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The dressage warm-up arena can be a crowded place. Photo by Amber Heintzberger from MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON.

Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event 2017 starts today with the first horse inspection, and the dressage phase kicks off tomorrow morning. To make sure everyone’s ready to go, here are five tips for warming up prior to your dressage test from MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON:

1  Start in walk on a 20-meter circle if the warm-up area is large enough. Introduce “inside leg to outside rein.” I usually start on the left rein, because most horses go better to the left and it starts them off well mentally. Get the horse walking nicely forward, slightly bent around your inside leg, and encourage him to reach softly down and forward.

2  Use some leg-yielding exercises to reaffirm your training and get the horse listening to your leg in both directions, left and right. Once you have his attention at the walk, go to rising trot. Rather than thinking about the the test, focus more on the correctness of the horse: You want him reaching for the bit softly; obedient to inside leg to outside rein; and with flexion to the inside.

3  Do lots of changes of direction and transitions within the trot to keep your horse’s attention and prevent him from getting “stuck.” Once his back is supple and loose, do a little bit of sitting trot, then ask for the canter. 

4  Do canter-trot-canter transitions on each rein. This is a great way of testing how well the horse is on the aids. I don’t want him to run or hollow out, and he should stay obedient through the transition.

5  You can practice specific parts of the test a few times, but when there is one horse to go before you, go back and work on your horse’s correctness–getting him in tune with your aids. Do lots of transitions, keeping the horse listening and thinking. Also, vary the horse’s frame. This last part of the warm-up is really to reinforce his attention on you.

Find more eventing advice in MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

We’re thrilled to have two TSB authors competing at RK3DE this year: Phillip Dutton and Doug Payne. In addition, professional grooms Emma Ford and Cat Hill, and horseman Dan James, are involved in this exciting equestrian event.

EARTHDAYBLOG

The definition of “recycle” is to convert waste into reusable material. But when it comes to the idea of “recycling,” few of us think of something we waste on a regular basis around the world: perfectly good horses. Just consider how many thousands of horses every year are born and are NOT the fastest, most beautiful, most athletic, or most colorful. They are just horses, in need of a home and a chance to shine in their own individual ways.

Earth Day 2017 is Saturday, April 22, and there will be a lot of much needed talk and action when it comes to trying to make our world a cleaner, healthier place for humans and animals to inhabit. But as we pile up the returnables and separate the plastics, this is also a time to remember that there are many four-legged creatures in need of a new home and a second chance. There are dogs, cats, and indeed horses, that need to be given an opportunity to be something different for someone new. Adopting one is perhaps the ultimate act of recycling.

One example of this is the off-the-track Thoroughbred. According to the Jockey Club, an estimated 22,500 Thoroughbred foals were born in North America in 2016. A fraction of these will go on to careers on the track or as breeding stock. The rest have an uncertain fate. Luckily, the past decade has seen an uptick in the number of OTTB retraining and rehoming facilities, as well as an increase in public awareness through the efforts of organizations such as the Retired Racehorse Project and its popular Thoroughbred Makeover event. This is good news for ex-racehorses, as many of them now find new roles as trail horses, competitive partners, or even just pasture companions.

In her Brookmeade Young Rider Series, TSB author Linda Snow McLoon tells the story of a young girl that is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to “recycle” a failed racehorse and turn him into an eventing superstar. Here’s an excerpt from the first book in the series, Crown Prince:

Crown Prince_250Sarah stood quietly, watching the horse. There was no movement as he stood facing the far corner, ignoring her. She clucked softly, but there was no response. Her hand dug deep in her pocket in hopes of finding one more carrot, but it was empty. Nothing was left, except perhaps…yes, in her other pocket she felt a peppermint candy, which she withdrew and slowly unwrapped. In response to the crinkling of the cellophane, a slim finely chiseled head turned her way, his ears pricked forward. He wore a halter, but was too far away for her to read the nameplate. She placed her outstretched hand with the peppermint over the stall door and spoke softly. “Prince—come, Prince.”

