More Pole Work Exercises

Here’s another pole work exercise from a schooling session earlier this week.

The first three poles were set as trotting poles, 4’6″ apart. Then the tip of the triangle was twice this.

Initially I worked straight through the poles, aiming to stay straight and for the poles to feel effortless and there to be no change in her posture. If a horse doesn’t engage their abdominals whilst trotting over poles they will feel flat, set their neck and rush. So I spent time working straight through the poles until she stayed soft and balanced throughout.

The purpose of the apex after the trotting poles is to ensure you stay straight over and after the poles. Some horses wiggle around the apex because it looks different, others take a very large step over because they don’t like the look of it. It can help improve their cadence.

Once this exercise was established I added in a curve: trotting over the three poles before riding either left or right over the diagonal poles. Due to greenness, she struggled to adjust her trot stride on the curve so chipped in a tiny stride before the last pole. I made it a little easier, and more comfortable for her, by riding a smaller curve and slightly off centre to the first three poles. For example, if I was taking a left curve I rode over the three poles 1/3 from the left hand side before curving to the left diagonal pole. To curve right, I rode towards the right side of the trotting poles. As she gets stronger she will be able to maintain impulsion throughout the exercise and thus ride the curve more easily.

The aim was to introduce poles on a curve, and for her to maintain her balance, rhythm and not to tense up as she stepped over the poles.

Again, this exercise can be made harder by moving the first three poles apart so it can be ridden in canter. The horse must maintain their canter lead in order to ride smoothly between the straight line and the curve, whilst keeping a rhythmical, quality canter.

I also rode this exercise backwards, riding from the curve to the straight poles. This was easier as she managed to keep the impulsion on the curve.

Next time I do this exercise I’m going to put three trotting poles on each side of the triangle, to further develop her balance and strength.

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Shallow Loops

To add variety to lessons I often throw in some shallow loops. Then the other week a kid asked me what was the point of them. Good question really, and it’s always good to know what you’re trying to achieve with an exercise.

Shallow loops are ridden on two tracks – they’re sometimes mistaken for leg yielding away from the track and then back to the track by riders who like to over complicate things – along the long side of the arena. Coming out the corner ride off the track towards the three quarter line, then after riding a couple of strides parallel to the track, riding back to the track in time for the corner.

The shallow loop can be made easier by not riding so far off the track, or harder by riding the shallow loop more steeply so that it reaches the centre line.

The shallow loop is very good at improving a horse’s suppleness because there is a series of changes of bend. For example, on the left rein, you have left bend around the corner and riding off the track. At the deepest part of the shallow loop you change to right bend. Upon returning to left bend for the corner. To execute a shallow loop well the horse needs to be balanced enough to switch seamlessly between bends.

I also find shallow loops very useful in checking that a rider is using their leg and not relying on their reins to steer. If they are cheating with their aids the horse will lose rhythm and balance, and swing through their neck as they drop onto the forehand. They will also get an exaggerated bend through the neck. A horse who relies on the fence for balance will wobble as they come away from the track and lose the quality of their gait.

Shallow loops are particularly useful in improving the quality of a horse’s canter because riding counter canter on the return to the track improves their suppleness and balance so the canter becomes straighter and the hindlegs more active.

In terms of jumping, riding shallow loops will improve your ability to ride dog leg turns smoothly and the horse will maintain a better quality canter so is more likely to jump cleanly.

From a teaching perspective, having these multiple changes of bend allows a coach to introduce the concept that outside aids are relative to the direction of bend as opposed to the direction of travel around the arena.

So add them into your warm up and it’s surprising the difference it makes to your horse’s way of going.

Improving the Canter Transition

A couple of weeks ago Phoenix and I had a lesson, where we learnt a very useful exercise.

Phoenix’s canter transitions are still a bit of a scrabble as she organises her legs and works out what each limb is doing. Now we’ve had some rain and the school surface isn’t so deep, I’m turning my attention to improving the canter transitions.

After establishing a twenty metre trot circle at R, so there are two open sides on the circle, I began leg yielding her out as I left the track and then once I crossed the centre line I straightened her up by leg yielding in one stride. We repeated this on both open sides of the arena a few times.

This exercise is really useful for getting Phoenix to move away from my leg and to accept the leg without rushing. As we left the track I used my inside leg to push her outwards with my outside rein opening slightly to almost lead her out as she’s still green to this sideways malarkey. Once she’d moved outwards, and the inside hind leg was stepping under her body more, I used the outside leg, closed the outside rein and straightened her body as we crossed the centre line. If she wanted to take slight counter flexion as I used my outside leg to push her inwards a couple of strides I let her. The aim of moving her inwards was to straighten her body and stop her falling out through her outside shoulder now that the inside hind was working more actively.

