Tonight, my young rider found her horse tense and spooky at the various secretive noises in the dark. The horse is very quick on his feet and very agile when he spooks so she was understandably nervous herself. I would like to share with you a few steps that I followed with this pair tonight which let them focus on each other and finish relaxed and content.
I took the horse to the lounge pen and worked with him in-hand focusing on three main elements:
1) yield response to the poll pressure. He has naturally high head carriage which he uses to his full advantage to see everything around. We worked towards him dropping his neck on light downward pull on the lunge line which the rider then did herself too. It gave her immediate attention of the horse and now she can work on this for it to become his conditioned reply.
2) lateral neck yield. The horse being tense and outward focused responded by quickly spinning to the left and right with his hindquarters every time he was asked to move his neck but with repetitions, he began to relax and yielded the neck a few inches without his whole body following. Again it gave the rider a tool to gain his attention as well as having a suppling effect on the tensed body of the horse.
3) calm walk and trot on the lunge. We worked through a few spooky moments to finish on much softer, more peaceful but still forward gaits first with me then with the rider. Again the slight vibrating pressure on the lunge line helped the rider to call for horse’s attention and for lowering of the neck.
The above work lasted about 20 minutes which improved the horse’s focus and relaxation.
Once on, we worked for further 30 minutes on large circles and leg yields which transformed him from a tense escape-waiting-to happen into a quietly relaxed horse ready to listen to his rider. The rider was rather relieved too and found her nerves disappearing with the horse’s calmness.
We did all the ridden work in walk to prioritise the horse’s obedience and trust in the rider as well as to build the rider’s self-confidence.
It was such a positive session even though it could have gone very wrong which prompted me to write this quick post before it escapes me. Sometimes, the less is more formula really is the most effective and benefitial one.
I’m running a busy little grassroots clinic tomorrow so off to catch some sleep.
Today I would like to invite anyone who is up for it to take part in a little “first time when” challenge 🙂 I will start with my own “first time when” video… I can’t even start to tell you how many things I see wrong on it 😉
One rider told me today that she would love to go up a level competing wise but she knew she did not want to feel like a beginner again. Do you stay in your comfort zone of competency to avoid the discomfort of progress?
Let’s face it, raw progress is not particularly comfortable or graceful but it has never meant to be. My first experience of trying to ride passage was a mishmash of trying too hard, searching for the right feel, seeking connection and harmony with the horse and losing it with each step, creating power which I had no idea how to contain, trying to remain relaxed while maintaining tension needed for the movement…it was a mess!
I am quite ok with that for now. One of many riding goals I want to pursue is the skill of riding at Grand Prix level. Finances allow, I would like to compete at that level too. In the meantime, I am enjoying the “beginner” stage at that level and I hope to inspire many riders this year to set their own “progress goals” too 🙂
Your turn! What’s your “goal in progress”? If you have a video, link to it in the comments! Share your “first time when” on the way to the future skill you are working to acquire 🙂
The main competition season is approaching and you are training hard to prepare for your first show. You start to feel those very familiar nerves from last weekend. What if I make a mistake in my riding? What if my horse spooks? What if we forget the test? These are only a few of the million questions that are probably floating around in your head. And I’m here to encourage you to forget about them all. You can choose to stop worrying, and instead ride for the love of the sport.
And why should you focus on doing that? You have goals, you have ambitions, and you want to improve. Of course these all play a role in helping you enjoy the upcoming competition season and perform at your best, but these are only possible if you remember why you ride: for the love of the sport.
Research has shown that the biggest predictor of burnout or loss of an athlete’s performance is due to the interest in their sport decreasing. Of course there will be times you love the sport more than others, but constantly reminding yourself of the positives will help your focus, performance, and enjoyment. It will also help you to bounce back from defeat quicker and adapt to new challenges better. So what are some of the positives of riding? I’ve outlined some of my favourite points below.
It allows me to build a special relationship with a horse.
It makes it possible for me to experience those special moments of harmony when I’m one with the horse.
It enables me to keep forever learning & growing as a person and rider.
