Thursday, November 03, 2011

Anger Management

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.


Amy said...

Well said and I agree. But I feel you did leave out that there can be controled punishment. I fully agree that you should never be angry in training any horse in any discipline. It is very unproductive and actually counterproductive. You want that trust between you and the horse to make any good progress and if he/she is afraid then there is no trust. But I also feel there has to be punishment in certain instances. If you know your horse very well then you can evaluate a situation and find the root of the problem but sometimes horses are just naughty to get away with something. If a horse resists work for what ever reason it should never be in a dangerous way. Most problems should be corrected with work but there are rare occassions I feel a horse needs to be "spanked". And immediate response for an immediate problem. If in the correct hands there is a place for discipline in riding. But it is a small place and only ever used in a rare situation and should never be in anger and never in the wrong hands. So I am not disagreeing with you at all and understand where you are coming from, you so often see people correcting horses out of anger or in an angry manner and it needs to be stopped.

Val said...

Great post!

My word verification is "defies".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. We need more riders to recognize this issue in the horse industry.

Thanks again.

Dressage Mom said...

Amy, you are right. But when there is anger behind the punishment, I feel like the punishment is more for the punisher's benefit than the one being punished. I'm all for correction, when done with a cool, thinking head.

Val, that's funny. :)

Thanks Anon.

Janice said...

Amen sister!

Sonya said...

Saw a few children at the local show yesterday who needed to be ripped off there mounts and whipped. I was in shock that the trainers and parents said nothing as these children and young adults had full blown temper tantrums. Sure did change my opinion of some people I thought highly of. I wonder if this behavior is ok at the show what the he** goes on at home?? UUUgh Thanks for the post..:)

Marnie K said...

I totally agree with you! I would also add that ignorance also leads people to unjustly punish their horse. I recently heard someone suggest that maybe a horse was acting lame so he could get out of work!

Stacey Kimmel-Smith said...

Once in a letter to the editor of a big dressage mag, someone responded to an article that posited that horses might "fake" lamenes to get out of work. The line from that letter stays with me: "Horses do not have complicated agendas." So true! Isn't it funny how we imagine them to be sneaky and conniving when things do go our way? I am not without flaws and I have lost my temper with Riley on occasion -- never something I'm proud of. What feels like "I don't want to" is often "I can't" -- I just need to keep that thought before wielding the whip...

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