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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Dialogue of Dressage

It's strange how much a change in nutrition can really affect a horse. Over the winter when Gogo was on quite a bit of Ultium, she was irrational, hot, difficult, and spooky. She's finally back down to just the ration balancer, and the difference in her behavior is astounding. No more uncalled for blowups. No more rearing, no more thrashing. She still fusses with her head sometimes, but with all four feet on the ground and still traveling at the same tempo and gait. She still has to make her opinions known, you know!

Dressage is slowly evolving for us into a running dialogue instead of a question and answer session, or an interrogation even, sometimes. Instead of just letting her do whatever she wants with her head until she decides to play the game, I can now ask quietly and she responds quietly. Instead of fighting with her and her fighting right back, I can now make a correction with a rein aid and instead of inverting, curling, flinging her head or being otherwise generally offended, she can quietly take it and do the correct thing - reach back out towards the contact no matter what we're doing. Before, you couldn't touch her face without asking for tension or a fight. You just had to leave her alone and let her figure it out on her own. Over this winter, however, she's matured and started to, for the first time in her life, take my corrections not as a personal affront, but as a polite request that she's willing to make. A year and a half ago, touching her mouth at all caused her to either bolt or rear - it was right after I got her back from the evil trainer. A year ago, she still wouldn't take a correction or any sort of, but if you gave it a lot of time, she'd eventually go to the contact herself and actually be very correct. Six months ago, she was still like that, and would fight and fight against you if you made any attempt to manipulate her front end. Now, she's in the process of changing again. Right off the bat when I picked her up yesterday and today, she was right there. She wasn't 200% warmed up and perfectly fluid, but when she did make a balance mistake and came off the bit, I could make a correction and she'd take it and go back to where she was supposed to. Her canter isn't totally there yet with this newer self - she is less willing to accept corrections, but she's still been trying hard to figure it out. I think if I am very careful and cultivate this new mindset properly, we could really be headed for great things.

Dressage has to be fair, and it has to be an intelligent, kind discussion. There can be no telling, no demanding with a horse like Gogo. She needs to have her input, and she needs to know when she's done the right thing. When I ask her to bend a little more left, she might ask in return if she could tighten her jaw a little and stay where she is. But that's the difference now... she's asking. She's not crossing her jaw, yanking hard, and refusing, taking my question as something that could potentially cause fear and pain, and trying to protect herself from it. She might prefer to not bend quite as much as I ask, but now she is taking my question as a fair one, and accepting it. All the connections in her mind to all the abuse she and her mouth have sustained finally seem to be letting go. She doesn't feel so defensive anymore. It's as if she's finally, finally, almost two years after her mind and body were demolished by the wretched trainer, accepted that I'm not going to yank on her face, I'm not going to crank her in, I'm not going to flip her over. It's something she'll never, ever completely let go of, and I know that. But it's my duty to do the very best I can to her, and to always try and do the right thing. She's letting me push her a little more, letting me make my minor corrections to whatever she's doing, and getting better because of them instead of worse.

She's matured so much over the winter, mentally. She's astounding me every day. It's as if someone hit the fast forward button on progress all of a sudden in these past two weeks, and I'm completely amazing and floored and trying as hard as I can to just keep up and not make any mistakes that might set her back again. We've come so far, we've grown so much, both of us. I can't believe how much she's letting me influence her body while we're doing dressage, and I can't believe how little she needs me while we're jumping. Last year, I felt strongly that I needed to hold her hand to every fence going cross-country, and she let me know that she needed support to every fence in order to have confidence about it. This year, she's finding her way to whatever I point her at without feeling like I need to be there to support her at every stride. All she needs me to do now is point her in the right direction and sit chilly. She does the rest.

She's telling me that she'll let me do my job as direction of dressage if I let her do her job of finding her way around a course of fences. We don't rely on each other for physical or mental support. We instead work together because we want to both be there, and we know we can do it together. We're both strong-willed and independent, and we don't rely on anyone other than ourselves for survival, but at the same time we have the perfect symbiotic relationship. Her partnership completes me in that way that only a good horse can. I know she, of all opinionated horses in this world, is not working with me because she has to. She's working with me because she wants to.

And I am truly the most humbled and honored person in the world.


Suzie (Echo) said...

That's a really beautiful post - the relationship you and Gogo are developing is something really special. I must remember it when I get irritated by Echo not doing what I tell her - must think of it more as asking.
You're doing an amazing job!

Funder said...

What a great post. :)

Albigears said...

Awww, this was a really great post. Horses like Gogo sure do take a lot of patience... it takes a special person to see past the resistance and bracing and fear to see the beauty and athleticism and the true *soul* of the horse. And then not only to see it but to cultivate it and nurture it. To work with horses like these you just have to be 'horse intuitive'. I love your mare and the way you work with her, and I really enjoy your posts!

Anonymous said...

I love reading about some one that loves their mare as much as I love mine.

You need to frame the pic at the bottom!!