It is the riders job to make it easy for the horse
I’d guess in everyone’s life there are pieces of advice that resonate over the years.
(And by the way, as we are approaching the end of the year I wanted to say I am thankful to you for sharing Dressage Snob recollections–somewhat astounded in fact. 30,000 individual views this year. This brings up an obvious point. Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time?)
Never mind. We are dressage enthusiasts. Productive is not the purpose.
One bit of advice that has had particular traction with me is from Rudolf Zeilinger. He said it over the back of a horse and with a certain “You may not understand this now,” sort of look on his face.
“It is your job to make it easy for your horse.”
And indeed I did not understand it–or came to understand it in so many different ways that my first impression was certainly inaccurate–or at best trivial.
How do you equate taking a sport that is as physically and emotionally demanding as Dressage and making it easy?
By knowing what you are doing!
More advice, trickled down from Wili Schultheis’ classic cure for most problems having to do with a horse:
Helping your horse? Short version:
For any given movement the horse is asked to perform, they are placed in a balance that facilitates that movement. Do not get in your own way.
Examples? I will give you the ridiculously complicated cracked egg one below, as well as the tight rope on snow shoes, but they exist at every level of dressage and probably most things in life:
Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.
Don’t chase the green-ish horse with fast steps into canter–insist that they respect the half halt and step up to canter.
Because the balance, once thrown on the forehand, is very hard to get back. Best to not lose it at all.
Do not get in the way of the very thing you are asking for.
Important concept akin to, “Please do not shoot yourself in the foot.” Make sure you (or your tack) are not getting in the way of the message transmission, or preventing the horse from executing the request.
Ride a collected canter for pirouette that is easily ridden forward.
Because if the balance and activity are correct you can go forward (or backward or sideways) without loss of balance.
I could go on–and probably at some point will.
But there is another category of making things easy that can be addressed as well.
Again, Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.
Pick your partner well then pay attention to how it is going. No amount of complicated technique will help a horse shine who is simply plain. The best thing you can do is honest, correct work. If it is a boiled egg then it is a boiled egg. More on that below.
On my ignorant defense of all the horribly ill-suited horses I attempted to bring along, Rudolf gave me another sage piece of advice which I try to remember–while also remembering the scope of my budget and current goals.
“Good horses make good riders.”
The best rider in the world will not succeed on a horse that is lame, over worked, under worked, malnourished or not capable of doing the job. Some horses are not meant to be dressage horse.
I’m not disputing that the principles of dressage training, rather like Natural Horsemanship, can help most (if not all) horses and their riders. It’s just that the athleticism, and (of late) the movement preferred, for a horse to really be competitive does not exist in all horses.
It is very much easier for a horse mentally and physically suited to the sport to enjoy doing it than it is a horse who has impairments. Never mind that it is much easier to make it look easy when it actually is fairly easy for the horse. A good horse has good natural balance and rhythm. (Note I did NOT say extravagant movement–though that is nice if you can both afford it and ride it.)
Still, we see many examples of lovely horses whose riders are not yet familiar enough with the balance required for the movements to assist the horse in getting ready. And no one likes being asked to do something and then being prevented or hindered from doing it. Or being asked to do something that is impossible from the point of departure.
Imagine tight rope walking in snow shoes.
Side note: (Following this postulate I went on a diligent search for a picture of someone actually walking a tightrope in snow shoes–which I now believe is the one thing that does not exist in the World Wide Web.
Instead I found this, too good to skip, “Reading comprehension” quiz:
Read the story and answer the questions to test your comprehension.
Tightrope walkers balance by putting one foot in front of the other. They wear special leather-sole shoes so that the wire will dig into their foot, giving them some ground to stand on. There are five different styles of tightrope walking. The pole the performer carries helps his or her balance on the rope.
- 1. Where do tightrope walkers place their feet?
- a. Shoulder-width apart
- b. Hip-width apart
- c. One after the other
- 2. What kind of soles do tightrope walkers wear?
