Tag Archives: in hand work

E.P., the ex-racehorse with “kissing spine”: How attention to detail can improve rehabilitative groundwork

By Wiola Grabowska

Every Wednesday evening from April to August I run groundwork sessions at Brackenhill Stud. One my recent clients agreed for me to post a few photos from our initial session which I am very grateful for because they showed beautifully how small corrections, attention to detail and good evaluation of current training situation can help kick start the progress.

E.P.’s owner has put a tremendous effort over the last couple of years to bring the horse from what can only be described as skin & bone state to one where you can really see the horse’s potential.

I was asked to help with structuring the rehabilitative training and help add more ideas to the current work.

There were many aspects of the training that we discussed and we formulated a plan of work for the next few months but I wanted to share on here a small but very significant improvement we were able to achieve during just one session and that’s ALIGNMENT. 

Good body alignment is a key to healthy posture and as a result to successful training. Most horses and all rehabilitative schooling clients I have worked with, struggle with that aspect of training and therefore no matter how good the content of the training is, the results might be disappointing.

On photos above you can see E.P. trotting on a circle to the right with no corrections to alignment from the owner who is long reining him from the middle of the circle (he’s wearing a proprioceptive band – a bandage – that attaches to the roller).

On photos below you can see E.P.’s posture being influenced by the owner using variety of postural corrections we have worked through for about 30 minutes beforehand. These corrections are based on small changes in horse’s preferred weight shifts, balance, suppleness and body awareness with no use of any schooling gadgets):

 

The subtle visual differences on these snapshots are great to see but what made it even better was E.P.’s quality of movement before and after the owner’s corrections. I believe that movement quality is of huge importance if the rehabilitation is to progress in the right direction.

Huge thank you to E.P.’s owner for letting me share photos from the session! All images copyright: Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy

Working the hind legs – leg yield in-hand

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Ferris, an ex-steeplechaser, beginning to coordinate leg-yield in-hand. He’s a quick learner.

There are many different reasons why leg-yielding is beneficial in any horse’s training programme and here is one of them: creating more even use of each hindleg.

I like to start it in-hand because the biggest benefit is when the rider can ask for leg-yield from the saddle with minimal aids. Strong use of legs contort the rider and often braces the horse’s back so the overall goodness of the exercise decreases.

The horse that learnt a movement in-hand, has a much easier job understanding the request from the saddle later and so the rider is able to act with more subtle aids.

The roles of the hind legs in the leg-yield

  • Inside hind leg: flexes, crosses over and under (engages) and creates push
  • Outside hind leg: carries weight, stabilises the weight

Performed in both directions and adjusted to the horse’s natural crookedness, it is a nice and relatively easy exercise to help the “pushing hind leg” develop more “carrying skills” and vice versa.

Also great exercise for riders to develop feel, coordination and body awareness (how it can communicate with the horse).

To see video of Ferris the ex-racehorse learning leg-yield on the wall see our Instagram HERE.

Stiff, unsettled neck/head/contact – helpful suppling exercises to try with your horse

Neck suppling ideasBy Wiola Grabowska

This subject is coming your way thanks to a little Twitter conversation I had last night on #EquineHour with Tail End Jewellery.

I like to think about the horse’s neck and head as if they were a barometer of what happens in the rest of the horse’s body. For this reason I generally prefer not to use any training devices that place the head and neck in a “desired” position.

Sometimes we will deal with the actual physical issues within the neck, head or poll but many a time these issues resolve or greatly improve once the body balance had been addressed.

It is common to try to immobilise the unsteady neck and head via stronger rein connection, variety of bits or perhaps with gadgets like draw reins. This might give the rider an illusion of stability or control but it is not a long term, wellness focused solution.

Body issues that can manifest themselves in neck stiffness or excessive movement of the the neck and head include misalignment (natural crookedness or rider caused crookedness), subtle and low grade lameness, back pain, hollow backed way of going as well as simple loses of balance in a young/green horse.

