Saturday, May 8, 2010

Finding Whimsy

Yesterday afternoon I watched the last trailer head out of my driveway, taking the last rider and horse away from a four day dressage clinic with Jeff Moore and suddenly felt very tired. It had been a fabulous 4 days of intense instruction from Jeff, a total immersion into the psychology, physiology, and bio dynamics of both horse and rider, using tactics and techniques to entice the horse into compliance with our dressage wishes.

Very little that Jeff teaches is main stream, typically taught dressage banter. Some call him the dressage heretic because of his unconventional teaching and training methods, and yet what he shares with us has results with horses that move better and riders that become more than mere passengers with no influence, and without doing battle. He pushes a rider to think independently about how to address the animal, and the issue, prioritize, then keep whimsically trying something until the horse figures it out. This clinic was amazing in that all the horses and riders made such dramatic improvements and had so many "ah hah" moments. It was just a great time, but my post clinic martini was a chilly and welcome, soothing balm to my tired, wind, sand, and sun battered self.

Recently I had been hearing from a very nice lady to whom I had sold a very nice and promising colt a few years back, about some problems this colt was now giving her with his training, and that the relationship had soured to becoming  confrontational. The lady was understandably frustrated with him and it sounded mutual.  I had encouraged her before the clinic to bring this fellow to ride with Jeff to see what he could do to help, but a busy show season took her priority instead.  She then wrote me to tell me that she had now decided to sell him. This was very sad news to me both as a friend to this lady,  and as the breeder of this wonderful horse.

Breeding horses for a business means that most of the relationships I make with a horse will be limited to the time they stay here, until they sell to a new owner and move away. They come into this world in my barn and I am the first human they encounter. I become a surrogate mother and new boss mare, after they are weaned from their dams, and I lead them into becoming usable horses for someone else when I start them under saddle. When they arrive they are a blank black board  and develop their unique personalities as they are handled and grow up in the herd. Daily, I watch them and know how they operate and what they like and don't. They are my creation, a living form of art using genetics instead of paint. I have a deep love and bond for each horse that I have bred  or spent time training and when they move on to new owners my hope is that they will find friendship and a good working relationship along with a compassionate and caring home situation. I want them all to find a better spot than they were born with. I want the new owners to feel the same or better about their horse as I did when they were mine. Regrettably this doesn't always work out. I know this lady was taking excellent care of this boy but there is a clash of something going on here. It is very disappointing to me and I wish things could be different for her and for this horse, and I do hope they can find a way to work it out still.

Classical dressage style, which is the norm for most dressage riders here in the USA because that's what got filtered over here from the Germans, who were once the  leading winners in the riding world . The basis for most of the techniques they used were designed long time back for the cavalry and for men who would be riding very strong, and very strong willed, horses, not for women with different body types, and not for the sensitive type horse. Its premise follows a path that has little room for innovation and creativity, rather dictatorial in a "You vill do as I say, or else" mentality. That's fine as long as it fits the rider or that particular horse.

When it doesn't fit, things can get very stuck in the training progression and it's usually right there when the horse is working up to doing 2cd level work when higher degrees of collection and expression of the horse's gaits are required, as well as more agility, strength, and precision. This is the point of doom for many horse and rider combinations and that's precisely where this lady and horse are regrettably. So something has to change, and it may be a new owner or it could be a change in routine, or method.
Jeff Moore is a very different teacher as I have said. His mentor was the late Baron Von Blixen, (yes the same Von Blixen family as were portrayed in Out of Africa). The Baron once had two horses in the Olympics that he had trained, in two different disciplines. Since rules didn't allow riders to compete on two horses then, a friend rode one and the Baron rode the other. Both won the gold. His training was based on the thought that if you can control the placement of the feet of the horse, especially the front ones, then the rest would follow in balance, without the forced "drive them until they get lighter in front" of the classical way

I have seen folks, been one myself, take lessons with either the Barron and with Jeff, and whose brains had been thoroughly loaded with the classical stuff, have the light bulb come on when this radical approach to the  issue was given to them and, if they tried it, found the results were amazing. I have also seen folks leave the ring in tears because they couldn't let go of their model of how they thought it must be. For some, being outside the box is scary and humiliating. My first years of riding with Jeff were a total puzzle to me as to the why of it all, but I saw such dramatic improvement in the way my horses went and I became a believer in the heretic's teachings. What I love the most about the thing is, Jeff always says to try stuff and if doesn't work, try something else, and above all else, be whimsical.

Whimsy. Think outside the box. Training horses is never a straight path. Most relationships of any sort are on uncharted paths. They take work, thought, and creativity to grow and change together. I sincerely hope that this horse and lady can find a new path from the one they are colliding on and make it work, and be happy and competitive once again.

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