Slowly the horse turned from the rear wall and cautiously moved toward her. As he got closer, she felt delicate nostrils blow gently on her hand and then the slender muzzle lifted the peppermint away. He studied her as he chewed the candy slowly and deliberately.

He was big. Except for the enormous draft horses she had seen in pulling competitions at the state fair, this horse was larger than any Sarah had ever seen, including Chancellor. The only horse who might possibly match his size was Donegal Lad. But this horse possessed such refinement that his size wasn’t readily evident until he was close. In the dimly lit stall his dark bay coat looked almost black, and his only marking was a small white star in the center of his forehead. The deep straw bedding hid any possible white markings on his legs.

For several moments Sarah and the horse stood looking at each other. Then she lifted the stall door’s latch and let herself inside. As Crown Prince retreated to the corner, she reached back over the door to lower the latch back into position. Slowly she approached the horse, all the while talking softly. “Good boy, good Prince,” she repeated. Once by his side, she reached to touch his long neck and stroked it gently. His coat felt like sleek satin. He turned his head toward her, seeming to know she meant him no harm.

Now she was close enough to make out his halter plate. Sarah read the name in large block letters: CROWN PRINCE. Below it in smaller print his sire and dam were listed: Emperor’s Gold—Northern Princess. Yes! This definitely was the horse with the reputation of an untrainable rogue.

“You beautiful Prince,” she murmured. As Sarah stroked his neck and continued to speak in hushed tones, she felt the horse become more relaxed. His head dropped down to her and gradually his eyes softened, as he clearly enjoyed her touch and gentle voice. He offered no resistance as she gently pulled his head closer and rested her cheek on his muzzle. It was so soft. With his head lowered, she caressed his forehead, tracing the white star, and gently tugged on his ears. She felt as if she had known this horse forever.

Sarah had no idea how long she had been in the stall with Crown Prince when she became aware of a presence outside.

“Sarah, what are you doing? We’ve been looking all over for you.” It was her father’s voice. She turned to see him looking in at her, along with Jack, Sam, and Rudy Dominic. Worry and concern were written all over their faces.

“I’m fine, Dad. Don’t worry. This is Crown Prince. And he’s the horse I want.”

Her father’s jaw tightened as his eyes met Jack’s before he turned back to Sarah and the dark bay horse standing beside her. Crown Prince surveyed them all curiously, the picture of refinement and nobility. Mr. Wagner observed the horse’s beautifully shaped head, which tapered from small ears to large intelligent eyes down to a refined muzzle. His white star contrasted sharply with his deep mahogany coat. Sarah’s father shook his head, acknowledging the horse’s beauty, but anxious for his daughter’s safety.

Rudy Dominic pointed to the horse. “Isn’t he just like I said?”

Jack was too absorbed to answer. He opened the stall door and joined Sarah to get a closer look. He had seen some impressive horseflesh in his life, but this one ranked up there with the best of them. His eyes traveled from the powerful hindquarters to the pleasing topline and nicely sloping shoulder.

“Have you got a shank right there, Rudy?” Jack asked. “I want to get a better look at this fellow outside the stall.”

Rudy nodded to Sam, who left, returning in a few minutes with a lead shank, and let himself into the horse’s stall. “Come on, big horse. Let’s show off for these folks.” As he started to attach the lead to Crown Prince’s halter, the horse playfully grabbed the brass shank with his teeth. “Oh, no you don’t,” Sam said, as he pulled it away. He ran the chain through the halter’s side ring, over the horse’s nose, and attached it to the other side. Turning to Sarah, he said, “If he decided to put his head to the sky, as a short guy I’d be in trouble. But he knows me. He’s not a bad horse around the barn. It’s only when you sit on him he gets rank. I’ll bring him out so you can have a look-see at a real horse.”

Jack opened the stall door, and Sam led the horse to the open area between the barns. The backstretch was quieter now, since most grooms had finished caring for their horses and were having a late breakfast in the track kitchen. Crown Prince walked with a stately dignity and halted when asked, his coat gleaming in the sun’s rays.

Jack moved around him, thinking out loud. “Strong hindquarters, nice length of back, pronounced withers, good bone, and a lovely long neck.” He moved to stand directly in front of the horse before speaking to Rudy. “His conformation is quite correct. No toeing in or out, good width of chest, nice head. They don’t come any better than this. But I’d like to see him move.”

