Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Greed and Pressure

also this spring
Courage is a horse that responds VERY POORLY to pressure. I cannot emphasize that enough. I am the queen of toodling and lackadaisical "training", so he and I work surprisingly well together most of the time, but sometimes I get greedy.

And that's bad.

For example. Last spring/summer, the very notion of cantering on the right lead in less-than-the-whole-arena (let's not call it a circle) would cause a pretty epic flail-fit meltdown. It was hard and he couldn't handle the mental pressure.

this. this took months to fix.
There are two schools of thought on how to deal with that--one is "keep applying pressure until the horse gives it up and learns to deal". The other is "back the pressure off and make things easy to avert the fit".

I recognize that both are valid, but I tend to fall heavily into camp #2. In general, it works pretty well for Courage. There are certainly things that need to be ridden through, but if I just keep ramping up the pressure on any given ride, I find we take large backward steps in our training that can take months to correct.

best. ever.
All that to say. I had a fantastic lesson on Saturday. Trainer C rode Courage for the first 20 minutes, and I rode for the rest. We made huge strides forward in understanding balance and connection and I have been THRILLED to work through the exercises on my own this week.

Monday, for the first time ever, I was able to keep Courage up and forward and balanced around a right corner on the right lead canter for several strides, without the fence to "babysit" him. Not faking it. Not leaning. Not crooked. Not braced. Not inverted. Not running. It was amazing. I let him quit for the day after that.

it's happened before
So Tuesday, I got greedy. He did a BANGING right lead circle. (Not kidding. So proud.) He cantered up the long side in a LOVELY connection, with a little weight in my hand while coming from behind. We made the turn at the top of the arena, and it was JUST AS GOOD.

And then Courage was like "GTFO OF MY BRAIN CRAZY BITCH AHHHHHH CAN'T EVEN CAN'T NO CAN'T JUST CAN'T" and we went galleaping (it's our special gait) all the way down the longside into a cluster of horses and pedestrians who THANK GOD did not die or get overly offended while I yelled profanity at my horse until he slammed on the breaks at the gate.

nothing to see here
(Slight brag: I stayed in the middle with one stirrup and an old cowboy standing there was like "wow, I would have needed to grab horn for that and you don't even have one.)

And someone asks "what did he spook at? I didn't see anything."

No. It wasn't a spook. That's Courage under pressure. It's all good until he can't take it any more, and then we're just DONE.

he deserves better
I feel bad about it, actually. We've been a pretty great team lately. He hasn't been blowing me off like this and we were actually making a ton of training progress up til now. I mean yeah, Courage absolutely needs to learn to deal with pressure, but this incident was my error. Instead of rewarding him for a job well done on a task I KNOW is hard for him, I got greedy and kept pushing for more.

It doesn't matter that he's talented. It doesn't matter that it felt good. It doesn't matter that I think this should be easier for him and that he should understand this by now. I pushed him past what he thought he could do, and he checked out. That's piss poor horsemanship on my part.

Courage is a very cool and capable horse. That's never been the issue. The problem is that I tend to forget that his mental game is far more important than his physical prowess. Bolting sideways and leaping is him screaming at me that he can't take it any more. It shows a huge violation of his trust of me, which means that I have failed him, and not the other way around.

our entire world is built on trust
So we're back to square one, again. I need to make some big, solid deposits in Courage's trust bank. He needs a mental break so he believes he can do this again.

And then I have to remember not to get greedy.


  1. We all do it. Our horses will be doing really well and then we can't help but ask for just that tiny bit more, that tiny last straw. It's just part of figuring out horses out. My old trainer always said that you never know if you don't try (within reason obv) so try. If it's too much, no big deal, just adjust. Finding the limits is necessary to advance and sometimes you're going to pass them. It sounds like you already know how to adjust if you do, so you're in the right track :)

  2. Don't be so hard on yourself. It is so hard sometimes to know when to call it a day. It can be a fine line and we all go there. You learned something. I wouldn't say it was a withdrawal from the trust bank. Just a reminder of where the line is. And guess what? You're going to do it again sometime. Probably more than once. It is a constant negotiation in the training process. If we never ask for more, how can we ever progress? We'd just toodle along in circles forever :)

  3. We've all been there. One more great jump, one more step of something new and fabulous and then it goes to s#^€. I think it is part of the learning to think like a trainer not so much like a rider. As you get more experienced about what to do when, you know when to push on and when to say "good boy!" and hop off. Do some familiar easy things for a ride or two and then build back up.

