Category Archives: horse training

Loose Jumping – preparation, exercises and benefits

When done well, loose jumping can be of great value to the overall training of both horse and rider.

Loose jump Collage 2.jpg
Left – Roulette, Right – Boo. Loose jumping to improve suppleness through the shoulder and back

PREPARATION

I personally like if the horse lunges well and responds to body language of the handler without undue stress or worry. I like that the horse goes forwards when asked and slows down when asked and does so reliably as when jumps come into play the excitement can sometimes override training.

It’s a good practice to do 1-2 loose schooling sessions letting the horse trot and canter in the corridor (built alongside the wall with poles, stands, fillers) without anything in it yet to jump. The idea is to get the horse to travel in a calm manner through the corridor, maintaining rhythm and tempo.

If they tend to lose balance in the corners or go into them too deeply, it might help to put a pole on the ground across the corner to encourage smoother turns.

ONE JUMP CORRIDOR

For horses that never loose jumped or young horses learning to jump, I like the single jump in the middle of the corridor and oxer is often a good first choice as it invites the horse to jump out of the stride.

Watching young horses learn to set pace and distance to those jumps is fascinating and a great lesson for the rider who will ride the horse to the jump later.

LINES

For horses who have some experience loose jumping and for older horses with various undesirable jumping habits, well thought lines could be a super addition to their jump training.

I personally like the lines with bounces leading to oxers as they tend to teach focused, energetic entry into the line, quick front and back end action with a good weight shift from front legs to back legs and vice versa followed by an onwards, positive strides to the oxers. I have seen a very good results with those kind of lines in horses that tend to jump tight or hollow in the back or don’t open through the shoulders over the jumps.

 

If video above doesn’t show, you can view it directly on Instagram HERE

My other favourite ones are those that correct possibly the most common habit in horses ridden by less experienced riders and that’s shortening of the stride on take off (chipping in). By clever placement of the ground poles and adjustment of the distances, the horse can build its own confidence in finding the optimal stride and the rider can watch the horse as it does so.

EXAMPLES OF BENEFITS TO HORSES AND RIDERS 

  • great re-training tool for horses with difficult jumping habits (hollow back, dangling front leg(s), crooked jumping etc)

  • good introduction to jumping for young horses

  • develops a thinking, aware horse that learns to act on his tempo and adjust energy for efficient jumping efforts

  • re-establishing confidence in horse’s natural ability without influence of the rider

  • riders learn to “read” their horse’s movement on the approach, take off and landing which can improve harmony with the horse when mounted

  • riders learn to “read” the distance in relation to tempo by observing how the horse tackles different problems

  • riders learn to understand their own horse’s preferred jumping style which can help to decrease unnecessary interference

  • riders build own confidence in their horses’ ability to jump “by themselves” (especially good for riders who over-ride and try to “carry their horse over the jump”)

  • riders can observe and understand the biomechanics of the jumping horse, how they use their neck, back, shoulder so when mounted, the riders actions like sufficient give with the hand or not sitting down too early on landing, increase in meaning and importance.

Starting a young horse – an untold story of hoof proprioception?

Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual,” and capio, capere, to take or grasp, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

Here’s how it might go: 

A horse grows up on a farm, free to roam, eat and play.

At 3 years of age or so he is sat on, bridled, worked with a little and turned away for some months to continue growing and maturing.

At 4 years of age or so, he is entering “the real world” – he is starting his schooling. Only in short sessions at first to condition his bones and muscles and to mentally prepare him for more and more concentration required.

He goes out hacking to see the world and…

Oh – he gets “footy” on the roads, on stones, on rough bridle paths etc so he needs a shiny set of shoes. Yes, now he is “all grown up” and ready to be “a real horse”…

How about…

foot sense

If you have children you may have come across the above – it’s called a Foot Sense workshop and it is aimed at introducing children’s feet to various surfaces…More about it here: www.natureandnurture.co.uk

It would be rather interesting if there were “hoof proprioception” workshops for young horses/horses starting their ridden training, wouldn’t it? 

How about, if every young horse producer allowed for hoof proprioception to develop slowly in the same way as we allow for musculoskeletal system of a young horse to adjust to rider’s weight and the pressures of training?

