Riding with an Open Focused Mind

When you work from day to day, one can get caught up in the monotony of checking off the “to do's” and not pay attention to the needs that surround you. The quality of life gets missed, and you find yourself in a rut of wanting to make a change, but letting the fast track of everyones needs overtake you. You become delusional that you will fit all your needs in one day and believing that tomorrow will be the day of change, but only to find that you are repeating yourself, feeling lonely and in a state of despair. What does this have to do with horses? Where is your brain while riding your horse? Are you listening to your horse? Is your horses brain digesting what you are trying ask of them? Or are you so caught up in the rest of your day, that a recreational ride can not be justified, and you wish your horse would just give you the picture that you would imagine at a show. Or are you so hungry for progress, but only to find yourself in frustration repeating the same basics when venturing off to asking something outside the comfort zone.

When I teach and observe from the ring side, I cant help to notice that most riders are mentally on some other agenda than the present, and some not even including the horse they are sitting on. The rider not riding in the present tense is so caught up in control or the one dimensional picture, that they stifle themselves from learning the components to control or a balanced picture. I've seen riders going around aimlessly with the expression on their face wondering if they left the garage door open. The horse is wondering, “what to do”, “what do you want”, “why you do want it”, and “are we almost done here?” I try to remind myself and others that the slowest part of your day should be on your horse. Even while leading in from the pasture or on the way to the mounting block to get on, ask yourself, “Is my horse with me,.....or is he just tolerating me?"

I challenge you to take a different perception with your horse today. When you arrive at the barn and make eye contact with your lovely equine partner, take a moment, without any other contact, watch him. Stand outside his stall or paddock and see if you make eye contact. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and ask yourself, “What would my horse say if he had a voice?” “What emotion does my horse have right now?” “Is he anxious, happy, excited, studious?” Take another deep breath. As you approach your horse, ask yourself the same questions. Take another conscious deep breath as you put a halter on, and take another reading. Do the same while brushing and tacking. Have you learned something more about your horse? Is your horse talking to you? Did you do anything to raise your horse's anxiety level or change an emotion? Maybe repeat the process if he got nervous? Did your emotions change in the process? Are you connecting? Is your horses brain digesting what your brain wants? There are many training opportunities while just handling your horse, and makes those opportunities much more rewarding when watching them problem solve.

Of course we all ride for a balanced picture, but does your horse know that? The most appealing picture in a field of riders is a harmonious one. There is a mutual respect between horse and rider. The rider has taken the time to teach the horse to come off of the aids and to balance for themselves with the respect to there anatomy and physiological make up. The horse has a respect to the riders aids, and can differentiate one from the other while carrying themselves and the rider's center of gravity, and most important, with the want to please. An aid may be your leg, seat, hands, body, etc. Training is really quite simple, as long as you have the patience to observe, acknowledge, and know what you are looking for from your partner.

Keep an open mind and seek knowledge without emulating one person or method. There are more ways than one to skin a cat, just like there are many different sides of the horse to ride. There are many different types of people, like there are different shaped horses. Try to think for yourself instead of mainstreaming the training into a commercialized method. No one way is idiot proof. You have to think for yourself. If the result is not a harmonious balanced picture, you are on the wrong track. Breaking down an exercise to a comprehensive level takes some intelligence. The need to slowly build the strength, coordination and mind set, along with the task at hand takes time and discipline. I would do the same to a student as I would a horse. Why would anyone ask a gymnast to do a backflip on a balance beam before learning to walk. Whether jumping a cross country obstacle or putting a horse into a high degree of collection like piaffe, horse and rider should achieve either one with ease and little effort.

So when you go out to the barn today, and look at your horse, investment, teammate, or pet, ask whether you are doing them justice. Take the time to search what you want. Open your mind and learn how to achieve it. Enjoy the journey of getting to your personal goals. Realize there is no fast track to getting what you want. You will be doing yourself more justice putting your equine partner first.

