Snakes and seats

Very recently, I’ve started riding on outrides trying to ride on the neckstrap rather than the reins. The reins are there, but I don’t touch them – they hang on Bitou’s neck while I hold the neckstrap with one hand and then the other hand is loose. (Edit: Don’t tell my coach, I’m supposed to be working on my hand position!)

Yesterday, we went on our usual Wednesday outride. We were happily trotting along the bridlepath and went up a little incline. I was riding on the neckstrap only, and neither Bitou nor I was really paying attention as we were still warming up.
The next moment I saw a massive mole snake on the other side of the little incline we just trotted up. I didn’t have my reins, I had only one hand on the neckstrap and was trotting along on a horse who was looking in the distance at a pretty grey mare that was grazing nearby (he is quite the ladies man). I didn’t know what to do to avoid treading on the sunbathing snake, so I launched my body to the left hand side. Bitou instantly moved in underneath me to ‘catch’ me and we managed to pass the snake, missing by about 20cm. What an amazing reaction!
I’ve noticed before, that we he spooks, Bitou will always ‘take me with him’ when he shies. He doesn’t normally shy, but when he does, he does it almost in a controlled fashion (for lack of a better word). We’ve always known that he is an extremely sensitive horse (as in, he will immediately say if his saddle is a smidgeon too tight, if you put too much rein pressure on his nose, he will pull back and you will lose etc) but this was such a good illustration in how sensitive he is to weight changes.
Why do we need reins again? 😉

Modern Dressage vs thinking for yourself

Everyone knows that there is a problem with modern dressage, but no one is changing their approach to dressage, because we all erroneously believe that we ourselves are doing it correctly, the classical way.

Therefore we are feeding this incorrect system. So what we are seeing is horses being produced and ridden incorrectly and people believing that what they are doing is correct. No one intends to do the wrong thing, after all! So if people think what they are doing is correct, but it’s actually incorrect, it’s no wonder that we see so many horses on the forehand, behind the vertical, trailing behind and not engaged at all (the exact opposite of classical dressage – in a nutshell). In every level of riding, from the basics to the top. Yet if you ask the trainer of that particular horse (or the rider for that matter) they will certainly defend themselves, stating why their approach is correct.

Of course, this is a multi-faceted problem which can be discussed in a number of ways (one of which is the drive to get results in an accelerated time-frame: I mean if someone paid a fortune for a horse, they want to see the results! Especially with our modern horses looking mature at the age of 3 already!). But I think the main problem is that people believe what they are told. People do not think for themselves.
This is not an equestrian problem only. As a scientist, I see it in my work and life every day. People haven’t been trained to think critically and to question everything. To quote something I saw on Facebook recently, “the problem is not people being uneducated, the problem is that they are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught. And not educated enough to question what they have been taught“. Therefore, I question my coach. I’m lucky in having a coach that welcomes my ‘need-to-know’ and who doesn’t get offended by me questioning every word she says.
I’m by no means saying that I am the only one riding/training/working correctly – I certainly try my best, just like everyone else does. I am merely sharing my approach here: which is, asking questions and not accepting only one answer.  I think that a massive problem is that people do not question their coaches. And the coaches do not question themselves.
I said a while ago that I believe, if someone cannot explain the exact and precise action of a bit, that they shouldn’t be using it. The key being ‘understanding what you are doing’ rather than just doing it for the sake of doing.
Another example (I got permission from the rider to post this image, which I  turned into a silhouette to protect their identity, perhaps badly, but you get the idea!) to illustrate.example of forehand 2
The rider asked their coach whether the horse was on the forehand in this moment (yes, the picture is level, for in case you are wondering!). The coach said no, that is just the position in the canter, the horse is ‘definitely not on the forehand’. Therefore – was the coach correct in saying that the horse is not on the forehand? Should the rider just accept that the horse is not on the forehand because the coach said so? Is it not possible that the coach could have it wrong?
Let’s face it: horse people are opinionated. If you ask 10 people, you will get 12 opinions. So it’s difficult to establish what a correctly working horse looks like compared to one working incorrectly. So to avoid this, I like to compare everything I learn to what I’ve read, written by the classical masters, in some form or the other. If the aim is to ride classically, then surely those are the people who should guide the process of riding classically. In addition, I like to compare that to current high level riders who I respect (ie, i wouldn’t mind if they rode/schooled my horse).
Finally, as a scientist, I like everything to make scientific sense. If I apply an aid, or a sequence of aids, I want to be able to explain it from a physics perspective. If I am unable to, then I need to go read up until I am able to. If I still can’t explain something, both scientifically AND get confirmation from the classical masters, that this is the correct way to go, I throw that out the window and look at the next possible approach.
Yes, I get that everything is not so clear cut. Yes, I understand that it’s ‘easier said than done’. No one ever said riding is easy. Both in and out of the saddle!
I want to understand why I am doing something. I feel that I owe it to my horse to know what I’m doing, to ensure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. That is MY approach. It might not be the correct one. And in 2 years time I might feel differently. But for now, I feel that we should question everyone: our coaches, our judges, and ourselves, 100% of the time, for the sake of our horses.

