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We Are Flying Solo

March 14, 2010

Tools Bring Success

Solo's always had a habit, when picking up the canter, of flinging his head in the air and lurching into it.  It's annoying.  And dressage judges don't really seem to go gaga for it either.

Right before I got sick last week, I decided it was time for said habit to go bye-bye.  I talked with P and we decided that we would dust off the draw reins for a ride or two, using them to show Solo what I was asking of him.

Oh I know right this very moment the purist DQ's are shrieking in horror that I am ruining my horse to all eternity by "cheating" with gadgets and blah blah blah.  Well, they can get over it.  I know my horse.  I know myself as a rider.  And this circumstance was perfect for the application of the draw reins as a tool to make the right thing easy and wrong thing hard.  As long as Solo was round and moving forward, draw rein effect is ZERO.  Only when he chooses to fling his nose in the air like a fruit loop do they come into play.

So, we enter the arena theatre last week.  We warm up and get back muscles loose and warm.  I then ask Solo to step up into a shorter frame and come into a working outline.  I cue for canter.  Predictably, Solo flings his nose up and hits the end of the draw reins.  And reacts roughly as if I had jammed a cattle prod into his eyeball.  Jumping sideways with eyes rolling, he promptly loses his mind.  I maintain my calm, doing nothing but breathe softly and give, encouraging him back into working trot.  We repeat this overly dramatic routine about four times before he finally canters.  Did I mention he can be overly dramatic?  But the key here was for me to stay soft and patient until he chose the easy thing and gave me the right answer.  And lo and behold, on ask number five, his head came up a little, but did not engage the draw rein and he stepped lightly into canter.  GOOD BOY!  We repeated the same sequence in the opposite direction and as soon as he picked up the canter without hitting my hand, we quit for the day.  Solo chomped on the bit, going hmmmmmm, was that all she wanted??

Well, time out for horrid disease which has left me with pretty much no energy.  But I was determined to get back on the horse today and at least do a light ride.  Pathetically, I could only trot about twice around the small arena until I was exhausted, but it was something.  I had put the draw reins on for the second and final time to check and see if canter transition message had been received and processed.  We picked up a working trot and Solo stepped forward nice and round.  In the corner, I sat down, bent him, and asked for the canter.  And I'll be damned if that horse didn't chew down onto the bit and step over his back into canter.  EXCELLENT BOY!!!  We repeated it three times in each direction and without missing a beat he gave me a correct transition staying quiet in the bridle each time.  I was ecstatic!  At this point I was also thoroughly drained and exhausted so I slid off and gave him a big hug.

The draw reins will go back on their hook in the trailer now, having done their job as my assistant physical therapist, showing my horse very clearly what I needed him to do.  Hopefully, we can carry this forward in the coming weeks and pop into the dressage ring at the end of the month with this new trick up our sleeve!


  1. Yay!!! Use of training "gadget" WIN! I*like* to believe that gadgets like "training forks" and german martingales and draw reins "head setters" and hock hobbles were created by people who were in your situation: we've tried all the right ways and the horse still won't do X. I just wish everyone was as thorough and thoughtful as you about their use instead of throwing them on nearly-2-year-olds and ruining the poor baby's natural way of going.

    Rant over. Sorry. Again: YAY!!!

  2. I love how dramatic Solo is! He reminds me of a more calm, but equally reactive version of my horse.

  3. I think "gagets" are fine. Training tools are only as harsh as the hand that holds it. I use a running martingale on my girl. It's there if I need it, but usually just dangles.

  4. Hahahah, I am just laughing that the words "dangly tools" are in the comments. But I do subscribe heartily that most tools are completely benign. And have observed that most of the vehement haters of tools are not people who make much progress on their own.

  5. Draw reins?! *gasp* Oh, the horror! And I bet Solo was not wearing four white polo wraps and you were in some horrid and unacceptable color of breeches like *shiver* TAN!
    If there is a George Morris of dressage, he would so give you the verbal smack-down!

  6. Even worse Frizzle -- my breeches were NAVY BLUE! (insert twilight zone music here)

  7. Well done! I've never used draw reins, but I had two short rides (parts of lessons, so well supervised) in LOOSE side reins to teach Squeaks that flinging her head around randomly at the trot wasn't what we had in mind. I agree, it's about the user rather than the tool, but (almost) everything has it's place when used properly. Hooray Solo!

  8. Excellent use of draw reins! Last summer, Izzy flipped her head and gave me a concussion. I put her in a standing martingale, which made her really, really mad, but it got the point across. She doesn't need to wear it any more.

  9. Wow, now THAT is a painful head flip!!! :-o