It keeps me healthy and fit.
It allows me to exercise in fresh air.
It helps me connect with nature.
I find a sense of belonging by socialising with the other riders at the yard.
These are only a few of the many things which remind me why I love the sport so much. Now I want you to come up with your own list!
Think of at least 5 things which remind you why you ride. Have this list somewhere handy and have a look through it when you’re feeling unmotivated or getting too stressed out about competing. Keep going back to it, and adding to it. It’s a great tool that will remind you to ride for the love of the sport and enjoy your riding more!
Good luck in your riding adventures & until next time!
Susanna Halonen is a Finnish rider based in Southeast England. She offers positive psychology coaching to help you to get the most of your riding, be it enjoyment or performance wise. You can follow her blog here: http://shdressage.co.uk/
[Equihunter] The phenomenal growth in popularity of the new show jumping league Cashjumping™ continues as it is announced this morning that the first competition will be held in Northern Ireland this coming Saturday 1st March.
The Meadows Equestrian Centre – Northern Ireland’s centre of excellence for equestrianism
In an announcement this morning (25th Feb) Bryan Shear was delighted to announce that CashJumping™ has crossed the Irish Sea and is now available in Northern Ireland and soon to be available in Southern Ireland as well.
The Meadows Equestrian Centre has signed an exclusive deal that franchises the Cashjumping league within the region under the new banner CashJumping™ Ireland. The MEC will be taking full control of Cashjumping in Ireland and will be running their own results tables and prize grid. The winnings registered will stay within the territory…
The phrase that made the title of today’s post is what someone had typed into google a few days ago and came across Aspire’s blog. I watch the “search engine terms” for clues on what to write about to bring helpful content to you dear readers out there. Other terms along the same line in the last week were “hollowing in canter transitions”, “correct upsidedown neck horse bitless”, “pony wont go on the bit”, “in teaching to ride horses how do you teach them to drop the neck”…It seems at least some of you are landing on Aspire blog when searching for answers so I thought I ought to get a post together.
I am quite aware that there are many ways of teaching this and even more ways of training this as far as horse schooling goes so hey, this is just one of many ways which I found agrees with what I love about riding and training as well as how I personally enjoy to teach. I am also more than aware that what I am about to write is not something one can just read and be able to do. You might have to dig for more information, practice, practice, practice and ask more questions. I do hope though that it will be helpful to some of you. I would also love you to leave comments with any questions if anything doesn’t make sense or to share your own methods and ways of training, riding and teaching.
Why we don’t want giraffe expressions
I like to know the “why” before I start on the “how to” so let’s have a quick summary of why do we want the horse to work with “his nose dropped”, and do we?
To put it simply, we want the horse to extend his neck out and forward when ridden in his early education because we want him to use his neck and head as a support for his back muscles when he is doing the carrying job. The head and neck of a riding horse could be imagined as his “balance weight” that helps him deal with rider’s weight from balance point of view as and when we want them to perform for us.
So to sum up, the why is: we want the upper neck to take part in carrying us in a passive way (dropped and hanging with own weight). We acknowledge that our weight is “the other side of the scales” and any issues with our seat will affect the neck carriage. We want the bottom of the neck (muscles responsible for active bringing of the head to the chest) to remain relaxed and passive. In this position the upper neck muscles will build up and strengthen progressively allowing for relaxed back muscles to also progressively strengthen and develop into a strong “bridge” for the rider to sit on.
The exercises shape the horse
Now, the way I see it, it’s the gymnastic exercises that will encourage and maintain the lower, relaxed neck position, not any “setting” of the neck by various gadgets. I am aiming this post towards riders with horses that for whatever reason, be it incorrect previous schooling, previous job, illness, lameness etc, work in inverted (giraffe like) postures. However, as you can see on photos above of the grey horse and his novice rider, I would use the same principles whether working with an unspoilt or a problem horse.
To get the longitudinal flexion (from tail to head i.e. nose down) you need to have a degree of lateral flexion.