Once Phoenix had got the hang of this exercise in trot, I brought in the canter. After rising the lateral sequence, as she approached the track, I asked for canter.

The first step of canter is the outside hind leg, and the act of pushing Phoenix inwards just got her outside hindleg engaged so it could more easily push her into canter. Because she was straighter and more balanced the canter transition wasn’t so frantic. Well, once we’d repeated the exercise so that she had worked out what her legs were doing and we’d trotted the exercise enough that she wasn’t anticipating the transition! I did feel that immediately she went into a more correct and three time canter. On the right rein she often slides left through the transition, but this doesn’t happen when I’ve ridden the exercise to help prepare her.

Below is a video of me riding the exercise. Unfortunately it’s not that clear as the transition is close to the camera. The time after we rode the exercise she had a light bulb moment and nailed the transition. Next time the focus will be on getting less resistance in the lateral part of the exercise and then getting the canter transition straight after the leg yielding, but I’m really pleased with the effect this exercise had on Phoenix’s canter and with how she handled a fairly complex (for her!) series of questions.

Dressage with Kids

Even the easiest of dressage tests can be overly complicated for kids, which I found out this week.

Just before their dressage competition this afternoon I snuck over to the judge’s car and stuck a sign on the front with an arrow pointing left. This is because my riders don’t know their left from their right and I wanted the girls to have a successful experience to hopefully encourage them to further their dressage education.

However, I did think that you’d enjoy my adjusted commanding for the test so that the little kids could ride their best.

1. At A walk towards C … straight! … C’s over here! Halt at X … now! Salute (try not to laugh at the flamboyant salute).

2. C turn left … other left! At H walk to F … trot now!

3. At A 20 metre circle … bigger … bigger …

4. Just after K walk. Not yet, keep going … now walk.

5. C halt and count to three SLOWLY! Now walk on. Don’t let them go back to their friends!

6. At M walk towards K … trot now!

7. At A 20 metre circle …. bigger than your last one! Stay in the arena …

8. Just after F … keep trotting … now walk.

9. At H change the rein across the diagonal to F with long reins … keep walking … no, don’t trot, just walk. Short reins at F.

10. Between A and K … wait for it … yep ok, trot! Quick, trot!! At E rainbow across to B.

11. Walk in the corner … keep going, keep going. Now walk. Don’t leave the arena!

12. A turn down the centre line … keep walking … keep walking … straight … stop …. right there. And salute!

All seven of my riders managed their test, albeit with some assistance, and I was pleased with their marks and the huge improvement in their riding over the week. But commanding those tests wasn’t easy!

Straightness Versus Suppleness

I went through this last week with Mum and Matt, but it’s a frequent topic in my lessons, so I thought it was time for a blog post.

We discussed improving Matt’s suppleness by straightening his body. That is, by reducing the bend in his neck and encouraging his inside hind leg to step under and carry his body so that he works consistently on two tracks.

I think this issue arises for several reasons. Firstly, visual feedback is often far more instantaneous and effective than any other form of feedback. Secondly, as riders we are obsessed with circles and bending. Thirdly, it is easy to turn the head and neck whilst riding with the hand than it is to bend the rib cage with the seat and leg. Fourthly, suppleness comes way before straightness in the scales of training.

Let’s start with the Scales of Training. I believe that suppleness comes before straightness because only when you are supple can you work evenly and efficiently throughout your body. But I think the Scale assumes the horse is a blank canvas whereas in actual fact most horses come with asymmetries. From previous training, from old injuries, from conformation, from previous riders, from life in general. In order to begin to progress through the Scales of Training you need to iron out any previous issues, which first means straightening the horse before focusing on improving their suppleness.

When you learn to ride you watch people which means that you initially see the obvious observations first. Such as if the horse has their head turned in the direction of movement or not. You also get feedback from what you see whilst riding, i.e. what’s in front of the saddle, verbally from your instructor i.e. positive or negative, and finally kinaesthetic feedback. This is what you feel, and it can be hard to adequately describe what you are feeling, or for someone to describe what you should be feeling, so a rider’s feel is usually the slowest to develop. Because of the instant visual feedback in a rider’s frame of sight, it can lead to them focusing on the position of the head and neck. When riding a circle, they see that the head and neck are following the line of the circle … but aren’t aware of what the rest of the body (which is out of sight) is doing.

