A Long Overdue Update on Matt

Matt’s story has all been very quiet since he fractured his stifle and had a trip to hospital, but last week he had his second lot of X-rays so I thought you might like to hear how he’s getting on.

I think I said in my original post – Which you can read here – that Matt was never very good at being stabled, particularly if his neighbours have been turned out and it’s a nice day. Middle of winter with all his mates in and he’s perfectly content.

Mum got organised whilst Matt was in hospital and ordered a calming feed, which seemed to have every calming herb under the sun in it. Matt’s been on this since he arrived home, and after a couple of days did start to settle down. Now he either got used to his new routine or the feed for into his system – who knows! Anyway, we’re sticking with the feed because it’s not worth taking the risk of him becoming stressed again.

Like I said, it took him a couple of days to settle into the routine, but he was still quite fragile, and easily upset when he saw other horses. He’s been in his usual stable, which is at the end of a barn, so he can’t see a huge amount. Textbook guidelines for box resting horses say that horses will be happiest in a quiet corner of the yard where they have activity to observe. However I think this is a case of knowing the horse, and doing what’s best for them. Matt doesn’t like seeing horses leaving him, so putting him out on the yard where he sees them coming in and out from the field will only cause him to box walk frantically, so I think the right decision was made to stop him seeing too much.

Obviously without visual stimulation to occupy him, there’s a higher risk of stable vices developing but Mum and her friends have been quite ingenuous in providing in-stable entertainment for Matt. Thankfully he’s never been prone to getting overweight, so he can have ad lib hay to graze through the day. Carrots have been hidden in his hay to encourage him to forage and eat. Matt also seems to like hazel twigs hung up, and soon strips them of all their leaves.

Between his long grooming sessions, clicker training, hanging likits and treat balls, his days are surprisingly busy. He also has a constant companion now because another horse is on box rest, which is also helping to settle both geldings.

Six weeks after his injury, Matt had more X-rays. This was to check the healing progress, and to see if he can start being walked out in week eight.

There was good news and bad news. Firstly, the fracture is healing well. Unfortunately, the fracture was worse than the original X-rays showed. Due to the large haematoma over the fracture site initially, the X-ray showed some faint lines spreading from the fracture. The vet wasn’t sure if they were diffractions from the haematoma, but on last week’s X-rays it’s clear that they were hairline fractures. This means that Matt’s box rest has been extended by a month, and he will have more X-rays in four weeks time, to see if he can start being walked in hand at twelve weeks. It’s a shame, but it could be worse and now the box rest routine is established it’s straightforward to extend it.

The first X-ray is from the time of the injury, and was taken at the surgery with the large X-ray plate on the outside of his leg, and the second image was taken six weeks post injury, but with the plate held between his legs as the portable X-ray machine was used at the yard. Hopefully you can see the fracture site clearly.

Matt has also had his shoes carefully removed because the fracture is stable enough that his leg can be flexed enough for the farrier to remove his shoes but he will stay barefoot now until he is ready to go out.

Changing the Bascule

Every horse and pony is put together differently, which results in a different technique when jumping. For example, some have a very uphill canter and engaged hindleg which allows them to jump with quite a steep bascule – like a pogo stick. Others, who have more of a horizontal gait, will prefer to take off a bit further away from the jump so their bascule is longer and flatter.

I don't think you should try to change a horse's jump technique too drastically, because you're then working against their physical capacity. However, it is always worth trying to enhance their ability and develop the muscles that will allow them to jump more effortlessly.

One of my clients has a pony who tends to get long in the canter on the approach to jumps and so has a very long, flat bascule. He is tidy with his legs, so the shape his body makes isn't a problem, but when he jumps off a long stride he lands long and flat, so it is tricky for my rider to rebalance themselves, or even turn for the next fence! My aim was to improve my rider's feel for a better balanced canter and teach him to hold the canter together on the approach to fences, which will help their landing and getaway.

