When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone say, “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”
This now-archaic truism with its almost archaic noun still has value — especially if you include men and children. It’s okay to change your mind. And riders need to remember that.
It’s hard for riders to change their points of view and habits, in part because it takes so long to develop those habits, and so long to learn enough about horses to even have a point of view.
We seldom question the first things we learn about horses or equitation but we have yet to call those ideas our own. Later, we search out trainers and instructors, mentors, gurus, leaders and experts, and readily adopt their points of view, calling them our own. Eventually, the time comes to evaluate, with the courage to question and the wisdom to reassess our beliefs.
The thinking rider can — and should — challenge himself to welcoming new perspectives and new techniques. If you do, you’re among good company.
Philippe Karl, for instance. New copies of his book Long Reining: The Saumur Method are now being sold on Amazon for $413.22, and used copies are being offered from $125 to $900. Why such high prices? I have it on good authority that the reason is that Philippe Karl changed his mind about long reining. He won’t authorize a reprint of the book because he no longer believes in this method of training, despite the fact that he is an expert on it.
If you’ve read another Karl’s books, Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage, you’ll find out that he doesn’t believe in side reins, either. “Quelle horreur!” some might say. But it does make you think. As you should, so you can re-think, and if you like, change your mind, just like this contemporary master.
I have to say that I’ve changed my mind about side reins more than once. At this point, I haven’t used them in years and I don’t find them necessary. That doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t recommend their use to others, in certain circumstances. I do think that they can make training a green horse quicker and safer.
If work with side reins is in order, I recommend following the guidance in Sheila Inderwick’s book, Lungeing the Horse and Rider (1977). She recommends looser side reins for longer than most — as a way of encouraging the horse to seek the bit. This is in contrast to how we see side reins so often employed today — as a way of teaching the horse to travel in a different balance because the neck and head are restricted in movement.
Aside from side reins, what else have I changed my mind about?
Where do I begin?
Most recently, clicker training (which inspired this little fairy tale), stiff dressage boots, close contact dressage saddles (back and forth and back again on this one) and full-seat breeches. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll even want bling. I abhor it on boots but I have to admit that a client’s black leather and crystal browband looks pretty spectacular on her black and white Tobiano, so never say never.
Never say never is a a good principle to follow around horses. Because what we believe one day may be something we find out not to be true the next day. An endless path of discovery is part of the joy of being around horses. They have so much to teach us, and we’re never finished learning.
That’s why it’s important to worry less about being wrong or being unsure or the myriad of ways you might not have done enough or weren’t good enough for your horses. As competitors, we learn good sportsmanship, and part of that sportsmanship is remaining positive even in defeat.
At the end of the day, whether we win or lose, whether we succeed in our choices or discover that they were the wrong ones, striving to be our best has to be good enough. When we feel we’ve made a mistake (which is bound to happen if we change our minds), we need to be as gracious to ourselves as we are to those who beat us in competition.
In the course of learning, we will make mistakes. Some of those we’ll recognize, and change our minds. Some we won’t recognize at all. And some things we call mistakes will turn out not to have been mistakes at all.
It’s important for riders and trainers to keep an open mind, for our own development and the development of our horses. That’s why it’s helpful to go to clinics, to read (not just magazines and blogs and online forums, but books…and not just new books, but old), to talk with other riders and trainers, and to be willing to change our minds.
Have you changed your mind about something you used to believe was the absolute truth with horses? What have you re-thought or revisited in your own equine journey?
I have the Saumur long reining book…I wonder what he changed his mind about? I’ve read it several times and while I’m no where near the upper level stuff, my horse and I are pretty proficient with the long reins. (No side reins, ever!)
I’ve changed my mind about quite a few things over the years, but most just because of experience and exposure to a better way. I used to believe in draw reins and side reins, now they have no use to me at all because there is a better way. I was once adamant that horses should be inside in all foul weather. Now, I give them the option (run-in sheds accessible 24/7) and funny thing, they prefer to be OUT! My horses have never been happier, healthier and more filthy. 🙂
Thanks Jenn (and you really made me laugh)!
I can’t be sure why Philippe Karl changed his mind about long reining and whether he has abandoned it himself or whether he’s abandoned recommending it as a training method, or altered his technique since the book was published. It would be nice to ask him (and I will if I manage to audit one of his clinics). It’s interesting that in his first DVD in the Classical Dressage series, he demonstrates lunging in his own fashion, and explains why he lunges the way he does.
I’m always changing my mind about everything! I feel as if I’m a novice when it comes to horses.. and the more I learn, the more convinced I am that I’m a novice! (I suppose I’m not changing my mind about that one thing, after all!)
I use side reins in specific situations. When Tucson wants to become explosive on the longe line, I feel they are a useful aid to keep him from scaring the locals at shows. I would not even think of using them on Bella, though, who will use them to hold up her head for her as she leans. Instead I use a cavesson and control her whole body, getting her softer and carrying more nicely without a longe line. I suspect my new youngster will get some time with side reins eventually before she is ridden just so she gets used to that feeling – though I’d like to long (and short) rein her more.
