Since day one with Lulu I have maintained that she is a horse to be gently cajoled along. She needs to find everything easy to find it fun. The serious brain challenges are not for her, we will always be playing a delicate game of boosting confidence, trying to avoid her sticking up two fingers and trying to go back to bed while also making progress.
Somehow this is exactly what I have failed to do.
I’ve ridden young horses before and this year I also had my first experience of starting a horse from scratch. That horse, Suzy, is sharp as a knife, reactive and has a brain going about 400 miles an hour at any given second. She also has conformation that means she physically finds everything extremely easy. Suzy and Lulu are the proverbial chalk and cheese. Those horses I’ve ridden before needed occupying and often challenging. I’ve had it drummed into me that with fresh naughty horses you need to keep their brain active and focused on what you’re asking. Which means circles, changes of rein, and maaaany many transitions.
Poor dozy Lulu is not like those horses. She has been very well behaved but also quite backward in the school. She is reluctant to move forward and I’ve been getting increasingly worried that I will just let her learn that I will flap and kick, she can just ignore me, and eventually I’ll put her away and she can go back to bed. I hadn’t been doing anything I would consider complicated – just some big circles and transitions. Having had a little chat to the lovely Beth Hobbs (who has my mum’s horse on livery and is a general dressage goddess) I had a light bulb moment.
Here is my newly learned wisdom.
However much you think you’ve dumbed it down, dumb it down more.
Lulu doesn’t understand about going forward. She doesn’t understand about arenas or dressage or what kicking means. So she’s putting her hooves over her ears and going “LALALALALALALA” until she happens to do something that means I make a fuss of her and she gets to stop work. Beth told me to cut out the circles, and to ride my transitions in the same place.
That gives her steady little grey cells a chance to realise what happens when. To learn that she canters in a certain place, and to realise what it is that I do which instructs that to happen. I’ve had two little 15 minute schooling sessions practicing this way and she is already starting to bounce forward in trot and take me forward. She even tries to canter off! I’m SO proud of her progress so far and really hoping this is the start of her understanding some light schooling.
Out hacking Lulu is sensitive enough to my aids that she has already understood that if I shift my weight around and put a leg back she can leg yield from one side of the road to another. Will do a baby turn on the forehand, do a little rein back and even manage to open the odd gate. I have hope from this that she could yet be a reactive and responsive ride, I just have to avoid turning her into a dope!
So who’s dumber? Lulu for being a little bit slow to pick up basic dressage movements, or me for being daft enough to sort of assume that she would. I think we all know the answer to that one! I’m very relieved I talked about this with a good trainer. That conversation did also give me the confidence that I’m doing some things right – focusing on hacking, keeping schooling short and sweet, making a real effort to be clear with my aids and praising every little bit of progress.