Your Horse Didn't Read The Book

There's a downside to educating oneself as a rider.

It's when you expect your horse to have read the book, listened to the lecture, watched the video, or audited the clinic.

Guess what? They didn't.

Armed with a few new tricks to try out and a not-so-great attitude, I hopped on Dino for a dressage school yesterday, and promptly got in a fight with him about not leaning on my hands and carrying his own 800-lb self around.

Is this any different than the discussion we've been having for the past few weeks? Nope. Do horses build new muscle structures and way of going, and thus develop self-carriage, overnight? Nope. Especially for an older horse with a lot of "Nope Muscles" [Thanks for that clever term, Austen!] built up, this stuff doesn't come easily.

But as a result of the things I'd learned and the new ideas rolling around in my head, I had an outrageous expectation that Dino ought to have come round, gone on the bit, and pushed through from the second we started working yesterday.

And that, my friends, is an unfair and unrealistic expectation for my pony.

Dino did not, of course, perform to my crazy expectations, and so I got mad and picked a fight with him. It was not my proudest moment.

Eventually I stopped being a jerk, let the exercises and schooling figures do the work of shaping Dino's body, and we ended the ride with some pretty nice work at all three gaits and in both directions. The turning point in that ride, however, was when I realized that Dino didn't go to the clinic.

He didn't know the concepts I had learned about, didn't hear anything about how he should respond immediately to my aids, and wasn't informed that I was going to try a more lifting hand to get him rebalanced. He wasn't there. He didn't know. And it was unfair of me to expect him to be aware of these things when it's my job as a rider and trainer to tactfully explain new concepts to him.

So remember: your horse didn't read the book. It's your responsibility to tell him the story in a way he understands.


  1. THIS.
    Such a good reminder!

  2. Great post and great reminder! I love Denny Emerson's analogy of dressage in particular being like bodybuilding or weight lifting: we get sore, we are slow to change when it comes to our own bodies learning new ways to carry itself and grow stronger. We shouldn't expect horses to show progress inside of one session or even across several - change is slow. Well, good and correct change is slow!

  3. sigh..... yup. lots of yups here. ugh. i'll also add that it's our responsibility to recognize when they're really trying to understand, even tho we're jumbled confusing mess and they're not giving us what we want...

  4. Great reminder. I am guilty of picking a fight too, and it always makes me very upset when it happens. The good news? Each time I pick a fight with Simon, the period of time between the next fight gets MUCH longer. I learn... just slowly.

  5. I do this all the time! While I'm sitting at home thinking about our last ride and what changes I want to make... he's sitting in his pasture just being a horse and probably wondering when food is coming.

    Haha I love "nope muscles" too, I will totally be using that. Luckily TC doesn't have many of them, but Rico is basically made of nope muscles.

  6. What, I bought him hooked on phonics he better know how to read >:[

  7. Great advice! I have a tendency to pick fights with Moe, simply because I get this attitude of "GOOD GOD HORSE WE HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR 12 YEARS WHY DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TO BEND" and then I remember that Moe is not very smart to begin with, I never did a great job of continuing his training in the first place (instead choosing to focus on jumping all the things for fun!!), and he is 20 freaking years old. Then I feel bad and feed him cookies. :(

  8. What I love about you and your blog is how honest you are. You admit your errors, and own them. Better yet, you learn from them. And you have the courage to share them. You are an excellent horsewoman.

  9. Pig is also full of nope. Just straight chocked full of it. :) Remember, the other thing we learned this week was it is the riders responsibility to make sure the horse not only does what we ask, but understands. So hard...


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