Likewise when learning to ride you perfect the coordination of the hands for rein aids first, and can manoeuvre a horse more easily by the hands than the legs and seat.

Onto circles, and our obsession with them. We strive to ride the perfect circle, which often means we sacrifice the correct bend for the roundness of the circle.

Now with Mum and Matt, along with everyone else I mention this to, they had more bend in the neck than in the rest of the body. A bit like a jackknifed car and trailer, the outside shoulder is wide open. This means that the rider has less control over the outside shoulder, the horse falls out through the outside shoulder instead of engaging the inside hind leg. The rider uses the inside rein because the horse is drifting out through the turn, which exacerbates the bend in the neck so compounding the problem. If you were to look from above a horse with the perfect bend on the perfect circle the inside limbs and outside limbs create a pair of parallel lines. Like a train track. On a horse who is jackknifed, the front limbs follow the line of the circle whilst the hind limbs look like they’re going off on a tangent.

To begin with, I got Mum to ride squarer circles. I don’t think she quite understood, as I didn’t want her to ride a square at first, but she needed to lose the roundness of the circle. By riding a squarer circle and thinking of keeping Matt straight like a plank of wood, she automatically reduced her inside rein action, reduced the bend in Matt’s neck, and he started to straighten up in his entire body. Mainly because she wasn’t so focused on him bending around the circle.

Then I did get her to do some square work, so that she was applying the outside aids to remind Matt he needed to move away from the outside leg. The corners also helped engage his inside hindleg and get him lifting his abdominals which led to Matt being more balanced, less on the forehand and lighter in his way of going.

By riding with her outside aids, and not using her inside rein … even when she thought she wasn’t going to make the turn … Mum found Matt kept his rhythm and tempo through the turns. Which meant her straight lines were better because he started off with a better trot. Once the outside leg was more effective, and Matt was like a plank of wood through the turns, we added the inside leg in again. This, along with her turning her body and using the inside seatbone, created a bend through his rib cage.

A gentle curve through his head and neck then followed. This is a more correct bend as it involves his whole body, but it was a shallower bend than Mum is used to because visually she can see less of a curve in front of her. However, Matt requires a greater degree of suppleness in his barrel in order to achieve this. Next, we can refocus on the Scales of Training, and improve his suppleness by riding smaller circles with the correct bend throughout his whole body and changing the bend frequently, as with serpentines.

As an instructor, I think it’s so important to encourage riders to learn to interpret kinaesthetic feedback, and to increase awareness of the horse’s body which is out of sight of the rider. And to use squarer circles and turns to encourage the more correct use of the outside aids – the outside leg pushing the horse around the turn and the outside rein monitoring the bend in the neck – so that the horse moves in a straighter way before trying to improve their suppleness by asking for a bend with the inside leg. It might take longer to get there, but once on the right path the horse has a good working life projection because they are using their body efficiently and evenly, so won’t overtax a limb or muscle group. Unfortunately though, I still see instructors teaching to get immediate results, and not looking at the long term health of the horse, by taking shortcuts in their training.

Falling In or Falling Out

After a few days in Wales giving Matt and Mum boot camp, and introducing him to his new jockey, I’ve plenty of blog material.

Let’s start with my Mum’s favourite phrase of the week – “is he falling in?”

Firstly, what can you see if a horse is “falling in”? When lunging, which is probably the easiest way to see, the circle gets smaller, ends up with a straight side, and the lunge line is slack. When riding you’ll find they cut corners, of drift onto the inner track. It’s a common problem with ponies who are being a bit cheeky and lazy, and taking the short cut.

What do you feel when a horse “falls in”? I always feel that it’s like driving a car with a flat tyre: the horse is loading their inside shoulder and may well go stiff and tense on the inside of their neck. With a horse who falls in you constantly feel like you are riding a motorbike.

Why does a horse “fall in”? It’s usually lack of suppleness and balance, so instead of curving through their whole body on a turn and staying balanced, they don’t flex through their barrel and so lose their balance on turns.

How do you correct a horse who “falls in”? Take them back to basics. A lot of novices pull the outside rein, causing the horse to turn their head to the outside but still continue to lean on the inside shoulder. Masking the symptoms but not solving the problem. The problem is usually a lack of straightness and a lack of suppleness.

