Transitions - Raise Your Baseline Expectation.
I think about the baseline of skills and abilities as a starting point or minimum I need with each horse I ride. I do this so I know what to improve to increase the baseline and my future expectations of the horse. This type of forward thinking promotes growth and development and diminishes stagnation of our progression and our horses.
When I get on a horse there are a few ‘minimums’ I need to have. Clearly the go and the whoa are a good thing but I have to ask, “How good is it?”. The next time you go and mount your horse, ask yourself, “Does my horse go as easily as they slow?”.
Halt, walk, then walk, halt.
Walk, trot, then trot, walk.
Trot, canter/lope, then canter/lope, trot.
The desired, minimum, baseline I want is that these transitions are even. Horses that go too easily typically don’t slow. And the opposite is true for the horse that slows too easily, they don’t willingly go. One horse is in your hands and the other is behind the leg. This will compromise every maneuver you want your horse to perform. This is because most of the horse's bandwidth or mental capability to hear new aids is used up on the go or whoa.
Be principled to solve only this, first. And only then, bring in other exercises. Go back and fix it, as much as needed and don’t allow an impulsive horse to build power or a dull one to cause you to work. A grinding aid is difficult for both horse and rider. Evaluate this baseline activity of upward and downward transitions. Raise your bar of sensitivity of expectation and do-over what you need to do to affect a change. If your horse already feels even, then ask, “How sensitive are these transitions? How subtle are they?”. Ask yourself (or even better, video yourself) to find out if they are visible from the outside. If our riding communication can be seen by folks a mile away then there is room for growth and refinement.
Get so good at improving your baseline, ultimately leading to very subtle aids, that your communication is a secret only felt between you and your horse.
Be a student forever - raise the bar on your baselines.
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