Rudy motioned to Sam. “Walk away and then jog him back, Sam. But be careful. He hasn’t been to the track to gallop in a while, so keep a tight hold on him.” Rudy turned to Sarah and her father. “I’m always surprised at how well behaved he is except when there’s a rider up. Then he becomes a lunatic.”

Jack positioned himself to get a good view before Sam led the horse away from him. Coming back, Prince trotted agreeably beside Sam and stopped when they reached Jack. “He’s a good mover, too—well balanced,” said Jack, “and his ground manners can’t be faulted.”

Sarah’s father was standing back but listening carefully. “He is a beautiful animal. It’s too bad his reputation takes him out of the running for being a horse for Sarah,” he said firmly.

Sarah, who up to now hadn’t taken her eyes off the horse, swung to face her father. “Dad—I don’t believe he can be as bad as Rudy says! He deserves a chance to be a different horse when he gets away from the racetrack and comes to Brookmeade Farm. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be a racehorse, but I think he will be a wonderful horse for me. I just know it!”

Mr. Wagner was quick to respond. “Sarah, this is a large and powerful animal. Above all else, I won’t let you be in harm’s way. From what I’ve heard today, this horse is dangerous. We mustn’t be so taken with his splendid appearance that we lose sight of the big picture. I can’t have you getting hurt by a horse.”

Sarah could see her father was totally serious. He was thinking only of potential disaster. She had to change his mind.

“We can start working with him on a longe line, Dad, until he knows what’s expected of him. I can turn him out in the big pasture where he can run off some energy. He’ll come to trust me. I promise I won’t even think about riding him until Jack gives the okay. You can see he’s well behaved. He’s a special horse, Dad, and he should have another chance.”

“But what about the handsome chestnut horse you like so much?” her father asked, motioning toward the other end of the shed row. “Don’t you think Code of Honor will be the perfect horse for you? And don’t you want a horse you can ride? Who knows how long it will be before you can get on this horse, if ever.”

Sarah looked at her father, her dark eyes pleading. “Dad, I know you want what’s best for me. But this is supposed to be my decision. Please don’t stand in the way. You’ve got to trust me. I want to take Crown Prince back to Brookmeade Farm more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my entire life. I know he’s the right horse for me. He’s the one I’ve been waiting for.”

Jack, who had been quietly studying Crown Prince, turned to them. “’Tis for sure we have a grand animal here. Who knows the heights he and Sarah might reach if we can turn him around? Sometimes Thoroughbreds are completely different when they get away from the racetrack.” Jack walked over and placed a hand on Crown Prince’s shoulder. He stroked the horse, deep in thought.

After a few moments he turned back to Sarah’s father. “I tell you what, Martin. Perhaps we can give this horse a trial run. If we could arrange to take him for a month, I’ll pledge to be deeply involved in his handling, and I mean every part of his care and schooling, to make sure Sarah is safe. I won’t allow her to get on him until I’ve tested those waters myself. I’ll know in thirty days if he will be a suitable mount for her. If by then we’ve made no headway and I decide he’s not the right horse, we’ll notify Hank Bolton and return him to you, Rudy,” Jack added, looking at the trainer. “If this trial scenario is acceptable to you and Hank Bolton, let’s give it a shot.” He paused and looked intently at Sarah’s father. “Martin, I’m willing to make this commitment to ensure your daughter’s safety.”

Sarah stood quietly, her gaze never leaving her father. He was solemn, as he stood deep in thought. She knew he was worried—that above all else, he didn’t want her hurt. Mr. Wagner looked hard at Jack for a few moments before speaking. “Without your encouragement, I would never even consider letting Sarah take a horse with the shady past this one has. But if you can assure me you’ll stay on top of things and manage everything that’s done with him, I’ll go along with your proposal. But remember, this is a trial. At some point in the next month I will look to you, Jack, for an answer. If Sarah is at risk at any time, the horse must go.”

