Riding: Appreciating The 1% Bonus

I came across this article, written by dressage professional Ange Bean, regarding living by the 1% rule. It gave me perspective regarding some of my recent rides. If riding for you is not all butterflies and sunshine, I recommend giving it a read.

“The “1% rule,” to me, represents hope. . . This rule shows me the path, one step at a time. If each of my daily trot-halt-trots gets a tiny, tiny bit better, I can go from “trot-waterski and hope for several strides-check out my mount’s browband because he’s so inverted-finally stop moving” to a quiet, invisible half-halt. Even if I’m nowhere near that in today’s training session.”

Ange Bean

Progress comes in fits and starts for me, when it even comes at all. Ange Bean is a much more accomplished rider than I will ever be. Yet she describes many significant setbacks in her life that helped form her views on progress.

I was thinking about her article as I reflected on Shiloh’s difficulty in stretching towards the contact. Or should I say, my difficulty in encouraging him to do so.

It seems that each year after our Winter break, it takes a few months for me to convince him to stretch. I want him to stretch because it seems to help with his relaxation and avoid a pacing gait. And the more we practice this posture, the more his Foxtrot gait (he’s a Missouri Fox Trotter) becomes smooth and rhythmic.

At this point in the year, Shiloh is finally starting to stretch again. But not consistently. Here’s a little recent video taken earlier this month.

I could hold on to the disappointment that we are still struggling. To focus on the inconsistently. Or, I could choose to focus on the progress. The older I get, the more it occurs to me that I actually have a choice in how I look at any given situation.

I also keep this idea of 1% progress in mind as I encountered a recent setback with my newest horse, Piper. Fresh on the heels of my successful trail ride with Shiloh, I took Piper to the local boarding barn where I participate in Winter riding lessons.

Piper spent a week at this barn before I brought him home to my backyard. And we revisited the place last Fall when I trailed him over for another practice ride. Piper was nervous that first week with me (in keeping with being in a new environment with a new owner), but he was basically cooperative and wasn’t spooky. Not so for our return trip this year, unfortunately!

He was actually, well, terrible. He was dancy-prancy. Alternating between head tossing and curling behind the bit. Scooting away when he heard noises behind him or the wind blew the arena dust in a little swirl. And he stopped and spun away when approaching corners. Three of the four corners in fact.

Even so, he wasn’t unseating me. I kept my stirrups. I thought perhaps if we continued with figure eights (my go-to movement with an unhappy, tense horse) that he would quickly relax. But after 15 minutes, the antics continued.

Though I was still firmly in the saddle, my confidence in my ability to continue to ride him through the tension started to wane. Without being able to arrive at those universal basics of relaxation and rhythm, it made for a really unpleasant ride for me. Obviously for Piper too. So I decided to call it a day and take him home.

That experience lingered with us. The next time I rode him at home, I was apprehensive. He was an emotional mess again. I ended up doing a total of 40 minutes of groundwork with Piper because multiple attempts at asking him to stand at the mounting block were unsuccessful. By the time I did get on, I was so tired and frazzled that we walked around quietly for like five minutes and called it a day.

Again, not a great experience for either of us. But was it 1% better than our previous ride? Yes, it was. Because during our last ride, we didn’t even get five minutes of quiet. And now we had at least that.

The next few rides after that one were actually quite nice. We’ve been going back to working on doing long serpentines and big circles in our open pasture. I can feel him stretch and blow through his nose periodically. He is calm enough for me to fiddle with my phone and capture a set of shadow shots from the saddle. 1% progress? Yes and then some.

Our next eventual step will be to see if we can travel again and not unravel. I’ll likely try to schedule a lesson, not just an open ride, so I can get a professional’s supervision and input. I’d love to know what the issue was, especially with the spooking. It seemed really out of character.

Is Piper developing some herd-sour issues with my other horses, Bear and Shiloh (who I agree are fantastic company- I probably wouldn’t want to leave him either)? Is he feeling skeptical about me and my abilities to pilot him through a hair-raising situation (I readily admit to not being the confident, go-getting rider I’d love to be)? Was he just not feeling like working that day? He is an older horse, after all. Prone to aches and pains, I’m sure.

But, you know how it is with horses. We don’t often get to learn exactly what the deal was. So instead, I will try to look forward. I will try to figure out what I can do the next time to find, as Ange Bean states in her article, that 1% progress.