Before assuming the neck issue is The Issue, I personally prefer to address all the above possibilities. If I work with a rider who is also learning own balance and stability while remaining supple, the neck stiffness or contact issues are secondary to the rest of the body.

However, here is a suppling exercise to try on the ground – best with your instructor or a physiotherapist watching if you have any doubts as to whether you are doing it correctly. It might give you as a rider a better insight into the degree of tension your horse is really holding in the neck: 

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Kelly and Mojo – poll flexions. Something has grabbed Mojo’s attention so he is more focused on that rather than on what is being asked but overall, the exercise has a nice, neck relaxing effect on him. Photo by: www.cdphotos.co.uk  

Poll flexion in-hand. Place one hand on the horse’s neck just behind the ears and the other on the nose just above the noseband. Both hands should be relaxed and never exerting any force on the horse. The “nose hand” acts in a slow, soft on-off manner to bring the nose towards you a little. Visualise all the structures around the atlas/axis joint loosening up as you softly bring the nose to the side. With your “neck hand” you can stroke the muscles you want relaxed adjusting the degree of pressure to what your horse perceives most relaxing. In the photo above, Mojo spotted something in the distance half-way through the release so although he is flexed at the poll he is also fixed in that position. The feel you are going for is one of release of all tension so pay close attention to yourself too…Any impatience or tension in you will affect the horse’s reactions. Horse’s eyes might close a little and ears go sideways a fraction too. Many horses find this exercise really relaxing once they realise there is no force in it. Done regularly and gently, it can help with habitual tension carried in the neck and poll due to issues further down the body.  Repeat a few times on each side but bare in mind some horses can be protective about any parts of their body that feel a bit “off” so they can try to pull the head away or shake you off. Don’t force the issue, just repeat calmly a little bit each day.

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Caitlin and Mollie (around Christmas 2016 time hence Santa hat! 😉 ) 
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Sofija and Jack – flexion right in-hand

The flexions in-hand can be developed into ones in-motion to help with alignment and relaxation on a circle as on photos below. If this is something you would like me to blog more about please let me know in the comments and I will add more on this next time.

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Please consult your physiotherapist or a vet if in any doubt whether these exercises are suitable for your horse. 

 

 

 

Reflections on learning Shoulder In

by Mairi Mackay

Teaching your horse shoulder in can have loads of benefits. All horses are ‘sided’ ( i.e. in very basic terms they have a rein that they find it easier to bend/balance on.) and shoulder in is a basic lateral exercise that can help your horse improve straightness. This has a myriad of benefits and books have been written about it! Shoulder in is also a great gymnastic exercise to help your horse become more flexible, strengthen his hindquarters (as it is a bit like a weight lifting exercise targeting each hind leg) and develop balance.

Mairi and Gilly walk
Photo by Christine Dunnington Photography. Starting from slow, deliberate walk where horse and rider focus on each other. A must before any lateral movement is taught.

For more on straightness read this and that 🙂 

One of the best ways to describe shoulder in is to imagine your horse walking along the side of the arena with the wall or rail on one side. It will look like your horse’s shoulders are coming away from the wall at a small angle and the inside hind leg steps deeper underneath the body. To help visualise this, many people recommend thinking of the horse taking the first step of a 10-metre circle and carrying on straight along the wall holding this shape.

If you are standing in front of a horse performing shoulder in you will see the horse’s hooves moving on three tracks: The inside front foot is on one track, the outside front and inside hind on the middle track and the outside hind on the other.

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Mairi and Gilly – first go at positioning for shoulder-in in walk

One of my goals this year is to teach Gilly more lateral work in-hand for all the above benefits, and so in a recent in-hand session I started working on the basics with him. My equipment was a lunge cavesson and lead rope and a schooling whip.

We started off by working on improving his walk to halt transition. I walked in front of him backwards and gradually slowed down, lifted his head gently asked him to transfer his weight onto the hind legs as he halted. Starting with a simple exercise like this seemed to help him focus his attention and ease us into the rest of the session.

The next exercise we practiced before moving on to teaching shoulder-in was turn on the forehand. It helped Gilly understand that he needs to do something with the hind leg I touch him on with the whip which provided a building block for shoulder-in aids later.

