Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Barbie Don't Bend

Even if our mothers never understood, we all know why our Barbies lay in a sad pile, rigid limbs snarled together, forgotten in the corner of our room. Their blank blue eyes stared out from dirt smudged faces, doomed to an eternity of bad hair days.

We know why the only attention our Barbies ever got was from a curious G.I. Joe, puppeteered by our creepy younger brother.

It's because Barbie didn't bend. She refused to ride our trusty Breyers. So poor Barbie got kicked to the curb. Mattel could have cornered the mini horsaii market if only Barbie knew how to open her hip bones and bend her knees. I guess Ol' Joe would have been pretty happy too. Oh well, here's to lost opportunity.

Blues n' Jazz has been patiently waiting for some shoulder input from me for about a thousand years. So I'll leave off on unbendable Barbie and move on to unbendable horses.

I'm big on shoulders. My cowhorses need to stay upright through their maneuvers, at the same time remaining loose and ready to change direction at a moment's notice. If my horse is heavy on the front end or doesn't follow her nose with her shoulders we aren't going to get the job done.

As you guys know, I have to develop self carriage in my horse as soon as possible. This creates a different way of going and direction than say, the dressage guys, because I don't support the shoulders with my rein or leg unless I'm correcting her. I want my horse to try to avoid (not by being afraid!) me bringing in a supportive rein.

Blues N Jazz talks about her horse taking her shoulder out of the circle and over bending her neck into the circle. It could be vice versa, but it doesn't really matter, because I'll cover both issues.

This problem starts when a horse doesn't follow her nose with her feet. Instinctively we pull harder in the direction we want the horse to go. With a young horse, who hasn't developed a lot of feel for your legs, this gets even bigger.
What happens when we pull harder is the nose flops to our knee and the horse realizes she doesn't have to go the direction we're pulling. Oops.

This is why I don't do two fairly standard western exercises.

The first is flexing the nose from side to side, bending the head and neck to my knee, without getting movement from the feet. My concept in flexibility comes from the relation between my horse and my hands, my legs and her body, creating motion. Not a floppy neck.

I teach my horses to follow my hand with their feet. When I take my hand to the right I want my horse to move to the right.
So with a baby I take her nose to the right and wait. When she takes a step toward my hand I release. Nothing else gets a release.
She has to turn her nose to the right with my hand and step with her right (inside foot) before I release. This gets my youngsters following their nose with the correct shoulder.

The second western standard that I skip is the one rein stop. I don't want to teach my horse to hang on my hand, sink her weight onto the front and stop. It goes against my concept of moving with my hand.

When my horse knows to follow my hand with her nose, then steps with the inside foot toward my rein hand, I am well on my way to instilling the desire to line up under me. In order to get a release from my pull she needs to get herself straight. This helps her understand she needs to keep her shoulders lined up.

So keeping my goals in mind, here's a few exercises to encourage a rotten ducking, diving mess.

If I am loping a circle I want my horse to just circle. I don't want to hold her up, fix her with my legs, remind her where to go, nothing. (Same for trotting or walking)
In order to get my horse to want the same thing I have to make my interference unwelcome.

Bear in mind a horse can run a perfect circle whenever they want. In the wild they travel in circles. In play they run beautiful circles. So in my mind, if I effectively stay out of their way, they should be able to run those perfect circles all day without my help. Know what? They can.

I'm going to start my circle by standing in the middle of the pen. I'll walk straight ahead two or three steps, then lope depart straight toward the fence. I'm going to get my lead first before I start to shape my circle. I don't want my horse to ever lean into her lead.

I'll start to shape my circle by looking in the direction I want to go, adding pressure with my outside leg first, then guiding with my reins. My weight stays balanced in the middle, with about five more pounds of pressure in my outside pocket than my inside. My inside leg is relaxed and slightly off my horse.

With a snaffle bitter my left and right hand are even. My horse is evenly spaced between my reins, with guiding pressure from my inside rein.

With a horse in a bridle I don't let my hand go past my horses inside ear. If she needs more than that my legs come into play.

Now we're circling, nice and pretty, right? Well, only if she's not floating out or diving in.

It's extremely important for me to keep looking in the direction we need to be going. I look about ten feet in front of my horse's desired path.

If my horse wants to dive in, no matter what, I wait until she really commits to her dive. I want her to clearly understand why I'm correcting her. Then I'll do one of two things.

