A very steep learning curve!
This week has been one of the steepest learning curves I have had around horses for a while. Last weekend I got on to ride as usual, feeling pretty happy with life, the sun was shining the Paddock Riding Club was buzzing with happy people. The session started well, my usual warm up, long rein to start then slowly gather and collect then I stopped and had a walk and a break and when I picked up the reins again I suddenly couldn’t ride! At one point was so confused as to what was happening I had to just stand still in the middle of the arena and give myself a talking to. Why? I think I had got myself so excited about the prospect of jumping I sort of forgot that simply going forward is one of the basic principles of riding! Charlie, the lovely mare I am lucky enough to ride sometimes is a sensitive soul with one of the biggest hearts and cleverest brains I have ever come across. She has an unrivaled work ethic (if she was human she would be a leading female business leader with a team of lesser beings trailing behind her). She’s a mare so she has an opinion and she will not let you away with riding sloppily. She’s one of the most incredible horses I have ever ridden and I am extremely privileged to be able to ride her. Charlie has also been clicker trained by Patricia Lincourt and she has a very thorough understanding of what the clicker means. Her work ethic and highly trainable attitude mean that she is highly tuned into what you ask and reward her for. She also understands works like ‘super’ which means ‘nice I want you to keep going’ and ‘well done’ which means I ‘you can have a reward now’. If she was one of my lesson kids I’d find myself myself shouting ‘good job’ at her every couple of moments.
‘Normally’ we get on pretty well, she’s enabled me to understand my position needs work and that I need to think straightness at all times. If you shift your weight even a fraction (and most of the time I am not even aware I am doing so) she will take a step to the side. Today, I was struggling to go from a halt to a walk without stepping to the right. Despite thinking I was sitting straight I must have been slightly twisted or unbalanced in the saddle and she was not letting me get away with it (nor should she). I could feel myself getting emotional, the last thing you should be round a horse where you need to be calm at all times. I had really wanted to jump but I knew I needed to get straight first!
Enter Patricia to save the day! She suggested I simply needed to go forwards and forget about everything else, the contact and straightness would come, ‘focus on the straight line elbow to bit’ and ‘use two point to lighten my seat’ then ‘think like a scientist, listen to the evidence and experiment to find a different answer’. Guess what, it worked! I could almost feel Charlie thinking ‘thank goodness she has started listening to me!’. After a few circles and rein changes we were back to a more balanced, straight and fluid trot. Guess what? We tried a jump, then another, and another, and before I knew it we jumped a little course (by little I mean cross poles). I was so delighted. Not only had I overcome a really disappointing situation where I had to box up my emotions and listen to what the horse was telling me, I had done it and ended up jumping a (tiny but I don’t care) course of jumps for the first time in about 4 months.
Fast forward to today, I’d had a week of the usual work stress and hadn’t managed to ride very much but I had a lot of time on my commute to think (I’m one of the small percentage of people that use public transport to get to work in Los Angeles which means a lot of time waiting at the bus stop). I came to the conclusion that the step to the right I was getting was due to me not giving the right ‘Q’ signal to Charlie ie, not giving her a signal as to what I wanted and because she is so sensitive to weight I was actually telling her to move off to the right. I have a pretty wonky right shoulder thanks to a skydiving accident a long time ago and I started to wonder if my right shoulder was affecting the way I was sitting, having a knock on effect to my seat. So the past few times I have ridden I have concentrated hard on relaxing my shoulder and keeping my upper half even. So far, so good, I have a much happier and straighter horse and the improvement in the canter especially is huge. I also jumped another (tiny) course of jumps and went out on a (tiny) trail ride, yey!
Moral of the story; ‘listen to your horse’. And your trainer.
If you would like to know more about positive reinforcement techniques or training with Lincourt Stables please contact us.