Uncle Fluffy

Apr 30, 2014 - 12:12 PM
Sometimes, in lessons on young horses, there's nothing to say but "You're doing great, keep going!" Photo by SusanJStickle.com

A while back I took a few lessons from a trainer who, when he was on, was ON. Those lessons were fantastic, just the right amount of butt kicking, and inspiring as all get-out. I came away from those lessons with great exercises to work on, and a sense of the path that laid before me.

But when he wasn’t on, he was Uncle Fluffy. And Uncle Fluffy sucked.

Everyone likes being told that they’re great, but rarely is it what a professional rider needs to hear. I know I’m good. I know I’m competent, and ride nice horses. That does not mean that there aren’t oodles and oodles of things I could be addressing. And Uncle Fluffy spent a lot of time telling me I was great. Because I couldn’t tell who was going to show up to any given lesson, the Super Coach or Uncle Fluffy, I stopped riding with him, which broke my heart, but I just couldn’t deal with the financial risk of spending the money on a lesson where I was told everything was peachy.

Michael came to my place for a clinic last weekend. It meant my first lessons since leaving Florida almost a month ago, as well as lessons for many of my students, and everything went great, except for when Michael’s truck brakes started smoking about an hour from my farm, making us all freak out that such things are contagious and we really ought to sacrifice a goat or something to clear the Bad Juju from the air.

Goat murder aside, though, the rides went great, the weather was lovely, the food was amazing, and all was good. But I had a little flashback on Fender’s Saturday ride. Fender was great – REALLY great. There are things that he does that keep him from being Valegro, but all of those things are things that I can’t expect to be any better than they are, a month shy of his 8th birthday, and so the fact that he is not Valegro is both expected and good, as far as I’m concerned.

And Michael kept telling me that everything was good.

That wasn’t all he said, of course. He said things like, “I don’t think we can expect him to do that any better right now,” and “That’s just lovely for where he is at this stage.”

And I started to get nervous.

I calmed down when I rode Bev Thomas’s awesome Fiero (who has one flying change completely solid and the other well on its way, thank-you-very-much) and Kathleen Johnson’s lovely mare Alice (who is also getting cooler and cooler about changes and real collection and many other excellent things), as he plenty to help me out with on them. But when I brought Fender out for Day 2, I held my breath.

Fender, the little darling, must have sensed my trepidation, and decided to help me get my money’s worth out of the lesson by asserting, loudly and proudly, that he was right and I was wrong about everything that involved my right leg and his right hind leg for about 15 minutes. So much for fluffy.

We got right to work by making a lot of leg yield around the circle, until Fender stopped telling me (and everyone else in the county) that it was animal cruelty for me to make him accept said leg. As soon as he took it without flattening in his back, cantering, cross cantering, trantering, flailing about, etc, the leg came off. Once we could do that at trot, we went to trot-canter transitions, also in a bit of haunches out, so he had to really put his right hind under. And once those were under control, I took him off the circle and hit the gas a bit on the straight lines, until I could, sans drama.

He mostly gave up after a spell, and then was quite civilized. And that was wonderful, but not nearly as wonderful as it was to use the same exercises on my own on Tuesday and pick up almost completely where we left off, and then have an absolutely tremendous ride today. Victory!

Joking about Uncle Fluffy aside, the reality is that sometimes, in the developing of a young horse, there really isn’t much more that can be done. Of course Johnny could be more stable in the connection in the leg yield. Of course Alice could take longer steps behind in collection. Of course Fiero could be more out and open in his carriage. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to address it in a lesson. But it does not mean that I should have any expectations of fixing it in one day.

Einstein is attributed to the idea that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. He (or whoever said it first) certainly has a point. But in the training of young horses, that’s exactly what it’s mostly about, and there’s nothing shameful or fluffy in saying it. (And it should come as a surprise to no one that dressage training = insanity. We don’t need Einstein to tell us that.)



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