Saturday, February 11, 2012

Giving an elbow

So I've had lots of comments about my elbows being straight. I agree, you should ride with your elbows hanging at your sides, shoulders relaxed, straight line from bit to elbow.

I'm here to tell you that would be a very bad thing for me to ride like that all the time with Phil. Please read the following carefully and you will understand why.

A trained dressage horse will make contact and go to the bit, allowing the rider to accept the pressure that the horse is exerting on the bit. What develops is a subtle give and take between horse and rider to maintain the perfect contact for that horse, keeping in mind that each horse likes a different amount of pressure in it's contact with the bit/rider's hand.

How do I know this? Because Kaswyn is a trained schoolmaster who I have shown Intermediare I, and have schooled all the Grand Prix movements on. He makes proper and consistent contact. Through this contact I am able to CONNECT him from back to front. And I can ride with my elbows in perfect position, resting near my hips, soft, and relaxed, giving and taking. I'm not a beginning dressage rider.

Phil is young and green, and has been trained to set his head in one position and avoid bit contact. His previous "head set" looks like an upper level horse who is too deep and overflexed. Poll down, chin in, crest up, and avoiding bit contact. I'm here to tell you that if I just put my arms in perfect position he would set that head again. This is completely undesirable for what I'm trying to achieve.

I'm fixing this my allowing him to stretch into my hand the moment that he offers it. To do that, rather than let the reins slide through my fingers, I straighten my elbows. The contact that he will accept is very light from having been taught to avoid contact. So we only get a few strides of contact before he begins to evade again.

Yes, I also come out of position because I'm leaning a bit too far forward. Another consequence of trying to allow any contact and stretch into my hand that he will offer.

I will not ride him like this forever, because I will not need to. Eventually his 3-4 strides of acceptance of contact will be a full circle, then a few laps around the arena. I've only had six months to re-train four years of previous training. This will take patience and understanding.

And as far as excuses, and fear? I'm not making excuses, I'm explaining why I'm doing what I'm doing. I hardly think I need to make excuses for my riding, considering I ride Phil four or five times a week. Frankly, I work my ass off and have no excuses to make. And absolutely, I have some fear when riding Phil. He's young, still green, and unpredictable. I would be a total idiot not to have some fear.

That being said, I know that Phil is a good horse. He is smart, willing to please, and athletic. We'll figure this out. And I'm not flying blind here. My very accomplished trainer is with me on this journey. I trust her completely and absolutely.

So, I'm not saying "don't make comments". Go ahead and make them. I'll publish them. And although I'm asking for opinions, remember that I know more about what it's like to ride Phil than you do, and when I say "that won't work" or "I can't do that" it's not because it's a bad idea, or incorrect. It's just because I know my horse better than you do.


Jessica said...

I love this post!! i am new to dressage i grew up riding western and have purchased a 5yr old Trakehner gelding and as much as i love peoples advice and will take bits and peices of it. My trainer is the one there with me i am the one feeling the contact. Your a magnificent rider from what i have seen, (and i have tried to read EVERYONE of your posts lol im almost done) and i learn a lot from reading your blog, but i have learned also from posting in a blog that people are all about giving free advice and advising others how to ride with only a 2 minute video clip and a 100 word blog post. Love your blog and love this post! Thank you!

V. Viola said...

Well said! Do you know you've become my virtual trainer of sorts!? Thank you and Phil. I moved Cosmo to a winter barn because of your advice, "Serious riders ride indoors" (paraphrased).

PS You don't need to publish this, I really appreciate your blog.

SoraSoul said...

I agree completely! "Training position" can be so much different than the ideal position depending on strengths and weaknesses of the horse at that point in time. Not an excuse for a weak position but a very good reason to vary your perfect position here and there :D He looks good, don't forget how far you have come as you are moving forward.

Val said...

Nice reply.

I have been reading your blog for a while, so I knew that you competed Kaswyn through I1. When I read some of the comments, I was thinking "come on guys".

You are riding Phil by feel and yielding your position when necessary to encourage him to stretch into a longer rein. This cannot be done by riding with a shorter rein or by restricting him with a fixed position. It is very difficult to unfold a horse who has learned to duck into a frame, but lucky for Phil, he has an experienced and determined rider.

Now Thats A Trot! said...