In other words, for the horse to be able to work consistently with his neck relaxed and lowered while ridden, he can’t be too crooked. He needs to be able to bend his body to the left and to the right with some ease. The easiest and possibly one of the most efficient ways to work on this with inverted horses is via work in-hand.
You will need:
a) Cavesson – I would suggest getting hold of a sturdy lunging cavesson with a central ring (on top of the nose). This allows for precise placing of the horse’s nose in the middle of his chest without pulling on his mouth.
b) Lunge line
c) Lightweight dressage whip that your horse is not scared of
Draw a 15m or 20m circle on the surface if you tend to lose your geometry 🙂 Walk with your horse so his feet are on the line you have drawn and yours on circle one meter smaller. With one hand hold the lunge line close to the horse’s head and gently move it forwards to encourage the horse to follow it. Hold the whip with the other hand but be watchful not to stress the horse. It’s better that he walks slower than faster to start with.
Aim at horizontal neck position, level with the wither. If the horse continues to walk with a very high head carriage, take him in a very slow walk on a small circle (about 6m diameter) and do 3-4 small circles placing his head and neck on the line of that circle. You might find, that it will be very difficult for your horse going one way, and relatively easy the other. Be patient and only place his head on the line of the circle every second, third stride to start with.
Once he is walking calmly next to you, use your hand with the whip to touch him in the girth area when his inside hind leg is in the air. You can use a word you would normally use when you groom and want your horse to step away. Let’s say, you say “over”. Touch him at the girth, say “over” and aim for his inside hind leg stepping deeper under his belly and slightly across (but not crossing over in front of the outside hind leg). You want him to gently yield away from your touch through his ribcage. Repeat this until you get a good timing and the horse moves his inside hind leg well underneath his barrel. Don’t forget to guide the head and neck around the line of your circle.
If your horse is quiet and accepts the whip well as a schooling tool not a punishment, you can tap him gently on his lower inside hind leg as it is in the air so he bends it more and as he moves away from the tap, he should place that hind leg deeper under his centre of gravity.
If your horse falls in onto you/his inside shoulder, halt and ask him to move away from you as if asking for one, two steps of turn on or about the haunches. Repeat this every single time you feel your horse losing balance and falling in or is barging onto you. Don’t get annoyed. Repeat 100 times if you need to. After some time, just you starting to ask him to off-load the inside shoulder will get him to shift his weight onto his outside hind leg and rebalance his body.
What does this circle walking exercise do?
It effectively bends the horse and teaches him to shift weight in his body achieving better balance…Just letting your horse run around on the lunge is never going to help because he will still remain crooked without your corrections. Gadgets do provide “visual” result to some extent but the draw back is, they can and do create many compensation patterns in the horse’s body. They also provide no education to the rider/handler. In-hand work teaches feel and timing which in turn teaches the rider to balance the horse. Without basic balance and body control there is no relaxed “nose down and forwards”.
As the inside hind leg steps under the body mass, the ribcage swings to the outside. The muscles on the outside stretch. The muscles on the inside contract. If done correctly, this exercise should give you a horse that is happy to lower his neck as lateral bend automatically encourages longitudinal bend…
Repeat this fun & games for 15min 3 x a week every time before you get on (but not day after day – let muscles rest for a day before repeating). You want to get to the point when you are able to walk away from the horse and lunge him while he maintains this healthier posture on your cues. It will take time but don’t give up. Once you can get it off horse, jump on and repeat the same process from the saddle.
In the saddle
Go on your drawn 20m circle. Use opening rein to guide your horse’s head and neck but whatever you do don’t pull down. Be elastic and sympathetic with outside contact as your horse learns. Regulate the size of circle with it but don’t be too rigid or strong or your horse might not be able to relax his neck muscles. With your inside leg, touch your horse in the same way as you did with your hand on the ground and use the same word command you used on the ground. Your aim is to step your horse’s inside hind leg under his belly (under your seat) with each step he takes. Ask with good timing. You will have watched your horse’s steps from the ground so you will have known the frequency of the steps before you do this from the saddle. The key is to aid when the inside hind leg is in the air (you can also feel it under your seat bones if you sit well in neutral pelvis position – your inside seat bone will drop on the side of the leg that is in the air) so the horse is able to place it differently to where he planned to (if you aid when the leg is already planted on the surface you will just waste your time).