How about, if every young horse’s diet was considered a big game changer when it comes to hoof health and “footiness” was not assumed to be caused only by surfaces as such?

How about, if every young horse was not considered fit to have their training increased in intensity until their feet can cope with demands of that training?

How about, we think about hooves in a similar way we think about muscles, bones, nervous system? How about, if a horse feels the stoney ground differently to a soft sand and rubber surface and shortens the steps accordingly, doesn’t by default mean that his feet are ill but rather that they are simply healthy (feel well) and still weak? Like the rest of his untrained body?

Would that possibly mean that the statement that “most horses need shoes when they start their training” didn’t have to be true? 

Just some questions to stir your Sunday afternoon 😉

Should I buy a young horse as my first horse? – a very short look at preliminary considerations…

A question of this character makes a frequent appearance in Aspire blog’s “search terms” so I feel I should share at least a few thoughts on the subject from time to time 🙂

Oscar 8 months apart
Oscar, a young gelding showing how many physical changes can happen in a space of 8-9 months…

BLANK CANVAS

The most appealing quality of youngsters is their so called “unspoilt” nature. Older horses come with their baggage and here is a chance to train a blank canvas. If you are a good painter, have a decent ability to handle your tools well, you have a high chance of creating a nice painting on that canvas, something of a pleasing quality that brings enjoyment to you and many who come to see your work.

If you are just learning your acrylics from your watercolours, you might really benefit from some faint sketch to follow so the shapes make sense…maybe some education on mixing colours so they match those in real life…

Consider:  if despite your inexperience you are set on purchasing a young horse, you might want to surround yourself with a good support team that can step in quickly when needed. This is sometimes seen as a weakness but is anything but. It shows the knowledge and appreciation of the horse’s learning process, development of habits and confidence.

FIRST HORSE – YOUNG HORSE?

I often see riders being advised against buying their first horse if it is a youngster. As a general rule, I agree. However, if you took your time to educate yourself well, rode many different horses and handled variety of them at various stages of their life, don’t let the general rule stop you from investigating the possibility further.

If a notion of bringing on your own young horse drives you to acquire the necessary skills, then you might not take the general rule too seriously.

Consider: your level of experience and knowledge of training (be honest with yourself), your ability to work on natural crookedness of a young horse, natural lack of balance, natural hollowness of the back, natural curiosity of the world and natural unpredictability of reactions to that world..

ANATOMY, PHYSIOLOGY and MENTAL SIDE OF THINGS

Knowing how horses develop anatomically and physiologically, even if in simple terms only, is an absolute must for anyone who takes on a challenge of educating a youngster. The body changes can be huge in a relatively short space of time. Those changes call for adjustments in tack, nutrition, riding demands, rider position, type of training…

Then there is mental and emotional maturity that can only develop well if the rider is aware of what he/she needs to work on.

Consider: if you are a competent rider but lacking knowledge in the above department, don’t give up – consider involving a trainer who will keep you in check and help you read the changes well. Sometimes eyes on the ground and an experienced seat in the saddle a few times a month is all you need to keep everything under control.

RIDING TIME

This is probably least mentioned aspect of owning a young horse. Many first time owners want to spend a lot of time with the horse, go for longer rides, fun rides, hacks with friends, schooling shows etc etc There are many views on young horse training including how much “stress” is too much and how much is necessary for learning to happen, but one thing is pretty sure: you don’t spend a long time on a young horse’s back…

Consider: youngsters thrive on short sessions, 25-30 minutes is often more than enough for a schooling time. Long rides are out of question for young, growing bones and unfocused minds. Variety is paramount to learning but so is routine and structure to the training.

CONFIDENCE

Young horses have an uncanny ability to know a leader from a boss – leadership comes from confidence in purpose, tasks and actions whilst bossiness, well, they see through it and they will catch any inconsistency.

Consider: you don’t have to be the bravest, most fearless rider to go for a young horse. Sure, it helps to be brave but I don’t believe it is necessary. Look at your level of confidence in your training methods, your handling methods and yourself as a person. Quiet confidence helps with patience, assertiveness, persistence and open mindedness…The qualities that have the power to bring on a well educated young horse.

