Monday, March 3, 2014

Why Do You....? Part One, because I went all ADD on you.

During the years I've been writing this blog, I have had a lot of questions thrown at me. OK, maybe some were asked, but the "Why do you...?" questions are usually thrown with a javelin. At my face.

 I'm not a fan or engager of trolls, and those of you who check in regularly know I can get pretty pissy with those who want to pick a fight, broadcast their disdain  or correct my spelling, especially when disguised as a seemingly innocent question. 

At the same time, getting my back up because somebody is rude, thick, or not actually reading what's been written, just trying to clear a platform for themselves, means I often miss, ignore or walk away from some legitimate questions.

The ones I get the most come from riders of other disciplines. Mainly, I'm just being honest here, from people who ride dressage.

Wait, let me get a little more specific, from people who introduce themselves by saying, "I ride dressaaaage." Then, wait a beat, or two, or six, for their standing ovation, or for me to jump off my high horse and bow to their superiority. 

I've gotta be straight here. My reaction is identical to the one I have when I hear "I use Parelli, have you heard of it?"  


  1. 1.
    the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance.

par·ell·i nat·ur·al horse·man·ship
pyramid scheme

1. a program that uses an approach to communicating with horses based on natural equine behaviors, to achieve trust and respect in the horse/human relationship. PNH methods are similar to the ways that horses act with one another within a herd

The first definition encompasses what every single horse person on the planet wants to achieve, no matter what their education, experience or piece of equipment they slap on their horses backs or heads. I ride dressage, you ride dressage, even this woman, somewhere, somehow, thinks she is riding dressage.

Because we ALL want an obedient mount, we ALL want our horse and ourselves to be flexible and in balance, correct?

Then, there's the Parelli deal. The concept is legit. I spent a long time watching horses interact with each other in order to understand them better. I still do. Much of my training approach is based on the pressure points horses use with each other, how they drive, turn and stop each other, their hierarchy and body language. I got the concept from western trainers, although the better ones don't consider it a cowboy approach, just a good one, you know, riding dressage.

The thing is, one day I read a training tip, on the Parelli website. A devotee had written in, asking how to cope with a horse  that bit her every time she tightened her cinch. The answer was, I kid you not, to shove a carrot in the horse's mouth every time she swung around to bite her. That way, the owner could turn saddling into a positive experience. 

"Sometimes when students have problems with horses biting at them when they tighten the cinch, I tell them to give their horse a carrot when he puts his ears back and starts to swing his head around."

"Give me a carrot bee-atch."

OK. I was done with Parelli.  

Back pain? That would be a natural reaction. Bitchy mare? That would be a natural reaction. Personally, I would not respond to either reaction with a carrot.

Because nobody, but nobody created that training tip by watching the interaction of horses in a herd.

To tell the truth, from the horse's viewpoint there is absolutely nothing natural about a person riding them. Nothing. 

Anyway, I digress, a bunch. My point is, there is an identical gleam in the eye of the person who declares their status in the world with, "I ride dressage," and the one who says, "I am a Natural Horse Man Ship."

Both statements tell me the rider would rather hide their ignorance behind a label, and a misunderstood one at that, than actually travel the road to everything horsaii. 

"I ride horses." 

That statement perks my interest, brings a smile, and gets me looking for conversation. It leads to all kinds of fun.

"I study dressage."

"Me too!"

"I study Parelli."

"Is it working for you?"

See the difference? We can go riding together! We might even have a beer at the end of the day, who knows? 

If your riding experience consists of the three lessons you took  with an instructor who specializes in dressage, you are not the same caliber of rider as I am. Nor is your understanding of horses deeper.

When I was on my third lesson on the dudes at Mark Reynor Stables, I was not the same caliber of rider as um, well, help me here, because I don't personally know a dressage trainer who is the equivalent of my not-quite-successful-middle-of-the-road trainer status. But I'm guessing you get my drift.

Good grief, this post has wandered way off the trail. I mean, I ended up following a deer trail, fell down a gulch and am currently picking my way through it's rocky bottom, hoping somebody will show me the way out.

Next post, I'll try to get back to my original plan, which is explaining why we western riders do and say some of the stuff we do. In the mean time, let's face it, we all ride dressage -- even Parelli.


Austen Gage said...

Don't tune me out ;)

I train to do dressage. I study it, and I aim to compete in it at a high level. Currently, I'm only working on second level. I'm no genius. I do work hard, though.

