My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
There is quite a difference in the way flying changes are viewed in jumping and dressage worlds. In jumping they are necessary utility movement, taught to horses early in training with sometimes exaggerated
flexion and being a bit late behind is not considered a big deal. Also, many jumping horses cannot counter canter.
In dressage flying change appears only in Third level. Second level has counter canter and collection. This makes flying change quite an advanced movement. Even though talented young horses
can learn flying changes early - for dressage they must be straight, on the aids and clean. Accidental change once in a while does not mean the horse understands the aids for it. Aids need to be taught and the horse
must wait for the rider to ask instead of anticipating it.
Traditionally for dressage, it was taught that horses must first learn counter canter, straight walk-canter-walk transitions, strike into any lead any direction and hold shoulder-fore in canter
then they are ready for the work on flying changes. This approach is still very much true for horses who do not have super balanced, elastic canter with good jump. Modern warmblood breeding is creating
horses who have much better canter. These horses can learn flying changes earlier due to better mechanics of their bodies. An exceptional horse like Valegro was able to do sequential changes at the age of 5.
Either way, one important component - a rider must also learn how to do flying changes, This includes several aspects:
Rider's seat must be supple enough to match horse's back during canter, equally well on both leads. Any unsteadiness with the hands, clamping with legs, thighs, stiff joints, pushing into stirrups, excessive crookedness will make a flying change much harder endeavor for the horse and the rider alike
Rider must be able to ask for walk-canter transition on a straight line on either lead without exaggerating canter aids, positioning of the horse or his/her own body
Rider must feel which lead he/she is on without looking down
Rider must be able to ride very straight canter on either lead with even elastic contact. Excessive bending in the neck or body is counterproductive for changes
Asking for the change happens during stance phase of the canter stride. Rider must be able to feel the canter beats and suspension phase, feel and support rhythm and tempo of the canter
Aids for the change are lateral: same side leg and rein, leg swings back, hand closes for a half-halt without moving backwards. For example, on the right lead right hand closes and right leg swings back, they are new
outside aids. New inside leg moves forward to the girth position. It all happens simultaneously during stance phase of the canter stride. Next moment the horse jumps off the ground and performs flying change to the left.
Disturbances to the flow of canter initiated by the rider are pushing with the seat, pulling on the reins, stiffening, stopping rider's seat motion, losing balance during the change, twisting out of the saddle, leaning to one side, etc
The change is forward movement. Try skipping and changing leg occasionally. Notice how you jump forward not sideways, notice how rhythmical and forward the motion is, no stopping, pausing, or tensing necessary
It takes time and practice to develop enough feel and coordination to ride balanced, smooth changes on a horse who knows how to change. Learning on a school master is extremely helpful, allows faster learning,
less frustration for both horse and rider and a great confidence builder.
A horse is a living creature. He cam move, turn and stop all on his own. From day one he can walk, trot and canter, fast or slow without any help from humans.
This is very simple but extremely important truth that riders often forget. They try to help a horse to move. I call it - Wheelbarrow Effect.
Think about it - a wheelbarrow is inanimated object without a motor. It cannot move on it's own unless a human pushes it with her/his muscle power.
If it is heavy it may lose it's balance and start drifting off a chosen path. The person then strain her/his muscles to prevent that from happening.
If during riding a horse you push on him to move him or strain your body trying to keep him from doing something wrong you are acting like he cannot
move by himself. You are turning your horse into a wheelbarrow!
Such attitude toward a horse creates unwelcome consequences. Here are few examples:
There is no lesson for a horse to learn. He has no responsibility, no consequences. A rider does everything, all the work.
This makes a horse quite willful. He lacks simple obedience and can become dangerous.
It is very hard to ride quiet and be graceful when you are trying to move a big, heavy "wheelbarrow'. Rider's balance and posture gets compromised.
The relationship between a horse and a rider is strained. Riders usually blame horses for not trying, lack of effort and being lazy.
Horses become quite indifferent to rider's efforts because there are no consequences and the rider will do it at the end anyway!
There is no real reward at the end!
In order to change this perspective to more productive one realize that it is your horse's job to perform gaits, movements, transitions.
