Wolffe Dressage
Athletic Fitness



Ode to a Rogue…

I wrote a little article on my running blog about rogue horses. 

Rogue Horses / October 8, 2008     http://juliawolffe.blogspot.com/  

It made me think about many of the horses from my past.  The training method I discussed briefly in my blog was developed after much trial and much error and some success.  Now, as a teacher, how do I teach this lesson to those who could use the lessons but do not have the chance to experience such things??  The true “rogues” in my life cemented the importance of the directives that I laid out in my article.  These horses taught me hard lessons…the kind that will never be forgotten.

I’ve become spoiled in my easy life of semi- retirement and students I know and love with horses that – for the most part – are the most complacent bunch of animals you could ask for.  Not one of them attacks you in the stall or pins you up against the wall.  Not one of them flips themselves over backward at the drop of a hat.  Not one bolts off through a barbed wire fence.  Not one sidles over to “cow-kick” you.  Nope, I suddenly have horses that I only dreamed of twenty years ago.  I appreciate that and I only hope that my riders can guess how lucky they are…or are they??

What of struggle?  Will my riders really learn the lessons of patience, persistence, trust, and empathy without having to work through a “rogue?”  A rogue teaches these lessons…better than I ever could.  A rogue defines training time and method.  A rogue makes the rider struggle – both physically and mentally.  The rogue makes one humble. 

How are these lessons taught otherwise??  I don’t know.  It has to come from the love of horses I guess.  And it has to come from the maturity (or whatever it is) to be humble and not always self-serving.  The best riders are those who respect horses as horses and as individual souls.  Xenophon (BC 431 – 350) said, "For what the horse does under compulsion is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.”  And this recognition of things done “without understanding” or without respect is what the rogue horse teaches the rider.  The rogue horse demands respect (understanding) by being the savage that it is.  To learn this lesson without this equine guide has to come from within the rider…from a love of horses that creates an almost insane desire to understand it.  How do you teach that??

I would ask that all riders be honest and examine a few self half-halts that I have listed below:    

  • Do not judge the horse for stupidity when you do not explain the exercise clearly in a manner that your horse can understand. 

  • Do not judge the horse for laziness when you do nothing physically taxing yourself.  (and NO, riding is not personally, physically taxing…the horse works harder…) 

  • Do not judge the horse for deceit when you have not practiced the lessons enough for him to perform them. 

  • Do not judge the horse for restlessness when you have failed at comforting him.

  • Do not judge the horse for anger when you treat it with anger yourself.

  • Do not judge the horse for not listening when you have done nothing to make it trust you.

This list could go on but I hope that the point has been made.  Without the rogue around to make the rider honest, it is up to the rider to constantly work on awareness.  Without the rogue around the rider has no reminder to stay “present.”  Without the rogue around the rider’s agenda becomes too full of the “white noise” that has nothing to do with understanding or training horses.  Without the rogue around the rider has to somehow learn that it is important to stay in the moment and understand the horse…so that it will then understand the rider.  Only then can one call themselves a true horse person.  On the rogue, you HAVE TO try to understand or risk being maimed or killed.  My hope is that without the rogue around, your love of horses will make you want to do it.


Lay Off Time

  • The horse begins to lose fitness after 2 weeks off.
  • For every week after the two week window you must double the time to get the horse fit again.  (ie.  After 3 weeks off the horse needs 2 weeks of fitness training… considering your 2 week window and doubling the 1 week after that…)
  • If the horse has not had any turn out during off time, be VERY careful to not put it into hard work too quickly (see tying up)
  • Try to get the horse out if can.  Hand walk if necessary.  Use a nose chain and dressage whip to encourage good manners on a hyper horse.
  • After 3+ days of lay off, the rider cannot expect the horse to be very workable the first day back.  Consider what you would feel like if you sat on the couch eating bonbons for 3 days and then went for a jog.  Use lots of breaks in the beginning of work.
  • Don’t expect your sweet horse to stay sweet when in captivity for days on end.  Be careful to pay attention to dangerous situations.
  • Do not tear up your arena when it is just dry enough to start working in there.  Make the horse behave and move up and down the ring as you work or lunge to “fluff” up all the sand.  Try not to make a round race track hole…
  • Try not to get frustrated with the erratic training schedule, even if it deteriorates into just trying to maintain fitness.  This is the “meat and potatoes” of being a rider.  Just do it.
  • The rider has to work at maintaining their own fitness whether they are riding or not.  The rider should be doing “cross training” activities anyway since riding a horse or two is not enough to stay fit.  During the horse’s lay off time, the rider should increase other activities.