I follow your train of thought, though. There's the person who says "I ride dressage" but really means "I ride on the flat in an English saddle."

That's not dressage. Competing in dressage is a sport. It has rules, and a clearly defined set of expectations, and training progression.

It's clearly different from Western riding, though often the concepts are the same -- but the overall process is different.

Great ... now I'm lost. Hope that made sense?

Mo said...

Well, i study dressage, but i've also taken lessons from a nearby national level extreme trail rider. I really love how complementary the two disciplines are. they both emphasize relaxation, submission, balance, straitness, etc. the western ground training fills in a lot of gaps for me, about using your body language and voice to get the horse to respect and trust you to take on a difficult/new challenge. i would love to try reining and cow work with my big TB some day, i think it has a lot of parallels with the classical European dressage moves. A horse light on his forehand and working thru his back and hind end is a single standard, i hope. How we set the head and neck based on different styles in a minor point to me.

mugwump said...

Mo gets it.

Anonymous said...

So to "be acceptable", we must all jump 3' oxers, gallop cross country, ride LD50s, rope a good calf, and execute a sliding stop? Oh, don't forget the canter pirouettes while we're at it.

I agree with Austen. While there are basics we can all agree on make a good foundation, each specialized field has its own skeletons and heroes.

Jamethiel Crabb said...

I mainly gave up any labels at all when I was in college and learning completely "opposite" disciplines at the same time-driving for farm & logging work and driving for combined and dressage trials. One emphasizes highly forward, heavy bit contact & constant collection; the other quiet, low contact, slow & careful followers. I learned there isn't yet a discipline I can't pull something to learn from, regardless of what my aims are at that moment. Right now I can't take lessons or even ride regularly, so I'm focusing on keeping myself fit enough so when I do catch a ride, I don't embarrass myself or piss off the horse with heavy handedness or potato sack riding.

mugwump said...

Anon not only missed the boat, she lost her bus ticket too.

Funder said...

ahahahah carrots to a girthy mare? AYFKM? :wipes tears from eyes: Check for ulcers, check for saddle fit, apply a properly timed elbow to the face, and RIDE.

Cindy D. said...

I climb on the back of my horse and usually don't fall off. (but not always))

What discipline is that?


mugwump said...

Funder and Cindy D get it.

Jan Blawat said...

When I was young and rode with others like me, who knew all there was to know, we met an little, fat old lady who was interested in riding with us (because we all rode the same breed of horses). We had a lot to teach her, we thought, riding with us would be good for her. Only problem was, after she used a little step stool to pull and grunt her way onto her sadly deficient little horse, we could never get close enough to carry on a conversation. She left us in the dust. Every time. We'd get back to the trailers after riding 30 miles, and she was already sitting there, her horse perfectly cooled and cared for, drinking a glass of wine.

Anonymous said...

My only disappointment with this post is that the audio link to the pronunciation of Parelli did not work. I really wanted to hear the long ooo sound in Bool-shet.

I ride whenever I think my heart/lungs will tolerate it. English saddle if I'm feeling brave and the extra balance challenge will do me good; the super suede Circle Y if feeling punky.

I wonder if a rough-out saddle can be deducted on taxes as an assist device? ;~D Amy in Ohio

Heidi the Hick said...

Geez, I don't know, I just really like the dude's outfit in the first picture. I want those pants and boots. That's all I got an opinion on at this point...

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Well...I did give my girthy, hated being ridden because she was abused and spurred and yanked on and *pissed off* about it a carrot reward when saddling.

I wanted to get her to stand to be saddled and not try to bite me, dance around, pin her ears, threaten to kick - and yes, she had been beaten for that behavior (not by me but by a bling bling WP (air quotes) trainer) and got worse than better - before I bought her outright, she was started to take target practice on the trainer while on crossties.

So I changed the game. I put the saddle on her. And waited. She pulled her shenanigans. I waited some more. She finally stopped and looked at me, ears up. I gave her a carrot. I went to put on her girth. She pulled her shenanigans. I waited. She put her ears up and looked at me. I gave her a carrot. I tightened the girth. She pulled her shenanigans but I only had to wait a short amount of time for her ears. Took about three saddlings and she was over her issues.

I made sure I was not rewarding her bad behavior but her good behavior. This is a very smart mare. I could have gotten after her like others had, but she had already been taught to fight because she couldn't escape. So I turned the tables on her and made saddling, if she behaved herself, something that she got treats for.