I will readily admit that my equitation has gone to hell after riding green (and, ahem, "pre-owned") horses almost exclusively for ten years, and having no lessons for the last four. I will also readily invite anyone who criticizes said equitation to come ride the horses I ride and compare the results. :)

I, too, have no problems with helpful, constructive comments. But it's not helpful to whip out a protractor and ignore the overall end result.

HammersArk said...

As with anything in blogging, take everything others say with a grain of salt! I published my feeding regimen and was told that I did "too much" lol, but I figured if I was trying more natural alternatives for some maintenance issues one of my horses has and it's working and way cheaper than a smart pack, so I shrugged my shoulders and am still doing the same thing - with great results that I can see. :) Perhaps they meant I had too many types of feed (though the horses are only on 1 grain type...) - or hay types???

I think that Phil looks a lot better and it just takes time. He's young, you've got time. Enjoy him and the process!

GraceEquestrian said...

You go girl! You are 100% correct, no one knows Phil as well as you do. And I think you are a fine riders from the videos that I have watched, and your posts that I have read. All that hard work is gonna pay off, you're going to have a wonderfully handsome little guy soon!

craig said...

Jesus, what a bitch.


OnTheBit said...

You know the old saying opinions are like a$$holes...everyone has got one (hope the language didn't offend you)...well it seems like that post got a lot more than most. I went back to read the comments and I must say that you handled the criticism better than most. When I post a video I am sad to say that I expect a rude comment from one or two people, but your video got a lot...especially since it was not what I would consider a controversial video! I know you work with a trainer (when they are not in Florida) and I also know that to be getting 60 and 70%s at USDF shows at training and first levels on several different horses over several years is more than a lot of your commenters can say. Do I sometimes wonder about things I see in videos? Sure, but usually I just ask if there is a reason for it. Even if I didn't agree with your training method (which happens sometimes...we are all different and look at things differently) Phil is still your horse to train with as you see fit.

Deb said...

I'm glad you had the guts to post this--I sometimes cringe at the criticism that people write on equestrian blogs. Your post also alludes to the point that the "textbook position" is not right for every horse at every moment. You don't ride a greenie with the deep seat that you'd use on a PSG horse. And as you've pointed out, you don't keep contact in the same way on a youngster as on a FEI horse.

I've been very impressed with Phil's progress from video to video, and you seem like a very competent, skilled horsewoman.

Anonymous said...

Good post, I am training my mare with my trainer as well, she is constantly reminding me, this is not equitation, you are training your horse, move your arms, elbows, hands etc to where they need to be to get the horse to accept what you are trying to convey. I have seen lots of really good trainers, tune up their clients horses before a show and it's anything but pretty riding but effective.. You and phil look great,

Anonymous said...

Didn't the video come with "tell me what you think"?

They weren't criticisms, they were opinions, suggestions, ideas, hints, others' experience...

Dressage Mom said...


Yes, it sure did. I asked for opinions, and got some suggestions which I replied to. But when I explained why those suggestions wouldn't work for me, I got a comment that I was making excuses. That made me want to explain myself further. If you read this post you'll see that I didn't say that I don't want commentary. I just don't want to be blasted for deciding not to blindly follow every suggestion, even those that I know won't help me.

Honestly, I'm not mad. I think everyone should have an opinion. I just don't think it's necessary that I agree with all of those opinions.

Actually, I've been waiting for someone to post a comment exactly like yours. :) I'm kinda surprised it took this long for someone to do it. I'm glad you did, because you had something to say. Keep expressing yourself, and I'll do the same.

Anonymous said...

WOOT! Very well said! It's easy for people to be "armchair trainers"...yet a totally different thing to actually RIDE the horse and address the issues. Every horse is different, and needs different methods of training at different stages of their development.

Phil is very, very lucky to have you in his life. You'll take all the time he needs to train him. It's that patient, encouraging understanding that'll build the connection you two will need to further his training.

Kudos to you for taking the time, spending the money, and allowing us to ride along with you!

Logan Keys said...

Thank you for this! My trainer says to start off you ride with LONG arms and that seems to make a huge difference when they are learning :)

achieve1dream said...

Hmm convenient the offenders didn't respond lol. I actually went back to see if I'd said anything, but I never left a comment on that post. I don't know enough to offer you advice lol.

Straight elbows usually is one of the first things I mention when someone asks for tips on their position because it's something I actually know, but when you're on a green horse everything goes out the window!! You have to use your body however your horse needs it. Once he knows how to use himself correctly you can go back to using yourself correctly. :) I think you're doing an awesome job with him!

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