The rider must be aware of posture… esp. the slouch of the shoulders / caving in of the abdomen / looking down.  A rounded shoulder posture really decreases your ability to feel the actions of the hind legs because of the “down” position of the sternum (that should be looking forward like an eyeball) and because this position pulls your butt muscles up between the saddle and your seat bones which keeps you perched on your butt.  This makes it very likely to lose your balance and rock further backward with your hips so you collapse your stomach even more and become like a drag weight in the saddle instead of an “open door” for your horse to send his back / energy through.  To make matters worse, the rider with the slouched posture feels to the horse as if it is carrying two bowling balls bouncing around on its back.  The horses back will harden, its gaits will become more jarring, it will have soreness develop throughout its withers / neck and suppleness is lost.  Once this happens, the balance will suffer and your horse’s ability to be “on the bit” will be decreased to leaning on the bit for more balance and/or becoming more curled behind the bit (and leg/whip) and pounding into its front legs. 

That said, many, many horses travel this way.  Many horses that you see at the shows seem to have a round or arched neck but then when asked to perform any type of transition, movement, or figure that deviates from trudging along the path it is plowing…voila… the head or neck goes up or perhaps just stiffens even more and the horse literally “spills” into the new impossible balance as best as it can.

Riding “on the bit” or “on the aids” or “with throughness / self-carriage” requires a feel and control of the horse’s hind legs.  It requires great connection to the inside hind leg.  It is a constant and continuing sonata that plays between you and your horse.  It is your awareness that keeps this sonata playing.  You should not ignore or stop the flow and FEEL of the hind legs up through your seat…no more than a pianist should stop his piece to turn a page of his music.  Discord leads to more discord.  And unfortunately for the horse, it is not an inanimate object like a piano.  The horse feels fear when it loses its balance.  It feels pain when it works with a contorted body.  It feels sadly stoic when the work has no joy.

To feel the hind legs of the horse requires HOURS of riding and learning to feel things through your seat.  If you were to sit on a metal lawn chair out in the sun on a Texas summer, you would certainly be aware of your feel through your seat.  However, there just aren’t a huge number of things that help your awareness and FEEL for the horse’s hind legs other than sitting on a horse IN GOOD POSTURE. 

Each time you round your shoulders, look down, collapse your stomach, drop one shoulder, jut your head forward, etc… you are cheating yourself of VALUABLE riding time (average life span for you is less than 80 years) where you could be learning FEEL.  And each time like this, your horse (average riding life span is 15 years) is learning to not trust you and to spend its time with you in an effort to avoid pain and loss of balance. 

Your first step in developing more throughness with your horse and more submission to the aids / ease of movement is to sit in good posture.  With this, not only will your body work more efficiently and feel better, but you will be on the right path to connect to every horse that you ride.  The horses will blossom under your seat.  You will finally understand the meaning of impulsion (controlled energy and power) and the joy of having all of that at your beck and call…ON THE BIT.  So in a word (or two…) sit up, shoulders back, eyes up, sternum forward and be proud that you are working to figure all of this out…   

An Important Message from... your saddle! An Important Message from... your saddle!

Your saddle is an important piece of equipment. It is obvious that good care will make it last longer and clean, supple leather is definately more comfortable to ride in! However, there is one other important point that MANY riders are completely ignorant of... and that is the proper attention to consistent "straight" breaking in and use.

All of us struggle with straightness, balance, and weight placement... both with ourselves and with our horses.  And yet, it is very easy to get off kilter and have it feel "normal."  As we work at staying "with" the horse's motion and then with trying to manipulate the horse's way of going, we are often contorting and tightening our own bodies without realizing it.

One of the best ways to check on your own straightness and weight placement in the saddle is to examine your personal saddle.  With your saddle firmly placed on a rack, feel the seat of the saddle just behind the "waist."  The waist is the narrow section of the seat and behind it you should feel two indentions in there (somewhere!) that mark where your seat bones sit.  Theoretically, these should be perfectly evenly placed and should be exactly the same depth of indention.  Often, they are not and you need to try to even them up as best as possible.  This is done by placing a slightly thin towel over the saddle and using a small hard rubber mallet to work the indentions to being more even.  You can use a regular hammer instead but you MUST BE CAREFUL not to tear the leather as this is a spot with a lot of strain anyway.

You should do this check on your saddle every other month or so.  This is a great way to critique your own postion!  Make your life a little easier!!  And, be that much straighter for your "soon to be made straight also" horse!!