Gosh time flies. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to know what to tell you about! We have the Performance Summit starting on Friday with an exciting program in store, and right now Walter Zettl is here so I’ve got lessons every day… and this time with two horses. No, not Allure… yet! I have the privilege of riding West Point, the magnificent chestnut Hannoverian that Lauren Barwick bought a couple of years ago when looking for her next superstar. He had some pretty big baggage from stressful training: he hated the dressage arena, would rear up and escape to the left when he felt worried, and he’d stick his tongue out when he felt pressure from the bit.
Over the past 18 months, Lauren, with Pat’s help, has been re-naturalizing him, helping him become more confident and filling in the missing parts of his foundation – his On Line, Liberty and Freestyle are awesome. He has come a long way and now he is able to go with Finesse in the Cradle bridle, but he still had trouble with the bits “legal” for dressage.
So, I asked if she would like me to try my Game of Contact approach and see if it would help… and guess what? It did! Since developing the concept, I’ve been hungrily testing my theories on as many horses and riders as possible to see if I could find a situation where it would not work and happily, it has not yet failed. So, I was keen to see if maybe West Point would be the one.
The first couple of sessions weren’t too difficult and good progress was made. And then we decided to tape one for a Mastery DVD and it was quite a difficult session for two reasons: the film crew made West Point nervous (especially the guy in the corner!) and there was a big storm going on and Pat and his apprentices came running for shelter! Lots of activity and commotion and a great opportunity to prove to him that he was safe with me no matter what… one of those “Oh Boy!” moments.
Since then, things have been going so well that I have even been able to ride him in lessons with Walter Zettl yesterday and today. This was about my 10thride on him.
When things get challenging it really tests your principles and ability to stay passively persistent in the proper position, not get frustrated, not get mad, not get impatient, not expect things to be better than they are, just be there for the horse when he makes a new decision. You have to be 100% present, in the moment, without judgment or the horse will feel it. You have to put the horse first.
Everything I’ve been trying to do with West Point is to off-set the horrible memories of his previous training that would come back when he felt that bit on his tongue. I do the exact opposite of what he might expect.
For example, no matter what he does, I tell him he’s right and I encourage it: You want to plunge your head down? You should do it! You want to pull to the side or put your head up? You should do it! You need to stop or slow down or speed up? You should do it! Everything is about zero brace.
Pretty soon, he started to believe that I was not going to give him anything to brace against, and he’s become increasingly more relaxed and connected with me.
So, I thought I would make “zero brace” the message of this blog. Can you get through a day with zero brace in your horse? Start noticing every time your horse braces, from the moment you see each other, to putting on the halter, to playing on the ground or riding, etc.
And how do you deal with the brace? Now that’s a good question. The only way a horse can brace against you is if you give him something to brace against. Start exploring it and you’re set to learn a lot, and not just about your horse.