Thursday, March 5, 2015

For Goodness Sake, Knock It Off

Horse conversations around here seem to get stuck in an endless loop of recycled opinion and passive aggressive, open ended questions.

I'm going to answer some of these right here and now, and in the future, will refer all comments that apply to this page.

Most of you guys are riders of various abilities and knowledge. This covers a wide range of disciplines.

We all love our specific discipline best -- I'm guessing it's because that's how we like to ride.

It absolutely doesn't mean it's the best way or the only way to ride. It's just how we do it. It makes absolutely no difference to the horse as long as the water's clean, the hay is plentiful and the sun is warm on their back.

I am interested in all things horse. Well, except racing, that's off my list. Other than that, I want to know how somebody else does it, what's the desired end result and the theory of balance, movement and forward behind it.

I have learned the best way to satisfy my curiosity is to ask about those specifics, listen closely, try them out myself and come to my conclusions privately.

Then, I allow myself an opinion.

Here we go.

Q. Why aren't these people wearing helmets?

 A. Some do, some don't. Everybody agrees, it's much safer to ride a horse with a helmet, yet some people persist in not wearing one. We'll talk about helmets on Helmet Brawl Day, other than that, let's try to focus on the subject at hand.

Q. Why do western riders wear spurs?

A. Why does anybody wear spurs? If the rider understands what the spur is for, it's a cue to lift the back and move specific parts to specific places.
If the rider doesn't understand they shouldn't wear spurs.

Q. Why are western spurs so big?

A. Some are some aren't.
The top row of my little chart shows a range of spurs. The Western spurs, go from gentle to severe, left to right.The last image is a joke, I've never seen a pair of those in use.
The most severe of spurs I've seen used, by far, are the rock grinders, fifth in line.
It is not the size of the's how sharp.
The longer the leg of the rider, the longer the shank needed for contact. We ride with a longer leg than most other disciplines and our horses are smaller.
Look at the western rider. In order to make contact the spur must go in and up.
If you look at the English rider (with pokey little rowels OH MY) and the set of the leg, you can see the design of an English spur is for efficient use. Toes out and contact is made with the spur.
The second row of spurs are all for English riders. They are not legal in the show pen, if you want me to tell you how that's worked around, I can let you know. But then you'll be a cheat.

My final answer? Spurs are a piece of equipment, used and misused across the board.

Q. Why do you leg flap?
A. We (western riders) call it a bump. We bump with spurs or calves depending on the situation. I have never once said, "Why do you dressage riders cling to your horses like monkeys? It's so disturbing to watch that death grip on their heads and the never ending crushing of their sides."

Q. Why haven't I asked that question before?
A. Because it's rude.
Ab. Because I have studied just enough dressage to understand it's principles of drive and contact. When I say study, I mean took lessons from credentialed instructors, in the correct tack, on school horses, a couple of old masters and my own. I read tons to help me implement what I learned by physically riding.

Q. Why do you ride two-year-olds?
A. I don't.
When I worked in the industry it was a requirement of getting a job. I've blogged about this and feel no need to repeat information available in the archives, nor go off track of the point of a post so I can argue with you.. You are however welcome to write a post on YOUR blog and invite us to read it.

I chose this video because to my untrained eye this is a lovely horse, both calm and confident in it's work.
I am not criticizing this ride, the rider or the horse. I might be making fun of some of you, but...well I get to do that.
at 1:16 - Why, he's using his spurs to get the horse to stand still!
2:40 - Are his spurs actually poking this horse in the sides, or are those just cute little dressage dimples?
3:17 - Why is he flapping his legs like that? It's so distracting!
3:45 - This, for us western riders, would be considered full contact.

When we bump a horse we're saying, pay attention, somethings going to happen. The horse gets ready, and we finish the sentence with the next cues.
Funny thing, this is what my dressage instructors told me when describing the half-halt.
If you watch SLN's extremely undoctored tail, you can see when a spur makes contact. It's the exact same response Fuego has in the video above when his rider makes contact with his spur.
Just for fun, count the tail swats in both performances.
0:28 - Why he's bumping that horse with his calf while they're standing still! Wait. His weight has shifted to the right, the inside leg is open...well shucks, he said here comes your lope depart to the left.
0:55 - On the circle...bump, bump bump...both calves - drive harder and speed up!
1:04 - Bump, bump - right leg at the girth, holding him straight, left leg comes in one stride before middle, right leg releases, lead change.

I could keep going, but I'm hoping you get my point.


Becky Bean said...

Vaguely off topic, but:

"The longer the leg of the rider, the longer the shank needed for contact."