If she's still learning and we have to clear up a misunderstanding then I will wait until she dives in, take hold and drive her across the middle of the circle. While I'm intersecting the circle I'll drive her forward and straight. My hands are rigid and even, my legs are demanding she straighten out and go forward. My outside hand pulls back toward my hip to straighten her. When we hit the other side of the circle I sharply put her back on it and then relax all my cues, sit back and wait for her to do it again.

What you're doing here is taking control of her direction, straightening her up, sending her forward and giving her the opportunity to find and maintain her circle.

If she's past baby, but still learning, I'll wait until she dives, stop and spin (this doesn't need to be a pretty spin, just hoist her around) her two or three times to the inside of her circle, put her back on the circle and try again on a relaxed rein.

This is what I do with the kidlets. I may have to do this a hundred gazillion times, but I don't care. I stop for the day after she carries herself for one full circle each way.

When I have an older, seasoned butthead I'm a little more aggressive.

I let him fall in and pull him into a spin to the outside of my circle. I don't warn him, say whoa, nothing, just haul his hiney around several times. Then I boot him back on his lead and send him out again. When he calms down (he'll be mad) relax your cues and offer to let him lope his circle like a nice boy.
Sometimes I spin him around to the outside several times, then boot him across the circle, then let him pick up the circle on the other side before I relax. Depends on how cranky he's making me.

If my horse floats out of the circle, with her head flopped in, I immediately make my hands rigid, pull my outside rein to my outside hip bone and direct her across the circle. I will kick her hip out (using my inside leg) and then drive her forward pretty hard with both legs until she's straight between my reins and legs again. I'll let her back on the circle and relax.

I work large circles when I have these issues, the smaller the circle the easier it is to get out of alignment.

If my horse isn't straight between my hands and legs by the time I hit my circle again I'll keep going, increasing my drive until she's straight. Then I turn around with energy and hustle her back to my circle path, intersect my circle again and pick up the other side.

1.The only place my horse gets relaxed hands and seat is when she is travelling around our circle.
2. I'm going to stay relaxed and let my horse be two or three strides into her error before I grab hold and start to hustle her.
3.When I decide to hustle, that's where we'll go until she's in the correct place doing the right thing. Period.
4. There isn't an almost. Don't cheat and help with your reins and legs, that's where all this leany junk started. Be clear.


  1. Barbie who?? HAHA

    Blogger giving you trouble again??

  2. I'm a doofus sometimes. This is what happens when I'm sneaking writing to you guys from the office.....

  3. THANK YOU THANK YOU~ I will try these techniques next time I ride (if it ever warms up to anything above -10!!). I've been waiting and waiting and was so glad to see this today! My goal is to do a beginner A class this year, but I cant do that till we can circle! lol. Also, without control of her shoulders, the cows got away from us in sorting...grrrrrrr. THANK YOU SO MUCH MUGWUMP! I could jump for joy....hehe

  4. Thank you. I hate the leaning. I'll post back on how this works for us.

  5. just wanted to add- I printed out your post and it was NINE pages long!

  6. Yeah, I'm pretty chatty sometimes.

  7. Thanks for the great post. I want to try this with my big mare who is really bad about leaning into the circle and I struggle a lot with her. We finally got Forward Motion and not dragging our little behind around without bucking when I get after her. So now I have something more to progress on. Good trick to add to the bag.

    Question, I have a super nice heading horse here that belongs to a friend. He is teaching me to rope so he left his horse with me instead of hauling him to my arena every week. BTW, I know nothing of roping, cows, the whole schabang, hence lessons. Anyway, he uses a tiedown on his horse when he rides him. I have ridden the horse without the tiedownfor some open reining stuff at local shows and he is extremely heavy on the front and stiff, I have done bending, leg yielding, worked on softness, on rounding out (he hollows out really bad) and he is slowly getting more supple. His stops are coming along really nice with just sinking my weight into the seat at the jog. Still working on it at the lope. I dread the thought of the tie down going back on him, I feel he has learned to brace against it. This horse has the potential to be a fantastic versatility horse in my opinion. I guess my question is can he still be a heading horse without the tiedown? I mean, is it a necesary piece of equipment for events? Sorry it took me so long to get to the question.

