Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Our basic lesson routine is this: Our warm up consists of walking a couple of times around the arena, then jogging for a few minutes, then posting trot for a few minutes. After that we move into the center of the circle and we learn or practice a couple of new moves; during our last few lessons we have been practicing backing up and doing 90 degree turns. After that, we go on to loping. After loping we start to slow things down again and trot patterns (different each week) and eventually walk to cool down. Pretty simple.

A couple of weeks ago, at a clinic being held at the stables, I heard the trainer say to one of the participants that it wasn't necessarily a good thing to have your horse assume what you were going to ask of him. There needs to be a response to an actual request. When a horse assumes he knows what you want it means that the horse is not listening to you. Well, when I heard the trainer saying this, I thought what a load of horse crap. I would gladly have Gem anticipate what I wanted from him so I wouldn't have to suffer with rubber legs on a regular basis! The trainer's comments were filed waaaay back in my memory banks.

Last Friday, I rode in the arena with the Arena Gang. They had vertical poles set up down the middle of the arena and were zig zagging through them at a jog. Good for them. Gem and I started our normal warm up routine. We were up to the posting trot portion of our warm up, but I cut it short. He swished his tail a bit. Only one member of the Arena Gang was still in the arena at this point, so I walked Gem through the poles - in and out, in and out. He swished his tail again, but did it. I then moved him back on the track and as I gathered up my reins, he started to jog before I was ready. Hmmmm, that's interesting.

We continued on like it was a lesson, following the normal routine. The only difference was I did jog him through the poles a couple of times when we were moving towards the end of our session. For a big guy, he did really well - yay, Gem! The first time through the poles though, I could tell that he was a bit irritated - the swishing tail is the indicator. He did what I asked though.

Sunday I spent an hour just walking Gem. We were in the arena and I did our warm up the same as usual - walk, jog, posting trot. Then I walked patterns with him; figure 8's, squares, small circles. A couple of times, he started to gear up to jog, but I held him back to a walk. Again with the tail swishing. Eventually, he settled down and we had a really good session. We practiced the 90 degree turn and backing up. Both he and I relaxed and more often than not, Gem did the turn without walking off! It's a work in progress, but I was very pleased with him and I. His backing up has improved immensely. I position my legs a little forward of the girth and squeeze while gently pulling back on one rein and then the other. He can now back up 7 steps at a consistent pace and while remaining pretty darn straight!

So at this week's lesson, I had to show LA how much Gem had improved with backing up. As soon as we finished warm up and went to the center of the arena, I showed her Gem's new moves. She was pleased. :-) I then asked Gem to walk on. Hmmmmm...he backed up.

No. I mean go forward.
Here, let me back up some more.
WALK ON means go forward!!
What? You want me to go forward?
Stop backing up! GO FORWARD!!!!

Strange. Then I had a light bulb moment. We always practice our moves in 3's; three back ups, three 90 degree turns, three side passes. I had only done ONE back up. Was Gem trying to correct me?? Was he assuming what was to come next?

We came to the loping part of the lesson. After a rough start, off we went. It was stop and start as usual and I had to make it "uncomfortable" for him when he slowed to a trot. At one point we were going at a pretty consistent pace and all of a sudden he stopped for a bio break! As I rearranged myself back in the saddle, he finished his business, turned his head slightly towards me with a look of "where were we?" and then started loping again, without me cuing him. Weird.

I know Gem is lazy. As I mentioned before, in so many ways he's like me! :-) I think he finds a certain amount of comfort in knowing what our routine is because he doesn't have to try; he just goes with the flow. He's smart enough to know what comes next and how many and for how long. He gets irritated (tail swishing) if there is a deviation from the regular routine. In my line of work, I must anticipate the needs of others so I can be proactive. But, in Gem's case, having your horse anticipate the next move might not be the way to go. Having him jog or lope without me cuing him was cool initially (he read my mind!), but after thinking about it I am not so sure it was a good thing. I wouldn't want Gem to think that loping always comes after trotting, particularly if I am on a trail ride. The words of the trainer now start to make sense.

Has my improvement been Gem anticipating the next moves of our routine rather than my ability? Well, it's probably both and I am OK with that. However, I am going to have to work hard at shaking it up. I need to start incorporating some new moves and requests when he least expects it and push him through his tail swishing episodes. I want him to be interested, on his toes and wondering what's next. There needs to be a bit of spontaneity in our relationship. Resistance is futile! Rubber legs are a good thing! Yeah, right.....

What was I thinking.....?


  1. I think I might mix it up a bit every time I rode just to keep him on his toes and listening to your cues instead of anticipating the next move on his own. There might be days you want an easy ride and just let him do the walk,trot,canter thing he's used to so it's easier on your legs,but in the long run he should be looking to you for what his next move is going to be. That said it's just my opinion and how I ride, you should do what makes you comfortable and happy with your riding.

    He sounds like he would make a great dressage horse because he could learn the patterns and never veer off from the set exercises. There could be lots of winning rounds in your future with a horse as willing to stick to a routine as Gem!

  2. Agree with GHM, vary your routine for him. If nothing else so it doesn't get monotonous. They tell dressage riders to only practice an actually test very rarely so the horse listens to the rider and doesn't anticipate. They say it is better to practice the required movements of the dressage tests independently :)

  3. Good afternoon GHM and Rachel! I was actually quite amazed at how well he knew the routine! I actually thought trail riding would be enough of a variation for him, but I now know better!

    GHM - I got a chuckle out of your "winning rounds" comment! :-)

  4. I do not believe that anticipation is such a bad thing. I like to believe that the horse is trying to do his best by offering what he thinks you want :-)

    Still, it might be a good idea to vary your routines. Ultimately we want our horses to do what we ask, and not to do what they think we want. Changing your routines might also make the work more exciting for both of you?

  5. Hello HoC! I can see where some anticipation can be a positive thing. I will definitely be shaking up our routine. I am looking forward to challenging myself and challenging Gem. :-)

  6. I suppose it comes down to what really matters: control.

    Some things you want to be routine. When we stop I want my horse to back up a step. When I lean like this I want a step to the side.

    But memorizing the entire work out - what a clever boy, but no wonder he got frustrated. He thought he had it figured out, but it was the wrong "it". :)

  7. Hello Breathe - I still get surprised at how smart he is! I certainly don't want him frustrated, but I don't want him in control either. It would be very easy for me to let him do the routine, but then I wouldn't be learning anything and he would eventually get really bored.

  8. Ah yes, the swishing tail, sending useful Horse Morse Code to us hopeful riders. I enjoyed reading this interesting post, Wolfie, and stopped by to say thank you for visiting my blog. You've got a handsome big-boned boy there.