Saturday, May 14, 2011

lessons and light bulb moments #1

Since Nina and I aren't doing anything I decided I would try to review some of my big light bulb moments in learning about horses.  After all, they aren't lessons if you forget about them.

I do promise a picture of Nina as soon as I get the rest of her winter coat off - maybe before as she has an interesting coat pattern going right now.

Ride the Horse You Brought Today

I have heard this expression endlessly.  I thought I took it in, but apparently only on a very superficial level.  I suppose I thought it was just one of those rah-rah coaching things to get past some bad behavior without over reacting.  And I guess it is, but it is soooo much more.  Scotty taught me this.

Scotty was a big powerful guy, 17h, 1500# and convinced that 120% was the way to go.  He was trusting and enthusiastic and always ready to try something new.  After a week or so of punting poles around trying to clear the debris he figured out going OVER stuff and never looked back.  He loved to jump, dragged me to jumps when I was unsure, sailed around over 4ft with my trainer, and the only time he ever hit a rail or stopped it was because the rider was making it impossible for him to jump even off one foot and sideways.   Here is pic of him schooling on the flat, you can see how powerful this guy was.

So off we go to our first horse trial, traveling with a more experienced friend, we are both going Beginner Novice.  Scotty is a little excited but more interested in all the activity than spooky.  We put in a good dressage test and we are in 2nd or 3rd afterward.

We walk the course and it all looks doable, sandy footing, good view of each jump, a couple of drops which should slow him down a bit.  I am fully expecting him to run away with me and I am looking for places to circle on course.  In the warm up he is over jumping everything, other riders are teasing me about being in the wrong division and I am hoping to get him a little tired.  I am starting to get concerned about my fire breathing dragon, but I figure we can just get out of the way of following riders and circle endlessly.  My goal is to make it around clean and not think about time.

We go to the start box and he walks around calmly until the starter says 'go' and we calmly trot out of the box and head toward the first jump, a simple inviting log on level ground.
At this point Scotty realizes that we are LEAVING the horses in the warm up, trots up to the log, and to my amazement just stops, looking over his shoulder at the warm up.  Small circle, smack with the whip and he pops over and canters to the next jump.  Rinse - repeat.  Ok, this has to be me and I ride very strongly to the next jump.
At this point a horse galloping into the finish line passes us on the right and Scotty loses it.  The beginning of the course and the end of the course are two parallel lanes separated by a rope.  That galloping horse is going TOWARD the other horses and we are moving away!  Scotty spins, screams and tries to bolt after the galloping horse, who by now has crossed the finish line and stopped.  We return to our course only now the circling we are doing is Scotty trying to get away from me and not me trying to slow down my over eager horse.
We have two stops at the next jump, each time he tries to bolt after a horse heading to the finish line and then a total melt down at a drop with a log at the bottom.
By this time I have totally lost my nerve and don't honestly think I can force him down a drop and over a small jump - I hate drops anyway!
I don't know if we were eliminated or retired, I know the judge's radios were full of chatter about us.  It's always nice to be the entertainment of the day.

Ride the Horse You Brought Today.

I had a plan for riding Scotty, based on his personality and previous experiences.  I was totally locked in on the horse that I knew and had left no room for anything but my normal and fairly minor adjustments for excited horses.  I was fully expecting my fire breathing dragon and the idea of him being the gigantic chicken of the day had never crossed my mind.  I had no idea, at the time, of how to switch gears and sooth his concerns and coax him along.  My mind was in the slow-down-the-runaway mode and unable to adjust.

I gained a whole new perspective for the importance of making a plan but remaining open for ANYTHING to happen, not things within my experience or this horse's past, but literally ANYTHING.  

Ride the Horse You Brought Today.


  1. On a related note, I had a trainer who told me to ride the horse I want him to be -- she said that it was too easy to get caught up in the problems that you were expecting and that if you got on the horse and rode him to be good, sometimes that would get you through some rough spots!

  2. I agree, if I just expect a horse to do what I want, it often works. Especially when you are teaching them something new.

  3. I think the point of the "ride the horse you have today" maxim (my trainers version) is to keep from getting caught up in the "but he did perfect 20m circles yesterday" trap. Keeping your focus on what's happening now... being in the moment.

    I do agree with making your expectations positive, as it seems so many negative issues end up being rider generated. Riding is such a mental activity :)

  4. Yes, I wasn't 'expecting' Scotty to be bad, I was expecting him to be his normal self and at that stage in his training he ripped around at mach 2, trying to do what you wanted faster, higher and better than you thought you wanted. I had never seen the 'run for safety' side of him before, THAT is what caught me off guard. The fire breathing dragon part I was perfectly comfortable with.


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