I thought Tucson and I had gotten past his tendency to suck back behind the leg and hold in tension instead of going forward and letting energy out. Not so much…
I thought I could manage with Tucson since my back injury since he was such a saint for the first 5 months of recovery, holding his energy in and behaving for me. Well… he changed my mind on that this weekend! He has kept himself fit even while I’ve been stuck flat out unable to do anything, and bottling up all that energy left him ready to absolutely lose his mind. This weekend he took off with me bucking in a way he never has before, and was very soft-eyed and happy acting once it was over and I was back on him, as he needed that energy release after holding back so much. So, he’s scheduled to go to a trainer for two months. Someone taller, stronger, but kind to his horses and who is notable for how very happy each horse he is on appears. Tucson needs to be *worked* and I’m not yet recovered enough from my injury to be the one to do that and be the rider he needs just yet, so I’ll ride Bella as much as I can and add in gym work, trying to regain my core strength and ability while Tucson gets what he needs to feel better mentally/emotionally, too. Since he’s ready for them and he’s going to a trainer who can put them on, I suspect a side effect is he’ll come back with changes as well. More important, though, is of course the hope he’ll learn more about how to channel his energy in a non-explosive manner.
These horses, always teaching us something and making us change our minds. 🙂
(Oh, and I’m curious your opinions on things where you didn’t share your current opinion on them! I currently think I would like a close contact saddle… but haven’t tried one, so I don’t know for sure.)
Hi Net – Thanks for chiming in (it is sleigh bell time). It’s always great to hear what you have to say.
I’m glad to hear that you’re all right after Tuscon’s explosion. It sounds like you’ve found a great trainer who can do what you can’t do right now. Hopefully, your wonderful horse will come back even more wonderful, and your healing will progress. I hope we get the update!
In answer to your curiosity, I’ll elaborate on my short list of recent mind-changers.
1. Clicker training (CT). Was originally curious, then dismissive, now a fan.
2. Stiff dressage boots. I preferred soft boots until I started doing more tapping and less squeezing with my calves. Then I preferred stiff boots, for many years. I’m now preferring soft boots again — in part, I think because of increasing stiffness in my right ankle after several sprains. My ankles are more flexible in more flexible boots and I find that helps my position.
3. Close contact dressage saddles. I started out with an old Butet — calfskin monoflap and as close contact as you can get. Wider twist. I loved the fact that I could move around easily in the saddle and feel my horse’s ribs and back. I tried a Hennig on my horse and he fell in love with it before I did. I loved the narrow twist and felt it helped my position (notice the theme here?). A new horse wanted a new saddle, and I found myself in a close contact saddle again, and loving the feel.
4. Full seat breeches. I always wore knee patch (even fabric) breeches because I liked to be able to move around in the saddle without any stickiness. After breaking my back, I appreciate a little bit of stickiness, and like the feeling of security it gives me.
If you’re thinking you might like a closer contact saddle, I encourage you to try some. I’m not sure what you’re riding in now, but it’s a very different feel, for both horse and rider. I think a lot of horses like a more minimal saddle, both because of the weight and because of the clearness with which the aids can be transmitted (provided your position permits that clarity of aids).
I would love to try clicker training with someone very good at it. Especially for Bella the food-motivated Friesian cross, I think it would be fabulous – but could easily veer into scary if I were to get my technique wrong. She learned carrot stretches in one go, and learned to back from us when feeding because of the reward of food. She is very happy to do anything resulting in food!
I had a close contact saddle in breed showing/hunters, and LOVED it. Jumping 4′ in a postage stamp was my idea of the right kind of saddle! I don’t know if riding Tucson’s gaits (and collected canter which feels as if it will rip my abs out of my body) in a close contact is the best idea. He’s outgrown multiple saddles, but lost topline while I wasn’t working him much, so right now a new saddle isn’t as urgent. My goal was to get him a new saddle with adjustment capability this year if we get his topline built back up to where it was. I am currently riding in an OLD Stubben Tristan (not the close contact special) which I love for its balance and ease of hitting the “sweet spot” in balance on Tucson. I don’t use the blocks much at all I don’t think, and don’t really find they do much for me. They’re not in my way, either, though, so that’s a plus. Overall my main criteria is that it fits us both well, and luckily Tucson has a fairly standard shaped back even if it keeps getting wider. 🙂
Isn’t your old Stubben Tristan close contact? In terms of riding big gaits, it’s all about your core strength and balance, and having independent aids, as you know. Once you have all that, you can ride well in any saddle that fits you and your horse.
Depending on where we are in our riding, our chosen discipline(s) and our horses’ needs, different saddles may be the right choice at different times.
My problem with overly constructed saddles is that they can prevent riders from developing a good seat. They can prevent even good riders from effectively using their seats, if the saddle is too small, the seat too deep, and the blocks restrictive.
With a very deep seated saddle, it can be difficult to balance the needs of horse and rider. The saddle has to allow the rider enough room to move (big blocks and a long femur complicate the matter), but the answer isn’t necessarily to buy a saddle with a bigger seat, as too large a saddle may sit too far back on the horse for his health or comfort.
