Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Speak the language

I think about this a lot, but a passing conversation with Sarah about starting lateral work prompted me to write about cues specific to each horse and rider pair. Also because I'm too super busy with things like watching the Olympics and....watching the Olympics to blog about my rides lately (In summation: really awesome, awesome, awesome, really awful.). I know a few other bloggers have hit on this topic before, but the posts were from so long ago that I'm not even going to bother trying to dig for them.

I put all the riding horse work on Bobby by myself without the aid of a trainer. I didn't have one available when I first got him after he was done racing, and once our circumstances changed and there was one on property to work with, she wasn't the right trainer for us.

Since that was the case, I muddled through putting what I would consider the basics on him--shoulder-in, haunches-in, and leg yield. Obviously those movements aren't asked for until First and Second level, but to me those are things that benefit every horse at every level, and every horse should know how to do them.

shoulder-in bobby and carly style.
pc: megan stapley.

I would consider myself overall a pretty intuitive rider. I'm in sync with what parts of my horse are doing what, and my body does a good job of reacting without having to put too much thought into the what or why. With that in mind, a lot of our training was figuring out things like, "If my seat moves this way, it makes this part of Bobby's body move this way. So if I shift like this, that should shift as well." And now we're in leg yield.

Make sense? Kind of sort of?

Training my horse to respond to my own made-up cues definitely shows up when someone else gets on him. Things that I find easy to get him to do--turn on the haunches and rein back for example--BM has a hard time getting out of Bobby.

But at the same time, when we're trying to fix things or move on to something harder, we're also prone to running into road blocks because of how I've trained my horse.

although sometimes he just can't horse at all.

BM is what I would consider a very biomechanical thinking trainer. She's excellent at explaining how every facet of the horse and rider works together and separately to perform each movement. Thanks to that, she's helping me fill in holes from my earlier work that I just never knew about.

So I want to know about you guys. Do you have cues that only work on your horse if you ask for them? Do you make anything up to get a movement, or are you strictly by what the book says to do?


  1. With my mare, it was totally a situation where I did all the riding/training and it worked for us, but was not necessarily by the book. Now that I'm getting help with my new pony from a trainer, we're a little bit more traditional.

  2. This is such an interesting topic to me.

    Moe has some weird training stuff thanks to most of his miles being put on by me. I can typically get on him and get him on the bit, moving forward, and responding to basic lateral cues, but his lesson kids (who are taught by a pretty by-the-book dressage trainer) struggle to get him to do any of those things. I'm sure the length of time I have been riding him has something to do with it, too.

    Gina, who was most definitely not trained by me, is like riding a textbook.

  3. Yes. This. All of it. For better or for worse, I've trained Dino to respond to my own special cues and aids, the majority of which are probably not technically correct. It's telling when I get on other horses and can't get them to do things with my made-up, Dino-only aids. I didn't have regular access to a trainer for the first several years I owned him, either, and with his behavioral and health issues I definitely developed some unorthodox methods to "work around" him. Trying to teach other people to ride him is always interesting and like teaching someone a foreign language. If you're not speaking the Alli & Dino secret code, he can get pissy! Definitely doesn't reflect well on me as a trainer, but eh, it works for us!

  4. Kind of the opposite of this. Trail buddy was like "Ox is trained to canter from driving your seat", and that's great, but every other horse I've ever cantered on takes a cue from the outside leg, too. And how does super horse know which lead to pick up? So, yeah, surprise, the pony actually cues perfectly from the outside leg.

    I'd probably have more relative stories if I actually let people ride my horse...

  5. I think even "made" horses will adapt to what they're getting.... As in, I find all of my horses figure out what I'm asking for eventually, even if it's probably wrong. I have two old men that I acquired with buttons installed and two youngsters. One youngster lives with trainer, but her buttons are generally similar to mine. The other is with me, he's an ottb. He's pretty angry much of the time when I tell him to do things. Probably because I'm doing it wrong. But how should he even know? I'll have to get back to you with more pertinent information if/when my trainer ever gets on that one.

  6. Ack, as someone who had no ability to take lessons until my mid 20's, after I had app for about 8 years, yeah everything is self taught here. I read a LOT and I think I did a good job of interpreting those aids from text form but we had a steep learning curve when I started taking my once-a-month lesson and getting regular riding help from barn buddies (for good and bad).
    Now I am as traditional as possible. When I first started leasing App, I was surprised/horrified that people couldn't ride App like I could and worked hard to "fix" that.

  7. I rode a "3rd level" horse that his new owner couldn't get him to shoulder in. Previous rider taught him to NECK REIN for the shoulder in. When new owner couldn't get it, old rider said, "Oh just toss him in his double and you'll get it." She was like, "I'm riding training level." Let's just say I think she overpaid for her horse, who is not only trained wrong, but can cop an attitude too and she's a basic rider.

    I try to train Mikey and Penn in an intuitive way, then I toss other people on them and see if they can get a movement from him. So far so good, and Trainer hasn't yelled at me either!

  8. I have two horses who don't appear to go into the bridle for most riders, one much more so than the other. I think some of it is that it takes time for a new rider to adjust to the way a horse goes (if they're even capable of that) but also, I'm pretty sure my horses are backwards. Especially the older one. Whenever I've gotten someone to put her into the bridle, it's taken like 30 minutes and a billion circles and me yelling "PUSH MORE" every two seconds. I'm a slightly fat, saggy/out of shape ammy with a heart defect - I'm not reeaaaally convinced that my animals are that hard to ride.

