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January 2017 Tip

January 16th, 2017 by admin

I do not like the sentence, "IT IS WHAT IT IS". Yet people use it all the time so I must just be in the minority. If you say these words to me concerning your horse then I will translate it to mean that you're saying: "It is what you have settled for".

When I was having my indoor arena built I was concerned about the roof in the riding part of the barn sweating and inquired about ceiling insulation.  The contractor assured me that I only needed it in the area above where the horses’ stalls were.  Assuming he knew way more about building a barn then me, I allowed him to convince me that his way would be just fine.  4 months later when spring weather was making its grand entrance I stepped into my indoor only to find it felt like a rain forest.  Yep, water drops were falling from the ceiling and onto my sand that has a fairly expensive dust repellant applied that isn’t allowed to get wet.

I called the contractor and told him my dilemma.  Guess what he said?  Yep, those famous five words that I hate. The words people use when they don’t have an educated answer or they have screwed up and don’t want to take responsibility and you know there is no hope of any resolve.  Why?  Well because, IT IS WHAT IT IS.  To me that meant I am stuck with a condensation issue that the contractor had no intention of addressing.  IT IS (a big problem) WHAT IT IS (with no resolve) and it has become what I’ve had to settle for until I can afford to do something about it.

So what, might you ask, does this have to do with horses?  Actually, it has less to do with our horses then it does with us.  We all have at least one thing that we would change about our horse if we could.  One thing that we have simply resolved in our minds that IS WHAT IT IS.  It might not even be that bad, which is why we settle for less than perfect.

My horse Chance used to have a really fast trot and would often break into a canter without me asking.  When he did this, his canter departure was so smooth and relaxed that for a few strides I would just allow him to continue cantering because I loved the way it felt.  When I would cue him into a canter the departure was more dramatic and he would often hit the wrong lead or take off fast.  When I allowed him to choose for himself when to canter the difference was remarkable.  Now I’m a trainer and I certainly know better but this was my own horse and IT IS WHAT IT IS and I didn’t mind settling for it even though I knew it was wrong.

We settle for things because correcting any training issue is often harder and requires more work then we want to invest.  But I teach people how to ride for a living and we train horses for our clients so I knew I had no choice but to spend the time to undo a bad habit that I had allowed in the first place.

So how did I do it?  First I had to correct the thing that started the whole mess in the first place…..that being his extremely fast trot.  For 3 months I did a lot of trotting and a LOT of bending circles.  Let me just say that I didn’t start out to create a nice slow jog nor did I ever expect my horse to even do a nice, slow jog.  After all, he is a Morgan with energy but he learned real quickly that every time he increased his speed, which was fast to start with, that I would tuck him right into a bending circle.  I would even talk to myself so I would get the sequence with my bending side cues correct:  leg (my inside leg against his side), knee (where my hand holding the inside rein was placed), hip (where I pulled to), leg, knee, hip over and over again.  I tried not to post because that adds energy but in the beginning I had to for a few strides but would stop posting before engaging him in the bending circles.  I’m not going to lie, the process was not all that fun, sometimes I would actually get dizzy and it took way longer then I ever imagined but I was consistent.  Not once veering from my plan to slow the trot down.  I even added lateral work at the trot but he mistook my leg pressure to move over as a cue to go faster which bought him some more bending circles.

May I take a second and brag about how great our bending circles were becoming.  I was at the point that as soon as my inside leg gave an ounce of pressure he brought that head around and bent through the rib cage and I hardly even had to use the rein anymore.  I started setting up cones and barrels and made a game of doing bending circles.  Then back to the rail for more seated trotting.  I would like to say that in 3 or so months I had a great jog, but I can’t say that.  What I can tell you is that at some point when I stopped measuring how long it was taking and just stayed consistent with the bending circles every time he sped up, he slowly became consistent himself.  The process took so long that I didn’t even realize that I had achieved my goal until one day when someone commented about the amazing change they noticed in his trot.

We still weren’t perfect because there were days that when other horses came into the arena and trotted or cantered past us I could feel him puff up and knew he was ready to keep up with them.  But I would just say aloud, “Really Chance, you just bought yourself more bending circles boy.” and believe me I would really make him move because I don’t like my horse to make me look like all that hard effort we had spent months on was for nothing.

Fast forward to the point where I can now do a nice seated jog (yes, a jog) and even better I can now add a request for increased speed for a posting trot and then go right back to a jog again. It has honestly taken a couple years, not months.  And guess what, everything else about my horse has improved as well just by slowing his feet down and moving him in bending circles.  His stop has improved tremendously and that lateral work is so beautiful now that I have to be careful not to overdo it.  And what about the canter…….it has slowed down as well.  But most importantly, he doesn’t canter until I ask and I NEVER allow him to make that decision on his own anymore – I never should have in the first place!

Your horse will only be as good as you require it to be.  If you are happy with IT IS WHAT IT IS, then that is your choice to just settle for what you got.  Some of us want more, we don’t want to settle for less then we know our horses can give.  Every horse is different and offers their own unique challenges.  They are never too old to learn but how much better it would be if we simply started them right and didn’t allow a bad habit to develop in the first place. Which brings me right back around to my arena roof.   I could have solved everything just by speaking up and insisting that the contractor install the insulation from the very start.  Had I done so, my condensation problem WOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO BE WHAT IT IS.  Wonder how my contractor would have responded to bending circles!