The last couple of lessons we've used our warm up time to get a feel for lengthening and shortening the trot and canter. The purpose of working on lengthened strides was to teach my rider the difference between balanced, lengthened gaits and rushing or running onto the forehand. After all, they will need to lengthen the canter in jump offs and on the cross country course. We focused on my rider using his seat to encourage the bigger strides, and feeling that he still had a rein contact throughout.

Next, we turned to shortening the strides, or squashing the pony together to give it a non-technical term. It wasn't all about pulling the reins, but rather a series of half halts with the outside rein and a stiller seat. Oh, and lots of tummy muscles! Over the last few weeks, my rider has really started to get a feel for a smaller striding, bouncier trot and canter.

Now we have to link the flatwork to the jumping. Half of the issue comes from my rider not holding the canter together on the approach, and half of the issue comes from the pony preferring to jump long and flat. So I built a series of three bounce fences, which will encourage the pony to jump in a steeper bascule, and to get a little closer to the fence, as well as to be a little more careful and calculating about his jumping.

We used cross poles initially, and my rider held the canter together in a much more balanced fashion until a couple of strides away from the fence, and even then he didn't fire his pony to the jump. Where the jump wasn't that big, I think my rider felt happier keeping the steadier, smaller canter until the jump.

After they'd jumped a few times we discussed how the grid felt. One time, as my rider correctly identified, they met the first fence on a long stride so had a flat jump then the pony had to really adjust his body in order to negotiate the second and third element correctly. When they had a closer take off point, the grid flowed much better and each bascule was more even.

Their getaway from the jumps was improving because my rider could just sit up and rebalance the canter, instead of having a flat, fast canter and the pony on the forehand, which is far harder to correct. The pony was also more willing to come back to his rider. We also put in a 15m circle after the grid to ensure my rider carried on riding after the jumps, and didn't collapse in a heap after. This also helped the pony rebalance and refocus.

We progressed to uprights, which are more demanding for the pony because he has to pick up his forelegs quicker, and make an even steeper bascule. The first time, they tapped each fence as the pony was a little slow in tucking up, but the second time my rider could feel his pony rounding his back more, and they jumped through soundlessly as the pony was quicker with his legs.

My next challenge is to get my rider riding courses in a steadier fashion (I am of course battling against that boy, gung-ho mentality), taking his time to rebalance his canter between jumps so that his pony approaches in a more uphill canter, which will enable them to jump bigger more successfully and effortlessly. By being more consistent in their canter on the flat and when jumping will also help the pony strengthen these muscles, which will further improve his bascule and technique.

I am really pleased with how this young rider is taking on board all the technical information I'm giving him about how horses jump, and I hope that his understanding of our reasons for doing these exercises will mean he does his homework and will be consistent in how he rides, and what he expects from his pony.

Realignment

As much as I like seeing my clients go out competing and succeeding, I also love helping horses and riders overcome physical problems and improve their posture, or way of going, so that they get more pleasure from their work and have a longer active life.

I've been working with a new client and her horse, who has a series of back and hock problems. The first couple of lessons were about rebalancing the trot, slowing it down and creating a consistent rhythm. We've started a little bit of suppling work, and established a quiet, still hand. The mare has shown glimpses of starting to work over her back, which is great because it's not manufactured in any way.

However, the mare is crooked through her body which I think will prevent us from improving her suppleness and getting her to release over her back. So a couple of weeks ago I gave my client some homework; to think about and try to develop an awareness of where the hindquarters were in relation to the rest of her body.

The next time I saw my client she had watched her horse under saddle, and clocked the fact her hindquarters were always slightly to the right. When she rode though, it felt normal and it took a while for her to identify the crookedness. Which is understandable; when you only ride one horse you get used to them as being normal, whether it be a crookedness, an unbalanced saddle, or one sided contact. My job is to reeducate both of them so that straight becomes the new normal.

