Friday, January 8, 2016

on patience and expectations

Alternate Title: Rider Attitude Dictates Ride Outcomes

Alternate Alternate Title: Turns Out Letting Go Actually Works. Who Woulda Thunk It.


Ha. Ok. So I started noticing some things after starting riding again last month, primarily as they related to splitting my time between the same two horses I had been riding previously (one for three years, the other for two months).

Namely: I was treating them very differently, and felt very differently about the outcomes of my rides with them. Specifically: I had some *terrible, no good, atrocious* rides on Isabel that left me threatening her with the glue factory. Meanwhile Bali could literally do no wrong.

And let's not forget here: Isabel is a well schooled, talented horse who has carried me to experiences I'd only ever dreamed of. And Bali is... kinda an asshole (but he's so cute!).

Luckily I didn't actually send Isabel to the glue factory (pretty sure I'd get murdered for even trying), and instead sat down and thought about what was really going on. And I think it's my old nemesis: Patience. Because goddamn that is not my strong suit... Ugh.

So Here's what I think is up:

Isabel:
  • I've invested loads of time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, money, you name it, into building this partnership, and therefore have high expectations that Isabel to hop to it, chop chop. 
  • But I struggle with rewarding a good effort when she gives an answer that isn't what I wanted. Or adapting my game plan to ride the horse I have instead of the horse I want on any given day. It feels like a personal affront, somehow. 
  • Simultaneously, tho, I lack many of the tools to help Izzy learn, and frequently actually cause her misunderstandings or otherwise impede her ability to do the thing I want. 

Meanwhile, with Bali:
  • There's no baggage, no history. But so much ear fuzz. Omg. The ear fuzz. <3
  • So I have pretty low expectations for him and all the time in the world to wait around for what I'm asking to *click* for him. And in fact, I work much harder on being clear with my aids with him bc he's so green. 
  • I'll also settle for mediocre (even when he could be better) and I don't get ruffled when he gives the wrong answer when the effort is there. 

There are some other differences between how the horses ride too that might be at play here. Bali is a very physical ride, but he's sensitive. I can physically *put* him where I want him, and he'll kinda just go "Huh, ok that's weird but whatever, I guess that's what we're doing now" whereas I absolutely can NOT manhandle Isabel lest I want a meltdown. 

Oddly enough, as a side note - This is how I finally kinda figured out the whole leg yield thing (and shoulder in). Bali allows me to move him around (mostly haha, he is kinda a resistant jerk sometimes, but recall I have infinite patience with him) such that I've figured out what works best for him, and then could refine that for Isabel. And ta da! Lateral movements! 

But anyway, the thing is, Isabel's my girl, ya know? We've kinda got a good thing going. And it's not really acceptable that this other impostor horse gets all my patience while she gets all my high expectations. So how do I fix this? 

'maybe try not being such a bitch. just a thought' - isabel

Possibly, just acknowledging that it's happening will improve my awareness while riding. Or at least that's what I'm hoping haha. I've been going into all of my recent rides repeating to myself : "be kind, be patient, reward every effort." And mostly it's kinda working. 

We also had another recent breakthrough while schooling that took me a while to figure out (and much texting, wherein Alli actually found the words to explain what was happening):

Isabel and I have been doing a LOT of stretching using the bio-mechanics techniques written about here. It's not very pretty nor very polished, but it works and dressage trainer C gave us her blessing to continue doing it. Mostly I'm doing it to develop strength and top line, and it has the neat side effect of improving Isabel's connection in the bridle. 

But the other night during our first below-freezing ride in windy nasty conditions, on new footing and near an umbrella that morphed into a horse-eating goblin, I used that same stretch-on-a-small-circle technique to prevent Isabel's brain from splatting right out of her damn head. It was a very short ride and we never left the circle. And Isabel was still white-eyed and tense even when I hopped off. But she stayed with me and I never lost my temper. 

I used the same tactic the next evening when we suddenly turned into a careening speed racer after cantering. Just back to the small circle and stretch stretch please. And it worked! It almost acts like a 'reset button' - somehow the stretching brings Isabel back to me, and simultaneously keeps me from losing my patience and laying into her. 

pictured: speeeeeeeeed racer
Austen and Alli noted that the "head down" position is calming for the horse, which makes sense and matches our experiences in these two rides. But it's more than that - really the whole point here is that *I* am usually the problem. Ya know, losing patience and escalating the situation. 

