Monty and Icky.

Monty and Icky.

I always get a giggle when people new to clicker training ask ‘But when do I get to ride?’ Those of us who have been with Alex Kurland from the early days remember it was many clinics before we got to get on and ride…at a walk. I also remember the shock when one of the new people got to ride at one of the clinics before having done what we all thought was due diligence. It’s too funny actually. I know all the groundwork I did was very, very valuable to me and, looking back, I can understand a bit better now why Alex did what she did.

The groundwork, and especially the in-hand exercises, was different than anything I had done in my past history. I couldn’t revert back to doing these exercises the way I’d always done them, as I’d never done them before. It allowed me to look with fresh eyes and an open mind at the work. I trusted the process as Alex would say. I did this because at the first clinic with Alex she showed me a picture and said she could show me how to get to that picture and that was all it took for me to take this leap of faith, and I’m so glad I did.

People often ask me why I chose this route when I was already good at what I did. I say, because this is so much better. Looking back over my rather long history with horses, I’ve explored many methods. I was always able to get something from them even if it was knowing I never wanted to use the things they did.

Alex’s work is subtle, multi-layered and I did have to think long and hard at times to see the ‘why’ of some things, but I kept that picture firmly in my mind and having stuck with her, happily I might add, for over 17 years now, I can say “trust the process.” I can do things I never imagined I could do and do them with a joyful partner. It is not work to ride anymore…it takes no effort. It is like dancing with a fabulous dance partner and even when we are both on the ground it is a dance.

I wanted to start this post in response to the discussion about riding, but seems to have ended up preaching to the choir, so I’ll try again.

Do I ride a lot? No. Do I fix riding issues by riding? No, I do not. Are my horses in the best shape they have ever been? Yes! Are they sound mentally and physically? YES!

Monty and Icky out for a ride on a beautiful day.

Monty and Icky out for a ride on a beautiful day.

This was made particularly clear to me after Icky got injured last fall. He needed stall rest and then hand walking for several weeks. So I had to think of things to keep him occupied. I played with object discrimination a bit and then played with leg lifts and mat work once we could hand walk. This evolved into having different exercises on each particular mat. The work served two purposes (at least); one of keeping him focused so there was no wild running about during the hand walking; and it also served to keep him in shape and actually get him in better shape than he was before the injury. And here I thought all I was doing was playing! Alex can attest to the change in muscle on him.

So once again back to the ‘Do I ride?’ and ‘Do I need to ride to keep a horse in shape?’ Apparently not as much as we have been led to believe. I may ride ten minutes, but will have done 30 minutes of groundwork as a warm-up. My grooming routine also serves as a pilates type warm-up too.

So, how do I fix riding problems? I do the in-hand work that all starts with the foundation lessons and progresses into more advanced work.

The old ‘masters’ did a lot of in-hand work and a lot of the ridden work, both at a walk so they could refine the balance and develop the body of the horse correctly. By working on the ground you develop the communication, the education of both partner’s bodies and their balance so that when you ride the feel is there to be had. And you will BOTH stay sound longer because you are moving in balance.

So, in my long winded way all I wanted to say is, relax and enjoy the journey and the relationship. Play with things that have no history with you and try not to let all the folks who are telling you to do things that in your heart you know you don’t want to do. I’m very lucky to have my own private sanctuary to retreat from the world and all its opinions where I can simply be and play and enjoy. I am truly blessed.