It sounds like she sure knows how to teach you!
The only thing I would like to add is: body follows mind. Not the other way round. Of course the other way round is how we have been taught to train horses for centuries (make the head come down, then he will relax; make the hindquarters get under more and your horse will collect and feel proud; make your horse back up and he will respect you as a leader...
), but when working at liberty you have to follow the rule that applies to every living being. And most of the time when you realise that, you realise the answer is not in getting your horse to do something, but in dropping that specific goal and do
less to achieve it. It gives the horse more liberty to experiment on his own, to discover it himself and when that happens, your horse will love it even more.
Sjors is a good example of that: When you look at the video of Sjors I posted a couple of weeks ago, you see that Sjors has a nice, round posture when trotting around me, but isn't extremely collected: his head is held at shoulder-height, and not higher. I realised that at first this was because he was new to this posture and needed to find his balance and strength in it. But then it became more of a habit it seemed. He did everything, but everything with his head over there, which of course limits higher movement of the frontlegs in passage, Spanish walk and other more upwards gaits.
I could have looked for many solutions. Some would have started to train with a whip again in order to engage the hindlegs more so that the front end lifts and the head comes up. Others would start training with a halter and reins so that they could 'show' Sjors where his head should be by subtle rein-cues. I decided to give him his rewards a little higher over a period of time to see if he would start to like this position, but the only effect was that Sjors did raise his head flexed nicely when eating a reward, but also stretching his hindlegs out behind him while doing so. Of course you can repair that with a whip-cue again, but I didn't because for me this was just a sign that my method didn't work. So I decided not to focus on it anymore.
Then yesterday I was training with Sjors at liberty again, and I noticed that he has a habit of taking me over when making a halt at walk and trot. So I decided to go and focus on that: when I wanted to stop, I would deliberately slow down, shorten my steps in order to show him that I was slowing down, and only then stand still. Sjors would trot happily on, only then take his brain off the sleep-mode, realise that I was way behind him, and would stop. I immediately clicked and rewarded this halting, because that was what I wanted to see (preferrably with a shorter period of time between my bodycue and his reaction, but you can't have it all right from the start!
). Sjors realised that he should pay more attention to what I was doing and look at my body for signs on what to do. So I started to make it more interesting by walking next to him, slowing down to almost halt and then walk forwards again.
What almost blew me off my feet was that Sjors responded to that by mimicking my every slowing down - and collecting further and further. And while doing that, he raised his neck higher than ever and still with a nicely flexed poll. He has never
done that before! It was just so amazing!
What I guess my point is (if there is any
), is not to focus on the one thing that's not as good as you would want it to be (for me the posture of Sjors'neck, the passage that wasn't really lifting off the ground), but instead on the big why
behind it. If there's one thing that every dressage trainer agrees on, it's that if there's a problem somewhere in the training progress, you should go back to the basis to see the root of it. With Sjors my
was that he didn't hold his neck as high as I wanted. Sjors' problem was that he wasn't collected enough to do so. Our
problem was that our communication wasn't subtle enough to work at that. Of course I could have thought of various ways to fix my problem, by learning Sjors where to keep his head, of I could have fixed his problem by making him collect and devicing ways to get his hindlegs under more - but that would have only fixed symptoms: the real problem was that our communication wasn't refined enough yet. We were still speaking with each other in three letter words (not the nasty ones, you dirty minds
). And of course I could have just deviced more three letter words in order to somewhat crudely point out what I wanted, but the real solution was to become more aware of my
body, all the things I took for granted when moving (I just stop by banging to a halt, and Sjors should see that as a cue to collect himself, bring his hindlegs further under his body and softly come to a connected halt. Yeah, right
). I needed to refine my bodylanguage to be able to be more subtle, in order to be able to ask for more subtle movements from Sjors. So now occasinally we already use a three and a half letter word. Yay. Progress.