In my last post I described how Lakitos felt to me as I sat on him without trying to actually ride, that is change or correct his way of going. Before I begin to discuss the aids and exercises we employ in our training, I wish to take a moment to describe the obstacles we face in our training program, since all riders face issues of their horse’s personality or past experiences. As I have said before, Lakitos stresses and worries to the point he scares himself, often without any identifiable cause. So today I will share this challenge, and then we can move on to discuss the actual training and riding.
Lakitos is a very friendly and calm horse in the barn and other familiar, unchanging places. He likes people and other horses, although he gets tense when another horse comes directly face to face with him, both on the ground and under saddle. He can walk calmly to his paddock or toward the arena assuming nothing has changed. When something has changed or has been moved , he senses it immediately ( still find it fascinating that he can have such a good memory) and starts to breathe quickly and try to hesitate or otherwise avoid gong near or past the object. In fact, the more and longer he looks at something, the more frightened he becomes. The rider/handler has to stay calm and relaxed and give him another point of focus. Of course, the ideal situation, if riding, is to keep him on the aids and moving forward, but this is not always the case. At one point I wanted to be “kind” to him and allow him to walk freely (long rein) to and from the arena, but for him that was not “kindness,” but rather abandonment, (I should note that the walk from the barn to the arena is about 60 meters, and goes past various buildings, paddocks, the jumping arena, and often a lot of activity.)
When left to walk on his own he can only look for things to worry about and avoid, as he makes the “dangerous” trip from arena to barn. For him “kindness” is to keep him where he feels safe —“on the aids”. We all want to be kind to our horses and develop their trust. However, it is important that we determine what is kindness to the individual horse, for they are all individuals. What makes one feel calm can bring terror to another.
As an example, I will relate a typical day. If I mount in the barn, he is calm and stands quietly. He walks in a relaxed manner out the door and is reasonably content walking as far as his paddock (we are assuming here that he is not “on the aids”), provided of course, nothing has changed along the way. Once he passes the paddock he begins to stress. You can feel he is worrying about what will be going on in the arena (since the arena is uphill from the barn, he cannot see what is there until he arrives at the entrance): are their poles left on the ground, colorful plastic objects left in the arena or in the corners by Pony Clubbers? Lakitos finds these things a bit “offsetting” and on the way to the arena seems almost to be thinking “good grief, what frightening thing will I have to face today”. A bit like I feel on my way to the dentist.
Once in the arena he takes a quick look around making a mental list of the problem areas. At this point, if he is not on the aids, he is hesitant to go forward, meaning through his body toward the hand. Here I think it is important to remind ourselves that while some horses are nervous, some spooky, some tense, and some outright bullies, the thing that brings them all to a state of relaxed submission is feeling balanced, therefore “safe”. So my primary objective with Lakitos is to keep his focus, keep him on the aids and develop his, balance. For him this is reassuring and allows him to work comfortably. Happily, he is a very kind and willing horse, and quite a workaholic, never quitting. He never does anything against the rider, and in his heart wants to relax and please.
As we know, all horses offer challenges to their riders. Here, I have described our challenges with Lakitos. Since we like to solve problems and face challenges, and as we are in no hurry, he suits us. However, I must add I would find it almost impossible to pursue his training without coaching and eyes on the ground. In my riding at the moment, I find I tend to anticipate certain reactions from Lakitos and often become either too strong in my aids, lift out of my seat, or match his resistances rather break them. With good instruction I am usually corrected quickly and can proceed without major problems developing.
I am happy to report that during the few months Lakitos has been with us in France, he has made good progress in his transition from his surroundings and work in Germany. He is often softer in the contact, less determined to stiffening his body and lean on his shoulders and the bit, pays more attention and responds more quickly to my aids. While he has no reduction in his “self-imposed anxiety”, he relaxes more in the work since he begins to trust me and my aids. He is a teeth-grinder by nature, and this has become now a rare occurrence, as has his jaw crossing and neck stiffening.
I wish also to point out that while I do not know his history, I do know he was ridden by stronger, younger riders. Therefore, a part of this transition has been a necessary adaptation to a smaller, older rider who is not as strong and naturally uses slightly different aids. So I think it speaks well for his effort to fit into a new riding technique, considering all of his insecurities.
Finally, I believe I have described to the best of my ability the feelings and challenges Lakitos presents. Therefore, I will begin in further posts to discuss how we approach his work, what I do and why. Since we combine lunging, pole and caveletti work, long-lining and riding, there is much to share. And much to learn, as the horse always gives us reason to think, and re-think our approach. in the end, they are our teachers.