It's like a light bulb explosion went off over my head. I used to ride with someone much shorter than me, and she would lend me her super short little spurs, and say "Just turn your calf slightly, you don't have to do such a weird angle to cue"....

But I did, because it was a 14.2 horse and I'm almost 5'9, and LIGHT BULB EXPLOSION. IT WASN'T ME!

Becky Bean said...

PS: Secret confession time:

Know what my secret obsession is lately?

I keep finding videos of bad dressage trainers over in Europe training Lusitanos/Lipizzaners/etc to piaffe between poles..... they're in their fancy "I'm a European dressage rider" training gear, and the horse is gorgeous, and the Youtube comments are "So beautiful! So gorgeous!"

And then I go to a video of a guy in Mexico training his horse to do the horse dancing thing between the poles.... but I look at a good one (Yes, there are good ones!)

And the comments are all hateful.

And then I sit there and judge people for being blind and vaguely racist and knee-jerk reactionists.

(PS: I know this method can actually be a viable way of training the horse... but seriously, you can tell almost immediately from the horse's demeanor whether they've been trained right or wrong, and it has everything to do with trainer and nothing to do with the poles they're tied between. It's pretty obvious.)

mugwump said...

Yes Becky. I have a pretty cool half finished post on the Mexican dancing horses. It would be done, except I keep getting caught up in my smirking and gloating when I watch the bad dressage vids.

Makes spurs make so much sense, doesn't it?

Banico said...

Show dressage that you see at the higher levels is deviated quite a bit from classical dressage principles. The judges are giving high scores to artifical flashy movement rather than true proper movement. The winner of the 2010 WEG freestyle is a good example of this. And he got a 91 for this performance. Its gone the way of a lot of the other breed shows creating artifical movment because thats what wins points.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mugwump,
I'm a long time reader, never commented but couldn't resist this time:)
'Why do you dressage riders cling to your horses like monkeys? It's so disturbing to watch that death grip on their heads and the never ending crushing of their sides.'

Some do, some don't.

There are lots of different approaches to 'dressage' out there, and this description seems a little... biased.

Still, am really enjoying your blog! Thanks!

mugwump said...

Oh Anon. You missed my point by so many thousands of miles I'm not even going to bother answering.

Pishkeen said...

Fuego is a beauty, and I agree, he looks relaxed and confident, as does his rider (some dressage riders look a little... constricted). The tail-wringing bugs me, but at least I can tell it's not nerved.

I'm really taken with SLN though. I'd personally pick him over Fuego there, he looks like a joy to ride.

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure what your point was on this blog. I watched closely on the dressage video, and 1:16 they were piaffing or trotting in place. Not standing still. And the last reference where you said this was full contact for a western rider was clearly a loose rein allowing the horse to stretch. you also have to examine the build of the horse. this horse was clearly a Spanish type breed and had a shorter upright neck versus a long low neck that most QH have. There are bad dressage/western/hunter/jumper riders/trainers and good ones. Most will put the care and comfort of their horse first. This is your blog and I am just an anonymous reader without my own blog to preach from. But I feel you should stay on subjects you are familiar with and not preach about those you are not. Sincerely Carol

mugwump said...

Oh my carol. I can't help you understand the obvious, but please understand, I was not making fun of the dressage horse, rider or the discipline. I was making fun of people, um,like you.

Anonymous said...

(This is Cathy from FHOTD but I cannot remember my login)

I have never once said, "Why do you dressage riders cling to your horses like monkeys? It's so disturbing to watch that death grip on their heads and the never ending crushing of their sides."

I'VE SAID IT...hahahaha!

But I also know many dressage riders who don't do any of that miserable crap. It's just a shame when you see the miserable crap win. Judges should disqualify some people for annoying the crap out of their horse.

Jessica Adams said...

Carol clearly doesn't understand sarcasm ;) i get your point. no matter where we come from, we all have something to learn from each other. and there are more similarities than we think in each discipline. I went to a school that taught 4 disciplines of riding, and though we chose a main, we were required to learn 2 other disciplines. I learned alot about training similarities and differences, and learned some new tips to take back to my own barn. As well as things I'd rather leave behind. good post!

Anonymous said...

As someone who has ridden(small open competitions) in quite a few disciplines - Thank You! This post was great!

Louisa Murch-White said...

All I can say is preeeeeeeeeeeach. You always hit the nail on the head with your (monkey clingin', helmet wearin', spur bumpin') posts.

MichelleL said...

Excellent post. LOVE the reactions from the reactionary individuals (you know who you are)

Completely reinforces why I never rode at any level other then dismissed backyarder. All we needed to do was get to the berry bushes out by the old dairy farm without being run off the road by a noisy dirt bike or ride through the apple orchard without getting yelled at by the farmer's wife.

