Whenever I ride my horses, I have a program that I ride each and every time, especially the warm-up. Having a warm-up the horse can count on provides reassurance and routine. What exactly is a warm-up? Yes, it gives the horse the opportunity to stretch, move his body, and "get the juices flowing," but I feel it is much more than that. I want to make certain, first and foremost, my horse is sound to work, both in his mind and his body. I want to check that he's listening to my leg, my seat, my rein aids, etc. Each horse is a little bit different, depending on the body type, physical and psychological characteristics and level of training.
For example, when I get on Junior, I always begin with free walk for an extended amount of time (10 minutes or so). I go to posting trot with a long neck, sometimes a bit deep depending on whether he feels worried or unsure of what the day may bring. Right from the beginning we do changes of tempo within the trot and walk to trot transitions from various tempos. I do them in both directions and in different places in the arena so that I'm certain he's paying attention and wondering secretly what's coming. I may ask for leg-yields or haunches-in to check his lateral quickness and vary his neck position to check malleability over his topline. All of this is done within a 10-15 minute time frame.
If the trot feels OK, I jump to canter. I go through a similar routine in canter by varying his neck position while riding constant changes in tempo. Junior's hind legs tend to be too slow in the canter, so I'll often go to a few steps of quick trot back to canter to get his legs busy. After a few bits of half-pass in both directions to move laterally, I'm ready to train. In general, my warm-up is 20-25 minutes, not including the free walk. I'll train for 15 minutes, stretch and be done. I rarely ride more than 50 minutes.
Basically, Junior knows this is how it's going to go. Because of this, he can come out relaxed, knowing what to expect. Sometimes, I might ad poles to the warm-up, something Junior enjoys, but if I'm working with poles, I do not ad a training segment to the work day.
Wheels is very different. As I've said in the past, I'll often put him on the longe to get him moving forward before I get on. It depends on how he seems while I'm grooming him and also on his turnout schedule. If I'm not lunging, I'll walk for the same amount of time as Junior, but have to work to get him in front of my leg during the free walk. I don't really pick up my reins once I go to trot and let Wheels do what he wants, encouraging him to move forward and loosen his muscles in his own way. If I stress him too much, he simply refuses to work and will stop, stamp his feet and may even try to buck me off. As long as I allow him to move in his own way for a bit, I'll suddenly feel his muscles relax and it's like a spring suddenly lets go. Once I get the feeling he's good to go, I move right to my training piece. This may all take 10 minutes, it may take 2 hours, but I let Wheels do what he needs to do to get to the point where I can train successfully. If I don't get there, but run out of time or energy, I'll put him away and bring him back out later. He's a tricky one.
I"m bringing all this up because I have a client who's having issues with her warm-up routine. Michelle has not had her new horse, Jack, for very long. She's trying to form a routine that works for the two of them. We've discovered that she needs to let go through her own body in order to let Jack work through his. Jack knows his job, Michelle needs to learn his language and skills...that takes a certain amount of confidence in him and me to help her through these hurdles. First off, Michelle needs to do a free walk that is quiet in her own brain and body. She has the tendency to press him forward which causes tension to build in his body and makes him jig and invert his neck. We've found that if she sits quietly and feels his back swing, follows with her hands and just enjoys the walk, things get better.
Jack is very strong on the left and lacks connection on the right. It's important for Michelle to establish the right rein, which is very hard for her to remember. "He's so strong on the left!" Bend, bend, bend...ugh! "If I do this, he does that. If I do that, he does this...why is he so strong?" My answer, "I don't care that he's so strong on the left...you don't have a right rein!!" "But when I did this yesterday, that happened, and the other day when I did that, this happened, and I think I should try this today."
"Michelle, maybe if you do it the same way every day, it won't seem so hard." Allow him to stretch in both directions after your walk. Pick up the trot and pick up your right rein until you have contact on the right, even if you have wrong bend. Once you have established a "right rein," go ahead and take and release on the left rein to soften the strong left side. I asked Michelle, as she trotted around round, soft and preparing to work, "why do you try all these different things when you know this is what works and it's easy?" Her answer..."I guess I just forget."
I promised Michelle I would write about this tonight, so I hope she comments!!
The paddocks were finally clear of ice today, so everyone got to go outside...Finally! With that, the horses were all in fine spirits and had that soft expression that's always so nice to have on the cross-ties.
With the Christoph Hess clinic being held in New Hampshire, it made me consider how forward I ride my horses. Often times, I think I need to ride much more forward than I do, despite the fact that people often comment that I ride "really forward." I'm also constantly explaining the need for forward when I teach. Regardless, when I mounted the gray beast today, I said, "OK Wheels, we're gonna GO today."
As I've described in the past, Wheels has issues with connection. I simply bridged my reins and off we went, really forward. He bounced around on my hands, snarked a bit about the contact, and finally went to work. It felt wonderful to have him suddenly roll through his topline, lifting his back, taking my hand forward and just undulate beneath me. It was super easy to sit despite the fact we were basically living between medium and extended gaits. He was also happy once he allowed his body to let go. By the end, he was moving easily sideways in lovely gentle half-passes and could transition between trot and canter with a relaxed neck. Brilliant!
Get your horses backs moving properly! Ride forward without rushing or running through your aids. Ride straight ahead and look up. Allow your horse's back to come up and meet your seat, carry you from his belly all the way through his spine. He'll get stronger and stronger and the collection will come easily!
It's always made me curious to read about the Europeans' preference of Vienna Reins over Side Reins when working horses on the longe. I've read countless articles and references to Vienna Reins, but rarely do I see videos or even photographs of horses wearing Vienna Reins. I know other trainers who talk about always working their horses with Vienna Reins, but I don't ever see this in every day practice. I remember being at an Ingrid Klimke clinic and she spoke of her preference for Vienna Reins. I find it a bit hypocritical, however, that many of the photos in her training books, etc, are of horses wearing side reins.
When I was growing up and learning to train young horses, my instructor, Sue Shirland, taught me to use draw reins tied to the saddle rather than using side reins. I always thought "this is just what you do." Maybe she taught me to do this because I had draw reins available but didn't have side reins, I'm not sure. In my own training, I moved to side reins because of their simplicity and since they are what everyone else seems to use.
Over the years, I've thought about the use of Vienna Reins with various horses and how I'd prefer to try them in order to get a better reach and stretch through the neck and over the back. I have purchased them in the past in hopes of liking them, but the ones I've used have been made for midget horses, I suppose, because they have never been long enough to fit and I've always returned them.
The other day, I was lunging Wheels and watching the side reins bounce around on the bit with his little head bouncing along with them at times. I thought about how uncomfortable they must make his mouth, since he's so sensitive, and made the comment to CeCe that I'd love to find a set of Vienna Reins long enough to try. To my surprise, a day or 2 later, Vienna Reins magically appeared in my tack box! Yesterday, I took the opportunity to try them on 2 different horses and had extremely positive results.
As with anything new, you have to begin with the equipment loose so the horse can get a feel for it and not be overwhelmed. They were barely long enough for one of the horses I worked and had everything set to the last hole, but he's very tall and long, so I think all the other horses will be fine with this particular set. I'll have to find out where CeCe got them so I can buy a pair for myself!
I liked the reins for a couple reasons. First, once the horse went up to trot, they didn't bounce around all over the place on the bit. They are much lighter and more stable than the side reins. Second, the horses had much more freedom of movement and could play with their necks more and experiment with their own frame and playfulness. All in all, I think I'm going to make the switch in my training practice and give up on the side reins. (As long as I can find some Vienna Reins that are long enough!)
It's very difficult to get a cold backed horse to come nicely to the contact. First off, a cold backed horse can have a "cold back" even in the tropics. If the back is tight and the horse has the tendency to buck when you begin to ride, it's considered "cold backed." I've never dealt with an actual cold backed horse, but I do have horses that react to the cold temperatures and become cold backed in the winter. Junior, is not what I consider a temperature driven, cold backed horse. It can be well below zero and he feels just the same as when it's 90 degrees. Wheels, on the other hand, feels like butter in the summer and a board in the winter. If there was ever a horse that truly needed to go to Florida in the winter, it's him. When it's cold and especially if the horses are forced to remain indoors because of ice or whatnot, I need to put him on the longe. The lunging might go either way...some days he can't move hardly at all and other days, his tail is tight between his butt cheeks and he kicks violently out to the right. He's not being wild or misbehaving, his back just needs to work itself out. Like I said in my previous post about longing, Wheels gets special privileges and is allowed to do what his body needs to do.
Once the body is moving better on the longe (I may or may not use side reins...today I did not), I go ahead and mount up. I always use a quarter sheet if the temps are below 25 degrees. I may or may not remove it during my ride, but it stays in place most of the time. The other issue the Wheels presents me with, especially during his "cold backed" days is a very inconsistent contact with the bridle. He's very busy with the contact, which, in turn, leaves me with little control over the shoulders. He tends to have rapid bursts of energy which send him roaring down the long sides on occasion...often with a helicoptering of the head. I have found the best remedy for any horse with inconsistent contact is to bridge my reins and go very forward in all 3 gaits. Bridging the reins allows me to be very still with my hands and I am not tempted to try and fix the neck's squirmy behavior. I simply keep my hand steady and firm, but sympathetic at the same time, and ride very energetically forward. If the horse is playful, so be it. If the horse is spooky, best to have your reins bridged anyway since it will encourage the horse to spook straight and it gives you better balance.
Interestingly, Flagg is very similar to Wheels in his behavior with his connection and contact. Curious if this is a Regazzoni thing since they have so many similarities. It will be interesting to see if Tilly exhibits the same tendencies once she's started under saddle in the next few months. I'll keep you posted!
Icy paddocks have made turnout possibilities non-existent...and there's rain coming! What is wrong with Mother Nature this year? I have yet to decide if I like this or not. I love the warmer temperatures, but I hate the rapid changes and complete lack of snow. What's coming next month? Locusts? I wouldn't be surprised considering there are several confirmed cases of PHF!! What the heck??
There is a lot of lunging going on prior to my clients mounting up because they want to let their horses stretch their legs. At this time of year, I think it's necessary to allow the horses to warm up in this manner so that their bodies can relax and move without someone immediately sitting on their cold backs. I have no concerns either way and whether I longe a horse before my ride depends on their age, level of training and my "thoughts for the day." I will often longe Wheels, even during the hot summer months, not to release energy or train...but to get him moving forward.
There is a very nice teenager in my barn who has a lovely thoroughbred. He is fairly hot and tight through the body. When she brings him in to longe, he's often very naughty, drags her around and gallops sideways for long amounts of time. For me, this is not effective and will eventually injure the horse, the girl, or someone else trying to work in the arena. It's also disruptive. Lunging should be a useful tool and not solely for "playtime." Other than Wheels, who I longe to get ramped up, not the other way around, I start horses right from the beginning that if they are in tack, they need to behave and go to work. If they are in a halter, they can leap, run, buck and have a good laugh. I try to differentiate between the 2 right from the start so they associate the surcingle/saddle with working and the halter with play. I talked with the girl about this theory and she got the idea.
She tacked her horse in saddle and bridle with side reins loosely attached. Right away, as I tried to send him out on the circle, he leapt in the air and tried to take off. I kept my ground and didn't let him go, simply reeled him back in like a fish and used a quiet voice, "steady." This happened 5 or 6 times before he understood this was not allowed. Finally, he moved out onto the circle in a tiny, mincing walk. I didn't want to encourage this, so I quickly went to trot. It too, was lacking in any form of swing and was very pony like in its movement. His hind prints were at least 2 hoof prints behind his front prints. He was very tight through his whole body, even his tail was poked straight behind him.
