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[RC] diagonals - Marcia Nelson

Here is something to add a new twist to this topic. I went to see Chris Irwin (www.chrisirwin.com) and watched a demonstration of riders. They were riders unknown to him as it was at an expo. There was everything from nervous to calm horses. He challenged the riders after they had warmed up on their own to post to the diagonal that was correct for the horse's bend and NOT relative to the arena fence. That meant that the nervous horses that would counter bend to the outside to take a look at all the scary things outside the arena fence would have riders on the 'wrong' diagonal based on being relative to the arena fence. His challenge was that a horse (not in a show) but being schooled in an arena and still in the place where they are nervous and worried about what is outside gets even more worried when they are tugged and pulled and corrected to get back to the 'correct bend and diagonal' relative to the arena fence. Each time that a horse would counter bend because of their worries, he would ask the rider to change their post to be 'correct' with the horse's bend and he would then ask them to rhythmically leg them away from the arena fence far enough to float them around in a head on turn back towards the arena and head off in the opposite direction. If the horse once again would counter bend to see outside the arena he'd have them repeat the exercise over and over until the horse was done with looking. It was interesting to note that not one horse was as upset as they had originally been and they dropped their fears and worries very quickly because the riders didn't get in a fight with them at the exact same moment that they had fear about their environment. They would just ride them in the direction that the horse would counter bend and then turn back to the fence and head on down the rail in the opposite direction until they counter bent again and then they'd leg them over with a change of diagonal and head back to the fence and change directions again. Pretty soon, the horses were all happily riding along and the over sensitivity to their environment melted away. No fuss no muss! It was a nice sight to see.
As they had been warming up, the nervous horses were getting hotter and hotter as their riders were struggling to get control of the horse's fears that were then affecting their bend and the more they attempted to correct the horses the worse the fight got and the more over sensitive the horses became. It wasn't until he let them struggle through it on their own and asked them to change their idea of what a 'correct' was that the whole thing calmed down and you would have thought that these horses were different animals than the ones we witnessed at the start of it all.
I was dully impressed at how well this worked across the board and I brought that idea home to my own training program and I can't tell you what a difference it has meant. It makes perfect sense that when a horse is already troubled about their environment and then that is paired with getting in trouble for looking and counter bending that it would just add fuel to the fire. Even if they don't specifically get in trouble by their rider, at the very least the 'correct' posting with the 'correct' diagonal relative to the fence is all wrong in that moment for where the horse's body is bending and that alone feels awkward to the horse. Pretty soon the horse begins to associate their fears with riding that doesn't feel good and/ being corrected and tugged around.
I've learned that I can get nervous horses calmed down pretty easily this way and they stop doing all that counter bending around and settle right down. Once all of that is going great, then they're ready for the show ring and staying in a bend relative to the arena fence.
It has been awesome for my students to learn to post with the 'correct' diagonal this way too. I have them go with the feel of the horse and not worry about the arena fence. They get the feeling and the timing down and then I have them do what I mentioned earlier and pretty soon both horse and student are going great along the arena fence with both doing the 'correct' thing relative to the arena.
Try it, you might like it too!!
Marcia Nelson
Horseman's Hangout
Santa Barbara, CA