The Horse’s Good and Bad Sides
Just as humans are right-handed or left-handed, horses are usually better coordinated and more supple on one side than the other. Use a horse’s good side to help its bad side improve. For example, if a horse’s bad side is the left and the horse is very stiff moving around the corners of the ring when traveling counterclockwise, first work on a suppling movement such as a left shoulder-in to address this stiffness, then change direction and perform the same movement on the horse’s good side. The animal may not be very responsive to the aids when applied to the left side, but will respond better when asked to do the same movement the other direction. Using the good side has two functions: (1) it helps you to teach the horse the proper execution of the movement; and (2) it enables you to reward your horse by using your aids more softly than when you were correcting stiffness on its bad side. Drilling the horse only on its bad side is a mistake. Since the animal’s lack of coordination makes it difficult to perform the movement, you may find yourself in the position of applying all punishment and no reward. In this case, the horse will become more anxious and perform the movement worse, instead of better.
Let the Slower Gaits Help You
When you are having difficulty controlling your horse, drop to a slower gait and work there for awhile. For instance, if your horse is tense when you are working on flying changes, do not repeatedly force the animal to attempt the change of lead, for it will only become more upset. Go back to the trot or walk and work on some suppling exercises at these slower gaits. Then, when the horse is more relaxed and obedient, try the difficult movement again.
Variety Prevents Boredom
A variety of exercises keeps the horse from getting bored, so be creative when you work on the flat, blending one movement into the other rather than going around the arena several times between one exercise and the next. Change direction frequently to check the horse’s lateral resistances on each side, and perform many downward and upward transitions to test your horse’s obedience and teach the basic idea of collection (figs. 2.28 A & B).
Forming a Well-Rounded Schooling Program
Although I suggest specific exercises for both quick and dull horses, they are intended only as a general guide. For example, downward transitions are extremely helpful in regulating the pace of a quick horse, but this does not mean that you must never practice lengthening the horse’s stride. The preponderance of your work should address the horse’s particular problems, but you do not want your horse to go into competition without a well-rounded education on the flat. By practicing movements that expose the horse’s weaknesses, you obtain a clearer picture of the animal’s development, which will help you determine how far you are off the mark in your competitive aspirations.
Altering Your Plan
Never hesitate to go back to easier movements when you find the tougher ones are beyond the present capabilities of your horse. By going back to something the horse knows well, you reassure the animal. An easier movement can regain confidence and relieve tension in both you and your horse. To press ahead at all costs is never the answer. This is particularly true if you or the animal is very tired.