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June 6, 2014: Horse Training: Some Observations

Lifre is no longer here at Squalor Holler. Rather, he’s back at Terri’s place, keeping Joe (who is now, because of his injury, confined to his stall) company. I know that Terri will take excellent care of him. Lifre has his own large paddock. This is the best possible situation for him to be in since Terri is also an excellent horse person. I’m of course feeling glum about his being gone – I’m attempting to keep thoughts about his absence at bay by remaining busy.

Last night I went with Vickie to Beth’s place (this is where I am taking lessons). Vickie and a few others were to practice their upcoming dressage tests. I assisted in setting up the practice ring and observed three horses as their riders put them through their paces.

Dressage—this is the French word for schooling—is the most exacting equine discipline. Horses, in an arena setting, must do specific moves in specific places, at a specific moment in time. For

Raudi and Alys on 2012 CTR

instance, they must walk, trot, and canter. And for example, they must do a working canter, a slow canter, a fast canter, a canter on the right lead, and a canter on the left lead, in circles, going right and left, and in a straight line. There are also varying levels, and within levels there are other levels. The most carefully trained horses and riders move up the ranks – the top level is called Grand Prix dressage. Both the horse and rider’s performance is scored by judges. A reader lets the rider know what their individual, next move is.

The best riders make dressage look easy. But in actuality, it’s not. It takes many years of ongoing and consistent training (both on the part of the horse and the rider) before everything falls into place. This can be compared to the compulsory exercises in figure skating. The horses that excel are those who are large, powerful, lanky, smooth moving. However, smaller horses, like Vickie’s horse Hunar, with training, often do quite well.

Last night, Beth rode. She was riding Liam, her large chestnut Irish Sport horse. And Barb rode. She was riding Juneau, her tall, lanky thoroughbred. And Vickie rode. She was riding her small, lanky silver dapple Icelandic. Each did two practice tests.

As each rider worked, I thought some about Raudi and her ongoing training. As I noted in previous dispatches, her training has been in a backasswards/assbackwards manner. We’ve spent untold hours on the trail, going up and down hills, around trees, through mud. Along the way we’ve dealt with specific challenges; this has been at the point in which we’ve been ready for them. For example, yesterday we did Pete’s trail, going downhill, while in the lead (Tinni and Pete were behind us). I would not have done this two weeks previously. However, I felt like we were both ready. And Raudi did just fine. We previously barreled down hills, and previously I walked her down hills. No more.

And now we are also doing arena work. This is circumstantial. We finally have had access to an instructor who is kind, fair, and consistent. And Vickie and Hunar paved the way for us, by showing Beth what Icelandic horses are capable of. And Meagan and Gracie paved the way for us, by showing Beth what Norwegian Fiords are capable of.

Raudi and I were both so ready for this. I trust the feeling that comes in knowing that we are ready for this. I trust this because I know it. I know my horse and I know me. And my horse knows me. I do most things when I’m ready. Sometimes Pete pushes me to do them before I’m ready. When I’m really not ready, I say so. When I am ready, I voice concerns, but go for it.

I have come to the conclusion that horses as a whole are slow to mature. This is in part because much of what we ask them do counters their long standing, and less genetic nature. They also mature at differing rates. Pushing them to do more than they can handle makes them fearful and scared. The word that we humans use to describe this is overreactive. Overreactive horses are trying to tell us something, but we seldom listen to them, or attempt to come up with an equitable solution to the problem.

I am pleased with how things are going this summer with my beloved Raudi. She’s now, at age 11, arena ready. I will never show jump or do formal dressage tests. Our forte is trail riding. We will do the competitive trail ride with the primary intention of having a good time. This is as competitive as we are ever going to get.

Next: 157. 6/7/14: Horse Training: Imagine it, Rosie a Superstar