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We Are Flying Solo

February 5, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. I

I needed an intervention.  I was getting all tangled up in my head.  Encore would warm up lovely and soft and compliant and rhythmic and then we would take a walk break and then he would be rushy and stiff and hollow and blah.  His back didn't hurt.  His legs didn't hurt.  His saddle didn't hurt.  I was very frustrated.
Encore is a poser with Ryan and our smurf.

So I invented Brena's Personal David Clinic, Februrary 2012.  I packed up all our excessive crap gear and drove down to Vass on Friday afternoon.  As luck would have it, Ryan from the Insanity in the Middle blog works for another trainer at a (lovely) farm three miles from David and she generously offered to allow Encore and I to have a sleep-over there.  Ryan rules.  Check it on the left.  Sadly, her horse, Pop Star, was already turned out, so he missed out on his smurf photo opportunity.

I wanted to do flatwork on Friday afternoon and then jump on Saturday morning.  Encore did not get a vote.  I also wanted David to sit on Encore and tell me which parts were Encore's problems and which parts were my idiocies problems.

It's about a 1.5 hour haul from the farm to Vass so I had plenty of time to convince myself that (a) David would sit on horse and pronouce him lame, (b) I would not be fit enough to do what I needed to do since there is crazy shit going on in my life and sleep is hard to come by, or (c) I would pee myself with nervousness because even though I love David and he is the kindest person imaginable and we have ridden with him for perhaps two years now, I am still intimidated as heck by his accomplishments and the fact that he is so generous with his knowledge with Nobody Me.

But we made it unscathed, although I did have to pee because I had worked very hard to mega-hydrate myself all the way down (it makes a HUGE difference in your fatigure level in your lesson, try it), slurping down a liter of water even when I didn't want any more.

I will try to let the videos speak for themselves.  Not only is David cool enough to pose with a smurf, he is also awesome enough to videotape for me while he taught.

He hopped right on and this is where it began and lasted for about 20 minutes.  While you are watching, you notice that he moves the bit A LOT in Encore's mouth.  As he explains, which I know I caught in later videos, racehorses are taught to lean into the hand and rely on it for their balance.  They HAVE to re-learn how to carry themselves without you holding them up.  And if you are tempted to get judge-y and feel that David is being too harsh, remember that Encore is wearing a HS Duo bit (right), which is basically a soft, rubber finger.

Sometimes, it does take a little tough love to retrain a horse how to use his entire body.  Training is certainly not always pretty butterflies.  The key is knowing what your horse's mind can handle, fairness and immediately letting the horse know when he has offered you the right thing!  David points out that because Encore is stable-minded and has raced for three years, he is tough and sensible and won't lose his shit when you have to make a point.  He often prefers the OTTB's for this reason, and says it's a completely different approach than with a horse who has been started gently only a longe line with side reins and knows only quiet paddocks and arenas, who can be a bit of a "delicate flower" without the mental and physical toughness of a horse who has known the ups and downs of track life and didn't break down.

I do want to know how come I get in trouble for riding with long reins!  But without further ado -- the beginning:

Then we move to canter.  David emphasized afterwards that balance is very hard for Encore right now.  He focused on straightness above all else and would give up everything, not caring where his head was, cross-firing, whatever, as long as he maintained straightness and then balance.

Right lead came first, Encore's easier side.  You can see at the end the canter work has already improved the trot work from when he started.

Then we move to left lead.  This is VERY difficult for Encore to do while maintaining his balance.  But David maintained, that if he breaks, fine, if he cross-fires, fine, but he MUST stay straight.

I was enthralled, but apparently, I was expected to remount my horse and replicate what I had just watched. Encore is a fast learner, but you will hear David talk about how hard the new balance is for him. Not to mention for my arms. Ouch. The contact I have here is a very firm, but elastic one. I am not locked against his mouth. When I soften, it is a subtle softening of the arm and elbow -- you CAN'T throw the contact away, he has to have something to step into.

Then we have the left lead with what arms I have left.  Thank cod for all that hydration!

Compare those canters with the one we were playing with in October.  He's getting stronger and we are learning together.

