Friday, January 22, 2016

Words for The Ages

Yesterday as I was working with B on some lateral movement exercises because I was frozen solid and didn’t feel like doing much, I was brought into deep thought when he began his usual resistance in the first 2 strides of each leg yield.

Normally, I get slightly frustrated and just keep asking, trying to find ways around resistance…but resistance is there for a reason. Either he is uncomfortable, doesn’t understand, or feels restricted.

I’m going with the latter.

It all comes down to riding. 95% of the time, it is rider error whenever a horse makes a mistake or acts out. Usually.

As I was making myself self aware of all my body parts while asking him to move his body sideways, I started thinking about all the lessons, instructions, and great horsemen and women I have met over the years.

Then I really got nostalgic, and without realizing it, let B walk around the arena for 5 minutes while I sat there in deep thought.

I have ridden with some incredible people in my time with horses over the years. Most notably; Jurgen Gohler, Nadeem Noon (RIP), Cathy Wieschoff, Janice Holmes (topnotch, one of my favs ever), Brian Sabo, Cheryl Holekamp & Darren Chiacchia.

Darren on Windfall
And of course my current Supertrainer, whom I love dearly.

Ironically though, the rider who inspired me to begin eventing, Darren, rode my favorite horse, Windfall,  and one of my favorite instructors ever is the owner of said wonderhorse horse, Cheryl H. I worked for her for about a year on her farm and with her with Windfall babies & I can truly say in some unorthodox way, I learned the most from her and I hear her words almost everytime I ride.

Photo of le Windfall, by me
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have worked with a woman who is a wealth of dressage and baby training knowledge, who also LET me handle the precious and majestic Windfall. I sat on him (just sat) once and almost died. Just leading him to and from the pasture everyday gave me chills.

Myself and Windfall

Anyways, as I was riding B yesterday, I specifically heard the echo of her words in my head. Cheryl had an…interesting way of teaching. She was old school and was NOT afraid to tell you you were riding like shit. She opened my eyes to a slew of training tactics and made me realize I wasn’t as good as my 20-year-old self thought I was.

Myself and The Queen

I remember one things she said to me very clearly, in an exasperated, shouting fashion, while I was riding one of the babies. They were just learning the basics of dressage and therefore, obviously, didn’t know it all yet.

I can’t quite remember what exactly what I was doing at the time, probably riding like crap, but Cheryl sternly advised me of this,

“WHAT are you doing? You MUST give the horse a chance to learn. You cannot ride with bricks for hands. If they give you give, if you take you must give elsewhere, STOP holding on their face!”

It was like a good slap in the face. What she said made total sense and I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it before back then.

When we take hold in the bridle for any reason, we HAVE to give them an out somewhere or they will resist. Specifically, when you half halt on one rein, the other cannot be restrictive. If you’re asking for a leg yield, why in god’s name would you choke up on both reins to ask for a forward, sideways movement?

THIS exact quote is what I think of everytime I do lateral work with Bacardi.

I have a tendency to pull back  on the reins and not give anywhere when asking for lateral movement. This is so wrong. So wrong. Not only does that halt forward energy, it gives the horse completely acceptable reason to fight me.

One must use a supporting outside rein with a forgiving inside hand.

This is literally the hardest thing for me to do sometimes. Especially when the horse is acting up or resisting. It is natural for us to pull back! when the horse shows any signs of tension. It is up to US as the rider to let that tension ebb away through relaxtion of our own bodies.

Incredibly difficult, especially on a horse prone to rearing and bolting.

However, as soon as he feels me relax, he relaxes. Its like magic.

Cheryl’s words stay with me, everytime.

Is there anyone or anything you think of often, when you ride? What is it?


  1. great memory, and great quote. letting go, giving when the give... it's definitely really *really* hard for me too. but it's so critical. i especially love the 'you must give the horse a chance to learn' part. definitely resonates!

  2. Hello :) This is a wonderful post, I know what you mean about getting lost in deep thought, my drive to the barn on Thursday was the same way. YIKES! I was planning out my ride

  3. Awh, Auntie Jan Jan would love this :p Also, weird coiencendes, I ride (and my HT D, owns) a Windfall baby, Kompass. Used to be trained by the O'Conners. He's such a cool dude and looks JUST like his Daddy, with the addition of being 18hh lol.

  4. This! I just had this happen to me on my last ride Sunday. Ries was super tense and avoiding contact and short striding a trot anticipating a canter transition. I kept trying to push him forward but that just made him more tense. Instead I relaxed my reins and let him follow the contact. He relaxed down and then was able to move forward. I collected him back up for the transition and it was much better!

    I've had a large slew of trainers yell at me to "CLOSE YOUR FINGERS" so that is always echoing through my mind when I ride. I rode with my moms old bestfriend she grew up riding with, James Waldman, who has certain reminders that echo in my head a lot. He always had an enchanting way of talking. I remember specifically he would sing-song "tummy up tummy up tummy up" to lift yourself up from your core.

  5. The only formal instruction I've ever had was a year of dressage lessons by a local trainer that probably nobody has ever heard of, so the only thing I ever really think of that she taught me is heavy elbows, light hands, pretend like you're pushing a shopping cart, elbows to ribs, look UP, etc. Just position fixes like that. I was taking lessons on trained horses. I never had lessons on babies. That's why I feel so out of place trying to train Chrome on my own. I so desperately need lessons!

    I love that picture of you and Windfall! That is so incredible that you got to handle him and even sit on him. :D