After the previous day’s work, which was long and strenuous and a bit stressful, I wanted to keep today’s ride short and sweet. I felt like he’d gotten a bit balled up and tight, which led to our argument in the first place. That my own stress level is creeping higher and higher by the day was certainly no help at all.
Thoroughbreds, the fact is , are too bright for their own good. They learn too quickly. One of the more interesting training dilemmas I’ve run into is that old Warmblood Trainer divide. You know the one: So-and-so is only good as a Warmblood Trainer. No good with Thoroughbreds.
Pshaw, you think. No such thing. How dare they imply that Thoroughbreds aren’t good enough to work with So-and-so? So-and-so has gone to a dozen Olympic games and won thirty-seven USDF Platinum Diamond-Encrusted Medals. And he speaks GERMAN. He should be begging to work with your genius Thoroughbred!
For a while, all is sweetness and light. Literally, sweet gaits and light frame. Your horse is truly a dressage genius. You are about to crack the Training Level ceiling at last.
And then – yawing gaping mouth! Heavy head like a sack of bricks! Ears in your mouth when you ask for a nice halt! Where did my budding First Level dressage horse go?
He had a hot-blooded little nervous breakdown, that’s what happened.
As some of you commenters have noted before, OTTBs tend to prefer low hands, down on the withers. But the classical dressage seat calls for high hands, and this leads to a tension that will simply ball the unprepared Thoroughbred up into a tense little disaster.
Then it’s back to long, forward movement with the most gentle, low, open fingers you can manage, to let the horse stretch out and feel comfortable again. It isn’t a difficult fix – the key is to avoid a relapse. Sometimes that means talking back to the So-and-so dressage trainer.
“Raise your hands!”
Like any bright child, Thoroughbreds can be pushed over the edge fairly quickly, and they’ll keep smiling as they trot right up to the edge and tumble over. The line between cheerful hard worker and nervous breakdown disaster is very, very fine and crumbly at the edges. The thoughtfulness of adding long and low, easy days to their routine, and recognizing immediately when contact is resented, is usually enough to keep them back on firm ground.
The thing about planning short rides, as I’ve said here before, is that the horse always throws some sort of fit about something and you feel honor-bound to fix the problem, and it turns from a half hour into ninety minutes before you know what hit you.
I think that sometimes it can be easy to forget just how low expectations can be set. I wanted to set the bar so low today, he couldn’t even trip over it. Give me a long, low frame at the trot, give me a nice easy canter, give me a halt or two, and I’ll give you a shower and a carrot.
Deal. With a smile.