When I said that the stretching exercise has become my coping mechanism for not losing it, Alli observed that it was likely the act of physically letting go (which ya kinda have to do for them to stretch) that allowed me to mentally let go too. BOOM. "Aha" moment achieved! 

So. While I didn't exactly set 2016 resolutions, perhaps we should call this my New Year Intentions. Be patient, reward every effort, and when all else fails, LET GO. 

What about you - do you have anything that acts as a 'reset button'? How do you cope with the whole patience/expectations thing when a ride isn't going the way you wanted?

57 comments:

  1. Typically I am a very patient rider but sometimes I just can't manage to keep it together. Then I acknowledge that this isn't going anywhere positive, so I get something that is semi decent and end the ride. If I'm not in the right mental frame of mind with Stinker it will get ugly at the speed of light.

    When I feel him start to get tense and frantic I go back to something I can praise him for. Sometimes I have to halt and literally shove a treat in his mouth to get him to come back to me. Basically he starts to panic when I tell him wrong answer too many times in a row and I have to remind him I love him...

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    1. i definitely admire (and envy, if we're being honest lol) your patience. often, even when i know things are going downhill fast sometimes i still can't stop myself... ugh. but the idea of going back to find something to praise the horse for is a good one, and something i have been able to do occasionally with moderate success. but usually if it gets to that point the ride is basically over - i end up not trusting myself to return to whatever it was that i wanted to do. i'm hoping this 'stretch' exercise will allow us to actually completely decompress and then go back to work. we will see!!

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  2. For Fiction, a reset is a very strong half halt. And by that I mean we stop, back up, and then move forward again. We will actually do this as many times as it takes for him to relax. As for me, well, I've done a lot of work on patience lately and I've found the best thing that works for me is to BREATH. I don't know why this was such a hard concept for me to grasp before, but any time I become tense or frustrated, I take several deep breaths and slowly let them out. Works like a charm.

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    1. it's funny - the first time i read this i thought 'in no way, no how, will the halt-rein back exercise have that same effect on isabel'... she can do that exercise (and well), but when she's riled up, stopping her forward movement pisses her off even more. but then i remembered that actually for the first couple months of riding her, we did a somewhat similar variation of that exercise - trot 10 steps, walk 10 steps, trot 10, walk 10, etc etc etc, ad nauseam, to install rhythm and brakes and it actually worked really well.

      but yea i also totally agree with the breathing thing. isabel is so sensitive to her rider that she will often let out a deep sigh after i do.

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  3. This is a really good insight. I'm having the same thoughts right now, only between how I felt about Connor when he was really really green, and how I deal with him now. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. i think one of the most difficult things for my riding is changing and evolving *with* the horse, and recognizing when i need to try a different approach. writing it down like this definitely helps me work through it!

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  4. For Annie a reset is similar but includes a transition down to the walk with an immediate reward, she's not quite to stretchy haha but she gets that she's being rewarded for relaxing as we transition down and she throws away the tense. Not sure if any of that makes sense or not but green horse still has a reset button :)

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    1. that does make sense - and it reminds me of something my friend is working on with her 4yr old ottb too. seems like a great approach, esp for a green bean who is still figuring out what means what etc!

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  5. Mikey always had very high expectations because he was a well-schooled horse and we had plans and places to be! Penn was allowed to have low expectations (stay in the ring, don't run off, be a good baby horse) when he arrived, but now those are going up. I don't think there's anything wrong with having two sets of expectations for Isabel and Bali- Bali would probably blow a gasket if he had to work under Isabel's expectations, but his should be ever increasing as his training increases. That said, your post comes at a time when I was uber frustrated with Penn last night. I have higher expectations for him now, and something as simple as trotting and doing circles was difficult for us. I got frustrated, he got nervous, spiral downward. When I finally regained my head, it occurred to me to look at what I was doing... and sure enough, I was the problem. I made an effort to fix me instead of him and he rose wonderfully to the occasion. I have to remember while he's not a difficult ride, he is an uber sensitive ride and too much stimuli (me trying to hard or riding poorly) will upset him.

