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August 22, 2014: Lessons Learned: Forward, Further Defined

This summer, I’ve been using the term “forward” rather loosely, attempting to define it but not feeling like I’ve yet really nailed it down. It was, up until now, a state of being, just merely the sense that I was failing my horse because I wasn’t in any way providing her with a much-needed mental challenge. And because of this, she wasn’t achieving her whole potential.

Thought embodies itself in language – I am moving forward in attempting to define moving forward. I’ve been going through back issues of USDF bulletin—I was given several boxes sometime back – here and there I’ve been reading

articles of interest – mainly ones related to health, horse care, and conditioning and training. A few days ago I came across one written by Jane Savoie – this was in Vol. XIX, issue 3, 1993. It was one in which she attempted (of all things) to define the term forward.

She notes that “forward” is a concept with many shade of meaning. Her audience is dressage riders and trainers, so her definition is fitting with her three facets, which are:

  1. The expression of forward direction
  2. Mentally forward
  3. The direction the hind legs step.

The expression of forward direction – this phrase simply means that the horse is physically covering ground in a forward direction.

Mentally forward – according to Savoie – means having a horse that’s thinking forward – is “hot” off the leg or “in front of your leg.” In other words, a forward horse is one that moves along, energetically in response to a light leg aid. For example, to a feather-light squeeze of the leg.

The direction the legs step – Savoie notes that the horse can be covering ground, be mentally forward, and still not be “forward” if the direction the hind legs step is backwards rather than towards the rider’s hand.

It’s the second facet, mentally forward, that right now is of the most interest to me. First, the horse: The way I see it, the horse should be focused, eager to work, and enthusiastic about the job at hand. The horse should also be listening to the rider, and waiting for the next cue, which is given with the rider’s aids, hand, seat, voice, and legs. And the horse should respond accordingly to the cues, which are given with aids. Secondly, the rider: The rider should be focused, eager to work, and enthusiastic about the job at hand. The rider should listen to the horse and give the right cues, using the right aids.

This all is a surface explanation. In my mind, even my elaboration upon the above definition is a tad too minimal. A horse being forward is also dependent upon the rider’s degree of interest in the horse’s education. Reading, thinking about what one is reading, and putting theory to practice is also important.

Reading – I am doing a lot of this. After reading Savoie’s article, I read one by Kenneth Marcella, DVM. It is entitled “Conditioning Versus Training” (and that all-important warm-up). I found it in the USDF bulletin, Vol. XIX, summer, 1992. Marcella cites Hilary Clayton, DVM, who had recently written a book entitled “Conditioning Sport Horses” in noting that conditioning and schooling for sport horses are two different things. Generally defined, “Conditionings improves the body in a very general way that it enables it to have the strength and endurance to perform many tasks. Schooling/training specifies a task, and through repetition, teaches the body to perform that task more quickly, evenly, and easily – whether it be turning a barrel, breaking from a starting gate, or doing a half-pass.”

Marcella then elaborates on the definition of conditioning, noting that “LSD (Long slow distance) work, hacking in the field, hill work, sprints, and other speed work are all important and will all play their part in achieving a balanced, strong, conditioned athlete that can then be subjected to the specific demands of training. Furthermore “horses adequately conditioned prior to training will be better able to perform their tasks and stand a better chance of avoiding injuries that can cause training setbacks.” The rest of his article then centers on the importance of warming up your horse prior to schooling it, warming up being a form of conditioning. Says Marcella, warming up the horse prior to schooling “increases the flow to large muscle groups, increases the internal temperature of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and improves the stretch and flexion of those parts of the body.”

Yes indeed thought does embody itself in language. Comparing and contrasting the terms conditioning and schooling has already enabled Raudi and me to move forward, this in both the sense of Savoie’s brief and my more extended definition.

Today being a case in point. Earlier today, Raudi and I went on a trail ride with Terri Meilke. Pete rode Lifre, Terri rode her horse Joe. We went up Bald Mountain. It was a fairly strenuous ride – there was a long hill climb up and down, and some muddy stretches. The trek could be called conditioning. My requiring Raudi to be out front, in the middle, and behind the other horses, this could be called schooling.

We got rained on. I got a bit chilled. So I got off Raudi when we got back to the road, and in walking back to Terri’s, got warmed up. This, I thought, was also good for Raudi – I conditioned her, by walking her, allowing her muscles to cool down. And I schooled her, by having her walk next to me on the paved residential road.

After, we went to a lesson at Beth’s. I removed Raudi’s blanket and tacked her up. Once in the ring, we walked both ways around the arena. I was schooling her in that I was allowing her to take everything in. And I was conditioning her, in that she was getting a warm-up.

As for the lesson itself, working at the trot with the other students – Emily, Cath, Meagan – we worked on conditioning by continuing the warm up. We worked on schooling by slowing and speeding up our pace and circling around when we came up too fast on the other horses. Me also in two-point, going around distance jumps (again) in order to put more space between us and the other riders.

While jumping, we mainly went over ground poles and then one, two, and three cross-poles. Conditioning – going over the jumps involved physical exertion. Schooling – going left or right, and horse not falling onto either shoulder. Conditioning – cantering back to the start point.

At the lesson’s conclusion – schooling, walking Raudi out, first in the arena, as the second group worked their horses. And conditioning, walking her outside the arena, so that she’d be sufficiently cooled down on the ride home.

Now that I am able to compare and contrast, I’m making further connections and distinctions. Raudi is really in good condition. We’ve done really well on this score. Otherwise, she would not have been so up for this lesson. However, we are mere neophytes when it comes to schooling. I must now take the opportunities to school her when they present themselves. For instance, now, after jumping, as we return to the others, I will have her walk and trot back to the others. I might also have her do some circles and serpentines. This way, she will further learn that in such instances I, and not she, is the one in charge. This is going to be really to do, and will of course have long-term benefits, both in the arena and out on the trail.

Next: 228. 8/23/14: Tinni – Still the Number One Riding Horse