Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Don't criticise the horse!

Woohoo! - they've finally let me get onto my blog at school. I'm a busy girl and have lots of work to do when I'm here, but I also live in a house with two other girls and only one computer with Internet access, so it was a struggle to get anything posted.

I had a surprise lesson with John last week. I've been meaning to write about it for a few days now, but I've had to think quite carefully about the things he said and how it made me feel. I had warmed up before he arrived and so was ready to start immediately. He asked how I was getting on and I told him that I though things were improving - particularly Echo's straightness. The last time he saw us we were having real issues with the left shoulder and left contact, as she wasn't taking the contact forward into my left hand at all. In this lesson, however, she was really starting to straighten, and I'm sure it has something to do with me learning to use my left leg.

What I have been doing is trying to control her left shoulder with my left leg. I've found that this does work to some extent - it has definitely helped so far, but John pointed out that I still haven't got enough contact in my left hand. He said that I should control her left shoulder with my left rein rather than my left leg, as I need my left leg to move her quarters around. I played about a bit with this during the lesson and felt much more positive - I can take a contact with my left hand - I just don't!!

In the way all good instructors do, he called me over to go through some things and while I was talking to him he asked me what my long term goal is with Echo. I have never really attempted to define this; I feel that you have to just see how a horse goes - otherwise you let yourself open to disappointment and won't appreciate your horse. When I broke her in, my goal was simply that she be a well-rounded, well-behaved, pleasurable ride. She is this. Obviously, as you make progress, goals change and now I am pretty sure that we can compete in a bit of dressage. In order to give John a tangible goal, I said that I would like her to eventually, at the peak of her career, be able to perform a decent Medium test. I am under no illusions that she is going to be a world-beater, but I believe that any horse, with the right training and dedication, is capable of doing this, if you are prepared to work hard enough. All of the movements for a medium test are only extensions of the exercises I do now anyway.

John was slightly taken aback, but said that if this was the case, I would have to start working towards it now, not leave it until later. He said that the movements in any test are only schooling exercises, not performances, so I should begin to use them in my training, using them to develop her, rather than seeing them as an end product. All of this makes perfect sense; I have started to work at my shoulder in and in fact, we went on to practise this in the rest of the lesson and it was really successful. However, he then said something which has bugged me ever since. He said, "I often sit there wondering why you've taken such a difficult route." By this, he meant why I have chosen a horse of Echo's type, if I want to be a dressage rider.

I was quick to defend her. I know that what we lack in natural ability and flashy paces, we will have to make up for in accuracy and suppleness - John has always said this, and I trained a pony far more stocky and 'unsuitable' than Echo to quite a high standard before. However, I was really surprised by the 'I'm not sure why you're bothering' subtext to his comment. The dressage riders that I worked for before becoming a teacher had competed internationally at grand prix, yet they encouraged me to take on a 14.2hh gypsy cob type and work hard on him. They were of the opinion that it was just as worthwhile making an 'ordinary' horse go very well, as one that is flashy. Indeed, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I used to beat a lot of under-schooled flashy horses on my accurate and obedient gypsy cob.

I know what he meant. I would get a lot further in dressage if I had a horse with more natural ability, however, I wanted a horse like Echo. I have had her since she was a yearling. Apart from the early handling and halter training she received, which set her up to be extremely obedient, everything that Echo can do is down to me. I broke her in with very little help, I hacked her out for the first time (and believe me, I am NOT a brave rider by any means), I jumped her for the first time (and I don't jump!) and I would never have had the guts to do any of these things, had Echo not been the character that she is. I am phenomenally grateful to my wonderful horse for being so patient with me, for looking after me and for teaching me so much. I could never be disappointed with her, because she has already exceeded my expectations. But, I'm a perfectionist and once something has been achieved, I want new goals to work for and I think this will always be the case.

Though I know that he didn't intend to offend me, and he didn't really, I felt a need to justify myself and my horse. He then remarked that when he first started in a racing yard, an old jockey told him, 'you can criticise and owner's wife, but whatever you do, don't criticise an owner's horse!' I think there is some truth in that.

14 comments:

Beckz said...

Dressage is for all horses. I'm sure she will do very workman like medium tests! I used to get a hard time for Connie being an Andalusian X but they have strated to shut up now lol! Better the horse you love than the horse that will always win I think. It's great that Echo is making real progress.