I started attempting shoulder in by walking along the rail of the arena holding Gilly’s head straight and then putting my hand on his shoulder. This focused my attention on angle my body forms with the line of Gilly’s travel. I then asked him to bring his front end off the track a little using my “cavesson hand” (the hand I held lead rope with) and tried to assume correct angle myself while pointing the whip towards Gilly’s inside hind leg which he needed to engage more underneath his body.

One of the things I noticed as a novice to in-hand work, is that I find it quite difficult to know when the horse is correctly performing shoulder-in.

If you are lucky enough to have a mirror in your arena, start practicing walking towards the mirror and look for the ‘three tracks’. If you don’t, then it can really help having someone else who knows lateral work to watch and help you adjust.

You could also ask them to do it with your horse and video them – a reference can really help with things like where to position your body in relation to the horse to communicate what you want.

I’m going to keep practicing this as I think it will take a while to develop my feel for when Gilly is doing it right. But in the short term, one of the benefits in the saddle is that when Gilly falls in and out on circles a bit of shoulder in feel can encourage him to correct his bend and redistribute his weight so he is more balanced.

Leopold The Last and his journey with Aspire Academy

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Photo of Leo by Ceri Dickinson

I’ve been sitting down to write this post so many times in the last two days. Each morning, as I go to catch Leo from his field and he greets me with his cheeky face, I can’t help but think how unfair and cruel life can be.

 

The 11 years old, little bay New Forest X Thoroughbred gelding came to live with me last week because his owner’s illness means she is no longer, and will no longer, be able to look after him. Three years ago, Leo’s owner took a chance on an instructor who did some rider focused clinics. She could have booked a local celebrity rider/trainer but she was intrigued by what I was doing and we ended up running several weekends at her then work in North Yorkshire over a couple of years. She is the only person who managed to make me run on time with all the lessons albeit I still don’t know how!

When she asked me for help with rehoming Leo I knew it was my turn to take a chance on someone…

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Leo having a roll and with me in the arena during his first week at Brackenhill Stud

I hope you will follow this little horse’s journey with me. He’s an interesting fellow with some physical issues to work through and my plan at the moment is for him to remain with me and become the Academy horse in near future.

I eventually would like to find him a rider interested in equine biomechanics and movement therapy as well as dressage so they can continue training with me and learn from Leo. When he is ready to be available for the coaching loan with the Academy, I will make this known 🙂

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DYI version of the Equicore concept that I am using  – a theraband! #proprioception #muscleeducation #LeoAspireJourney

Today Leo had his physiotherapy re-assessment with Dr Tracy Crook of Chiltern VetPhysio and he is making a very good progress.

Recommendations
1. Continue with in-hand and ridden flexibility exercises
2. Continue to hack as before and use the theraband when lunging
3. “Work” for short periods of time, his muscles are still developing and too much work too soon will make him sore.
4. Review in 6 weeks.

Movement rehabilitation and training that enhances athletic ability is something I feel passionate about because it truly gives a meaning to schooling horses into riding horses…I will be posting updates on Leo via Instagram (@aspireequestrian) with a hashtag #LeoAspireJourney and weekly on here so if you are into movement education and schooling for dressage as means of achieving more harmony, suppleness and longevity – stay tuned!

Photo report from Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Lindrick Livery, Ripon, North Yorkshire

I have just returned from teaching on Aspire Grassroots clinic at Lindrick Livery and what a great weekend that was! I hope the pictures tell the story well and that you enjoy the wonderful set of them taken by Ceri of Pure Essence Photography (Check her website HERE if you would like to book a photo shoot 🙂 ) I will be writing more about the exercises shown on below pictures in Aspire’s bi-monthly newsletter coming up on the 14th October so if you would like to read some of my thoughts on those simple body awareness techniques, sign up HERE 🙂

