Saturday, October 29, 2016

Developing the walk

In the post about Balance I mentioned looking for overstep in the walk. When the horse is reaching up under themselves with the hind legs and lifting their shoulders and moving forward freely, you will see the overstep. In Dressage, both ridden and driving, the free walk is worth double points so time spent developing the free walk is well spent and well worth the effort. To paraphrase Xenophon, "If you don't have the time to properly develop the walk, how will you have the time to properly develop anything else?"

If your horse isn't overstepping and showing a proper free walk, then how do you get it? Good question. In the lines you might start at the halt. Shift your position back towards the horses hip. Before asking the horse to move, visualize How you're going to do this. As you ask for the walk forward, you will use your body and voice to push the horse forward. Your inside rein will keep the horse on the circle. Your body will be much like your legs and slightly push the hip out enough to allow the horse to follow their nose and stay bent to the inside.

As you move the horse forward, remember to keep your hands soft and Allow them to go. If the horse breaks into a trot, and they might because a forward walk can be tough at first, close your hand and use your outside rein to ask for a half halt. All you are telling the horse is, "No that's not what we're doing here at the moment." Don't get mad at the horse, just ask and if you have to ask over and over, then you ask over and over. We're just going to walk today.

When asking for the extended free walk, it is not a bad idea to have a verbal command for it. I cluck to Kat with each step for the most part. The whip bounces off his hip each stride also. Timing helps as I cluck as the hind leg is picked up and swings forward. When it's in the air already, it's easier for the horse to reach forward a little more and extend the stride. In the lines it is easier to ask and push the inside hind forward each time it comes up, so as the inside hind leg comes up, push for a little more forward using your body and voice. As the hind legs start to reach forward a little more, the horse will start to lift their shoulders a little more and their center of balance will begin to move back a little which helps them step under themselves a little further.

Since the horse isn't used to doing this reaching walk, accept getting a few steps at a time in each direction. When you see the overstep and the horse is reaching up underneath themselves, be sure to make a big deal about it and verbally praise them for their effort. This tells the horse, This! This is what I'm asking of you. This pleases me! Making a big deal of it helps the horse realize what you want. How can they please us if we don't let them know What pleases us?

If you're working in an arena or an open area, turns and serpentines are a great way to keep the horse listening to what you want and where you want them to go. After getting a few strides of a forward free walk, allow the horse to relax a little and then ask for a few more. Since you know your horse better than I do, you will know when enough is enough. As you work your horse over the course of a week and a few weeks, they will develop the muscles and the muscle memory to make the free walk something they will be able to do and hold a little longer each time. It's like running or lifting weights for us. The more we do it, the faster/further we can run or the more weight we can lift/reps we can do. It takes time, but you can and will get there relatively quickly once you understand the process and the horse understands what you're asking for.

With winter weather, walking is a great way to work off their extra energy while still having a productive workout that doesn't make them a sweaty mess needing a bath and a few hours to dry. Working at the walk is also a great way to maintain your connection with your horse and give them exercise after an injury also, given the horse is cleared by your vet for walking.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Big deal much?

So why are you watching your horse move?

Well if you don't know what needs to be fixed, how can you fix it?

Think about it. If it ain't broke, we don't fix it, but if you don't know... then what?

If you're able to get photos early on- they're always nice to reflect back on and see the amount of muscle development the horse has acquired and the improvements in the way they move.

This is why the little details are such a big deal right now.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Balance

So in establishing a baseline and watching your horse move, how do we know WHAT to look for? What tells us IF the horse is moving in a balanced way? This is part of developing an 'eye' for it. Learning what to look for and what you're looking at.

At the walk, the hind feet should be overstepping where the front feet are on the ground. What do you mean, you might ask? As the horse walks forward, the hind foot comes forward and should land on or in front of the place on the ground where the front hoof on that side was already at. Over-step. Stepping Over where the front hoof was. The walk as it is developed more, will become more fluid and reaching. The stride will lengthen and the horse will naturally cover more ground. Kat has a beautiful extended walk. It didn't just happen overnight, but now that it is there, programed and ingrained in his mind, it's there for life.

So now what about the trot? If you take a picture of the horse in motion at the trot, when the horse is balanced, you *should* be able to draw parrallel lines thru the pairs of legs on the diagonals. From the knee to the pastern and hock to the pastern, the legs should be moving in a parallel and symmetrical motion. The horse may also reach forward and down, lifting the shoulders and stretching the back. When the horse does this it can be exciting as they move quite beautifully. This movement is what you're ultimately looking for.

