This is a long post, and kinda preachy. You have been warned.
There is no anger in dressage.
This is the most important lesson that I've learned in the past year. Before I moved to my current barn, I was at a barn where I rode alone for three years. Where before it was just me and the horses, now I'm exposed to different people, disciplines, and attitudes towards training. It's made me realize more than ever that there is just no room for anger when you are doing dressage training.
I'm not saying I have never been angry at a horse while mounted. I have, because I'm not perfect. What I am saying is that it's one of the most unproductive things you can do while mounted on an animal that you are trying to train.
With a few exceptions, horses are pretty willing to please. Sure, mostly their agenda is "Let me outside!" and "Feed me!", but most horses allow themselves to be trained. Not all of them give 100%, but if a 1200 lb plus animal did NOT want to be ridden, it wouldn't be.
So, let me give an example to help me prove my point. Your horse spooks. This makes you mad, because you think A) he just did it to piss you off, B) he should know better, or C) it wasn't anything to spook at, cause he's seen that hose a thousand times. Whatever sets you off, you yank on his mouth to stop him, bang his sides with your spurs and whip his butt a few times to let him know you are pissed.
First - fear should never be punished. Spooking is innate in horses. Sure, some are spookier that others, but they are just listening to their instincts. A horse's best defense is it's feet. It doesn't have sharp claws or teeth. It has legs. So it runs to protect itself. Anyway, to punish a horse for spooking is just justifying that it should be scared. But that's another soapbox...
Second, your whip and spurs ARE NOT WEAPONS. They are AIDS. You don't spank your horse with your whip. Your whip is to reinforce your leg (and occasionally, the seat) when you aren't getting the response that you want. If your horse won't go forward when asked, by all means use the whip, and even your spurs. But make sure to ask with your leg first. Be firm, but fair. But never punish with them. That is not what they are for.
Third, did you think your horse wanted to make you mad? I guarantee he did not. In this case he was reacting because he got distracted. That happens to every horse from time to time, but if it happens all the time with your horse, then maybe it's not his fault, but yours. Have you ever established trust with him? Why should be believe that he wont get eaten by the boogieman unless you prove it to him? Also, a horse can only do one thing at a time. A horse that is busy working has no time to spook. So, make him work, make him focus, make that a habit instead of spooking.
Also, remember that horses are not machines. Like you, they get fatigued. They have faults. They will always find the easiest way of doing anything, if you let them. If they stumble, swap leads behind, or lose the hind end in the canter, maybe it's time for a walk break. If they do it a lot, or start some weird behavior (like taking off or bucking for no reason) maybe they are trying to tell you "That saddle bothers my back!" or "My hocks hurt!". It's your responsibility to check these things out, and not just punish them.
You know how hard it is for you to ride perfectly - to hold your core tight, use your seat, keep your hands steady, sit straight, etc. You can do everything great for a few minutes, but then you get a little tired and the correct form goes out the window. You get crooked, lean forward, not engage your seat, anything just to keep going. We do all these things to make it easier, but we don't stop and take a break. It's NOT easy to ride perfectly for long periods of time. It's JUST AS HARD for your horse to be perfect. They get tired, but rather than just stop, they continue doing what they are asked, and they compensate in order to get the job done. Don't you owe it to your horse to be more patient? Cause you're not perfect. Dressage is hard for BOTH of you. Remember that the next time you get really mad at your horse.
You can't create something beautiful using anger. Dressage is meant to be beautiful. Do your horse a favor and take the anger out of your head before you put your helmet on.
The Harmany Muzzle
5 days ago