Monday, October 2, 2023

fractional dimensions

It might not seem like there's much overlap between subjects, but I often draw from my background in mathematics in approaching and understanding training and development with horses. For example, with ideas like the 'least common denominator,' or 'irreducible complexity.' 

look at these ridiculous big boys (and spirit), hungry for breakfast but too silly to come down to the gate <3
The least common denominator is the smallest shared multiplier in a set of numbers -- the smallest possible "building block" that can be used to arrive at those numbers in combination. 

Irreducible complexity is the idea that a process has been condensed to its most fundamental elements - that it cannot be simplified any further and still function.

nothing comes between this one and her food
So when it comes to the whole process involved in your typical normal run-of-the-mill ride, I try to see and understand all the various component pieces at play. For example -- bringing the horse in from the field, if applicable. Grooming. Tacking. Getting to the ring or riding place, getting on. Actually conducting the ride (and all the various systems therein). Finishing, and reverse-engineering all the previous steps, etc.

different day, same story: professional hand grazer
In an ideal world, all those various steps are more or less independent from each other. Or at least, that's the ultimate goal, right? We want to establish each 'step' as its own confirmed skill, more or less. "Good citizenship."

Realistically, tho, little hiccups, disruptions, etc, in any step can bleed into and influence a ride.... You might remember that was kinda the big focus of Charlie's first little show --- the actual dressage tests were almost secondary. Our main goal was just to make it through each step in a new, more stressful environment (ie, the show), without any major issues.**

(**Like falling off at the mounting block, or the horse breaking away from the trailer.... Ya know, hiccups lol)

ooooh charlesaurus!
This thought process is helpful right now with Doozy, too -- and for a few reasons! Obvi, first off, she's still sore on that abscess foot and vet wants me to just be a little patient with her, since it was such a big abscess. Cool, no prob, we can work on other things!

Secondly, tho, it's also becoming clear that Doozy has some associations and triggers related to arenas that... definitely predate her time with me lol. Like, most horses are some degree of barn sour, esp when they're more green. But she really feels a certain sort of way about being inside vs outside a ring, any ring, and it'll take time to unpack that. 

his feet still hurt, but we enjoyed each other's company anyway
But in the meantime... I'm getting the sense that she's maybe a bit superstitious, highly associative. And as such, I don't want to lose sight of my ultimate goal of having a complete, confirmed riding horse who can do all the normal riding horse things more or less independent of environment, circumstance or potential 'triggers.' 

just a little loop around!
So my approach right now is to keep the scale fairly micro. Focus on one thing at a time -- the least common denominator. Reduce each process to its absolute simplest form. 

Like, Grooming - check, good girl. Done. Hand walking - can go here, can go there, can graze. Must always give to pressure. Can do laps to new and different places - good girl, done. 

next up, my other nqr horse!!
At least in this particular example, I'm finding it helpful to step up my own discipline too -- to be really really certain that I always know exactly what I'd like the horse to be doing, and am communicating that as clearly as I can.

Now that we're getting to know each other better, it feels like I need to be more proactive in keeping us on task. Like: walking laps in hand around the dressage ring -- Doozy straight up doesn't love this, gets a bit worked up, and will snort and try to whip around on the line. 

But.... lol... She will also stand there easily in hand if I lean over to grab a ground rail from outside the ring, and drag it into position so we can walk over it. 

she couldn't believe i'd wear denim in a borrowed saddle.....
On the face of it, these two behaviors seem a bit incongruent, right? Except what I'm finding out is that... the difference is my behavior. When we're just mindlessly walking laps or whatever, to Doozy that's basically the absence of any clear direction or occupying task. 

Esp compared to times when I need her to do a certain thing -- like when I'm opening or shutting a gate, turning on lights, picking manure out of the footing, or moving ground poles around. She's stellar for all that. So ya know, maybe it's on me to help keep us a little busier with interesting 'micro tasks' until such a time as we're sound enough for proper riding work.

easy pathway hacks #4lyfe
With that in mind, after a productive hand walk where I made sure to hold myself more accountable... Doozy went back into her stall while Charlie got his turn for a short 'n sweet walk about the farm! His feet are still sore but at least he walks sound now <3

legit just did a couple little laps, maybe took 7min total
Then, right back out with Mondeuse again, and this time with tack. This time focusing more on the fairly basic processes of.... getting on and off the horse. Doozy so far has been exceedingly good at mounting blocks, and the block down in our barn yard is particularly friendly. It's gigantic, super stable, basically a platform. Plus it's got a fence next to it, so the horse naturally just stays in a correct position. 

Dismounting is.... eh, not quite so good yet lol. She's clearly used to her jockeys or what have you just jumping off while she keeps motoring forever onward. It's not really a big deal, so I'm not making a big deal about it... But I am starting to communicate to her that, actually, standing is nice too. She won't know if I never tell her, right??

whadddagoooodgurrrrl!!!! such a champion!
For the actual meat of this little "ride," we basically just did a couple laps around the barn and outbuildings, going around in both directions. Past the feed shed where that scary pig lives... "Leaving" the barn yard from all the normal paths, and then "returning" again without rushing. 

And none of it was any sort of big deal. Which, obvi, it shouldn't be, lol. She's gone through exactly these same motions quite a few times already, and seems to know the drill. 

My hope is frequent low key practice on these 'micro' skills will help us avoid ever associating the little stuff with her bigger triggers --- like going into an arena lol. And, in this way, we can continue developing the shared vocabulary we'll need for me to keep her on task from the saddle too.

Or ya know, lol, maybe it's simpler than that haha. Maybe it's just nice to be able to get on and putz around a little bit on this new horse who is still kinda lame lol. And maybe that's enough in and of itself too, right?? Going through the motions one way or another --- and riding is still riding, no matter how boring LOL.


  1. I also enjoy both purposefully practicing micro-skills AND just being around a horse for the sheer joy of it. A little of both. A certain amount of purposeful practice is usually necessary for me to feel safe and the horse to feel confident in what I am asking. But beyond that, just hanging out or riding for no particular reason is a real pleasure. As you say, riding is still riding.

    1. agreed 1,000% --- it's honestly so important to me that my horses are just downright pleasant to be around and spend time with <3 but ya know, we've done a whole heckuva lot with just that with charlie over the last year, lol, i'm ready to RIDE!! so even tho most basic "sits" still count haha, esp on days when i can sit on BOTH of them!!!

  2. It’s fun to unpack a new horse. Well, maybe’fun’ is the wrong word. It sure is interesting though.

    1. lol yepppp -- fun, interesting, all sorts of ways to describe it. while i absolutely love knowing charlie inside and out, it's a different sort of puzzle and reward to work through uncertainties and discoveries with doozy too!

  3. What a great breakdown post. It's a long road to the hack on the buckle without direction.

  4. Sounds like breaking things down and being clear about expectations is exactly what she needs right now! I hope the lameness goes away soon though, I'm really rooting for you to get a horse you can progress and have fun with and not keep dealing with on/off lameness again!

  5. I think this is a great method! I really hope they both come sound very soon for you. But I like how you're making the best of a frustrating situation and maybe even using it to your advantage while training Doozy.


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