Eric G. Dierks

Welcome to Eric Dierks Blog/Workshop. The following articles and videos are personal experiences I have encountered Training, Teaching and Competing horses and students of all different calibers that I like to share just for the shear enjoyment of educating and enlightening others. To find out more about me or my lesson/training program, please visit both www.EricDierks.com and www.RenovatioFarm.com

Becoming Infatuated With Rhythm

By Katharine Stancliff on Jan 15, 2015 3:00 pm 3,466 views

You'll remember Katharine Stancliff and her Connemara/Trakehner cross Poppyfields Tristan from the tearjerker helmet cam of their first Prelim completion. Her trainer, Eric Dierks, recently helped her have a light bulb moment about the walk, and now she's sharing the wisdom with us! Many thanks to Katharine for writing, and thanks for reading.

  Eric and I at the Gibbes Farm for schooling. Photo by Nathan Stancliff.

Eric and I at the Gibbes Farm for schooling. Photo by Nathan Stancliff.

I recently was watching my trainer, Eric Dierks, as he worked with one of his up-and-coming competition horses, Monty. I was astounded at how much time and patience he was able to spend at the walk in his warm up. He took Monty for a nice walk around the fields, up and down hills, then came into the arena and spent more time on circles, changes of direction, and collecting and lengthening the walk.

Being a bright young thing, Monty would occasionally leap about, wiggle instead of going straight and generally try to talk Eric out of working. In response, Eric would just sit quietly as if nothing had happened and continue asking Monty to walk. This went on for at least an hour before they moved on to a bit of trot and a short canter set before ending the workout. Even though the work hadn’t been very “fast,” Monty came back to the barn steaming from head to toe and exhausted.

I made a comment to Eric about how I couldn’t believe the level of patience he possessed to focus on such a (let’s face it) boring gait. Wouldn’t he rather be trotting, cantering, galloping or jumping? The answer he gave really made me reevaluate my mindset while riding (FYI I’m paraphrasing): “I was waiting for him to find his rhythm and balance at the walk before we moved onto the trot, then find his rhythm at the trot before we cantered. Once we had consistent results during all three gaits, the session was finished.”

During the several lessons I’ve had with Eric since that lesson, he rounded out the idea of rhythm for me. Just like the phrase “no hoof, no horse,” if the horse’s gait is not rhythmic, he is also out of balance. Instead of hopping on, pulling on his mouth until you achieve a false headset and heading into the dressage ring, more beneficial results can be gained by, as Eric puts it, “becoming infatuated with rhythm.” 

If the horse raises his head, that’s not him telling the rider to shove it where the sun don’t shine; instead he’s saying “hey mom, I’m having trouble finding my balance right now, can you help me out?” Maybe the horse is shuffling forward in a quick walk because his back isn’t properly warmed up and needs the rider to help him slow down the tempo and relax. Maybe the horse is dragging his toes and drudging along because he’s waiting for the rider to find her intent and lead him on to the next goal.

Once you shift the focus from the end goal — a soft and responsive horse on the bit — to the horse’s actual rhythmic footfalls, it’s amazing how much changes in the quality of work.

To achieve more productive training sessions, I began to ask myself certain questions in the warm up. What is the horse’s current rhythm? If I quicken or slow his tempo, does he fall out of balance? If he does, can I help him regain it by a supportive straightening aid or slight suppling inside bend?

Am I using too many aids and need to quiet down my body to just move with the horse? Do I have clear intent of where I want to go and how quickly I’d like to get there that I’m communicating clearly to my horse? Can I change directions without him falling out of balance? Do I have a trot ready to move immediately off my leg within this walk?

After trying to understand the walk with more depth, I was amazed to find how much time I spent warming up and analyzing my horse’s rhythm. Even for a Prelim horse coming back from winter vacation, I’ve found that my horse spends a considerable amount of time needing my help to balance and greatly benefits from longer sessions at the walk before continuing on to other work.

I love just being able to focus on relaxing in the saddle, feeling Tristan’s four-beat gait at the walk and trying my best to tune in together so we are both walking in the same mindset. Thanks to Eric, I am becoming increasingly infatuated with rhythm every day!

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