April 24, 2012

Telling vs. Asking

Hi, my name is Cob Jockey, and I have a problem.

Hi, Cob Jockey.

I'm a teller instead of an asker.


Let me describe this problem like this: Think of Connor as a foreigner who doesn’t know English.  If he doesn’t understand what I’m saying, my natural response is to repeat my phrase by yelling it in his face, louder.  That clears up the confusion, right?

Wrong.  Of course, wrong.
Quieter!  I'm trying to relax!
You need to be insistent when asking the horse to do something, but you don’t need to give him an ultimatum.  Unfortunately, that’s my natural inclination.  Take, for example, the turn on the forehand.  In true Connor fashion, he has always gotten really nervous and fussy when I ask for it.  On Sunday, when he wouldn’t bend around my left leg, my trainer had me break it down and do a turn on the forehand off the left leg, and he started tossing his head and prancing nervously.  “Just barely touch him with your leg, and make sure you’re keeping his shoulder straight with the outside (right) rein,” she said.  

So, I used pressure so light, you’d swear I made contact only with his hair and not his body, and you know what?  He took a relaxed step over.  And another.  It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t freaked out.  I realize now that I had been trying to shove him over with my leg – telling, instead of asking – and this isn’t a horse that can handle that kind of pressure (and no horse should have to).  If my cue for the trot is pushing my hips ever so slightly forward (and it is), what on earth made me think that he needed that much pressure to tell him to move off my leg?  The answer is that I try to solve my problems by getting physical, and that’s not what these problems require, especially not with such a sensitive horse.

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