On a related note, I also came across this article by Karen Rohfl with Dressage Naturally about working with a horse who is stressed in new places. Lots of good suggestions. Another piece that I found helpful was by author Sally Spickard in Heels Down Magazine. It details what to do immediately following a tough ride.

Those articles provide good food for thought for someone like me. Someone who loves to ride. Yet who routinely finds it challenging to keep it mentally together when things go wrong in the saddle. Someone who struggles to help their horse along, whether in developing improved self-carriage or just finding a basic level of relaxation when riding off the property.

While we can often learn something from a disappointing ride, at other times it is hard to find the silver lining. Each of us is left with the task of trying to make sense of it all. I don’t particularly welcome those difficult rides, but if nothing else, they allow me to appreciate the easy rides all the more. Those rides where everything seems to click between my mount and me.

Most importantly, in the end, I remember to have gratitude for the opportunity to ride in any capacity at all. It is quite a privilege. 1% progress is the bonus.

8 thoughts on “Riding: Appreciating The 1% Bonus

  1. Personally I think you’re spot on, and I love that 1% of progress. Ange Bean definitely put into words what I’ve been doing for a few years now. One thing that I didn’t realize was great until Amber and I started moving barns was her “calming exercises.” I didn’t even know she had them. But back when she was a baby 2 yr old and part of my college class, we did endless amounts of groundwork, and not always on a lunge line. she’d get lunged at the end of her split reins even with a bit in her mouth. When she was very anxious in her new barn, I’d do these exercises. I knew them. She knew them. They relaxed her because they were familiar. Well, new level unlocked apparently lol. So now, anytime she’s nervous or anxious, I let her do those groundwork exercises. It usually takes her about 2 minutes or less before she settles, but it allows her to take a breath, and I’ve realized just how important that is. I plan to do that with my next horse (if I am even able to get a next horse), even if I do plan on doing english instead of western. It’s just been so beneficial for her, and I didn’t even realize we were doing it until the one day the lightbulb went off lol. So all of that to say lol yes, I agree that having those 5 minutes of quiet is absolutely that 1% progress because it was better than last time, even if you needed to spend time on the lunge line before hand 🙂

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    1. It IS interesting how horses can form strong associations with certain things, including particular groundwork exercises. I attended a handful of natural horsemanship type clinics back in the day with my now retired horse, Bear. We learned all sorts of fun stuff to do on the ground together, and it really did seem to help cement our relationship in and out of the saddle. Piper is a different beast, of course, who I will have had just a year come this August. I am still trying to figure him out (and he me). Makes life interesting if nothing else I guess. I am clinging to that 1% bonus idea for all it is worth! 😀

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  2. honestly i know this is kinda unsolicited feedback, but i really like how you guys look in that video! if anything, the moments where he braces a bit just look like he hasn’t solidified the longitudinal balance or fully developed the ab / hind end strength to hold the stretch. almost like he just needs a couple steps every now and again to get his legs back under him? he certainly seems willing to experiment with it tho!! which, let’s be real, is half the battle haha

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    1. Shiloh has a terrific disposition, for sure. I’m glad that comes through in the video. Your observation about the issue with the strength to hold his balance make a lot of sense. I wish I could support him even more. Alas, I have my own balance and strength issues too. But I agree that a horse’s willingness to try to figure out what the rider is asking is a real gift. It took me quite a while to find that quality in him. He felt super dull and tuned out under saddle after having spent five years at pasture before I got him in 2018. He was not much fun to ride at first, but now I really enjoy him, even if our progress comes in 1% intervals! 🙂

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    1. I know that every time I am away from riding for a length of time that the feeling of putting my foot in the stirrup for the first time again and stepping up there is incredible. Actually, I guess it feels that way to me every time. But when I have to step away from riding and then come back to it, it impresses on me all the more just what a gift it is. That will be a wonderful day indeed when you get back in the saddle, Anne!

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  3. It’s so easy for us to focus on the negatives and then carry that with us for the next time – I do that always. I try to remember that horses have good and bad days too and give us both a little bit of grace. A professional second opinion doesn’t hurt either!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Rooth. Sounds like we are on the same page. It can be such a habit to focus on the negatives and ignore all the positives going on between our horses and us. I agree that grace is a wonderful and important thing. I bet our horses think so too!

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