Setting Their Neck

19 Oct

Since getting Llani to move forwards and stretch over his back and generally becoming more supple I have moved on to focusing on his transitions.

Unfortunately, Llani doesn`t like this idea. Last week, about halfway through our schooling session I brought him back to walk to ride some walk-halt transitions. I rode him forwards in the walk with a relaxed frame and then half-halted before asking him to halt.

This is where we disagreed. Llani halted the first time, for about three seconds before setting his neck and walking off. So I repeated the transition again. But Llani just set his neck as I half halted and carried on, oblivious. I asked a couple more times and eventually he responded, albeit reluctantly. So I addressed the walk and settled him again before repeating the transition. As soon as I asked he tensed his brachiocephalic and leant against my hand. Frustrated, I lent forward and tapped his poll sharply. Surprised, he stopped immediately.

I gave him a little pat, and then repeated the transition. Sometimes Llani responded well, but needed more encouragement to stay stationary for longer than he wanted, and sometimes he hollowed and gazed into the distance but so long as he listened to my aids he was rewarded.

I did a bit of research about how to improve the transitions, and today we had a better session.

Some suggestions were that I should work Llani on circles and introduce more lateral work so that his neck was relaxed and he was focused on other work before riding the transition. Others said to adjust the timing of my aids so that we were both better balanced and he was carrying more weight in his hindquarters and would step under in the transition and stay soft in the neck. I was also told to ride more transitions on circles. Dutifully, I followed these directives today, and found that leg yielding on a circle into a transition was really helpful. I have to be careful not to do the exercise too many times in a similar environment because Llani soon starts to predict it and halts for a maximum of two seconds before rushing away, so I rode travers or shoulder in before a transition, which really helped.

Interestingly, his trot-walk transitions are fluent and he stays relaxed and focused. Going up the transitions, today Llani went forwards more, instead of coming up and back at me (which was getting rather tiresome) and they are becoming more consisten. I was particularly pleased with his canter transitions as they were more relaxed and less of an imitation of a pogo stick. All I have done here is to ride them on a very quiet, allowing contact and when he doesn`t step forward I ride him back down the gaits and try again.

Llani is definitely improving in his way of going as he is more forwards, in a longer and more relaxed outline, keeping a very consistent rhythm and is much more supple. He is beginning to understand lateral work more, which I think is improving his suppleness. He is also accepting the leg a more and today I had some good strides of medium trot today with him pushing from his hindquarters, as opposed to pulling from his shoulders and falling out of balance as he did previously. He is also learning to walk on a long rein, although when I let him stretch in trot he stops and tries to find my hand, worried about being on his own! I`m looking forward to his first dressage competition in a couple of weeks time, and getting a baseline to monitor his progress.

Jockey Style!

17 Oct

Today I taught two little girls for the last time. One of them is emigrating to New Zealand and the other will continue with her lessons after she’s been on holiday with her family for a fortnight.

I had a think about what to do that was fun and still educational, and after doing a bit of reorganisation I managed to get both of their favourite ponies for the lesson.

We warmed up as usual, keeping them busy with various school movements so they couldn’t giggle too much and they would stop talking for a moment. I wish!

Soon we had cantered on both reins confidently with secure positions – it’s hard to believe that twelve months ago they were nervous in trot and had palpitations at the mere mention of canter. Around the ponies on the ground they would shriek and recoil rapidly. Now, they’re all over them. Scrambling on, leading, untacking, grooming, and picking out feet. They even canter over little jumps!

I decided for a bit of fun, and to help strengthen their lower legs, we would ride jockey style. Now I remember doing this on wet miserable winter days with ten of us nose to tail in the indoor arena. Then we used to have to put stirrups up by ten holes, but today I only raised the girls’ stirrups by four holes. Before they started giggling, I made them go into their jumping position, and exaggerated it slightly so they looked more like jockeys. Then they set off in walk before going up into trot. They weren’t allowed to rise, but had to hover, keeping their lower leg stable. I had them work on both reins, riding circles (don’t worry, they did have little walk breaks) whilst hovering to the trot.

Then, one of the girls let her toes point down line a ballerina and tried to do a nosedive, hugging her ponies neck as he continued trotting round oblivious to her peril. I didn’t think she’d make it, when her heels touched the cantle, but amazingly she pushed herself back into the saddle. I reprimanded her whilst laughing, and reminded her about the importance of heavy heels before we carried on. Afterwards they looked a lot stronger and stable in their jumping position so hopefully they’ll both take that away with them.