Sarah threw her arms around her father. “Dad, you’re the greatest! I’ll always remember this, that you gave Crown Prince a chance.”

 

CROWN PRINCE and its sequel CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Plus, in honor of Earth Day 2017, you can download a digital copy of ECO-HORSEKEEPING for only $1.99! CLICK HERE to get hundreds of tips for going green affordably, in the barn and in the rest of your horse life!

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

LetsDance

When the circles seem to never (ever…ever) end and your horse starts spooking at his own pile of manure just for something different to do, it’s time to liven up your schooling sessions. There are many ways to make training more engaging, including imaginative uses of lateral work, props like ground poles and cones, and incorporating trail obstacles and challenges, even when you’re practicing inside the arena.

This exercise from 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS is great for both English and Western riders and combines the turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches. This combination increases the horse’s agility and attention, teaching him to better respond to different positions of the rider’s leg, which in turn develops willingness and cooperation in the horse. This exercise will also help your horse become more flexible in his spine (especially in his loin area).

Are you ready to dance? Here’s what to do:

1 Tracking left, ride 3–4 feet (1–1.3 m) from the track. Choose a random point.

2 Begin, for example, with two steps of a turn-on-the-haunches to the left (no. 1 in diagram below). As you do so, lightly position your horse to the left. Shift your weight to your left seat bone. Use your right leg to drive the horse’s forehand to the left.

 

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Diagram from 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

 

3 Pause. Then, for several steps execute a turn-on-the-forehand to the right (no. 2). Using your left rein, position your horse to the left. Shift your weight to your left

4 Now, again ride a few steps of turn-on-the-haunches (no. 3) and a few steps of turn-on-the-forehand (no. 4). Conclude the exercise with a few steps of turn-on-the-haunches (no. 5).

Note: At first, pause in between each turn so that the horse stays motivated and doesn’t become overwhelmed. But, as the exercise progresses, make your pauses shorter so your movements begin to flow like dance steps.

Tip: Don’t use your rein to pull your horse in the desired direction. Guide his turn. Look in the applicable direction. As you do so, turn your head 90 degrees.

 

What is you horse learning?

  • Sensitivity to the rider’s aids (especially the leg aids).
  • Crossing with his legs.
  • Flexibility in positioning.

 

What are you learning?

  • Refinement of the aids.
  • A feel for the various turns.

 

What if your horse is losing his balance and straightness at times?

Ask yourself if your horse is overwhelmed, perhaps because the turns are coming too quickly in succession? If not, your inside leg can often be responsible for this problem. Be aware that you do not stretch your inside leg out in front of you or too far away from your horse. Your inside leg should just be a slight distance from the horse’s side.

What if your horse executes parts of the exercise, without you giving him the aids?

In order to avoid your horse anticipating the turns, include forward movement and rein-back in between them.

 

50 Best Arena Ex-REVISED LG

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For more fun riding exercises that get results, check out 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

100HereFB

Photo by Patti Bose from IS YOUR HORSE 100%? by Margret Henkels.

It’s a question we are all faced with, more often than not. Is my horse feeling his best? Is he free from aches, pains, tension, anxiety? It can be difficult for well-meaning owners, riders, and caretakers to pinpoint the real issue when a horse is “off,” “not himself,” or just unable to tap into his performance potential. Whether we are just pleasure riders or aiming for gold, a horse that is not 100% fit and able leaves us worried, frustrated, and searching for answers.

Enter equine bodywork practitioner Margret Henkels, who in her new book IS YOUR HORSE 100%? reveals a whole new world of possibility with her Conformation Balancing method, which works with the horse’s myofascia, or fascia, to release sources of physical and emotional strain and trauma, opening the doors wide open to long-term health and unparalleled fitness.

“Myofascia is the gossamer white tissue in the body that connects all the horse’s body’s parts, including bones, muscles, and all the different body systems,” Henkels explains in her book. “Its unique properties are almost unknown to us, despite its central role in the healthy functioning of all bodies, including humans. As the ‘internet’ of the body, myofascia communicates with all parts instantly, while also giving the horse structure and organization.

