Thursday, December 20, 2012

Do You Have a Plan When You Ride/Train Your Horse?

Someone posted a question similar to this in one of the online groups I follow.  People have asked me this before, but as I mostly lurk on this particular group, I didn't add my two cents.  But many other group members did comment.
To paraphrase, most people said they start with a plan in mind, but let the horse dictate what actually happens.  As I read the the replies, it started to occur to me that I USED to take this tack, but not anymore.
Let me explain...
When I train a horse, I have a plan with several components.  I have the Master Plan, which is the Training Scale.  I also have the "Plan of Attack", which takes into consideration the overall picture of the horse--his conformation and his personality.  Different horse-types require different focuses of the training scale at different times in their training.  Those are my general goals.
Then I have more specific goals, based on the long term goals--such as, a general timeline for progression (usually month to month), and this part of the plan is the most flexible, even after the idea is set.  The reason is that I initiate this timeline on a "best-case scenario", which doesn't take into consideration any hiccups (lameness, sickness, unanticipated weaknesses that need more time at a certain point, etc.).  The timeline usually gets longer, as we take into account any interruption, unforseen circumstances, or slow-down in the training.
Then we have the benchmark plan.....that is specific points of progression (apart from the timeline), and is used for competition purposes. Such as, as the purpose and elements of "Training Level" get easy for the horse, we should already be flowing into the concepts of "First Level" (where impulsion is introduced), such as the lengthening of the trot and canter. Then as all the elements of First Level are becoming easier, begin to introduce the notion of collection through some steps of the shoulder-in and other more sophisticated lateral work, and so on.
And to answer the question of a daily plan, yes, I do have a plan for each ride.  And I expect to be able to execute the elements of my plan.  If the horse is dictating something other than I have planned on a regular basis, then I believe the failure is mine!
If I don't "get to" the elements of the plan I lay out for the day, I have to wonder--"is my plan unrealistic"? Or, "do I really understand the training scale"? Or, "am I skipping ahead of where my horse truly is in its training"?
I believe that if I am not able to execute my plan for the training session at least 98% of the time, then there is something wrong with the master plan, or of my execution of the master plan, plan of attack, or timeline (the big picture).  If you are not able to execute the daily plan, it is just a symptom of a bigger problem in your training.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Horse Hates Dressage

I hear this from time to time; mostly when I visit a boarding barn that has mixed disciplines.  I usually don't respond, but I think it is time to put my "official position" to paper.

No horse hates dressage. When someone claims that their horse hates dressage, they are telling me that:

A. They have no idea what dressage is
B. They are not applying the principles of dressage correctly, or
C. They are too lazy to learn to ride and train their horse properly.

Most of the time, quite honestly, I believe the reason is B.  I further believe that they don't do it on purpose.  The biggest reason that people don't apply the principles correctly, is that it is difficult to be as disciplined as you need to be every day in order to develop your horse into the best athlete he can be, no matter what specialty discipline you choose.
It takes a committed effort over a very long period of time to learn the principles of riding (let's not even call it dressage for a moment, since it applies to EVERY discipline--not just "dressage"), and it takes much perfect practice to become proficient in applying those principles dynamically and still maintain the logical progression that the horse needs.
So, it is not the horse that hates dressage.  It is that the person has not yet understood that DRESSAGE is the fundamental necessity of the horse/human partnership, no matter what purpose the horse serves the rider. Yes, it is difficult to develop the horse's muscles in a way that doesn't injure the horse or break him down prematurely, and sometimes the horse resists.  But he only resists in the same way that a person would resist having to do an intense workout at the gym.  If the rider understands how to push, encourage, cajole, and insist, the horse will develop the joy of fitness along the way.  Will he love every step?--no.  Neither do we.  Sometimes, it is very difficult, and the horse doesn't understand that becoming stronger and more ambidextrous will help him feel better and live longer.  We understand that for ourselves, because we are human and we have the gift of abstract thought.  Horses don't have that capacity, but they are naturally agreeable creatures, and if we train OURSELVES to understand and be able to apply the principles of dressage/riding, and we push hard, but not too hard, and set your horse up for success with the effort, your horse WILL like dressage. And your performance will reap the benefits, no matter what discipline you enjoy.