We finished the lesson with a race – around the world in both directions with hands out to the side, followed by half scissors both sides and then full scissors front and back. They were pretty nifty! Then they asked to lead the ponies back to the yard instead of riding them, so we did that before saying our goodbyes.

What is Contact?

15 Oct

My thoughts for this blog first surfaced a couple of weeks ago when two Mum`s said two conflicting things.
One said “Of course, Jenny didn`t know anything about outline but the horse she rode just did it on his own. But I`m glad you haven`t taught her that.”

The other said “Wendy needs to improve her pony`s outline.”

So we`ll take a quick look at each case study and I`ll try to explain whether outline and contact should be taught to these girls. From personal experience I know that being taught outline without the knowledge about the hind legs, impulsion, engagement and other terminology leads to a “handy” rider who is obsessed by head carriage, which is something the dressage world is trying to eradicate.

Looking at Wendy first. I`ve not been teaching her long and have focused on improving her seat and making it more independent, so that her arms, which tend to be stiff, don`t fly around too much. She`s improving, but because she tends to have stiff arms and her pony tends to lean against any tension in the rein I`ve not brought her attention to bringing her horse into an outline, but rather generating a more correct way of going – rhythm and suppleness – to encourage the mare to step under with her hind legs and lift through her back naturally, so she puts herself onto a contact and into an outline. From my rider I want her to have still, relaxed arms so the pony wants to work with them, not against them. When I rode this pony I found that suppling her on circles and with travers unlocks her back much more than getting into a fight with her. Obviously as I am twice her usual rider`s size (maybe not that much!) I was more effective with my leg.

My aim with Wendy is to develop her seat and leg aids, whilst encouraging her to stay soft yet consistent with her hands so that she forms a nice rein connection to her pony`s mouth. It won`t take long, but I don`t think the focus should be on the neck with this pony, rather the suppleness of her, and as she and Wendy build the correct muscle and posture she will carry herself in a smart outline.

Moving onto case study two – Jenny. She rides a smart, if slightly overweight, Haflinger who has a well set-on neck. She has very soft, light hands as she is afraid of hurting er pony`s mouth. I`ve worked her hard over the last two years on sitting trot and having an independent seat with correct aids, but as her pony carries himself quite nicely I`ve focused on rhythm and balance. He tends to run away from the leg and can get quite strong when he runs, so we`ve also worked on acceptance of the aids. Which has led up towards lateral work. This has been interesting because, while she is perfectly capable of riding leg yield, her ignorance of the importance of rein contact has caused a stumbling block. She often creates the correct contact and balance unconsciously but as it is almost accidental, it can be inconsistent. So today I took a step back and asked her what she understood by the term “contact”.

Her first response was the hand position – thumbs on top, elbows by your side, carrying the hands … reins of equal length, hands level in all dimensions… Then we struck gold!
“Consistent feel down the reins” she said. I nodded; I tell my rider`s that they should be able to feel the pony`s mouth at the end of the reins, but not feel like they are pulling. It is a connection, and too slack a rein creates lots of “white noise” which means it is harder to communicate between horse and rider. Too tight a rein is restrictive and negative for the horse. Jenny is pretty good here, but I would say that her hand is fractionally too light which means she loses the connection minutely whilst riding. It also means that her pony trots round happily in his own little world, but not fully engaged and focused on her.

I explained to Jenny that she wants to think about riding more from leg to hand. So her rein contact is still light, but she needs to start feeling her pony take the contact forwards, and feel like her is leading a bit more. He`s not in control, but if they were walking down the street he`d be the man holding the woman`s hand (in Victorian times anyway) We started in walk, picking up the rein contact, and shortening her reins by about an inch, and then i encouraged her to apply more leg but not to let her pony jog, so she needed to try riding with the handbrake on fractionally. So she pushes her pony from her leg, into her hand, and then forwards. The forwards part is important as she is releasing him forwards in a controlled manner. It`s a bit like doing a hill start I guess. You have to feel the bite of the clutch before taking the handbrake off. It didn`t take long for my rider to begin to feel that change in her pony, so we moved onto trot.

