Let's say you are practicing something in particular. Maybe you are working on a trot to canter transition. Maybe you want to draw a 10 meter circle at the trot. Or perhaps you want to work on a walk pirouette into a canter transition.
Regardless of the figure, or exercise you want to perform, something doesn't go right. The transition doesn't happen at the particular place you wanted to aim for. The horse drifts out and the 10 meters quickly morph into 12 meters. Or the walk pirouette becomes a walk circle.
What do you do then?
Do you continue on to the next part of your ride?
Do you get frustrated or anxious and follow through too strongly to get what you wanted?
Do you pretend you didn't want anything in the first place, leaving the exercise and "changing the topic"?
In a previous article, I discussed changing the topic as a strategy to get out of a sticky situation - especially one which doesn't seem to be resolved by doing the same thing over and over. But as with so many things equestrian, opposite ends of the spectrum can be useful under different circumstances.
Stick With the Program
Some situations may call for repetition. Just like people, horses often benefit from several run-throughs and you may notice that improvement comes with practice. Horses have excellent memories and a capacity to learn from repetition. So use this to your advantage when you are practicing something new or difficult.
Starting over also allows you to build in time to develop accuracy and precision, both of which are indicators that your horse is on the aids and that you are moving together in unison.
1. Go right back to the same location.
When something doesn't go as intended, people often continue on. Don't.
Simply abort the rest of your figure and head straight back to the same place that you want to practice. This means that if you wanted a canter transition at A before heading into a 20 meter circle, and your horse just trotted faster and faster, then do not continue on to the circle. Instead, take a short cut right back to a point before the intended transition.
2. Give the horse room and time to regroup before attempting the movement again.
If your canter departure should have occurred at A (going right), then head directly back to B. Re-establish your trot rhythm, bend and flexion, and prepare again with the half-halts as you approach A. Then try the transition again.
3. Confirm your aids.
Don't forget to look inward at your own aids. What did you do, or not do, in preparation for the canter transition? Perhaps your timing was off. Perhaps you needed your outside leg to reach further behind the girth. Maybe you leaned forward into the transition, thereby throwing the horse onto his forehand and off balance.
Prepare your approach and try again. If you feel this transition went well, or was an improvement over the last one, you have two choices at this point. You can continue on to the next part of your initial figure (in this case, the 20 meter circle). Or, you can go right back to B and run through the whole thing again.
Don't be concerned that the horse might sour from repetition. Horses become sour when they are stressed. So if you can just be matter-of-fact about it, your horse will patiently work with you.
Don't be stressed or tense about it. Your horse can sense your demeanor from the moment you think it! If you get strong or quick or tense, your horse will connect a negative connotation with the repetition. He might resist more in this case. So always keep your cool and a good sense of humor about any unexpected things that happen.
Do change the topic once things go well. Use the next figure as a way to say "yes" (or reward) your horse once you see some improvement. Even if you don't get the amount of improvement you want, go to something else and then come back to this exercise in a few minutes. Find the happy medium between repeating an exercise or not. There is no steadfast rule.
As you become more familiar with your horse, you will know when to repeat something and when it's time to change the topic. Always look for improvement in terms of relaxation, accuracy and attitude - both yours, and your horse's!
How do you use repetition while you ride? Do you change the topic often? Let us know in the comments below.
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