On the left rein, where the quarters sit to the outside, we spent a bit of time feeling how her body moved on straight lines and around corners. On a straight line the hindquarters were slightly to the right, and the head and neck were also turned so they were looking out too – in a classic banana shape.

Dividing the body into two halves, we focused on straightening the hindquarters first. My rider brought her outside leg back behind the girth, keeping her inside leg on the girth, she tried pushing the mare's hindquarters in, so the they followed the tracks of the forelegs. Initially I wanted the reins to support the shoulders and neck, stopping them from wiggling out of their natural position. If the mare tried to fall in, the inside leg prevented this. The mare was very obliging, and soon the majority of the long sides were ridden with her body straight. You could see if was difficult for her, hence why we kept it in walk. Now my rider could feel this straightness, which all helps to improve the mare because she will be able to more quickly correct and straighten her.

Once the straightness on straight lines was achieved, we had a look at how the corners felt. With the mare in right banana, her hindquarters tend to swing out around corners and she doesn't look around the corner with her forehand. Now ideally, we'd get her bent around the left, inside, leg. But Rome wasn't built in a day and because of her previous medical history I want to take it slowly with her. So I just asked my rider to exaggerate her outside leg behind the girth around the corners to hopefully prevent the hindquarters swinging out. We did this a few times and it started to fall into place, so we changed the rein.

On the right rein, the mare has her quarters in, and they almost lead around the corners, so we started off having the inside leg slightly further back on straight lines to align her spine. I was really pleased to see that the straightness work on the other rein was already having an effect because my rider didn't have to correct the hindquarters as much. Just by having the horse straight before a corner, improved her balance around the turn, but now it was time to look at the straightness of the forehand.

We were on the rein that the mare naturally bends to, but where she is a little bit tight through her rib cage her outside shoulder was pointing slightly towards the fence. This is hard to explain. The hindquarters were towards the middle, but the barrel straight, causing the outside shoulder to point towards the fence and then the neck to turn in, towards the direction of movement. The easiest way to improve the suppleness of the barrel, after all the neck is already bending the correct way, is to focus on riding the outside shoulder around the turns. The outside rein works against the neck, and prevents the neck flexing too much, and the outside leg is closer to the girth to influence the shoulder more than the haunches. The inside leg is ready to support the hindquarters if they fall in, and the inside rein indicates the direction of turn, but is a very positive aid to discourage too much flexion in the neck.

After a couple of turns like this, the mare was managing to be better balanced and stayed much straighter on the long sides. My rider could also feel the improvements through her body.

We returned to the left rein, the stiffer one, and this time monitored the effect that straightening the hindquarters had on the forehand. Due to the stiffness through the barrel, as the haunches went straight the left shoulder drifted in. So we forgot about the hindquarters for a moment, and flexed the mare's neck so that she was no longer looking to the outside, and was straighter through her shoulders and neck. Once my rider had learnt to feel and correct this, we started correcting the hindquarters again. For a few minutes we had to straighten the hindquarters, and then correct the forehand as it tried to compensate. Then check the straightness behind the saddle, and then in front again. And so on, until the mare found it easier to work with her spine, from poll to dock, straight.

All of this work was done in walk, and it's something that my client needs to be aware of and quietly correct when hacking and working in the school. Then the trot will start to automatically improve.

We finished the lesson with some trot work. I explained to my rider that I just wanted her to think about and feel the straightness, or lack of, in the trot and that we wouldn't do too much correcting today. However, I think because of this new awareness, my rider automatically corrected, or at least used her aids in a more straightening way, and we ended up trotting some balanced, round circles with the mare bending through her whole body. The straight lines and corners were much improved, and my rider could feel that when she changed the rein there was very little change to her mare's balance. Because she was more symmetrical, she didn't make big changes to her body to go from a left turn to a right turn. We even had a couple of strides where the mare suddenly felt a release of energy and surged forwards with a longer stride and more impulsion, and she also softened and rounded her neck and back for a couple of strides.

