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Forward, Always Forward

A few of you gave the suggestion that I start halting after fences to get Eeyore to stop being all “Talley Ho!” after jumps. I always love comments and suggestions so thank you for taking the time to read and type out a response!!! I feel a little bad when someone makes a suggestion and I’m all like “thanks…but no thanks” plus this is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about anyway, so here you go…my explanation for why I do not use this technique with the Orange Butthead.

Stupid, why is this even necessary, disclaimer: I’m not a trainer. This is not an expose on how to train your horse nor is it commentary on your own/your trainer’s methods. You do you. This is how my trainer is training me on this horse in this moment of our education.

Way back when I showed up to my first ever lesson with Trainer AB, visibly shaking in fear and doubt, she had me start my typical warm up routine so she could watch the dynamic. All of 30 seconds later she called me out on the root of my woes with Eeyore: he doesn’t go forward and my tactics of halting, backing, and making a million changes in direction were only adding to this issue.

Anyone else remember this from late spring? I do. I don’t miss it.

Yes, his feet were moving but not in a valuable way. Mostly his energy was going vertical and when I did finally ask for a trot he would explode into it, shaking his head in frustration only to then be asked to change direction or walk again or even halt. After he did that, I would ask for forward again and he would go sideways or backwards or up mostly because when I did ask for forward he wouldn’t actually be let to go forward, or at least not for very long.

Trainer AB explained to me that her theory of training a future event horse is to focus on the skills needed to be safe in the most dangerous phase: cross country. While most people spend the least amount of time practicing the skill on a cross country course, you can instill the basic tenants of that phase into the horse from the get go even when riding in the arena most of the time. In her opinion, the safest thing to teach a young event horse is to go FORWARD always, forever, no exceptions, no questions.

By doing this, you teach the horse that when faced with a new question or experience, the go to response will be to go forward. Never seen a ditch? No problem, go forward. Never tackled a down bank? No problem, go forward. Never cantered through water? No problem, go forward.

Never seen a black pipe of death before? Doesn’t matter. Go forward.

As such, my first task with Eeyore was to get him moving forward. She told me to stay along the rail and use the entire arena, no more circles, no more serpentines. Certainly no more halting. If he was feeling particularly fresh, get him in a canter, get up in 2 point and coast around. My job was to keep him going forward along the path I chose which sometimes resulted in cantering with his nose nearly touching his flank as he tried to cut across the arena instead of staying on the rail. She didn’t care. As long as he was moving forward and his feet didn’t wander off the chosen path, he could go around like he belonged on the short bus for all she cared. That was his problem, not mine.

Of course, as time has gone on we have been asking more of him. He is no longer allowed to canter when not asked to and we are working on slowing him down and getting his balance better, but she never wants me to sacrifice the forward for this.

Angry Eeyore at an early lesson when he realized he wasn’t going to get away with his usual crap

The same concept has been true in our approach to jumping. She has explained, probably more times than she should have to, that as long as I keep him straight after a jump I am to encourage him to move away from the jump on the back side. We approach, I let him get his eyes on it and stay out of his way, we go over, and then my job is to get my legs on, steer and keep him moving. She wants him to learn to look for what is next on the horizon, again with cross country in mind since that phase encourages a forward ride.

Even when he feels like he is running off, her solution to me is not to halt or circle, but instead to put my leg on and focus on getting a quality canter out of him as we ride away from the jump. This works for him because he is inherently lazy and once he realizes that he is being put to work, he will stop.

A reminder of how Eeyore takes to being ignored. Also, I do not miss this dirt aisle.

Last but certainly not least in this equation is me. Most of his back side issues are me issues. I tend to black out over jumps then sit on him like a monkey once we land. When I focus, sit up and you know ride the back side he does too. Circling would help me for the fact that it gives me something to do but so does combinations and gymnastics which is why most of our lessons start with a small gymnastic before moving to a mini course. I ride way better when I have a second fence to aim for.