Unfortunately it doesn't always happen right out of the gate. Even once you get this movement, it's an ongoing process of teaching the horse to maintain it. Part of it is developing the muscles for the horse to be able to maintain it. It's not like we can go out and run a marathon without preparing for it, right? So be reasonable about what you're asking and expecting from the horse.

One of the coolest things I've seen in training Kat and moving us up a level in competition, and this happened early on and still holds true today, is that once he learned to start using his body in the lines and then between the shafts, he continues to use his body differently even when he's turned out. Or maybe it happened the other way around and he moved balanced and fluid in turnout, I just figured out how to finally get it in harness.

Something else my pony did in the mornings when I fed, was that he would stretch all on his own. As I pulled in, I could see him stand up straight and arch his neck with his chin to his chest and he'd hold that for a few seconds before shifting back into the downward dog position for yoga. Again he would hold that stretch for a few seconds too. I always told him what a good boy he was and tried to be verbally excited about it with him. The barn he's at now, I can't see if he's still doing it or not. Bummer!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Creating a baseline



In the last post about actually working the horse in the lines, we really just got started and were trying to focus on getting the horse moving forward in the walk, turning both directions, stopping and being able to relax and listen. So what if your horse is having issues already? Shit happens, right? We All have 'That Horse' at some point, right? It's ok. I get it. Been there!

Another part of the post about working the horse in lines is to also focus on you. Why? As the person working the horse, you need to also be comfortable in handling the lines and also confident in yourself as you learn this new skill and teach your horse things. You need to be confident that you can do this.

Putting the lines thru the lowest rings and starting at the walk, allows you and your horse both a chance to settle into something new and different without a lot of room to fail. Ground driving and being behind the horse, makes it easier for you to steer or guide the horse and keep them moving forward where you want them to go. It gets them moving and familiar with hearing your voice behind them and it gets you moving and talking. Talking to the horse means you're breathing. When you breathe, they breathe. When you tense up, they tense up expecting something to happen. Breathe. Break that cycle.

If you're working your horse in a round pen, you can lengthen your lines and move to the center, letting the horse have the rail. You can also push them into a trot or canter. Watch the way they carry themselves in all of the gaits.This will give you a good idea of what your starying point is. If you have a way of taking pictures, even better. What you'd like to see is the horse moving in a balanced and relaxed manner. Their head may be lowered into amore submissive position, they may chew, they might take and let out a few deep breaths as they move along, or they may focus on something outside the rails, their head might be up, back hollow and not paying much attention to you at all. They might be freaked out over the idea of the lines being along their sides or whatever. Now is the time to watch your horse move and start to develop an 'eye' for things that you need to tweak here and there or fix in a major re-do.

So what are you seeing in your horse so far?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Moving forward

Ok so you have started your horse in long lines and have ground driven them a few times. Big deal, right? Well Yes!!!! It really, Really IS! Because once you get them going in the lines, you can let the horse/ pony/ mule/ donkey/ four legged beastie sort their own bad self out with a little guidance in the right direction from you. Should we call that a WIN? YOU BET! Why Wouldn't we?

Just yesterday I drove my little man. It all seems good fron the pic's, right?








What you Don't see from this is the battle of wills that happened on both the way out and the way back in.... On the way out a mule came up from our left, behind us a bit and Little Man couldn't see it, but could hear and smell the mule. Then on the way back in, he got a little wigged out over the reflectors marking the sides of a small culvert going under the driveway. Lately he has been throwing out things like this. As. If! Whatev's babe... I don't have time for that crap so he needs to get over it.

Tonight I put him to work. This is where your hard work in ground driving pays off in S.P.A.D.E.S! I put his work harness on and we went to the round pen. Once little man was warmed up and had blown off steam I took him to the heart of His issue. Using my lines to keep him moving straight ahead we went thru the reflectors and a little ways down the driveway. There was times Kat would pause and just stop altogether, but using my voice I pushed him on and kept him moving. I aimed him a bit to one side and turned him around to go back.

