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Dressage: Demanding Respect

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  • Dressage: Demanding Respect

    OK, so we did our first training level ht last wekeend and got a 40 in dressage. Completely on par for my mare, but frustrating because I know she's totally capable of a very nice test.

    Started looking at the T3D test and was discouraged seeing all the leg yields. Had hoped that by never shooting for Prelim we'd avoid those. Even thinking of leg yields always produces a fight with my mare, and I tend to lose. But then, we fight a lot in dressage.

    Got on tonight determined to find some answers to our major dressage weakness. Tooled around for a while and then finally came to the realization: My mare may love me, but she has absolutely no respect for me, and she ain't gonna do something she doesn't want just because *I* asked.

    She's a great jumper... because it's whats he loves. Used to have some stopping problems til Mom learned to use a whip. No more. So, I presume, that when it comes to jumping, I have at least a small measure of respect.

    But then, when I slip on that dressage bridle, I can almost see her taste the bit and say, "I know this bit. It's the one I wear when I'm in charge."

    I'm beginning to realize that I'm not good at demanding respect in general. I teach middle schoolers in a rough area, and let me tell you, they kick my butt some days because I haven't mastered the whole "demanding respect" thing.

    But the strong-willed child never bothers me half as much as when the strong-willed mare sets her jaw.

    I guess I don't know what I'm asking. Commiseration? Exercises? A mantra I can chant in my head throughout a ride? Something majikal to whisper in her ear? Give up and learn to knit?

  • #2
    I've never gotten anywhere by "demanding" something from my horse. Might get him to do it one time, but the next will be a fight. The only thing I accomplished when putting pressure on this horse was more resistence.

    I'm not saying I haven't ever gotten after a horse before, but this one doesn't think that way. With him I use clicker training and the ole round pen.

    You might have to go outside your normal way of thinking to find a way to connect to her. And I know what you mean about the change you see when using the dressage bridle. It might be that she doesn't like the way she's ridden when you use that bit. Not meaning you, but the work. Maybe she just flat dislikes dressage.
    Hillary Rodham Clinton - the peoples choice for president.


    • #3
      I would try at least a couple of training rides with a good rider. My trainer can make any horse look push button in seconds. After she pushes those buttons a few times they are still sort of there when I ride the horse.
      McDowell Racing Stables

      Home Away From Home


      • #4
        A) You must have read the prelim three day test. There are no leg yields in the training three day test. All the same type of movements, just in a large ring.

        B) Coming from someone with a mildly (but sometimes horribly) biligerent horse in the dressage, I feel your pain. What I have found over the last year, and especially in the last few months, is that you have to walk the line between kicking their asses a little bit and also compromising. I am learning to ignore and press on when I get the finger from Vernon...he may throw a temper tantrum...he may throw several, but he seems to get that he can throw all the temper tantrums he wants, I'm still going to ask for the thing he doesn't like. It's working. Slowly. But we are making head way.

        But, we compromise, too. Spurs became a big deal with him (for multiple reasons, not just him being grumpy). He respects my leg and he respects the whip, so I've left the spurs in the barn (because there are thoughts of FEI later this year, I have found, though haven't gotten to try, a pair of spurs that are 1 step up from dummy spurs).

        We compromise by me agreeing NOT to drill the dressage. We do a couple of days a week, but then we avoid the subject. I find I get a lot more quality work out of him with this type of schedule...I rather have 20 minutes of QUALITY work out of him a week than 2 hours of fighting with him a week.

        I don't ride every dressage school in my dressage saddle. This means that I can get up in two point and take the pressure off a little if things get tight. It also means I can reward him with some jumps if I feel so inclined. It also means that I can stick with silliness better if that's the kind of day we're having.

