Accurate Figures

One thing true of all young horses is that none of them have ever read a single book about dressage. Not a one. Perhaps because they haven't done their homework, each and every one of them seems to think they are the first horse to ever be ridden and also therefore the first to ever try any evasions from work.

Your average trainer has had this conversation with young horse after young horse: 'Nope, that won't work either. Try again. Nope, not that either. Try again. Good! That's it! Do it again.' Experience has taught us that horses learning things get confused, don't like the work because it's hard or they don't understand it, have an objection to sweating or feeling their muscles burn, think that straight lines are impossible or turning is impossible... You get the idea.

Evasions, no matter what their source, need to be identified and not permitted, so that we can positively reinforce the behavior that we are looking for and steer them away from the wrong behavior. This is where confidence comes in. In order to positively direct horses, we need to know what our goals are so that we can clearly give the horse signals. 'Yes, that is right.' Or 'No, not that, try again.'

Riders that lose confidence when their young horse gives them the wrong answer seem to always believe that they asked wrong. Or asked too much of their horse too early. It never seems to occur to these riders that your horse didn't understand, or even, did understand and answered with 'no thanks, that feels like work.' 

I already said this and I will say it again: If you know how to walk trot and canter than you know how to walk trot and canter. If you can do a 20 meter circle you can do a 20 meter circle. It is your horse that either doesn't know yet or said no. Remember the learning tension from the last post and take a deep breath.

Now we need to clarify. So the first part of clarification that I want to talk about (yes, this seems to be stretching into a multi-post topic) is related to accurate figures. The very first thing you need to do with a horse that has accepted a rider is to very diligently, and with the repititive dedication that you used to teach your child the alphabet for the first time, teach your horse the arena figures.

This is not glorious work. But it is vital. Straight lines are ridden on the track and through young horse corners. Circles are round and of appropriate size and in the correct locations. You change directions using long or short diagonals and you begin to teach them to change bend through figure eights and then serpentines. You pick up the canter in the corner or on a 20 meter circle without letting the horse trot faster.

And what if they can't stay straight on the track? Or ride the circle without falling in or out? Or run through your canter depart aids? Perfect!! Because you have committed to riding correct and accurate figures, you now know exactly where your problem is! You know what aids are misunderstood and/or ignored and you get to practice clarifying. You absolutely do not get to give up and blame yourself or say better luck next time because you are teaching your horse the alphabet! It is vital that they learn to do this correctly right now. And it is to be expected that it will take multiple multiple attempts before they can do it well.

And still, every single time they do it incorrectly, you clarify. And every time they do it correctly, you reward. Every time.

When it is time to clarify, that means you need to reassert your aids. It means use your proper posture and core strength and support your aids with a whip or spur when necessary. And it means, do not give up. Ugly, tension, hard work, confusion -- still do not give up. It will work.

Because you do not give up, you teach your horse that you are the leader of this herd of two. And because you are a cool person, they will learn overtime that this leader makes things obvious. This leader tells them what is correct and what is incorrect and so it becomes easier and easier to pick the correct answer. This leader expects the correct answer, and fortunately is willing to teach them how to get it.

And so, thanks to your great teaching skills and confidence, eventually you teach your horse how to get a young horse A+! Good job, you. I knew you could do it. :)