Cool Training

Jan 5, 2013 - 1:59 AM
Florida's weather might be warm, but the right temperament for training is ice cold.

The ponies and I have settled in Florida, where the weather is divine, and that is all I will say on the subject. While the horses remember where they packed their hind ends – the first few days always feel like garbage, as they recover from the long trip – I’ve had time to putter around. I’ve been running and biking and swimming; I’ve made a bajillion trips to Target for all the stuff I forgot. 

And I’ve also gotten to hang out and watch some riding.

Yesterday, I found myself at fellow-blogger Catherine Haddad’s beautiful barn, a brief bike from my own, to ride a sale horse for a client. I was also treated to a show – Catherine schooling her Danish gelding, Hotmail.   He’s a developing Grand Prix horse, who makes the occasional mistake and who lacks the polish of a finished Grand Prix horse. But what was such a pleasure was watching the training. Every time Catherine asked for more, he tried to give more. Whether he was successful or not was irrelevant; that comes with time. The important thing was that the horse did not once succumb to drama.

When he got confused, or lost confidence, Catherine did not panic, did not chase him out of a lack-of-balance moment. She sat there and waited, cool as a cucumber. And as a result, the horse does not behave poorly, doesn’t panic, doesn’t get flummoxed.

I watch this same cool training at Michael’s all the time. Whether it’s his amateur students or his exceptional young assistant trainers and working students or he and Vera, his wife, themselves, there’s no emotion, no drama in the training. Even on a horse who is being a little willful, trying to get a rise out of his person, none of these riders give in.

And as a result, you never see dramatics in the horses. There’s no rearing in piaffe, leaping about in collection. There’s no fear or anxiety. There’s just pressure and response.

This is one of the many, many things that came home with me from London: a top horse must accept pressure, and must not have training boundaries. There cannot be things that are off limits; a horse must let his rider in. And the rider teaches the horse that by never giving into the emotion; in order to make an omelet, you have to break a couple of eggs, but a good trainer doesn’t let his blood pressure go up when the going gets tough. 

At home, in my little Northern Virginia cocoon of training, I don’t get to see this caliber of riding every day. Of course, there are excellent riders in my neck of the woods, but not nearly to the standard that is the norm here in Wellington; they are the exception, not the rule. The bar is different here, and this is why I come. This is the spark of inspiration that carries me through the rest of the year.

(The weather doesn’t hurt, either.)


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