Jumpers/eventers know it better than dressage or leisure riders because there is no way a human can jump an obstacle. The horse must do it. What is your job as a rider then? - To have a very good balance so you can stay framed, supple, centered and with the movement
of the horse at all times. After that you are paying attention to what your horse is doing, how is he moving. You tell him to move, to slow down, to turn,
to perform a half-pass or a flying change, he performs, you do not interfere with stiffness or lack of balance and observe his performance.
If he needs help because he became crooked, disengaged, stiff, on the forehand, disconnected or distracted you must give him a signal to
change himself. These signals are our aids - half halts and leg aids. Seat has a very special job. You cannot push and shove a horse around
with your bum. But you can use your bum to read your horse - did he started leaning, stiffening, slowing down, speeding up. In order to
read your horse you must sit deep, centered and quiet, becoming a part of his back and knowing what is going on with him every second.
If something under your seat and thigh started to change do not stiffen up to hold him there, use a leg aid, or a half halt or a combination of two to help him find
a better balance. If he ignored your aid you address that instead of "saving" the balance/movement. When he finds his balance back it
will feel like a puzzle got completed, a lock combination clicked and opened a door. The horse moves effortlessly by himself
and feels like he is reading your thoughts. Amazing feeling!...
Remember, in order to respond to your aids correctly the horse must know what responses are required from him. These things are learned and not born with.
Rein and leg aids are aids for a rider not a horse. A rider teaches her/his horse to understand the aids so the job of riding is easer. You cannot teach an
aid to a wheelbarrow but you can to a horse. Obedience is also learned. Overtime, a horse can learn amazing things like performing one tempis, passage, piaffe,
jumping huge/scary obstacles, etc. Without obedience this will be impossible.
Besides understanding the aids a horse must be strong and coordinated enough to perform a required task. He is an athlete after all. This is where your job as a good
leader/trainer becomes very important. To know your horse, to know his limits. Push his training enough to advance but not to break. Again, to do this well you must learn
to be quiet and observe your horse in action rather then being busy doing it for him.
Do not "jump in" to save your horse when he is making a mistake. Use a mistake as an opportunity to learn more about your horse and to teach him how to do it better!
Watching my students and their horses struggle with understanding of whip work and lack of skill using it made me think of writing this blog. A whip is
invaluable tool when it comes to work with horses. It makes it safer for the handler,
it makes it easier for the horse to learn (provided it is used correctly) and it can be as gentle as a caress or as harsh as a sting.
Whip can be used in different ways:
1. As an extension of a handler's/rider's hand to give a touch either at a safe distance or comfortable position. This touch can be light and friendly as an explanation or chasing a mosquito
off a horse's body :) Or, it can be tap/hit giving a horse a warning, substituting the handler's necessity to use physical force (instead of pushing a horse, give a tap with a whip to tell him to move himself)
2. An awareness touch. When a handler wants to get horse's attention to a particular part of his body - shoulder, hind leg, ribcage, etc. For example, during teaching a turn on the haunches
it is very effective to tap outside shoulder. Neither leg or rein aid affect shoulders directly, so the whip can give the handler/rider very precise way of explaining
3. As a simple, raw type of strong correction/punishment. Warning!. This sharp tap/hit with a whip is not intended to "explain" anything in detail. It simply alerts the horse to either pay attention
or to "what you did was wrong". For example, a horse who slows down without being asked to do so can be corrected with a sharp tap. This usually gets the horse forward but not necessarily into exact gait it was
there before. The horse simply accelerates. Let him accelerate, do not praise him for it. Then repeat the gait and if the horse now trotting or cantering with more vigor or keeps the required energy level longer
praise the effort. Do realize, the horse cannot have a "cruse control button", they can forget and lose their focus. So, small corrections along the way is necessary. However, if the horse constantly falls back
into slowing down or hesitates to respond to a leg promptly a sharp whip action is very effective.
The skill of touching with a whip must be developed. It is not that simple and requires practice to be able to touch as light as a feather or as strong as a sting without moving your whole arm. Compare the ability to
using a whip to the sport of fencing. The wrist is a primary moving part, not the arm. Actually, the more the am is moving the less effective the whip will be. This is especially important in the saddle where riders tend to flap their
elbow, to pull the rein out, to look back, to tense their body, or jump in the saddle at the moment a whip taps the horse. Also, being equally good with left and right wrist is very important. Most of the time a whip is carried in the inside hand,
to encourage the engagement of inside hind leg. Practice more with your less dominant hand and it will become as good as your other one.