As we approached the culvert and reflectors again, I kept Kat moving forward and expected him to walk right past everything with no problem. That's exactly what he did this time. We went a little ways past the "scary spot" turned around and went back thru. We did this several times in both directions without issue, going thru close to one side both directions, close to the other side and straight up the middle. I didn't let Kat stop and look at things until I felt he was comfortable knowing nothing was going to get him. Then as we approached I would stop him and wait a few seconds, take a few deep breaths and then continue on.

I know its not practical to be able to ground drive your horse and face every scary spot or obstacle, but times like this, it is a useful way to let the horse deal with their problem on their own terms and with your guidance and support, they know they can get thru it without a problem. This is building their confidence in You as their herd leader and the horses trust in you that you're not going to put them in a bad spot and that you can get them out of it if the horse just listens to you.

I also realize that Kat and I are further along in our work in the lines than someone just starting out trying this. If you're not comfortable working your horse in long lines yet and they are having an issue with something, by all means, wait and deal with it another day. Build up your confidence in Your skills first and then you can work on things effectively and make progress. You want to try to always set your horse up to succeed when you can. Ground driving and long line work is like riding and many other things. You don't just pick up the lines Knowing all about how to do this. Some people are gifted and more talented at it than others, but with horses, we all learn new things as we go along.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Start simple



For anyone starting out, this can be confusing. It can be for your horse too, so I like to start simple so it is a good experience for everyone, both students and horses. I would rather use a surcingle and I have one so why not? If the horse is fresh, I give them the chance to blow off a little steam in the round pen or on a lunge line before we get started. This way their mind is settled and they're ready to work.



Because the livingroom floor doesn't move or fuss so I am able to take better pics this way. Besides it was raining again outside, probably because I had brought home a few sets of polos and the pad I use, had hosed everything down and hung it up to dry....

You'll notice the surcingle has a few sets of rings on it. For starting out, whether teaching someone how to do this or the first time in the lines with a horse, I like to start out with the lowest set of rings. These are the two out on the ends by the billets for the girth. These rings make it very easy for the person working the line and for the horse as well, to figure out that the right rein means bend or turn right, left rein, bend or turn left. Its pretty much the same concept with using a saddle and your lines run thru the stirrups. The pessure is coming from that side and the horse pretty much has to turn that way. With a young horse or one in the first few time in the lines, this also does a few things. It teaches them to bend and give laterally as well as making your cues pretty much exagerated with the correct response or answer being the obvious choice for the horse. So your teaching them to give to pressure, bend laterally and setting them up to do it right no matter what. Win!

So you're ready to start working your horse. Run the lines thru the lowest ring and snap them to your bit, you have your gloves on and you pick up your lines to get started. Again I like to keep things simple. I bridge my reins and if you've ever ridden with split reins you may already know what this means. If not, what this means is that the right rein comes into my hand thru the bottom and out thru the top, over to the left, in thru the top and out the bottom, laying out to the left side and behind me. The left rein comes up thru the bottom of the left hand, out the top and over to the right, in thru the top, out thru the bottom and laying off to my right side and behind. This way you can slide your hands up and down the reins, taking a shorter hold, letting the reins out and repositioning with little effort. With the lines spread out and going behind you on either side like this, it helps keep them from getting tangled and you ending up in a bad spot creating a mess in the making.



Ribbons has agreed to demonstrate bridging the reins, using two different colored phone charging cables to clarify things for us visual thinkers and below is how the reins go thru your hands, again with two different colors and only one hand since somehow I still had to take the pic.



I take my position a little behind the horse. For the most part I like to stay close enough they can hear me, but also just out of kicking range if they don't like the ropes touching them for whatever reason. It's also not a bad thing to just let the horse stand here for a little bit and take everything in. You don't want the horse to think, ok they picked up the lines we're ready to go now.... and start moving off without you. This is a good way for things to go south. The horse should wait until you're ready and ask them to move. With driving there are times you have to stop and wait so establishing that now pays off later on.

To begin I ask the horse to walk. That's all we will really worry about the first few times out. Later we can focus on developing the walk, but to get started we just want the horse to be relaxed and walk off quietly. I cluck kiss to get them going along with a firm "Walk on"". If the horse doesn't move, I may repeat it with a tug to the inside rein- whichever rein is on the inside of the pen or arena where you're working. If the horse still doesn't move I repeat it and tug a little more. The horse will eventually move off in that direction and may only take one step, but praise them for responding and moving. Try again and praise the response. If you get them moving and they want to turn around and face you, use your other rein to keep them from doing so.

