Board Forum. I am amazed how pedantic, arrogant ...and IGNORANT these people are. Very scary place!!!

    The Cowboy flying changes is to throw the horse form one direction to another...
    NOT to be mistaken with the WESTERN rider flying changes that is done in straight line, but the horse is not collect.
    Anyway collection does not exist in Reining ...

    I also agree with Shannon, I see many English riding horses misbehaving on the ground.

    It is called BASIC ground work---> DO NOT RUN OVER HUMAN please.

    On another subject Jean, would you mind to write a post about treeless saddle. I am sure you could send me an email, but perhaps others would like to learn about it.

    I woudl like to know the theory behind it. Weight distribution, how does it work? Special pad yes? No? How to sit on them? Will standing in the stirrups will create pressure point etc...

    That will be great!

  3. Anonymous6:59 AM

    I've been taught that horses know how to move perfectly fine without us - in most cases - and that it's largely a matter of getting out of their way and allowing their movement while providing them with direction. There's a tendency to "infantalize" horses and say that they can't do anything themselves when in fact it's all in there if we know where to look.

    The training scale is like any other system - good as a way of conceptualizing some things but to be taken with a grain of salt.

  4. I agree with you and all the commenters.

    There's an old saying that goes something like this, "A horse already knows how to be a horse; the rider has to learn how to become a rider.
    A horse without a rider is still a horse; a rider without a horse is no longer a rider.

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  6. True, but I have to say - as a western rider - an uncollected horse is not pleasant to ride. We don't need extreme collection, but we do want the horse to not be 'strung out' and hollow-backed.
    My new horse has apparently never been ridden in a collected manner, and I'm trying to teach him to pull it together a little more, so his gaits are more comfortable and not so spazy.

  7. I hope this comment is recieved as it is meant to educate and not insult. I work with Charles Dekunffy who expresses dressage "movements" as, exercises that are theropeutic for the horse. They weren't designed to have the weight of humans on there back and it takes much proper work to achieve a happy healthy horse. We walk on the sides of our feet and hunched over,(an example) that doesn't mean that it is good for us. If we were to maintain proper posture and correctness our bodies shouldn't break down so quickly. Coming from that perspective I look at my riding as I look at going to the gym or the food I eat. It's important to be correct for the well being of the horse.