One more thing about using a whip. On the ground it is absolutely invaluable tool. It is more precise then a rope, it gives an extension to your arm and it can demand attention without spooking unlike plastic bags or flags.
In the saddle, however, the whip's role is progressively diminished and substituted by spurs. I may ride a very young horse with two whips. It gives me chance to correct or get his attention immediately on the side where
I need it. Two whips does not require a change of hands and they can be used at the same time to really make a clear point. For example, to go forward!
When a horse develops more sophisticated training a whip should interfere less. A trained horse must listen to a leg, the whip does not tap precisely where leg is. It cannot reinforce the bending aids, for example. It creates chaos,
tension and loss of rhythm. It is OK to ride with it once in a while but be very aware to use it only to reinforce simple things like go forward without any specifics, or gentle tapping in the rhythm of passage can lift the horse off the ground
without scaring him. It is more helpful sometimes to have a person on the ground with a whip then to have one in the saddle.
The whip's length and level of stiffness is important to be effective. On the ground an in-hand whip is longer than dressage whip. However, both whips should be stiff enough to create only a small waggle.
The softer the whip the less precise it will be. Too long one will be heavy and cumbersome. The preferences are more individual and you will find what works best through practice.
What is a good contact on the reins? Some would define it as being light, others say the horse must take the contact. There are riders who like to feel a nice solid contact and there are riders who want none at all.
Every one of the above statements have their merits and a good contact can differ between riders, so it is a pretty personal thing. However, there are attributes to the contact that all dressage riders should agree with.
It must be quiet
It must be even at all times
A horse must seek it without running through it
A rider must provide a consistent quiet place for the horse to seek
A good contact feels like holding a friend's hand
We are going to look in more detail into the second attribute on the list - Evenness of the Contact. A lot of time riders have a misleading concept that contact is even only on straight lines. In any corner, circle, lateral work
the horse supposed to be soft on inside rein and go to outside rein. Well, then how is that outside rein supposed to feel? Does it need to be heavier then inside?
Actually - NO. The ideal contact is even at all times and rider's job is to seek and promote that evenness. A heavier rein is an indicator of a problem and not necessarily a problem that originated in the mouth. A heavy rein can be one of many
issues such as luck of balance, stiffness, luck of straightness, too much disorganized energy, etc. A too light rein can be a sign of an instability and too much softness (willingness), luck of energy, luck of straightness, horse's reaction to rider's strong hand, etc
Recognizing evenness of the contact or lack of it is not as simple as may look at first glance. Riders are crooked no less then horses are. They have a strong hand/arm and a weak one, stable one and unstable one, and tendency to grab
with one rein more than another for stability. Lack of levelness, balance and stability will affect rider's ability to judge the contact correctly. Riders tend to "help" horses when things go wrong and often they do it in expense
of their own posture and balance - thus creating a "catch 22" effect - the more they try to "help the horse the less ability they have to really improve the situation! We are going to use riding a circle as an example and describe in detail a few rider's common responses.
When a rider uses inside rein to initiate a turn and the horse feels sticky - common response is to use inside rein more. In reality, the correct action should be more outside aids. Lets look at it from the
principle of even contact. If inside rein is heavy to balance it make outside rein heavy too, you get to even contact. Your horse will turn better but now you have a problem of a heavy contact. Now use legs and half halts in alternating fashion
to improve lightness.
A horse falling out making circle bigger would belong to the first problem. Common response more inside rein when in reality balancing contact and slowing down to minimize inertia should be rider's first response toward fixing the problem. Next step would be using outside leg to continue turning and get back to correct gait or energy level but now a rider is in control.
A horse turning too fast, making a circle smaller and falling in There are two common responses to such problem. 1. A rider pulls inside rein across the neck toward outside. 2. A rider opens outside rein which temporarily can help to enlarge the circle but do not fix the problem. Lets look at this problem from the even contact idea. Such horse will be too light on outside rein. Taking contact on it is the right idea that is why it works to enlarge the circle. However, the contact itself will not feel even, inside will feel too stiff and outside is too yielding. By working on balancing the contact and straightening the neck a rider will improve the overall balance of the horse, especially if inside leg comes into play!
