We will probably all agree that there is no good jumping without good quality canter i.e. one from which the jump is relatively easy for the horse to perform.
The required tempo of the canter will wary and depend on the height of the jumps and individual power of the horse but for all average horses with average jumping talent the key to efficient jumping is how the rider rides the canter in corners and turns immediately prior the actual jump.
When I say efficient I mean riding in such way that looks after all structures of the horse: muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons. Turning sharply to a jump, allowing an unbalanced, forehand heavy canter when jumping, sitting heavily on a horse or letting it lean in or fall out in the corners all have its price even if the poles stay put…
Riding a good turn to a jump is not as easy as it often seem and if you watch show-jumping shows you will notice that the riders who rides their corners and turns well is usually the one with sounder and more supple moving horses.
Today I’ll share with you a simple exercise that you can try at home and which can literally transform your approaches and jumping style in a few months of regular practice.
You will need four simple traffic cones to work on your ability to feel, visualise and focus on every part of a 20m circle all of which you will then carry over to your jumping turns.
Start with walking 21m line one way and 21m way the other way so they cross in the middle. At each end of your imaginary lines place one cone. You will then ride on the inside of the cones.
Your mission is to ride each quarter of the circle with your horse bending gently around your inside leg whilst putting a lot of emphasis on eye-body steering i.e. you look around to the next cone and the next cone as you circle so the horse isn’t over – steered and over-directed but starts to tune in to your pelvis and upper body position as well as weight distribution in your body that follows direction of your eye contact. This is very important when jumping as you will be paying attention to leaving the horse’s head alone to some extent.
I find this exercise is of great use with riders who want to jump but are a little weary of leaving the ground. They often ride with quite tense and restricting hand when approaching the jump, trying to ride every inch of the horse and every centimetre of the stride. This sort of jumping will usually only work for very confident rider with very good eye for distance who can place the horse accurately at every jump. This style takes away horse’s choices altogether and is rather useless for nervous or novice jumper.
You want the horse to be an intelligent partner in your jumping adventures and he must be able to have freedom of its head and neck at all times. The cones circle exercise takes some of the rider’s attention from the horse to the task. It helps to teach directing the body of the horse with power of intent rather than millions of aids.
When jumping, I also ask the rider to ride every turn to the jump as part of the circle as they recall from the exercise which helps the rider stay on top of the impulsion, engagement and relaxation at each stride.
Practising trot and then canter (in full seat, half seat and rising canter) between the cones improves feel for rhythm, concentration and ability to focus rider’s eyes on an object while continuing to ride effectively.
If you try this (or have tried it already) do let me know how it went and if you found this helpful 🙂
This post somewhat follows the one I wrote last month (click). Here I wanted to reflect on something which I often hear from riders and which goes a little bit like this: “If I don’t give him three or four whacks to start with he just drags along for entire lesson. I hate doing this but it works and he just goes great afterwards” or “I really don’t want to kick her so hard but I have to or she just won’t go“…
I am yet to meet a rider who says “I love that bit at the beginning when I have to whack him properly so he goes well later” or one who says “I ride for the workout I get from booting her along, what a pleasure” so I thought it might be a good idea to write down the “what to do instead” suggestions…
There will be no quick fix recipe in this post, just reflections on where to direct our efforts when re-training a horse that became dull to the leg aids.
When dealing with a “dead-to-the leg” horse or pony it’s important to establish how we are going to get it to understand what is required all over again. It goes without elaboration that I don’t consider such horse stupid. Something happened either during initial training or further use of the horse which made him respectively confused about or unresponsive to the “go button”.
There are so many different training methods out there nowadays that it’s easy to get confused oneself and become unsure as to what system to follow and therefore what might be a good approach when fixing things. I personally am more of an animal science enthusiast and prefer to go with horse friendly equine behaviour science angle with a pinch of open mind added in for good measure.
This helps me decide if I “like” any new training method if I get to try one as well as let’s me mix and match what I see works well in whatever systems I come across be it classical, modern, Parelli, Monty Roberts, Intelligent Horsemanship etc etc whatever names it got given.
I find this works very well because it eliminates illogical training methods and those based on over stimulation of the wrong motivational drives in horses, like fear.
Most often, the dead-to-the-leg horse was either:
1) Never taught to react to the leg touch properly in the first place
2) Withdrawn into himself due to incorrect leg use or abuse by the rider (not necessarily current rider)
3) Movement is uncomfortable to him due to crookedness or rider’s low level of riding skills
The leg aids, and rein aids, are generally trained by negative reinforcement. This means the horse learns that reward comes in a shape of removal of uncomfortable pressure. Leg wrapped around his belly and touching with pressure will relax if he moves. Pressure on the mouth will be immediately gone if he slows down or stops.
