Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Unschooling the Horse

My schedule is changing around again, which is a good thing. It does mean that my man C-rage is adjusting to the slightly different schedule. I'm now able to work him more regularly, but I want to keep in the place the concept that was working so very well for him: time off and breaks. Instead of drilling and worrying about a rigid schedule, I want to keep things mixed up and easy to allow him to progress at the speed that works for him. 

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Monday was a pretty intense ride. We stayed in the arena, but I picked a couple of specific topics and really pushed them. I wanted him to GO FORWARD, USE HIS BACK, and NOT PUT HIS HEAD UP LIKE A GIRAFFE. At this point in his retraining, those topics are pretty earth-shattering. He did well, but both of us had to work really hard.

In light of that, I wanted Tuesday's ride to briefly cover the same things without frustrating him and reward him for progress made.

We started on the lunge line. SOMEONE has been nagging me about lunging, and I figured that since she's been right about everything else so far, she probably had a point here. I still hate lunging. First I let Courage warm up w/t both directions. He giraffed around like nobody's business and I decided that was enough of that. I clipped on his harbridge martingale and we were off.

An aside here: I don't love gadgets in training. I do like side reins for horse schooled to accept contact, but he is not. Side reins do nothing for us just now, but since Courage is completely responsible for the action of the harbridge, it was worked really well for us. Today was maybe his third time in it, and it has definitely helped him understand how to stretch down and go forward without force.

Back to the story: For the first time, Courage really got what I was looking for. He is so adorable that you can pretty much see the lightbulb blink on over his cute little ears.

I think his bodywork helped so much with allowing him to go forward that now it's becoming much easier for him. It was also the first time he and I have been comfortable enough for him to canter on the lunge line--up to this point, he just hasn't been relaxed enough in the canter to let small(er) circles be a training exercise.

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True to the goals for the day, we kept it short and easy. He went w/t/c both directions for a total of less than ten minutes. He was lovely and forward and listening.

I popped the harbridge off*, put the lunge line away, and climbed on. I didn't fuss too much about his upward transitions, and he gave me the softest, loveliest forward trot I've ever had on him, his head and neck stretched forward and down while swinging through his back.


I got off. Today, I spent more time grooming and doing his stretches than I did actually working with him. I am sanguine that he comes out tomorrow ever better. I compare it to the growing "unschooling" trend among non-conventional educators. There are certainly benefits to drilling and rigidity, but right now, for where we're both at, I really prefer the loose structure.

Other thoughts? Who holds to a schedule vs free handing the training? How do you think that affects the way you and your horse advance?

*Noted: You can ride in these, theoretically. I am REALLY uncomfortable with sitting on a horse that is restrained by a gadget I can't release, so I don't. I think by the time he's broke enough that I would be comfortable with it, he'll be well beyond the point where we need it. Your mileage may vary.


  1. I've read many articles that state horses don't need days off, that a strict riding schedule is ideal. However, this sort of plan doesn't work for Fiction. He likes to be worked, but only just enough - otherwise he starts to go sour. I usually ride 4 days a week, but usually only every other day (tues, thurs, and the weekend).

    I'm also with you on the training aids - I only use what is completely necessary at this level - eventually I know I won't have to use anything (at least I hope!)

    The little man is looking great!

  2. Well, I don't have very much experience, especially with retraining (but I do believe that every time you ride you are training your horse to some extent).

    I've been sticking to a strict number of days per week (5) mostly because both Miles and I really need more fitness. But I've noticed that we do better if we work on different things each ride; If I drill the same exercise two days in a row, Miles is less enthusiastic the second day. So far, that has been working really well for us.

  3. Btw, I love neck-stretchers for the same kind of effect that this thing does. Riley really learned how to release his neck and back on his own terms using it. You can also ride in it (I know Andrea did for the first few months with O-ren) but I too get nervouse about those things! He looks great.

  4. My horses like being on a schedule. They seem to perform best when they are. I always give days off too though. I have used draw reins on every green horse I have ever worked with. I don't like anything that ties the head down so I chose draw reins that that I can control their length as I am riding. All of my horses have responded well to them and I only needed them for a short time.

