Don’t Try So Hard

I noticed something today. I think it’s a sign that Liam and I are getting better and getting stronger and generally working more correctly.  I started thinking about doing less, and allowing him to do more. I was working to see how small I could make my aids, how much I could do just by shifting my weight or moving my seat bones. And I was amazed by just how much I could do. I mean, I ride Liam everyday, I know he’s very sensitive, but when I really stopped and tested just how sensitive he is, wow!

Then, when something didn’t work, instead of working harder with my body to make it work, I backed up and re-schooled pieces until my soft aids were working and then put it back together to get the more complicated part. It sounds so elementary, it’s such a “well, duh!” concept, but when I REALLY made myself focus on it, some amazing things happened.

One piece I was working on was the counter canter. Liam doesn’t like counter canter, and he LOVES flying changes, so I really struggle to get him to hold a counter canter, and I think I over do my aids so much in my attempt to prevent him from doing a flying change that I end up making him crooked and tense and making the counter canter harder for him than it really needs to be.

So, usually I try to “sneak” in the counter canter by doing things like going around in a true canter and doing a serpentine down the long side with just a few counter canter steps, then I started doing a figure 8 around the arena making him hold the counter canter for half the 8 (basically a big 20+ meter circle) and then back to true canter… if we made it that far.

Today I decided not to work that hard.  Instead, I took him in the middle of the arena, made him straight and asked for the right lead. Then we walked, and I asked for the left lead. Then we walked and I did right lead again. We did a bunch of transitions until I could pick up either lead by lifting my inside seat bone. Ok, basics confirmed.

Then we moved on to walking along the long side, and I asked him to pick up a counter canter. He felt my request, he stepped forward off my leg, “hopped”, and cantered off in a true canter. I sat back and made him walk. I caught myself starting to leg yield him away from the rail to bend him towards the rail to make the transition easier and I stopped myself.

I made him straight and I asked him again for the counter canter, this time using a soft aid and nothing more, allowing him to make the choice and make a mistake. He made a mistake. He cantered no more than 2 or 3 steps before he was walking again, and I repeated my request. His ears flicked back and forth and I could hear the gears grinding in his head.  He didn’t need me to tell him that he hadn’t done as I had asked. What he needed to figure out was that I had meant to ask for that and didn’t need his “help” getting the correct lead. He thought about it, and this time he answered correctly and I praised him excessively. I let him canter a little, then brought him back to try again. It worked. We both relaxed, and quit making it harder than it needed to be.  Of course, we’ll see if I have a true canter tomorrow 🙂

The same concept applied in the trot half pass left. For whatever reason, it’s way easier to the right than the left. I think it’s me, but maybe it’s also a little bit Liam. In any case, I KNOW I can get myself twisted up in my effort to control every part of his body and try to make it perfect. So I broke it down. Left bend. Check. Move shoulders over off right rein (shoulder in). Check. Move haunches away from right leg. Check. Shift weight left and his body moves left. Check. Ok put it together. Shoulder in left, shift weight left, move back legs left. Check. Check. Check. The best three steps of half pass left we’d ever done, and I straightened him and dropped the reins and laughed at myself.

So, I’m making a note to myself. Make sure my aids are clear. Make sure he understands (and responds correctly to) individual aids first, then combine then. Ask nicely, and let him respond. I know he tries SO hard, I have to give him the chance to be the intelligent, creative, hard working horse that he is!

4 thoughts on “Don’t Try So Hard

  1. 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!

  2. This is an excellent illustration of a lesson we need to keep relearning (at least I do). It is so important to be light and not force things. You did a great job with the counter canter aids and with explaining the concept.

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