A rider has a very strong hand and a giving hand - such rider will always overbend the horse's neck with a strong hand regardless of horse's stiff or soft side. The giving hand will have hard time creating a consistent contact and balancing the feel in the reins. A rider must work with his/her horse, mirrors, coach, video and self awareness to figure out which hand is doing what and then work on correcting the tendency toward more equal contact. If rider's strong hand is matched with horse's stiff side it will create a more even feel regardless of the direction. If rider's giving hand is matched with horse's stiff side a rider will feel very good going one way and awful going the other. I call it a champion side and a double whammy side!
Rider's shoulders are not square to the circle line - human body is crooked. Often a rider will have a twist and collapse in the torso. This will create a leading shoulder and a dragging behind shoulder. On a circle the line of the shoulders of a rider must be exactly on the radius of a circle during each moment. A mistake of inside shoulder leading too much is a lesser evil then if outside shoulder is leading. A rider always feel better by leading with inside shoulder. However, this can create issues when circles get smaller and lateral work begins. Leading with outside shoulder will always feel unbalanced no matter the size of a circle. Uneven shoulders will create uneven contact.
The following sequence of exercises is very convenient to do on a quiet dirt or snow covered road with no traffic and good surface, race track will work too. Long narrow path
of a road gives a great opportunity to combine movements in a chain without interruption of a corner.
Start on a side of a road with steady, rhythmical and straight walk
Leg-yield to the opposite side and walk straight
Leg-yield back, straighten and shoulder-in, bending your horse toward the road, do it for about 20 m
Straighten and leg-yield across the road, shoulder in bending toward the road, for 20 m
Straighten and leg-yield back, haunches-in, bending toward the road, again for about 20 m
Straighten and leg-yield across the road, haunches-in bending toward the road for 20 m
Straighten and leg-yield back, start shoulder-in and then half-pass across the road
Straighten, start shoulder-in and half pass across the road
Zigzag across the road to finish (half-pass)
It takes about 200-300 m of a road to complete the above sequence. Your horse will be asked to bend and straighten numerous times and you can repeat a certain portion more than once if you find a problem. Aim to flow from one movement to another, from one side of the road to another. Pay attention to equal crossing in leg-yields both directions, equal bend in shoulder-ins, haunches-in and symmetry in half-passes. Notice how many times I repeated straighten, Absolutely make sure you
can straighten and make your horse "wait" for the next movement. Horses are smart and eager, they quickly catch on and start to anticipate and offer the movements ahead of the rider. Pay attention that each movement started on your terms. Keep the walk pure, four-beat, steady and fluid. Use small transitions to slower walk if your horse likes to be in a hurry or tension creeps in, it will help him "wait" for you and relax. After the sequence your horse will be calm, attentive, supple and ready for more work,
Arena adaptation If you have no access to a long narrow path you can still do the sequence in the riding arena, you just need a few adaptations. For example, use long side of a ring to complete one portion of the sequence, example - shoulder-in, leg-yield, shoulder-in. Add a variation of a turn on the forehand or on the haunches at the end of the long side. You can stay between the wall and the centerline, or you can use one quarter line and the other quarter line as your "sides of the road".
Trot and Canter I also do trot and canter work on the side of the road. However, I do not like to work across the road in faster gaits. I ride a leg-yield not across but a head to the "wall" version. I ride lots of transitions between walk and trot, or within trot in shoulder-in and haunches in. Also, straitening in between lateral work and going forward extending the trot, stretching the neck is a very good refresher. Difficulty of canter work depends on the horse's level of training. Arroyo, who is coming 5 this year works on transitions from trot to canter, different leads, shoulder-fore, haunches in, transitions between lengthening and collecting his canter, changes in neck position. Santo can do all of the above plus walk-canter-walk, flying changes, transitions within canter will be more advanced all the way from pirouette canter to extended. Your imagination is your limit. You can play with combinations, frequency, flexion, tempo control, etc. You will be not only
training your horse's body but also his mind. Keeping his focus on you is not as easy on a road as in a ring. It gives you a great practice for the show/clinic situations without going to one.
P.S. Pay attention to road surface, levelness, hardness, potential vehicles.