  8. I about burst out loud laughing at "Barbie don't bend". Remember when the Barbies came out with the flexible legs/arms? My mom was sure that would make me love Barbie. Her legs bent but they only bent at the knee and they had this rubbery stuff on them. I must have been 10 or 11 by now and was still not interested in Barbie or anything else that was girly. My mom bought me one cuz she just knew this was going to be what brought me around to playing with dolls. I am sure it occured to her that Barbie could now "ride". But her legs were so rubbery you couldn't put pants on her, so what good was she? My best friend and I dissected her legs to see what made them bend. We were sure that with the right adjustment she might be able to ride. When we realized we were in over our heads, we tried to stitch/glue the rubbery stuff back on before we got caught destroying her. We ended up hiding her and vowing never to tell that we destroyed flexible Barbie. :)

  9. Yeah, and she was too tall for the Breyers too!! Skipper worked better. I think I still have mine, in her custom made "deerskin" tunic and fringed breeches (I was obsessed with all things Native American). I spent many a day playing with my plastic horses aaah, memories. (heck I STILL play with plastic horses, see...

    Bored and want a laugh? Check out

  10. Sky Bar arms-WHOA! Does your friend know what you're doing to his super nice heading horse? Rope horses use the tie down as a tool, it is NOT a torture device, it actually helps the horses.
    Laura Crum and I have been discussing this very thing, give us a day or two and we'll post on it.
    Make sure your friend is OK with bending and flexing his horse. Ropers generally don't want too much flex in their horse.....More later

  11. Interesting. Your explanations are always good - I can feel what it would feel like to sit on the horse doing that. As a dressage person I have to object to this though:

    You said: "I have to develop self carriage in my horse as soon as possible. This creates a different way of going and direction than say, the dressage guys, because I don't support the shoulders with my rein or leg unless I'm correcting her."

    Self carriage is very important in dressage too, and no supporting is suppposed to be going on. Of course it often is (I do it all too often...), but that's not correct. There's supposed to be more contact than with cow horses (if I have it right, remember I have never actually seen a cowhorse ;), but it's just contact - light contact - not supporting. You won't get high marks if you have to carry your horse through the test.

    Then on the other hand, dressage has movements in which the horse isn't supposed to follow his nose. Such as shoulder in for example: walking or trotting on three tracks so that inside front is on it's own, outside front and inside hind on another and outside hind on yet another track. If we're going right, the horse is bended to the left like a banana. So not looking where we're going at all.

    It's very interesting to read about your solutions. Crookedness is a problem no matter the discipline, but the solutions depend on what's the desired end result. I would use shouder in to straighten a horse for example. The theory I was taught is that a) shoulder in is a good way to get them to step better under themselves (especially with the inside hind which is the most important one), and b) it is good for making the horses more supple as it streches the outside. Crookedness is the result of something not giving like it should and supporting like it should, so flexing + more stepping under -> more self carriage, should fix it. This seems to be a good theory, it usually works. Once a horse is able to do a correct shoulder in both ways, he's also able to do a perfectly straight line. Or a perfectly round circle for that matter. On a circle, I think that falling in means inside hind is not doing it's work -> I make him circle in a shoulder in until that hind leg is stepping under as it should. And falling out means that outside hind is lazy, so I counterbend - shoulder in on a circle but the banana the horse is forming faces out until the outside hind comes under and he gets to line up to the circle again as a reward. When cantering you can't bend as much as in trot or the poor horse will get his legs crossed, but the same principle still applies.

    I need to think about this, your method sounds very efficient! Maybe the main difference behind all this could be that a dressage horse doesn't have as much freedom to balance with his head? Do reiners do shoulder in or something like it? They have a similar object to keep the horse's head and neck in position although it's a different one.

    Or it could be that a dressage horse needs to learn to control his feet independently. I mean, I think that horses do not naturally have a very sophisticated sense of their bodies. When they want to do something, they just do it and don't think about which muscles they used. Actually humans don't either, that's why it's so difficult to correct faults in e.g. your seat when you don't really know what's wrong and why. Pilates has helped me a lot with this, I should take more lessons. Someday... Anyway, I believe that dressage is like pilates for horses - the object is to get them to be balanced and flexible and have strong internal muscles AND be more aware of all of this. That's why it's useful to correct one leg at a time (like with the help of the shoulder in) - a smart horse will go "aha!" and eventually realize the connection between his bodyparts. That's basicly what they do in the Spanish Riding School too when teaching stallions tied to two poles - they tap one leg with the whip and slowly get them to understand how each leg moves independently and what happens when it does. The end result is a horse who is very aware of his legs. The precision of a good dressage test is not just the horse doing everything the rider asks, it's also the horse placing every feet just so on his own.

    Ok, end of rambling... Did that make any sense?