It’s great to hear that you don’t use your blocks to keep you in place in the saddle. When I’m riding in a dressage saddle with blocks, I don’t “use” them either, but they function like lines in the road — as guidance. Of course, I’m petite, so I can easily do this in most saddles where a taller or larger rider might not.
I think Tristen Specials are close contact, and just Tristens aren’t. Mine is definitely not close contact, but I still love it for the balance and how it fits Tucson. I prefer my Ovation with almost jumping saddle-type slight knee rolls rather than blocks on Bella who isn’t as uphill in build. Tucson outgrew that saddle about a year after I got him, and I suspect the Stubben won’t work for him at all by the middle of this year.
I’m only 5’1″, and I think that’s why I couldn’t even possibly use the blocks on my Stubben. It’s larger to fit my butt, which means the flaps are larger than ideal for me. He’s sensitive enough that’s not a big issue, but it would be nice to get a saddle with shorter flaps… I definitely have to have flaps which are straighter for a dressage saddle to work well for me – not a long enough femur for many despite the fact I’m still working on flexibility through my hip flexors! Now a friend’s smaller Wintec Isabell was terrible for me – forced my legs into a position my hip flexors weren’t ready for and didn’t allow me to even USE my seat the way it locked it in place. It killed my back, too, and I should have asked to ride in her jumping saddle.
Do you have any kind of fitness plans/opinions? Since I’m sending Tucson to get worked by someone who isn’t trying to regain fitness and can therefore insist on forward and in front of the leg right away and at all times, I need to get fit again on my own. An hour a day of sitting trot on Bella wouldn’t be enough fitness for 5 minutes of sitting trot on Tucson, never mind his collected canter, so there will most definitely be gym time added in! I definitely plan on pilates and yoga, but previously found I couldn’t come up with exercises in the gym to use my abs enough to make them tired compared to riding Tucson’s gaits.
Hi Net – Of course, I have opinions on fitness plans! What did you think?!
I’ve done yoga, pilates, weight training, what I think of as calisthenics (how old fashioned, I know), aerobics, swimming. I don’t run and don’t participate in group sports. Aside from yoga, my farm is my gym.
My top workouts for riders are swimming and yoga.
I love swimming for it’s overall conditioning, its low impact, how it lengthens the muscles and works the torso, and how it helps with symmetrical development. I don’t have easy access to a pool or the time to swim these days, but when I was swimming a mile a day, I may have been in the best shape I’ve ever been in. It’s the safest and most complete exercise for anyone with a back injury, I believe (but since I can’t recommend any exercises for anyone with an injury, it’s best to talk to your doctor, who knows you better than I do).
I love yoga and I believe it’s the best practice for developing core strength and balance, which is what I think is most important for riding well. If you haven’t read my post “Core,” I talk more about the topic there, and why I don’t focus on abs (certainly not six pack abs) but rather on the true core — the iliopsoas — if you want to ride the big movers. The focus on the iliopsoas rather than the abdominals is the reasons I’m less enthusiastic about Pilates than I am about yoga.
I feel like the older I get, the dumber I get (which I think is plausible, especially this year, 2012- the year of mistakes). The more I learn the more I find I don’t know. I used to think of myself as an intermediate rider, now as I get further into dressage I characterize myself as beginner-intermediate because I’ve had to change so many things about how I ride.
Oh well, it’s all in the journey and not the destination, right?
I believe it was in one of Vladimir Littauer’s books (Commonsense Horsemsanship?) that there is a fascinating chart for characterizing riders as beginner, intermediate and advanced. I should search it out again and blog about it, as I remember it being interesting…with standards above what we normally use today. Perhaps I don’t remember correctly?
I think whenever we begin a new discipline or take on a green horse or a remedial horse, we discover that our riding skills are not as strong as we thought they were! You’re in good company, Shannon. We’ve all had to reassess our riding skills somewhere along the way.
And yes, definitely, it’s all about the journey!
Calm, Forward, Straight said:
Maybe the trick is remaining open always.
What works today, with a certain horse, or in a certain situation will very likely change. This frame of mind requires that you don’t go on autopilot… that you stay in the moment.
Clicker training – love, love, love. (love the fairy tale too Katie, don’t know how I missed that post!)
Side reins – very wary of them. Seems like they could easily do more harm than good.
Stiff boots – stability, soft boots – flexible ankles as you mentioned. My tall boots are stiff and my paddock boots soft. Wearing the paddock boots exclusively these days.
Full seats – I thought I liked the stickiness of my full leather seats, but now am always wearing my plain cotton breeches. My position is better and easier to adjust when I can move.
Excellent thoughts on the topic (and thanks for the compliment on my fairy tale…how I loved telling that story). Thanks for sharing!
A belated thought for you, Net (and whoever else may be reading this and looking for the same kind of advice) — great exercise for riding the big movers is lunge lessons (on a bigger mover!).
When you take away reins and stirrups, you see that it really is your ability to absorb the movement in your body rather than brace against it (one reason why the focus on super-strong abs is counterproductive) and to balance, which allows you to direct the horse’s movement and stay with it.