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!