Barokko said...

The journey may have been easier in some ways with a different horse, but then there would have been other difficulties. I think it's important to remember that it's NEVER an easy road! You've chosen a horse that you love, and love working with, and that's what's important. You say you'd like to get to Medium level, I'm sure you will! It may take a little longer than it theoretically might have with a different horse, but does that really matter, as long as you enjoy the journey?

Heidi said...

As long as you are enjoying Echo and she is happy with her job, go for it! I am not the bravest rider either, so I can totally relate to wanting a horse that you can trust and feel safe on. Even if that means they are not the flashiest horse, I'm happier that way! It's obvious you love Echo so I'm glad you defended her :-)

Heidi said...

Wow! Your plaits (braids :-) look awesome! Two hours seems not bad for how many you had to do. Do you think you'll show again next year?

Echo said...

Thank you for your nice comments - I'm gald I stuck up for her too!

Heidi - I'm not sure whether I'll show again - it was fun as it was in hand but I'm not really into showing - too subjective for me! Dressage is more my thing really. Having said that, if there's a show very locally, then I'd think about it!

jesterjigger said...

My trainer told me a couple of weeks ago that she felt sorry for me after I bought my mare. Of course, she didn't tell me that then, but now that my horse is going well she did, lol. She definitely wasn't taken with my horse when I bought her, but she likes her now, hopefully your instructor comes around too, even if it's not until you're doing a Medium level test, you'll show him!

Cat said...

I share the same opinion as you that any horse as long as it is well schooled, balanced and straight is very capable of performing a medium test. You have a wonderful horse who you have produced and can be very proud of. I'm sure John didn't intentionally mean to offend you or put Echo down in any way. You have alot to work towards, but you will get there and achieve this goal, just like you have achieved all the others.

Cat said...

I share the same opinion as you that any horse as long as it is well schooled, balanced and straight is very capable of performing a medium test. You have a wonderful horse who you have produced and can be very proud of. I'm sure John didn't intentionally mean to offend you or put Echo down in any way. You have alot to work towards, but you will get there and achieve this goal, just like you have achieved all the others.

Karma Anais said...

I love reading your blog. I bought a six year old unbroke QH mare this year and have her started under saddle with similar hopes as you have. I can feel the same attitude in others as you talk about in your blog. I love the development of a horse from no training to being obedient, calm, forward, supple and a willing partner. I am glad to read that others are going through the same things.

jme said...

i agree with you and other posters here that there is absolutely no reason why you can't achieve your goals with echo. i think all horses can do dressage, and she's a lovely horse. besides, i always think the rewards are greater when the odds are a bit against you - it makes even the small achievements count.

i took the hard road too, and i don't regret it for a minute! i got the same kind of criticism when i was showing equitation; my trainers said i would never win on a paint (very unfashionable) and wanted me to sell my horse and buy a bigger fancier one that was sure to win. but i stuck up for my horse and worked hard, and we ended up beating all of those fancy horses! in fact, most of the horses i rode were those no one else believed in, and it made me happy to give them a chance to prove their critics wrong!

so stick with it and don't let anyone tell you your horse isn't good enough so long as you are willing to work hard and accept her limitations with her abilities.

on a separate note, i agree that using the leg, unless you are prepared to use it in front of the girth, probably won't help position the shoulder. but an 'indirect rein of opposition in front of the wither' used momentarily as a corrective rein on the outside might help you with that left shoulder, without having to increase the contact on the left side artificially until she is ready to take it. also, watch that you aren't inadvertently asking her to pop her shoulder with the positioning of your right hand/rein aid. just a suggestion... the instructor in me can't keep her advice to herself ;-)

good luck!

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

I agree with you - riding is a journey and unless you want to compete at the elite levels then I truly believe those of us with project horses get a higher quality relationship in the long run. My horse is all heart and wants to anything for me. The challenge for me is being clear in the asking. Some days I love the challenge more than others but EVERY day I love Now Voyager.

Sage said...

It is better to have higher aspirations than to settle for something less.. even if you don't make the grade you will have had fun trying and until you try you never know how good she will be.

Have a great christmas.

Rising Rainbow said...

Checking in to say hope you're having a great holiday!

Jessica Burkhart said...

Hi! Cool blog. :)

Daily adventures while training my young horse.