        On top of ass kicking and compromising, I also am VERY aware of him physically. I keep his back in good shape. He HATES wacking into himself, and since he is still learning and getting strong, he does wack into himself, so, I don't do any real schooling without boots or wraps all around. I know that he gets really cranky if his belly gets upset, so he gets a daily digestive sup and also liberal helpings of UlcerGuard the closer we get to an event (it is AMAZING the difference this makes. This was a HUGE breakthrough this year...). He does LOTS of stretching and long and low in every ride...if we do something hard, we stretch. We stretch in the beginning, we stretch in the end. He loves it and it keeps him loose. A HUGE help just in the last week has been a complete bridle overhaul. I THOUGHT I was on the right track with him, but a lesson with a dressage trainer took the thoughts we had, tweaked them a bit, and made a big difference...which has made a more comfortable horse.

        So, yeah, you got stick into them a little. But you also have to give a little. I would say, though, that before you kick into dressage ring boot camp that you make sure she feels GOOD physically. Make sure her back feels good and she is not sore or tight anywhere. Make sure her belly is in good working order. I have attempted ass kickings in the past that went no where/made matters much worse only to find out eventually that the horse, while not lame, definitely was feeling something somewhere, and it has always made me feel very guilty. Now, I try to address that question with a naughty horse BEFORE I set into a tougher mindset.


        • #5
          I have been you.

          ok not the whole school teacher thing but i have trained lots and lots and lots of horses, babies, old horses that were sour etc...... lots of horses....

          my beloved mare that is like my child HATED dressage work, i took lots of lessons, clinics and hours at home..... it got worse and worse and if it wasn't for other horses I would have sworn (and sorta still did) it was me...

          long story short- she has boney changes at her poll and it is physically torture for her to go on the bit..... i was horrified looking at the X-rays and cried for days.... she is amazing and is my heart and soul. We have a new life and she goes how she wants, the Michlem bridle is a god send and i just am so blessed to have her.

          My moral is most horse aim to please and if they chose not to it is for a good reason...

          good luck!!!!
          cathy and moon pie
          owner and friend of members of the Limping And Majestic Equine Society.


          • #6
            long story short- she has boney changes at her poll and it is physically torture for her to go on the bit.
            This was a horse I rode. It was my first real event horse that was given to me. He was hell on the flat...everyone always chalked it up to him just being a cheeky Irish foxhunter who lived to run and jumped and HATED flatwork. No. It was just physically painful for him to give at the poll.


            • Original Poster

              Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post
              A) You must have read the prelim three day test. There are no leg yields in the training three day test. All the same type of movements, just in a large ring.
              That's what I expected, but I'm looking at the test that's printed in the back of the new Eventing USA mag, and movements 3 and 16 ask for leg yields.

              Thanks for ideas and suggestions, guys. She's due to go to the vet soon, so I'll have to get things checked out. (Although I do tend to believe that she does just flat hate dressage!)

              I also think it is definitely time to put some pro rides on her. I tend to be very stubborn and prideful, and to this point she's never had a pro ride. But the fact is that I don't have any more dressage experience than she does, so if I'm just plain asking her wrong, I need to know and see that she CAN do things. It just means swallowing my pride...

              We do try to keep dressage rides to short sessions, but maybe I need to cut down the number of rides for a while. I tend to resort to dressage because it's where we need the most work... But if I'm not going to be CONSISTENT in what I ask of her each ride, why bother?

              Thanks, and keep ideas and thoughts coming!


              • #8
                That's what I expected, but I'm looking at the test that's printed in the back of the new Eventing USA mag, and movements 3 and 16 ask for leg yields.
                Oh, God. You're right...I didn't read for content earlier....that's kind of a WTF? to me...but no matter....

                I have to say, I hear people all the time say "Oh, my horse HATES dressage." Usually a couple of good dressage lessons/training rides with a good coach proves that the horse doesn't hate it, it just wants to be ridden right (please, no offense...this is just an observation). One of our most recent clients said that about her horse, and to watch them prior to her first couple of lessons and the boss' first training ride on him, you'd probably agree. The horse is actually very willing and able and happy to oblige, he just needed a different ride to get the best out of him.