Adventures of a South African in Azerbaijan

ADVENTURES OF A CAPE TOWNIAN IN BAKU (this was posted on my Facebook account on 18 June 2015, but I love the story so much that I decided to post it here too):

So.. I went to the shop to buy washing powder. Only washing powder. I was a bit worried that I will end up buying some random other product because all the labels are in Russian. But I found some that is actually English!  Well, I walked out with 3 bags full of goodies to take home!

On my way to the shop, I ran into a little kitty who was dozing off next to a lamp post. I’ve posted about the Baku cats before. They don’t seem to belong to anyone and they are everywhere. They are mostly quite slim (not starving, but certainly not fat) and quite dirty. So I start petting the kitty, who wakes up and immediately starts soaking up the attention. He actually jumped onto my leg and grabbed my hand every time I stopped petting him or stopped rubbing his belly! Now, this was around 6pm. And it seems to be common that the men in the area come out around that time and sit on the pavement in little groups to chat.

So keep in mind, that I am already stared at wherever I go. Now, this white chick is sitting on the pavement, playing with a stray cat and talking to him in Afrikaans for about 15 minutes! A guy approached me and welcomes me to Azerbaijan, and then told me the cat’s name is Vaska (don’t know the spelling). Vaska absolutely loved the attention. And the men on the pavement probably wondered what the hell is wrong with me!

Anyway, so off I went to the shop. When I came back I stopped to quickly pet all the cats along the way, as I always do (which almost made me late for my bus once!) and when I looked for Vasko, he was gone! Then, a couple of steps further, I saw the little kitty, on his back with his little paws in the air. Happy as a cat in Egypt, belly being scratched and head being stroked by all the men who sat watching me earlier!!

Riding updates (back dated)

I’ve been sort of keeping a ‘blog’ on my riding progress on Facebook, but it’s really difficult to go back and find the posts again without having to scroll through many unrelated posts. So I’m copying it here for better record keeping 🙂

This one from 15 April.

I have a bad habit of sitting slightly to the right (my dominant side) when riding as a result of placing more weight in my right stirrup. Obviously this is not correct so now I have to work on keeping equal weight on my seat bones. A new technique we are using is to ride using only my left stirrup. This forces me to put more weight on the left which then creates the ‘correct’ feeling, which would hopefully even out the issue. At walk, trot and canter.

I tried it out on the trial for the first time yesterday – the weather was too gorgeous to waste it in the arena. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, but Bitou and I both managed really well! It was actually a lot of fun. We rode to the dam and stopped there to graze a bit. Then I hopped back on and rode back, doing the same thing.

When we got to our last canter stretch, a lady was walking her two dogs off the leash. I wanted the entire path to canter, so Bitou and I stopped and waited for them to pass. When they reached us, the dogs all of a sudden stormed up to us, one going towards Bitou’s legs! I dropped the reins and grabbed his mane (so he could use his neck to balance, should he want to swing around on the uneven ground), which is maybe stupid, but the only thing I could think of in a split second! Bitou totally surprised me by not moving. He was dead calm and just stood completely still. At the same time the lady shouted at the dogs and they ran back towards her. First negative encounter with dogs and Bitou handled it like such a pro!

We then headed home where Bitou had his supper. On the way to his night paddock, I hopped on sans saddle with nothing but his mane to hold on to. We had a little trot and canter (!) up to his paddock (a bit scary, i must admit!) but he stopped immediately when I asked as I was worried that my legs will bang onto the fence around the corner. We then had a quiet walk down the last stretch to his food 🙂

What a super, super golden horse he is!