I was really pleased with their progress in just half an hour, and although we will need to keep building their muscle memory and strength to work in this straight way, I'm looking forwards to developing their circles and suppleness, as well as seeing the mare learn how easy it is to propel herself forwards when the hindquarters are straight and so the legs can push the body forwards effortlessly. Then I think she will work in self carriage nicely and they'll be able to achieve their aim of going to a local dressage competition.

Dressage Camp Part 1

Last weekend I took a client’s horse to a two day dressage camp. I felt I needed inspiring, could do with the motivation, and this particular horse has some issues (that isn’t really the right phrase) that I could do with some helpful suggestions to improve and I also knew I’d be able to apply my learnings to other horses that I ride. 

The weekend’s learning was split however I preferred, so I opted for a forty-five minute private lesson on each day. It was really interesting in the first session because this trainer picked up on exactly what I wanted to work on. Sometimes I think I’d be difficult to teach because I have quite specific aims for a lesson, but other times I think I’m probably quite easy because I’m focused.

Anyway, the main focus for the weekend was straightness and creating a true connection over the back. Whilst not particularly crooked, this horse often falls through his outside shoulder and avoids stepping under with his inside hind, and carries his quarters fractionally to the right.

The trainer immediately asked if the horse hollows in downward transitions, to which my answer was a resounding yes. He raises his head and blocks his back so doesn’t step under with his hindlegs. 

There are three phases of the hindleg movement in the transitions, I was told; the time it is in the air, moving forwards; the time it is underneath the horse’s body; and the time it is out behind the body. This horse tends to spend more time with his leg out behind the body, which means he isn’t carrying himself on his quarters and won’t be able to collect, but he also is unable to push into the transitions easily. 

So the aim of the game over the weekend was to alter the balance of this horse so that he spent more time with his hind leg underneath him, in a springier, bouncier trot.

One exercise we did to help improve the activity of the hind legs is shown in the video below. In walk I spiralled down onto a ten metre circle, and then asked the shoulders to come in slightly and the hindquarters to go out, so riding leg yield on the circle. The trainer assisted from the ground as this horse found it tricky initially and blocked his inside hind. We did this exercise predominantly on the right rein as it is this way that his hindquarters sit to the inside and he escapes to the left shoulder. So the exercise worked on his suppleness through the rib cage, straightening his neck, and teaching him to bring his inside hind under his body more. The difference in his trot when I straightened and rode out of the circle was incredible. His hind legs were like pistons firing the energy up and forwards so the trot was very balanced, effortless, and straight – there was a leg at each corner and I didn’t have to worry about him wobbling out. Once he was carrying himself like this it was easier to work on the bend and engagement of his topline, but that’s another post! 


Rising Prices

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the pay cap on public sector workers, particularly firefighters after the recent Grenfell tragedy. 

I’m not going to get involved with it as politics isn’t my strong point, but with the cost of basic living always rising it makes sense that wages have to follow the trend.

Which brings me onto equine businesses and changing prices. Business rates recently rocketed, hitting livery yards hardest. But unfortunately for them, you cannot raise livery prices in line with this because the rest of the country’s economy hasn’t changed in a similar fashion.

I always think that in order to raise your prices, be it livery, forage, lessons, facility hire, you need to be able to justify it. Take me, for example, now I have a higher teaching qualification I think I can justifiably increase lesson prices. If you are investing in new facilities or updating current ones then there is also room to increase fees. 

Unfortunately there are a lot of hidden costs in the equine industry, which is why things are generally expensive. For me, hidden costs include petrol, insurance, PPE, website costs, professional development. For yards, hidden costs can include ongoing maintenance, insurance, business rates, staff wages, machinery maintenance. So when there’s a sharp increase in one of the hidden costs it can make clients feel that price hikes are unfair. But you can be honest, and without going into specifics, tell them that the reason you are having to put up your fees is, for example, because of the increase in your insurance premium. Or whatever the reason is. I think that when people know why they are being charged more they are more accepting of the situation. Which ultimately leads to happier clients and a more respected business.