Of course I didn't do any of the other riding crap her previous trainer did. I made riding fun, simple snaffle, not twisted wire, no spurs, no yanking on her face. It was more than just the saddling, it was the whole experience that changed her.

Oh, and I do ride in a dressage saddle, but that's because it fits my horses best, and I get a kick out of trail riding with everyone in their Western saddles and I'm in my little dressage saddle. :)

And I love Sally Swift :)

KD said...

I trail ride and negotiate real obstacles. I try to ride my horse centered to be easier on her and me, I try to be clear in what I ask and stay out of her mouth. I wear spurs, but I don't "spur" my horse. I don't have a lot a money these days, but I have signed up for a clinic that teaches Classical Stock Seat based on Monte Foreman's teachings. I'm hoping to learn to sit, ride and communicate with my horse a little better.

mugwump said...

KD - Being Monte Foreman based in my training, let me send on a totslly unbiased "YeeHA!

Cindy D. said...

I just want to throw that first horse a flake of hay.

MichelleL said...

These are the postings that I just love Mugs! I would willingly follow you down the gorge, through the brush, across the river, and back up the other side just to listen to your ponderings.

Even when I did ride the goal was to stay on and get both of us back home in the same amount of pieces we originally left in, although there was that one time that I ended up in a few pieces without even leaving home...

Can't name drop. Don't know anyone famous and I am 110% OK with that.

What I have works for me, and my horse isn't dead yet, so I must be doing something right. Despite my disdain of "joining up" with a "carrot stick".

Anonymous said...

I train my scruffbag pony using dressage principles mainly because that was the way I was originally trained. I've done Western and NH clinics as well as Dressage and got something from all of them. Sometimes it was just a good laugh and fond memories.
The result of all this edification is a pony who is perfect at trail riding in suburbia ie strolling along a cycle path while wearing a small fat grandma.:-)

IndyApp said...

Yeah, Mugs. I've been on the receiving end of your pissy answers to a legitimate question. Now I understand why you gave such a pissy answer. It has to do with writing styles. If we spoke in person we probably would have a very pleasant conversation. I love your writings and I've discovered that if I just sit back and listen to your comments to others, my questions usually get answered. If not in that post, perhaps the next. You keep writing and I'll keep reading.

Scamp said...

I love this post! My philosophy is to learn as much as I can, riding the horse under me, and the discipline really doesn't matter. I started riding huntseat (well initially bareback as a kid) and then started riding in a western saddle later in life. I switch up a lot. I trail ride in either saddle, and I currently take lessons with a performance reining trainer, not for the reining but for the learning to communicate better part. He sometimes makes fun of me and my outfits (I've been known to ride in britches and western boots) but he's good, and I'm learning stuff I can use no matter what saddle I happen to be sitting in. :)

I was told this weekend that Parelli claims that horses crib because they have upset stomachs, and they aren't sucking in, they're belching. A few of us had a good laugh about that one...

Anonymous said...

While the belching sounds suspect, some horses do crib because they have ulcers.

ANW said...

My SO and I both start colts. Our approaches are different and we do not always agree. We come from different riding backgrounds, but the thing we agree on is putting the foundation on a horse. Teach him how to move his body correctly before you decide "he needs to be a (fill in the blank) horse." It doesn't matter if you call it a rollback or a turn on the haunches. Once you have that foundation to build on, you find where the horse's talent lies. We trained a Hancock mare who's papers said she should've been a roping horse, and she competes in eventing. Loves to jump. Trained a halter-bred mare who is an outstanding roping horse. Whether you want to compete in dressage and move up the levels, or you want to go show in working cowhorse, you have you have a horse who already understands how to yield all the parts of his body. (On a related note, I really don't understand the whole "western dressage" movement. Other than riding in a funky looking saddle, how is this new?)

mugwump said...

ANW - Yes, yes and yes. I've got a half done post on Western dressage somewhere...

redhorse said...

I used to study dressage but I never rode it. I thought it made me a better rider over fences, and I liked the idea of riding an obedient horse, so I wanted to learn how that was done. Weirdly, I found out this was not a prerequisite for showing hunter/jumper.