  12. Sorry for the long comment. *sheepish* I said I was going to think about this, and then I did, wrote most of it down too ;)

  13. HAHAHA!!! The Barbie thing is SOOO true. It sure did bring back some memories.

  14. My trainer wants to flex my greenie's neck so bad, but I keep telling her please don't, at least not with reins or leads. I can't think of a time when I would want my horse to stand there with her head bent and not move, not follow her feet.

  15. aylin- I knew that comment was going to get some feed back. But I let it ride because I'm a little rotten.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but dressage folk spend years developing bend and collection and contact.
    We need our horses in frame, doing three events, at a high rate of speed and on a loose rein by the time they are three years old. In my case, four, but still.
    So when I say our horses have to develop self carriage as soon as possible I mean within 120 days of starting them.
    Our way of getting this is what creates the difference I'm talking about.
    Yes, many western disciplines, including mine, use shoulders in, haunches in etc. Later. After they travel up and straight at speed. After they understand the work. This is considered "ongoing education".
    With my own horses, when I use a maneuver that doesn't have them following their nose (think counter bend) they are at a level where they accept my instruction. Usually in their fourth or fifth year.

  16. My mare Stella has more trouble with self carriage then any horse I've ever worked with. She's consistently heavy on her front end in the canter, even though she lightens up nicely in her walk/trot work. She is conformationally challenged, which was what the trainer I was taking lessons with for a while blamed it on - she then informed me I needed to sell her and get a new horse. But, I'm still pluggin' away with Stella. She's VERY short necked, and her elbows turn out in front. Otherwise, she has a nice short back, great hip, and a mind that I really enjoy. Do you think her conformation could be affecting her balance that much, or does it sound like we just need some more training?

  17. Stella-I have a big headed foundation mare named Loki. She is long backed, short legged and built downhill. I used to complain that riding her was like driving a greyhound bus through a 7/11.
    She took my daughter to a fifth place win at the NRCHA World Show, was a five state regional champion and stood fifth over all in the nation the same year.
    The next year, with limited showing, she was regional reserve champion with me in the open hackamore and took my daughter and myself to the World Show again.
    She still rides like a bus.
    She also can slide 30 feet in 1/2 inch sliders and is one of the rare cowhorses who was successful as both an open and non-pro horse.
    I did a lot of work out of a book called Cross Training with Dressage, and lots of cavaletti work with a dressage instructor.
    I also rode with my hips slightly more under me than usual and rode with stronger leg cues than normal.(Lots of calf) All these things helped.
    The biggest help was my daughter loved her and she had a lot of try. So I closed my ears to the critics and worked her to the best of my ability. Even if she hadn't turned out as great as she did I still would have been happy with her. She taught my daughter how to be a horseman.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. SkyBar Farm
    I talked to Laura Crum (my roper expert)and she calmed me down. Hope I didn't freak you out....
    Here's what Laura said-She won't make that head horse too bendy. The only horses that have that problem are horses that are trained to be bridle horses or trained like that and then you go to roping on them. They don't know how to be stiff enough. A horse that has been trained to be a rope horse and knows how to pick up cattle and knows how to use his body like that, they don't forget. It actually helps them to be nicer horses if someone rides them in between and gets them more supple (I used to do this for my uncle). They can become so stiff necked and rigid that they're no fun to ride.-

    I'll still plan on our joint post, it's really an interesting discussion.

  20. Tonight I tried only one aspect of today’s post.

    Loping large circles to the right (harder direction for her), my mare dove into the circle at the point farthest from the gate. So I hustled her completely across the circle and spun her twice outside the circle. She said, “What the heck was that?! This is not what we are supposed to be doing! We are supposed to be loping a circle!” All punctuated be ear flicking and tail wringing. I asked her to finish loping the circle (absolutely no problems) and stop after we completed the rotation. We rode several more circles and had not one diving incident. She still leaned into the circle farthest from the gate, and leaned out closest to the gate, but I opted not to take her outside the circle and spin her at these points. I need to spend some time thinking about this. She probably needs to think about this, too.

  21. Actually, I had Western Barbie when I was a kid, and Horse Lovin' Ken. Barbie wore a white Western show suit with bling and fringe, while Ken had on red jeans, a red flannel shirt, a vest, and a plastic cowboy hat. They both had knees that bent and hips that widened, so they could ride their horses Dallas (Barbie's palomino steed) and Midnight (Ken's black mount). Barbie's cousin Skipper also was bendable and her horse's name was Honey. However, when you bent their knees, they cracked and popped and did not move smoothly, so it was like you were breaking their legs everytime you wanted them to ride.