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    1. good points about expectations rising with training level - all too often i'll settle for mediocre when i shouldn't, or will demand excellence when it isn't really there. really tho - your point about fixing yourself and seeing Penn rise to the occasion rings so true - Isabel is SUCH a trier, if i only just give her a chance

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  6. Stretchy trot is our reset button as well. I've figured out by now that I really can't plan out a dressage ride... if I get on with a specific idea of what I want to do, it inevitably goes to shit. I kinda just have to get on and go with the flow. Jumping is different, but there are still those days where I realize I've obviously taxed his brain and have to hit reset. It's hard not to have high expectations when you're a pretty goal-oriented person.

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    1. honestly i don't ever really plan out dressage rides any more either, mostly bc they usually end up as a struggle (except lessons, our lessons are always fantastic bc i have a coach there keeping my lid on lol). but i think you're right about the expectations being related to goal setting. i like goals, i think they are good. but i have to remember that they are *mine* and isabel didn't necessarily sign off on them or the timelines i set...

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  7. My coach's mantra is "When in doubt, release" and I am trying very hard to apply that. With Savvy pulling back is not a means of control as she is so elastic (an Arabian thing?) it just feels like losing control instead. Half pass is my reset button. She is so happy to listen and seems to crave a lot of communication to keep her calm in spooky situations.

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    1. oooh i love that mantra! and yea, pulling back really doesn't work with Isabel either bc she can always somehow get behind the bit, no matter where her head goes. love the idea of half pass tho - perhaps we should work on installing that button!

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  8. "Let it goooo, let it goooooo!" This is now your theme song for 2016. I love how you worked through all of the ideas we were talking about in this post! For Dino, his re-set button is transitions, since when his brain falls out it tends to be in the vein of, "Just try and MAKE me move my feet, woman!" Sometimes just from halt to walk, usually made better if I drop my stirrups to make sure I'm sitting evenly and riding well off my seat. Finding your peace when things aren't going your way is such a hard thing to learn!

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    1. haha seriously i should just play that song over the loud speakers (if we had them) whenever i ride... maybe i should write a freestyle to it?!? lol... seriously tho, thanks for your help in figuring this all out. sometimes ya just gotta talk it out. and transitions sound like a good idea too, as does checking our own evenness in the saddle (never hurts, that's for sure!)

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    1. whenever possible, i will *always* find a way to sneak that image in lol

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  10. Pig has so many moods, it really depends on how he is wigging on as to how I help mediate the issue:
    - Sometimes he's freaking himself out because he's off balance (usually due to not wanting to work through a stiffness issue). If this is the case, I try to take a look at myself to make sure I'm not exacerbating the balance issue, and gently remind him that it's okay to slow down to find his balance, rather than run to catch it. From my couple of rides on Izzy, this is something she does too. Rushes to catch her balance. Losing battle there, 4-legged friend.
    - Sometimes he's having an emotional day, either because he's mentally fried from the pressure of the work or something hurts and he doesn't wanna any more (Ugh. Dear arthritis. Chew on arsenic.) Those days we really need to just either walk it out until he's ready to try again (works 70% of the time) or just find something we can do well (walk on a loose rein and halt?) and quit.
    - Sometimes, he's emotional and it's due to my riding poorly for some reason. If I man up, take a look at my riding, take the pressure off of him (stop fiddling!), and experiment with my own position/aid application, he often turns out to be quite willing and happy to work. These are pretty common moments, but can escalate into the above emotional outbreaks if I do not put on my thinking cap and stop blaming my horse.

    TL;DR: Sometimes the horse is having a bad day. Sometimes I am riding like a sack of shit. Resultant chill out methods vary. Also, arthritis sucks donkey butts.

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    1. Also! If Pig is getting really nervous with a movement or with the pressure of working on something (hello changes!), I have found putting him super low and round (and engaged!!) works well to reset his brain.

