Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Managing the Attitude

He's very beautiful, but can be very difficult.
Last year, I wrote a bit about the thoroughbred as a dressage horse. The list of pros and cons of using this breed for competitive dressage can drag on ad infinitum, but I want to focus in on two specific traits Guinness has I believe come from his thoroughbred heritage. Those traits?

Sensitivity and Attitude.

While working through flexion issues (mainly "not enough") with Nancy last month, she kept repeating one phrase. "He's such a good boy, but he's being so subtly bad isn't he?" The minute I would let my guard down, he would quit. His hind legs would stop reaching forward, and he would fall in on curves instead of bending around my inside leg. Giving Nancy constant feedback on the consistency of my contact, he chattered on about how I keep tensing my elbow and dropping my outside hand to his shoulder. She might not even have been able to see me do this, but never fear, my horse told her. He's not shy.

This sensitivity can make training alone very difficult. Without a trainer there to tell me the moment I let my hands slip, it can be more than a couple of strides before I catch the fault myself. By that time, Guinness has gone beyond annoyed and crossed into pissed off territory. We often have to backtrack in our training to get him to forgive me and get both of us on the same track again. There's a lot of learning for me in this, but it can be beyond frustrating to have him give up on me.

He's very demanding, you see.

The attitude issue rides in on the tails of the sensitivity. At the beginning of our dressage journey, Guinness was pretty tolerant of all things. He might get upset with my hands, but he wasn't going to throw a big fit about it. I wasn't holding him to a very high standard, and so he didn't hold me to one. He knew I'd give up and stop nagging him eventually, so he waited for that. Now, I don't give up any more.

I'm pretty demanding, too.

I expect certain things from my horse. He must move forward off my leg. He must move away from my cues. He must sit and push when I ask him to collect. He must flex when I ask him to bend. He knows these things. These buttons have been installed, but sometimes they're sticky. Like someone poured coke in the keys.

When learning new things, or installing new buttons, it's easy for me to get hyper focused and forget that my horse isn't a Grand Prix master. His attitude brings me right back down to earth. He's not willing to put up with my overzealous demands. If I get too intense, he will back off completely. And I mean back off ... as in, back up. Backing, rearing, spinning, and more backing are usually signs that I've been pushing him too hard while making some sort of mistake myself. He is quick to resort to these tactics, his attitude won't let him tolerate too much of a mistake on my part.

Sensitivity and attitude. It'll keep you humble. It'll also keep you honest. Now, off to do some yoga so I can better lift my hips for collection, instead of burying them for a halt. Here's to managing the thoroughbred attitude, and using that incredible sensitivity for good, instead of evil!

Sunday, May 4, 2014