Monday, March 11, 2013

Working Nine to Five

C'mon, sing it.  You know you want to.  And if you're too young to know this song, please google it.  It was an insanely hilariously bad film with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

I rode on Thursday and was having an average, not so fun ride.  I felt like I was forcing Tessa into a frame and that to try to get our canter forward was an exercise in futility.  I would ask, she would ignore.  I would spur, she would kick.  I would tap with whip, she would kick and wring tail.  Eventually she would pick up a hollowed out, slow canter for five strides before dropping into the trot. Even when I did get her to maintain the canter, it required constant leg and frequent taps with the whip.

The arena was empty and nobody was in the barn, so I decided to chuck my training out the window and do something I learned on Western horses.  I threw the reins away.  I didn't care AT ALL what her head was doing.  Then we went to one side of the arena and I asked her to canter from one side to the other.  She sassed, she trotted, she unwillingly picked up an awful strung out canter.  At the other side, I aimed her at the wall and said whoa.  I had to pick up the reins a bit, but I let them go as soon as she stopped.

Then we turned and I asked for canter right away.  She fussed, she kicked, she finally cantered.  Whoa at the wall and as soon as she was stopped, we turned and I asked for canter again.

She trotted a few steps, then broke into a slow canter.  Rinse and repeat.  This time, she still fussed but she cantered right away.  Again, turn and ask for canter.  I used less leg and her tail swished, but she picked up the canter right away and kept it until the wall.  We turned again.  With each turn and each canter she got lighter and lighter.  After about eight times, I would turn and just think canter and she would gracefully step off into a forward canter.  If we had a bigger indoor, we might have even been able to do a small hand gallop.  Her head was neither down nor up, but carried in a balanced way.  She was no longer grouching at my leg and resisting going forward.

It was lovely and I was so pleased, that I laughed out loud.

Later, when I got home, my thinking brain got a hold of this moment and started chewing it up and spitting out questions.  Google hasn't helped much, so I'm turning to you guys.  I know it's hard when you haven't seen me or my horse but please share your experiences.  Here are my question.

 How do you tell if your horse likes their job?  Maybe Tessa just really hates dressage and her lack of forward and her attitude are because she'd rather do something different.  It's not that she's a jerk for the whole lesson, but there are almost always moments of it.  She seems to like jumping, but I still struggle with getting her forward consistently.  It's like she's NEVER just zooming around having a good time.  Have you ever had a horse that didn't like it's job?  Tessa's crabbiness has been chalked up to being a mare so far (don't worry, she's been thoroughly checked for pain and continues to be evaluated and adjusted) but I'm starting to wonder if maybe she just doesn't want to go around in circles.


  1. My horse doesn't hate his job, he loves to jump, he just hates all that other stuff... like lateral work and being straight! But like parents, we gotta make them do whats good for them!

  2. Interesting coincidence, I've been having issues lately with a rather cranky canter departure as well, and took to doing rollbacks yesterday in an effort to fix them. I had the exact same results as you did, too! Makes me feel good because I think it rules out any physical issues causing the cranky departures and it makes me hopeful that we can work our way out of this. Very cool!

    Page hated her job. I don't know if it was the intensity of the training for reining or the arena work or just a dislike for endlessly going around and around. But she was one sour girl. When I rode her it was like she was always looking for an excuse. Not fun for either of us. But here's the thing. I think she could have learned to like her job. But she went into training in the winter and was basically trapped indoors for months in a row doing serious work every day.

    Do you mostly ride in the indoor? Any chances of schooling out on the trail sometimes? I think when our discipline requires a lot of "roundy round" horses can get bored, particularly smart horses! The challenge is to be able to keep the schooling interesting even as we work on mundane things. It's like your canter departure. Fencing was maybe a little more interesting for her than typical canter on the rail stuff.

    I know I really struggle to make schooling new and unique day after day with my smarty pants horse. It's particularly hard because I'm so OCD I could go in circles for hours and hardly think about it. So maybe it's a good thing that I have a horse that doesn't think that's so fun and forces me to find other patterns, so we don't end up wearing a circular hole in the arena! ;)

  3. It's very hard to say clearly, but like Story says, it's a matter of your caring about what you're asking the horse to do, and the horse then caring about it too. If it's just rote, or the same old thing, and you don't care, the horse - particularly a sensitive horse - won't care either and it's just an aggravation. Set up fun thing, things that engage her brain, to do - poles, figures, cones, etc. and use those to focus your attention and hers - I'll bet you see a change in attitude. Smart horses hate doing the same old boring things over and over . . .

  4. I agree with the above commenters - I believe smart horses, mares in particular, get bored. And it is hard when you are trapped inside in the winter to mix it up. Trot poles, cones, heck we have even drug barrels inside and ran around those!

  5. I think my horse thinks of his job the same way most people think of their own: It's not exactly what they want to be doing, but they do it because it enables them to do what they do want to do (eat and hang out with other horses). I don't really know of any horse that loves dressage, honestly, so as soon as the footing outside is better, we're going to try to venture out more.