So yesterday while riding I had a realisation… 

I walked onto the arena (this happened on both Birdy and Tess) and I had a different version of Go. The horses were moving freely, long flowing steps, no hesitations at this or that, the neck was long, the nose out. What was so interesting was my instant reaction…

Without a second though I started to adjust the tempo and stride length…

I decreased the tempo and length of both horses ever so slightly – something I hadn’t even considered was possible the previous day…

So what was the realisation? Something about the quality of the Go was critically different, something had changed in the Go that allowed me the feeling that I could start to make small adjustments in the gait. Something that I didn’t have the day before.

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A couple of weeks ago a thought had crossed my mind: ‘Andrew (McLean) talks about small steps being the mother of relaxation, and I’m not going anywhere near small steps right now…?’ (I think that is close to what he says… I may be wrong on the exact wording there… but suffice to say small steps are a very important part of the development of the horses way of going).

However the answer to myself was… but I can’t do them yet… and I just let the thought go.

I couldn’t tell you why, I couldn’t explain it to myself, but the feeling was – I just can’t go there yet, the horses aren’t ready – so I basically just let it go and didn’t examine it overly much at the time. However it definitely sparked something as after the thought popped into my head I started to develop a question about the progression of the horses. I wasn’t unhappy about their daily work, every day I could say there was improvement in the quality of the responses however there also wasn’t any real progression happening – something was missing that was preventing me from wanting to ask for any more than I already had…

And then yesterday happened… and instantly BAM!!! I subconsciously reacted to the change in the horses and altered the tempo and spent 20 min in walk playing with shoulder control… and everything was easier… it was like all the little crinkles had been rubbed out. And I realised this was the moment that I had been waiting for… so this MUST be a pretty important quality… and the best way I can define it:

My realisation is this: The horses must CONTINUE

I wonder if it is just that self-maintenance of the gait had developed to proof level, but something about that thought just doesn’t sit quite right with me… because I would say Tess and Birdy already had that. I see it in other horses also: horses that can self maintain the pace, horses that can walk or trot around and neither the tempo nor the length of stride changes, horses that are also light to the aids… but these horses don’t have the x factor that makes this magic. I think there is something else that must be present…

I really can’t define it in empirical terms – which frustrates me no end!! But this is how I would describe it:

Its this supreme willingness to move, zero hesitation. It’s a trot or canter or walk that is almost NOT in self-maintenance… where you know if you are trotting, canter is only a breath away, and that first stride of canter PUSHES. BUT the horse doesn’t run, the horse doesn’t make random changes of tempo or length, he is not jittery or touchy, he is completely centred in his way of going.

And he is as equally as prepared to Stop as he is to Go.

Touch the breaks and they are there… ASB!!!

It’s the same feeling as ‘Correct Draw’ in jumping. Draw is a jumping term used to describe how the horse views the fence on approach. To much draw and the horse fixates on the fence and completely ignores the rider (aka ‘rushing’) not enough and the horse has total disregard for the fence (doesn’t focus on it at all – leading to dodgy distances and run outs). The right amount of draw means your horse maintains line to the fence on auto-pilot and will generally make small adjustments of length and tempo of their own accord BUT they never stop responding to your commands, you are still No. 1 in the line of ‘things to respond to’… everything else plays second fiddle to you – having correct or good draw does not interfere simply enhance…

When you ride a horse that has this magic quality it’s like there is a little magnet in front of his nose… gently pulling him forward every stride… and that’s the feeling I experienced on the arena yesterday… a feeling I hadn’t even tried to quantify until yesterday… a quality I couldn’t even describe to you, yet I had been hunting for it for the last 3 months on these horses.

And the beauty is this weird draw effect works both ways, when he is in Park, he is in Park, no questions asked. When he is in Go he is in Go, no questions asked…

I still very very clearly remember Robert Schmerglatt giving a lesson once in Oz, it would have been around 2010 ish. And the clearest thing I remember him yelling was ‘He must CONTINUE’… He must continue, he must continue, he must continue…

And when he rode the horses you could see the difference – you could clearly see how he made them ‘continue’.

