I'm going to randomly post some of my book discussion contributions here so if anyone wants to read along and comment, you can do so.
The book in question is one I highly recommend, not only informative but simply gorgeous with stunning illustrations and photographs, Thomas Ritter's Dressage Principles Based on Biomechanics, which can be purchased HERE.
my book discussion post:
This is a longer section, with a lot of information packed into it as it surveys and highlights (and connects) the history of dressage for the reader.
For this section, which gets more to the meat of the book, I've read pages from beginning to end (and re-read a number of passages) - but I'm going to post here as I go back through it another time.
My first observation is from a passage on pg. 60 in which Ritter says, " All horses are different, which is why no two individuals can be trained with exactly the same training schedule..." and then further he says, "I always recommend to my students that they devote a part of each training session to research, where they don't try to teach the horse anything new, but instead analyze the current situation and to get to know the horse better. No two horses are identical, so this makes an individual approach necessary. In theory, everything can be right, and everything can be wrong depending on the different circumstances."
You can stop here and add your own thoughts to this thread or read on for my own long ramble as I think through my own herd with the above in mind.
It was nice for me to begin this section with information that I understand and can leap right into with my own experiences at hand as I read forward. For the past 8 eight years I've worked primarily with three horses and a pony who live with us. You can see how different they are:
Salina, 29 years old, German Hannoverian mare imported as a brood mare, 15.2. She has one eye and arthritic knees due to an injury but is also the most highly trained of the horses here (up to 4th level but don't know how much work she did at 4th). Although we retired her from riding several years ago, the few years I was able to ride her lightly taught me a tremendous amount. She does not bear with demands or rough handling or riding. The first time I got on her I knew immediately I needed to sit quietly, correctly, and ask nicely. She responded to that by putting herself into a near-perfect position and then she did something I'd never experienced before on a horse - she would respond to what your body asked her to do, which in my case didn't always match with what I *thought* I was asking. It often happened when sitting the trot that I inadvertently asked for the canter, and when cantering, that I asked for a change. She would respond to what my body actually did, then she would very intentionally return to the previous movement and respond to what she assumed (always correctly) I had MEANT to ask for. So for me, it was like she was saying "This is what you actually asked for, but wait, here is what I think you MEANT." I tried hard to pay attention to what my body did in each moment so I could get the lesson she was giving me. I was especially touched by her going forward so beautifully no matter which direction - on the lunge line (done only briefly and rarely as I didn't want to stress her knees) and under saddle. When working, she trusted me completely and you couldn't tell a bit of difference if her good eye was in or out on the circle or the arena rail.
Keil Bay, 23 years old, Hanoverian trained by a German dressage trainer, very sound with very clean joints. Keil is 16.2 and broad as the side of the barn. Solid through 2nd level but knows and does many of the 3rd/4th level movements with ease on occasion. He's a laid back, sweet-natured but also opinionated and very expressive gelding. He tends to bring himself to the level of his rider, ie. if a pure beginner gets on him he will literally just stop and stand quietly. If an upper level rider gets on he will move well but if pushed hard will grind his teeth. I've often seen him "wag" his head when being pushed hard as well. With me, over the years, he moved well but came down to my level (which initially was "go forward but not too quickly") with regular and brilliant 'pushes' when I needed them to help me get past my own hurdles. Keil Bay will do anything I ask if I get myself into a correct position and ask correctly. He'll try to do the things I ask when I'm not in balance or ask incorrectly. His default is to slow down - if I confuse him, he just notches down and waits until I reorganize. He is treated like a king here b/c he not only takes care of me, he puts up with me, and I am grateful for every single moment I have with him. For someone coming back to riding after many years out of the saddle, he has been a dream come true. My ongoing riding goals with Keil Bay are to work on myself so I can make the accidental dressage moments become intentional and last longer - we've made progress this winter. This week we had a ride where we didn't make it past the walk. I was stiff, he was stiff, it was mid-day which we both dislike for riding, but we ended with a lovely walk so - that was where we were that day and we did what we could do from beginning to end of the ride to work through what we started with.
