Working Backwards

Liam has a personality some of you may be familiar with. He’s very forward thinking, and is a bit of an over-achiever. Sometimes it feels like his brain is ten steps ahead of me all the time. He figures out patterns very quickly, and even the first time through he will be trying to anticipate what the pattern is going to be. This enthusiasm does work for us, he loves to work and loves to learn new (harder) things, and being a thoroughbred, he’s the ultimate athlete. However, riding patterns is one piece of training that I think is so useful and yet with him, so difficult.

Today I had a bit of an accidental breakthrough with a simple figure 8. Most of the time I would start with easy canter-trot transitions, then do some simple changes through the walk, then do some flying changes (which are Liam’s favorite, it’s hard to get him to NOT do them!). But usually after a few simple changes, he is starting to try to do flying changes after my first half halt… making simple changes and counter-canter the most challenging exercises for us.

Today I worked backwards from hard to easy on a figure 8, and it worked really well. We did a few flying changes, until I felt like he was starting to get ahead of me and not waiting for the aid, then I switched to canter-walk-canter transitions, still on the figure 8. That slowed him down for a few more loops each way, then he started wanting to jump back into the canter before I asked, so I started doing a canter circle (on one side of my figure 8) followed by a full walk circle before cantering off the other way and repeating the other direction.  After a few of those, I backed it off even more, doing a canter circle followed by a walk circle followed by another canter circle before switching directions, then switching to canter-trot transitions. Then I backed it up even more and did trot-halt transitions going large around the arena and halting at E, B, A and C.  The easier physically the work got, the more mentally demanding it seemed to be, but by working backwards this way, I felt like I got more correct work and kept Liam sharp on my aids and waiting for me.

This is something I have to be diligent about working on over the next few months before the shows get going again. I rode second level test one on him today and the trot work was all super easy, but the canter work stunk because he kept throwing flying changes into the counter canter and simple changes.  I’m trying to be careful not to ruin his enthusiasm for the changes, but at the same time, I want to keep him a little more “business-like” about the canter work.  By the end of the week it’s supposed to warm up a bit again, so that might help too… gotta love riding a thoroughbred in frigid January!

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4 thoughts on “Working Backwards

  1. It’s so helpful that Liam and Cloud have the same work ethic/mindset. I liked when you commented that the more simple the work got, the more mentally challenging it was for him. Light bulb!!!

  2. Thank you for this — I am going to think really hard about this. Encore seems bored and frustrated with our exercises, but since he doesn’t have many buttons yet, I feel like there is a lot he can’t do. But I think I am limiting myself, and it’s frustrating! Perhaps the “backwards” approach is just the ticket he needs…

  3. This post illustrates why you’ve successfully developed horses that will work their hearts out for you, stay sound (despite in Liam’s case some pretty significant issues from his previous life) and are developing gaits almost anyone would envy. I wonder how many people would have elected to crank and spank the horse into he counter canter – muscling him into it instead of creating the atmosphere for learning – and sustainable success. Imagine if you muscled a horse like Liam – one who is enthusiastic and offers changes with a giggle. You’d confuse him, frustrate him, fry his brain. Thanks for posting this example. It’s one many can learn from!

  4. SO the above comment was meant for another post – on this one, I meant to say that I saw you employing this method in Liz’s lesson and it looked like it worked beautifully for Cloudy, who is another that doesn’t suffer from a lack of enthusiasm. I love the fact that you make preserving the horse’s enthusiasm a priority.

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