I take it back to basics: check the saddle is straight, check the rider is sitting centrally. Using the long side, I get them to focus on being straight, and then we check that they aren’t using too much inside rein on the turns which will encourage the horse to fall in. After correcting their turning aids, I get the rider to apply their inside leg through turns to give the horse a pillar to bend around. Sometimes a rider over rides a turn, which causes a horse to turn too sharply and lose their balance, so I check that the correct amount of aids is being applied.

By now, we can see if the rider was encouraging the horse to fall in, or if it’s a stiffness or crookedness issue in the horse. So I turn my attention to improving the horse’s way of going. Activating the inside hind leg and getting the horse to unload the inside shoulder, can be done with some leg yielding. Either spiralling out on a circle, or leg yielding from the three quarter line to the track. Once the horse feels more even, and less like they’ve got a flat tyre, it’s back to normal suppling school movements to improve their flexibility and balance.

If a horse and/or rider is crooked and has a tendency to fall in on one rein then odds are they will fall out on the other rein. Falling out is most noticeable on the lunge, when you feel the lunge line being pulled through your hands as you’re pulled off your pivot point. When you’re riding in the school, falling out can be disguised with a fence line, which acts as a support for the horse and is a damage limitation tool.

A horse who falls out, drifts through their outside shoulder, tending to take any turns a little wide. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t going to make it round the turn, or that they’re like steering a canal boat.

Again, I start by straightening up the rider and increasing their awareness of straightness and ensuring they’re using the correct aids. Then, we begin to improve the horse. Initially it’s about gaining control of the outside shoulder, so shoulder in is very useful, as is a little bit of leg yield from the track to the three quarter line. Once the horse is bringing their outside shoulder around the turns and responding to the outside leg aid, they just need their overall suppleness improving through circles and serpentines.

Let’s take Matt as our prime example. When I sat on him on Sunday I could feel that he was loading his left shoulder; falling in on the left rein and falling out on the right rein. Mum is booking physio for him now that he’s doing more schooling, and to be honest it was a minor asymmetry between the two reins. On the left rein, I did some leg yielding to the right, just a couple of strides in circles, straight lines, etc. And then on the right rein I rode some shoulder fore on straight lines and circles. Then he got his act together, realised I meant business and started carrying himself more. Because each hind leg was then stepping under more actively he could propel himself forwards more efficiently, and his abdominals had to lift, so his topline engaged and he put himself in an outline.

I’ve given Mum homework of some groundwork exercises which will help get his hindlegs stepping under in the turns, and she can do some leg yielding with him to help. Once she’s cracked the straightness element … which I’m afraid to say, is in Part 2!

Phoenix’s First Party

Last weekend I took Phoenix for her first dressage competition. She’s worked well when we’ve had lessons at other venues so I felt the time was right to get some competition feedback. Plus, the venue was only a few minutes from the yard, so it would have been rude not to.

Our canter is still a bit rushed and unbalanced so I decided to enter the Intro test, and then the Prelim as I thought she would benefit from seeing the arena and white boards twice in quick succession. I felt I should disregard the canter movements in as much as if I got the correct lead, maintained canter on the circle and trotted at the right place it would be an achievement. But I shouldn’t lose sleep over those movements and subsequent low marks.

Phoenix warmed up in the large indoor arena, complete with mirrors and numerous other horses, beautifully. She was relaxed and focused on me. When she relaxes she allows me to bend her with my legs so we did plenty of circles and she felt really settled. I’d put a green ribbon in her tail as she’s still a bit worried by other horses, especially if they canter up behind her or the rider is carrying a schooling whip. I also wanted to hint to the judge that she was new to this game!

When we were called for our first test I had to be led into the arena as Phoenix was busy gawping at a couple of signs, the judge’s car, everything. I walked and trotted her round until the bell; we were mainly using the inner track and were cautiously eyeing up the white boards and shadows from some overhanging trees. Thankfully though, once she’d passed each “monster” she paid less attention to it. Which shows that she just needs her horizons widening.

I was fairly happy with the test. She was tense for most of it, but not as tense as she can be as I could still apply my leg, but we had moments that felt fabulous – on par with her best work at home. Her trot circles were 50% beautiful and 50% tense. She did relax more towards the end of the test and I was really pleased with her walk work, and she showed that she was settling into work by stretching down in our free walk.

My score sheet was very positive. The judge marked in an encouraging way, saying what a lovely horse she was with so much potential. We just need to eradicate the moments of tension. There was quite a range of marks: from 8s for my walk circles, halt and rider collectives, to 5.5 for a walk-trot transition. All the comments were what I expected, and in line with her stage of training, and I definitely felt that I hadn’t produced our best work. But we will I’m sure when she’s got a few competitions under her belt.

