What do you do once you catch your horse, enjoy the grooming time and head off for a ride? You get to the arena and do this and that but often you may be wondering if you are doing the right things.
Recently I have been exploring ways to help horse owners how to make the most of what they learn in their lessons. Lessons give information and review and develop skills. The student is expected to practice and improve until the next lesson. However, questions arise in the mind of the student. They wonder why it’s not going as well as in the lesson and that leads to the idea that they need their coach there to talk them through. They wonder if the horse’s non-compliance is because it is bored or doesn’t like doing that activity and then they begin to think that they need to change things. What they think should change may be the exercises they practice, the end goal they started out aiming towards or even the coach that they hired.
The problem is actually the number of tasks that have been piled on the student or the extreme simplicity of a lesson. The student doesn’t know how to organize the tasks into a systematic approach to the practice time or they don’t realize the importance of the simple task in the whole scheme of their progress.
One: My saying is, “If there is saturation then we must go to application.” Dealing with saturation of the number of tasks acquired so far from lessons or from searching the internet for “how-to’s”.
When you have a saturation of tasks they must be organized into a system for practice and they should relate to each other. In order to take saturation into application you can look at the Scale of Training for ideas and categorizes to organize for yourself. If the exercise is to develop relaxation and rhythm then put those first and begin with the simplest before moving to the more complex ones. For example, the free walk on a loose rein could be your first exercise simply going large around the rail. Then do the same at the trot. Then be aware of your rhythm in the turns and be able to maintain the same rhythm throughout. Next bring the large circles to the ride at the end of the arena, once again maintaining the same rhythm and alternate between going large and large circles. This systematic application of your lessons tasks will result in your horse becoming more relaxed in the work.
Now you can group exercises that develop suppleness. You may have already introduced circles so you now add smaller circles between the wall and the centerline, checking your horse’s shape and balance throughout.
Another grouping can be the exercises that develop responsiveness and strength. Look at your transition exercises for this category. Already you have worked out an appropriate warm-up for you and your horse.
Two: Keep the workout simple.
You do not have to do everything you’ve learned so far. Try putting just two or three exercises in one category and do those until there is improvement, both in yourself and in your horse. Do one category each riding session if you like. It may only take twenty minutes to improve and that is ok. Then stop! You are done! Don’t practice until it becomes worse - and it will - because unless you let the horse know that the mission was a success, it will keep trying to find alternative solutions and possibly, most likely, go in a direction you don’t want. Then you will wear out or get tough or feel defeated and no one wants that.
Be encouraged that it doesn’t take an hour every time drilling on exercises - what it takes is getting exercises more correctly executed and improving a little each ride until it culminates into advancing to another level. In this way you will enjoy your horse time even more and so will your horse.