"Spurring, when needed, should be done lightly but insistently, and must cease its action the moment of compliance. The effect should be like someone tapping your shoulder with their finger. No matter what you're doing, your attention will be drawn to the one tapping you."
-Puterbaugh, The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage
For my birthday, my wonderfully thoughtful sister Abbie gave me a new book: The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage, by Douglas Puterbaugh. I posted my reading notes for the first sin, Ignorance, a couple of weeks ago, and learned a lot about myself and my relationship with Robbye by writing it all out.
Puterbaugh’s second sin is
For the purposes of this book, Puterbaugh focuses on the effects that timidity has on the dominance (or lack thereof) between a horse and its handler. Perfect for me, since I struggle with dominance so much.
In what ways am I guilty of timidity? Timid riders tend to accommodate their horse’s idiosyncrasies. However, this is not doing the horse any favors – in fact, the handler is failing to provide for the need for leadership that the horse naturally has. Naturally, the dominant horse establishes boundaries within the herd. Young horses learn what’s expected of them.
Additionally, to the horse’s instinct a human is never his equal. She can be above or below him in the hierarchy, but never on the same level. As much as I wish Robbye and I could be equal partners – it’s actually kinder to her to act as her superior 100% of the time. She needs that authority instinctively, and she also needs it in order to learn how to be a better horse.
Puterbaugh also declares the perils of compromise. If a horse is cooperative in some ways but not others, a timid rider will take what she can get (or “end on a good note”, as I like to do) in order to avoid confrontation. To a horse, this is a free pass for more and more disobedience. Boundaries and demands have to be 100% obeyed.
How can I fix my timidity? Dressage is all about submission. That sounds bad written down – but really, a submissive horse with a dominant rider is just a tiny herd. And herds are happy, natural groups – that include plenty of trust. Dressage builds trust just as it builds submission. That trust is built with practice. And practice – that I can do!
Timidity is also fought with appropriate discipline. Puterbaugh emphasizes that
a reprimand is deserved only when the horse knows better and is willfully disobeying,..You want to teach your horse, not bully him.
Overreaction to perceived mistakes, says Puterbaugh, is a symptom of ignorance and an expression of temper. Before a reprimand is dealt out, a rider must know if the horse is willfully disobeying or is confused or distracted. Of course, this is so hard since discipline also has to be perfectly timed!
(Puterbaugh also emphasizes that discipline should get milder as it’s used – it’s better to start off strong and work down to less. That’s what Helge taught us too!)
What else did I learn about timidity? Horses don’t work out of gratitude – if his handler doesn’t establish boundaries, then he’ll instinctively make up his own. Without a clear dominant handler, horses will constantly question authority…especially after they inevitably succeed at insubordination with a timid rider. In the herd, a horse confronts insubordination by confronting it. As riders, so too should we.