Simple Models, Hard Problems


Brian, Baltimore, MD

We got about 4 inches of snow this week, so I decided to long-line Jasper instead of riding. Jasper kept stepping to the midline with his right-hind leg when going counter-clockwise — a familiar problem, one that we dealt with just fine. We switched directions after 20 minutes and I expected a similar issue, just reversed. Sure enough, he felt heavy in my left hand — the outside line — and  I defaulted to handling it the same way as before. I kept at it for a good 15 minutes, but we just weren’t making any progress. My corrections were not being effective. I started to take a closer look: I saw that he wasn’t stepping to the midline, and the top of his hips were staying pretty level, but he was darn heavy in my left! I was stumped.

Jasper wasn’t straight on the circle, and I didn’t know why.  I hadn’t seen this before when  long lining. This was a hard problem for me. Optimal Balance abstracts the complexities of biomechanics into a much simpler model of the box, the ball, and the triangle. So I mapped the problem into the model: Jasper was heavy on my outside line, the box was pretty level, and the ball was pretty well positioned. Well… then it must be the triangle. I’m walking behind Jasper, so I can’t see the triangle. But wait! I can feel the triangle in the lines! So I decide to go with the idea that the problem is with the triangle.

I’m still stuck. I’ve never dealt with the triangle while long lining. Again, Optimal Balance gives me a way to deal with this new problem: I know how to deal with the triangle when riding, so the same should apply while long lining. I correct the triangle when riding by “pushing” out left or right with the reins (as opposed to pulling back). I had been using the lines as if I were either trying to move the ball or stabilize the box, and that wasn’t working.  So I decide to give it a try and I start to “push” the lines out to my left or right.

I start to see a difference right away! Jasper was straight and balanced on the circle after just two laps of correcting the triangle. I could feel his relief.

The abstract model of Optimal Balance (the box, the ball, and the triangle) gives me something to work from when I am faced with a new problem. It is simple enough for me to visualize and work with on the fly, and I can consistently apply it when hand walking, long lining, or riding. A powerful and useful tool.

A horse doesn’t have a “triangle”. So when I say that the problem is in the “triangle”, I realize that it is really with his shoulders and neck, maybe with his front legs as well. Thinking back, I noticed that his front legs would occasionally cross over each other. As I get his weight back onto his hind legs, keeping the spine straight, Jasper needs to re-learn how to use his front legs. He spent so much time with most of his weight on his forehand that this is new for him, and sometimes disconcerting. I’m learning to appreciate that.

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