In the Stirrups Magazine is back, bigger, brighter, better and packed full of goodies that you’ll love. Anne Cage at Confident Horsemanship shares advice on how to handle your ‘spooky’ horse. There are interviews with Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin and Daisy Jackson Dressage gets some great news about her ride on Blackberry in her blog article.
But not least, check out my article on pages 31 through to 33 and sign up so that you don’t miss future issues.
In the Stirrups Magazine – October 2015 Issue article: Could You Cast The First Stone?
Observing a riders’ application and proportion of punishment to reward can be endlessly fascinating, a great way to learn and very telling of a riders training methods and riding mindset.
However, before I launch into a tirade of why you should and should not do this and that, I am reminded of the biblical phrase “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. I have no doubt that we are all aware that some riders are quick to chastise their horse. They may feel angry at their horse, frustrated because he is not responding correctly to their aids, resulting in a jab in the mouth, they may shout or even boot the horse in the ribs; they may add ever increasing training aids, harsher bits, more taps with the whip, thus creating a spiral of frustration and defeat. You may not be this type of rider, but could you cast the first stone? Put your hand up if you have never unfairly chastised your horse. I am certainly not without sin in this regard. One of the seminal lessons I have learnt is this:
“I am not a good enough rider to be chastising my horse that way!”
I have come to learn that whatever my horse is doing, it is because she is receiving my signals and responding to them, or because she does not understand yet what I want. It is never wilful defiance and in the past when I got frustrated it was because I did not understand this. The thinking rider will notice that a horse does try to please us in our requests.
Now that I understand this, I feel a little ashamed that I ‘punished’ my horse for my own failings. I had a very long way to go as a rider before discovering that there is no place for anger in dressage riding (or any riding for that matter) but particularly dressage because you are asking your horse to work in harmony with you, to do difficult moves that are demanding and complex.
Are you sure that your side of the deal is being upheld?
Are you sure that you are absolutely perfect in your execution of your aids? If you are, that’s great, give your horse that extra tap of the whip when he isn’t giving as much as you. For me and for 99.9% of grass-roots riders the answer to these questions would be no, because when I get it right, she gets it right and I get the result I want. If I want more she gives it me, but only if I ask correctly. 9 times out of 10 if I don’t get what I am asking for, it’s because I haven’t asked correctly. Stripping back my ego and listening to my horse’s feedback has made us a much improved partnership
As for reward, your horse can be rewarded with as little as a touch, a give with the rein, a kind word in a low voice, a walk on a long rein, a gentle pat on the neck. Not a lot to ask for is it?
Then there are those horses that are labelled ‘difficult’ or ‘lazy’. This is always the result of a breakdown in communication between rider/handler and horse. The horse will sometimes resort to becoming awkward by shutting down to all the outside stimuli that are causing his confusion. I have witnessed this many times when starting young horses; they get a little overloaded with information, they ‘shut down’, giving off signals of ‘too much info’ so you have to back off and try again. Our Lusitano mare actually got down on the floor during one of her early lunge sessions, essentially saying “Sorry, nao compreendem, I don’t understand your language!”
As for ‘lazy’ horses, in my experience they are few and far between and often far from ‘lazy’; they tend to be sensitive horses whose only way to deal with the confusion is to ignore everything. How much positivity is the so called ‘lazy’ horse getting? Psychology studies tell us that a constant stream of: ‘Don’t do that – Stop it! – No – Quit that – Behave yourself’ has a detrimental effect on the human self esteem. For me the logical path says that horses experience similar effects. By all means use these terms, but when you get the right response, forget the negative, give a positive reward and move on.
Sadly, too many horses are punished, not for disobedience, but for not understanding or not being able to do what was asked of them. The most unjust punishment for a horse is to be reprimanded for doing what the rider, unsuspecting, through uncoordinated aids or lack of knowledge, asked for and for not doing what they think they asked.
How often do you think that a horse actually needs to be punished?
A truly disobedient horse has usually been soured by a human and needs a different approach or more tactful handling. On the rare occasion when ‘punishment’ is justified, for some merely growling at them has the desired effect, for others strongly applied aids are usually enough.
Look out for my new website peeps, it’s in the development stage and will be launched very, very soon.
News of The Crystal System Book will follow very quickly after that. I have been busy!
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster