Pole, Pole – Slowly, slowly.

“To climb steep hills, requires slow pace at first…”  William Shakespeare.

My family and close friends often comment that I’m two personalities…  Give me a parcel to wrap, a knot to untie, a computer to work out a new program and it’s likely to get thrown out of the window…  Patience is really not my strong point.  But, give me a pony who is not understanding, or a pupil who isn’t seeing things as I do, and I have all the time in the world – somethings are way more important than others.

To climb steep hills, requires slow pace at first…  Learning patience while bumbling up a little hill….  We will make haste slowly…
To climb steep hills, requires slow pace at first… Learning patience while bumbling up a little hill…. We will make haste slowly…

The reality of this quote became clear when we (Fred and I) climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.  Pole Pole (pronounced po-lay po-lay) is what the guides are saying all day everyday – slowly slowly, we make haste, slowly.

The foundations of anything are vital – if your first math teacher didn’t get you to understand 2 + 2, you might struggle along until you hit algebra, but at some point it’s all going to come crashing down about your ears and you will have to go back to the beginning.  If your house’s foundations weren’t dug correctly, you’re going to get cracks.

What’s this got to do with a horse blog then?

99% of the time, the issue is in the foundations.

“My horse rushes…”

“My pony won’t load”

“My mare won’t stand for the farrier”

“I can’t get a clear canter strike off”

“He’s just runs through the flying changes”

We take the horse back to square one – Mr. Horse, do you understand stop; go; shoulders right / left; quarters right / left; stand quiet.    All in hand.  And then, do you understand all those questions in walk and trot on long lines…

Put the rider on board – what do we practice?  Stop, walk.  Stop, walk.  Stop, walk.  By this point an awful lot of those issues are already resolved.  Most issues begin with the horse ignoring or not understanding something at real foundation level.

Lovely Betty – only once a horse understands how to carry herself without a rider can she truly organize herself WITH a rider…
Lovely Betty – only once a horse understands how to carry herself without a rider can she truly organise herself WITH a rider…

One of my absolute pet peeves is a horse walking away from the mounting block, rider hanging off the side.  Why?  In essence this horse is running away with his human – it’s not far removed from bolting.  The simple discipline of stop, stand, patience, wait…  Goes a long way in instilling horse AND human disciple for the rest of the ride.

And what about the rider?  Well, this is fresh in my mind at the moment because of a jumping video someone just sent me.  He is now early twenties, fit, athletic, brave, bright, and after lesson number one, (in his teens) he asked, how soon can I jump?  I kept him on the lunge for weeks…  Walk, trot, canter, no reins and no stirrups.  Then we did millions of transitions, circles, turns, leg yielding, moving onto trot poles, grids, tiny gymnastics lines without reins.    In the solid 6 months that I taught him (yes, I lived somewhere that long) we covered basic after basic skill, until he couldn’t get them wrong.  Within a month of my leaving he was (fully ready, with my blessing!) clearing courses of 1m + and now, a few years later, he’s just sent me a video of himself jumping a technical 1.50m track.  To climb the mountain, we began very, very slowly.

So often you see a young horse, or a young rider, very quickly learning to canter and jump – within weeks of beginning, and rapidly climbing the grades.  The problem is, the faster the initial surge up the skill ladder, the faster they reach a plateau and the longer they stagnate there.  Whereas, the (relativity) slower they get there, the higher they go and the more longevity they have at the top.

A few years ago, I watched a day seminar hosted by the world famous master of dressage, Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer.  (Or Dr B, as he was probably better known).  A comment he made about one of the seminar horses was how sad he was that she had been started young to compete in the young horse classes, how lucky she was that they had got her out, and how young horse classes are damaging dressage.  As he said – horses competing in the young horse classes are produced – dressage horses are trained and educated…  There is a world of difference…

So, heading out to your horse or your pupils today – what will you do?  Produce them, sausage factory style, or educated them for longevity?  I know which one I prefer!