An Advance Teaser from the Upcoming Book A to Z Rider Hints
Correction riding is a highly specialized, often thankless, branch of correct dressage training. It would be wonderful if we wouldn’t need it, but sadly, we see more and more need for good correction work.
Not every good professional trainer will make a correction rider. If we say that one to two riders out of a hundred will make a professional, probably fewer than one out of a hundred professional riders will become successful correction riders.
Most importantly, a good correction rider must be able to ride a horse not for it to go super well for himself, but for it to be highly rideable and easy to copy ride for its owner-rider. In a sense, a good correction rider is a ghost rider.
For one, a correction rider must be able to ride any type of horse. She must be 100% confirmed in her training approach and not be open to shortcuts. Her patience must be that of an angel, and her ability to read horses and to elicit security and trust in shut-down or abused and wrongly ridden horses must be second to none.
There are many aspects to correction riding. In many cases the need for correction riding is called for due to wrongly started horses. Most often though, correction riding deals directly with spoiled horses, i.e. horses who, once started properly, have been confused, messed up, and made to lose trust.
Maintenance training upkeep by a professional rider, a person other than a horse’s daily rider, is an important form of (preventive) correction riding too. “What an amateur ruins in five minutes may take the professional a year to fix,” was a saying I grew up with.
Let me add to this, “…if he can fix it at all.” For this reason, even for quite experienced owner-riders it is important to ride under constant supervision. This is especially so when young, unfinished horses are involved, no matter at what level they train, or horses that are new to a rider.
We even rode our clients’ experienced older horses at least on a weekly basis in order to prevent problems from creeping up. Things can go wrong oh so quickly.
Correction training exclusively belongs into the hands of an experienced rider specialized in correction work. There is many a top level competitive rider who cannot correct problem horses, and that is no dishonour. It is highly specialized work.
The sad truth is that not unfrequently someone will have to gather up the loose ends when a horse has become unmanageable. This is a task that requires a lot of gentle diplomacy in dealing with such a horse, a rider without any ego nor an agenda other than step by step, at the horse’s own speed, to set the record straight again.
However, many under saddle and behavioural problem causes can be found in the following and must be ruled out before the actual correction work, speak retraining, starts:
- Environment – stabling too noisy causing unrest, unsuitable stabling in drafty, wet places causing arthritis and pain, wrong feed causing ulcers and dental problems, unsuitable footing triggering leg and joint pain…
- Medical issues – these include challenges to the musculoskeletal system as much as some of the aforementioned issues, parasite load, etc…
- Tack – ill-fitting bridles and saddles, girths that press against the heart artery, blankets that rub, and a slew of other triggers…
- Shoeing and Trims – for instance medial-lateral imbalances, underrun heels and long toes that will not allow a horse to let its back (and belly) swing nor its quarters and hocks engage…
These issues, if not always easy to pinpoint, are rather straight forward. Once identified, a plan of action for therapy and rehab can be developed. Such then may or may not include correction riding.
It gets complicated, however, when a rider comes into the mix and proves to be the trigger, either due to a rider’s mental-emotional state, or to physical short-comings, or training deficits.
When we keep in mind that every muscle the rider tightens (or fails to release) is being understood by a horse as an aide, we will grasp why so many horses are getting worse with training instead of getting better.
Unless the riders are working under the constantly vigilant eye of a capable trainer, chances are that sooner or later their horses will start showing problems of physical rigidness or behavioural nature. And, the smarter and more talented such a horse is, the more likely it will present its less astute rider with insurmountable challenges.
Rarely is such a horse to be blamed when things go wrong—although it nearly always is the one who is being accused. And rarely is it a true professional who searches fault with the horse.
Quite often you can recognize patterns. It frequently is the same riders whose horses are running away, or who can’t get their horses forward. Then there are the riders who turn their mounts into what we quite unkindly used to call rigid sawhorses, horses who lost all swing and suppleness due to rigid riding. They plod along. And, if once they were rather advanced, they may find difficulty with the most simple exercises.
Contact issues are common to all above scenarios and may prompt one horse to grab the bit, get heavy on the hand, while another will go behind the bit and avoid contact altogether. Often misinterpreted as lightness, it is a rider’s business card of a mistrusting horse.
An other category of riders are those, whose horses actively refuse jumps, rear, run sideways or backwards, kick, or otherwise show active displeasure with their rider.
Many of these issues can be reduced to lack of rider training and misunderstood aiding. Even a few decades on horseback don’t mean that a rider can solve his or her own problems and shortcomings.
Once a horse has lost trust it will have to be a different rider to re-establish confidence in a horse. This process may take months, not weeks. The one year mark has always proven to be a magic number, yet may not be a guarantee either.
However unless the rider, who precipitated the issues in the first place, has reformed his ways and can prove so to the horse, things won’t go any better the second time around.
In fact, once the now properly ridden horse has learned that work can be easy and fun, it will hold it against its original rider—should he not have worked on himself during the time of the horse’s correction training. From there things may spin out of control quickly and worse than the first time around.
I routinely separated those horses and riders who had gotten themselves into dead end roads. While I correction worked their horses, we intensively trained those riders on other horses, but specifically towards the challenges they will encounter when returning to their own mounts.
The rule that repeating the same approach and expecting different outcomes is nowhere more valid than when riding horses. For this reason, longe and seat work in order for a rider to refine his communication tools must take priority.
And how would a rider know that he in fact is the one messing up the horse, not willfully of course, but by lack of constant supervision? Either it becomes obvious that suddenly an aspect of danger is creeping up in his horse-rider partnership, or the rider ends up with identical problems he has experienced with other horses previously.
And the correction process itself? A successful correction rider has incredible feel and a heightened ability to read his horses at a split second’s notice. His imperceptible corrections will be applied before the horses has had a chance to make a mistake.
It cannot be stressed enough that good correction work not wait for a mistake to happen in order to correct it, but to set up the horse so that the mistake never will happen and the correction isn’t needed.
Such a rider will take the horse back to basics with patience and tact, and sometimes with a good dose of targeted deception in order for the horse to realize that there is no discomfort or even pain involved. Correction riding is part feel, but involves detailed learning over years.
In short, the correction rider is a thinking rider with an outstanding body control, timing, and a very correct seat. He will read what the horse’s issues are from how the horse attempts to alter his impeccable seat.
However, all that is way easier said then done. A horse that has learned, or taught itself all the evasive tricks, may be a challenge even for an experienced correction rider. Hence the requirement for a no-pressure, patient, but systematic and consistent retraining approach.
Even an experienced rider should always ride under the watchful eye of an expert trainer.
Leave correction riding to the specialized professional while you (once again) go back to basics to improve your musculoskeletal and mental communication skills.
copyright Rivkah Roth DO DNM
Dr. Rivkah Roth is the founder of Equiopathy and a natural health practitioner, lecturer and author with over five decades in the saddle as a correction rider (Swiss National License LMS since 1968) and many hours as a National Grand Prix and FEI C dressage judge. Student successes include professional coaches on five continents (incl. CDN/EC I to III, ISR I to III, Dutch 3rd Level Instructor, USA, AUS), 1986 Dressage World Championships alternate (CDN), 1986 National GP Kuer Champion (CDN), 1992 Barcelona Olympics Longlist 3-Day (CDN), 2002 Young Horse Dressage World Championships – Verden/GER (ISR), World Cup and WEG dressage horse (CDN), many Nat. and Provincial Champions all levels (CDN / ISR / SUI).