                • #9
                  I would like to recommend a book, yes, corny I know -- "Complete Training of the Horse & Rider" by Col. Alois Podhasky - director of the Spanish Riding School.
                  It is a wonderful book about dressage and training. Read it when you have time, I think that is the best method for books like his. It takes me a while to absorb this stuff but it is so good to know.

                  I have learned to sort of soak up that dressage theory stuff, and not worry about being perfect, but trying it out a little bit some days. I tried one night riding to hold my hands as still as I possiby could -- and slowly, my horse softened, and loosened his back, and came THRU as soon as my hands stilled and became less tense. One little thing and wow.

                  So, try a dressage lesson from someone -- a caring person who is sympathetic, smart, has a lot of knowledge and experience and who is not on an agenda. Listen to what they have to say, absorb it. Then just go home and try one thing and see if it works.

                  If you mare moves over in the stall when you press on her side, she can learn to leg yield. Same dif. She's either not understanding the aid or no one has taught it to her. Sometimes we just have to think about the best way to train them to our aids. It's not always the conventional method that works. You have to sort of figure out a trick way with the tough ones. Be a mentalist!

                  And I have only one more thing to add, and it's corny too -- but I learned it from the Henny helmet cam, and that is lots of praise and encouragement. I think it makes the horses love us and feel we are sharing the work, and not just riding them making them do it all.
                  Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                  Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


                  • #10
                    I took my four year old a few weeks ago to a Jim Graham/David Adamo clinic. At the end of my private flat session with Jim I told him that this particular horse has some dominance type issue once we get in open spaces/around other horses/stressful situations. Mostly he wants to ignore me and be a butthead in any manner he can think of. The Gray Beastie had been a model citizen on the flat so Jim was rather surprised, but he told me that when we started the next session to remind him to have David tell me his about his "dominance theory."

                    A little background first. Jim, who I've ridden with extensively in the past, has a training theory based on the concept of Forward, Rhythm, Balance, Supple, Straight. (When you ride with him you learn to say that fast and in your sleep!) David works off a different system: Line & Tempo. Line being about where you are going--thinking ahead to where you want to be in the next steps as the step you are already on has already been determined--and tempo being about focusing the qualities that define the gait. Different systems but very complimentary to each other in a training situation.

                    Fast forward to our jump session. David's theory of dominance is the idea that the stallion controls the herd (personally I think the alpha mare does--but managed to keep my mouth shut ) in only two ways. He tells the herd "where they are going to go" and "how fast they are going to get there." Hmmm...Line and Tempo. If you want to establish dominance with your horse you can do it by being the one who tells him where he's going and how fast he's going to go.

                    The point being that when you focus on those two concepts as a rider you can use them to clarify that you are, indeed, in charge. When we went out to the big field for XC the little monster didn't disappoint. David pulled us aside and had me really push the him forward with lots of changes in direction. Any naughty behavior was countered with even more demands in forward. The whole time as a rider I was looking for any opportunity to soften the contact as a reward for when he was good. Worked like a charm. It was like coming home with a new horse. Sorta. He'll still be naughty but now there is a plan. A tool.

                    So, we went with a group to a different XC venue to school since then. Walking through a big field to get to the jump field Mr. Butthead showed up. Since he wouldn't quietly walk out on a long rein like all the other horses I discarded the old plan of "containment at the walk" and we were trotting circles around them and doing serpentines. Other than a fresh demand to go forward, I ignored the tossing head, the bucks, the kicking out at my leg and the attempts of sudden changes in direction and thought only about the two things--line and tempo. In about ten minutes he decided it was just too dang hot for this and had a miraculous transformation. It was like he found religion or something.

                    Back to the OP. Yeah, I think if you cannot tell her "where she's going to go" you have a respect problem. I'm not sure how you it solve exactly, but the first thing I would try is to send the message that she WILL go where you tell her. I would place that as the number one priority at first and not make it it about her frame or the quality of the gait or any other nuance--just this is my leg and you will go where I tell you and when you comply (even the smallest bit at first) I will make nice. I'd start on the ground moving her away from you by poking her side with the butt end of a whip or your hand, then get on her and have someone else poke her side while you are applying leg. Then move on to doing it alone. Just a hunch, but I don't think when you do it without ground help you should be standing still. Moving forward might be part of the dominance equation. Don't forget to step into the stirrup that your trying to get her to move toward.