    Dallas came with a brown Western saddle and bridle with square holes in the reins that Barbie's hand would fit through. Same with Midnight, only his tack was silver. Dallas and Midnight both had "real" manes and tails and came with grooming equipment. Ironically, they both had wide blazes and four white socks and were in the exact same pose (a TWH flat walk stance). Huh. Wonder how that happened.

    Barbie also had a button in her back that you could push and her right eye would wink. It was gross because there was this piece of blue plastic (her eyeshadow was blue) that would close over her eye, while the other one was painted on.

    Incidentally, those were the only Barbie dolls I had. I only had Ken, Barbie, Dallas and Midnight, though--I never got Skipper and Honey. Honey was cute--she was all brown and pony-sized.

    Click here for Barbie. Yes, her outfit was quite see-through, and she did not have on any underwear. Check out that lazy right eye.

    Here's Ken. His pants were made out of sexy red vinyl. Changing him in and out of those pants was a nightmare. He only wore his vinyl pants to horse shows--the rest of the time he wore his jeans.

    Click here for Dallas. Isn't it awesome how that saddle fits? It was so hard to keep that damn cinch around his girth.

    Click here for Midnight.

    This is Honey.

    What a fun blast-from-the-past that was! Thanks, Mugs!

    For the Tennessee Walking Horse
    When the Painted Horse Comes
    The Murder of the English Language

  22. I decided to backtrack a bit with my mare and get her to carry herself better. With this deep snow, I made a rectangle in the pasture, and we walked, trotted, and cantered it. The snow is deep enough that I don't have to guide her to stay on the path.

    At first I had to ask her to collect/slow down at the turns (or she went through them) but she got the idea, and I could just sit on her and let her figure out when to tuck under and turn. What I found I was doing was anticipating the turn and leaning into it myself, causing her to drop her inside shoulder! Once we got all sorted out, I got really good at sitting in the center and she got good at collecting and not dropping her shoulder at the turn.

    Thanks Mugs..this is all from your constant statements "let them figure it out" :)


  23. Mugs,
    Nope you didn’t scare me, LOL that is why I asked the question. I do not understand the reason/use of the tie down. I know it is a tool, not a torture device, but I guess my way of looking at things is any device can be applied/used wrong or more than necessary. I am totally new to the roping discipline. I have a lot of respect for it and am trying to learn the whys and the hows.

    When I see this horse (Sire is his name) ride he seems to brace on the tie down and is very heavy on the front. When he stops, it is a hard stop on the front if you don’t set him up right. Or you’re his owner and don’t set him up at all and just pull back. He hollows his back out under saddle. He does have self carriage out in the field, but not under saddle. When we work him on Sparky I feel he could have more freedom in his shoulders. Being that I really never paid a whole lot of attention to this event prior to this year, I do not have a whole lot of good examples to draw from. What I have seen from the events I have gone to is heavy fronts and hollow backs. So I have been watching videos on you tube and other places. I have seen others in the videos that have used the tie downs, but their horses are neither heavy on the front, nor hollow backed.

    When I bend him, I’m not bending him to my knee or anything, I just ask for a baby bend. I do that with all my horses. I don’t want their nose touching my knee. I really would like to strengthen his back, it is pretty weak. When I ride him, I ride him in a simple O Ring snaffle. His owner is a great friend, but he kinda just gets on and yeehaws. :) He just backs him into the box and then explodes out, heads the cow and the whole time, my friend looks like a ragdoll throwing a rope. LOL He is only about 5’4 and 90 pounds soaking wet, and Sire is a very stout 15.1 and about 1300 lbs. This horse is amazingly forgiving and has a ton of try and knows his job extremely well, which is why I guess that I wanted to strengthen his back and get him more supple, and collecting better, he is just too nice to see him break down. I have been getting him to follow his nose which is helping a lot, and his circles are better, his jog is not so much like a jack hammer like it was a month ago. I just need to figure out what to do now. I definitely don’t want to mess up my friend’s horse for his roping events. He is definitely what you describe though, stiff necked and rigid. I would greatly appreciate any advice I just want to see this horse reach his full potential.

    I would also like to hear about the stumbling blocks I will experience on taking a bridle horse and turning him into a roping horse. I am going to be using my senior stallion that is Rugged Lark bred and is turning 16 this year. He is extremely tolerant and will allow me to make mistakes while I am learning to rope. I am the most discombobulated person trying to ride and throw a rope. LOL He has been an all-around type horse since I put him under saddle 10 years ago. He has done WP, Reining, Driving, a little Team Penning and has turned a barrel or two.