And I would agree it is one of the best ways to describe the feeling, the horses just continue, they continue and continue and continue… doing whatever it is you have asked… that little magnet there, pulling them forward, or keeping them in park…

So as I said… once this phenomenon occurred and the horses were now ‘continuing’ I instantly had the lovely feeling that I could start to adjust the tempo and length within the gaits, smooth, easy… the way we want it to be.

But…

I feel there is a second component to this story that needs mentioning… If it was necessary for the horses to learn to ‘continue’ BEFORE I could start to adjust the gait, there actually has to be adjustment available within the gait. So I think for this ‘magic’ to occur you must also be developing the potential of your horses gait along the way.

You need to be able to access 70% to 80% of your horses gait potential SO that when the horse starts to CONTINUE you then have the potential to ADJUST

What do I mean by that? Well let me try and explain…

Lets take trot for example:

When your horse moves there are only two ways a horse alters his gait; he can either alter the length of the step or he can alter the tempo of the step (A change in step quality of course transpires to a change in stride quality). Both of these things you can put under stimulus control (train them to a button).

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What I most often see is this: Horses that access only about 20-40% of their trot potential.

For instance Birdy and Tess were ‘Short and Slow’ horses, and along either line there was very little adjustment of either quality (tempo or length) before they offered me a change of gait.

So I would say they existed somewhere around this area…

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Pretty damn short and pretty damn slow.

What I did over a period of time was this:

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So that over time they still only offered me a very small variable in the length and the tempo but it was the total opposite of what they were offering me before. Now my ‘normal’ trot was high in tempo (between 75 and 90 beats a minute) and long in length (over track of 15 cm or more) and that was the ONLY trot I was allowing.

Alternately I rode a horse at De Boer called Silvia, she started out with a very very quick and a slightly short stride, over time I moved her trot to very slow and this resulted in relaxation which then allowed the stride to lengthen:

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So basically what I did for all the horses was retrain the trot response so they only offered me the new ‘version’. In Tess and Birdy’s case the new version of trot was quick and long, Silvia’s was slow and long.

What is interesting in both cases, once that new version got to the point where I had that magic feeling that they would ‘continue’ BOOM I had the birth of adjustablity…

And this is what then developed of a period of time (a month or so I would say):

Tess and Birdy:

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And Silvia:

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Now I could slide between the two different ‘trot’s’, the old version and the new… plus everything else in between.

An important point to remember here is in some cases as soon as you move towards the ‘old’ version you may lose some of the quality of the ‘new’ version, so how fast and how much you expand the gait (move away from the new version toward the old version) is dependent on how well the horse maintains the quality of the new version of trot. This new version has to be like ‘Home Base’ – it needs to stay strong, reliable and uncorrupted.

So with Silvia, I had to take really baby steps for about 3 weeks, as soon as I moved her out of the new tempo and length, she lost all self maintenance and began to run again. She literally only had two trot’s: really slow and medium length or really quick and short… there was no in between!!!!

But once I got her to do slightly quicker, same length and continue at that, the penny dropped and the ‘self-maintenance’ light bulb came on…


 

They key that I took away from this moment was the feeling that the horse must continue. The feeling of being able to make steps towards true adjustments of the gait in Birdy, Tess and Silvia ONLY came after I had developed ‘Continue’ in that ‘Second Trot’ or ‘Second Walk’ or ‘Second Canter’. I needed the feeling that they would just continue in that new version of the gait that I had trained, no hesitation, no second thought…

So thanks to Robert for planting the seed of the idea and the subconscious practice that I had already developed prior to ESI. Whether or not ‘Continue’ is actually just the most purest form of ‘Self-maintenance’ of the gait  I’m not 100% sure… but either way I now very much appreciate that…

“He must CONTINUE”