Monday, July 25, 2016

Riding Vs Training

I've had some conversations with friends this weekend that got me thinking.

I am not a super pretty rider.

I really, really wish I was. I know what textbook correct looks like and eventually, I want to be there. Part of my hang up is that I simply haven't had a lot of dressage lessons. The other part is more complex.
just a few months post-track

Courage is starting to feel like a grown-up "trained" horse, which means he's more rideable, which means I can pay more attention to what I'm doing and a little less to being where he needs me each stride. I can tell you every single stride why I'm doing what I'm doing. It may not be the prettiest, but it's what my horse needs in the moment.

I'm going to be a little vain here, but it's hard to argue with my results.  Courage has gone from this:
To this:
also the indoor was a bloody brilliant decision

With me in the irons.

I used to bemoan the fact that my dressage position was sketchy at best, but anymore, I'm grateful that I didn't have to trash a beautiful position to train my horse (because for real, a greenie will wreck your position) and then have to hate myself for losing it. Instead, I'm excited that Courage is at a point where I can start to build a good position.
ooooo look i rode not-courage!
In my world, it is 100% more important to build a horse correctly than it is to pose and look pretty in the saddle.
this is pretty
I'm spending almost all of this summer just methodically building the horse I want to ride. The relaxation, connection, and engagement are all hugely important for when we try to move up, but even more important is trust.

Courage and I are finally in a good place together. I rode through his shenanigans last year because I had to, but this year we've reached an accord--he trusts me to not ask more than he can give and I trust him to do what I've asked. To me, that's the most important part. Looking pretty in the saddle will come. The movements will come.
What I've built this summer is the baseline to go forward from.


  1. I love this -- it's not vain at all to be proud of what you've built!!

  2. There are several top dressage trainers who look like a sack of mashed potatoes strapped into a saddle, but their horses are always lovely. Some aspects of your position do make it easier to train correctly, but others you can let slide. Especially if you have t-Rex arms like I do. I can either have my hands in the correct position, or my elbows bent.... not both. I go with the hands in correct position and look like Frankenstein. Ha!

    1. There's a guy I always loved watching back in Indiana. He would bring these outstandingly lovely young horses to the big young horse-geared show. The horses were enormously talented babies. But under him they were SO CONFIDENT, like if he asked them to walk over fire they might just give it a good try.

      His position in the saddle was deep, plugged in, though super hunched over. But he was balanced, and very kind in his aids. And the horses obviously responded.

      Did he look like Steffen Peters? No. But I'd argue that his riding was just as good.

  3. Have to agree with Megan on this one. Form is function. You can train a horse to get better without a great position but it is so much easier when your biomechanics are correct. So many times what riders and trainers take as resistance from the horse is either incorrect rider biomechanics OR incorrect choice of training exercise. Not saying the rider has to be perfect to be effective but the closer you come to correct biomechanics the easier everything is as you move up.

  4. He's come such a long way. You are right to feel proud and should definitely toot your own horn once in a while!

  5. While I agree with most of what you're saying, I feel like riding correctly has an actual purpose and it isn't just "posing and looking pretty". Yes, we all ride the horse we have, be it a made schoolmaster or a greenie who wrecks your position, but being an effective rider coincides with "looking pretty"in some sense. A flopping, falling forward rider will be incredibly ineffective vs a rider sitting tall and applying aids correctly. Also not saying this is you, speaking in generalizations 100%. Also having been on a greenie who wrecked my position and it is now crap and actually hate how ineffective I am and I'm in the camp of "mostly non-effective rider" at this point.

    That being said, his transformation is incredible, I think we can all agree. Sexy beassssst.

  6. I'm also not a pretty rider, and I try really hard not to focus on that. My goal is to be effective, and while correct position will definitely help with that, the nuances between "hunter equitation" position and "cross country" are not something I need to be concerned with at my level.

    But it's still not always easy to see pictures and not tear my position to shreds.

  7. First of all Courage has improved so much! I think you are giving him exactly what he needs.

    Secondly to get into the positional stuff. I do think that in order to be an effective dressage rider you must work on striving for the correct position. But on the other hand when you are retraining a horse you are typically dealing with other issues besides teaching them the "buttons". I put a lot of time and effort into building a relationship with Stinker so I could put my leg on him with out a total meltdown. If I had started with the correct dressage position I wouldn't have been able to have any line of communication with him because he was panicking. Eventually I got to where I could put my leg in the correct position and wait out his panic, but if I had started with that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere.