  9. I mostly kind half ass it and don't try very hard and my horse loves it. People who are much better and more intense riders than I am have a lot of trouble with him. ;-) Also the people who are better riders only get on when he's being super terrible, so I really can't tell if my training is working or not I guess.

  10. This is so interesting and I literally sat here for the minutes trying to come up with an answer. Thing is, without asking everyone how they ask for every single cue, i have no idea how closely I trained the boys to what everyone else does!

    I think I've got them trained closely to whats considered typical, but I am sure they have picked up on my unique cues above anyone else.

    Yankee for example, is 14 and now is pretty much made. He can do almost anything but canter pirouette and flying changes (lol), piaffe (unless its in hand, he can do that) and passage. Aka GP moves. Other than that, he's got it and he's got it good. I also was the only rode who rode him for about 8 years but after that I let literally anyone ride him. He's probably had about 30 butts on him and four different leasers over the years. In essence, he will do pretty much anything as long ask you actually have him working like a proper dressage horse (something my lease has a hard tim doing rn) and will also literally jump anything.

    B is still "a baby" at 7 and only 2 years off the track and is just now accepting lateral work. However, multiple people have ridden him and gotten him in a working frame and WTC without issues and even jumped him a bit so I consider that a win.

    However, they still always go best for me, since I'm the main person and all. So yeah, they def probably have picked up a few little things from me exclusively, but I couldn't tell you what it is hahaha

    So sorry for the god damn novel

  11. Good post. I pretty much had no real (quality) training growing up other than being thrown on random horses, sent on trail, and expected to not only survive but lead others back with me.

    I like watching others go on my mare, seeing how she reacts to their cues lets me know what she needs work on, or what I need work on. WS makes her look so effortless, yet there have been times she has told me we look so relaxed (when we really really weren't) so I know I'm not horrid.

    I did go try a few sales horses at another barn with WS and we both had trouble cuing changes which makes me think its a little relative to how your horses are trained, I know how to cue any of our horses at our barn, but haven't ridden enough outside of our circle of late to say I could do the same elsewhere.

  12. I am just winging it so hard. No one seems to have noticed though

  13. Interesting post! I'd say for me it's a combination of the two. I've known how to ask for movements "in theory" so I kind of made it up based on that. The horses I've ridden have always done something sort of like what I wanted, so I guess that's a win? Now that I'm actually having to do the movements *for real* (like in a test in front of a judge), I'm learning so much about how to ride the movement correctly. And it's kind of amazing, because when I put my body in the right place (or move my body out of the way), movements happen so much more easily.

  14. One of my best friends trains her horses to canter off her inside leg -- so if you want to canter left lead, you ask with your inside left leg... and to me I have to "ask" him to counter canter to get the correct lead.

  15. Your post sounds exactly like my riding situation. All Pal's buttons are my buttons.
    I think training without a trainer, as long as you really put effort into to thinking about it how things work/dont work, makes you a much better rider! Great work!

  16. My horse and I basically communicate thru some sort of radio frequency in my molars. I pretzel my body and she strikes off into beautiful canter. I align myself with the stars and mercury in retrograde and the Tropic of Capricorn and she runs right thru that oxer like it was match sticks. Really. It's a thing of beauty!!

  17. I think everyone and their horse has some weird quirks. I know Suzie does for sure.

  18. About the time I started learning how to put more complex things like shoulder-in and haunches-in, I went off to college and got very little guidance on those things, so even though we do them, I'm sure the way I ask is not quite correct. One day I'll get to do a few more dressage lessons and really dive into those so we're doing them correctly, because as you mentioned, eventually those weird aids turn into training holes.

  19. I most definitely think this is what's going on with Brantley and I and something that I'm afraid of. I definitely am cursed too with the feel but not so much the knowledge of "what's right". So when someone gets on B, god forbid they slide their leg just that too far back and he's flying across the arena. I couldn't honestly tell you exactly what my cues are... I just get on and go, try not to think to much and just let my body do what I feel is right and if it doesn't work, try something else.

    I have a friend with a biomechanical trainer as well which I'd love to hook up with one day, definitely have some holes to fill between the two of us!

  20. I once was told - you can ask a horse to canter any way you want, it's a question of them associating what you're doing/asking with the desired result; that said, I like to learn to ask in a way that is likely to be asked my the majority of riders.

  21. I dunno. From Pearl's school horse days, I'd imagine that her cues are fairly standard. But the last time I had friends on her (literal years ago)... we always joke that she is the Perpetual Canter Machine because honestly all I do is think canter and she does it FOREVER (we have many discussions about how there are other gaits). But both my friends who got on her in the same session had such a time getting her to pick up a canter, it was bizarre. I don't know if it was a disconnect between the actual cue or if she is just more mentally adjusted to how I ride and "based on how this ride has been going so far, it's probably time for me to canter now" (bad mom, I try to mix it up so she doesn't anticipate so much, but clearly have still taught her this)... if that makes sense.

    As for lateral work... hell if I know. I've never ridden anything that has actual Buttons, I have no idea what prior training the mare had... we can do a vague approximation of the basic movements, but no idea what someone else would get out of her. I pretty much WTC around the rail for the first 7 years I rode (go lesson mill barns!) so I just never got that intuitive feel for "move my body parts this way, influences horse's parts that way." Sigh.


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