    Definitely, looking forward to what you and Laura Crumb come up with. Very sorry to be so wordy, I figured the more information you had the easier it would be. If you need more info just holler.


  24. Mugs, you always seem to hit the nail on the head. We may have established forward and "get your damned head out of the sky" with my horse, but shoulder control is still a huge issue. I wish you had started this blog 3 years ago. Much of what you write is what I WISH I had done or hadn't done. When Finn was a baby I routinely pulled his nose to my toe as I was taught to do. Now it seems like I'm always fighting for control of his shoulders. On bad days, he's run me into the fence. I'll want to turn right, he'll turn his head but his body will keep going straight. The only way to snap him out of it, as you say, is to spin him. But we still fight it with him all the time. He loves to dive in and dive out, usually through his left shoulder. Which brings me to a complicated question...

    Have you ever had a horse that was horribly uneven?
    Finn is having a serious problem. At the trot, if he can get his head above the bit he will take a short step with his left front, and catch himself with his right. It looks like he's taking two trot stirdes in the front, in the time it takes his back legs to do one stride. It only happens at the trot, with a rider (saddle or not, he still does it bareback), when he can get his head above the bit. He is not lame. We've checked. He's been seen by a chiro and it didn't help. He's had time off, and it didn't help either. However, the chiro and farrier both noticed that his left shoulder is smaller than his right, and he has less range of motion on that side. Our theory is that his ride side is sore from overcompensating for his left, and he's somehow discovered this odd way of resisting. It is like hell to hold him together on a circle to the left. He feels totally dead to that side. I feel like I'm using all the leg I have in my body to push him over and keep him from falling through his shoulder to the left and it doesn't help. Now he's started doing this crazy miss-step thing. My trainer wants to try draw reins to see if he still takes those odd miss-steps when he can't get above the bit. It's gone from once a ride, to completely un-rideable at the trot, and now to once or twice on a large circle.

    We are at our wits end. We've done everything we can thing of except for x-raying his entire body. The only solution we've come up with is that we need to strengthen that left side. Do you have any ideas on ways to do that? I know this is a very complicated problem that we have that can't be completely solved over the internet. But at this point, I'll take any advice I can get.

    Thanks for listening.

  25. heater, I know you didn't ask me but have you ever heard of Sweeny Shoulder? I had a stallion that I rehabbed many years ago that had this. His left shoulder was developed and nice but his right wasn't. It wasn't b/c of balance it is an old cart horse injury. Its where they slip and their leg gets pulled out if front of them and tears the muscle. Do some research and see if you can't find some pictures. It might be that he just CAN'T move his shoulder the way you want.

  26. katphoti-Horse Loving Ken huh? If you guys read the Laura Crum book I just reviewed you'll see why that name gave me the willies .....
    heater-I don't see any mention of a vet examining your horse. I would NOT engage in any training tools, martingales, draw reins etc. until you get some input from your vet on why the muscle development is off on your horse.
    I would not try any type of physical therapy on this horse without a vet's input.
    Sonita had a "skip" at the trot.It was from the missing muscle in her leg. I was really consistant with trotting drills etc. wih her, but they were all developed with my vet being aware of what I was doing.
    Your horse's behaviors could all come from pain.
    Remember, horses don't fake it,new behaviors all come in response to new stimulus.

  27. NO FAIR that people get to try these techniques before me! I cant ride until the weekend, and then thats only providing that the weather warms up...
    going back to sulking now...

    Anyone remember that doll that you could buy specifically FOR the breyer horses? Cant remember her name..

  28. Do you mind if I muddle the water a bit?

  29. Mugs-
    Finn hasn't seen the vet... yet. Mainly because our vet is astronomically expensive and lives by a mantra of "x-ray, ultrasound, inject". He's who all the hunter people on expensive islands use, and doesn't always take too kindly to the little dressage rider with a fuzzy paint horse and not much money. The horse is 5 years old. He doesn't NEED joint injections. I don't like this guy very much, but we're limited in our choices.

    Also, Finn has always been horrible on his left side. I've had him nearly his whole life and he's never had any major injury since I've owned him. Maybe it was the way he layed in the womb. He's always fallen through his left shoulder. That's my weaker side too. We figured he was simply taking advantage of the situation, and now it's developed into this mess. He is sound in the pasture, at the walk, and the canter, which is why we thought it was a developmental resistance somehow. I've never heard of missing muscle conditions, but I'll look into it.