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    2. ugh but seriously, fuck arthritis! :( but yea, great points all around. you're exactly on the money about the 'running to catch her balance' thing - it's actually funny when you try to slow her down she's like but nooooooo i can't it's toooo haaaaard!!! and then suddenly, oh, wait, wow that's way better. silly horses...

      really tho, great points about 'sometimes it's the horse, sometimes it's the rider.' i suspect in our case it's usually me (at least at this point in our training), but regardless it's something we just gotta figure out...

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    3. And sometimes it's both the horse and rider, working off their symbiotic relationship to achieve a pinnacle of true off balance mutual destruction. Have I mentioned I keep forgetting that my horse has to move his right shoulder around a 10m circle, and that if I don't tell him such a thing, he'll fall out and get pissed, and worry that I'll be disappointed in him, and that the world might end, and what's going on in N. Korea? It's cool. It's fun. I wish I could remember the shoulder thing before the downward spiral reminds me... :)

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    4. Yes. I like to imagine my nervous and worrisome Thoroughbred thinks about international nuclear politics when things get really upset during our rides. He's very worldly like that.

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    5. 'off balance mutual destruction' - kinda has a nice ring to it, no? but who knows tho, maybe if you keep forgetting the shoulder thing Pig will find the ultimately solution to our world peace problems. and why would you want to stand in the way of such noble efforts?!?

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    6. Lol. Truth. I should probably let him know that no one is monitoring marconi signals emitted by horse hoof tapping. He'll have to find another method to broadcast his findings...

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    7. do you dare tempt him tho? he seems resourceful, i'm sure he could come up with methods lol. whether you like it or not!

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  11. Long and low on a figure it works wonders for Val too. This is in part due to the fact that for a while I made it a point to end every single ride doing this until he relaxed. So now he's learned that when we're doing long and low, things are OK, and it's to to just relax and stretch and breathe. Now I use that tool if he's worried at a show or really up when we're schooling at home to get his brain back, and then we can get back to work without fighting or escalating.

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    1. interesting! and i'm oddly reassured to learn that this stretchy thing is already a well-known tool for this purpose that i just never knew about.

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  12. My little redhead gets the same way, and letting go, especially over fences, always helps her. At the same time, I have to insist that she work and pay attention to me. So I have to juggle the letting go with transitions and changes in direction. Since I have been consistent and not angry with the corrections, she has been much better.
    There is also *my* tenseness that she picks up on. If I am tense, she gets hot. The best way for me to loosen up and let go of some of that? Drop my stirrups! I know, it seems counterproductive, but I get better balanced and the tension usually melts away.

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    1. consistency is definitely key, i think, and something i need to be more careful about. i can definitely tell that isabel remembers the fights i pick with her when she tenses up about something we've previously not done well at (helloooooo inside bend). i like the idea of dropping stirrups too and will definitely try that! i'm dealing with a lot of unevenness in myself from the broken leg so that could really help

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  13. I totally get the struggle of treating two different horses very differently. I have high expectations of Moe because I know him very well and like...expect him to have learned something in his 13 years as my horse! I have pretty low expectations of Gina because she is CLEARLY insane. Your post is a good reminder to treat them both more fairly!

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    1. honestly i think most horses are kinda like toddlers in that they have a *very* clear sense of what is fair and what isn't. my mare definitely knows when she's getting the short end of the stick...

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  14. Ear fuzz can make it pretty hard to get mad at a horse (or pony... like Spud).

    I think your new mantra is a positive step in the right direction - sometimes we can get so wrapped up in things that we fail to see the "good" because we just expect it, you know?

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    1. i think you're right about that - i kinda get a little blinded to all the nice happy good things isabel does bc she's not doing that one other new thing that's hard for her but dammit i want her to do it! lol...

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  15. I can relate. And I think you are awesome for recognizing the difference. And I think you're completely correct in all of it. I love the stretchy chewy head down work, unfortunately when I do that with Georgie she takes it as a cue to bolt sometimes. I'm a big fan of getting out for a short hack if necessary and just trying to reset that way

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    1. oooh i hope isabel never learns that bolt trick! getting out for short hacks are always good for us too, tho we've had our share of meltdowns in the woods too... (and sadly many of my rides now happen in the dark cold evenings under the arena lights, when everything outside that eerie glow most definitely eats horses. so.... we gotta make do in less than ideal circumstances

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  16. Ugh I relate to this and need to do better about the day to day ride expectations. We can lean on each other!