That’s it for now. If I see more of these kind of searches in the blog’s stats, I will try to bring more content on this subject 🙂 Please feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Wiola

Snippets from the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference

ISES
Read more about the Conference here: http://www.ises2015vancouver.com/#!schedule/c1cdx

 

And finally, a quote that really surprised me…I would like to know more about this statement…

Side Reins and how they can work against your best intentions (as seen at British Eventing Dauntsey Park Horse Trials)

I get it. We all want the best for our horses and sometimes we use different training methods. What works for one horse, doesn’t work for another and all that.

However, with all the world wide web education, with coaching becoming more and more professional, with training becoming more and more focused on equine soundness and longevity – why do we still see things like this at an affiliated British Eventing event…?

side reins main pic

I thought I would just jot a few points as shown by the bay horse on photos for those of you who perhaps do use side reins with best intentions but would like some help in knowing whether they really work for your horse or not.

PHOTO 1:

side reins 3

Notice that even though the lunger is lunging the horse to the right, his whole body is inverted and twisted. I do have a video of this horse but I chose not to post it since it shows the lunger and it is not my intention to shame anyone. Suffice to say, the bay sustained this posture for most of the time he was lunged. This is not beneficial for the riding horse and in fact, can cause plethora of issues when ridden: poll discomfort/locking, avoidance of the contact, tight shoulder muscles, choppy stride upon rein contact to name just a few.

It also “teaches” the horse a very dysfunctional posture on a circle.

PHOTO 2

side reins 4

The same horse a few circles later, still going to the right…Notice how his wither is tilted to the inside, how he commits his weight to his inside shoulder and then rescues his balance by moving his neck out. Now imagine sitting on this horse…You would feel as if you were “falling in” and motorbiking around the corner/circle. You would feel as if you were sliding to the inside with more weight on your inside seat bone. The horse might feel as if he is “pulling” on your inside rein and you “have nothing” in your outside rein.

A lesson from Photo 1 and 2: a very unnecessary “training” is going on that teaches the horse to look after oneself in a way that is bound to make him load his limbs unevenly and potentially make him unsound long term.

PHOTO 3

side reins 5

Notice: the horse looks fairly upright through the wither (no more motorbiking) but notice an odd buldge/broken line at the base of his neck on the outside followed by a tilt at the poll to the outside. The horse is trying his best to mould himself into the contraption of the side reins and creates an unhealthy posture once again. Instead of curving the neck very gently to the inside and flexing at the poll to the inside, his neck takes a shape of an “S” letter and that is neither promoting soundness nor better marks in dressage.

Lesson from Photo 3: Look after your horse’s neck, once the horse learnt to be afraid of the bit and squashed himself into dysfunctional, ugly looking broken neck line, it is not easy to gain his trust again and re-train those “bonsai-ed” muscles.

PHOTO 4: 

side reins 2

At first glance you might say that from the wither on, the neck line doesn’t look too contorted but how much this is wrong and how constricted the horse really is you can see in the action, or lack of it, of his hind legs and in the stiff line of his back. The neck, that is an important balance tool for the horse, is blocked. His balance is non existent – he is forehand heavy and avoids adding any more push from behind so he doesn’t cartwheel over his head…His handles are “behind him” rather than “underneath him”.

The lunger is determined for him to go forward but he can’t having been restricted so much in front. The lunger chases him and an awful, disjointed, unbalanced, angry and inverted to the outside trot follows (Photo 5 below).

PHOTO 5

side reins main pic

 PHOTO 6

side reins 6

Behind the light bay horse (who on Photo 6 is testing another option – tensing the muscles on both sides of the neck and leaning onto the bit and side reins) is a dark bay horse that is also being lunged in side reins. His are adjusted at the length that allows for natural neck carriage and they only come into action when he puts his head well above the bit or drops it well down/left or right. His whole biomechanics is much healthier, relaxed and his body (from poll to tail) follows the line of the circle fairly accurately.

PHOTO 7

side reins 1

Both horses undergo a training session but whilst the dark bay is potentially learning how to enjoy school or at least, just get his muscles warmed up well before the rider gets on board, the light bay is learning how to skive it and how to hate the subject of this lesson…

PHOTO 7 shows this lovely, athletic horse in a nice, forward, uphill stride which might fool you into thinking it’s all good and he just needs to learn to repeat that stride over and over.

