Managing Expectations, Or…. Plain ol’ Excuses

While surfing the web last weekend, I found a clinic with Lilo Fore that is relatively close to where I live (only 4 hours away).  In order to ride in this clinic, you have to be selected by a committee who will judge whether you and your horse are skilled enough to allow Lilo Fore to demonstrate her teaching/training methods on.  You have to fill out a 3 page application, and submit a “statement of reference” from your current trainer, plus send in a video of you riding the horse.

If you’d like more information on the Lilo Fore Adult Clinics, here’s the link to it:

I thought, “How cool would that be?”. I’ve watched YouTube videos with Lilo Fore instructing top Olympians. That could be me!! I immediately start scheming up ways to get the money to enter, and how the heck do I get my horse there, and of course I’m dreaming of how fantastic Ava (the super star) will be.

This got me to wondering what to include in the video I have to submit, so I set about researching past clinics with Lilo Fore. The posted guidelines state that the rider “should have a good basic seat with reasonably independent seat and hands, and the ability to demonstrate positive changes over the course of the clinic”. I felt confident in Ava’s abilities (and my abilities to ride her correctly), and felt we should be a shoe in for being picked. (Insert puffed up ego here) I then found several YouTube videos of past clinic riders. They were…. just stunning. (Insert utterly deflated ego here) Seriously, check out these horse and rider combo’s. They are gorgeous! Lilo Fore Clinic, Sue riding Hindrik Lauwers. Or this one, Lerro. Or this one, Lilo Fore Clinic 2010.

Ava, aka: Cover Girl, or Princess

I thought, “maybe if I re-watched some of my previous video’s I’ll see some glimmer of that floaty, super-glued to the saddle, riding I’m seeing in the video’s”.  Yeah… No. I am a first level rider. I bounce, my arms go all over the place, and I jiggle in the wrong places. And don’t get me wrong… I love Ava. I adore Ava. But Ava still flings her head around like a donkey when we do canter departs. How can I possibly ride in a clinic with Lilo Fore while my horse does her giraffe impression??


So, while thinking about this Lilo Fore clinic, and the gorgeous horse/riders in the video’s above, It struck me that I really want to be an FEI level rider some day. I want to float effortlessly on the back of a big mover with lots of suspension, looking as if I’m doing nothing more strenuous then sitting on a chair. I want to feel the power and strength of a well executed passage. I want to be like the people in the video’s, where all parts of their bodies go where they tell them to go, when they want them to go there. I want the skill and knowledge to train a horse well past third, and really (I mean practical application type of really) know what true collection means.

Riding with Lilo Fore seems like a step toward that dream. A little piece of training by a high caliper Olympic judge and trainer. This would be a fantastic opportunity. The guidelines for selection seem straight-forward, and easily met, but if you watch  past clinics you’ll see that the quality of the rider/horse is amazing. How could Ava and I ever compete against that? And frankly, I can’t imagine getting picked and then having to ride after the $30+ thousand dollar, five-year-old that’s doing 4th Level this year.

I don’t mean to sound whiny… It just seems like advancing to the higher levels is impossible unless you have a horse with a specific type of movement, that you learned on a GP schoolmaster while you were a junior young rider…. and you’re among the super wealthy.  It gets kind of discouraging sometimes when you’re just an average Joe Schmoe who’s on the dirt side of poor.

By the way… I’m still entering the Lilo Fore clinic. I say, to hell with those smarmy full blooded Friesian, the 18 hand Warmbloods, and that crazy blond chick that looks like a model!  Chunky, short people, Unite! XD

Positive Reinforcement

It’s common knowledge that most managers are stingy with their praise, but as the managing partner of your equine team, do you praise often enough? Lately, I’ve been stumbling on numerous forum posts and articles related to “lazy” horses. In my experience, most so called “lazy” horses are created by riders teaching the horse to ignore the aids. However, a rider with more refined aids (on the less than energetic horse) needs to be conscientious in praising the horse’s effort to give us what we want (even if the horse has no clue why we care about some of this stuff). Using positive reinforcement to solidify the horse’s desire to work goes much farther than negatively reinforcing the “lazy” horse.

To illustrate this point I’ll give a totally hypothetical, entirely made up situation. Let’s say “my friend” (Okay, fine.. it’s me.) feels her horse’s canter departs need improvement and sets out to work on them during a training session. On that day, “my friend” asks her horse for several walk to canter transitions. However, after getting a good transition, “my friend” decides to solidify this exercise by asking for additional walk to canter departs (yes, I did this). She continues the exercise three more times, getting two good departs before her horse bombs the third. You see where this is going, right? I missed my window to praise my horse for the effort, even if it wasn’t a consistently good depart, at this stage of the game all I really care about is that my mare tried to give me the answer she thought I wanted. By not rewarding for that effort immediately, I told her that there’s no positive enforcement for putting that kind of energy into it. Her goal then becomes simply to avoid a negative response from me (bop with the whip or leg). My mare has explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that negative reinforcement will cause her to shut down.  What I want to foster is the willingness to try her hardest even if she doesn’t understand. The only way I can create that mentality is to praise and reward her for that effort immediately.

It’s a fine line to know when to reward for effort, yet still demand perfection. Understanding your horse’s abilities, and not asking for more than they are physically capable of, requires that the rider know the horse inside and out. There will always be times where we misjudge, ask for too much, but if the majority of the time we can positively reinforce that willingness in the horse to try their hardest, then we can stop negatively labeling the horse as “lazy” and instead focus on creating a much stronger partnership.

Year in Review, Or, Our First Year Together!

What a fantastic year!

This year has been a bit rough, but overall it’s been fun. I started out the year petrified of riding, and horses in general, and can honestly say I’m now only slightly petrified. hahaha. I even walked out into a herd of mammoth horses (every one of them over 16 hands) and stood there while they sniffed me. This, if you know me, was a HUGE accomplishment (Hi Jane!). Considering that for the longest time I couldn’t even walk into the pasture to get Ava out if another horse was in there, regardless of how well behaved all the horses were… I think I’ve come a long way.

Also, I’m no longer scared to ride Ava outside (and by ourselves)! We even took a walk around the back field a few weeks ago, just Ava and me.  We intend to explore a great deal more… as soon as the weather gets better.

So long story short, I’m dang proud of myself for not allowing fear to stop me from doing something I love.  Even on those day’s where fear got the better of me, and I just couldn’t bring myself to ride (or step in the pasture with all the horses), you forgive yourself and try again the next day.

I’m not always good with the organizing my thoughts on paper, so instead I made a video. This is a “Year in Review”, with a progression of our riding from the very first day to just last week. Please remember that in November of last year, I’d only been back on a horse for about 4 months.  Hopefully you can see some progress. 🙂

Thank you!