There’s an old saying that anything you teach a horse will be used against you as an evasion. There should be a saying for OTTBs, that anything you teach them will be anticipated to the highest degree after only the third repetition. One of my trainers always said that you teach a horse by doing many repetitions. This creates quite a conundrum. How do you repeat the exercise without creating anticipation?
I’ve been teaching my horses according to the progression outlined in Philippe Karl’s book Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage. I find that after one or two schooling sessions my girls just “get it” and then they are mentally ready for the next step, but not always physically ready to step it up. What do you do when this situation arises? I have to outsmart the queens of anticipation and change the game very quickly. Much easier said than done.
Take for example the counter bending to canter transitions on the half volte. This is a really fantastic exercise to set a horse up for success in striking off on the correct canter lead. Tracking left along the wall in the trot you counterflex your horse to the right and then execute a counterbending half volte. When you almost get back to the wall (now tracking right) and the balance begins to change you ask for your canter strike off. This exercise makes a lot of sense because as you approach the wall in the counterbend position your horse’s weight is towards the outside, the bend is to the inside, and it is very easy for the horse to correctly strike off on the correct lead.
My five-year-old OTTB, Lell, has a lot of difficulty with her canter strike offs, so I thought this exercise would set her up for success. I tried it just a few times one evening and it helped her pick up the correct lead. In the past I did a lot of counterbending turns with her at the trot to mobilize her shoulders. However, now I combined the counterbending turns with the aid to canter, and as a result, any time I ask for a counterbend half volte in the trot (regardless if I want a canter transition), she thinks it is time to runnnnnn! Oh the benefits of a highly sensitive horse. Now I am back at the drawing board and asking for counterbending turns in the trot and while maintaining the counterbent position until she is relaxed.
The counterbending turn on the volte is also used to teach renvers. First, your horse must know how to correctly counterbend on a volte, and secondly, your horse should know how to correctly shoulder-in. To get renvers on the volte, you simply teach your horse the counterbending on the volte, and then push their quarters to the outside. Voila, your renvers is right there on the volte.
Except then I ran into trouble with the other Queen of Anticipation, Kate. I ask for a simple counterbend volte and she gives me a renvers position Every. Single. Time. She doesn't let me choose between one track and two track movement. I spoke to some of my mentors about this anticipation and they mentioned to be more precise with my aids, or ask for a counterbend zig zag across the arena. I am grateful for the intelligence and sensitivity of my lovely OTTBs, but outsmarting their anticipation always keeps me on my toes.
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