The problem here is he isn’t learning how to move better but how to avoid discomfort in a more clever way. Sadly for him, he finds ways that potentially will cause him neck pain, poll pain, limb issues, pelvis and back issues etc etc

Side reins have been around for many years. They are used by many trainers from classical school to plain abuse. Used in an intelligent way, they help the horse understand the concept of straightness and relaxed reach towards the rider’s hand.

Those aims can never be reached by attaching the side reins very low, very short and then chasing the horse around a “circle” – those would only teach the horse evasive, ill techniques that damage his body with micro injuries.

side reins end pic

P.S. If you saw a horse being lunged in such a way at an affiliated event (or any event) – would you report this as a misuse of equipment? If yes, who would you report this to? BE after the event? Stewards during the event? If not, why not? 

Wiola

Through coach’s eye: Reflections Before a Clinic

I know of trainers who can just turn up and teach 20 riders over couple of days without much preparation and I do envy them! 😉 Although I could do it, I always think that a little reflection and some thoughts on the riders I only see twice a year helps me do my job better. Perhaps it’s an illusion and perhaps I run the same content I would have if I didn’t prepare at all but somehow looking through videos from previous clinics and my notes on each rider gives a peace of mind and a feeling that I have done what I could to offer best coaching help I am capable of.

Tomorrow I will hop on a plane to Poland to see some lovely riders whom I last saw 27-28 September 2014 (see photos from the clinic HERE) and meet some new riders who joined the livery yard this year. I can’t prepare much for the new riders since I will see them for the first time but I am spending today re-watching the video footage from September (another great bonus of filming riders! I don’t trust my memory so much to remember what I worked on with each person in detail!).

Reflections1

Here is what I make mental notes of: 

1. How each rider and horse worked over the weekend – general overview (were the exercises useful, was the horse relaxed and content with work load, was the pair challenged enough/too much, what homework did I leave them with etc etc)

2. Skim through details of each exercise so I can see what improvement have been achieved when I see them this weekend

3. Rider’s seat – what did I work on with each rider, what effect it had on the horse. This again lets me compare with the now and make sure I don’t make assumptions.

4. Main training issues of the horse – many a time riders describe a plethora of issues and problems they want to work on but it is not possible to help with them all in one or two sessions so I normally focus on 1-3 aspects that I think have the biggest bearing on other problems. When I re-watch I look with a fresh perspective so when I go now I might have an idea if we focused on the correct thing at the time.

10648431_10152446397027659_5638156908634626799_o5. Main issues of the rider – as above in horse’s case but although I listed it as fifth, this is the most important focus of all of my clinics. I believe strongly that it’s the rider who needs to know what to do and how to do it in order for the training to have much meaning once the weekend is over.

6. Riders’ goals, ambitions and training needs. Although I have fairly good overall memory of riders’ I teach and once I see them I can recall the core training stuff we did in the past, I do like to reflect on the fact whether MY coaching met their needs and if not, how I can change that.

If you run clinics yourself, how do you prepare for them? If you attend clinics, what are your motivations on joining them? Always curious of your views and ideas 🙂 Please comment away!

All the best,

Wiola

Improving turns and circles using a small balance exercise

Repo turn
An ex-racehorse Nordic Run learning to turn in balance. You can see the rider here keeping her weight dropped through her outside thigh and shoulder to help him do the same. He is still leaning a little too much to the inside but few weeks ago he struggled with any response to the left leg so this is a fabulous result for him 🙂

If you have problems with balanced turns and your horse often cuts the corners or decreases the circles as if some magical forces drew him in, you might find the below tips useful.

Pre-requisite exercises: 

1) leg-yield (for the below exercise to be helpful your horse needs to be familiar with leg-yielding on both reins even if it’s just a few steps yield with limited cross over. They don’t need to be able to be performing dressage test standard leg-yield but need to know what it means to yield away from your inside leg when you ask)

2) Lateral flexion at the poll to the left and right (your horse needs to understand how to react when you ask for flexion left and right. They can’t think you are asking for neck bend or a turn)

The Exercise 

(described on the right rein)

Ride down 3/4 line of the arena and prepare to ask the horse for the right turn on a line of a half 15m ish circle. To do so, ask for inside flexion at the poll. When the have horse responded, ask for the turn. As your horse moves his inside front leg to turn, ask him to drift away from your inside leg as if asking for a mini leg-yield.