Anyway, I was really pleased with a score of 73%, which was enough for first place!

The second test was better. It was a complicated prelim with lots going on, but Phoenix was less looky around the arena – she didn’t need to be led in this time – and overall I felt she was tense for less of the time. Our canter didn’t score highly; I was pleased with the left rein but the right she was falling in, looking at the reflection on the judge’s car, so did a great motorbike impression. Again, there was a range of marks and her walk scored 8s again. The trot work was predominantly 7s and 7.5s, depending on if she lost her rhythm.

I left them: happy with how Phoenix had performed, and confident in how to improve her way of going for future tests. I felt she’d had a positive experience at her first competition. I didn’t expect, however, to win the prelim test with a score of 70%!

Out of the restricted sections now, we’re going to have a nice week of hacking before getting back into the swing of things. Practising steadying and relaxing the trot after canter work (Phoenix likes to keep cantering once we’ve done it once!), and working on those transitions, especially the halt, to begin with. Then we’ll find another competition to go to, for more experience.

Phoenix Goes Showjumping

Any journey with horses is full of ups and downs. They are excellent creatures for keeping your feet firmly on the floor. I’ve been lucky so far that Phoenix and I have basically been on a smooth ride, but we were bound to encounter a couple of ruts in the road soon.

Two weeks ago Phoenix had her final massage as my friend’s case study and then had a long weekend off while we were away. On the Tuesday I lunged her and she was a bit fresh – trotting quickly, cantering before being asked, reluctant to come back to trot, that sort of thing. So I just let her get it all out of her system and then on Wednesday I lunged her again with her sensible head back on and she went nicely, relaxing and swinging along nicely.

Over the weekend, Phoenix had been plagued by little black flies around her ears, so she was feeling sensitive when I put the bridle and headcollar on. I cleaned them out as much as I could, and found an old fly mask of Otis’s for her to try. I wasn’t sure if she’d had a mask on before so wanted to trial her before buying her one of her own. Unfortunately this one didn’t have ears, so as soon as I saw that Phoenix kept a mask on and was comfortable with it, I ordered one of her own. As well as ensuring it had ear covers, I also got a UV proof nose net to protect her white nose.

Thursday and Friday I rode, avoiding the heavy downpours, but she was a bit tenser than I’d have liked. I put it down to her finding it harder to stay balanced in the wetter arena, her ears being a bit tender, and the fact she’d had a week off from schooling but by the end of Friday she was feeling normal again.

On Sunday I took her to a showjumping training venue. We’re so lucky to have such a fabulous arena and set of jumps so local. It was only the fifth time I’d jumped her under saddle, and the aim of the session was mostly to work well in a new environment, to link some fences together be them poles on the ground or small cross poles, and to see some fillers in the arena. It was a very positive experience; Phoenix took it all in her stride, building up from trotting over poles to cantering related distances, and finishing by jumping a little course. We had a couple of duff take off points, but I loved that she was calm and confident throughout. Here`s a link to a video on YouTube – https://youtu.be/vJrJ9PRH7Lk

As she’d worked so hard on Sunday, and probably used muscles which don’t get used very often, Phoenix had Monday off and then a gentle hack on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday we had the saddle fitter again. The good news is that she’s slimmed down to a wide gullet bar, and has changed shape enormously as she’s developing muscle. The bad news is that although the jump saddle was fitted to her, she didn’t like it and refused to move! I highly doubt that she has worn a saddle of that style before so my plan is to hack her to gently get her used to the shorter tree points, the different weight distribution, and it sitting slightly further back on her body. Throughout the saddle fit she went awfully. She was incredibly tense, choppy in her stride, fixed in her neck and shooting off in canter. Saddle fits are always a rush job in the sense that the saddler wants to see all three gaits, whereas in a schooling session I’d work on relaxation, stretching, and her balance in walk and trot before having a canter. The net result was that I came away disappointed and feeling that we haven’t made any progress.