                    All this to say, your mantra is "Line and Tempo." And if you want to whisper in her ear this might be a good place for a few cuss words. Failing all that go get a lesson with David.

                    Oh. Knitting is over rated. (Unless you really DO like the cussing stuff.)


                    • #11
                      Having had the dressage-hating mare, I completely understand. I would demand; she would say no, emphatically.

                      One thing that helped me (this may sound crazy) was to stop demanding. Every dressage ride was a fight. I stopped fighting, put a big smile on my face even if I didn't feel like smiling, gave her lots of praise for every little thing that was right, relaxed, and didn't take it all so seriously.

                      She really responded to that. She was never a world beater, but we got our best scores at shows when I made myself be more positive about us doing dressage.

                      I've had the same experience with my other mare who was wild when jumping. I didn't think I was particularly tense, but when I consciously made myself be more relaxed (at the urging of a BNT), she relaxed.

                      It always amazes me how much they reflect who we are as riders. Rather than try to demand respect, try to look at it as we're in this together. It should really be a happy collaboration.

                      Don't know whether this will work for you, but it did wonders for me and really did take a huge change in my thinking about riding. I'm not saying be a push over, but maybe approach things in a more positive, this sounds kind of stupid, and joyful kind of way.


                      • #12
                        If you anthopomorphize your horse hating dressage, you will reinforce it in your own head, thus causing to get in your own way.

                        As long as the horse has no physical issues and is being ridden well they should be fine with dressage. Not saying all horses will love it lol. But they shouldn't 'hate' it.

                        How do YOU feel about dressage?


                        • #13
                          Dang Retread, I just read your post. I think maybe we are trying to say the same thing!


                          • #14
                            One thing that helped me (this may sound crazy) was to stop demanding. Every dressage ride was a fight. I stopped fighting, put a big smile on my face even if I didn't feel like smiling, gave her lots of praise for every little thing that was right, relaxed, and didn't take it all so seriously.
                            Yes. I may have come across a little harsh with my school of thought, but this actually describes it better.

                            So, for example, if I ask Vernon for, say, a leg yield right (this is a common hot button with him) and he grumps at me (kicks out, bogs down, tanks off, whatever) I'll just kinda brush it off and ask again. If he continues to grump, I'll continue to brush it off (even if he grumps harder). Almost without fail, he'll relent a little and move a little sideways. I'll accept it, give him a pat, move on to something else. Usually, in a minute or two, I'll come back to the leg yield right...usually he's more willing and will put forth some effort the next time around.

                            This frame of mind actually really paid off last weekend. In our test, he went to get a little bogged down in his leg yield about halfway across the ring, but, because I haven't picked fights with him and have just kept diplomatically asking, he only lost his rhythm for a few steps, then actually finished the movement off in fine style. There IS hope.


                            • Original Poster

                              Originally posted by retreadeventer View Post

                              If you mare moves over in the stall when you press on her side, she can learn to leg yield.

                              And with the horse that does not move over even in the stall... back to ground work? (assuming it's njot a physical reason)

                              I will clarify that I do take lessons... I just haven't had the trainer actually ride her. Mare's staying out there all next week, so that should be a good opportunity for my to watch and learn rather than try to listen, ride, and learn all at the same time!

                              I do actually LIKE dressage quite a bit. However.. All the responses are making me realize... I praise my horse for every little thing while jumping, but veyr rarely do I praise her in dressage. I guess I just don't know when it's the right time to relax and stop pushing.


                              • #16
                                And with the horse that does not move over even in the stall... back to ground work? (assuming it's njot a physical reason.

