"You prepare to position for the transition." Ray Hunt

Truer words have never been spoken.

It's kind of strange sometimes to think about my own past, horseman I've known, clinics I've participated in and watched. Ray Hunt was probably the most impressive. When I was in college, he was the "horse god". We all felt so privileged when he came to give us a free clinic. It was a packed house that evening. His books were required reading in our colt starting classes. Back then I didn't really understand everything he said. After riding for 20 years, I'm probably better equipped to understand his words but of course he's gone now. But his words remain...

Back then, those words mean setting a horse up so they could fall into whatever I would ask the horse to do. It was about opening and closing doors, making it easy for the horse to do the right thing. If I wanted the horse to make a left turn, I'd get him looking left and perhaps use that outside leg to close off that direction while leading the horse over to the left with the left rein. We threw in rewards via pressure releases. When the horse did the right thing, we released.

So in the 20 years since, what does it mean now? For the most part, setting a horse up so they could easily make the correct choices has remained the same for me. What I've added is not just the physical but the mental attention a horse has to have to succeed. As I look back, I realize now that ole Ray Hunt was doing that too. I just didn't realize it at the time. It's not that we didn't do things to desensitize fearful horses, get them accustomed to being handled. That was one of the first things we learned. A tense horse is not going to pay attention. It's more along the lines of a willingness to comply with my directions. That attention to me. It is what brought me down earlier this year when I broke my arm. I simply didn't pay attention to my own intuition that said "take this horse back to the roundpen and get her attention". I didn't have her prepared for that transition to riding in the arena.

Mental preparation is more than running a horse into the ground or desensitizing. This 3 year old OTTB who's background is somewhat sketchy is proof in point. Despite exercises in "join up" and daily grooming, she hasn't "connected" with me on a mental level. My AQHA mare will lift her head and look directly at me when I call her name. She seeks me out in the pasture when I come down (well unless it's breakfast or dinner time then she walks away from me.... LOL).

So this filly hasn't made that connection with me. It's odd, I think back to other horses I've started under saddle. Some of them flat out born broke while others you could tell just by looking in their eyes that getting on them wasn't going to be pleasant. These days I'm not the rider I was back then. Listening to my own intuition about a horse's mental preparation is even more important than it was when I was starting baby racehorses by myself.

I know we all think of transitions as changes within and between gaits. I think they transcend that single idea. A transition is probably more off any kind of change we ask of our horses. This 3 year old filly wasn't ready for that transition from roundpen to arena. She wasn't "with" me. Will she ever be truly "with" me? I dunno. I have started and ridden horses who were not truly "with" me without detriment to my poor bones. Horses are a lot like people, they are all different and come with different personalities. This filly isn't one of those "Oh Crap she means to do me in" horses. She's mostly wary of what I might ask of her. Only time will tell if she comes sound as to whether or not she'll be a person's horse or forever out of reach.

Positioning is certainly much the same as it was back then. Horses on their haunches will find it easier to spin ordo a canter pirouette than a horse loading up on the front end. One thing leads to another in my mind. If the horse isn't in the correct position, they'll have difficulty performing a manuever. This is certainly something my study of dressage has pointed out. Timing of the aids within a gait certainly makes it easier to accomplish a take for the horse.

On the flip side of the coin is mental positioning. I'm thinking these days it's that connection and willingness to cooperate with my directions. If the horse isn't "with" me mentally, I'm going to have more trouble positioning them for the next direction. This reminds me of an event I witnessed a few years ago when I was just getting back to riding after a nearly 10 year absence. A 7 year old mare was refusing to get in the trailer. This trainer was encouraging this horse to step up by first asking then using the whip with a plastic back to encourage. At one point I saw the horse put her feet in the trailer and nose to the corner window. He'd give her time to think about it before asking again. I remember thinking, she's got it now. She understands somewhat what he's asking. I even mentioned it to the trainer. His comment "She's got something" was rather noncommittal and somewhat nonbelieving of my comment. It wasn't long before she hopped up in the trailer.

Looking back, I think of that change as her way of mentally positioning and transitioning from a state of utter confusion and refusal to one of acceptance. She was looking fo the right thing to do and had at that point realized what the trainer wanted out of her. She was seeking the right thing to do rather than refusing to even consider it. I think back to all the times I've taught horses to walk through water or do anything that they are afraid of and realize that there is that mental positioning that takes place as well as the physical positioning needed to transition physically.

I know I've rambled on here and that perhaps not everyone will agree with my viewpoint so in the words of Puck:
"If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumbered here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream..."

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