Anonymous said...

"Hi, I'm Nicole, this is my first meeting to DA, and I cling like a monkey to my horses back and annoy the shit out of him."
Hi, Mugs, this post and comments and the last post and comments have started the wheels turning in my head and in particular this comment from you on the last post "It's how we do it. We don't ride with constant contact, rein or leg,...." have helped me solve a little bit more of the problem I've had with my horse over the last few years.

Another big part of the problem I had already figured out. That's this, I am the cliche, middle-age re-rider with fear issues that figured since I took lessons (Dressage) in high school and college I knew what I was doing, and I am a good rider.

I bought my guy who came from a western training background because he was pretty unflappable, well-mannered, and but was also sensitive to my cues. When I tried him out I rode him what to me was "western" style since I knew that was his background, left his head alone and just walk, trotted and cantered around the ring and he was such a gentleman. When I got him home I started adding more and more contact and constant "cues" like I remembered from my lessons. For example, when asking for the canter I would was doing things with my seatbones and trying to bend with the inside leg and hold with the outside leg and rein and half-halt and he went from saying, "Hey man, chill out I got this" to screaming "Leave me the hell ALONE, I know how to effin canter".

We've tried several trainers with varying degrees of success. Some made it worse by cranking the noseband shut and adding draw reins to force the issue, to others that I think were good trainers just maybe speaking a different language from my gelding.

Some have told me he's just a lazy asshole but he is still great out of the arena on the trails when I think I ride more like you said....leaving him alone until I need something, he gets that. I also still remember the horse I had in the beginning, who obviously had a great training foundation, and it's embarrassing to think of how much I screwed my horse up. I'm not trying to excuse his behavior I am just admitting that I am the bigger part of our problem.

Feeling very humbled.....
Thanks for writing Mugs and putting up with us.

Heather said...

Back when I used to do tech support, we had a saying: "RTFM". Roughly translated, this means "Read The Manual". I'll let you deal with the F on your own.

Anyhow, yeah. There seems to be a lot of people not reading the manual these days and then criticizing without really understanding. I see it in other places as well, but horse people seem to be particularly bad about it. Probably because of the number of experts per capita in the population.

Anyhow, nice post. :-)

mugwump said...

Do you guys know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, when you think you're being really funny,but when you look around the room everybody is staring at you instead of laughing? Then they look at each other like they're wondering who farted?
Yeah, that's how I was feeling.
Thank goodness Cathy showed up with the rest of the sarcasm gettin' gang.

mugwump said...

Heather -- I think I like RTFM very, very much.

Anonymous said...

My horse does not use sarcasm. And I try to avoid it too.
Think I will stay true to good manners. I like my horse better anyway.

Heather said...

By the way, for you donkey loving peeps, this event is just getting started. There will be blogs and FB pages for those that want to follow along:

And for those that don't like to read manuals, you should know that the donkey manual is much different than the horse manual. You'll see the trainers doing things to/with their donks that you would never do with an equivalent wild horse. It's an interesting comparison in training styles and techniques.

Anonymous said...

As you know, trainers have two pupils. The horse and the human. Of the two, I know which I consistently get along better with. But that's another story, Lol. Speaking as someone who has known you for 35+ years, I must say that I feel you do a remarkable job communicating with both. Both species come to us with varying gradations of inherent athletic ability(or not) and of widely ranging acquired knowledge. If a person does not grasp fundamental 4th Grade Arithmetic, he or she is hardly ready for a lesson in Algebra.I think you do a great job in bridging that gap.
xoxo--Peter Joe

mugwump said...

right back attcha Peter Joe.

Anonymous said...

My unsolicited view on a portion of the spur debate. First of all, it must be gentle, or it defeats the entire purpose. And the actual purpose of a spur is to be AN ADJUNCT to a cue. It was never meant to be THE cue. When the rider has to apply most cues forcefully, it becomes counter-productive because it causes such a shift in posture and balance.The purpose in using a spur is to elicit a quicker response to the initial request, thus enabling BOTH rider and horse to remain in a more relaxed, unified, and correct position during this dance we call--riding. The occasional use of the spur---again as an adjunct to a cue-- helps maintain a rapid response to a very subtle, gentle cue.

All that being said, the very first thing I do with new clients is take their spurs away from them and tell them I will give them back when they are accomplished enough to use them properly. If this irritates them, they are free to go elsewhere. As I am old and grouchy and generally speaking would rather spend the day with even a bad horse versus most of the people I know.
Still xxx's & ooo's
Peter Joe

Becky Bean said...