Each rein will come with its own set of difficulties. Instead of thinking good rein/bad rein, think what needs doing on each. For example: In one direction he will drift out more, on the other fall in more.
As you circle, think of riding “mini leg yields” but stop before your horse attempts to drift. You only want him to move his inside hind leg under the barrel and as after-effect, bulge his ribcage to the outside, all while you gently guide his nose to the inside. Think about doing it in harmony with his steps and do it slowly. From time to time give an inch of the reins forward and observe if the horse is willing to follow the rein down.
If your horse repeatedly falls in onto his inside shoulder, use indirect rein on the inside which will transfer his weight from that heavy inside shoulder to the outside hind leg (in a similar way he did on the ground). Don’t over do it. Aid once or twice and in harmony with the movement. Never pull back. Direction of pressure is towards your belly button, not down, not back.
Again if done well, it should encourage lateral and longitudinal bending in walk. Make sure you do this exercise on both reins and only for 15-20 min at a time. If your horse is severely under-muscled or weak, keep the sessions very short. 10 minutes is plenty. Muscles doing “new” work tire very easily and if your horse starts feeling discomfort during this work, he will find new ways to resist that discomfort.
Repeat the same work in trot…
Stay on circles guiding your horse’s inside hind leg underneath him and making sure your are placing his shoulders on the line of your circle. You might have to jog alongside your horse (good for fitness!) if he isn’t able to bend at all and falls in. Do the same work as in walk aiming to eventually be able to move away and him staying bent, reacting to your body language when you point towards his hindleg, his girth area or his shoulder.
Change directions often and remember: opening rein, never direct rein on the inside. Never pull down either, it only contracts the lower neck muscles and causes the ugly looking, uncomfortable posture in both you and the horse.
Here’s the interesting bit…Your body language, your timing and your actions are what will explain to your horse what posture you want from him. It’s an education in itself that goes over and beyond any work any gadget can give you or your horse. Your ridden aids will make more sense too.
Take pride in figuring this out and don’t be ashamed to ride “above the bit” as you go through this process. With time and patience, your horse will build correct muscles and be able to maintain “dropped nose” for longer periods of time.
Please note: all above exercises are best tried with a supervision of an experienced instructor first.
The news of the day is that we came 2nd in Category: Best Use of Social Media by a Riding School at 2014 Equestrian Social Media Awards! Huge thank you to everyone who voted for Aspire and to the ESMA judges who decided we were worthy the mention 🙂
Congratulations to the People’s Choice Winner Donegal Equestrian Centre and Judge’s Choice 1st Place: Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship!
Here’s to another year of providing online help and general social usefulness in the form of Aspire social media channels (watch this space!)
Thank you once again for each and every single vote!
Riding might be an art and science married together which makes it seemingly a bottomless well of possibilities but let’s try to short list a few things an average ambitious rider can do to better their skills month after month instead of stagnating in one murky pond 😉
There is no particular order here:
1) DO the Dreaming and the Wishing
For every dreamy, wishful thought, have 10 action thoughts. The power of dreams lies in acting upon them. Imagine yourself doing things very well. Then make a detailed plan of action for each of those things. Work backwards from the imagined outcome and educate yourself on time scales for each step. However, don’t be scared or put off by the amount of time it might all take. Working on your dreams or goals can be a dream process in itself 🙂
2) Find an instructor whose values line up with yours
Search for the best one for your current situation and best one you can afford. Why the same values? Because if you line up those, you will often be happy with the methods used too.
