Replacing what you've taken out

"It's not that horses don’t carry baggage. They do, because they learn quickly (and Thoroughbreds especially so) and they have prodigious memories. Horses bring stuff to the table for sure. That’s why training them can be like playing cards. If you want to have the upper hand, you need to keep track of which cards have been played and figure out where the remaining cards are likely to be. Don’t be tricked by the fact that horses live and act in the moment. Remember they have trump cards from past experiences that may be played at any given time. As a trainer, it is your job, to get the horse to lay those cards down when you want to see them, and not the other way around." -- Makers Mark Secretariat Center blog

Guinness isn't an easy horse to train. He raced for a long time (until he was 6!), competed in hunters/jumpers for a long time (another 5 years!), and is just starting to really understand and enjoy dressage work (after 3 years!). He certainly has a lot of training baggage, and has several "trump cards" in his deck.

His favorite trump card is backing. I'm sure we all remember this beauty of a disobedience. (Side note. Re-watching this video slapped me in the face with the realization of how far Pig and I have both come this summer/fall. Training, muscling, understanding. Wow. Just, wow.) Back in the day, Guinness would use backing as the ultimate evasion. Gleefully, he'd flip me the horsey bird, and stomp backwards with reckless  (and honestly, quite sophomoric) abandon. Sometimes he'd get so involved that we would stomp backwards through fences, across entire arenas, or in circles at the trot (with every 3rd step being a mini-rear, my favorite!). The only way to stop his crazed backwards march was to let go of the reins completely, and even then the ride was often over. Once he was in backing mode, any amount of stress sent him reeling backwards.

When we started to really get down to the gritty parts of training the basics, I started to dread backing. I would never ask for it. Any motion to back by Pig was greeted by a quick forward boot, and a clarification of aids. Backing, I made it clear, was no longer allowed.

He got the message. Things went on, we've stopped having such dramatic arguments, preferring to disagree in a slightly less flamboyant manner (*ahem*). In fact, he hasn't had a backing episode in months, and I forgot about backing completely. Until—
Oh shit.
How do you reinstall a button you've removed? More later ...


  1. Oh, I love the quoted passage at the top! Sydney definitely has a trump card as well - dropping his inside right shoulder and whirling in a bolt. He tried it again last night and actually got half way across the arena before I forced him into the fence to stop. And then he got a SERIOUS boot in the side that said GO!!!!!! in a very small circle. He knew he was beat. He didn't want to go on, as you've experienced with Guinness, but I was able to get a bit more from him. Like you, I look forward to the day that particular card falls from the deck.

    As far as your training question, I would probably approach the rein back in as different a context as you can. In other words, do it somewhere different so that he doesn't associate the rein back with evasive backing. My trainer recently taught me the rein back as a way to lighten both my boys. At first, it stressed Speedy out so he rushed it (scrambling backwards), but I learned to ask for it very slowly so that he backed one slow step at a time.

    Good luck!

    1. That's a great tip! Guinness was certainly very nervous when I approached backing with him, and rushed it too.

      Those racehorses and their habits, at least they are fairly predictable, right?


Post a Comment