Almost everything a horse does, is directly related to something a human has done. They are prey animals. They are hard wired to be reactive. If your horse does something, look to yourself, surroundings, or management for the answer before you decide you have a bad horse.
Case in point.
I had a lesson with a trainer I adore this weekend. The first in ages. As an adult, I’ve been very bad about lessons. As a kid, my parents dropped me off for my lesson once a week religiously. As an adult, I am doing well if I ride in a clinic and take two other lessons a year.
My family of four people, four dogs, and now one horse has been reduced to just my income in the last month so I sat down to make up a plan. Eventing in Area VIII usually runs about $500 a weekend for me with entries, stabling, gas, human food, and hotel share/camping. I can’t justify that expense when I’m telling the kidlets that we are turning off the satellite. Lessons, on the other hand, are $60 for an hour of actual critique and improvement. Why don’t I do this more often?
Miss Roxie was wonderful. She really gets to business on a cross country course, and she really gets to business for a lesson.
Or does she?
I really get to business on cross country, and I really get to business for a lesson. I concentrate much better than I do for stadium, dressage, or schooling. When I ride a dressage test, I am distracted by trying to remember the test. When I ride a stadium course, I am distracted by remembering my course. When I’m schooling, the day itself or yesterday’s ride are still nagging at me. When I go out on cross country, I have only one thing on my mind at a time. Next fence. Next fence. Next fence. And my horses go great. They eat it up like they are on a mission… because I am on a mission. In a lesson, I am on instinct with a magical little voice coming from the center of the ring correcting all my problems… and my horses go like they are made.
The silly, spooky, cougar-searching mare went over two of the scariest jumps she’d ever seen without hardly a wiggle. This was her first trip all by herself without other horses at the destination, and she was a star. She didn’t look like a spooky, green horse. She looked like she’d been campaigning for years.
One of the last things my trainer said when I was cooling out, was that my horse was almost too obedient. She reacts to everything I do, things that I don’t realize I do, and then I correct her if I hadn’t meant to ask. Now, I am a very soft rider. I keep very little weight in my hands and very little weight on her sides, but I am still managing to confuse my horse… and I’ve been blaming her.
I didn’t know I was rushing through the corner before she was. I didn’t realize I was anxious about getting the canter transition. I didn’t notice that when she came screeching to a halt, it was because I was creeping over her shoulder.
After 20 years on the back of a horse, I learned something so basic, so simple I felt foolish. When you ride alone a lot, you can get some neat bad habits. My big one is looking at Roxie’s head while we’re working on our flatwork. All I had to do, was look up where I was going and the ride was dreamy. No sudden brake checks, no rushing transitions or diving through corners. All the things I thought she needed more schooling to correct, boiled down to me looking where I was going.