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    1. seriously!! we should form a support group haha

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  17. Funny you mention manhandling leading to a meltdown with Izzy because Quest is totally the same way. For me, I lose patience because she is so GOOD most of the time that I mentally write it off as no big deal when they are still really big deals. The reset button we're working on is collection when she decides that she wants to jig down the trail instead of walk. We're still super new at it but it worked very well the first time and I'm all for learning new tools to keep us as safe and sane as possible on the trail!

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    1. i know exactly what you mean about forgetting what a big deal something is bc the horse is normally so good... and that's great that you're figuring out new tricks for keeping Quest with you on the trail! i actually kinda had to 'cheat' to get what i wanted on the trails - letting her snack at will and only going with buddies for a while when she was too hyped to be trusted solo. and actually, the collection thing doesn't work for us *at all* on trails bc when she totally loses it, she will practically piaffe on the spot rather than put four beats back into her walk... ugh lol. it's funny how different horses cope!

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  18. I'm definitely going to have to backtrack to that biomechanics stretches post as K & I could use some rest tools for when the shit hits the fan.
    I do let go when things get hairy for us, I release all pressure up front and rely on my legs to give her no option but to move forward. The release of the reins usually helps her release her tension and relax back down for me.
    (When I say release the reins Ian loosen my death grip...not letting go completely lolz)

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    1. i think that 'release all pressure' would probably work really well for isabel too, but it's so hard for little old control-freak me!!! must hammer it into my head haha. and yea there's actually a bio-mechanics tag in the little cloud on the sidebar that will link to all the different lessons i've taken (there aren't that many) bc i'm realizing that this one post i linked isn't as specific as some others. like this one in particular: http://fraidycateventing.blogspot.com/2014/11/bio-mechanics-winter-manual.html

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    2. Letting go was really hard for me to learn too - but when the alternative was K rearing...i learnt to release pressure fast!

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    3. ha i bet! that's definitely one of the fastest (if not the most fun) ways to learn that lesson, sheesh Kika!!

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  19. Wow! Letting go sounds like a really great thing to learn! It's one of those things that seem simple but isn't what everyone thinks of right away.

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    1. no it's definitely not usually the first idea for most people - especially since humans tend to want to solve problems with our hands... it works tho!

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  20. I have two horses. Bird is my even-tempered good-citizen young grey gelding, whom I've posted about before. The other is Nick, a furiously opinionated sub-14hh bay mare, now 18. (Obligatory pic: http://imgur.com/YdPOz8V ) Nick is the sum of my progress and my mistakes over the past fourteen years and, since she was the first horse I started under saddle, there were ample mistakes. *sigh* Switching gears between horses is hard... but the reset button in my world, no matter what horse I'm riding, is the one-rein stop.

    Yeah, I know, it's the cowboy emergency brake. Thing is, most of the time it's not for the horses. They're typically fine. It's for me. Most of the "notice the issue, think about the issue, solve the issue" training/riding stuff in my world takes place without a second set of eyes to help me figure things out. So, if I notice I'm headed south on the training/communication front -- not being effective or losing my temper or whatever -- I one-rein and pause to re-organize me. I breathe. I breathe again. I rotate my shoulders. I unclamp my legs. I sit up straight and center myself mentally. And I think about the problem I'm having using my brain and not my emotions.

    What's that like? Last weekend, Bird was having trouble (rough, hoppy, sudden) with a right lead canter departure on a slight uphill grade and I was getting all "WTH, Bird, you know this skill, ya idjit!". He is not an idjit. Time for a pause on my part. One-rein, stop, relax, calm down, rethink. "He's typically very compliant. Is this a muscle/fitness issue? Might be. How can I tell? Not sure. If I try it on the flat, is he as resistant?" (Try.) "No, he's lovely on flat ground. Ok, so likely he doesn't have the muscles for this yet. He's a baby. More Remedial Jogging Spirals and walk-trot transition work will help him get stronger and I can try this again in a couple of weeks."