He'd get through a circle and take off. Again, I would begin to reel him in, speaking quietly, "steady," and when he would come back to trot, I'd immediately say, "good trot." I often will hear people telling their horse to trot repeatedly while they run around in circles. I've always believed that if the horse hears the work "trot" often enough, he'll associate it with the canter. You need to use the longe line and body language when you don't have the horse's attention.
By the end of the session, the horse was trotting, very forward, not completely relaxed, but much better. At least, the longing was effective and the horse learned something. The girl was able to repeat the exercise in the other direction and has a better understanding of what she should expect from her horse. With that said, hopefully she will be able to come in the arena and not have people groan when she arrives! Good luck!
Unfortunately for me, barn work has been crazy hectic and I've been forced to put the riding on the back burner. The horses are getting out and lunged, but no real training other than the client horses...they are doing well. With the nasty cold temperatures, I don't care to work the horses very hard, so for BooBoo, it's a lot of stretching forward and downward in all 3 gaits. CeCe had a couple great rides on him already this week.
Junior was a star today. His warmup work was very forward and energetic with a nice relaxed, swinging back. His mouth was foamy and soft in the snaffle right from the very beginning. We worked mainly on changes in tempo within the canter especially medium canter to pirouette canter on a straight line. He likes to put his haunches right in the down transition, so I was able to really focus on the straightness by riding on the rail rather than a circle (which is how I usually do this exercise).
From there, I worked the counter canter with counter flexion, again, focusing on keeping him very straight. Unfortunately, he had too much fun doing the one tempis in our last ride, and so was hoping to do changes again when I'd change the bend. Rather than do the flying change back to the counter canter, I would make a walk transition back to the lead of my choice. He made this mistake at least a couple times before he understood we were not going to play the game.
After about 45 minutes of work, Junior was no where near ready to be done. I had to begin teaching lessons, so Liz got on and continued to exercise. Junior went around, happy and relaxed, forward and down for another half hour before he decided he was happy to finish. It was so cute, once they were done, Liz came over to where I was sitting to get her coat and Junior walked up to me and licked my face. Love!
It's been terribly cold all weekend long. I had high hopes for getting lots of things done at the barn this weekend...but not way! Christmas decorations and cleaning can wait until the middle of the week when it's back in the 30's.
What does the training week look like? I'm excited to ride Junior tomorrow. Our last ride included a super fun exercise that proved to me he was really on the aids and listening to my leg very carefully. On a straight line, I would ask for 2 1-time changes and would then count 3 normal strides back to 2 1-time changes. Skip/skip/1,2,3/skip/skip. I might change to 3 1-tempis with 2 normal strides, etc. I did this exercise on the quarter lines, on the rail and on the diagonal. Junior never made a mistake! Oddly enough, however, I noticed I had to concentrate much harder to make proper aids going right then left. Isn't that odd? The diagonals were never a problem, left either, but going to the right, I'd have to really "make" my left leg work properly. Hmmmm?? Wonder what that means?
I will likely play with this exercise again, just because it was really fun and Junior likes working on changes, but mostly, I'm going to keep the cavalletti out and work the passage strides and various exercises. Both Junior and Wheels are going to work quite hard this week since I have a little extra help and can have a ground person to change the poles around.
BooBoo is going to continue working in the same manner. Focus will be on straightness and working through some tensions issues that keep creeping up. To the right, he tilts his head with his left ear down. We'll work on various neck positions and changes within the gait to try and work out the kinks.
