Ebb And Flow

Oct 10, 2016 - 9:39 AM
Johnny is on a roll. Photo by Sara Lieser.

Between Michael giving a clinic at my place a few weeks ago, our Regional Finals two weeks after that, and Devon two weeks after that, I am really inspired right now. All the horses in my program are going to be FORWARD, they are going to be ELASTIC, they are going to be CONNECTED, they are going to go in SELF-CARRIAGE, and they are going to do all those things NOW!

Johnny is thriving. Danny not so much.

Ella is on a post-horse-show vacation, partially aided by my being in Michigan this weekend teaching a clinic, and at our BLM Championships much of next week; she’s doing light work in the snaffle, hacking in the field, and eating grass.

Hurricane is continuing to make progress towards being a Good Citizen with my Assistant Trainers/Baby Wranglers Natasha and Lisa, and he’s mostly getting it together and not doing anything all that interesting.

Dorian, who has been on an absolute roll, horse shows next week, and as such I’m focused mostly on test prep and stringing movements together and less on the capital-W Work. Which leaves Johnny and Danny as the focus of my enthusiasm. Poor dears.

Johnny’s one of those guys who’s taking the long approach to figuring out his flying changes. I had a big long string, between some of my own and some of my client horses, who had a really easy time with them, so I think I was due. He’s just not a volunteer about changing behind, and so I’ve been plugging away at it, and finally in my lesson with Michael a month ago he had me address them independently of the addressing I do of his canter and the work within that canter.

Johnny’s got a lot of power and is also not terribly elastic, so it’s easy for him to just lock in and drag me around, and so I’ve been picking that canter apart, making him more through, more supple, more dexterous in his bend, etc. Trying to do all that AND make the changes clean hadn’t been working, so Michael had me work his canter, then take a break, and then address the changes out of a much smaller, more compact, and hotter canter. 

Somewhere in the mix, Johnny figured out how to buck his way to clean changes, so as of late my rides consist of addressing the looseness and blah blah blah of his normal canter (which is going awesome), giving him a walk break, and then firing him up for the changes and trying not to get bucked off.

It’s working, and it’s single-handedly supporting my chiropractor. But when I came home from Devon with my hair on fire, Johnny really rose to the occasion. He’s gotten so much better to my aids in the basic paces. He’s gotten SO much more laterally coordinated. The changes are still a work in progress, but I catch glimpses of him in the mirror now and he looks like an FEI horse, instead of like a doofus baby. He’s on the rise.

And then there’s Danny. Oh dear. 

Danny is one of those freaky mega-athletes, so talented it’s just dumb. But he’s also just a little bit uninspired about the connection; he can fancy his way out of being honest, and I’ve been on him for the entirety of our relationship about really being authentic in the way he lifts his back and faces the bridle. 

To say that it’s not going all that well at the moment is an understatement.

Michael said something to me at the clinic, specifically about piaffe, though it applies to everything: the energy to do the movement has to come from within the horse.

If you’re begging and pleading and having to inspire energy, it’s over before it’s begun. So I’ve been on Danny’s case to bring his own energy into everything I do, except that his inclination is to take that energy and rip my arms out and lay against my hand and generally be a hot mess. 

This is one of those developmental stages. I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again, and I’m sleeping just fine at night, because I know that he’s going to struggle and flail about until, one day, as if by magic, he won’t.

But it’s not magic—it’s the cumulative effect of six weeks or three months or six months or however long it takes to build the muscle, to confirm the neural pathways, to continue to sculpt Danny’s default position, his Ground Zero answer, into the one that I want. This does not make it more enchanting in the moment, I assure you, and my arena has been filled with exasperating sighs (and more than a few colorful vocabulary words) as Danny and I soldier through to the other side of this particular training valley.

But here’s one of the secrets to a happy life: having multiple horses means that it’s a statistical improbability that they will all be going poorly simultaneously. One ebbs and another flows, and someday it’ll switch back. They certainly keep us humble!

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