Alberta has been hit with extremely cold weather. Night temperatures plunged to -40C and day temperatures were around -25 -30C. Horses who boarded in heated barns were
kept inside even during the day and working them was actually important to keep them exercised and moving. The problem was with horses who live outside. They had to go out again after work
in this frigid weather. To avoid working Santo in usual manner I decided to ride him bareback.
I did it twice already. First time I lunged him and worked him in hand then hopped on for the last 10 min and realized how much information I could gain from riding bareback. Not only I could feel
his back but I also can feel much more clear if I sit centered and level or not. His spine was a very black and white indicator of my position. I know I have a tendency to end up slightly to the
left when my balance is compromised. Oh, boy how clear I could feel that happening to me riding bareback.
Saddle is comfortable, soft and smooth, no hard bones or actively moving parts like muscles. It is harder to feel with the saddle how exactly I lose my balance. Also, I knew general way
I lose it but I found the new extend of the problem. After second ride I had a physical proof of it in a form of a sore on the right side of my butt where his spine hit me every time I lost my balance :D
Second time, I lunged him a little bit and got on to ride bareback for 30-40 min including canter work. Particularly, I was interested in doing flying changes :) Lateral work is also a very good tool
to expose rider's balance issues. I combined lateral work into shoulder-in to half-pass to shoulder-in transitions, or half-pass to walk pirouette to shoulder-in, zigzag, etc aiming to expose my lost of balance
during changes of line of travel and/or bend. I did it in walk and trot. I caught myself gripping with my left thigh in pirouettes and half-passes to the right which would pull me over to the left, softening my thigh
allowed me to sit more centered during movements.
In canter I spiraled in in traverse position ending up in working pirouette. What a difference between left and right direction! Left felt secure, effortless, little corrections mostly to keep him active and
jumping under himself. To the right I felt like we both struggled a great deal - he was falling down on the right, his whole back kept disappearing from under me and that made me sit on the left!
I used a whip on the right side, tapping him lightly to encourage the stepping under with the right hind leg and as a consequence being able to stand up and level himself. Santo's right side is a soft side, unstable side,
it makes sense that it struggles to stand up, connect and carry itself in difficult movements like canter pirouettes. Funny, I felt that with the saddle too. However, bareback brought a new light to the problem.
As soon as I started flying changes I realized how detrimental stiffening of my lower back is. What it did to me - it "catapulted" me off his back, not literally :) but enough to make him land very crooked. Of course,
it pushed me to the left during a flying change from left to right. All of sudden my instructor's words to stay supple through a flying change had a new meaning and importance. It is actually very difficult to
ask for a flying change bareback if the aids are too big or rider's body is tight and twisting. A best way to describe the feeling is a rider must sit through the flying change, letting it happen like any canter stride, remaining
supple and on the line of travel in a level, centered and square position. Any stiffening, pushing, 'swinging" to "help" the horse, tightening and lifting yourself off his back are distortions. These distortions will accumulate into
balance issues if a rider is doing more then one change especially at a close intervals.
In general terms, riding canter bareback is a very good way to feel the quality of canter, to feel the horse's back and how it moves, to connect to that movement and learn a new level of suppleness and straightness.
Holidays are over and riders are keen to get back to riding, plan their coming show season and fulfill new year resolutions.
However, if your horse had a break from couple weeks to a month that means his fitness level is most likely OK but his mental
readiness for work is not that sharp. In terms of mental fitness each horse reacts differently to a break. Some feel like even after
a month they have never missed a bit, others, after one week need a few riders to get back into routine again. Usually, the horse
reverts back to it's original or recurring training issues. For example, lazy horses with consistent work tend to be less lazy but revert back
to being lazy when left out of work. Same happens to spooky horses, horses who argue about many things, sensitive and overreactive
horses. This tendency creates a vicious cycle that makes riders who tend to ride inconsistently to feel stuck in their work because
after each break they need to spend a few rides to restore their horse's mental readiness for work. If the break happens again
they are back to the beginning!
If you know that your horse falls into one of the above categories you must recognize the responsibility of either working
your horse very consistently or not have big plans and show ambitions. Expecting your horse
to be ready to do his job without consistency in the training is not fair for the horse. Said that there is a way to be
able to juggle busy life, work, family and training your horse. I am going to list options and ideas
to help you find a way to continue training your horse without feeling a huge pressure of time restriction.