My advice would be to make a list of your beliefs connected with horse training. Anything that comes to your mind as to why your horse does or doesn’t do as it is asked. This little exercise, when confronted with behaviour science, should give you pointers as to where to start re-training…
In the process of figuring out how to make your horse be responsive to the leg, you will need to figure out what motivates him and to what extent. Not all horses are food motivated. Some just like to be left alone…if you have a horse that prefers peace of mind then you will have to learn how to be a very quiet, logical and sympathetic rider…If your horse climbs a roof for a carrot you might get away with bouncing about now and then yet provide a meaningful reward for desired [go] behaviour.
To figure out your own horses motivation and way of learning you can pick something new you can teach your horse to do. Chose something that you have no clue how to teach and give it some thought. Research it. Read on it. When I first did this with my own horse I decided to teach him to lower his head to the ground when he saw a bridle. He wasn’t into snacks at all but through trial and error I found out he really enjoyed being rubbed on the side of his head where cheek pieces go so that was my reward trick for him.
Anything we teach a horse is about achieving a reward. The horse must understand how to obtain that reward and the rider must be clear what the horse prefers to be rewarded with.
This is where we move onto:
Again, there are many styles, systems, methods of riding but there always need to be one simple rule: the rider needs to aim to make her horse comfortable. If an action of putting the leg on the horse’s side in order to ask him to do something unbalances the rider and changes their weight distribution in such a way that it disturbs the horse’s way of going, the understanding of the aids suffers.
If the leg remains aiding after the horse moved, the understanding suffers.
If the leg aids act together with hand tension and body tension (99% of novice riders tense their hands and other parts of their bodies when using their legs), the understanding suffers.
Retraining responsiveness in the horse must generally be closely accompanied by re-training or up-skilling of the rider. It’s important that the rider is taught how to non-violently create certain level of urgency or energy in own body that matches the temperamental needs of her horse. This takes time and certainly requires giving up on “he needs a good whipping” attitude.
To sum up, “switching on” the withdrawn horse takes some studying of horse’s learning methods, some observational knowledge of the individual horse we intend to re-train as well as willingness to improve own equitation skills so our aids are clear. If we demand that the horse moves from small muscular tension in our legs against his body we somewhat demand that he reads our muscles like a blind person reads Braille…There are approximately 642 skeletal muscles in our bodies…The horse needs to learn not only to react when some work but not react when others work.
Dead to the leg horse either never learnt the alphabet or finds our story too dull to read. We need to find out which one it is and either get on with teaching the letters or learn how to be a more motivational companion.
Here’s is a very short video that will take you for a brief journey through Aspire Equestrian‘s riding courses. The goal of those courses is to bring quality, classical principles based equitation to riders at all levels, including beginner and novice riders. No pulling, no booting, no skipping on solid basics. Join us and help Aspire Equestrian and other programmes like ours change the way horse riding is taught at grassroots level…
The best advice I can give to all frozen horsey people and one that worked fantastically for me is: don’t fight the winter, embrace it!
The more we moan and wish it away the more it is on our minds and the more hate towards it we feel. That in turn brings us down, makes us into a rather depressed and fed up individual who quite easily finds life in the cold a big nuisance.
Quick Fixes for Short Days Blues
Get up early – as early as possible for you, ideally as close to sunrise as you manage. This will win you some daylight hours. If like me you are more of an owl than a lark, get up 10min earlier each morning for a set amount of days – after 10 days you will be getting up 100 minutes earlier than usual.
Train Harder – many professional riders treat winter as their down time to relax and be with the family but if you are reading this you are most likely a horse mad, ambitious amateur. That means that best thing for you to beat those winter blues might be to release as many endorphins into your blood stream as you can. Structured, intensive lessons are a great solution. Not only that you will feel better afterwards but you will be fit and ready for when the spring comes and you can ride more.
Focus – having lessons makes you think, it focuses your efforts and keeps you interested. It’s nice to wander around the arena in the sun or go for a hack on a stunning summer morning but when cold wind presses tears out of your eyeballs you need someone there suffering with you and spurring you on. Your instructor will always be colder standing still than you working out just in case you needed someone out there to feel worse than you feel 😉
Have a winter fitness regime – find something that suits your personality. You don’t have to run on a treadmill for an hour if you hate going to the gym. Pick something you like or perhaps something that you would like to try. I’ve been taking yoga classes for the last few weeks. Even though I still feel as if someone attached my limbs to four horses and let them run wild in a field during the sessions, I feel fabulous afterwards. Having suffered from some shoulders pain I noticed how much more supple I feel. There are plenty of activities to chose from. Go for it and do it once a week or more.
Winter is for Reading 🙂 – this might not be for everyone and parents with young children might struggle here I acknowledge but dark evenings are simply designed for book time 🙂 (or blog time!) If you agree, grab yourself a cup of tea/coffee/wine and start yourself a Winter Reading Ritual.