    Thank you for your input. I've been so lost trying to figure this out and we keep hitting walls.

  30. Brenda was the gals name for the Breyers if I remember correctly.

  31. HorseofCourse-muddle away! That's the point here!

  32. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but dressage folk spend years developing bend and collection and contact."

    Not wrong at all, that's exactly it. Doesn't mean there's not supposed to be some of all of that pretty soon, but the developing is what dressage is all about and it never stops.

    "So when I say our horses have to develop self carriage as soon as possible I mean within 120 days of starting them.
    Our way of getting this is what creates the difference I'm talking about."

    I think it's not just the way of getting but also the 'this' itself - dressage folks would say self carriage is impossible after 120 days simply because the horse won't have enough time to develop the necessary muscles. A major difference in defining self carrige and collection. More of the same:

    "Yes, many western disciplines, including mine, use shoulders in, haunches in etc. Later. After they travel up and straight at speed."

    Maybe speed is the key. In dressage, nothing is done at speed. Sure, young horses need to run, but we do it mostly on trails and only to get them stronger. In the arena there's no real speed, ever. Just lame lengthening of the strides :) The classical Scales of Training go like this: rhythm -> suppleness -> contact -> impulsion -> straightness -> collection. Kind of starting from the other end, huh? Rhrythm is all important in dressage so the first thing a horse needs to learn is never to break it - it's ok to shorten or lengthen the strides though, so the speed doesn't matter much at first as long as they keep the rhythm clear. Nor does it matter where their noses are at this stage. The back should be round always so no stargazing, but if a youngster wants to go left looking right that's ok initially. He can be straightened out later when he's learned to keep the rhythm and balance himself under a rider. Shoulder in is required in tests for 5 y olds - second or third year of training - but it's practised earlier of course.

    By the way, if this dressage stuf is boring all you western people terribly, just ignore me :) I'm learning a lot thinking this through. All too often you do stuff the way you've always done and never think about why. I feel the comparison is helpful.

  33. Aylin-It's fine with me. I find things in your world that fit nicely into mine.
    I use my seat and legs to create my rate much in the same way you do.
    You have to remember, my world is about speed. Waiting until all the pieces are shaped before letting them go doesn't get the cow cut, roped or turned. It's all about the cattle for us. The cows teach our horses to stand up, get their legs under them, stay light in the front.
    Our horses find their own way to a great extent.
    I think the biggest difference is in cowhorse we have taken a job and turned it into an art form. In dressage you have taken a art form and turned it into a job.

  34. Eloquent as always, Mugs.
    The problem with dressage is that it’s so amazingly fun to ride, and so absolutely boring to watch.
    You cow girls have an advantage there :-)

    I believe that learning the horse to keep balance and bend on the circle is one of the first things to address when you start riding the horse.
    I understand that the way I ride it is a bit different from yours Mugs, and I suppose part of it is due to rein contact.
    In dressage I also want - and need - the horse to be able to position the neck and head independent of the body and direction of where I ride.
    So now I will I muddle the water a bit.
    I assume that there might be someone out there riding “English” as well…
    If you don’t want to be muddled, stop reading ;-)
    Here is my personal English/dressage version for a young horse, or a horse that has problems to keep bend and balance:
    I would start to learn the horse two essential things:
    - he has to yield from leg pressure
    - he has to step under my weight, i.e. if I put weight on my inner seat bone, he is to move to the inside.
    I believe those two concepts are quite logical to the horse, so they often catch it quick.
    So to start the task, on a young horse:
    First we have got to turn into the circle.
    When I need the horse to turn, I lower my inner knee, to take more weight on the diagonal between the inner seat bone-pubis bone. I show the horse the way by moving the inner rein a bit out from the horse’s neck. Out, not backwards. Once the horse has initialized the bend, I put my hand back in the “house” again.
    So now we have started to turn. Then I check my seat.
    I need a bend in the horse’s back that equals the bend in the circle.
    To get the bend, I have to adjust my seat, otherwise I will be out of balance compared to the horse. If I sit straight over the horse and the horse’s spine bends, and I don’t adjust – what happens to your own weight distribution? On one side you get more weight than on the other, right?
    So I have to solve that.
    I move my outer thigh and leg back, and my inner thigh forward, into what we call a “volte seat”. Inner hip to point towards the horse’s outer ear. Large circle means a small bend which means small difference between inner/outer hips.
    Through the difference in hip/leg position I will also create and keep the bend in the back.
    I go a large circle, to make it easy.
    I believe the jack-knifing problem with the outer shoulder falling out is mostly due to too much use of the inner rein. (You see what’s in front of you, but you have to feel what’s under you, and the bend should be equal in the neck and back)
    So if I have a problem with the outer shoulder falling out I would straighten the neck.
    I would check that I was sitting straight in my body, not collapsing in the waist.
    Adjust my volte seat.
    Then I would imagine that I was riding in a tunnel. And the tunnel was the form of the circle I had planned to ride.
    If the horse touched the inner wall of that tunnel, I would touch him with my inner leg, and tell him to get off the wall. I would expect the horse to yield, and enlarge the circle a bit. If the horse leans on my leg instead of moving away from it I would give a sharp, unpleasant tick-tick with the leg. When the horse yields to the middle of the tunnel I would softly squeeze the outer rein and softly meet with the outer leg to tell him that this is how far I wanted him to move. Then I would sit still and quiet. No legs. Soft, but even contact on the reins.
    Same thing but the other way round if he tries to enlarge the circle.
    With a horse that is finding it difficult to stay on the circle it is sometimes easier to ride the circle as a polygon instead of a round circle. This often helps to get control of the outer shoulder.

