Sunday, June 25, 2017

Moving into the trot

Now that we have developed the walk, it is time to move on to the trot. Same principals apply, we want the horse moving forward with freedom of movement in a balanced and relaxed way of going. We will still be looking for the overstep in their stride and something else we will be looking for is that the legs on the diagonal are moving in hamony with each other. What does that mean?

When looking at pictures of horses moving at the trot, not only will there be overstep and sometime overreaching, (see photo below) but if you were to draw a line thru the cannon bone of the front leg and hind leg in the air- they should be parallel. If the front leg is in front of the parallel and going to be on the ground before the hind leg, the horse is heavy on the forehand. This is often paired with the horse having No overstep. This is typical as the horse hasn't learned how to move properly yet and if you look at them, most of their weight is in their front end anyways.

Developing the walk, we taught the horse to reach up under them with their hind legs and use their rear end more, engaging it and pushing themselves forward. With their hind legs coming up under them, it allows their front end to become lighter. Think of it like a teeter totter. If you're sitting in the middle and you want the board behind you to go down (rear end coming up under you) the board in front of you (the horses front end) will obviously go up making the horse lighter and more forward. In the photo of Kat, although he is built slightly downhill, he is moving in such a way that his withers are actully a touch higher than his rear end.

It is important to remember to be fair to the horse here. Their muscles are in development and they won't be able to hold this frame and way of moving for long. At first you may get a couple of strides at best in either direction. One reason is because 1) the horse is trying to figure out what you're asking them to do and 2) because they aren't used to actually doing it. We are trying to develop *New* muscle memory in their way of going. It takes time. Compare it to your own riding. Think about where you were at when you fist started and how far you've come to where you're at today. Think about the different muscles you use and how they remind us we weren't using them when we took a week or two off from riding.

Part of long line work is being able to take up contact and to remain soft and following when needed. Long line work is similar to riding. Same cues with your hands and reins, you're just on the ground, not in the saddle. If you have done ground work and lunging with your horse, they will be familiar with you asking for different gaits. As you ask them to move forward into the trot you will also take up contact. You're asking them to move up into the bridle and giving them a reference point of where they need to be.

This part is a balancing act for both of you. The horse finding that *sweet spot* where they are balanced in their movement and for you, where you know when to use a little more rein to bring them back, voice and body language to push them forward or when to praise them for doing it right and leave them alone otherwise. Too much of one, not enough of the other and some days it will feel like you're never going to get there. It won't happen overnight and some days it takes more to get it than others. It's not a race and keep in mind, you're just setting up the base of things to come later on.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sweet perfection

Last night I put my pony in long lines. I haven't driven him much or really worked him either in a long time. I think we've driven a whopping total of twice since the end of last summer. I pulled his old harness out and wrapped his legs since I couldn't find his boots right off, grabbed my lines and out to the round pen we went.

He wanted to start out by tearing around like a little maniac, but I wasn't having it. Since Aruba spoiled me with a horse that walks out a few laps to loosen up and then picked up the trot, I've switched over to that way of thinking for getting my horses going. It's so much nicer, seriously.

After he walked a bit in both directions and loosened up, I asked him to pick up a trot. He was right there and responded nicely, going into a beautifully balanced working trot. I let him go for a bit before asking him to really pick it up and give me an extended trot. Kat obliged and just rolled into it.

After a few times around, I signaled him for a regular working trot, then to slow down a little more in a collected trot. Again, he did what I asked without a fuss. I asked for a stop, walk forward, a few serpentines and changing direction. Picked up the trot, did a bit of collection, extension, then collection and called it good. My little man was a.w.e.s.o.m.e. in his work. For not having done anything in a while, its good to know he remembers everything. Any wonder why I love him?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Maybe a bit of rambling

Now that we have started to develop the walk, we can add things in the horses training and 'strengthen' the things they already know. This is laying a foundation in their work and when its done right, you will always have a place to come back to later on, to build from in the horses training. If the horse gets confused with something new, you can bring them back to something they know, let them relax and get their confidence back and then ask for the new thing again, maybe in a slightly different way that will help the horse to realize, the new movement is similar to this, which you know how to do, but there is a small change in 'how' I would like you to do it.

For example circles. Training involves a LOT of circles. Showing at training level of dressage we started with large circles. As Kat and I moved up to Prelim the circles got smaller, but his balance and way of going was expected to still be there in one aspect, but improved in another. I have also heard from several people showing either Prelim, Intermediate or Advanced, that once they moved up and the circles got smaller, that doing large circles had become more challenging and difficult to them as drivers and for their horses. Why? They started out doing large circles, but since working on smaller circles with less room for error and less time 'In' the circle, it holds your focus and that of the horse, not really allowing us to blow it. If you have a square arena and make a large circle inside the fence and mark the 4 places where the circle meets the rail, similar to using the 12, 3, 6 & 9 on a clock, on a large circle there is more ground to be covered going from 12 to 3, 3 to 6 and so on. Coming in even 10 feet off the rail at those four points, makes the circle and the distance between each point smaller.

When doing circles in any kind of pattern work, at home or in a class at a show, it is always good to look ahead at where you're going and wher you want the horse to go. Using the clock to visualize making your circle, looking ahead '15 minutes' is a way to break down the circle and make it more manageable, be it a large circle or a smaller one. So as you're making you way around from the 12 to the 3, as you move thru where the 1 is, you should be looking to where the 4 is. The 2 finds us looking at 5 and so on. This way when you reach the 3, its not a scramble all of a sudden to find the 6 and set your horse up in that one stride on the 3, to be in the position to make it to the 6.

The problem with making smaller circles and then trying to go back and make larger circles is that as riders and drivers, in the larger circles and especially at the slower gaits, walk and working trot, there is more time, more strides and distance to cover, allowing us more time to drift in or out of our circle making it egg shaped or many things other than round. Then we add in things like dropping our shoulder or hip, leaning, too much or too little rein, leg or any combination of both and our once round circle is anything but...

Personally I can admit to getting a bit lazy, maybe arrogant or whatever you choose to call it, but I look at larger circles and almost blow them off since Kat and I have evolved and improved enough that we don't 'need' to worry about or maybe even focus on doing large circles anymore. This sounds familiar, right? If it doesn't- Once I put him to the cart, we don't need to work in long lines anymore.... Yeah, that was my way of thinking. Was being the opperative word there. Just about every time I think, "Meh, we've done that and moved on. Why bother with 'That' anymore?" that's just about the time I realize there IS some reason to go back and do that work again once in a while. If for no other reason, than just as a refresher for both me and my horse. Usually when I go back for a refresher, that's when I find 'holes' in our work that need to be fixed.

The holes in our work many times turns out to be the path of self discovery that OMG! This is Me screwing things up for my pony or horse, because I'm doing or not doing this and many times sending them mixed signals for what I want or at least what I think I want. Yay Me! Shaking my head... lol It's a good thing that our horses are often very forgiving creatures. Thru these moments of self discovery we learn and grow as riders and drivers. We realize what we are doing and how it affects not just us, but our horse and our scores in the showring if we compete. Sometimes they also add another level of stress because that's one more thing I'm aware of screwing up, that affects my game and now because I'm focusing on that and trying to correct it- somthing else is not being addressed and we begin to spiral. Its ok. I totally get it because I do it too. Many of us do. This is why there is and always will be, something else to work on.

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


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?