  5. I stick to a riding schedule (two week days and both weekend days unless we have something scheduled) but not so much a strict training schedule. Both N and I school during our weekday rides (less time and restrained to the arena in the evening) and then do trail riding on the weekend, while still schooling some of the dressage discipline. Both of our horses love getting out and seeing new territory, having new adventures, so it gives them a mental break from riding in circles. Balance in all things.

    As for mechanical aides: sometimes you need them to help your horse get to a place where he doesn't any more. The key is using the ones you know and understand, rather than whatever the fad is. We use sidereins for warm up on the lunge line. I have also used a running martingale while riding, but now his back is getting stronger, we don't need it. I would never use draw reins. I don't know how and I've heard really bad things about their use, so will stay away.

  6. I think most training aids (excluding a few crazy harsh ones out there) have an ideal use and if used properly can help, most people just either use them without understanding how they work, or use them without teaching the horse how to correct without the 'fix' eventually. I have no idea how my schedule will be with my new pony. I think changing the focus each ride while maintaining what's already been learned keeps them fresh. And I really like ending outside the arena, walking around a bit relaxed.

  7. I subscribe to the "sleep on it" philosophy. We'll often introduce something new and hard, get it to where it's good more than once, then quit there. My trainer always says "Watch, the next time you get on him this will come much easier than it did today," and it always does.

  8. I also believe in the "sleep on it" idea. I will often give Hamps the day off after a challenging lesson or ride to let him "marinate." He is almost always better the next ride. I ride him 4 or 5 days a week. He is one who does just fine with days off. But I do know many horses who do better working 6 days a week. Guess it depends.

  9. Totally agree. A few days to digest seems to solidify a concept much better than drilling. Personal opinion but I think TBs are too smart and drilling will only make them bored and cranky.

    Courage looks outstanding - can't believe it's only been 2 months!

  10. I stick to a schedule... mostly cause I feel like Henry works best when he's in work and cause with a full time job, being a mom and wife- I have to keep everything scheduled :)

  11. I've never heard of the harbridge martingale before... interesting.

    I can't say that I ever stick to a schedule. I'm just not disciplined enough or too many things come up but mostly I find that works just great for us.

  12. I've never been one for a strict schedule. My trainer keeps telling me that with a green(ish) horse, consistency and going out with a plan is key. But for Beauty, I really think I need to play it by feel and see what kind of horse I have that day, haha. Also, she gets bored with repetition, so it tends to just make us slide backwards in training progress, so changing it up and doing fun or relaxing things is key for us.

    I think it is different for every horse, though

  13. I tend to stick to a fairly rigid schedule, but only in terms of the amount of work Cadence gets. While she's an absolutely wonderful mare, she does seem to require a delicate balance of enough work to keep her happy & release extra energy, and not too much that we get her too fit, or disenchant her re her 'work'. I tent to have to ride on the same days anyway, due to my work/school schedule, so...
    That said, in terms of the actual rides themselves, while we often work on the same concepts I like to keep things varied. With Cadence, its important to get enough repetition that she understands right vs wrong, but not so much that she anticipates everything. Therefore, we often practice the same concepts with different exercises, which I also finds helps us learn whatever we're working on in a more complete manner. Kind of like looking at all angles of a problem, I suppose.

  14. When I was retraining my horse after his life as a pasture puff, I rode him very frequently, but tried to focus on different things on consecutive days. He usually improved in a new area with a break and never enjoyed drilling (made him anticipate like crazy).

    I do not use side reins and draw reins are a definite "no", even though I had a trainer who taught me how to use them correctly. I have since found that those things are not necessary and my sensitive horse would be angry or offended if I used them.

    I am not familiar with martingales, but am always surprised when riders use them in dressage training. I can sort of see their purpose in jumping, but they have no place in dressage, IMO.

  15. I'd never heard of a harbridge before - fascinating. He's coming along quick, the smart cookie!

  16. Even though this past couple have weeks have been insane for me and totally out of the norm, I do like to keep Libs on a schedule. She get ridden only 5-4 days a week though, so that schedule is not very hectic at all.


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