  4. Its a partnership and its too bad he can't communicate his "done" threshold in a less exuberant manner - say, with a head toss or teeth grinding. Asking for more is different than demanding.

  5. This is something I may never fully feel I have the "right" answer to, either. I also have a sensitive guy whose biggest fear in life is that he will piss his rider off or do something bad (which I don't get, because it's not like he's ever been beaten). So it's a fine line between how to avoid blowing his brain while not just letting him get away with less than he's capable of. I have felt, and agree with, much of what you wrote. But to play devil's advocate, if you don't push him a little once in a while, you won't know when he's ready for more. So you won't ever do more than once circle and one lap around the ring, because you'll never push him past that point. But there's probably a middle ground between those two viewpoints, and it probably involves taking everything slow and establishing really solid basics. Which you are already doing.

    1. I agree that you have to push a little to know what you can do.


      I heard that phrase so many times last year while I was trying to work through jumping issues, though. And the fact is, sometimes the bare minimum is literally all you can handle. So the three good strides Courage gave me was the same as the tiny crossrail I stared down last year. It doesn't look big, but what it represents is something very intimidating to the only one who really matters.

      Obviously I'm not stuck in a holding pattern--Courage keeps improving. We can canter circles now. He's doing a whole new discipline and winning. We are progressing. I just have to measure my progression in smaller increments, because when Courage thinks he can do something, he tries his heart out for me. When he thinks he can't, he shuts down and runs away.

      mental game > physical training

    2. Both of you make really good points here. Finding the line is important. I too tend to err on the not-pushing side of the line. But it certainly does impede "progress" in some ways.

  6. I think wiz and courage are the same horse... I got greedy because things were going well and it backfired. Every time things start going well again I get greedy again. Right now we're grounded to crss rails with me holding on to the grab strap until I learn to not pull and he learns to not bolt. Wiz does not do pressure either. You have to make it his idea. "Look being relaxed is a fun idea!!!" Haha. Goodluck. .

    1. Yup. They won't let you rush them, but once they get something, it's solid.

    2. Every time I think "JUST ONE MORE" I have to stop myself and be like, no, what he gave me was good enough. Every time he explodes it's because we do the "JUST ONE MORE...." (aka, when I fell off in february it was because trainer wanted to canter JUST ONE MORE TIME, when I fell off in June it was because trainer wanted to do JUST ONE MORE course- while in both cases, he did not come out with his best foot forward that day, but still, even with his mind crazy he gave me a lot of good until I pushed him too far and- EXPLOSION. I need to stop with the just one more....)

  7. Having followed your journey with Courage from day one, I'll chime in with my two cents. I don't think at this stage in your/his training that it is unreasonable to ask for two good rides in a row. I don't think it's being greedy, I think it's asking the horse to step up, so to speak. When all the elements are there for success (proper tack fit, healthy-sound-fit horse, proper training, patient/kind rider) I think that expecting your horse to play the game is warranted. You didn't say what happened after he bolted and stopped at the gate, but I could not have ended a ride like that (and I am guessing you didn't) -- I guess I am echoing Marissa's viewpoint above.

    1. I meant to post to this yesterday but was also happy to read the responses! Sometimes I think you're too hard on yourself SP :)!!!!
      I also can't help but wonder if his "screaming" is a bit of an evasive tactic. I just look to my own experience with a smart mare, all that head weaving, not moving forward that I took to be pain, etc- was just a way to get out of what she didn't want to do.
      But I'm also not a pusher. Ellie has trouble with the right side as well and I usually quick after she has given me a great circle or great balanced canter- but we do work on it every ride. She also gets time in a Pessoa rig and work on hills to help her strength without drilling too much in the ring. Maybe some conditioning work outside of the ring may help his mental game in?

  8. I don't think that it's unreasonable to push either yourself or Courage - after all, that's how we get better. However, knowing just how much you can push and still get a positive response is like the holy grail of riding. It's such a fine line, and it seems to change daily sometimes! Luckily horses are pretty forgiving creatures, and we humans tend to learn from our mistakes too. :)

  9. i struggle so hard with finding that balance too - especially bc my mare is NOT as dramatic about her opinions as courage is (despite what she might say to the contrary).

    so in a way, the damage done by pushing for too much might not be as immediately obvious. tho i personally find myself falling into the trap of not asking enough bc i worry about crossing that line and so am trying to push boundaries more often now.... but yea it's a balance. it always must be a balance.


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