It was really satisfying work; as soon as Jenny thought about her contact correctly her pony took the contact forward, lightened in his stride and lifted over his back more. At first it was inconsistent from both. After all, their muscles needed waking up! But as we progressed through the hour the moment became seconds, and Jenny began to feel the improvement. We worked on circles and she soon found that by having her pony between leg and hand she could affect the shape of the circle, and leg yield in and out successfully. Even the leg yield down the long side was better! I told her to push from her inside leg to her outside rein (which previously had been slightly slack) and then allow over. Before she pushed with her inside leg, but allowed him to run through her outside rein so they rushed to the track.

Even in the canter she was starting to balance him even more than usual (the rushing has already improved greatly) but when she engages her tummy muscles a bit more and sits on him as opposed to hovering he produces a much better canter anyway.

Basically today was just introducing Jenny to the purpose of her rein contact as a more advanced rider. She already unconsciously does it intermittently, but hopefully by focusing her on this aspect of riding their general work will go up a level and we can move onto more complicated exercises and movements. I still haven`t mentioned outline to her, but told her when her pony is working more correctly and engaging, so that she learns the correct feeling and how to create it correctly and not become fixated on the head carriage.

Teaching Diagonals

13 Oct

This afternoon I taught one of my youngest clients about trot diagonals.

At only five years old, she has a very good, strong position, and rides in trot without stirrups and hands confidently with very good balance. In canter she sometimes holds on, but being so very small I’ll permit that. We do quite a lot of pole work, jumping position, and small jumps. I don’t want to increase the height of the jumps too much as a “pop” by her pony would unseat her little body. If only I could put her on a stretching rack so she was a little bit bigger to be able to be more effective. Last time we did little jumps I had her counting trot strides between the poles – to help her realise when she needed to go into her jumping position, and increase her awareness of her pony’s strides.

Back to today’s lesson. We already ride 10m and 20m circles, serpentines and changes of rein competently so I decided to introduce trot diagonals inn the most basic way. Initially, I explained that we go up and down in trot as our ponies move their legs. She nodded in agreement, so we started trotting and trying to look at her pony’s shoulders. This is usually the hardest part, when riders associate the movement of their body with the movement of the horse’s shoulder. Once she could see the shoulder moving we had a little walk break and I explained the next step.

I told her that it is easier for the pony to go around the school if we are standing up as the outside shoulder moves forward, which is the correct diagonal. I tried really hard to keep my terminology consistent – correct and incorrect, outside and inside, as opposed to wrong and right, or left and right. I then told her that to change her trot diagonal from incorrect to correct then she had to go UP-DOWN-DOWN-UP and then back to her normal rising trot. Now we needed to practice changing the diagonals, so we went into rising trot and when I told her she had to change her diagonal. The only problem we had then was that she kept going up-down-down-up-down-down-up until I told her to do normal rising trot!

We had another break and a change of rein, where I explained that we now needed to look at the other front leg. She went into trot and then started rising, and we looked to see if she was on the correct diagonal. If she couldn’t work it out I called out everytime the outside foreleg went forwards. She soon clicked when she was right. Unfortunately for me she automatically rises on the correct diagonal! It shows a lot of feel though, even if it is unconscious feel. Once we’d established if she was correct or incorrect we changed her diagonal until she was correct.

I interspersed this with some sitting trot and changes of rein, so that she could practise this. If she couldn’t work it out I called out the foreleg movement. I think it would also help her to have tape alone her grey pony’s shoulders to help her see the movement in his short strides. Maybe I’ll try that next week.

We took a little break and did some work without stirrups and made some positional corrections before returning to some work on her trot diagonals and finally finishing with some canter work.

I was pleased that my young client understood the concept of diagonals, even if it still a little bit wooly. Her mum is geared up to remind her of them when she next rides to further reinforce the idea. Next week I can recap and remind her of them when she’s riding round and changing the rein. Hopefully she will retain most of the information and I haven’t overloaded her brain!

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Has Talent …

12 Oct

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Buying a Bridle

11 Oct

I decided to embark on the difficult task of buying a bridle when Mum and I went to Horse of The Year Show earlier this week.

Who knew it could be so difficult? I mean, I’m not fussy.

My bridle needed to be black. After all, my saddles and other bridles are black so it would just be strange having a brown bridle, or God forbid, a tan bridle. So I’m down to 50% of available bridles. Given that I need a full size bridle I am now reducing my options to one third. Those mathematicians amongst us can calculate the percentage of bridles which could be suitable for me. I think it is about 16% …

It’s an every day bridle, and I don’t own a money tree, so the bridle needed to be competitively priced. But at the same time I don’t want to buy cheap nasty leather – what if it breaks mid cross-country?! Despite the show bargains available most bridles were still on sale for three figures. I remember buying Otis’s first bridle for £30 and it was, or still is as I use it to lunge, good quality English leather. The last bridle I got for him was a prize, so I don’t really know how much that cost.