I also think that if a price rise is imminent then it’s also worth checking that your standards haven’t slipped. You can’t justifiably increase your fees if you continue to be late to lessons, or if the standard of service is deteriorating. That’s when people will get unhappy and start grumbling. People need to feel that they get value for money, and if they feel that they currently get good value for money then they will be more accepting of increased fees.

I’ve been giving my prices a lot of thought recently, particularly with my ITT exam. They haven’t changed since I set up my business three years ago. Well, last year I increased my clipping fees to stay in line with others, and because I had a new pair of clippers. Which means I can do a better job. 

But how do you go about changing price lists without disrupting your business? I always think client loyalty should be rewarded, and you have to balance out whether you are better keeping your prices the same and having a client have weekly lessons, or by putting your prices up and meaning that they then have fortnightly lessons. So long as you can fill that space then financially you haven’t lost out. But it’s a risk you take. Halving the number of lessons someone has is also detrimental to their education which may be catastrophic if they’re a nervous rider or on a green horse. So out of loyalty and respect for your clients it’s worth bearing that in mind. If you are a livery yard and put up prices then you risk owners doing favours for each other rather than using your services, which could affect your income.

There is also a question of how much to raise prices by. I always think there should be notice given to price changes of at least a month to allow families to budget. I also don’t think you should raise prices drastically, for example more than 10%. It’s a far softer blow to have two incremental price rises over three years than a large jump, which will upset the apple cart and risk the stability of your business. Plus, you don’t want to look greedy!

Equestrianism is already seen as elitist, so making yourself unavoidable to the amateur rider only does a disservice to the sport.

I think it’s also worth considering just changing the prices of one area of the business. So if facilities have changed, or equipment improved then you could justifiably increase prices for that area. Going back to my ITT exam; a higher teaching qualification could mean I’m better off just increasing lesson prices, and leaving schooling fees as they are. Which would only affect a portion of my business, meaning it’s probably more affordable for clients and less of a business risk to me. As a livery yard, if you have invested in new jumps or a cross country field then you could justifiably increase hire fees.

There’s lots of different elements to consider, and various ways to make the pill easier to swallow. I’ve altered my price list on my website for new clients, but am not changing current client prices at the moment. I do think all businesses should think carefully about the ways and means of changing fees. Which have to change as inflation, wages and living costs rise, but it should be done sensitively so that the business carries on running smoothly and clients continue to be satisfied with the quality of service they receive.

Matt’s Latest Adventure 

It never rains, but it pours. At least it did for me last week. Otis had his MRI, which I told you about last weekend – Which you can read here –  but simultaneously Matt was having a big adventure of his own.

Mum went to catch him on Saturday afternoon to feed him and give him some TLC. He was grazing in the field quietly, away from the others. Mum put his headcollar on and asked him to walk on. He wouldn’t move. She got a bit angry as he is sometimes can be stubborn about coming in. But he still wouldn’t walk.

In the event, with one of the girls practically pushing Matt, they got him down the field and onto the yard. He was dragging his hind leg, which had a small wound on the stifle.

Mum cleaned it up and rang the vet. She duly turned up and examined the puncture wound, after sedating Matt of course as he didn’t like it very much! The vet was concerned about an infection as the wound was close to the joint, and the stifle is a very shallow joint, so the vet arranged for Matt to be admitted to the local equine hospital that evening.

Leaving a sedated Matt in the closest stable, loaded with painkillers, Mum drove home to collect non-horsey Dad and the trailer. By the time they got back the sedation had worn off and Matt was less than impressed at being in with no friends. You may remember from the winter that he doesn’t like being left in without company. He danced around and refused to load until Mum got the yard owner out in her pyjamas to say a couple of stern words to him.

