Lesson Recap: Trying a Trainer

(I’m way behind on my journal, but I don’t have anything to say about the past couple weeks and, in fact, am somewhat depressed about our [lack of] progress. So instead of catching up I’m going to write about my lesson tonight – a lesson with a new trainer we’re trying. Maybe I’ll catch up on my journal tomorrow.)

In my first lesson with Michele, two years ago now, she completely changed my equitation. She critiqued literally every piece of my body – moving me from a bad hunter perch to what (I hope!) will someday be a good dressage seat.

In my first lesson with Kim, she threw all of that away and told me to ride like a cowboy.

Robbye was in a crappy mood. She was hormonal and ouchy in her ovaries – which, believe me, I can completely empathize with. I’m certainly not blaming her for expressing her discomfort. But it was a a horrible day to have a first impression to a new trainer…and on another hand the perfect day for it. She’s seen us at our worst, now, people!

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Look! One picture! And it’s from a week ago!

So of course she was completely sucking back, plodding along like she’s half Belgian draft or something. I’d ask her to move on and she’d resist, whether by ignoring, kicking, or throwing her head. Then when I finally got her going, she would blow through my whoas.

With Robbye, it always seems to come back to a dominating relationship. I absolutely 100% have to be in charge of her, and I have to remind her every single time she crosses the line, even a little bit, that I am the boss mare.

So, after five minutes of watching us plod along, Kim had me absolutely wailing on Robbye’s sides with my legs. BUT – she also had my initial ask being as quiet as possible. Her cue, and now our cue, to walk on is literally tightening my butt cheeks and nothing else. When Rob inevitably doesn’t respond – thump on her sides as violently as I can until she’s galloping.

And I mean these were cowboy kicks. Like I couldn’t keep my stirrups. I felt like I was lifting my feet so they were at ear level.

Then when we finally got a committed forward, it was time to ask for a whoa. Here, she wants my cue to be much more of an obvious whoa. But then if she blows through it, I immediately have to yank her off balance. And then do it again. And then run her into a wall.

I know all of this sounds harsh. But Robbye is big, she’s insensitive, and she’s dominant. And, worst of all, she has no work ethic.

(Or maybe the worst of all is that she’s a mare…really, that accounts for a lot of our problems.)

She can deal with harsh punishments. And she will, until she realizes that this is her job and she has to be serious about it.

So that was the main takeaway. I need to ride like a cowboy, and think like a horse (or like a man, as Kim put it. Horses are a lot like men, she says.). And I can’t let Robbye get away with dominating me anymore. If I’m at all serious about this, we’re never going to progress with our relationship as it is.

Sigh.

Of course, there were lots of other points and cool things, too:

  • Kim rode Robbye. It was the first time Robbye has ever been ridden by a trainer, or really anyone other than my club. It was enlightening, to say the least. Kim kicked her butt just like she had taught me, and then after about 10 minutes had her going in a nice frame. A FRAME! It’s there! It’s possible!
  • She told me that Rob is a tough horse. It feels nice to hear that,
  • She also told me that she can tell that I’m serious – which is even nicer to hear. I think that’s the one thing I have going for me at the moment – I’m truly dedicated and willing to put in the work.
  • She wants me wearing tall boots. I didn’t know that in dressage, the stiffness of tall boots helps a lot with cues.
  • The way she wants me to ask for a framed up head and neck is much different than what Michele taught me. Instead of holding the outside rein and playing with my fingers on the inside rein (which I assume will be the norm eventually), she instead used rather significant pulls on Robbye’s mouth, alternating reins, to make her constantly think and stay light. When Rob inevitably lowered her head, tucked her nose, and started using her neck muscles, Kim gave the inside rein all the way up her neck. Like, completely released! This is very very different than my strategy with Michele, but Robbye seemed to respond very well. A few times, when I released the inside rein she rounded up even more than she already had!
  • One of Kim’s show horses is a draft x – which is really nice, because she has that cold-blooded experience that’s just a little different than the ubiquitous warmblood.

This new “don’t give Robbye even an inch” strategy is unfortunately really going to mess with my Zero Days goal. But, Kim also emphasized that I shouldn’t ever ride Rob when I’m not 100% ready for a fight. So maybe on my crappy days, I’ll do something other than a bareback ride. I can make a zero day out of dusting cobwebs or something.

Overall, I’m very happy with the lesson and am excited that we have something new to work on. And to have a horse who moves off simply from a butt clench?! After three years with my big, thick-skinned mare, I’m excited to install some sensitivity.

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14 thoughts on “Lesson Recap: Trying a Trainer

    1. I’m just starting to realize how much different an alpha mare is than…anything else. I feel like I chose the highest difficulty setting! Augh!

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  1. It’s always so exciting to get a totally fresh perspective from a new set of eyes. Addy never fails to move up when I ask her, but it’s definitely that same situation with the woahs- gotta really get her off balance until she learns that when I ask for that halt I’m asking now, not in five minutes when she’s ready. It’s a slow process but definitely working! Sounds like you two are about to kick it into a whole new gear (I mean that both literally and figuratively)!

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    1. LOL! I rode her last night and even her upward transitions between gaits were like…literally like kicking it into a new gear! Is this what it feels like to get a trainer tune-up?!

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      1. Sometimes a different perspective is all you need! My old trainer used to say that every time you got on the horse you were either training them to do better or training them to do worse (he’s convinced George Morris stole this from him). It puts some pressure on your rides, but that has always stuck with me.

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  2. I totally know how you feel, and was just commiserating over at Riding With Scissors about giving clear instructions and making sure they get heard. I really like to “ride less” but this leads to a horse that takes more and more advantage of me in dressage, so I need to make sure that I too am willing to commit to fight the good fight. Glad you had a good lesson!

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    1. I think it’s going to take a paradigm shift on my part to realize that clear, sharp instructions are not going to make me a dull horse – in fact they’re ultimately going to get me a much more responsive one. It’s just a hard lesson to learn!

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      1. Yes, I totally agree. And with really clear instruction eventually you can back off and give quieter commands. It is really hard though, especially for me, as I always feel like I’m toeing the line between asking and picking a fight.

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