I hear some of you saying, I don’t need an instructor to do well, have you not seen International Velvet? Ok, let’s look at a few facts:
Even to play Sarah Brown, Tatum O’Neal went through an intensive training prior the movie with Marcia Williams, a member of USEF National Show Jumping Hall of Fame (oh and later awarded the USEF Living Legend Award). “During production in England, four British and American Olympic medallists also worked with Tatum”*. Apparently, she showed a lot of talent and could have gone on to great things if she wanted to take up riding professionally. Aaaand, it’s Ginny Leng riding in the more “riding” scenes…
I am not saying there are no riders out there with exceptional body awareness, horse sense, discipline, commitment and passion (aka talent) so if you are one of those, great. Maybe you can skip on point no 2 and just watch as many lessons as you can instead. But if you are part of an average riding crowd (and no shame in that, I consider myself an average rider too) and you want to better yourself step by step, look out for trainers who can guide you, who never stop learning and who genuinely want you to ride better (not just for your horse to go better).
3) Live in a moment but ask what’s around the corner
Do your best to do the best you can in your lessons but ask questions…you want to know if your instructor has any sort of plan for your learning (if you ride with them regularly that is). What skill is leading to what outcome. What’s the plan to work on this or that. You want your instructor to have an idea for you (and for your horse), an individual plan of action for your particular riding adventures (and/or your horse’s development).
4) Push yourself before you push your horse
Like in every sport, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to progress and that includes the horses too. It’s never easy to go through that push so if you tend to get negatively emotionally involved with your horse’s difficulties, put yourself through similar experience first…Ask around and find a trainer who is impatient, easily frustrated with his/her pupil and takes your physical inability to follow his/her instructions personally. Go for someone who gets easily annoyed when your struggle when you try and fail. You want to truly experience that feel of emotionally draining training that’s on the verge of bullying. Then, next time when you are tempted to do the same to your horse, think how effective it was…
If you are planning to push your horse to their limits in terms of physical performance, get yourself a session with a positive personal trainer who will make you work like no tomorrow. Be it running, cycling, weight lifting or extreme yoga – try out the total body workout. Make some notes. Adjust your horse training accordingly…
5) Demand only what you can keep up with
Being a good rider means being in harmony with your horse, supporting them with your own body action and matching their effort. Be prepared to do the work with your horse. If they need to be more supple, work on your own suppleness too, if they need to be stronger through their abdominal muscles, get on that workout too, if they need to be mentally calmer, you might need too…You know this saying “show me your horse I will tell you who you are”?
It’s supposed to be a very quick guide so I will stop here 🙂 What would you add to this list if we were to make it into a Full Guide? Add your own suggestions 🙂
Spring is definitely in the air in many areas of the UK. I am really looking forward to welcoming riders who grabbed the early bird offer on Aspire’s fresh new 2014 courses starting on the 8th of March and hope the sun won’t let us down 🙂 There are a few places still available so if you would like to join in, get in touch In the meantime, I’ve just looked through my diary to make a rough plan ahead. I prefer to take bookings about 4-6 weeks up front for weekends and intensive training days to help riders plan their work-life-hobbies diaries 🙂
Why are we so obsessed with a closed mouth? Could it be because an opened mouth clearly shows all shortcomings in the training? Or perhaps because we fear lack of control? Maybe because our mark for submission will hit rock bottom if our horse plays Ed the Talking Horse throughout our dressage test?
I want to share my views with you but please don’t treat it as a should, ought to do this way type of post. I would like to invite you to explore this issue with me, let’s be open minded together (no pun intended here).
Symptoms vs Causes
Teeth issues aside, the way I see it, a horse that continuously or intermittently works with his mouth open or a tongue out or wriggled over the bit is communicating that the work is either too difficult, too stressful, too uncomfortable or simply painful. If we tighten our nosebands and punch additional holes in our flashes, to me, it’s like trying to cure an upper respiratory infection by taping the coughing person’s mouth shut. Or holding sneezing person’s nose shut (apparently, sneezing is the closest we ever come to death caused by own body functions since all our breathing apparatus shuts so please don’t fiddle with sneezing at home*).
Strapping the horse’s mouth shut is simply fighting the symptom of something we might have no time or inclination to work on.
Symptoms can be positive too..For example, calm and content submission (perhaps cooperation would be a better word?) is a symptom of good, structured, progressive training. Not something “to work on” per se…What’s your take on this?