The minimum number of work sessions per week to create progress is 3. Twice a week keeps the horse fit at the level they
are now and consistent enough to keep their mind in work as long as your horse is not super spirited and high strung one. I work
my horses 4 times a week and in winter months there are some weeks where I do 3 times per week.
Not all of the working sessions must be riding - lunging, work in hand, driving, obstacle games require less time to get the horse
ready and to spend working. Because fitness of the mind disappears faster then body fitness any work with your horse when you
ask him to do something will keep him mentally fit.
Manage your time well. Sit down and create a time line how much you need for each task - driving to the barn, catching your horse,
grooming/saddling, riding/working, cooling down, untacking/grooming, feeding and putting him out, driving to home/work. Do not deviate
from that time line, stay focused and efficient, chat with others if you want as you are getting ready but do no stop to chat. Have a plan
for your ride/work session so you do not get carried away. My time from the moment I park at the barn where Santo is now to the moment
I drive away is 1 hour 40-50 min, this gives me 45-50 min of pure work time which is huge. If I short on time I
do 30 min work in hand without saddling him which can cut my time to an 1 hour total.
If you absolutely know you cannot commit to 3 times per week half-lease your horse to a trusted rider. Asking someone to ride for
free usually doesn't work. It is amazing how many girls whine they want to ride but do not have money. The moment opportunity presents
itself they are busy, skipping rides and being irresponsible. Asking for money makes people actually come to ride because they
paid for it.
If you have money to pay a trainer/instructor to work your horse once a week or on occasion you cannot make it it is money spend
well as long as you trust the trainer and agree with the work done to your horse.
I am not big fan of an option of sending a horse away for training. Several reasons - your horse ends up fitter than you, you have no idea
what is done to him, if he learns something new that you do not know you must take time to learn that to. Do not assume it will all go smoothly just
because he learned it.
If you go south for winter 1 or 2 months (Canada's popular option) and you do not take your horse with you find someone very trustworthy
to work him regularly. This will be the only time when sending your horse for training may be a good option if you want to be ready for the show
season. However, choosing that person is like choosing a babysitter for your children... I never had one for my son. He spent a fair amount of time
in horse barns... :)
There will be very little dispute that opening of the inside rein is a common way to ask a horse to turn. There is also a lot of discussions in dressage
circles that correct way of turning must only happen from outside rein. In my experience, focusing on only one of the reins is a mistake, because they both
are very important. Their dynamic relationship and horse's response to both reins is an important part of what creates a nice balancing turn.
Too much inside rein - will create an effect of pulling a horse into a turn. A horse is not an inanimated object like a shopping cart. A horse must
not be physically displaced by any amount of force. The consequences of it will depend where is stiff and soft sides of the horse. Puling inside rein on a soft side will bend
the neck in and allow the horse to fall on outside shoulder. Pulling the inside rein on a stiff side will invite a horse to fall inward cutting his turns and circles. Too much outside rein - will encourage a horse to fall into the turn, the horse listening to outside rein will counterflex and displace inside shoulder inward. This can
be a good tool to work on an issue of falling on outside shoulder. However,being done too much or too often will teach a horse to cut and speed up the turns plus bending
will be impossible. A horse can flex without a bend but cannot bend without a flexion.
A rider must always strive for equally light contact and prompt response to either rein. A well trained horse travels in the arena with inside positioning - inside flexion, inside front
foot and inside hind foot are aligned on a line parallel to the wall, outside front and hind feet are aligned or almost aligned on a line parallel to the wall. Bent neck and/or haunches falling in or out is a mistake.
This requires a horse to travel with engaged core, supple back, level in his shoulders/hips and stepping well under his center of gravity.
Now, if a rider indicates a turn almost imperceptible opening of the inside rein is sufficient for a horse to start leaving a wall or a line he was on. If that doesn't happen increasing pressure
on inside rein is common but very wrong response. Upon hesitation from a horse rider's response must be outside aids particularly outside leg. The main reason of a hesitation on
horse's behave is horse's outside side didn't follow into a turn.