You want to feel that:

– he shifts his his weight ever so slightly to his outside shoulder, lightens the inside one and slightly curves his neck to the inside.

– you ground/anchor him to his outside shoulder

– your torso stays, what might feel like, on the outside of your horse’s neck (not leaning to the inside)

Repeat those leg-yield/drifty turns until you get your head around riding the horse’s balance a little towards his outside shoulder as he turns and you feel that you are able to ask with your inside leg for his inside hind leg to step deeper under his barrel.

Once you can do these turns with a small drift (think of increasing the circle a couple of meters, no massive leg – yields until the end of the world 😉 ) then try to only use the ability to shift your horse’s weight off his inside shoulder and onto his outside one as he turns. 

As he does it, continue on your turn with no drift/leg-yield.

Benefits

Lighter inside shoulder allows for an easy, relaxed inside flexion and vice – versa. Ability to shift your horse’s weight laterally will help you in many situations, not only to ride better corners and circles but also to approach the jumps in better balance 🙂

Hope this is helpful – happy training 🙂

Wiola

Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training – comparison video

Merehead comparison
Scroll down for video 🙂

 

Merehead: Foaled March 24th, 2006, Grey Gelding, Al Namix – Moneda (Cadoudal)

Merehead (Harry Derham)

 

National Hunt Racing

See Merehead’s racing photos here

I have just put together some footage from one of the first lessons I gave to Emma and Merehead (this was possibly the second time we worked together with this horse) and yesterday’s session. We’ve been meeting weekly since December last year and taking it slowly with the gangly chap. He has made a huge progress and I am so happy for this pair!

Two weeks ago they went to a local dressage show to do a walk and trot test (his canter is coming along nicely but he still eats up a long side in 4-5 strides so there was no point in asking him to contain himself in a small arena yet) just to see how he will behave and with a goal to just let him look around and potter around the warm up and arena. He took it all in his stride and will soon go out more.

Great job Emma!

Video: Simple pole work exercise for a rushing, anxious horse

This exercise was initially suggested to us by Sam of Back-In-Line as a follow up training element complementing the McTimoney treatments the horses have been receiving. The idea is to encourage the horse to become more mobile and relaxed through the whole back area behind the saddle. It certainly does that but it also made two rather buzzy, over-reactive horses deal with pole work in a much calmer and relaxed manner.

The video below shows Emma B. with her ex-racehorse “Shabby” doing this exercise for the first time.

HOW TO: 

1. Approach a line of poles in walk (I set the distances fairly randomly at 2.5m to 3m apart)

2. Halt at random place(s) and stand immobile for 10 seconds or so.

3. Move off 

We repeated the exercise 10 times changing the rein half way through. As you can see, there is some resistance in Shabby’s reactions which we are working on but he remained calm enough for the exercise to have a really good effect on his later work in the lesson.

VIDEO

Merehead, another ex-racehorse, has quite panicky reaction to poles so we did the exercise in-hand. If you have a horse that gets anxious and jumpy when presented with new exercise I would really recommend getting off and doing it all first on foot. My reason being that the whole idea is for the horse to benefit from the exercise (physically and mentally) rather than simply “conquer” it…

Polework

Doing the exercise in-hand lets the handler guide the neck into horizontal position and prevent undue tension and ridden anticipation from turning the exercise from constructive into destructive.

At the end of the lesson Merehead walked over the poles very calmly under the saddle which was very unlike him (he tends to jump the poles or become very agitated at simply being pointed at them) so we will definitely be using this exercise more not only as part of physical training of a healthier way of moving but also mental acceptance of the task in hand.

Wiola

www.aspireequestrianacademy.com 

Let me tell you a secret…3 Quick Lessons From a Young Horse

listening

LESSON 1

Never make rigid plans for our sessions but always be prepared. Know what you want so I feel secure and safe but adjust your demands to my state of mind and body on the day.

LESSON 2

Learn to listen to me. I tell you everything you need to know in a language I know. If you don’t know my language – learn it.

LESSON 3

Sometimes I am just a physical and emotional mirror of you and sometimes you are the mirror of me. Know yourself and learn to differentiate between the two so that you can apply lessons 1 & 2.

chin rest
Young Ted practising the difficult skill of a chin rest 😉