The thread subject, and what you all have posted so far has inspired me to write, as I do usually after every lesson, this special one to my private Saturday morning student.
This is a young women of 15 years, with quite a few years of instruction and riding, but sadly some difficulties to overcome. She was overhorsed by a very headstrong large pony mare, and never afforded the chance to learn how to engage the horse by asking rather than demanding.
While I am not doing AND in the mechanics so much, AND is the philosophy that prevails in my lessons and so too with her. She is again a bit overhorsed, but this time with a more sensitive but still quite generous AngloArab gelding with a good sense of humor and though anxious and fussy from being subject to a lot of force from another rider that has access to him (and I no control over that access) he can respond and is not stubborn.
We are on our fourth or fifth lesson so far since we started a few month ago. We were meeting just twice a month and sometimes not even that often, but now have started weekly lessons.
Since she will be showing him late this summer in 4H classes she will be riding with a bit, a nice fat snaffle. No spurs and no crop (she will carry a crop, but I don't teach the use of one to beginners - which in a sense she is). When I do teach it I teach it as an extension of the hand and the first lessons are about how to use the crop to reward with skritches, pats, and rubs. And then I teach how to strike with the crop to ask for energy. "Hit your own boot."
No, more seriously, I teach using it as target and pointer.
This particular horse has been over PNH'd, and you can imagine how jittery it makes him. Lots of lead rope wiggling and snapping etc.
These methods I teach, interestingly enough, or oddly enough, satisfy somewhat the more energetic and enthusiastic "belt them to make them do what you want them to do," crowd.
Here is the letter I wrote my student's mother to share with the student. Names are changed to protect all parties privacy:
Baroque Equitation - /Rassembler/ Products
The word /Rassembler/ is a French term that denotes the complete balance of the horse a superior equilibrium. At Baroque Equitation we will now introduce a *...*
Rassembler in equitation is French for "on the haunches," (or "assembled") which of course means the horse lifts the base of his neck at the chest, moving energy up and out the top of the shoulders (at the withers), lifts the who abdomen - the barrel, and drops his croup so that his rear legs are reaching further forward under himself - what true collection is - bringing the parts together cohesively into a single unit.
It's a wonderful feeling, and to be cultivated. Janice felt it for a few strides today and this due to her diligent work, even under difficult circumstances, on what I asked of her as regarding her "position," (our code word now for correct "seat," leg position, etc.) and regarding the use of her hands.
In effect I was asking her to ride a slightly anxious and reactive horse, while rubbing her stomach in a circle, patting herself on the head, crossing her eyes, and reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb all at the same time. I must say she did it rather well.
Seriously, Janice learned something quite wonderful today - that force does not really work and persistent kind requests do.
She's learning not to "pull," as in pull steadily until the horse obeys, but to ask and release, as we'd ask a friend to comply with our request. She's learning that force is a poor way to make others comply, and that learning to ask, and to do so in various ways, gives better results with fewer harmful side effects - usually none, in fact.
It is a life skill as well as a horse handling skill.
And that is what SHE brought to the lesson today - the ability to see this and to apply this. I can talk for months on this subject to those not already able to see it and I'll usually get nowhere. But when the person is ready, as she was, and is, it doesn't take long before they can not only understand it as "asking" applies to horse handling, but can actually do it as she did today. Very quick learner.
Facing challenges is for her always going to be part of her riding and horse handling, as it still is for me even at my advanced age. This is the fate of the serious horse handler. To be always the student, always the learner.
As for challenges:
She explained to me today how some of what gives her trouble and makes her anxious about riding was Nedra taught. I can believe that remembering how Nedra behaved. Oddly likable but quite difficult at times. This scary past experience has been key to my difficulty in finding ways to loosen up her body and open to the front with chest, shoulder, stomach, and legs - you could see it in her posture with feet too far forward, and bent forward at the waist.
She might like to share with you how we dealt with her feeling as though she was on Nedra, even though she was on Al Farouk. As soon as she used the tool I gave her she began to relax and to come closer to a more classical dressage seat - quite nice to see the change with such a simple tool. I hope she'll remember to use it.
The difficulty with Al Farouk is not, as it might first appear, a major obstacle. In fact it's a very good education. When he performs well under Janice it will not be because he's a trained and compliant (too often sullen and resigned) lesson horse, but because she has learned to be a horse handler. She then has learned to bring about changes in the horse herself.
I had a wonderful time teaching today's lesson.
You may share any or all this with her.
I have one point to make about practice riding before we meet again next week. In regards to asking Al Farouk to back I want her not to pull steadily as she did today, but to begin with that action she shifted to once he complied to the force she was using. Soft asking, one rein then the other. No force.
Sometimes a student gets too anxious to comply with a teacher's request - make the horse do what the instructor says to do at that moment. Not my intent at all.
Backing is a delicate and most useful tool that must be done correctly to preserve it's considerable value as a foundation behavior (and physical conditioner) for other more exacting behaviors that will be asked of the horse in the future - turns on the haunches, collection upon request, lifting the forehand to a jump, etc.
When I asked her to back him up force is what happened - she tried to make the horse do what I had asked. What I meant to request of her was to "ask," him to back up by using the soft gentle persistent request, and patiently continue and patiently wait for him to comply with a few soft steps then she release entirely and reward.
Please share this with her, and let her know I'll be looking for it in the next lesson.
So there's a little snapshot for you of some of my teaching methods. I suspect this young woman will be one of those that will, in time, start to seek an even more companionate way of being with the horse. She's already a communicator and has taken quickly to some of the ways I teach this horse handling skill. As she steadies in her riding, and becomes less anxious, and more confident, we'll study together how the horse responds to one's respiration, heartbeat, odors, sounds, and the body's "field," emanations.
We actually did this in a small way today. She had been listening to the fearful monkey chattering to her in her head about the prior horse being so frightening to her, and carrying that experience into this much more easily handled horse. I simply had her say out loud (for congruence control of that blasted monkey) "this is Al Farouk, this is Al Farouk."
The change in her was obvious - much softer and relaxed and the horse went from hollow back, hindquarters dragging along behind, head and nose up, to a more collected softly in frame shape - this was when she felt the elevation of his stride, and the lovely suspension that will become passage one day, with his hind legs coming under him, and a voluntary ramener with no rein contact.
Quite satisfying to me to see a student experience this. It's such an exhibit of trust by the horse, and this student understood that she had created this trust, given this confidence. She absolutely beamed, quietly of course, as she is rather quiet and thoughtful.
She is giving herself up to the horse. And this horse has all the makings of an AND horse - he loves the challenges and puzzles I introduce to calm and focus him - if only I could isolate him for this student's use only. He's got just one other rider. No control by me over that one.
The owner herself, who rarely has time to ride him, is a wonderfully skilled and quiet rider. If it were her riding him we'd have little challenge.
Time may change things.
Hopefully in an AND way.