So that’s the long of it. The reason we don’t halt after each fence. Or circle. Trainer AB has a method and I’m not going to buck that with the results we are getting.

18 thoughts on “Forward, Always Forward”

  1. I agree with Trainer on this one, for whatever that’s worth. 😉 The answer should always be going forward on the aids and in balance, and if they aren’t doing that then they aren’t actually forward, even if they’re going fast. Big difference. Riding through it is the right way to fix it in the long run.

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  2. I agree with Trainer as well lol. I think for the type of horse he is, it is so important for him to keep going forward, and with how much you two have progressed since you started working with her I think speaks for itself 🙂 Everyone/horse is different, and thankfully there are many right ways to do things, and it looks like this is the right way for you two!

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  3. You trainer is giving great advice and who can argue with results you are getting? With Carmen I believe that is I can’t control the brakes I have to control the gas pedal. Forward is the answer for so many things.

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  4. Honestly with Charlie I’ve had to adopt a very similar approach. Too much focus on the brakes with him and suddenly we’re not getting that feeling of carrying forward to the fences that is so critically important in xc. It’s all a balance of course, and brakes are obvi extremely important. I’ve found tho that really focusing on the balance and quality of that forward feel as you describe above has also helped refine our balancing half halt aids too, so it all ends up working together anyway.

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    1. Its easy for me to look 5 steps ahead while forgetting that he is a green 8 year old with a green 37 year old rider (forever green rider) and wasn’t taught any of this before. Step 1 was to get his butt moving forward to avoid the vertical energy and his sense of claustrophobia. Step 2 is working on that balance and a better quality and that is where we are currently.

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  5. As with everyone else that has commented I agree with Trainer AB! She is wise and knows what she’s doing 🙂 Plus forward but not speed really is the answer to solving a lot of the problems in riding!!! I was watching the live stream 3* SJ at Fair Hill a bit ago and the commentators were really adamant about moving forward in a nice pace and politely getting after those riders that were holding their horses back with large bits or more stuck riding. Both of the commentators actually know what they’re talking about b/c they’ve ridden and coached at the top level soooooooo yeah…. you’re on the right track with Eeeyore! That and seriously how can you argue with the results you’ve gotten since you’ve started working with AB?????

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  6. I think what’s nice about eeyore for you is that you CAN train him like this. it’s so much easier to train a horse that the answer is always forward when their natural inclination is not to go forward. Sometimes all the horses want is forward and that doesn’t mean you get to ride backwards, it just means its going to be a lot scarier to ride forwards 😛

    besides, if he’s getting really rushy your trainer will probably set up gymnastics and then all you have to do is sit there while he goes “oh my god, I can’t be a derp or I’ll eat these rails for breakfast lunch and dinner’!!

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    1. That’s a good point. Gem was a very forward horse who would put the pedal to the metal all the time. I could not have used this technique successfully with her with how wimpy I am.

      And you know, my definition of rushing after a fence is probably not the same as other, brave more experienced riders. Like, Trainer agrees he isn’t really listening to me but she also sees that we aren’t going fast at all and it feels a lot worse that it shows

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  7. Yeah, I don’t really post training issues/bumps anymore because I found a lot of my comments were training tips and no offense to anyone, but I pay someone for that, and he sees a lot more than the little clips/gifs I put online, so I think I’ll stick with his advice.

    I will legit never tire of E side eye pictures. Nor will I tire of seeing how far you both have come!

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    1. I was a bit taken off guard cuz I didn’t ask for advice yet got some. I guess it’s the risk with putting things on the internet. Mostly I understand it is meant well but just like you I pay for someone to teach me things. Someone I very much respect and who has ridden my horse and seen me go for better and worse. I’ll be listening to her!

      Eeyore has the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen. You can 100% tell what he is thinking at all times and mostly he thinks that this is some real bullshit up in here

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  8. I love your trainer’s approach. I need to implement more “forward always” with my three, as well. Reading this is a great reminder of that. Thank you!

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