Cody, 9 years old, QH, trained in Western Pleasure by age 2. Cody is a wonderful, teddy bear kind of spirit with a little bit of a passive-aggressive streak which mostly comes out in benign ways. He was bought for my son, and once we realized how young he was (when his papers arrived, after we'd bought him) we notched down what we asked of him under saddle for a full year and a half and then picked back up when he was 4. He is extremely sensitive to the aids - in some ways much like Salina but he doesn't have the correct training nor the understanding of his own body so while Salina will do the correct thing no matter what, Cody needs a lot of guidance in moving in ways that supple rather than tighten him up. He's gotten better and now that we know he has EPSM and are treating that we've also gotten more in tune with his sensitivities and what works/doesn't work, as well as when to push/not push physically. As it turns out, daughter is doing riding disciplines that aren't a good fit for Cody, so he's my partner in training - i.e. seeing what I can do to train him the basics of dressage. With Cody, the regular and correct work will be therapeutic for his body, (as I think it is for all horses, but for him it's really important for daily comfort) and that compels me to take this on as a learning experience for myself. Otherwise I would be perfectly happy to work with Keil Bay only.
Apache Moon, a 12.3 half-Shetland painted pony, 12 years old, who is built like a little warmblood and has really lovely gaits considering how small he is. Right now my daughter has outgrown him - she can still ride him but her legs are so long it's just logistically difficult for both of them to do much together. I'm working with him in hand right now and he's doing very beginner rides with two little students, to whom he acts like a prince. The Little Man, as we call him, has done Pony Club with daughter, combined training shows, eventing, dressage shows, etc. Daughter rode him against professionals on big horses in open classes and often got ribbons and decent scores. He has a talent for collection and often does a very nice levade on his own and/or when we play with him at liberty in the arena. He's smart as a whip and if I can teach him to long line I think he'll teach me a lot in the process - he's small enough that I can actually see what his body does very easily as I work with him at his side and behind. He is smart but wary and always testing the boundaries to see if he can get higher in the herd (horse and human). When he decides to stop trying to move up in rank, he is wonderful to work with but it takes times and some patience to get there with him. Right now he's very angry at my daughter for growing up, and in some ways I see him beginning to shift his attachment/trust to me. It's a bittersweet time - most of what daughter did out and about in the riding world she did with him, and it was not only her first time doing those things, but his as well, so they had to work hard and together to achieve what they did. We're trying now to find the new normal for him here. Fortunately he is loving the clicker training work I'm doing with him right now and I think once he forgives daughter and figures out a new non-riding relationship with her things will be good again.
I'm not exposed to many many horses in my life right now - but these four I think offer me enough differences and different challenges that I have more on my plate than I can manage on a day-to-day basis. As I read forward into this section I have these four in mind and am thinking about how to apply what I'm reading in ways that will serve the needs of these horses. And in the case of Salina, in some ways how I might make sense of the rides I had with her. Every now and then she comes into the arena and wants me to work with her so we do some easy dressage tests (walk and a little trot) on the ground. Her donkey boys come right along with us! She remembers the figures and sequences and when we're done she leaves the arena with that same sense of pride that I expect she had when she was young.
Which brings me to the Duke of Newcastle's quote which I loved, on pg. 64, paraphrased:
"lenity and patience with good lessons, never to offend your horse... it is your business to make both your person and the manage as agreeable to him as possible..."
I can see with Keil Bay and Salina that the work they learned early on remains a comfort and a pleasure to them and the arena a place where they can shine and feel good. That Keil Bay will come to the gate and wait for me if I call him in for a ride, and that the pony and Cody often come to the arena gate and ask to come in when I'm there are my signs that I'm on a good, if very slow and often crooked (pun intended) path!