2017.04.09: By Definition

I feel like I've been struggling to grasp what to do when for the decarpentry technique in order to best support Storm to finding better balance. It seems I figure one thing out, only to discover that I have been stuck doing it for too long or should be doing something else entirely. So I queried Kirsten to try to find a little more clarity, hoping that through writing about it I could wrap my head better around the options and which ones to use when. I'm not sure that it is helping!
First, I have to share an explanation that she wrote of what it is that we are attempting to do, and a some thoughts around training in general.

Kirsten wrote:
Things should be made as simple as possible, but not made simpler than they need to be.
- Albert Einstein


Horses are simple. The very problem with most training "systems" is that they try to dumb down the real information and avoid the simple realities of the horses design, bearing weight, in motion. From the perspective of engineering/physics/biomechanics horses can be simple to understand but not easy to work with since the variables are enormous.
Most trainers either don't know themselves or don't believe in the inherent intelligence of the horse owner. They sell over simplified versions of reality, promising predictability, control and progress but often the results are not always in the best interest of the horse. Owners/riders may feel better by gaining control of a huge animal (psychologically and/or physically) but the real struggle for the horse remains and so the problems persist. Eventually, in almost all training programs, the horses eventually become the "problem" when said system doesn't actually work out. So the advice of better breeding, better stock, starting younger, bla bla bla becomes the excuse of uneducated training.

Learning to ride well and train in the horses best interest is not simple when you factor in all the variables of human and equine movement and the various forces generated by each movement. It is complex and requires a good deal of knowledge and practice. To say otherwise is a false promise that the horse suffers for our lack of wanting to think, analyze and grow.
If it was easy to ride or train a horse well then more people would be doing it. But it is not so simplistic as "correct aids, well executed maneuvers, a training pyramid or program of steps or levels" to follow blindly on faith. Each person has to learn to think, observe and feel the truth that is the reality of a biomechanical physiology in the physical reality of motion while bearing a live, shifting weight. Even if you don't want to do the math, physics and how a body operates within the laws of physics is a reality in this plane of existence.

So hang in there. It is a journey of personal growth and expansion to say the least. You will one day thank the most difficult horse you ever encountered as a guide towards your own skill development and evolution as a rider. It's so cool.

Oof. She's right. I ran up against the flaws of several training methodologies in my early years with horses. They simply couldn't quite explain the questions I was asking in simple enough terms that my green self could understand. And the results were not fun. I had a feeling like there was a hole in my knowledge for a long time, and she's been shoveling information in at a steady rate for 9 years now, and I still feel inadequate all too often.

So, back to the discussion of the application of the decarpentry technique. With the horse set up for decarpentry lunging (which can only use a single direction of travel at a time; i.e. the lunge line is set up on the left or the right of the horse), there are four variables that can be used to explore balance with a horse. They are speed, tempo, circles, and straight lines. All four of these things can be used in any combination, sometimes all at once.

To put this struggle into perspective, here's Kirsten's words on how horses lose balance:
When horses lose their balance they go...

Too fast or too slow
Too straight or too bent

Too much left or too much right or
Fall down in front (long and low).

So there it is.... any one of the above could mean the horse is out of balance. So in order to regain coordination of the back muscles and spine, you need any one or a combination of the four options above. Clear as mud.

Discernment is of utmost importance. The first step is learning to see and feel where the horse is out of balance. Eventually this becomes intuitive, but in the interim it feels like a five year old  trying to read a Graduate level Psychology text book. But once you learn to see and feel, you can't unlearn it, thankfully. It falls into an even deeper category than learning to ride a bike.

After we've determined how the horse is out of balance, then the four options come into play. Here's Kirsten's thoughts on each of those options as a tool.
Straight lines encourage more forward energy, help straighten the neck if bending, challenge the balance with a "straighter" spine and may be the easiest way for some hors
es to find balance.
Circles encourage slowing the speed, bend/rotation and a light adduction of the inside hind leg.
Combining those two paths of travel (any combination of either) with appropriate use of your body, the feel on the line and the use of the whip help the horse find a cadence and internal coordination where the balance improves.

Cadence is tempo, and then speed is the fourth variable that isn't mentioned here. The speed at which a horse can most easily coordinate themselves is individual. Some horses need more momentum in order to create organization, others need less. Even Storm is a prime example of just how varied it can be - recently he needed less speed to find coordination going to the right, but required more speed to organize moving to the left on a circle. The cadence/tempo is quickness with which the feet are moving within any gate. A walk can be a slow speed, but with a quick cadence, and some horses need this in order to balance. Storm in particular (and I think many horses) often need to slow down to a very slow speed and cadence in order to find coordination of all the appropriate muscles early on. First speed is needed because the horse doesn't know any other way, and then as they begin to find the use of specific muscles, they must slow down and reduce the cadence to find the engagement and coordination.

The end result you are looking for is guiding the horse into better and better coordination.
Understanding the principles of what each thing can encourage or discourage is a good question - so you experiment with the huge variety of combinations to help the horse search and explore better balance.

It is that simple. But it's that complicated in the same breath.

Circles create a good situation for finding balance by requiring increased use of the inside hind leg, the negative inverse result is that the horse can over bend, and "lean" on the circle, which doesn't create balance.
Straight lines can free up some of the stuck energy of a circle. They encourage forward movement because the horse does not need the inside hide leg as much, and as a result will take the excess "bend" out of the horse, which is the result of leaning on a circle or simply over bending as a coping mechanism. However, the down side to straight lines is that they are a much bigger challenge to the horse's spinal alignment. The horse must carry themselves in balance on a straight line, and if they do not, then it is quickly time to make add or change which of the four variables is being applied.

And this is why our path of travel frequently looks like a pile of spaghetti. We stay straight until his head goes up, and we lose balance. Then we add in a curve towards a circle. Once he begins to explore a different level of balance, we stay there until something negative happens again, like he over bends at the neck, so then it's back to a straighter line, until he shifts again. And let me tell you he can shift faster than I can think. Oh, and by the way, I'm supposed to be minding my own posture all the while.  I'll just be the first person to say that doesn't happen right now. I'm lucky if I can remember to release the tension from my shoulders and neck while asking Storm to move anywhere. And if I think too much about that, I suddenly realize he's wandering around with his head in the air again.

I'm grateful that at this stage he's pretty forgiving. Or he doesn't mind the waffling. Either way, it's helpful. I can say that this makes it darn near impossible to go somewhere specific with intention. It's totally ok to walk a mile and never get anywhere, especially if that mile is closer to balance than before.
Next Page: 2017.04.28: Work into Progress
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