Opening Doors

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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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

Woh! Hey, look at you reading this entire post!

That's a bit of an accomplishment in our attention-deficient age. Kinda makes me wonder if you like to read things that are even longer than blog posts? Like ... books?

If so, you're definitely our kind of person. Which means you might enjoy a horse-centic read? Click here to read a free sample of, A Man Who Rides: a novel about horsemanship and love.

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7 years ago

It's so true. That is the beauty of horses – the learning they offer is infinite. All of my favorite trainers are deeply humble people who believe they still have a long way to go. And they were all getting things wrong a lot more at some point. 🙂

7 years ago

One of the things that keeps me from giving up in despair on a lot of things is that knowledge that "professionals" don't know it all either. I've never met a good professional that claimed they knew everything about their field and had nothing left to learn. They may have more experience, and better understanding of the space, but they still get it wrong sometimes. Definitely makes me feel like less of a loser when I get it wrong.

Glad you're having fun and getting in lots of riding!