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Restoring “Straight” is Necessary to Ride Forwards Smoothly

As the mare turned, she buried the inside shoulder and tried to go around her own block into the turn, which resulted in more of a disengaging move, in which she ended up stopped.

Do we have disrespect and stubbornness, or is this an illusion?

AN ASSESSMENT OF LEFT, RIGHT AND STRAIGHT

I had noticed three things in this mare’s existing groundwork that seemed to be coming back to haunt the relationship in these turns. 

  1. First, she had been asked to disengage her hindquarters away from the handler frequently – a maneuver considered in some circles to bring out ‘respect’ because it results in the horse looking squarely at the handler. Horses can also learn that this is a good bet, because it is apt to please the handler, and default to offering a disengagement when unsure about the desired response.
  2. Secondly, she had been taught that when she yielded her forehand, for example to the left, to plant the left foot and step over it with the right. This widely-used foundation has its purpose for certain maneuvers, but had been built in so diligently by her owner that the mare would do anything to bring her outside front across a loaded inside shoulder. That included in a turn, or related exercise – literally tripping herself up in her effort to be accurate on a number of occasions.
  3. And third, the owner also exercised another widely-used maneuver on-line when changing directions on a circle, in which the horse ‘jumps’ over his hind-quarters from left to right, or vice versa, in order to switch directions on the circle. While there is value in this, as there is in disengaging the hindquarters, when overused without balance in other exercises, it has its pitfalls. To achieve this maneuver, the handler often pulls the head into the current direction more, while driving the opposite shoulder through in a move similar to a rollback.  This means the horse is under pressure not to stay straight in between left and right.  When exercised often, this can contribute to the horse finding straight uncomfortable in general, and that can show up under saddle later, when straight has to be ridden as a series of right and left corrections.

In the particular case of this mare, this exercise had also included the handler advancing towards her in her blind spot in that split second where she was straight. I had watched this move a time or two when the appy lady brought her mare out at the start – the mare had quite a look of concern on her face about whether she could operate between these two pressures and also get out the way fast enough, as her handler advanced towards her head, right when she also vanished from view.

When we stepped back and considered these practices, the inadvertent setup for this mare’s lack of sureness about traveling straight and forwards was quite clear, as was her preference for heading left or right instead of taking the risk of going straight.

Unfortunately, due to the foundation for yielding her front-end mentioned earlier, her strategy to move her shoulders left or right was short-circuited by her commitment to be accurate with her feet, in compliance with her training.

Three insignificant seeming things perhaps, but which combined to produce this stalling out in the turn –nonetheless a genuine offer from the mare to do as she was asked.  When we observed things from the mare’s point of view – in terms of placement of the feet relative to feel, timing and balance – she could not have demonstrated more clearly why things had got so confused in this partnership under saddle.

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle