Every Sunday from 8pm to 9pm there is a so called #EquineHour happening on Twitter. It’s been set up for sharing everything equestrian and a couple of weeks ago I promised to offer some tips to one of the participants.
The question was:
@AspireAcademy any tips/schooling ideas to help with bending/flexion and a very excitable canter? Thanks👍
— AnnaSpanner (@_AnnaSpanner) August 31, 2014
At 19, his behaviour and training are probably fairly well established whether they are desirable or not so you will need a fair share of patience and huge amount of discipline in order to tackle these issues. Below is a series of tips that might be helpful but without seeing you ride and interact with the pony it is very difficult to say if they are definitely the right ones to make a difference. I would suggest reading through them all, then picking what seems to sound as if it might work with the pony’s temperament, your own riding skills and experience as well time you have available for training. Then experiment with those tips and tweak them to suit you and your pony.
PART 1: ESTABLISH REACTIONS TO SEAT AND REINS
No amount of exercises will make a difference if the pony ignores your leg aids and rein aids so that’s the first thing to address. I would put aside from a few days to few weeks to work on this depending on your skills, pony’s learning abilities and willingness to cooperate.
It appears to me that general stiffness through his body might be an issue since you are looking for bending and flexing exercises so I would look very closely at the way you ask him for halt transitions. For the horse to remain supple in transitions he must retain softness and yield through his neck muscles. If upon you touching the reins he braces his neck muscles you have no chance for a good halt (i.e. one where the horse ceases movement without increasing tension).
Start with making your walk steps smaller and smaller by simply decreasing the amount of movement in your own seat bones – remain supple yourself but feel that each of your seat bone moves less and less as if they were walking smaller and smaller steps themselves. Many horses that are switched off to rider’s aids will ignore this feel at the start. However, they will not feel comfortable trying to walk in big steps while the rider is “walking small steps”. Most horses like to feel comfortable and will eventually take notice.
Your aim at the beginning is NOT to make the walk smaller per se – your aim is to encourage your pony to react when something in your seat changes. Knowing this should help you fend away frustration if the walk doesn’t become shorter when you ask. Be patient, this might take a long while (maybe even tens of sessions if you are both unsure of what you are doing), don’t be tempted to just pull on the reins to make the walk smaller. Use your voice or your arena set up instead (walk towards a fence or any natural “slowing down” object – a wall/tree line etc) Your rein contact can be a little looser than what you would have during a dressage test, let his neck remain relatively unrestricted. Praise him immediately when you feel even slight change in the length of the step – try to react within 1-2 seconds from his reaction. If he reacted particularly well, halt and stand for a moment completely immobile and give him thinking time (20 seconds or so). Then try again: normal, big walk allowing your seat bones to follow, then slowly, little by little, decrease your seat bones steps.
Thing to remember: your seat bones move on slings of your bum muscles and they never need to “drive” or “push” into the actual saddle, polish the saddle etc etc They move enough for you to stay relaxed in your hip joints (at top of your thighs) but not so much that you are performing cha-cha dance and belly dance rolled in one 😉
Maintain your upper body posture – keep your shoulders in line with your hip joints and don’t let the movement of the pony sway you like a willow in the wind (left/right) – stay in your own balance. Visualise his spine movement – it’s very minute – and remain stable through your own spine. Riders who sway through spinal column make it difficult for the horse to relax the muscles around his own spine. You might find this post useful to read too: CLICK
Repeat Exercise 1 ten, twenty times several times a week.
Once your pony changes his step length in response to you changing your seat bone movement, it’s time to add your rein aids. Establish an elastic connection with your pony’s mouth i.e. your elbows will feel like they are rowing in a miniature boat as they follow the movements of your pony’s neck, and walk around the arena without letting the walk change. After one round, alter your seat bones movement to ask for shorter steps and at the same time decrease your “rowing” movement by a tiny bit too. Everything still needs to move together (think just slowing down part of the music/dance not an abrupt stop) – your are still walking with your seat bones and your arms still follow the nodding motion of the neck but you create a slight resistance in both that shortens the steps just that little bit. Then again, little bit more. And again. You are still moving but the movements become very very small until neither of you can decrease the movement any more and you come to a halt. When you do it for the first time, it might be the longest preparation for a halt you have ever done in your life 😉 But believe me, with practice, what at first lasted 20-30 steps will diminish to 2-3 and eventually 1. If you start with 2-3, you often get a very tense neck on a horse that automatically and instinctively braces his strong neck muscles to avoid pain/discomfort in the mouth.
Repeat this sequence so you have a distinct little-by-little process where your walk steps become smaller until he stops with his neck relaxed and head in his natural carriage, whatever that is for his type, breed and conformation.
You want to feel that as soon as you shorten your seat bone movements and start “rowing” a little less with your arms as the walk shortens, he noticeably awaits halt instructions. Once you have that, you can start the whole process in trot…The difference in trot is that the neck doesn’t nod so your rein action will come via on/off passive resistance lasting for very short moments (think duration of one trot step) in an action-release pattern. Never hold the resistance on the reins for longer than 2 steps or you will not be able to keep your horse supple in his movement.
In rising trot, the correct, balanced rise will take over from seat bones movements. You might find this post useful in that respect: CLICK
I hope some of these notes will be useful but if anything is unclear or you need more information, comment below and I will try to help.
That concludes PART 1 🙂 In Part 2 coming tomorrow we will look at establishing reactions to leg aids and starting bending exercises.
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