An interesting concept came up watching the Dressage Naturally Results in Harmony DVDs that I’ve never come across before. When your horse is not doing an exercise precisely the way you want, have you ever considered whether the problem is lack of responsiveness or lack of coordination? Depending on which it is should dictate your response. If lack of responsiveness is the issue, abandon the exercise, get the isolated response you need and then come back to the full exercise. If lack of coordination is the issue, for example with a new to the horse movement, keep doing the exercise and playing with the “recipe” of the aids/biomechanics to find the precision.
This sounds really confusing, so let me give an example. Leg yields. You ask your horse for a leg yield from the 1/4 line at the walk. Your horse “sort of “ leg yields but it is not really correct. He is not really stepping over and still going forward. You can bail out, reinforce a sideways yield or reinforce forward with some trot steps or any other manner of fix for what you perceive the underlying problem to be and the come back to the exercise. Your other option is to play with your weight/biomechanics/ coordination to find the precision within the exercise. Depending on what is going on with your horse either is a valid training option, but you as the rider need to make a decision and not just fall into twist/pull/kick.
I have found this concept to be SUPER helpful with my slightly lazy quarter pony. Once Jet is working in relaxation, he likes to give what I call the “60%” effort. You know, doing it, but not really engaged, not quite forward, not quite right. He sucks me into try to find precision within the exercise and twisting myself into a pretzel, while blithely going along on the minimal effort curve. The idea that I can bail on the exercise, get sideways or forward or whatever in isolation and then go back to the exercise has been mind blowing and super effective. All the sudden I don’t have to settle for sort of ok. If I’m not happy or think he can do the exercise with more quality, I bail, reinforce (usually with FORWARD), and the come back to the exercise. This has led to a lot more quality in all the work we do and the exercises stacking on each other so much more efficiently.
What do you think? Is this something you do automatically or is this new information for you as well?