Borderline Control
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 07:10 PM
A rider's job is to teach the horse self-carriage while having a rider on it's back and while performing rider's requests from as simple tasks as different gaits and turns to very complicated onces such as tempi changes or piaffe. It is an interesting fact that jumper riders better understand the principle of allowing a horse to perform it's task like a jump over obstacle. Dressage riders though in theory should aim to work toward such ideal end up slipping into a trap of "doing" the work for their horses.
We are going to talk about a phenomena that most of us experienced and may be even still hopelessly trapped in. I am going to call this phenomena Borderline Control. This is when a rider asks her horse to exert minimum effort for a certain task. This effort is so small that the rider must request the effort again and again and again. The horse is at the borderline between executing the request and abandoning or ignoring it. Below are two prime examples of such borderline activities.
In front of the leg borderline This is a very common mistake riders do. They push and kick a horse not to change the speed or gait but to continue in a present one. The horse does not appear to be motivated to go forward but rather drags itself at a minimum effort it can get away with. The moment the rider stops pushing or kicking the horse slows down even more. The rider does not realize that the horse is not performing with good enough forward, active energy. This can be either because the rider is inexperienced or because the horse is very close to what is expected and the rider wants to preserve peace and continue as is. This is exactly why I call it Borderline Control.
In order for the rider to feel that her horse is performing in an effortless, forward motion the rider must ask the horse to go more forward than required for a few strides. Like giving a sharp tap with a whip will make the horse run a bit or jump forward. When that happens the rider does not need to kick every stride. A few "lessons of the whip" like that and the horse will start trying much harder without the necessity to repeat the aid every stride. Even more, if my horse wants to slow down when I didn't ask I do not even bother with the leg aid. I go straight for the whip. It is his responsibility to keep the pace I requested. The whip reminds him of that. If I use leg this will mean I accepted his slowing down and now ask him to go forward again. Many inexperienced riders think that if they are "nice" to a horse the horse will return the favor. If the rider failed to set clear boundaries what is allowed and what is not the horse will look at it as a weakness in the rider and exploit it as much as it can get away with.
Speed control borderline The same principle as for going forward should be applied for the speed control or tempo control. If a horse keeps running faster that a rider wishes to go and the rider only slows it down to the desired speed the rider will be trapped to always hold the horse. Because the horse is at the borderline and the rider doesn't feel enough control to release or soften. Even if she does the horse will be going faster the next moment and will require holding again. In order to brake this vicious cycle the rider must slow down her horse beyond the desired speed. Then the release will feel very logical and justified. And it will take the horse a few strides to gain the speed back if he wants to do so. ALL this time the rider can be soft. The moment the horse passes the threshold of desired speed the rider must slow down him again beyond the desired speed. After repeating this a few times the horse starts staying in the desired speed longer and longer allowing the rider to stay soft in contact. In summary corrections will take shorter amount of time then periods of softness. The horse is rewarded for correct actions and corrected for wrong ones instead of being held together with no escape from it.
It doesn't matter what you are doing in terms of riding discipline, exercises or movements. The moment you feel your horse ignored your ONE leg aid or one or two half-halts the next action should be a corrective action that teaches a horse to listen, to perform in self carriage rather then being kept together by rider's legs and hands. Do not fall into trap of not wanting to correct whether you wish to finish the movement (the only exception is competition and even then it is still possible just not too obvious :)), or because you dread going into argument with your horse. Pretending that nothing is happening teaches your horse to ignore you and eventually to take over. This is a common way for riders to get into trouble with their horses, especially, when horses are young or green. Do not get emotional about corrections, get it done and continue, if you need 10000 corrections so be it. Remember, you are in charge - not because you wish to be but because you are.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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