If they walk off without much pushing on your part, again praise them and let them know this is what you wanted. Let them walk maybe a circle or two and quietly ask them to stop. You don't have to yell or haul in on the reins, but take a little contact and ask for the stop. If you don't get it, ask again. Whoa should be said calmly and soothingly. Stopping is a good thing. When they stop they get to relax and aren't going forward working. You're establishing your 'brakes' here and also building your horses trust that you're not going to be beating up their mouth with the reins and building their confidence that everything will be ok. When the horse stops, step forward and loosen up the lines a little. All pressure is off. They did what you wanted. Give them a minute to take it all in and process it and then ask them to walk on again.

If they move off without you asking them to, ask for the stop again. The horse is testing the boundaries and who's in charge. You don't need to get mad at them, just ask for the stop and wait for it. Just keep asking as long as it takes. Remember there is nothing personal about this. They are not trying to annoy you or piss you off. Eventually they will give in and stand, maybe even cocking a hind leg and really relaxing. Do a few stop and go's, then ask the horse to turn while walking and go the other direction. Stop and go some more in this direction, maybe change direction a few more times and quit there for the day.

Also when the horse is walking forward, remember to let the reins loosen up a little as you follow along behind the horse. You're asking them to go forward and when they are, you need to let them. As long as they are moving, you're job is to simply guide them and keep them going straight ahead, between the lines. You want your horse to work on a loose rein and this is no different.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Long line work, Part 1

A while back I had posted about doing long line work and Ground driving 101 and after reading it again, I really didn't give any tips or "how to" info.

Nope. Not much info there. So what to do? Well how about we start with equipment. If you plan on spending a good amount of time on the ground teaching the horse how to use their body, you'll probably want to invest in a decent surcingle. These are available online thru a number of companies- Dover, Jeffers, Spart Pak, Stateline, Big Dee's, Greenhawk and Valley Vet to name a few. Prices range from around $30 to a few $100 depending on what you want (synthetic vs leather, generic vs name brands) and how much you plan to spend. If you're working towards driving, the harness saddle can be used. I have the one from my good harness and also my old leather harness I started Kat in. I use either one, depending on the day.

You can also use a western saddle, tying your stirrups together underneath to limit swing and running the lines thru the stirrups. An English saddle can likely be used the same way or with the stirrups run up, but I personally haven't used mine or seen things done this way. That's not to say it can't be done, but just keep in mind the lines will be sliding thru your stirrups and possibly across the flaps if the stirrups are up and may eventually damage the leather.

Lines- can be either purchased or made. Local hardware and home improvement stores have 5/8" nylon rope in 100 foot lengths for around $10-$15 in a variety of colors. They also have snaps and you'll want to buy 3 snaps. Measure out 30' of rope and cut there. Melt the ends to stop them from fraying. Attaching a snap to this gives you a lunge line. The remaining length of rope should be 70'. Putting the ends together and cutting this in half, melting the ends, gives you 2 lines, 35' long. This is plenty of line for working a horse or pony. Attach the other 2 snaps to these lines and you're all set.

Bridle- this can be either a western or English bridle, I use both and or thos work, the reins will need to come off. My choice of bits is typicallya snaffle of some kind. Either a plain loose ring snaffle (on Kat), half cheek snaffle, an offset D-ring snaffle, regular D-ring snaffle or a loose ring French link. All relatively mild bits and something the horse/pony can be comfortable with. That's the biggest thing is using a milder bit and teaching the horse they can be comfortable with it and still respond. I did use a pony size pelham on Kat once. No it is not a 'legal' bit for driving and yes I did need to use 4 lines (that was interesting and fun) and it did accomplish what I was trying to get accross to him, but we ddidn't make a habit of it.

Another thing I like to use is gloves. Lets face it- riding or driving we wear gloves for a completed, finished look. Driving it is a requirement. May as well get used tp it now, right? My gloves are a heavy leather that I use not just for long line work but when doing stalls, loading/unloading hay? Moving brick, wood or whatever, to protect my hands. If the horse should pull the ropes thru your hands for any reason, gloves keep you from getting rope burns.

The next post we will get started. Hopefully things will have dried up enough that I can get some pics of the work and ways to start out to keep everything simple for both everyone and their horses.