Helping to develop consistency.
Like most of us adult amateur riders, time management always seems to be a challenge. Some weeks, our riding is right on schedule. Other weeks, there is insufficient time, or daylight, or both, to ride consistently.
“Consistent” is a sublime concept. Webster’s Dictionary defines “consistent” as: “marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction” and “marked by agreement: compatible” and “showing steady conformity to character, profession, belief, or custom.” When we think of riding principles such as “contact” or “rhythm” consistency is vital to excellent communication and regular gaits with our riding partner. But how can one school “consistency”?
Recently, I read an article interviewing JJ Tate. She spoke of practicing dressage while trail riding and she mentioned that “counting strides” is one of her favorite exercises. When I read that, I had a light bulb moment! In all my years of riding, I had never heard of this exercise!
As a classical pianist, counting is something I feel very confident about doing. I can count rhythm, fix fingerings, and consistently practice difficult passages of notes on the page until it all comes together to make lovely piano music. So I was eager to try “counting strides” with Kaliwohi.
What an eye-opener! When I first counted strides when riding, I quickly realized my half-halts were way too late for Kiwi! If I want him to walk ten strides and then halt, I need to prepare him on stride eight and ask for the halt on stride nine in order for him to halt square on stride ten. If I wait until stride nine to prepare-and-ask, he feels rushed and either doesn’t halt square, or halts on stride eleven.
We’ve included a couple of video clips of raw, unedited footage so you can see Kiwi and I working on this “counting strides” exercise. I had just mounted Kaliwohi, so you’re watching us warm up. In case anyone is curious, I don’t ride with a cavesson because I want Kaliwohi working his mouth as much as he wants to, in order to get used to the bit. I also want him to feel free to raise his head when he wants to or feels the need to do so at this point in his training.
We will eventually get his topline consistent, but, for now, if he gives me three or four great strides at a time, I am happy with that and we handle the rest of the “young horse fussies” – especially these days, when my riding is not as consistent as I would like it to be (when these videos were taken, Kiwi had been on hiatus for ten days, due to my work schedule).
Another great tip I read recently is from Carl Hester. I read some tips Hester had shared recently at a California clinic. The most profound one, for me, was this: good riders do maybe ten transitions per training session. Great riders do a hundred.
A hundred transitions?! Is that even possible? But I decided to find out, and sure enough, Kaliwohi and I – even in a twenty minute riding session at dusk – can easily do at least fifty or more transitions.
I’ve included another bit of raw video showing Kiwi and I working on transitions. Note sometimes I’m asking him merely to think about walking but immediately pick up the trot again. This exercise – asking for dozens of transitions throughout the twenty meter circle – does an incredible job of helping a young horse focus: “she’s asking for X now; she’s asking for Y now; she’s asking for Z now; she’s asking for X again now.”
This exercise also does an incredible job of teaching this rider how to be much more precise, concise, and consistent in my “asks.” It also helps one focus and be absolutely “in the moment” every step of the ride, so no moment is wasted just meandering through a half-circle of trotting.
One huge bonus to both these training tips is this: for those of us who are not particularly bold riders, counting strides and doing multiple transitions throughout a training session requires such consistent concentration that you’re too busy to feel nervous, uncertain, or any of those negative things.
Kaliwohi was fresh during these videos. It was supper time and, while he had had a bite before we saddled up, all his barn buddies were happily munching hay while he was being asked to focus and work. Had I not been focused by using these exercises, he might well have decided to scamper back to the barn.
I’m not afraid of my horse – to date, I’ve never come off him and I have successfully ridden several major boos and spooks and skitters offered by my young wild horse – but I certainly appreciate having focused exercises like these to keep MY mind consistently on the training at hand, instead of the plane flying overhead or the dogs barking or the cat running right under-hoof as Kaliwohi and I are working together.
As of this writing, Kaliwohi has about forty rides behind him. I realize a professional trainer would have made far more progress than I have since I first backed him in June, and I myself would have made more progress if I could achieve the consistent riding schedule to which I aspire. But this is real life. My life. It’s neither perfect, nor perfectly consistent. But I’m doing the best I can for me and for Kiwi, and striving to integrate a little more consistency into my life, my eating habits, and my riding. These two tips have been an incredible boost to my work with Kaliwohi. I hope you find them helpful to you, as well.