Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Making Schooling Sessions More Productive

We've all been told to have a plan in mind for each time we take our horse to the arena for a schooling session. Personally, I've never been able to do that because every time I think about what I want from the horse that day and how I'm going to achieve it, its like he reads my mind and says "LOL! That's what you think..." and its always a horrid session from start to finish.

Whilst I'd been having some difficulties in training overall, I started to think about how I should approach my sessions on a daily basis to achieve more consistent success. What are just one or two things I can do with every horse that can help make each session productive?

Firstly I found that we can't tell the horse to feel like this or that on any particular day, we need to listen to how he tells us he's feeling and that will determine what kind of session it will be. Where I went wrong is where one day the horse would be fab, and I finish the session super happy and excited. The next day, I go out there and do exactly the same thing with them so I can achieve another good session. Seems logical, right? Wrong. A horse can wake up on the wrong side of his stable just as we can our bed so he may be feeling particularly uncooperative or distracted. He may be sore from working so hard the previous day so will feel stiff and needs to do a lot of stretching. He might not have gone to the field the day before so he will feel fiesty and spook a lot. We just don't know. And so we need to listen and adjust.

This horse Seb can feel awful in a test
if you push for too much. Aiming for no
mistakes is what gets this horse marks!
Secondly I've been told recently by my trainer Emile to ride for the horse we have, not the horse we want. Obviously in the cases of the talented young horse we can make them feel like that amazing Ferrari and push them further, but with our older or more ordinary horses, there is only so much they can give us. I have two older horses at PSG/Inter 1 level, and I so often make the mistake of thinking "oh they need to be more supple in the body, take longer strides, need more cadence..." etc. While it's good to aim higher, these horses are never going to feel like my ideal small tour horse and the more I try to change their way of going at this late stage, the further backwards I'm going to get. Emile has taught me to focus on just riding for points in the test. They can get no less than a 7 if they do the movement correctly and harmoniously so then I'll have a +70% test. 

It reminds me of a recent time I got over 68% in a PSG with Seb. I was extremely late to a competition after finding out my grandad had died just before we left the yard, so as well as only getting 10 mins to warm up I was also feeling pretty despondent. I just thought "well, not much I can do here, lets at least make it look pretty" and to be honest the test felt awful - he wasn't taking me forward enough and was slow to react to my leg, yet he did all the movements made no mistakes and it looked harmonious. Therefore, 68%. I wasn't complaining so much about how gluey he felt after I saw the score!

Julius, as an older horse, is very set in his way of going -
i.e not very supple! However working on engagement and the
uphill balance is productive training for him and allows
us to execute all the high-level movements.
Even yesterday I had a pretty unproductive session on Julius my other small tour horse, because I decided he needs to bend more through his body. Well, Julius manages to move sideways easily without putting much bend in and still gets a 7 or 8 in his half-passes, so he couldn't understand why I wanted such unnecessary suppleness. Sure I got him more supple, but he still does his movements the way he's always done them, and thats something I probably won't ever change, so it was pretty pointless really. What I should really concentrate on him is keeping him swinging over the back and engaged, because he has a tendency to lean on the hand and bounce his bum up. That is something I can work on to improve him. The bend through his body? Not as important. But for another horse, maybe very important. It's all about priorities!

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