                                FWIW, that is SUCH a mare thing. Both our mares can be a little dull like that, and I've known other mares like that, too (I had one who would LEAN into me when she was in season, to the point of falling down if I stopped pushing back! I hate mares...all except the piggiest of the boys move away from me with basically a gesture!). But, yes. A horse who doesn't understand "move away from pressure" or doesn't respect it needs remedial work on the ground.


                                • #17
                                  There is the old cowboy saying: Tell it to a gelding, discuss it with a stallion, and ask a mare.

                                  I don't demand from my mares, I ask. And they give . . .

                                  I think the fact that you say you "fight" with your horse is the root if the issue. You need to show her, teach her, and lead her--don't be a push over--but you should not feel like you are *fighting* with her.

                                  Is there a good dressage only person in your area you could do some lessons with?


                                  • #18
                                    As others have said, I use lots of praise for my guy who isn't incredibly fond of dressage.

                                    I have found that many people (myself included) go to school dressage and stick with the "dressage" as it is defined strictly in their heads (20 m circles, simple laterals, transitions, etc).

                                    I have had much more success with my horse (who thinks about everything and is constantly challenging) making every dressage ride unpredictable and interesting.

                                    For example, I have gone out and done dressage on a trail obstacle course- lateral work with poles or up to and away from scary objects, getting your horse to think about where you want their body and how to move off of your aids without *anticipating* and doing what they expect rather than really listening. You'd be amazed how much more challenging/exciting it is to, for example, spiral in and out around a barrel or mailbox- stopping in the middle to handle the object.

                                    Another fun thing is an entire dressage ride of poles- trot poles, canter poles, (beginning short and lengthening through trot poles is fun and teaches your horse to really think), changing your lead through canter poles - it can also be interesting to play around with upward/downward transitions through poles (if your horse is careful!).

                                    Dressage/trail riding: you can play around with a lot of great dressage training on a hack around the field. I like to extend up a hill and collect going down, or work on laterals up/down, work on counter canter and changes on a narrow trail where you have to focus on staying straight... the possibilities are endless!

                                    In a nutshell, creativity has always been key for me when schooling dressage- maybe it will work for you as well!


                                    • #19
                                      Great post subK, love the line and tempo model of David Adamo. Mark Todd described his relationship with his horses as a "benevolent dictator". I think all the great riders have an almost instinctive ability to have their horses respect them. They are the alpha partner in this little two party "herd" when mounted-and on the ground. For me, the trick is knowing how and when to assert my "dominance" and correct misbehaviors without crossing that line into abuse and losing my temper. For me, it takes incredible patience and if I've had a really bad day at work, I may not ride at all if I think I might take it out on my horse. But, a good trainer can really help channel that fear and frustration into positive action. Get them moving, make them work all that stuff. I've heard Sally O'Connor say it during her dressage commentary at Rolex with horses that are acting up "The rider must keep her leg on and keep moving forward" Yes, but not very easy to when you're on a lit firecracker.


                                      • #20
                                        Yes, YB is right, not moving over is a mare thing, too but there is a certain standard of behavior that is acceptable, and one that is not. When I feed, and clean, and care for, and pay for -- and walk in stall and ask to move over so I can pick up poop -- and get a horsie "f-you" -- look out. You are asking for a Boss Mare Is In The Building correction!
                                        You bet she should move over and right now. And she better be at death's door if she doesn't, I mean sick in the hospital with tubes sticking out. That's a BASIC, ArchieFlies. Leading properly, moving over in crossties and stall, standing still when asked, standing when mounted, picking up feet, etc. No excuses for this stuff. Correction takes skill, patience, and sympathy and immediate release as soon as they comply. Without getting all parelli-crazy over it, but yes, a little groundwork can help if she is tough about behaving on the ground. I prefer Monty Roberts ideas there, but that is because his stuff makes more sense to me personally. But there are some GREAT ideas on this thread and it's been a pleasure to read the replies, I've learned even MORE about dressage! Thanks!
                                        Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                                        Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)