That afternoon I had chance to reflect on everything. I think I underestimate how sensitive to change Phoenix is. Even my dressage saddle would have felt different to her, and the jump saddle is a completely new sensation, so I would take her back to basics on our next ride: walk and trot, getting her relaxed and working over her back again. Her new fly mask had arrived so hopefully in a couple of days her sensitivity around her ears would reduce because she was definitely unhappy in this area. I had also possibly underestimated the after effects of Sunday. The jumps weren’t big and she hadn’t seemed overly tired, but it was a lot of new things to digest and process, so although her muscles may have recovered, her brain might still be suffering from information overload. The final thing I thought of, and I was prompted by my saddler, is that Phoenix is wearing Otis’s bridle which is a bit on the big side so getting shorter cheek pieces would reduce the pressure just below her ears. I’m now researching different bridles to see what’s out there and what I should be considering for her.

On Thursday we had our back to basics session, using the dressage saddle and my friend’s Micklem bridle as it has good results with tense horses. Phoenix started off very tight and tense, but by the end she was trotting in a much more relaxed way, stretching down and forwards to the contact. Did the bridle make a difference? The stretching moments were some of her best, but whether that’s because I managed to release the tension or if she was used to how the dressage saddle was now sitting, or even if she liked the fit of the bridle. Who knows!

Today I gave her a quick lunge and she was back to stretching nicely again, so hopefully we’ve negotiated the little ruts in our road. I will make sure that her next saddle fit I have warmed her up more, and ensure that it’s at a time when I can give her a few days to adjust to any changes.

Suppleness Bootcamp

Fed up with the same comments on her dressage sheets regarding lack of suppleness, one of my clients is sending her mare to a suppleness bootcamp.

She’s been working on suppleness for a while, but with school, jumping, winter weather, and general life, her pony’s flexibility has improved, but not as much as I’d like so the only way is to make it our sole focus.

There are a couple of things they can change in their daily routine which will have a positive impact over a couple of weeks.

Firstly, I suggested they fit carrot stretches into their day. I do Phoenix’s on the way to the field, usually just outside the gate, but having a regular slot means I don’t forget the carrots or to do them. Just a couple of stretches every day will make all the difference.

Secondly, my rider needs to get into the mindset of circles. It’s very easy to troll around the arena putting in a circle at A. Then another at C, and so on. So I challenged my rider to ride five different sized circles on each lap of the school. I also want her to begin to use four loop serpentines and demi voltes to change the rein.

The joints of a horse, or any animal for that matter, are stabilised by tendons, ligaments and muscles, all of which work in different directions. If a horse is lacking suppleness it is usually because the muscles in one direction around a joint are tight and contracted. For example, if a horse finds it hard to move their leg forwards it’s because the muscles at the back (involved in moving the limb backwards) aren’t relaxing for whatever reason. If a horse has damaged the muscle then they’ll be lame, but it’s it’s just muscle tension then they’ll lack suppleness. Does this make sense? So as well as the muscles on the opposite side of the limb affecting movement, the muscles either side will too. Which means that in order to create a truly supple horse you not only have to work on the forwards and backwards movement, but also the adduction and abduction of their limbs.

I devised a bit of a course for this pair, which would work all areas of the pony’s body and hopefully by improving the movement in each direction the mare would start to swing over her back more, become more connected and ultimately more supple.

On one three quarter line I laid out five trotting poles. Over the course of the session I raised them into cavaletti. The poles encouraged the mare to lengthen her stride slightly and then to improve her cadence by lifting each limb higher. Increasing cadence requires more flexion at the shoulder and hip; both areas which when tight can limit suppleness.

Then at A they had to ride a circle. This was partly to give them time to prepare for the next three quarter line, but also to get both rider and horse turning on the circle. Their circle was fifteen metres but it could be made smaller to increase the difficulty level. I had my rider thinking about the inside hindleg on the circle, and making sure there was a uniform bend through her pony’s body, and minimal inside rein being used!

Down the next three quarter line I had them leg yield towards the track to improve adduction and abduction, which releases the lateral muscles. Again, we focused on feeling the inside hind leg coming under and pushing them over, rather than the outside shoulder dragging them across.

After a few goes on each rein, I was thrilled to see the mare taking her head out and stretching from the base of her neck as her length of stride increases and she floated along, swinging over her back. They had a good trot whilst stretching. And they really stretched; far more than I’ve seen them do before.

We’ve been improving their canter to step up to novice dressage, so repeated the exercises in canter. Again, working the limbs a little bit in each direction improved the stride length and overall quality of the gait.

For me, the pair showed real improvement, and the mare did some super stretching, showing that she’s really worked her muscles hard. I want to continue along this theme over the next few weeks, adding in some shoulder in type of exercises as well as varieties of polework so we’re improving the mare’s flexibility in all directions.