“The elusive properties of fascia allow it to slip through the cracks of science, but it is now a health and fitness frontier. Myofascial work is one of the myriad holistic ways to progress body health and fitness, along with massage, chiropractic, meridian work, acupuncture, and acupressure. The unique internet-like structure of fascia means that your work with fascia is actually much easier, since you are not searching for tiny points or meridians, or other small areas on the horse. It is an ever-present, organizing tissue that connects all the parts.”

In IS YOUR HORSE 100%? Henkels provides basic steps to not only analyzing and tracking the horse’s conformation, but also to using your hands in a series of simple, noninvasive placements and movements, to “melt” adhesions in the fascia, correct compensations, and direct the horse’s body in positive releases that allow healing from the inside out.

This is a whole new way of looking at our horses’ fitness and health, and our own ability to play an integral role in enhancing it.

 

Is Your Horse 100

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IS YOUR HORSE 100%? is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

5.16

Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Santa Fe Renegade. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) defines engagement as “increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (‘lightening the forehand’).”

Engagement is a prerequisite to impulsion (thrust): the “releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse’s elastic, whole-body movement.” Engagement is carrying power, whereas impulsion is pushing power.

Many people who ride horses have no idea what the technical terms mean. Although Cowboy Dressage tries to avoid confusing language, engagement and impulsion are such important aspects of forward motion that they need to be understood and recognized, and so they are explained in the book COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

In simpler terms, engagement refers to the manner in which a balanced horse brings his hind legs under his belly to move forward off his hindquarters efficiently. Engagement is the basis for a horse’s impulsion–the energy with which a horse moves forward. The true lightness of Cowboy Dressage can only happen when the horse is engaged and moving with impulsion, with his weight over the hindquarters rather than on the forehand.

The hindquarters are the energy source of the horse. At the same time, he carries most of his weight on his forehand thanks to the head and neck. Engagement helps the horse achieve balance under these physiological conditions. To better bear the weight and enable balance, the horse must round his back and bring his hind legs well forward under him. This is called tracking or tracking up (USDF). Tracking is a necessary component of engagement, but it should not be confused with reach (how far the hind leg reaches forward).

Nor should engagement and impulsion be confused with speed. A horse that is rushing will often be strung out and hollow-backed, the opposite of being engaged. The front and hind end may appear disjointed or unconnected. Conversely, a horse that is engaged will move from behind in a balanced, energetic fashion at any gait and any speed.

Although the Cowboy Dressage horse may not have the length of stride or suspension that a traditional dressage horse has, he should show engagement and impulsion. All four feet should be working together in a rhythmic fashion.

To achieve impulsion and engagement, encourage your horse to round his back, stretch and lower his neck, and move forward actively. The energy has to flow naturally through your hands at a free gait. Much of the time spent on the horse’s foundation should be dedicated to encouraging forward motion. Good horsepersons make engagement and forward motion a prerequisite to every maneuver.

6.5B

Encourage your horse to stretch and lower his neck as seen in this free jog.

Again, remember that energetic forward motion requires strength and endurance: the horse must be conditioned slowly until he has the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of Cowboy Dressage or any other equestrian discipline. Much of the cadence and beauty of the finished gaits comes from long hours simply moving forward at the walk, jog, and lope.

Find out more about developing beautiful gaits in your horse in COWBOY DRESSAGE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Raymond is one of the 10 horses that star in Yvonne Barteau’s THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

If horses could talk, what would they say about the exercises we ask them to do and the movements we have them perform? Grand Prix dressage rider and popular equestrian performer Yvonne Barteau has wondered this throughout her lifelong career with horses, and so she has tried very hard over the years to learn to see and understand things from the equine perspective.

In her incredibly fun-to-read book THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, Barteau guides us through the dressage levels from the horse’s point of view. Her humor and well-honed sense of how the equine mind works provides a valuable and very different look at what it means to train and ride a dressage horse.

Here is an exercise from one of the 10 real-life horse stars of Barteau’s book: Raymond is a worrier-type, seven years old, and only showing Training and First Level, although he knows and practices all kinds of FEI movements. He likes to work and this is one Second Level lesson in counter-canter that is a particular favorite.