    Or, say Nick is rather forward and forehandy in canter and we're making no progress at all on flying changes on a gently bending line. Horse (swishy tail, clickity teeth) is getting frustrated and pissier with each iteration. Time to one-rein. Stop. Breathe. Relax. Relax some more. Evaluate. "Why is the canter going to hell? (I need a nice gathered-up canter for flcs.) Hrm. Am I tipping forward? Might be. Am I peering excitedly over shoulders to see what horse is doing on the lead front? Oh, yeah, I guess I am. Guilty. Am I overly sudden and tight with leg aids like as if slamming them on mare *whomp* in new lead position is somehow going to make this happen? ('Cause untactful aids work SO WELL on my tiny and furious arab mare) Maybe I did that... Am I an idiot? (nonproductive) Okay, so flcs start with a more balanced, rhythmic, and gathered-up canter. How about getting just that much for today, with an extra helping of Rider's Positional Awareness and Not Curling Over of Horse or Rider. Get that working reliably a couple of times and then I can revisit the subject of flcs."

    It is really hard to stop, re-evaluate, and try again. It is not only a hard thing to do, it is a hard thing to LEARN to do. Near as I can tell, the one-rein deal works for me because it's become a habit -- "If I'm heading south, one-rein, then problem-solve. Why are things going wrong, how they might be made to go better?"

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    1. that definitely makes a lot of sense. re-evaluating as you go along is so important.... definitely not easy for me, but so important. the one-rein stop likely wouldn't be very effective for my mare since she spent a long time feeling like stopping (especially suddenly) = punishment. it seems to work better to find something for her to actively *do* that helps to relieve the tension and give us a moment to regroup. so far, stretching seems to fit that bill!

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  21. Reset button and patience.. hm. I'm laughing a little because my most recent post has everyone complimenting my patience.. but uh. Well. Hm.

    If Fetti needs a reset because she's stuck and too *slow*, it's easy to have patience because that's not scary, that's just irritating. (We don't have a reset button for this, we just have me either patient or swearing or both.)

    If Fetti needs a reset because she's losing her brain going too fast heading towards home, we start with Reset #1: can you walk on a loose rein with appropriately pathetic impulsion? If that fails - namely, if the walk is forwards and enthusiastic rather than lazy and pathetic and pokey - I get off and walk with her. I have total confidence that she'll keep her brain with me if I'm on the ground even if she won't when I'm riding, and that gets used to my advantage in situations she deems scary (shopping carts! pool noodles!).

    If her brain has just generally fried from being asked to do too much or too difficult of a thing, the answer is always* Big Forwards Trot, and after a bit of that the brain comes back and she can be asked to try again. *unless brain is fried from being asked to slow down and she wants to run instead

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    1. i like how you have such different approaches for varying problems - yay versatility haha. and i think you're not giving yourself enough credit for your patience. just bc it's not scary doesn't mean it's easy to be patient - that is literally a life skill that not everyone (like myself) has haha. these situations with isabel are definitely not fear related - maybe it's a control freak issue instead? idk haha. still tho, very good food for thought!

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  22. I do this all the time when I'm riding Murray and baby horses. I'm like "GOKSDFUKJE MY HORSE IS A LOSER" and for baby horses I'm like "aww you're so cute any little thing is awesome!" It is a real challenge!

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    1. such a challenge! it's so frustrating to feel like i have learned all these effective and excellent tools for horses, but that my application is so uneven!

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  23. 'Let go' has been a big theme for me during the latter part of this year! So simple and yet so difficult to do.... And I think balancing expectations is super difficult too - especially for a horse that 'knows better' - I think as a rider that's one of the most frustrating things. I don't know if I really have a reset button for Maggie - some days a long walk break works, other times it doesn't, but whenever I feel like a ride has completely gone to pot I try to find a somewhat good note to end on and then just tell myself 'tomorrow's anther day'

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    1. ugh yea that feeling of 'you know better' is a tricky and sneaky little feeling, and frequently *so unfair* to the horse... but remembering that "tomorrow's another day" is super useful, that is if you can convince yourself to throw in the towel when it's time... another challenge for overly stubborn riders like myself lol

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  24. That used to be our mechanism until Ries decided STRETCHING IS BORING WHEN WE CAN ZOOOOM. Oy vey

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    1. ha yea zoooomies do *not* help with the stretchies, thanksverymuchpony

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