I have been riding the Welsh-Arab mare Cider for a few years off and on. All this time she has been trying to get to her owner, Shannon, in the center of the ring whenever I tried riding her around the ring on loose reins (we call it her nose dive.) Since I had gotten lost in the glory of coordinating my aids to get the responses I want I mostly used this irritating habit as a wonderful chance to practice coordinating my aids properly. And I can get her to go around the ring on contact, and for a few strides at a time I can get her to go straight. BUT I was finally getting REAL tired of this habit and of my inability to correct it once and for all.
Lately I have been really concentrating on studying the Masters of Forward Seat riding, reading and rereading all my books. One of the basics of Forward Seat schooling is training for the horse to be STABILIZED on loose reins, keeping to the same gait, the same speed, and going in the same direction until told to do otherwise. Elementary riders are trained to ride on stabilized horses so that they can develop the security of their seats before they ever start riding on contact. When riding on a stabilized horse on loose reins elementary riders use PRIMITIVE aids to give signals and to correct the horse when necessary. These same primitive aids are used on the horse for the first few months of training, until the horse has muscled up enough to keep comfortable contact. Primitive aids are used from the loose rein, the rider moves the rein just enough to give the aid at the strength required, and then the rein's tension is released IMMEDIATELY. If the horse does not obey the same primitive aid is used again, often a little stronger.
Then, last week, it finally hit me. Cider has obviously never been trained to be stabilized on loose reins. Obviously every rider up to and including me had been trying to get her to willingly go around the ring at the fence by using ADVANCED aids. Well, advanced aids were obviously not doing the job in getting her to act like any decently trained Forward Seat horse. I decided that I would do what I should have done from the first time I got up on her back, go back to step one, riding on loose reins, and for me to use primitive aids to enforce obedience.
So last week I rode Cider on loose reins,and whenever she started diving to the the center of the ring I would use an outside opening rein, then immediately release. At first Cider was surprised, she was not used to mild jerks from the bit. But by the third time I used this aid she started to go straight on loose reins around the outside of the circle. Every time she started to move in out would go my outside hand, she would run into the bit, I would release, and she would reconsider. After a few more times she started giving me more and more strides, going STRAIGHT on loose reins right where I wanted her. FINALLY, after years of work she was staying where she should be without me constantly using the outside rein.
Today when I rode her the improvement continued. I actually started getting her to go down the long sides of the rather small ring on completely loose reins, without her trying to dive in. My main problems came when we turned into the small side of the ring, then she would try to dive in, I would use my outside leading rein, and she would reconsider. A few times we got into some quiet discussions when traveling the small sides of the ring, then she would straighten out and go forward willingly on a loose rein on the long sides of the ring. Shannon remarked on this GREAT improvement in Cider, as in she had never seen Cider keep to the outside on a loose rein before.
How could I have been so dumb not to do this before? All those half hours of frustration for both myself and Cider, never getting it all together because I was always fighting her diving in towards Shannon. Why was my head so swollen with visions of complete control that I completely neglected the very basis of training a reliable consistant horse? Why did I assume that riding well could overcome the lack of the lack of stabilization on loose reins? Dumb, dumb, me.
AND Cider did not really seem to mind too much. Everytime I asked for contact today she gave it to me with a completely relaxed tongue, at least until she tried to dive towards Shannon, then I would go back to the loose rein and my primitive aids. She never showed any resentment to me resuming contact, or any fear of the bit, and everything was SO MUCH BETTER. Cider strode forth confidently using her wonderful forward impulse to go only forward, in relaxation, ears up and MUCH more cheerful with the ride.
Next I am going to work on the next step of stabilization--keeping an even and constant speed on loose reins. Cider is an Energizer bunny and is always willing to go faster, expecially when the reins are loosened. Maybe the ring won't be so sloppy next week and I can start trotting on loose reins, always looking for willing stabilization and perfect obedience to my loose reins. I have learned my lesson, never assume a horse is trained, and ALWAYS start at the beginning, stabilizing the horse. Only when the horse is stabilized is he or she ready for more advanced riding, and then the more advanced aids should get results a lot more easily. At least this is the way it has always worked for me before.
Yup, I was dumb. I had neglected the basics of Forward Seat training. Now I think we will finally see some REAL progress in her training instead of me just showing off the coordination of my aids, which never got me a truly reliable horse.
Stabilization. I am a true believer now.
Have a great ride.