So it was 8.30-9pm when they got to the, thankfully, local horse-pital. Matt was sedated again, and X-rayed. This was when they found the fracture.

I think it’s the top of the tibia that is fractured, it’s non-weight bearing and it isn’t the patella. I’ve asked to see the x-rays so will share once I do.

After the X-ray, the area was ultrasounded. This was looking for oxygen bubbles in the stifle joint, which are indicative of an infection. Thankfully he got the all clear in this area, so was put into his stable and hooked up to a drip and an intensive course of antibiotics started. This was to hopefully nip any infection in the bud and if there wasn’t yet an infection it was a preventive measure. He was dosed up on painkillers and left.

On Sunday, the vets were pleased to say that there didn’t look to be a joint infection, which meant Matt didn’t need to go to the nearest university hospital. 

With Mum and Dad about to go on their annual holiday, it was all systems go to organise Matt’s care. Thankfully, Mum has some lovely friends who offered to look after Matt on his box rest while she was away. 

Matt had to stay in hospital for five days: three days of intravenous antibiotics and two days of oral antibiotics. On Monday his painkillers were reduced as he was getting very agitated at being kept in and was box walking. I think they hoped that feeling a bit of pain would encourage him to stay still.

Last Thursday, Mum’s friend collected Matt and took him home. Mum had ordered a mixture of calming feeds and supplements contains chamomile, valerian, vervain and magnesium. All of which are known for their calming effect. Matt was still keen to eat, so had been having ad lib hay to try and occupy him, carrots hidden in haynets. He’s also had some cow parsley, hazel and willow branches to strip, and a likit toy is on it’s way. 

The first couple of days Matt expected to go out, but since the weekend he seems happier in this new routine so hopefully the effect of the calmer, plenty of forage and toys will keep him occupied.

He’s to stay on box rest for eight weeks, with another X-ray in six weeks time. Then limited exercise will ensue, with the aim of full turn out in twelve weeks time. Mum asked about picking up his feet, and the vet said his feet could be hoof picked if he’d let you, but keep the foot close to the ground to minimise the movement of the fracture. He can’t see the farrier until after his next X-ray because the fracture will open up in the next couple of weeks before closing and healing.


So lots of positive vibes to the little black dressage pony while he recuperates please, and hopefully the next couple of months go quickly and smoothly because he is not a patient patient!

Creating a Bouncier Canter

I did this exercise with a client yesterday and her pony. They love jumping, and we’re pushing towards 90cm courses and beyond. However in order to be successful over bigger fences the canter needs to be more uphill. The mare knows her job, bit by encouraging her to “sit” on her hindquarters more will strengthen them and enable her to make a steeper bascule, which will make jumping bigger fences easier. I’d also like the mare not to take such long, flat strides to fences as that’s when she over jumps or isn’t quick enough to fold her legs up and knocks it down.

As ever, it can be difficult to teach someone what a bouncier, more collected canter feels like when they haven’t experienced one before. Which is where poles come in very useful. 

On a twenty metre circle I laid out four poles at the 3,6,9,12 positions. We worked on each rein, cantering over the centre of the poles. The aims were to have a round circle, with the same number of strides between each pole, and to not leap the poles. It’s harder than you think as the rider has to plan their line in advance, use the outside aids and not rely on the inside rein, and have a good feel for the rhythm. The horse will find it tricky because the inside hind leg has to be more active over the poles and as it comes under the body they have to maintain their balance and be supple enough that they don’t drift out through their outside shoulder. It took a few circuits on each rein, but the canter started to get rounder and more elevated. This mare is quite laterally stiff, so I wasn’t expecting full circles in this balanced, improved canter, but rather to see both her and her rider “getting it” and maintaining it for a couple of poles before regrouping. That way, my rider knows what it is she is aiming for in the future, and we build the pony’s strength steadily.

