busy mind vs. thinking mind

I was riding a friend’s pony last week, I’ve mentioned him before.  He is a very fun and rather different ride from Murray.  They are both overthinkers, but it seems to express itself in different ways.  (Or perhaps I just think it comes out differently because I’m so close to Murray?)

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logan left, murray right – they are similar in some ways

Murray thinks so much that he’s always trying to anticipate my next move, and any movement of my leg or seat or hands can result in drastic direction changes. Logan is busy thinking about what we are doing that direction changes almost seem to sneak up on him, and if I surprise him with one he tenses and inverts.  When I put poles down for Murray he wants to look at them for as long as he can, and then flings his feet around in an attempt to get there on the stride he wants.  When I put poles down for Logan,  he sometimes seemed surprised that they suddenly appeared in front of him — he’s perfectly willing and happy to go over them, but I couldn’t really get it to feel good when I did it.

All of this really got me thinking about catering to the busy pony mind.  A lot of the crappy advice I see floating around the internet is to do lots of transitions and poles to “keep your OTTB’s mind busy”.  (Oh all right, you caught me, I’m mostly shit-talking OTTB connect. SprinklerBandit mentioned this in passing the other day and it made me lol absurdly.)  Which has always struck me as wildly TERRIBLE and FANTASTIC advice a the same time.  Of course, in my jaded little world, that means it falls squarely in the “terrible” camp, since I don’t trust the execution skills of people looking for training advice on OTTB connect (or other horse fora, honestly).

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murray: holy shit a light saber!

The trick with Murray is keeping his mind engaged enough, such that exercises are actually doing something.  There’s nothing actually useful in Murray flying in a so-called leg yield from the centerline to the wall like the gravitational force of the sun is pulling him there — nothing gymnasticizing, and certainly nothing thoughtful.  Likewise I’m not doing anything by letting him flail his way up to a set of poles instead of waiting, thinking, and lifting his way to them.  Transitions on a circle are super when Murray can maintain a forward and powerful enough gait to respond to them quickly and when I ask him to — not when he bloody well feels like it because he knows it may or may not be coming.

Lots of transitions or poles quickly crosses the line from “a useful exercise” into “drilling incessantly”, which is where the problem arises with Murray.  Inaccurate leg yields build bad habits, and all of it misses the point: learning.  Busy minds aren’t learning, they are just responding.  And in my experience surprising your horse with a ton of transitions they aren’t ready for or throwing random poles in their path just to keep them “paying attention” just makes them stiff and anticipatory (hmm, and how might I know that….?).  Plus it all ties in with a lesson it took me a long time to learn, which is to do things well when you do them, instead of just because you can.

It was more of a challenge to find the same balance on Logan, who I don’t know as well.  So I stuck with the base of the dressage pyramid – keeping things slow so he could just relax, relax, relax through direction changes, small circles, and transitions.  When in doubt, more relaxation will never hurt things.  I think.

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not for us, anyway

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14 thoughts on “busy mind vs. thinking mind

  1. Dude I almost rode this exact post… not a joke. “Busy” is just tense for Courage. I need to slow things down, take breaks, and explain it in simple steps. It’s better to do 5 minutes of quality work than 35 of “busy”. I think busy works for horses that are slower and less tense, but for the Courages and Murrays of the world, busy is bad and drilling is worse.

    Oh, and hats off for your latin nerdery.

    I love this post.

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  2. i love this post. there’s a MASSIVE difference between keeping your horse “busy” and giving him something to do. “something to do” can vary wildly by horse and is not at all the same thing as lots and lots of …. stuff…. for the sake of doing stuff. rather, giving him ‘something to do’ could very well be what you discuss above: focusing on the quality of each step or each individual moment.

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  3. I always need to remember to keep changing — it’s easy for me to get into a pattern of circling in the same spots and such.

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  4. To me, it’s more about being a “present” rider than it is necessarily asking for something new every 5 steps. We might “just” be trotting laps around the arena for a bit, but during those laps, I am aware of our rhythm, straightness, bend, etc. I make adjustments as necessary and that keeps my horse tuned into me. While I don’t have a tense horse now, I have one that does not allow you to drill. She just shuts down, but with the above, she stays tuned in without it being overwhelming. As a result, our flat works improves a ton.

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  5. I like Emma’s comment on the something to do. Ries is slow and doing a ton of transitions as something to do keeps him ears perked and on my aids. But a ton of transitions on Vermont, a hot ottb, results in brain meltdown. For him, his something to do is alternate bending to get him relaxed and loose and not thinking about OMG WHAT ARE WE DOING NEXT. IMO “busy work” always implies useless waste of time.

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  6. I have a squirrel brain because I read until I got to ‘fora’ and was like “ooooh Latin, I miss Latin, huh, I wonder what else I still remember, let’s conjugate things…” and missed the rest of the post and had to go back and re-read. This is why I ride Quarter Horses.

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  7. I agree. Combine all of that with being present, which was already mentioned. Focus on being present, relaxed, and perfecting the basics. Everything builds from the basics. Approach every exercise you do, even if going around a weed, with a purpose in mind. Mindful. Set the both of you up for success. Get a little bit better and then move on to something else.

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  8. Much of this in my experience seems to stem from adding too many pieces together too soon. The basics turn into the break down of each exercise. Practice the broken down pieces and then start to add one piece together one at a time. I have noticed I have less of an inclination to want to ‘drill’ certain things when I approach it that way. It becomes more of a second nature and really takes less time.

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