Stay Warm – thismight seem obvious but it took me years of trial and error to get this right! If you teach and stay outside for 12 hours a day it is extremely difficult to remain warm at all times. Standing still is the worst but equally, when you ride/muck out/hay up etc and sweat, you are then having to spend the rest of the day in damp clothes. Not great for staying warm.
Technical clothes that wick moisture well and keep you warm are not cheap and usually out of reach for many who work with horses or who keep horses on a shoestring budget.
The system that works for me is to have:
1) Layers – and have a change of clothes with you (the bottom layers)
2) Best wool underwear you can find, you will not regret it – I got a very thin wool vest from friend from Norway and it’s been my best winter friend ever since. It is very soft on the skin and unbelievably insulating.
The below videos show recorded lectures, workshops and ridden training during USEF 2013 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session. All videos included in the Training Session are interesting to watch and many curious riders and instructors should find in them something for themselves. I am posting these videos on here because I strongly believe in learning from multiple systems and approaches so we can develop own healthy and constructive views.
The ones I chose to underline below are lectures by Dr. Deb Bennett from Equine Studies Institute. I think they discuss matters which are still and often under the radar of many horse owners, instructors and riders.
1) Lessons from Woody Part I: Physical Straightening
A couple of mornings a week I try to catch up with various equestrian forums, both English and Polish (sometimes I venture onto Portuguese, Swedish and Norwegian sites too), read about what riders like to learn about and what might be giving them trouble with progressing their riding. It keeps me on my toes, makes me always search for better answers, consolidate some things, open others for more discussions.
We equestrian bunch are a rather opinionated one. I put together a little Guide on the basis of what I read this and past week. I would be interested in your thoughts…
Here is the thing. We are all in this sport together. Critiquing methods and techniques displayed by Olympic riders is just not ON…
1. You know those pictures and short videos of various “advanced training methods” you see online and that make you feel a little uneasy and kind of like you felt when someone skinned a dog alive and they showed bits and bobs of it on TV? Don’t worry. It’s just this amazing speed of a shutter, if you were there you wouldn’t even spotted this because your eyes, the eyes of a rider who never trained at that level, have no ability to see that kind of movement. Rest assured all this is normal and fine, many world famous judges cannot be wrong, it’s totally unnecessary that you comment on what you see. Just buy a ticket to an event and enjoy it for gods sake.
2. It’s important that you do not criticise anything (unless you are also a top rider than perhaps you can add a point or two) even if it makes you a little sick inside when you watch some training methods. Just realise, these are very sensitive horses, they would probably kill you if not for the methods they are being trained with, please understand.
In this part I would like to share with you my little strategy on using video analysis within training programmes. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a more accomplished rider, video footage can be helpful at all levels.
How do I analyse videos and what I look for in the footage
First of all, I think about a schooling problem the rider has. For example, a relatively experienced rider brings on a young horse. Throughout training it becomes apparent she doesn’t notice or feel or is able to recognise when the horse loses his balance through his shoulders i.e. for various reasons either leans in onto his inside shoulder or falls out through his outside shoulder.
I want the rider to be able to learn to stabilise horse’s weight in such a way that it is possible to ride a balanced 20m circle. However, the rider doesn’t learn so well via instructions (she does them well but isn’t able to replicate when riding on her own) and although visual feedback is helpful she learns best through feel. Such riders need to do something that makes their body notice the difference and then they need to get on the case of the problem and arrive there via trial and error.
I like to come up with an exercise that magnifies the issue, film it and let the rider learn both via feel and visual feedback.
This post is NOT an advertorial. I have no commission or any other financial gains from this deal which is offered to riders who are training or have been involved with Aspire Equestrian’s clinics, virtual coaching, events, shadow training events etc.
As some of you will know my long term mission is to help amateur riders get the most out of their training and lessons. I am therefore always on the lookout for ways to bring you something of value, something that will help you with your progress, motivation and enjoyment. Something that matches Aspire values of quality education, passion for amateur equestrian sport and living life to the full.
I think this deal should tick all the boxes!
HeadCamz – http://www.hedcamz.com/ – is offering from 10% OFF on their head cameras to all Aspire Equestrian riderswho would like to capture their life on the go 🙂
You know that euphoric feeling when your riding session goes great, you did everything (or most things!) right and your horse went fantastically well? Do you feel on top of the world? Like you are finally getting somewhere with your riding? Finally feeling improvement?
Oh I do remember those sessions myself!
What about those sessions when you got off and before your feet even touched the ground you were browsing the possibilities to commence breeding hamsters, collecting lady bird figurines or something equally bizarre, anything but to ride again. You felt useless and like you were not doing right by your horse (he would do so much better with my trainer! I am holding him back!). Your brain frantically considered sale of the horse and perhaps even giving up riding all together.