Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Meltdown and The Recovery

Well, since the last post, Louie and I had 2 terrible rides; Louie was very frustrated/anxious, and refused to take bit contact, sucked back behind the bit and refused to work in a relaxed state of mind and body.  I think Louie was suffering from a few different things at once- boredom, frustration, and confusion.  That's not a very good combination, but I think that I've figured out some answers to why he is feeling this way. 

1.  We have been focusing so hard on our dressage lessons and trying to perfect everything that we haven't been changing up the routine like usual, and have been really working on the same things most every time I'm out there over the past 2 months.  I haven't driven him since November because the "scary" stuff in the indoor is still making him anxious, and I don't want to have an accident with the cart due to him spooking.  But, it really is bad of me to have not changed it up at all, I at least need to long line him once or twice a week so he doesn't become dressage-sour. 

2.  He thinks Mom's confused.  I keep changing the way in which I ask him for the same maneuvers because I find out in my lesson that I had been doing it incorrectly between lessons.  Then I change the cues, and now we've gone through several sets of cues for the same end result and Louie is a little confused as to what I want, and naturally, frustrated. 

I've done some major soul searching as I gave Louie a few days off to forgive me and clear his head, and I think I've found some answers.  I thought about all together giving up and quitting dressage lessons.  But instead, I did a lot of reading, asking, and research and I think I have found some information that is helping me to obtain the information that I need.  While Marlene is an excellent instructor in many ways, I have a hard time understanding exactly which aids and cues I'm supposed to use, and when/how to achieve what I want.  I think part of this is because Louie's not trained in dressage already so I'm teaching him as we go, and I think part of it is the fact that I am somewhat trained in riding in general, good or bad, and I don't necessarily apply the cues in the purest sense as I subconsciously use other aids to get what I want the way I've done for years. 

I started reading the book "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift.  This is a book that I think many riders from many different disciplines own and enjoy.  While reading it, I really started to understand the aids and cues that I need to use.  It is finally occurring to me that I don't necessarily use my legs to control Louie's front legs, I can use my hands to control those legs, and I should use my legs to control Louie's hind legs.  For instance, in a half-pass toward the rail, I would use one leg at the girth and the other with very slight contact behind the girth.  I use an intermittent pressure with the girth leg (inside leg), pushing him into my outside hand, and the outside leg pushing us forward.  The inside rein is used basically to take an ever so slight bend.  In the past, I would get all bent out of shape because Louie's front end would drift to the outside sooner than his hind end, and I had no idea what I should use to stop it, as my outside leg is positioned behind the girth, where it can't control the shoulder.  Well it dawned on me while reading this book- I use my outside hand to control the movement of the outside shoulder.  To prevent it from popping out or moving too quickly, I can tighten the pressure there.  Amazingly enough, if I put too much pressure on the outside rein and inside leg, Louie actually almost turns his haunches to the rail.  Crazy how this works, it's really the opposite of what you learn in most other disciplines.  And for the seat- no more focusing on weight on one side vs the other, I'm going to try to keep it even on both seat bones, and using a good following seat, following each stride, and when I want Louie to move laterally, taking a longer following motion, to shift my center slightly laterally so that Louie will follow. 

We had a "recovery ride" on Monday to just relax and get back into the gears of walk-trot in a straight line with Louie's nose in the air. 

I guess the recovery ride helped because today during my lesson, while Marlene was prepared to see a meltdown, she saw the same old same old, relaxed and quiet Louie as she ever sees.  He made such a liar of me.  Well, we had a nice lesson and worked more on our shoulder in and leg yielding, which went great.  Then after the lesson since it was not even 10 degrees outside and we had been basically walking the whole time, I decided to do a little trotting/faster paced work for a few minutes to warm up before I got off and my frozen icicle feet shattered when they hit the ground.  We trotted for a bit, then worked on our shoulder in again, but this time, Louie got frustrated and ducked back behind the bit again.  I wonder why he did this?  I think I became less relaxed when Marlene left, and I was pushing him harder when it was just me.  Perhaps this is maybe part of what is causing the frustration? 

So I need to do a few things to get out of this rut.  We've got a month until our next lesson.  So in that time, I plan to work more on long lining between rides, and varying our routine, hopefully some ground poles, caveletti, etc.  Then when I do ride and work on dressage, I'm going to bring my "Centered Riding" book with me, and re-read a section during my ride so that I can stay in a clearer, calmer state of mind while working on these new techniques.  And I'll try not to over do them either.  Well, that's a lot to work on, or, I guess a lot to not work on sort-of.  But for sure a lot to think about over the next few weeks.


  1. Hi Leah,

    Hang in there. You are a good rider and Louie is a good horse. You will get anywhere you want to go, even if there are a few learning opportunities in between, which are not anywhere (for you or Louie) as bad as you think.

  2. Thanks Henry. I do have pretty high expectations, so I get a little frustrated when things don't go as I envision. I know it will get better, all throughout our training we've had ups and downs, and we always bounce back from the downs. Jordan rode Louie a little bit last night and it was great to watch somebody else work him, shows me that we've made progress, and also gives some more ideas and another brain to help outsmart Mr. Lou Smarty Pants. :)