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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either sides). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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Fabulous, little 3 year old ex-racehorse in early stages of re-training. Learning to move like a riding horse.
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Addressing posture and effectiveness of the leg
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Intro to an exercise which helps with control of the horse’s shoulders
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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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When we sit on a moving horse, we don’t always feel how physics and motion disorganise our position and as a result destroy our balance. Testing Olivia’s front to back stability here.
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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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Introduction to a simple yet powerful exercise: “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
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Awareness of own crookedness is a first step to understanding schooling of the horse – simple exercises can awake muscles that we didn’t know existed 🙂
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Learning about horse’s posture via becoming a horse 😉
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Another version of the “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints (hip, knee, ankle, elbow, shoulder) need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
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In-hand work to help with crookedness
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3 year old ex-racehorse Casper learning to yield from the “leg” in-hand
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Laura having a go at “monkey” exercise
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Searching for strengths and weaknesses in rider’s body as far as balance in the saddle is concerned 🙂
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Cantering on foot to address excessive shoulder movement – fun and very effective to build awareness 🙂
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As Ceri, the author of the photos said “Never too early to start 😉 ” My cracking little client – grand age of 5 – on his pony, preparing for simple and fun coordination exercises.
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Everybody understand various instructions differently. How do you soften your hand/elbow/shoulder? What does it mean “give” with your hand? Here Louise is feeling the difference between locked and “soft” elbow.
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Quick video feedback before proceeding with exercises. Visual feedback never lies and helps immensely with speeding up learning process.
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Every movement of the horse needs to be absorbed by rider’s joints. If one or more joints “block” the motion, harmony can’t be achieved. Here the rider is experimenting with passive joint movement to determine which of her joints (hip, knee or ankle) is the one she blocks the movement with.
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Learning to move on large circles in balance and relaxed posture without the rider. A 3 year old ex-race horse Casper – I can’t wait to watch his improvement over months to come. He has wonderful brain and fantastic attitude.
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Learning how rider’s crookedness affects turns and circles – and finding ways to correct a few issues 🙂
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Short in-hand sessions for 3 year old Thoroughbred, Casper.
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Posing with a lovely young rider and her wonderful pony, Mouse, who sadly decided not to smile with us here!
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Louise and the lovely Henry – great partnership! Henry is now 3 months into post kissing spine operation and looked and worked very well!

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If you would like to organise similar clinic at your yard, give Wiola a shout! Anyone welcome 🙂 More details below:

http://issuu.com/aspireeq/docs/aspire_grassroots_clinics_overview?e=8118509/9629742

What’s better than the crisp, fresh, intensive, Aspire training air ? :)

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Beautiful sunny day at work (thank you to Emma for pictures 🙂
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Working on lateral flexibility in – hand. Emma learning how to improve the school pony’s ability to bend. She is asking the pony to walk in a shoulder fore position to help him step under his centre of balance with his inside hind leg, contract the left side of his body and relax the right (tight) side.
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Emma and Orpheus earning his pat for a few good steps
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Emma and Orpheus later in the lesson. She stays out of the saddle to help the pony as he tends to drop his back and basic engagement. She is learning to feel for more quality steps that in turn help Orpheus with his balance.
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Gemma on straight lines mission…Learning to ride the horse straight in light seat and on a given line without overusing the reins for steering
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Working on suppleness in sitting trot

Continue reading What’s better than the crisp, fresh, intensive, Aspire training air ? 🙂

LUNGING AS A CROOKEDNESS-BANISHING Part of Training

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ESTIMA – 5 YEAR OLD EX-RACE HORSE GETTING READY TO BE LUNGED

On the Hay-Net’s Equestrian Advice page, one member have recently asked a question about loose schooling and mentioned that her horse lunges well but it can get repetitive and boring. You can see my own and some other replies to her HERE but as it’s quite a common issue with many horse owners I expanded on the subject a bit more below.

I like to think of lunging as a crookedness-banishing part of training and as such it is a fascinating training tool.
Before you start more purposeful lunging, teach your horse turn around and on the forehand in-hand. This will require some body language training as well as gymnastic training. If you are not sure how it should look like have a look at this video:

Continue reading LUNGING AS A CROOKEDNESS-BANISHING Part of Training