H&H’s dressage columnist shares his philosophies surrounding training and starting his young horses
Having no shows over the past few months has taken some pressure off and allowed me to discover a new philosophy in training. Putting competition dates in the diary creates a deadline, and with it an element of subconscious stress, and many of us find that we want to practise all the time.
But I have found that when it comes to teaching new things, horses don’t always have to actually achieve the task in hand to make progress – they can benefit by simply giving something a go.
Previously, I would be reluctant to end a training session until a horse has at least understood a certain concept, for example, flying changes, and made some concrete progress.
More recently, I have realised that if I try a flying change in training and nothing happens, even if I leave it and do something else for the remainder of the session, the next time I come back to changes with that horse, they have a greater understanding of what I am asking.
It was actually working out myself in the gym that helped me understand this principle. My wife Maya does CrossFit, and was doing a set of “kipping” pull-ups, where you use your own momentum to create speed in the movement.
I thought it looked quite easy, and gave it a go, but ended up just swinging around a lot on the bar, probably looking like I was having some sort of spasm. I was determined to crack it, and spent a long time that night trying, eventually making myself quite sore but not achieving much.
But when I came back to it a couple of days later, straight away I had a better concept of what I needed to do; I improved right from the beginning of the second session, because my body and mind had had time to process what I had spent so long trying to learn the first time.
It’s the same with horses – they need time to process the concept of something new or challenging, and pushing too much in the first session simply creates tension, which actually blocks them from being able to achieve it.
How many times have we given a horse time off for whatever reason, and when we get back on, found they are suddenly much better at something with which they were previously struggling?
It’s so important not to be too deadline-focused when training, but to give the horse time to process what it is that you are asking of them.
We have also established a slightly different system for backing our youngsters. We spend more time working with them on the ground, and backing them in the stable, where they are more relaxed compared with being taken to the indoor school away from all their friends.
We also start off without a saddle – very often when being backed, the horse ends up reacting to both the rider and the tack, and developing problems with the saddle. By getting them used to the two separately we are encountering fewer issues with horses being cold-backed.
This method also means less lungeing during the early stages – lungeing has its place in training but it is not always great for the very young horses to spend lots of time on a circle.
I am certainly finding that being patient in the first instance creates a route to more success down the line.
Up and coming
When it comes to the older horses, I have three coming through the ranks that I’m really excited about, including Dante VX, a seven-year old by Dante Weltino who has a lot of talent for the grand prix work. We’re working on cracking his passage at the moment, but when he gets that he will go into a whole other gear; he has a super natural mechanic in all three paces, and amazing talent for piaffe.
Then there’s Distinction MSJ, a Dimaggio seven-year-old who’s approaching prix st georges level, and a Fidertanz eight-year-old called Figlio. He used to be quite naughty and was a bit of a project, but is coming along really well now.
I also have 10-year-old Daltrey, who is ready to go grand prix. He is a lovely guy – maybe not a horse who will go on to win medals, but a super character. I can’t wait for those others to come up the levels – they have the calibre to get to the very top.
Ref Horse & Hound; 9 July 2020
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