From Endurance to Dressage
A Change in Perspective
Chemaine said something at our lesson that got my attention. I didn't think much of it at the time, but later, I really had to stop and ponder what she meant. What she said was this: you buy into his tension.
When she said it, my first thought was well yeah ... he's tense! Even as that thought crossed my mind though, I had this vague feeling that she was telling me something I needed to reconsider. Have I let Izzy convince me that he is a tense, anxious horse? Am I seeing something that really isn't a "thing"? Because the reality is, he's not an anxious horse. He's a friendly dork that loves to play and goof off.
I am constantly amazed at the new games he creates for himself. He recently started climbing into his feed tub. When Laurel fed the other day, he refused to move so she was forced to dump his cubes practically on his head. That doesn't strike me as a "tense" horse.
He loves his barrel. He drags it around, stands it up, knocks it down, and gives it a kick now and then. IL, who was filling in for my vacationing barn owner, told me that he rolled the barrel over to her and then gave a look of pure joy when she rolled it back to him. That still doesn't seem like something an anxious horse would do.
Picking the short straw means you have to fill Izzy's sizable water trough. It takes forever because you have to stand there, holding the hose as far away from the fence as possible. If you walk away for even one second while it's filling, he'll have the hose by its throat as he flings it around. The best way to do it is to kick him out of his stall and paddock so that the hose can just do its job unmolested. Again, these are not the behaviors of a tense and anxious horse.
I've had two rides on Izzy since Tuesday's lesson. For the first, JL had to bring a student down to our arena to work. Normally, Izzy would have been driven to distraction by the company and would have been completely unfocused. The second time I rode, the gardener had arrived and was mowing and weed-whacking near the arena fence. This too is always a recipe for tension, bolting, and spooking.
For those two rides, I changed my thinking from I have a tense horse to I have an easily distracted horse. So instead of letting him gawk and look around, I shortened my reins and put him straight to work. I imagined that I was putting him into a small box as I compressed his frame and packed him up. He responded immediately, and his relief was almost palpable. He was more than happy to let me take over and make the decisions for him.
We enjoyed two very successful rides in situations that I normally would have considered "ride ruiners." By changing the way I looked at him, I realized that Izzy doesn't have a problem; I just need to ride him differently. And I did.
It's hard to ride with my reins so "short," but really, my reins aren't short. They just feel like they're "Rollkur short" because I've let them be too long in an effort to get Izzy to go long and low.
I don't have a tense horse. I have a horse who needs more frequent input and redirection. As I get more competent at keeping his mind engaged, we'll have better rides. Just this week he has already shown me that's how he needs to be ridden, and boy was it fun!
7/8/2016 06:49:51 am
Excellent choice of words, Leah - "paradigm shift", that's exactly what it was! That happened before when I quit calling him a green bean. As long as I thought of him as a green bean, he was going to remain a green bean.
7/8/2016 01:34:38 pm
Welcome! And thanks. I always write for myself first, but if someone happens to think what I write is interesting/funny/helpful/whatever ... all the better. :0)
7/8/2016 11:48:10 am
Why do I always get the smart ones?!?!? :0)
I was going to say, from how you described him, he sounds like a horse that gets very easily bored and has a mind working at mach-12, which does lend itself to unfocused work. I got to thinking, what do I do when Penn (or Mikey) is unfocused? I give him more to do. Sounds like you got just the right advice!
7/8/2016 11:51:51 am
Chemaine has hounded me for a while to be quicker in my responses. I tend to react too late because my reins have gotten too long. She keeps encouraging me to catch him before he loses balances/flings his head/or whatever goof ball thing he wants to do. Her most recent advice was to check in with him ALL THE TIME, even when he is already soft and round. She wants me to be able to do more praise than correcting. All of that comes with a shorter rein so that we can communicate more quickly with one another. :0)
Copper plays with all the things like that too. He got in a nasty habit of dumping the 50 gallon water trough immediately after I filled it up when he was younger, but thankfully now he just stands in it. I'd rather them have muddy water than none all day.
7/8/2016 11:54:00 am
Izzy's trough is huge!!!! And tied down because he does the same thing. He finds great joy in dragging it around and tipping it over! Fortunately, he hasn't quite figured out how to climb in it. Yet. And now that I know that it's possible, I have yet another thing to worry about him breaking! :0)
7/8/2016 11:55:05 am
Izzy's the only one I know. God help us all if they're all like him! LOL
7/8/2016 08:59:19 am
When you have a smart, thinking horse you have to stay one step ahead of them or you are always trying to play catch up. Trust me, I ride thinkers!!! As you are finding out you have to ride the horse you want, not the one you think you have. And sometimes it seems to be one step forward, two steps back with the smart thinkers. But pretty soon you are going forward more than back. The more you change things, do things differently, and add new things, the happier these guys are.
7/8/2016 11:56:26 am
Lately, we have definitely been on the more steps forward than backward dance, so maybe the worst is behind us. :0)
It is so very interesting when something like this happens; I feel like it happens to me often! Recently I came to the realization that Murray WANTS to be a horse that doesn't need a lot of leg -- he doesn't want me to put leg on, he doesn't want me to push him into another rein -- but what he needs to go correctly IS a lot of leg, and he does better once he gets over his own preconceptions.
7/9/2016 05:45:28 am
I wish I would get these moments of clarity more often, but I guess that "occasionally" is better than never at all. Glad you and Murray are getting to the outside rein. Izzy loves the left outside rein, but he struggles with the right outside rein. :0)
I love those insights. It was a real shift for me when Royce told me that Carmen spooks as a response to pressure. When she feels that something is too hard or she's worried. Of course it's overlaid with her early training that was too much too fast and too hard.
7/11/2016 12:05:14 pm
Labels really do have power, which is why negative ones can be so toxic. It sounds like you have a really good thing going now. Izzy definitely falls into the smart and needs more to do category. Challenging but fun!
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
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Third Level: 62.105%
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