    With Pongo, I was able to maintain a more correct position (I'm far from perfect in my position) and I wasn't dealing with any other issues besides normal baby horse things.

    I agreed that in an ideal world we would all ride correctly and everyone would progress up the levels and all horses would be happy. But just like people some horses have mental hang ups that require some creative thinking before we can get back to the ideal.

    1. See I don't understand this either. The correct dressage position gets you a) in balance with the horse and b) out of the way of the horse. I can't understand how a correct dressage position is ever detrimental to a horse's training unless the rider is unaware that they are not in a correct position.

    2. I'm not saying that it is detrimental to a horses training. Im saying that some horses mentally can't handle it and you have to take baby steps to get them there. Like right now I've worked on getting Stinker ok with the dressage position but if I were to swap to a jump position he wouldn't immediately understand. He is confident with long legs and a solid seat. Changing that rattles him. It takes time with him and small changes.

    3. Okay switching between a balanced hunt seat position and a balanced dressage position can make for different aids for all horses (even the not sensitive ones), fair enough. But I felt like this post wasn't about changing a balanced, correct position between two disciplines... Or maybe I'm reading it wrong.

    4. I think that the point was transitioning Courage from race horse to dressage required some creative thinking and SB now has him to a point where she is confident enough to start working on herself. I didn't take it as a good position isn't necessary. But that is just my interpretation and lord knows that's been wrong before (and maybe even frequently)... :)

  8. The transformation is stunning. Horses do not automatically get better or become trained. You should be proud.

  9. I've always been a believer that form follows function ... Except it's undeniable how much better my horse goes when I get myself correct. I was super pleased this weekend with how well Wick went for me... But then kinda wanted to sink into a hole after seeing my position. Now I'm just thinking of how much better he could have gone!! For the most part, I think a lot of riders (including myself here) can get it done with mediocre position but the only way to get to the next level (at lease for me) will be to correct some of my flaws. For me, the issues show up most drastically at the canter. Le sigh, it's a work in progress!

  10. I am not an expert and my ever leaning self looks like a drunk monkey in a dressage saddle lately bc I haven't been riding in mine but... I would say that it's not just courage that has changed in these pics. Your position appears more correct in the later pics which kinda contradicts the point that position doesn't contribute. You guys are both making progress which is nothing to shrug off.

    I am definitely in the camp that Correct position leads to more effective riding in most cases.

    Living the green horse life I fully understand that sometimes I have to do things that might put my body in a different spot or that aren't the most correct but for the most part Annie (and Houston) go the best when I ride them correctly. If my position isn't such that it allows me to use my seat or leg then it's pretty apparent. I'm not naturally inclined to look as nice in a dressage saddle though so I feel your pain.

  11. My own position has a whole array of weird things it does to me. I have been blessed with a body that was apparently custom-designed for the saddle, so after 15 years you'd swear I'd be better at it, but noooo we still have to sit on our right seatbone and cock our wrist and flop forward and chair seat etc. Then I was riding with a new coach and she said, "Your position isn't nicer because you're riding youngsters. Never judge anyone that's riding a young horse, because they're crooked and arrhythmic and don't give you a comfortable place to sit. On a young horse, you try to be correct, but ultimately do what you need to do for the horse. It's only when you're on a schooled horse that you can really start to smooth our your own position." Ever since I've made time for "position rides" in my older horses' schedules, just doing basic stuff with them and working on my own position, but I never try this with the babies.

  12. My instructor tells me that there are pretty riders and effective riders. Not all pretty riders are effective and not all effective riders are pretty. Either way, you still have to start with a decent position! I think you look great and are obviously doing something right to have achieved such beautiful results with Courage! Well done - you should be proud of yourself and your handsome boy!

  13. A correct position is an effective position... and I will 100% stand by that.

  14. Commenting as I ride horses and motorcycles, and am finding myself more and more interested in racing.

    Correct is what is needed at that moment, by horse/bike AND rider.

    Judgmental and quite pitiful to not understand what is being said. If I wasn't so desperately attached to my Superhawk, I would offer her as an example of a ride that demands perfection. Courage has been brought along carefully and thoroughly, which I find admirable in a time of immediate gratification.


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