Not all issues we have with our horse’s mouth come from current training. Many a time I go to teach someone with a new-ish horse who is said to “have always been like this”. Large number of grassroots horses have some issues with their mouths because they have various physical issues that were skipped on, not worked on and continue to not be worked on. Similarly, ex-racehorses have variety of mouth behaviours more or less severe depending on their early training.
I find the best way to deal with the issue, as with many others, is to first of all, detach oneself from the horse’s problem enough as to be able to look at the situation from “the outside” and not take horse’s reactions personally (as many riders do).
Look from the Outside
Have you ever seen a bi-laterally supple, poll supple, elastic horse moving with lovely throughness that works with an open, tense mouth? I personally never have. “Mouthiness” can mean many things:
– I’m only learning
– I’m still unsure of the metal on my tongue
– my poll is tight
– I am not ready for this movement
– I am stressed about what you are about to do
– my poll is twisted the other way, can’t you see?
– your direct rein is too strong, you are pulling me back
– your seat makes me unbalanced so I have to use my neck to help me and so my neck muscles tense and so my sternocephalicus muscle opens my mouth…
– my muscles are contracted on this side so when you pull I want to resist the discomfort I feel
– I’m on the forehand and losing my balance so I am getting worried
– I am scared
– I don’t understand
– I hate the bit pressure on my tongue
There are some fantastically athletic horses with not a dot of pain in their bodies that do have “mouth issues”. If you have a horse like that, it’s the natural body asymmetry that is often the issue.
Assessing the situation
Be a detective. Sherlock if you must. Investigate which muscles in your horse’s body are not doing the work they need to be doing for a riding horse to be able to do his job without discomfort.
Be a therapist. You know these doctors or nurses who look at you like a number on their paperwork and even though they might be very good at what they do, you know very well the difference between them and the other doctor and that other nurse who seem to genuinely want you to get better? Switch that “I want to understand how to help you” attitude in your schooling and I bet you that your horse will feel the difference too…It is also helpful for those riders who are short-tempered or get frustrated easily…
Be a Trainer. Push when you need to push but recognise signs of muscular tiredness. If your giraffe impersonating horse drops his head to the ground after an hour it doesn’t mean he finally understood what to do…it means his neck muscles can no loner support his longissimus dorsi (long back muscle) and although everything slacks and relaxes it’s not the right time to “get to the proper schooling” but time for a pat and rest…
We can still learn a lot from military horse training…they would ride young and older “green” horses with dismounted breaks…They schooled an element but as soon as horses showed discomfort or tiredness of back or neck muscles, they would get off and walk with the horse for a few minutes so the muscles could de-contract, blood flow to them again properly. Then they would get back on and continue.
Nowadays, many instructors are taught to “not let him win”, “go after him until he gives in” and so they pass this knowledge on; many riders can’t feel the minute tension problems because one gadget or another, tight flash or crank noseband are effectively hiding those gentle signs the horse is giving. When little signs are missed, they escalate and become larger and larger. The horse starts shouting in his own way.
Concentration and Connection
Have you ever watched young kids when they try to do something very well but the activity is still fairly new to them?
Bodies and minds of all mammals (and all animals with nervous systems?) are intricately connected. We say, when a horse chews or moves its jaw a little when we work with him, that he is “thinking”. Yet, we see many 4 and 5 year old horses with their mouths strapped shut. Logic?
When you look at horse’s head and neck muscles and realise how tongue muscle eventually connect to front legs’ muscles via neck muscles it is worth asking a question: “How much a mouth problem is really a mouth problem and how much it is a body development process”? How much of a mouth issue is our own “let’s get there faster” problem? When I school a horse I always try to tighten demands on myself as a rider and trainer first, polish my seat, my hands, my arms before rising standards for the horse’s work.
If you are riding and competing for pleasure and results, stay safe and adjust your tack as you think you need to but spare a thought next time you are doing up your noseband or your flash…
What about you? What are your thoughts on this? If you teach, how do you address mouth opening in your clients’ horses? What do you do if you have this issue with horses you ride?