Monday, June 16, 2014

Boring Bess

If you're one of the two to three people who read this blog regularly, you may recall that a while back I was a little worried about Starbuck's growing tendency to run off with me after a spook, ignoring all rein aids.  And you may also recall me saying that hopefully in a few weeks I'd be worrying about something else altogether.  Well, boy was I not wrong on that one.  And what, you may ask, am I worried about now?  Surprisingly enough (or not), our new problem is too much woah, not enough go.

Now I'm not sure whether this back-and-forth stuff is common to all mares, or all young horses, or all horses in general, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Starbuck and I are given to extremes.  Even my farrier the other day told me "I just don't understand - sometimes it's like she's an old lesson nag who's been getting shod for decades, then the next time I come out she just can't stand still".  And the same is true for our day-to-day rides - I never know what I'm gonna get.  One day she's Boring Bess, the next she's Nervous Nell.  There are trends, however, and her latest trend is way more in the Boring Bess direction.

Ever since my dressage lesson with my friend José I've been working on riding Starbuck with more rein contact.  Note that I'm in no way talking about pulling on her mouth or forcing her to bend her neck or even asking for flexion of the poll.  I'm simply talking about firm, steady yet flexible contact still allowing her to carry her head however and wherever she wants to.  But if she had a tendency to be sluggish using no rein contact at all, now she's downright Jabba-the-Huttish.  "More leg!", my friend José said in our dressage lesson.  "More leg!", Marina tells me every time I ride with her.  "More leg!", instructs Toni over at Sa Fita.  And I dutifully apply more leg, more leg, ever more leg...  Until I noticed grooming her the other day that she actually has spots on her side where her hair's worn down from me kicking and nudging her so often.  So "More leg"?  I don't think it's that simple.

I think the problem is not how much leg I'm giving her, but how often I'm giving it to her.  After reading around the internet for a while, I'm pretty much convinced that my problem is that I never let up.  And hey, if you keep getting kicked no matter what you do, sooner or later you'll stop trying so hard.  So I made a vow the other day - even though I know she won't respond to a squeeze of my calves, ALWAYS start my leg aid with only just that.  And then simply escalate until she does respond.  And then STOP - no more leg until she slows down noticeably.  No more squeezing each time I post, no more nudging with each stride just to get a decent walk.  And never, NEVER use the crop without using my leg first (sometimes I use them interchangeably).

So does this sound like basic riding skills that everyone should have, and that no one without them should ever attempt to start their own horse?  If so, you're probably right, and I make no excuses for myself except that I'm willing to change.

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