Now I struggle to get on a horse that's bigger and more athletic than what I need. I like to go trail riding, but I have no particular reason to be riding, and I've been told, I have no business to be riding my horse at my age and in my present state of infirmity. I would like to study dressage again, but I'm never going to ride dressage, and all the trainers around here are too serious for me. I guess I'm just pissy enough to think I can do the job anyway. I just hope I live long enough to see my horse described as "obedient" (dressage) or "broke to death" (cowboy.)

I can't wait to hear what Part Two is. I thought that thing about carrots was a joke. No wonder there are so many untrainable backyard horses.

redhorse said...


How could I forget to add, I aspire to be that little fat old lady you used to go riding with.

I used to get that look from people when I still had my 16.2 TB ex-jumper out on the trails. I struggled to get on, while he stomped, snorted, flared his nostrils, and got as pumped up as a warhorse; I could see them mentally making bets that I wouldn't survive 15 minutes. As soon as I got on, he'd walk off on a loose rein. In comparison, a slightly green paint gelding isn't so bad. At least he stands still while I'm mounting, and I haven't taught him to bite me with carrots.

smazourek said...

Same moves, different labels. I can't stand the feel of a western saddle so I don't ride in one, but if I could get my horses half as well trained as a good vaquero bridle horse I'd be pretty happy.

Jan Blawat said...

Redhorse, my round little friend who passed away last year at 86, completed the Tevis in her 60s. She rode a horse that, conformation-wise, was totally unsuitable for a 100-miler, but it was fit and eager and did the job for her. You'd see her on a horse and think, "OMG, its back must be messed up, how does it pack her...etc." But she had heart enough for herself and the horse, and brains enough to keep them both out of trouble. And when she did hit the ground, she'd just bounce back up, find something to use as a mounting block, and be off again. She only died, I'm convinced, because she came on hard economic times and had to sell her horses. No horse, no reason to live. Remembering her makes me happy, I hope people say the same about you when you finally leave at, say 101 yrs.

Heidi the Hick said...

(Pssst - please put that link back on my blog comments - it didn't work and I have to see it!)

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy this video:-

I can't remember where I originally saw it, it may even have been here, but this discussion reminded me of it.

Clancy said...

:) I'm not riding at the moment but thoroughly enjoying hanging around on the ground with my horses, going for walks, etc and seeing how far I can develop our relationship with a mainly positive-reward, liberty-based approach. I have 4 (QH, QHxStandardbred, Standardbred, Thoroughbred) around 15-16 hh and 4 teeny tiny minis who are I don't know, about as tall as a goat - maybe 6-8 hands?

Like HorsesandTurbos, I've found using treats works really well for me with my horses; one of my geldings used to be grabby and pushy before but food rewards have helped him to become much more polite, and the others have never become pushy or rude.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

"Clancy Said:
Like HorsesandTurbos, I've found using treats works really well for me with my horses; one of my geldings used to be grabby and pushy before but food rewards have helped him to become much more polite, and the others have never become pushy or rude."

Just so you know, I don't always use treats as a reward, just needed to in this instance. My gelding likes to pin and lift a leg and since I know his entire history (I am his second owner) I know he is doing it to be a turd, not like my mare who was abused. Just FYI :)

Whywudyabreedit said...

Cross training, it is good for the horse, and good for the rider. I have a foundation in bareback trail riding, helped me to develop good balance. Later education in 3-day eventing, couldn't afford to show much, but my trainer had a cross country course on her property and I cleaned corrals for lessons. When I lost my nerve a little later on I moved into dressage, the most valuable thing I have carried with me from that is an independent seat, and an introduction to keeping a horse between the aids. Now as a more mature adult I focus on basic horsemanship, a softer feel, and I have been developing in the language arts of groundwork over the last 10 years.

Horses provide us with infinite opportunity for growth and learning, there are an infinite number of possibilities and combinations. I happen to enjoy the variety and perspective that is possible with cross training.

Great piece, thanks for the food for thought =) Nanette

Half Dozen Farm said...

This is in reply to some of the comments because I have squirrel-brain and can't remember the finer points of Mugs post, anyway:
I used to trail ride my gaited TWH in a dressage saddle and walking horse bit and bridle, while wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots and we were unstoppable in the hills.

Next, I bought an off-the-track Thoroughbred to "do dressage" and currently trail ride her in a western saddle and a bosal, while usually wearing western garb with an english helmet.

Why are we (riders) in a "class war"?

It's all good! Just RIDE! :)

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