Suitability

One of the aspects that makes a successful dressage rider is the desire to achieve near perfection, knowing that it is a difficult journey, fraught with setbacks, and requires determination, persistence as well as education and experience.  By definition, we are not “quitters”, therefore it takes years of experience for such a person to know when it is right to quit.  I have been reflecting on this subject for some days now as we have come to the conclusion, after much effort, reflection and discussion that Da Capo is not a suitable horse for our ambitions in dressage.  The good news is that he shows some potential as a jumper, and has caught the eye of a young rider who wishes to make the effort to develop him in a different direction than we would take.  So, we are happy that he will be able to pursue a path that he might be more suitable for, that we can move on to search for a horse that likes the discipline of dressage.

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This situation has prompted me to think about the subject of suitability.  I am not referring to the often discussed issue of experienced horse for beginning rider, or expressive gaits or natural jumping ability.  I am referring rather to the horse/rider combination, and their mental compatibility.   Their desire to do the same thing.

I will take for an example the situation with myself and Da Capo.  What attracted me to him in the first place was the dressage characteristics:  a bloodline proven to produce top dressage horses (Donnerhall/Pik Bube), large expressive gaits, a free shoulder movement, strong active hindquarters, and a conformation (though it needed developing as he was living in a pasture) that looked promising.  And since I am not thinking serious competition, his size was nice because it fit me and my size.  Also, I was optimistic since he went under saddle easily, accepted the rider without bucking and was very comfortable to ride.   He was also easy to manage on the ground, and very friendly with people.

So what finally made us find him unsuitable?  Something as simple as “attitude”.  As he became more fit and stronger, he became a bit resistant.  Without  changing his routine at all, just the same consistent work to develop his muscles and strength through lunging, rather than becoming calmer and more confident, he became more resistant.   It soon became clear that there were things he liked to do, and things he could do, but not willingly.

From the tine spent working with Da Capo it became clear that he was an elastic talented horse.  It also reminded me  that in the end the horse has an opinion also about what he wants to do.  After persisting with the riding I realized that he could be “forced” to work, and eventually would submit, but it was not pleasant for me or him.  And in the end, forced work does not produce the kind of results I am looking for when I train a horse.  Therefore, I chose not to try to force him, but to try to seek a situation for him where both he and his rider can enjoy their time together.    I know there will be a willing partner for me  and I plan to go out and look for him.   As a good friend of mine reminded me, “when one door closes, another opens”.     So I am maintaining my “hopes and expectations”, they will just develop on a different path.    This is the part that I think the “seriously driven” rider finds the hardest, accepting that they cannot make everything work, and sometimes have to just  “quit” and move on.   This requires both experience and maturity, and putting the ego aside.   DONE!!

Hopes and Expectations for 2013

With the beginning of the new year I am  in a “forward thinking” mode regarding my hopes and expectations for the months ahead.  DaCapo has just started his basic work under saddle which will be combined with some continued work on the lunge.  There is not much to examine or illustrate at this point.  The primary focus is on “forward” and “exposure”.

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Regarding the first days under saddle in his new home, there is much to see.  Fortunately, he is easy to mount and relatively calm with the rider.  He responds to the “forward” request, though is not at a point where he moves totally on his own initiative.  So, this will be the work for the the next weeks.  He is also exploring the various arenas (there are three, with one being a full sized dressage arena under cover, but open on one side to the large jumping arena).  He has also walked under saddle around the entire facility and has explored a field.  While he is alert and curious, has a “stop and look” attitude at “scary” things,  he does not yet show any worrisome resistances.   He can get a little panicky but calms down very quickly, and has shown himself to be quite smart.  As long as he uses that intelligence in the right direction, things will go well.

So just what am I hoping and expecting to accomplish this year.  I will set my goals, and and evaluate mid-year if I have been realistic.  First, I hope to take this young gelding who has spent most of his life in the field, to learn to not only trust me, but also to understand the enjoy the work we do together.  My specific riding goals will be to teach him to react to the leg and seat, accept and understand the rein aids, and develop a good physical condition with nice musculature.  I expect that he will develop a good rhythm, move forward readily, and begin to understand the aids of moving from the leg, in the form of leg yielding, turns on forehand and haunches,  and the bending aids.  That he will readily accept to push forward in the lengthening of his strides in trot and canter, and come back to working gaits with balance.  And of course, become attentive to the rider, trusting but retaining his own personality, which in my opinion, gives the horse a sense of “pride”.  I have never been one to insist that  submission comes through a form of “subjugation” and I have always believed that a calm horse is not “dragging his feet, and sluggish” but is working hard with a clear mind.  These are the characteristics I seek in my horses, and this is what I hope to achieve with Capi.

Ralf home

In addition, I hope to develop our Equestrian Excursions for 2013.  We have nearly concluded arrangements in both France and Germany with facilities and trainers where we can offer lessons and tours for individuals and small groups, in both dressage and jumping.  We have located very nice housing, gained access to trained horses, and are working on the “events” calendar in order to offer dates which can include the “show” experience, among others.  We are very excited about being able to offer this opportunity to  anyone interested in equestrian activity in Europe.

Finally, we have been working diligently on our website and hope to have it up and running as we would like by Spring of 2013.  We are preparing many articles, photo galleries, and reviews of equestrian activities worldwide.  In addition, we will offer some online photo/video evaluation and “question/answer” sections.  Getting really ambitious, I am trying to set up an online forum and hope that this can stimulate some thought-provoking issues among participants.

As you can see, I have high hopes and expectations for 2013.  Now, it is time to move forward and begin the journey.  I will continue to share for any of you who would like to accompany me as I face the challenges I have placed before myself.

So….best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and successful 2013.