- a. Leather
- b. Rubber
- c. Steel
- 3. What does the pole a performer carries do?
- a. Helps movement
- b. Helps agility
- c. Helps balance
I particularly enjoy the idea of walking the rope with feet “Shoulder-width apart” though of course it is technically possible.
So, back to good advice,
“It Depends” and
“Help your (horse or XYZ) by making sure the darned thing is in a place to do what you want.”
Hopelessly vague! What do you expect me to DO??
In the age of the “Internet Expert” we are all too frequently faced with mounds of information on almost anything.
And with the seemingly sole exception of getting photos of tightrope walkers in impossible footwear, we can prove anything we want.
This is as true for horses as anything else.
I give you, for example, the raging debate about how best to poach an egg. (Search it!)
Or, is Sous-vide the absolutely correct method to boil an egg?
Our Friends at WikipediA (who are currently looking for donations if you feel like it) tell us:
“Sous-vide (/suːˈviːd/; French for “under vacuum”) is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times—96 hours or more, in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture.”
(I’m going to answer this question for you right here: it depends.)
Suction pack one egg to cook in a water bath?
But, get a little greedy, in a hurry? Totally different outcome.
Now you CAN cook the eggs below, and any “expert” will tell you that indeed Sous-vide does mean vacuum packed. But, there is absolutely no need to go to the risk and trouble of doing it because eggs themselves come vacuum packed and you can lower them into your water bath as is with no difficulty whatsoever.
So the argument and advice gets only down to semantics. People have been doing it for centuries and I do not think yet we have established how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
There is no definitive, and more importantly, who cares?
Anyway, with cooking, as with horses, the best answer is often “It depends”.
Rider criticism? It depends.
Is he or she leaning back too far? Maybe.
Do the hands move too much? Maybe.
Is the bit wrong or cruel? Maybe–or maybe not in all cases.
It depends–if (whatever) is helping the horse to understand or to physically accomplish the job, then it is not wrong. Period, end of story.
Let’s not all die in beauty while we are waiting for something to happen.
You CAN take 96 hours to cook a roast, will it be 96 hours better?
And we can argue about how to best poach the egg all day.
One poached egg over 1/2 avocado, slightly smushed, and salt/pepper to taste.
No Hollandaise required.
You do have to know how to do it (not hard) and you have to think of doing it. As well as give up on the complicated things that actually do not work very well and are a lot of extra trouble, but you can read about all day long on-line.
If you do not take the time to develop you balance, you will not ride well. Think of our brave tightrope walker. Suitable shoes can help–but practice and adequate shoes will do at the start.
A certain level of mastery may overcome less than perfect equipment, and this is an important point.
Given a new saddle or $3500 worth of training, which will you choose? If your saddle REALLY does not fit, then probably the new saddle is a good idea. If the trouble is above the saddle (You) or below (Your fittings) the new saddle not such a hot plan. As I say in another post, do the easy things first and do not make it overly complicated.
End of advice. Go ride your horse.
End note–and I think fairly to all posts
Because the Dressage Snob blog is popular, attempts to monetize it are rife. In fact, I just paid Word Press a sizable amount of cash NOT to bug you with ads so you can enjoy Dressage Snob without the latest thing you looked at on line popping up to tempt you.
(I really object to this “cookies” marketing technique. If you wanted to shop you’d be shopping!)
So forgive me the small plug on this really very useful invention, and if you have thought my advice was sound on other things, then you might consider giving this a try. Your horse will be happier. Mine are, and now quite a few other people. You can read what they say below.
Selfishly I do not have them in the local tack shop. I thought about it, and I’m feeling generous about sharing, but truthfully a little conflicted.
Miss Mariah. 14.1 (in front) out-scored a fair troop of expensive warmbloods at Prix St George last year. (It was not easy. Don’t do it. Sorry Rudolf)
So, all of you in some other competition zone, please feel free to get one.
The Girth Shield
For something that does work, and will cost roughly three riding lessons, not three months of training, improve your girthing strategy.