Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Physician Heal Thyself

At one point, while teaching a lesson today, I uttered (okay, I shouted) the following brilliant gem of wisdom:

"Put your legs on and ride!"

Out of context the sentence is baffling. At the moment, it was profound. The situation was such that during the lesson my student was having trouble turning her horse left on a circle. Oh sure, it sounds like it should be easy, but when 1,500 pounds of horse says he'd rather go right than go left, there's not a whole lot a rider can do about it. The horse was doing an excellent job of teaching his rider that should she want to go left, she ought to SEND him there rather than PULL him there. The horse (and who can blame him) did not want to be dragged around by his face. His method of pointing this out was to go around his circle as if there were strong magnets in the fence at the other end, and he was made of steel.

Given the instructions that she could not let go of her saddle pad strap while using her inside rein (to limit pulling), this rider was faced with how she was going to get the left turn. What she had forgotten in the heat of the moment, is that she had many other more influential aids that were at her disposal. What she was trying to do was like trying to win the NBA playoffs with all the best players benched. If I were a person that paid attention to such things I could have provided actual names of some "best players". My familiarity with basketball ended when Michael Jordan retired. The first time.

It is easy to get distracted by what the horse's head is doing. It is right there in front of you. Or at least it ought to be. If it's not, you need more help than I can provide here. Being motivated by our tactile sense, it is easy to use our hands to manipulate that which is right in front of us, but there is a better way. Let's say that someone wants you to move somewhere. The person in charge of moving you can either stand on the opposite side from where you need to go, and then push you there. Or, person in charge of moving you could grab hold of your lower jaw and haul you there. Given the two choices, I bet you'd take the gentle shove.

It does take time to teach a horse to move away from leg pressure and we use the inside rein pull to help the horse understand where to go. Eventually, the aids should be refined such that the horse is able to follow the rider's weight and leg aids and the reins used just to point the horse in the right direction. The horse in this lesson was entirely capable of following leg aids, should they be given. What was happening was that the rider was doing damage control rather than preventative riding. Instead of telling the horse where he should be going she stalled out in the middle of the road and the horse carried on without her. By the time she got back in the driver's seat, she was now stuck trying to change the horse's mind after he'd already made the decision to go the other way.

In telling her to "Put her legs on and ride!" I was reminding her that she needed to push that horse through the reins from her legs, not pull him or get caught up in his efforts to bulge out of the circle. Riding positively and riding forward will help you get to your goal much quicker and easier than flailing around after things have gone haywire. Keep the horse's energy moving forward rather than letting it go bursting out the side and trying to reclaim it. That is what is meant by "Put your legs on and ride!".

After struggling against the temptation to pull that left rein, my student got the horse around the circle to the left and then did some to the right and then came back to the left again. When she was riding, the horse went beautifully around his circles. He was perfectly happy going around those circles once he was asked to do them in a way that made sense to him. She looked like she was in charge of the situation ('cause she was) and like she and the horse were one unit instead of looking like a tin soldier Scotch-taped to a Slinky.

Shortly after that lesson, I saddled up my own horse. We circled around a bit but soon I started having trouble because Dundee was losing focus and balance every time we had to go past the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws. I struggled a bit and grumbled a bit and finally said, not even to myself but right out loud, "Put your legs on and ride!". Once I did - BANG! - went Dundee, jumping forward like the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws had just pinched his butt. The next time past the WBWRBTAC, Dundee tensed up but moved straighter. The third time, he powered through with confidence. Sometimes we need to take our own advice.

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