    Then I have some questions, Mugs, as I am interested in our differences.
    You said:
    “My weight stays balanced in the middle, with about five more pounds of pressure in my outside pocket than my inside. My inside leg is relaxed and slightly off my horse.”
    I wonder: if you have the inside leg relaxed and off the horse, might it be that you feel your outside seat bone more? Or are you really weighing the outside seat bone more?
    How do you position your hips+legs on the circle?

  35. HOC, thanks, you describe the dressage-y view very well. I just nod my head in agreement as I read. Did you notice that your description of the circle aids is exactly what follows from mugs' exploratory exercises in walking circles? The difference is in how you handle corrections--we use much more rider input in dressage. We expect the rider to take total responsibility instead of expecting the horse to maintain the circle without step by step input.

    I came into dressage from a hunter background. While riding hunters I expected my horses to maintain their rythm, direction, and pace with much less input from the rider--maybe because we were doing a job (jumping fences) and trying to turn it into an art. (Great wording, mugs!) Dressage is so challenging and fascintating because you're doing it "cold", seeking perfection with no clear job in sight from the horse's point of view. It's a real test of obedience and training. I'm finding that it sometimes helps to un-muddle my head when I'm too deep in details to use a simple correction--like GO STRAIGHT HERE to interrupt resistances from my youngster. Might be his personality, but he resists too much micro-managing at this point sometimes. And even tho I want to continue in dressage with him I also want him to WTC on simple commands when asked so that he can be a safe/fun ride for someone else on occasion.

  36. Well yes and no.
    I really don't want to do much input either. As long as the horse is doing the job, I let it be.
    Maybe it's more the definition of what we mean by "doing the job"?
    I want the horse to be obidient to my aids. And in the end to respond to as small aids as possible.
    When I ride, I try not to think to much. Instead I try to tune into the horse and feel, in a way melt in.
    Maybe this sounds a bit weird after the earlier long explanation, but I belive it's a matter of breaking it down to small pieces, understand it, train on it and over time do it automatically.
    I think this is the same for you Western riders, right?
    But I suppose we differ in the demands on _how_ the horse travels, due to different goals in the end?
    Ref. the earlier discussions about collection.

  37. HorseofCourse- In my own way I am as precise as you. If I say I put five pounds of weight in my outside pocket it's because that's what I do. Not because I don't understand the effect of taking my inside leg off my horse.
    The rest has been covered (ad nauseam to some) in previous posts.

  38. Sorry. Did not mean to rant, or doubt you.
    I believe that the riding world is full of established "facts" that maybe are not facts at all.
    Now I have to reconsider one of them. But seeing things from a new angle is one of the reasons for me hanging in here ;-)

  39. "It's because Barbie didn't bend. She refused to ride our trusty Breyers. So poor Barbie got kicked to the curb."

    Whew.. so I wasn't the only one..

    but that didn't keep me from making very cool little bridles and saddles for them anyway, and building 'book' stalls, fences and barns when it was too damn rainy to ride.

  40. are you running a blog called i hate your horse along with this one. cause the same stories are showing up in both of these blogs.