Redneck dressage moves and gate training

I’ve been cautiously watching the development of the Western Dressage association here in the US (unfortunately, I was sick the day that my state association had its official introductory meeting, so I’m out of the loop there).  I can tell it’s having some impact because I’ve already encountered one dressagista online sneering about “Wessage” and how one Just. Can’t. Do. It. in Western tack and call it “dressage” (with the predictable caveat that yes, of course, dressage=training but trying to do dressage tests in Western tack?  Horrors!  Abomination!  Obviously she’d never done a clinic with Jean-Claude Racinet.  I had the privilege of auditing a Racinet clinic and hearing him say he’d like to see someone do just that with a reiner.  My biggest regret is that I never was able to get Mocha to a Racinet clinic.  I think he would have liked The Girl).

And while that particular blogger came highly recommended, that put me right off of her.  See, it’s been my experience that anyone marching around sneering at Other People’s Tack not only has a monster ego, but can’t ride worth a shit.  Sorry.  But I’ve had lessons from some BHS-certified folks on the humble side of things whose flat basics didn’t differ significantly from the basics my AQHA high-level trainer/clinician/judge teaches.  And when I mentioned his name, they nodded knowingly.

Conversely, I’ve had some hair-raising, godawful, yank-and-kick lessons from folks like the aforementioned dressagista.  Without exception that ilk sneers at the mere hint of Western tack and Western riding.  So when someone gets tack snooty around me, I basically write them off.  But that’s the way I am.  Different tack has different uses, and I like being able to do both English and Western on the same horse.  And that means if I want to school movements in Western tack, then by golly, I’m gonna do it.  There’s nothing magical about a dressage saddle, and, quite frankly, I find the Western saddle easier to fit to a horse and more comfortable to my butt.  Period.

Anyway, so much for that rant.  What brought this one on was a bit of schooling Mocha and I have been doing.  Riding session before last night, on Saturday, I started mixing some things up to engage The Girl’s brain.  She was being a bit pissy so I started asking for small tight canter circles with lead changes in unexpected places.  At first she thought I was full of it.  We Had Discussions.  Then the light came on, and she started doing it.  Once she got the rhythm, we stopped schooling and went for a long cool-down ride.

Well, same thing happened last night, except that the tight small circles with changes in different sites became a necessity.  G was schooling a new horse who was green, opinionated, and a bit sparky.  His wife was schooling their show gelding, and a couple of advanced beginners were also schooling in the ring.  Mocha was full of herself, so she needed something other than rail work.  That meant small tight canter circles, with changes.

OMG.  She picked up on that work.  Lovely withers elevation.  Working back on her haunches.  And after a few sequences of quick changes in small circles, she started offering up changes with the slightest shift of weight and rein.  I’m pretty sure we had a few three-tempi changes and at least one two-tempi change.  I could feel the light starting to come on–“hey, this feels like a pretty fun thing to do!  YEEHAW!”

Which, with Mocha, is a key step toward getting her to buy into doing something.  See, I could school her from now until forever in the Approved Straight Line and she’d be grouchy about it.  But doing tight circles and changing leads in unexpected places, or swapping leads while dodging other horses?  Makes sense to The Girl.  And once she gets the feel for something like that, she likes to do it.

So yeah, redneck dressage moves.  Lots of fun.  She enjoyed it, I enjoyed it, and we’re progressing toward a goal I wanted, which is to be able to do tempi changes.  Won’t take much to straighten out those circles into a line.  Probably not the Approved Training Method, but hey, we’re doing this for fun.

And with a horse like Mocha, fun is key.

The other thing we schooled was gate work.  Mocha has no problems with opening and closing gates from her right side.  But ask her to do it from her left…sigh, temper tantrums galore, and she tries to switch around to do it from the right hand side.  I put my foot down last night and we schooled the gate.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t do it.  Away from the gate, she’d move away readily to the left from my right leg.  The cues didn’t change because of the gate.  She’d just chose to move into pressure to try and turn around to close the gate the other direction.

What finally broke the pattern was when I pinned her by pulling the gate with us so she couldn’t turn.  That got us locked against the wall in a tiny chute.  I could see the wheels spinning in her brain at that point–not a place she wanted to be.  She sighed, yielded, and I got her to sidepass off of my right leg while I pushed the gate with my left.  Step, release pressure and stand for a moment.  Step, release pressure and stand for a moment.  Lather, rinse, repeat, until the gate was closed and she stood by it.  I got someone else to latch it and we went on.  Later, we came back.  I unlatched the gate, had her step sideways two steps to open slightly.  Pause.  Step back to close.  Pause.  Repeat.

We never went over three steps on that one, but we took it slow and easy, and by the end she’d done it a couple of times with no resistance.  At that point I left it off and we cooled out.

Horses.  Gotta love ’em sometimes, especially these smart ones.

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