Recently Bruce Sandifer has taken to posting short videos on Facebook. These are awesome because usually he’s just chatting about what’s going through his head as he’s working with a horse. One of my favorite things about him is he’s so willing to express uncertainty, to say he’s just trying something out and he doesn’t know if it will work. It’s always encouraging in a weird way to hear that someone who is so accomplished and has done so much with horses is still feeling his way through all this sometimes.
One day after watching one of his videos, I got on Steen. Steen has been doing better. I haven’t had the same dragging feeling during our rides. He’s had more consistent energy, which means our rides have been a lot more fun again.
This day in question (a couple weeks ago now) I got to thinking about how I felt like Steen and I had been more or less in the same place when it came to leg cues for a long time. I realized that when I ask him for a turn, I shift my seat and legs and usually progress from them with a soft tap or a bump from one leg or the other. That’s usually all it takes to turn him. But I started thinking about something Bruce said (something I’ve heard plenty of other trainers so as well) about setting yourself up so the place you want the horse to go is the place that feels the best for them, and then letting them go there.
So I started experimenting. I asked Steen for a turn. Instead of coming in with my leg in an active manner, I just opened a door, shifting my hips and legs to give him somewhere to go, but not actually trying to push him through. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went exactly where I wanted him to. We trotted around like this for quite some time, doing big circles and smaller ones, tight turns and shallow turns, all with me marveling at how I’d been doing “more” all this time when I thought I was doing less.
I think this is the number one thing that continues to surprise me over and over. The deeper I get into this style of riding the more I realize these is a spectrum of “less” that is so nuanced and so varied and so much more extensive than I ever suspected. Because the more you get your horse doing with less, the more that opens the door to ever more subtle communication.
Of course, then I get on Piper and we’re functioning on a pretty different spectrum. Still, on certain things she’s already very consistent and supple. I am always trying to make sure that I’m allowing her to progress as fast as she’s able – not holding her back by expecting her to be unrefined just because she’s green. We’re just still at the stage where things can change dramatically from one moment to the next, but also a lot of things are getting to be pretty consistent most of the time.
More than anything else with Piper, I’m still dealing with all this tension she carries around. She gets so rigid at times. Usually she starts off the day rigid, gets less rigid during grooming and groundwork, then finally achieves some semblance of relaxation during our rides. I’m taking it as a good sign that she tends to get more and more settled the longer we ride. Still, I wish I could find a way to start her off in a better place, mentally. I guess we’ll get there with time.
In other news, Google has taken to deciding which of my photos are highlights, and editing them for me. It calls this “auto awesome.” Sometimes they come out surprisingly well. Other times, not so much.
Horseback Hours YTD: 61:20