Wow. I feel like Anon misunderstood the joke, so I'm gonna over-explain it - mostly because it's too early to take a nap right now like I want to:

When Mugs wrote about the dressage people, she was pretending to say mean things... imagine her saying "All cowboys just rough their horses up... why do they have to flap your legs on them and spur them real hard all the time?" in a singsong voice. You know she doesn't believe that.

Then imagine her using the same singsong voice to say "Why do you dressage riders cling to your horse like monkeys?"

She obviously doesn't believe that, either.

What she is was trying to point out, using humor, is that while there are is only one way to ride a horse correctly (Consistency, well-timed release from pressure, blah blah blah), it can look very different depending on the discipline.....

And when people are so used to their own riding discipline (reining, dressage, endurance, working equitation, barrel racing), the tools and techniques other disciplines can look... weird. Different. Wrong.

Mugs knows the guy was using his spurs to make the horse piaffe.... but she was pretending to jump to conclusions and ask insulting questions... questions which have nothing to do with wanting to learn, and everything to do with trying to get away with insulting someone else.

In real life horse people seem to want to learn more about each other's techniques.

But on the internet? On the internet, to quote Mugs, "Horse conversations around here seem to get stuck in an endless loop of recycled opinion and passive aggressive, open ended questions."

And that's what this post was doing - pointing out how silly that is.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Peter Joe

Scamp said...

I really enjoyed this post as well, and I did understand the sarcasm. :) Thank you, Mugs.

I'm going off on a tangent here, I hope you don't mind.

I recently started learning reining, after many many (many many many) years of riding basically english/hunt seat. The first trainer taught me a lot, I can't deny it. He reinforced the correct position for both my body and reins for riding in this style. I bought an older (9 this year) reining horse so I could learn more - I'd been riding lesson horses prior to that.

But... One problem I had was that the trainer, a younger guy, is trying to make his name... so every time he rode my horse, he rode him all out. Fast circles, fast spins, sliding stops that left rails twenty feet or more. Then I'd have my lesson, and the horse was primed for that kind of riding, and I would have to slow him up for my level of riding.

The problem was the way the trainer was telling me to slow him down: check, check, take his butt to the ground check. And even if he wasn't doing anything really wrong, check again (I'm talking lifting the reins up high and giving them a jab in the mouth) just to make him pay attention.

Needless to say, this was not making for a happy horse. Or a happy rider, either - I knew he was getting resentful, I'd have had to be an idiot not to feel his frustration - but I didn't know any better and my barn owner had brought this guy in, and she's a decent person. I thought this was what I had to do. And eventually the horse would "get it" and I wouldn't have to do that anymore.

It turns out, the barn owner wasn't all that happy with the way her horses were starting to get, either. That trainer is now gone, and a new one in.

His approach is really different. He is coming off working for Rocky Dare for a number of years, and he speaks about Rocky the way you speak about the big K. :)

First of all, he doesn't want the horse so up that he's trying to take off, he wants it to wait for you to ask it to do something. He's there to train non-pros, not to show a horse really well and make commissions on sales.

His approach to slowing the horse down is slight check, change direction, circle, and repeat until the horse starts going slow... and then leave them alone. The most important part is to get to the leave them alone as soon as you can without making a big production out of it
It's been a bit over a month now, and I have to say my horse and I are a lot happier. And I'm still learning stuff... and I'm being fair to my horse.

I think that's the thing that I'm mad at myself about the most - I knew that I wasn't being fair... but I let the fact that the first guy was a "pro" squelch my sense of what was right. I guess you're never too old to make mistakes like that.

mo said...

loved the post, love your way of being open to all possibilities and disciplines, and loved the sarcasm.

Clancy said...

Anonymous who is learning reining, I've made similar mistakes listening to experts. The first one I listened to for 18 months; my relationship with my horse went backwards and in the end I changed my approach in desperation; it's only looking back a year or so afterwards I could see how unfair to my gelding that initial approach had been. Second time was a clinic, about half way through took my horse to the side and participated as little as possible because I didn't like what the trainer was doing; trusted their intent but not their way of going about it, but still didn't have the guts to walk out so just kind of hung at the edges. Now I listen to my horse first, but it takes time to learn this I think.

Pishkeen said...

Well dang, the sarcasm was so obvious to me I didn't think I need to comment on it.

I feel late to the party, but can I chime in with the folks saying that Mugs I think your communication is very clear and easy for this klutzy "english" rider to understand? And although I mostly lurk I've experimented with some stuff you've written and gotten good results and happy horses.

Also, your dressage rider comments made me giggle :D

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