The reasons it didn't follow can be many, including horse's asymmetry, rider's issues, lack of connection or attention, etc. Regardless of the reason the only way to fix it is to improve
the balance, connection and response of the horse's outside side. This scenario often happens on a soft side of the horse. Rider's unevenness in hands perception, arm's strength,
stability of the shoulders, rotational issues in spine and hips will complicate the situation even more allowing the horse to exploit all the possibilities :) If prior to turning the horse
was too light on inside rein compare to contact on outside rein he was out of balance already. Yielding him off the wall inward to help him take better contact of inside rein then
using inside leg to improve connection even further will be a good way to work on such issue. Counter flexion can be of a great help too.
On a stiff side the common scenario is the horse leaves the wall almost too eagerly making too big step inward with inside front, he starts smaller circle then his rider has
planned. Also, there is often too much contact on the inside rein already due to heaviness and stiffness of that side. A horse may even fall off the wall without any indication
from a rider, often with the head looking out. Such turns feel very unbalanced, there is a perception of falling in and horse's back disappears from the rider's seat.
Instinctive reaction of any human is to lean out and pull inside rein outward across the horse's neck. Never allow your reins cross the midline of the neck
Even indirect rein doesn't cross the midline, it only approaches it.The rider is no longer in a position to influence the horse with positive results. In this situation the rider must
"bounce" the whole horse's body outward. The opening of the rein must be created by the horse moving away from it not the rider
moving it in. Both inside rein and leg must be active, vibrating, "unstable", to prevent the horse leaning on them. Use inner track often to give yourself a chance
to correct your horse's balance, enlarge your circles often, use leg-yield as a corrective exercise.
Do your best to stay connected with the horse even if he is falling in and by using above mentioned exercises make him stand up in his body and develop self-carriage.
Otherwise, you will be holding him up all his life. Keep outside rein connected even if your horse doesn't want to take that connection. Imagine for a moment you are
going opposite direction (to the right if left side is stiff). Exercise:Ride a shallow zigzag line starting turns left and right to even out and balance your horse and connect on both reins.
This exercise is great to ride in a field or on a road where you can continue as long as necessary.
It is this time of the year again. Everything is frozen and a fresh layer of sow is covering the ground. All my horses are working in the field now.
One of the exercises I do regularly in a field is a forward canter in a light seat (I would not call it a gallop, not fast enough :) I find it very useful not only
for the training of the horse but for my own training in terms of balance, strength, stamina, symmetry and alignment.
What are important considerations?
In dressage saddle it is impossible to do a well balanced two-point. However, it is very possible to shorten your stirrups one hole and ride in a so called light seat.
Weight is more into the legs and stirrups similar to two-point, a feel of a standing on your feet in a slight squat
Upper body slightly inclined forward like for rising trot
Seat is hovering close to the saddle but not sitting into it
After each suspension phase of a canter stride a rider lands into stirrups and legs not into the seat, lower legs must be very stable (good exercise for riders with unstable legs)
Keep reins slightly shorter and use the base of the neck for support if upper body feels unstable or you need a steady hand for a half halt.
This is not as easy as it looks at first glance. There is a few areas where mistakes can easily happen even with the more experienced riders. One of those areas is a force distribution at the landing moment of the stride
when outside hind leg hits the ground and rider suddenly acquires his/her weight. During the landing moment the weight should sink down into the legs/stirrups instead being pushed up
off them. Also, observe if you are dropping your weight more into one stirrup then another. You may be surprised to find out you are loading/pushing off one particular stirrup more regardless of the lead.
The other area not often observed well enough is stability and levelness of the shoulders and arms. Light seat exposes an unstable shoulder better than a deep seat canter. It happens because the
force of the landing travels through the body faster, it is harder to control The unstable shoulder will be moving and bouncing with each stride and the whole arm may join right in. It will be especially
obvious on the lead of the unstable shoulder (right shoulder unstable - right lead). Rider's shoulders must not look like they are cantering - no twisting, dropping, bouncing, moving back and forth,
pumping, etc. Shoulders are level, steadily carried, no movement in relation to the horse, only in relation to the ground. Without fixing shoulder stability and landing dynamic a rider has no way to properly half halt the horse
For the horse benefits are numerous. You will develop:
Cardio and stamina
Length of stride
Pushing power, especially if combined with uphill work
More strength and suppleness in his back
Confidence in yourself and your horse
Straightness due to very easy signs of crookedness (drifting, preferred lead, haunches pushed to one side)
Work on steadiness and evenness in the contact. You do not want your horse to become very strong and take over. Use circles to slow him down if he gets too excited,
especially toward home. Push both hands into his neck and load your knees to help
with a half halt. Leg-yield a bit into opposite direction of drifting to help straighten him. Pick a line and stick to it. Long straight line in forward canter helps you work on
your and your horse straightness if you pay attention to stay level and symmetrical in your movement and insist on even pleasant contact. Later, when you become
more familiar with this work variations include: small changes in speed, leg-yielding up a low grade hill, shoulder-fore, changes of flexion, flying changes, changes in the neck position (lower, higher)
If you cannot ride in the fields, or afraid to do so you can still do the light seat canter work in the arena. It will not be as beneficial and fun as outside due to walls, corners and no grade. Plus horses are
naturally more forward in the field and basically train themselves :) Tips in the arena: ride on inner track instead of the wall, use long side for light seat, sit for the corners, use counter flexion to straighten his shoulders,
ride counter canter.