I don’t like bling. I think it looks naff on a Welsh Cob, and is frivolous for every day wear, which narrows down my option of bridles considerably, as most had the diamanté browband. Or even worse, the coloured piping on the noseband and browband.

Another pet hate of mine is the crank noseband. I think they can be so easily over tightened, and are bulkier on the head so make Otis’s nose look clumpy. Furthermore, I dislike the crank and flash combination. There were very few cavesson bridles available at the show, numerous flashes but predominantly cranks. All I can say is that I am thankful I wasn’t looking for a drop noseband, as that would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Then we move onto the “comfort” range. I’m quite ambivalent to the padding on the nose and poll, but don’t want it to be excessive. Unfortunately for me, most comfort bridles come with a crank noseband.

So with my, what I would consider, normal constraints, Mum and I scoured every aisle and stall, until eventually we found a general tack shop in the back corner, which stocked English leather, reasonably priced daily bridles and I got the last black, full sized, flash noseband bridle. With padding on the brow and nose band, but without an integrated noseband which means I can swap to a drop if necessary (I recently rode Llani in a drop noseband and quite liked the feel, so if I find myself getting stuck with the flash I may trial it properly). It seems like the ideal bridle.

So why is it so difficult to source one?!?

So difficult in fact, that a quick look online hasn’t produced a photo of the bridle I bought, or would even consider buying!

A Hack Horse?

10 Oct

Yesterday at Horse of The Year Show we watched the Hack championship. If I’m really honest, I didn’t really understand how Hack classes are judged, and the championship horses were very similar. Dark bay thoroughbred type, fine horses who looked light in their movement and comfortable to ride. I got the impression that you could happily ride the Hack Champion for a couple of hours over good ground. I’m not sure I would want to hunt them or anything as they looked a bit delicate!

So I had a quick look online tonight to find out a bit more of the definition of a Hack Horse and the related classes.

Here are the links I found;

http://www.theshowring.info/Hacks.htm

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show_hack

http://britishshowhorse.org

Travers

8 Oct

I would like to introduce my secret weapon, travers.

I use travers a lot with Otis as he gets quite tight over his sacro-iliac area. Even when walking around when we first go into the school I start getting him to shift his quarters in. Or even out, into renvers. If I know he’s hard a hard day previously I will take him for a hack, swinging from left travers to right travers and I really find that it helps him.

Recently I’ve been teaching a lady and her veteran horse travers. The mare struggles to maintain a contact whilst working over her back, and has regular physio treatment. We began by introducing travers in walk down the long side, using ten metre circles to help create the inside bend in a similar way to shoulder in. It didn’t take too long for them to get the idea, but the hindquarters only moves in fractionally. The little horse was trying though, so after having a trot and giving her a mental break, we moved on to travers in sitting trot. Again, the horse tried really hard and as she unlocked those tight muscles she started stretching into a contact.

This week I was really pleased to see that their travers is much more correct; keeping the inside bend and working on three tracks. You could see the mare’s topline beginning to get stronger and she worked more consistently. Now I want my client to begin incorporating travers into her warm up and even start thinking about pushing the quarters in whilst cantering. Yesterday, she told me that she could feel the horse’s pelvis moving when she asked for travers and the mare is riding better circles and hopefully will become much more supple and strong.

This morning I schooled one of the girls’ pony and I used travers almost excessively, but the result was a beautifully soft and engaged pony who was again working very correctly. So my aim is to teach this young client travers to help supple her pony and improve their dressage marks.

Newton’s Cradle

7 Oct

I was teaching this morning and my client has been working on reducing the amount of work her hands do during turning and increasing the “push” from her legs. Unfortunately, on the left rein her instinct when I say “ride a circle” is to pull on the inside rein then back it up with her leg.