Up next.....Saturday, JUMPING day!  Will my arms stay attached to my shoulders?  Will my horse decide this roundness business is for the birds?  Will I throw myself at David's feet and beg to move into an extra bedroom?  Anything could happen....


  1. That was really fun to watch. I like videos of training so much more than showing. I enjoy seeing the horse change after a conversation with his rider. David was really placing his feet. That was neat.

    I think that you did an outstanding job of recreating the same nice work when you rode Encore. Thanks for sharing!

  2. So cool!

    You can really see when Encore gets it towards the end of each of the canter videos with David - what a gooooood boy!

    You did a beautiful job in your ride - well done. Fave bits are hearing you while you're manning the camera, and that you highlighted this quote - "you CAN'T throw the contact away, he has to have something to step into". That the contact is elastic, through the elbow is KEY!

    Thanks so much for sharing. I'll be thinking of this when I ride tomorrow. :)

  3. Brena it was so great to meet you and Encore. You are welcome to crash at our place anytime! Going to watch and study the videos after the super bowl...looking forward to them and day 2!!

  4. For those who don't know, HeyJealousy is the one in the smurf picture! She and her sister are fantastic and amazingly kind and generous so cheers to her!

    Thank you, CFS, for your compliments! I am a HORRIBLE videographer and I would be concentrating so hard on David that I would not realize the camera was pointed at empty sand, LOL! I saw Encore trying so hard to figure out what he was supposed to do thought and even though David got strong with him, he was very fair and clear and Encore really did learn. The next day when I got on, he immediately remembered his lessons.

    Val, I love your comment about placing his feet. I did not see that and now I'm going to have to go back and watch again. Thank you for your nice words! It's hard work up there!

  5. Excellent videos! You can really see how much progress Encore has made. Awesome! He looks really wonderful, and YOU are doing a great job with him!

    Question about the bit - I am replacing a single-joint happy-mouth eggbutt snaffle because they do eventually get sharp if they get chewed (this one is like 15 years old, so it's time). I want a very soft bit... can you please explain why you chose the bit you have, and would you recommend it? Are there alternatives you'd suggest? Advice is much appreciated!

  6. jenj, I chose the Duo/Nathe type bit because I was trying to teach Encore that being on contact was a happy place to be. I tried a boucher (which he liked, but mine was too small), a double jointed eggbut, the D-ring Myler we jump in and a KK Ultra loose ring (which he hated). All were too "noisy", too much movement in his mouth for the point of training he was at.

    So I wanted a mullen mouth so it would be "quiet" and I had heard great things about the Nathes, they are a bit softer and more rubbery than the Happy Mouth material. I stumbled on the HS Duo (nearly identical to Nathe) on sale so tried it and liked it and kept it.

    As a side note, lifeshighway's horse Pete is going in a mullen mouth Happy Mouth right now as he learns about contact and dressage. He was having trouble with a "noisy" bit too (double jointed D-ring w/ copper roller) and he has a very busy mouth anyway so he was making noise for himself. When I switched him to the mullen mouth, he was much quieter in his mouth and seemed to decide contact was not a terrible as he thought.

  7. I am SO glad you are starting to get the OTTB thing. They are an entirely different animal when it comes to retraining and it can be a long frustrating process(read any posts from my first year with Steady and you can see that). A trainer that has dealt with many of them is invaluable so hold on tight to David. Lee Ann has ALWAYS been very adamant that I keep the bit moving. For the exact same reasons David explained. It is not harsh movement but I guess it could appear to be so. But if onlookers have ANY decent experience with an OTTB they would never judge. Yet surely sympathize. And OH YES the arms OUCH!! I have not watched the videos because I want to have enough time to watch them all but I am looking forward to it.

  8. Hahaha, I think I'm going to have to actually start USING those hand weights sitting under my pile of laundry. *shudders* Horror.

  9. My coach says the same thing about straightness and balance. Never let your horse find balance in the rein. She does not use the play with the mouth method though, she simply says to give the rein until the horse carries itself again.

    It's always great to find people who understand Thoroughbreds.

  10. They are so simple and so hard, aren't they?