Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trainers that challenge you

Not asking for a Spanish walk -- just a walk!
Boy did I have a good lesson. Well, not good in terms of my performance, or Riley's. Good, in that it made me think. Here is the scoop.
The walk
Ever since I have owned horses, I've never had much luck in getting a good walk. My horses shuffle and resist and fall out. I know the pattern, and I struggle with it, and with horses I've ridden in the past, I can ultimately get communication going and get something like a four-beat walk. Never great, but often passable.

Then came Riley
When Riley shuffles and throws his shoulders around,  nothing I try seems to work. In the end the unforgiveable happens and he blows me off and shuts down. There's nothing left to try, and it takes a Herculean effort to get him forward. I see, or saw, his behavior as a giant middle finger.  I'm annoyed, he's annoyed.  I've had trainers tell me "it's a baby thing. Don't worry about it." I've had people shrug as if it doesn't really matter (I get decent, good walks in competition, somehow).

Working at the walk
My current trainer, though, pinpoints the problem. She took away my small spurs and forbade me to use my whip except in a particular way.  We worked endlessly at the walk. Booorrring. Yuck. And it seemed there was little to show for it in that first session.  I turned to her and said in my best simulation of a whiny teenager, "He's just not improving at ALL."

Her response, delivered with good cheer: "We're not working on him, we're working on YOU."

That was the dose of humility I needed. There was miniscule progress in that lesson, but I worked on the walk in the days that followed. It got better. And by the next lesson, we were probably 25% better. More importantly, I was starting to feel exactly what I was doing wrong, and what I needed to be done to at least start a line of communication. Riley had been tuning my out at the walk. Now he was listening, and trying. And the walk was getting decent.

I thought that the exercise wasn't doing any good, and I was questioning my trainer's method. I was wrong, and in cases like this it feels REALLY GOOD to be wrong. Hat's off to trainers who are willing to do the unpopular thing for the good of a horse/rider partnership. It takes integrity to do that. It it really helped me.


  1. Glad to see I'm not the only one getting crappy walks but mostly glad that there is a solution... I really enjoy reading your posts!

  2. And bless your trainer for taking it one step at a time, working on the little things to make a big difference. The "devil is in the details" when it comes to riding and the basics are always the key.

    Riley looks to have potential for a great walk and I'm sure you are going to get him to give it to you in no time.

  3. I used to take lessons from a woman for whom I eventually lost all respect, but she did say one thing that has stayed with me all these years: Our horses go the way we ride them.

    We ride like a sack of compost, they GO like a sack of compost. We're uptight, so are they. Etc.

    Riley is a lovely mover and you two make a lovely picture. Keep working. YOU WILL GET THIS and then knock the judges' socks off!

  4. First time posting here but enjoy your blog. Had to grin today when I read it. Guess what my trainer had me work on with my horse last night in my lesson?! I realize I let him schlep along too much when we should be working. We worked last night on getting him to be engaged and working at the walk so that he should just be wanting to spring up into trot when I release him. Well, not going to say that happened every time but then finally.....!

  5. sorry if i ended up posting that 2x. thought i lost the first one so retyped. Am still figuring out how to do this. ;)

  6. I have ridden in a couple clinics where the clinician will continue the entire lesson in walk, if he feels that the horse and rider are not where they should be yet. When it was my turn, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment when I was allowed to trot, after 30 minutes of walking, of course. ;)

    The lesson was slow paced, but I learned so much.

  7. Oh how LOVELY to read that I'm not the only one that gets smacked in the arse by my instructor for what "I" am doing wrong! God help me when my new guy arrives Saturday...and I get to start ALL OVER AGAIN:)

    I've followed you and Riley for the past year and a half. You are such an inspiration and a wealth of knowledge! Really hope I can meet you in person at Rolex next year!

    Thank you for sharing your life...and Riley and Harv's lives:)

  8. See, I always tend to go for the forward on-the-verge-of-bolting type horses so it's never really been something that I've thought a lot about, save for the occasional tune up ride on somebody else's pony, or attempting to settle the walk into a nice long elastic(but not rushy) gait. As I doubt I'll always be so lucky as to ride the forward sensitive type, may I ask what the exercise was?
    As for unpopular exercises, how about taking away your stirrups until you are truly sitting properly? Definitely unpopular... just more so with the students than the trainers :)

  9. I would love to hear what she suggested to you! Video perhaps of you working on it?


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