Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Searching or Enjoying


But what happens if you are always looking?  An interesting side concept came up when delving into why my working gaits weren't quite right.  The idea that when training the rider needs to be either searching or enjoying.  Always.  Clearly.  When searching, the rider is trying various different things to get the effect that is desired.  An example would be alignment aka straightness on the figure.  The rider wants the horse aligned, so tries various strategies to get there including going to the other place of crookedness supported by forehand and hindquarter yields, and different helpful figures.  When the horse does get aligned, there needs to be a period of the rider going into active neutral, keeping the desired effect for a moment or three, and giving a release/reward for the horse hitting the target.  Then the cycle starts again when the horse goes crooked, the search starts again, until eventually the horse holds himself in alignment because it is the easiest, most neutral place to be.  With minimal effort from the rider.

Think about this.  How many times have you seen someone go round and round with a tense horse, always searching for something but never enjoying.  Because the rider doesn't have a clear idea of exactly what they want, the release/reward of active neutral is never possible.  Talk about a recipe for an unhappy horse that won't work for you.  But how many times as riders are we super cognizant of what we truly want, seek it by playing between things a bit, and then reward and release by going to active neutral as soon as we come even close?  How many times does the horse come close enough, but not get the release and get more and more frustrated?

This is one of those super subtle concepts that is really the foundation of any kind of animal(cough-cough teenager) training.  If the animal never gets a release why would he offer to try?  By starting with the concept of playing with different things to get a certain response and then going into the release of active neutral we are training our beast to always be thinking, "Is this what she wants?  How about this?  Ah, she stopped asking things, this must be it."  Think about how motivating this is to the animal over time and how they then become a true partner in the training.

I really think this is one of the key concepts of Natural Horsemanship, any kind of animal training, and obviously dressage training.  Many tiny steps of play, get the response wanted, release until it goes south, go again and again until skills are built up.  Obviously, the steps are very small but it is easy to see the progression from basic ground work to loose rein under saddle work to connected basic dressage riding all linked by the underlying concept of searching(asking for something achievable) or enjoying(cessation of searching into active neutral).  Basically, it all comes down to pressure and release.


  1. I just found your blog while I was searching for equine biomechanics. I'm really looking forward to your archive.
    I also think you hit the nail on the head. Until a horse knows what you want they should always be searching for the answer (not all horses are naturally gifted with this but with proper training they should eventually default to this line of thinking) and then praised (release) for giving the correct answer. Dressage should be a conversation of asking for something and releasing once given.
    I definitely think I'll enjoy your blog!

    1. Thanks Spanish Walk! The horse and rider searching for the answer I've always gotten, but the idea that going to active neutral is the release is a new one to me. I will have to check out your blog as well.