So I tried to change her way of thinking. I got her to imagine Newton’s Cradle and how the energy passes through the balls and then we compared that to her riding. If, for example, she was riding a left circle I wanted her to use her right leg behind the girth and imagine the energy flowing from her leg diagonally through her body, pushing the right hip forwards on it’s way, knocking the left shoulder back and then finally pushing her left (inside) rein open slightly to guide her horse. As the rein opened her hand was pushed forwards fractionally. This was mainly intended to stop her opening and pulling back with the inside hand, and for it to become more of a guiding, and fine tuning aid. By encouraging her to think of her hand and rein being pushed open and forwards I hoped she would create a more positive aid and her horse wouldn’t feel he had to draw back with his head and neck, and continue taking the contact forwards as he went.

Ultimately, it changed her way of thinking so that she turned in a more positive and forwards way, so her horse didn’t fall in on the circles. The right rein was much improved, and after experimenting again on the left we discovered that the left hand compensates for the ineffectiveness of her right leg. Which was caused by her collapsing to the left. From then on, every movement was preceded by a check of her outside seat bone, to ensure she was even in the saddle. The outside leg could then work effectively and the Newton’s Cradle of energy could flow through her and her horse’s body, which resulted in a more fluent motion, with her looking like she was one unit, rather than different limbs which were all trying to do their jobs independently.

Winter’s Coming!

6 Oct

Today felt like the first day of winter. Which means that I need to turn my attention to the Christmas Countdown to get me through until the shortest day and then once Christmas memories have faded into the background the increasing evening lights will keep me going until Easter and spring.

But enough about my motivational techniques. I dread the first time you feel the damp drizzle and dark of the mornings. It was like that this morning, and I stumbled down the field in half light to find two damp horses looking at me reproachfully. Otis is clipped and has had a thin stable rug and lightweight turnout with a neck on for the last couple of days, but I decided to put his thicker turnout on with the integral neck piece so that his neck isn’t colder than his body – this is for my peace of mind as much as anything. Plus I don’t want a horse with a hairier neck than body! Llani is currently unclipped but has a lightweight rug on for cosmetic reasons mainly – he is clean and dry for when I want to ride and I don’t need to worry about him getting a chill if he’s still damp when I’ve brushed him off. He doesn’t have a neck on this rug though.

I had to steel myself and remember that horses are waterproof. A little bit of rain on their thick coat won’t hurt them, and they won’t get too cold. It doesn’t help when you’re wet and cold, you assume the horse is freezing as well as yourself so you put an extra rug on. My aim is to keep Llani in the lightweight until he is clipped (when I psych myself up to have him sedated) and then he can wear a thicker rug with a neck. But only then!

Let’s face it though, if the dreary drizzle continues I will pity his neck and swap rugs! Hopefully the rain will ease for the next couple of weeks and let us acclimatise to the cold without the wet!

I read a really interesting article not long ago which described how unrugged horses keep warm by letting their hair stand on end and pockets of air getting trapped close to the skin and maintaining their body temperature. For this reason, putting a lightweight rug on inhibits this natural reaction so does not allow the horse to keep warm as efficiently. This article promoted horse owners letting the thick winter coat grow and not rugging horses during the colder months.

This is all very well if you don’t intend to ride very often during the winter, as you can guarantee the horse will come in filthy dirty each day! The breed and hardiness of the horse will also come into play, as well as their age and condition. You should also consider how long the horse has been rugged and stabled during his life, as a horse who is used to being well rugged and stabled will find it harder to adjust to wintering out than a young horse who has never been rugged. The article I read had thoroughbreds wintering out in the arctic temperatures of America, which proves that horses can adapt well.

During the winter you should still monitor the horse to make sure he’s coping with the climate and has grown enough coat. They will probably also eat more as they are trying to keep warm.

I think the article I read was useful in reminding us that horses are animals and we shouldn’t humanise them too much; having said that I probably won’t be leaving my working horses unrugged! I would definitely turn a youngster out naked and encourage him to be a real horse until he grows up and has to work, and an older horse wintering out would probably have a rug on standby. I don’t mind the cold, and am happy to see naked horses playing in the snow, but as soon as the rain comes I pity them and want to Molly coddle them so that they get rid of the drowned rat look. Which is highly fashionable at the moment, I may add.

So yes, I will endeavour to be tough and keep Llani’s rug off until he has a hair cut, and then I will make sure they are warm and dry under their rugs whilst not being too warm.

Which brings me onto an important factor in rugging horses – horses find it easier to warm themselves up than to cool themselves down, which means that whilst we may be frozen to the bone and wearing four coats after having stood in the arena teaching all day, our horses won’t really appreciate the same treatment!

Sparrowgrass

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