If you ever watched how a train starts to move you remember well the very characteristic beginning - a locomotive starts first and then every next car starts just a moment later.
It creates a chain reaction from front to back. Now compare it to a start of a rear drive car. The back wheels start moving and pushing the whole mass of a car forward
moving from back to front. When you are riding your horse remember - a horse is not a train like mover, he is a muscle car mover; pushing power from behind not pulling power in front
Lots of times riders encourage and create in their horses train like attitude toward transitions. When a horse doesn't move off the leg promptly riders lean forward, lose contact by giving reins away too much
and sometimes start bouncing trying to make their horse move. The horse in such situations will pull his neck forward and up, lean on his shoulders and pull their body forward dragging their hind end like a train car.
I see two main reasons why riders fall into such behavior:
Riders are very keen to help their horse, they basically start moving themselves before the horse initiates anything
Riders are impatient and lack focus and observational skills. They just want to go regardless of the quality of a transition
In either cases the horses are learning to drag their bodies around. They usually have their necks stretched out and heads way ahead of the vertical lines creating even more overloading of their shoulders and front feet.
Such horses are very hard in the mouth because they need their necks and heads to balance themselves and cannot adjust them easily upon a request from their rider. If a horse pulled into a frame
by the rider's hands there is no lightness because the horse is not in self-carriage and cannot sustain the frame without rider's hands. The most fundamental lesson a horse has to learn is to initiate the movement from the hindquarters. This will make him a nice riding horse and preserve his body for a long healthy life
ALL transitions have this principle in mind from as simple as walk- trot to as advanced as halt to collected canter or piaffe. When a horse carries you with his supple back and powerful
hind end it feels amazing. When they drag you forward by their forehand, their backs are stiff and dropped there is no ease of mobility or comfort for either horse or rider.
The best way to teach it to a horse is a walk- trot transition
Several important considerations:
A young or green horse does not need to be on the bit yet. However, contact is a must for a future dressage horse. This contact is established in walk and it should not change for trot transition.
If in walk the contact is not consistent and a horse feels unsteady or fighting it work on it first before asking for trot.
The main request comes from the leg. The leg aid is rather quick (pulse, touch, bump, kick) not squeeze and hold. Later, the aid will be more sophisticated and requires less leg.
Seat will be sufficient - tipping pelvis by engaging core muscles.
Refrain from leaning forward or tightening lower back muscles. Doing that will make you stiff and ahead of the horse.
Do not be in a hurry to go. Observe your horse's reactions. If he is hesitating or plainly ignores your request use sharp enough correction - spur, whip - to make your point. You must convince him to start the trot
from the hind end - pushing himself into trot, not dragging himself into it. This is most difficult part for many riders and the biggest challenge is rider's attitude not horse's,. Riders try to be nice to their horses
and using sharp corrections is perceived as "mean", "wrong", etc. Riders have a "ceiling" and do not go beyond that. Horses very quickly learn rider's ceiling and do not bother to be very responsive.
Always remember - you are not the one who does the movement. It is your horse! Your job to have a quiet, balanced seat to make his job easier. Your job is to be a good boss/manager who observes and corrects if
necessary and leaves the horse alone if he is doing well. Easier said then done. Patience and ability to see require experience which only comes from practice and making mistakes.
Without mistakes there is no learning for ether horse or rider! Turn your horse into Ferrari instead of allowing him to be a Train :D