Boo needs to get sales videos made. She needs to get clipped, her mane pulled and braided and we'll go to work. She needs to show what she has learned and also work through some of her reservations about the canter. She canters croup high, likely because of her confirmation, and needs to develop lots more strength through her loin. We work primarily in trot to strengthen her for the canter. She's working much better in canter on the longe and we work in bits under saddle so that we can preserve her confidence. She'll be fine, just needs strength.
Liz also needs videos made for Doc since she wants to apply as a demo rider for the NEDA Spring Symposium with Carol Lavell and Mike Poulin. It would be really interesting for her to ride with them considering both of them rode Doc's sire a million years ago! I think they would appreciate that fact and will have a better understanding of Doc in general.
Looking forward to "warmer" weather!
Came home from a week in Wellington. What a body shock to switch from 70 degrees to minus 7! I rode Calcado (AKA "Monster") every day. He's busy working with Melissa MacLaren and Ruth Hogan Poulen who ahd renamed him "Mr Perfect". That was until about 10 days ago wne he decided to put his head thru his pasture gate, got stuck, and tore the entire gate off the fence! He showed off his necklace until the crew was able to settle hm enough to get it off. Fortunately he only ended up with a few minor cuts around his neck. (He's back to "the Monster"!) His training is going well. We worked on rhythm and connection. When he's "on the aids" he's super. We have a lot of work to do to become a team but I'm looking forward to the task. We're hoping to get him into three shows while he's in Florida to get some experience. Now I'm looking forward to getting back on BooBoo if only the temperature will get over 10 degrees!!!
I use cavalletti during my schooling with all my horses and the majority of my clients. There are some horses that benefit more from their use, but all horses seem to enjoy them and the fitness and agility they develop is worth the extra effort. One of my schoolmasters finds them completely entertaining, but has trouble with understanding how to use ground poles. He was a high level show jumper in his younger years and believes any pole on the ground is there for jumping. He can canter bounce through an entire series of ground poles with a big grin on his face! He wants to prove his athleticism even though he's 26!
Yesterday, I was working Junior through a series of alternating raised cavalletti (blocks are placed only at one end and then alternated by raising the left side then the right of the next). If you remember from my previous posts, Junior is crooked with his shoulders slightly left and his hips slightly right. If he's not really straight, he'll clip a pole or two as we trot over them. I have to be very careful how I make my corrections, however, since I can cause him to lose his balance and, in turn, lose confidence.
Once he was thoroughly warmed up and we worked the canter, I had an assistant move the blocks quite close together and rotate the blocks to the medium height. This would force Junior to really sit down and flex his joints in order to make it through the exercise...basically in passage. It took a few attempts before we were able to get the spacing just right, but once we had it, it was great fun! By the end, Junior was in wonderful self carriage all around the ring, carrying me along with a beautifully engaged core and as happy as a clam. Exercises like these teach a horse to be playful with their bodies and show off with their shoulders and knees.
I have loads of exercises with ground poles. We'll discuss more through the weeks ahead since cavalletti help to keep away the winter doldrums.
After not riding for the last week, I figured I would have my hands full riding the energizer bunny. To keep myself focused on precision, lightness, and communication. I tried a new exercise that I recently read about (subject is suppling and collecting) I was quite astonished at the results. From the corner, I did shoulder in on one long side with a 10 m circle in the middle at either E or B. Once this felt good and consistent, I rode several straight lines with changes in tempo, all at trot. Now for the fun part: On the long side, I rode a few steps of shoulder in and immediately rode straight onto a diagonal line for a few strides. Then, I immediately went back to shoulder in heading towards the wall for a few strides, and then back to being straight on the diagonol. You sort of ride a zigzag. My goal was to repeat this sequence 3-4 times on the long side of the arena. I was not able to do get as many repetitions as I thought but this is probably due to rider error. My hopes were that this would help the communication between Jack and I and would help me achieve the delicate balance of power and lightness. I was able to ride that lovely trot with lightness and evenness in both reins at the end- there is nothing else quite like it!