Then I raised the inside end of each pole slightly. This exaggerates the canter stride so improves the mare’s flexibility and suppleness, as well as pushing the boundaries on her balance. 

This rider has a habit of using too much inside rein, so this exercise highlighted the problems of overusing it and made her focus on her outside aids.

From the two poles on the three quarter lines, I walked a dog leg of five short canter strides to build and upright. This meant we had a left dog leg and a right dog leg. The uprights were 90-100cm high.

The exercise we rode was the same on both reins. Ride the circle of poles until the canter felt bouncy and then leave the circle on the three quarter line pole and ride the dog leg, aiming to maintain that canter, to the upright. 

The mare can lock on, otherwise I’d have built the related distance in a straight line, but the dog leg meant she had to listen to her rider. On the right rein they had a very nice five canter strides and jumped the upright with a steeper bascule. The take off point was slightly closer and the mare made a cleaner shape. My rider could feel the difference in the way they jumped, and hopefully can understand how having the canter in a more uphill frame will help them get clear rounds. The left rein is the mare’s slightly weaker lead, and it took them a couple of attempts to ride a smooth dog leg turn, but again their technique was much better.


I found this exercise really beneficial for engaging the inside hindleg and the back muscles, and now my rider knows the canter she is aiming for we can try and reproduce that on the flat and round courses so the last fence isn’t the annoying one they have down! Below you can see how active the inside hindleg is in this canter after using the circle of poles.

Shock Absorbers

I used this exercise a couple of times last week with various clients. It’s a bit of a brain teaser, but helps to improve the arm position.

We all know that there should be a straight line from the horse’s bit, through the wrist, to the elbow, which hangs below the shoulder. Easier said than done and many people ride with too straight an elbow.

The first client I introduced this concept to has very tense arms, and her go-to position is to lock her arms when she’s nervous. So we’ve done a lot of work on keeping the wrists soft and not braced, working on the lunge without reins, building her confidence so that she’s not as inclined to “hold on” with her hands.

So the overall picture is getting better, but because this rider has a tendency to lock and stiffen her arms, the elbows don’t act as shock absorbers and subsequently her rein contact and hand position isn’t very consistent.

Still looking hands are the ideal, but the only way to create the illusion of having still hands is to have them so that they follow every movement of the horse. In order to do this, the elbows need to absorb any movement. After all, holding something rigidly still gives the impression of a stream flowing around a large rock.

As we all know, jumping and landing with our knees straight causes a jarring feeling through our body, and the only way to avoid jarring yourself is to land with your knees bent slightly. Knees are hinge joints, the same as elbows, so in order for the elbows to be shock absorbers they must also have a bend to them.

For riders who struggle with carrying tension in their arms, it is important to introduce some movement to the arms. But obviously it needs to be controlled movement and to go with the movement of the horse and rider.

Take rising trot, beginning with the arms in the classically correct position. As you stand up out your stirrups, push your hands down; as you sit down, raise them up. It’s a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head but once you get it it’s fairly straightforward.

Initially the movement wants to be quite exaggerated, especially as it feels quite alien to the rider. But after riding it for a few circuits you will find that when the rider thinks of another exercise or movement they will stop actively opening and closing the elbow, but because the arm is relaxed and movement has been introduced the elbow will open and close slightly, thus acting as a shock absorber and giving the illusion that the hands are perfectly still. Then because the hands and arms are moving perfectly with the horse, the contact will remain consistent.

My client with tense arms understood the concept well and it was good to see the elbows starting to work properly after moving them as she rose, but we need more practice in getting her to move her arms so that she doesn’t rapidly adopt the locked arm look. 

I find this exercise is also useful for anyone who struggles to hold a consistent contact as it improves their feel and awareness of their hands and arms; and it’s also very good at relaxing riders who maybe need their brains focused on something rather than their environment.