For me, this blog is a way to process what I am learning, and having you all chime in has been like having a deep conversation. You've all given me excellent ways to think about why we do things and how we do things. Writing in such detail can be tiring, my fingers are dragging across the keyboard tonight, but knowing that putting words to ideas will lead me to better understanding, makes it a very worthwhile endeavor.
And with that, here's a little bit about my second ride on Sydney …
I already told you yesterday that I was pretty beat after my second ride on Speedy. Those exercises that Christian had me do were both physically and mentally challenging. I knew that what lay ahead was not going to be any easier.
- Sydney refuses to enter the ring, Christian tells me to DO NOTHING, just wait.
- Sydney finally enters the ring, and Christian tells me to DO NOTHING, just wait.
- He asks me to drop the reins and let Sydney do whatever he wants. Inside, I scream, WHAAAAATTTT????
- Sydney rams himself into the corners at A; Christian tells me to DO NOTHING but wait it out. He insists that Sydney will get bored with standing in the corner.
- Sydney pushes against the rails of the arena searching for a way out, and Christian again tells me to do … NOTHING. As Sydney whacks the rails, Christian quips that he's no jumper. I rolled my eyes; that's for sure! Let's keep it that way.
- Moments later, Sydney bashes through the arena rails and knocks everything askew as I valiantly keep my seat and keep us from falling amidst the scattered rails.
- Christian points out that the ground crew has efficiently righted everything so there is no need to worry.
- Sydney later avoids the arena rails and Christian once again jests that Sydney has learned a lesson so need to worry about that anymore.
- Sydney balks in the corner and refuses to leave A. Christian says to again DO NOTHING ... until Sydney starts to back. Then Christian instructs me to make backing my idea and we rein back, and rein back, and rein back until we are nearly at X. Sydney then goes forward.
- We repeat this rein back idea numerous times until Sydney finally decides that balking at A is not such a good idea.
- Eventually, we begin to trot. Christian has me stabilize my outside hand by resting it at Sydney's withers.
- We begin to flex with the inside rein; flex, release, flex release.
- We use lots of inside leg to encourage Sydney to step deeply with his his inside hind leg.
- We make the circle bigger whenever Sydney will go for it.
- While tracking right, Sydney falls in horribly and Christian insists that it's okay. We just work with whatever Sydney can do. If he wants to make the circle small, okay.
- Every time Sydney breaks into the canter, Christian tells me to make it my idea and encourages forwardness.
- Eventually, Sydney is put together and balanced, but then we change directions and start all over. We then get it back together and are balanced and put together only to lose it again at the next change direction.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Here's another Sarah photo - I still look quite tense, but Sydney is moving pretty nicely.
I need to add a special thank you to the OTTB rider who came out of nowhere to engulf me in a gigantic bear hug. Even though she didn't know me, she completely empathized with my situation and knew that I needed a bit of moral support. Thanks to you, kind lady!
Sarah, of Eventing in Color did a brilliant write up of the clinic here. As an auditor, she was able to really listen to what Christian was saying without trying to also make her body do things it had never tried before. She took excellent notes which I have decided to unabashedly copy and paste. Why reinvent the wheel, eh?
So, thanks to Sarah, here are some excellent Schachtisms:
From Karen on Speedy, Sunday:
- "He is the friendliest horse int he world."
- "Whistle a song. Relax. Pet him."
- "The only way to the outside rein is inside flex and inside leg."
- "Its just a misunderstanding. This horse was not trained in our language. He is not mean."
- "Pet him to the rhythm of the trot."
- "The hard thing is that you have to forget all the things that came before."
Exercises & Position tips:
- Apply and hold knee pressure when the horse is tense, then open when they relax. Works on TBs but not warmbloods. Generally too subtle for observers to notice, which is important in dressage.
- When you have a tense horse, start with long reins on neck. Don't pull back, don't lean forward.
- If he stops because he's nervous in the surroundings, just wait for him, but don't let him back. Give him time to get bored.
- Don't talk - they'll hear the nervousness in your voice.
- Don't try for connection at first. Trot, rising slow, with hands down. Let the horse decide where to go, then take him back to a walk using seat only.
- Slowly shorten the reins, hands low and wide, asking for more trot with "higher and faster" posting.
- Add inside leg to start connection to outside rein.
- When horses are naughty or spooky due to nervousness, don't be mean - just take each new moment as a new beginning.
- Canter with only inside leg, press outside rein to wither.
- Flex left and right to play with poll.
- Do not pull as you down transition from canter to trot.
- If he halts and goes backwards, try to stop with squeeze then big kick. If that doesn't work, rein back a lot. Make it your idea. When he want's to quit, ask for a few more steps. Then do forward walk to forward trot.
- When you get a moment of relaxation from the horse, smile and enjoy your ride.
This final lesson was the most meaningful to me. Sydney started off quite tense, then worked out of it, then got tense again, then improved again. I felt so much empathy for Karen - after all, we have the same issue of our amazing-at-home-OTTBs going nutso when away from home (only sometimes! which is somehow worse!).
Karen is an amazing rider with excellent feel (and an absolute KILLER lower leg!), but like me she had a hard time relaxing her whole body when Sydney was so tense. I could also tell she was having a mentally hard time being patient with his antics, which I completely relate to - when your horse is exhibiting unwanted behaviour, you feel compelled to do something about it. But Dr. Schacht reminded us that waiting IS doing something. And that we need to pick only one battle at a time. For example, he told Karen to let Sydney stay down in the corner and let him decide where to walk or trot to, as direction/location was not the battle to pick at that moment.
Overall the clinic was very informative. Dr. Schacht has a wonderful way with the horses and riders. He has a great sense of humor ("I always have the last word with my wife: 'yes hunnie'.") and a quiet calming voice. The components of the clinic that resonated most with me is to use less hand, use more seat and body and to ride your nervous horse as if he wasn't a nervous horse (easier said than done!).