resilience

One of the coolest things about Murray lately has been his resilience to pressure. Not all pressure. There are still plenty of things that are a hard no-go. But under saddle? There have been some major changes.

I will not be walking past that new fluffy arena footing nope nope nope

Let’s take my ride with Kate a couple of weeks ago as an example. Kate encouraged me to habituate Murray to a “1” of contact (i.e. some contact, never no contact), and to pillow my aids into him so that he doesn’t just shake them off in an effort to avoid whatever it is he wants to avoid. In the past, when I’ve tried to walk with any level of contact there’s been a whole lot of nooooooooooo eeeeeeeeeee hrrrrrrrrrrrrrr *pffft* *pffft* *pffft* (those are farts).

But in the three weeks since I rode with Kate, and the three rides since I had Megan over to help troubleshoot, there has been an alarming lack of squealing and bucking. And it’s not because I’ve caved and gone back to the floppy-reins-no-contact way of life. Nope, I’m holding on to those reins. Homeboy is just… okay with it.

who are you and what have you done with my horse

Then last week I rode with Megan, and she had me really push Murray forward but keep him in my hand the whole time. (Another thing that has previously cued bucking.) We got to that place where Murray is really forward but also kinda tense, but not yet unrideable (it involved a lot of outside rein, I’ll tell you about it later).  Megan talked me through riding that tense ball of dressage fury, all while mentally walking him back from the brink of explosion. The best part was that I could still retain the impulsion, connection, and correctness that I developed while in that high-energy place. And STILL no objections!

There are other things too. Walk-trot and trot-canter transitions that are (relatively) prompt and (somewhat) on the bit without falling apart or diving onto the forehand. Sitting into Murray without perching and anticipating badness. Keeping a lid on the Murray bottle. Good work and awesome rides are coming hand over fist right now. I literally cannot believe that I’m sitting on the same horse that I had a year ago.

casual reminder of May 2017

Part of me wonders if I could have gotten these results by riding this way earlier.

Part of me thinks, “maybe??”

But the other part, a bigger part, is not so sure. I’ll never know because I didn’t try, but I don’t think that resilience to pressure was something this horse really had in his repertoire before. His standard response to pressure was 1) run away, 2) go sideways, 3) run away more, 4) lie down (+/- velociraptor screams and bucking).

Something has shifted lately. I’m not sure exactly what it is. Maybe it’s the magic of the looming 1-0 (next year!). Maybe it’s the clicker training. Maybe it’s the long break we took. Maybe it’s the biomechanics changes. Maybe it’s my growing understanding of training paradigms. Maybe it’s everything. I don’t fucking know.

The resilience is awesome though. It means I can go for longer periods of hard but correct work before backing off. And it means I can work on managing things like bend and geometry instead of whether or not my horse is going to lose his ish at any given moment.

OH SHIT I FORGOT. The best part is that even when he is losing his ish over something — not a huge thing, but let’s say a baby turkey just flies into the arena while you’re trying to canter a circle — he comes right back to me! It’s not perfect, it’s not gorgeous, but it is rideable, and it’s a semblance of reasonable.

puppies >>> dressage (sometimes)

So. Resilience. I wish there was a recipe for it, but I don’t have one. If you have one, you should let me know what you did to get there and how you reward and foster that resilience. Because I’ve learned that it’s essential, and I want every horse ever to have it in spades.