Raymond says:

Counter-canter, counter-flexion teaches us to balance and stay true to our lead, rather than associating a change in flexion with a change in lead. This exercise is designed to both gymnasticize us, and make us totally obedient to your aids by counter-cantering, and then changing the flexion away from the lead we are on. For example: left lead, traveling right, but flexed to the right, and right lead, traveling left, flexed to the left.

How to Do It
1 In counter-canter going to the right (you are on the left lead, traveling on the right rein) start with your right leg in its slightly back position to add sideways pressure until you start to get into a sort of renvers (haunches-out) positioning.

2 Keeping a “conversational” and pulsing kind of leg aid with that same right leg, allow us to connect to the left rein more as an outside rein (rather than as an inside flexion rein), and begin to flex us bit by bit to the right with your right (suppling) fingers (counter-flexion).

3 Be careful to keep the impulsion and “jump” in the canter with that same right leg while not doing too much with your left leg (which should still be up by the girth). If things go really well, you will feel almost as if you are in counter-canter, counter-shoulder-in with your horse’s weight more over his outside limbs (in this case, the left) and less over his inside (in this case, the right). Your horse needs to get comfortable and balanced in this positioning on either lead, and be able to go back and forth from counter-canter, true-flexion to counter-canter, counter-flexion in preparation for the lead changes to come.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 10.47.17 AM

It will feel SO good when you and your horse get this exercise right! Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

When It Goes Wrong
It takes time to get good at this exercise—it challenges both horse and rider—and if you or your horse starts getting confused or frustrated, just back off and review something easier. Don’t come back to this exercise until you are both relaxed and in harmony again.

 

Get more guidance straight from the horse’s mouth in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Yvonne Barteau is judging the all-women edition of Road to the Horse, which starts tomorrow! You can watch the live broadcast here.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

DPonRunningOrder

Doug Payne on Running Order. Photo by Shannon Brinkman from THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL.

Doug Payne is a well-known equestrian on the international scene, perhaps most recognized as the eventer-most-likely-to-wear-a-helmet-cam. His pulse-quickening videos are seemingly everywhere, leaving hundreds of would-be riders dizzy from their virtual Rolex experience.

But Payne is also recognized for his ability to see “what could be” in horses others may have dismissed. Here he gives us the basics for that “first ride,” when you’re testing the waters and analyzing the physical ability, experience, and personality of a horse you don’t know all that well. Whatever you’re riding level or discipline, it makes sense to have a practical plan in place for equine “test drives”–whether it’s a first lesson or a potential purchase, the steps you take once in the saddle need to keep you safe while yielding information.

Here’s Payne’s advice from his book THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL:

I like to start at the walk. Gradually, pick up the reins and take a contact. This will tell you right away whether this is a sensitive horse or a “bull.” It also gives you a very good feel for whether he is naturally balanced or not. Within the first 30 seconds, you should be able to tell, with good certainty, whether he’s naturally balanced or on the forehand, and on which side he’s stiffer. You can determine how responsive he is to seat, leg, and hand, and whether he’s a natural-born athlete or just a “couch potato.” Most importantly, in these first few moments, you should be able to tell what type of attitude he has: Is he benevolent, “out to get you,” or somewhere in the middle?

The “bull” of a horse will be quite heavy while the sensitive one will be light to a fault in his contact. Most horses start off a bit lazily—not walking forward with conviction. Make the most of this initial opportunity to assess how responsive he is to your leg aids. I ask him to move on to a more forward, active walk. Right away, there will be one of two possible answers: Either, he’ll be responsive and move on appropriately (wonderful), or you’ll find that when you apply more leg, he’s indifferent or even moves less forward. Although, this latter response is obviously not ideal, at least you find out right away that there is a flaw with the horse’s training—he is not thinking about moving freely forward. This restriction has to be dealt with as soon as possible, because it will propagate throughout his training and make progress impossible.

Now I’m going to check to make sure that I have steering. I’m going to start with just turning left and right—simple circles or other figures very quickly give you an idea of which of his sides is the stiffer one. Just like people, horses are stronger going on one diagonal over another. Your goal is to try and make him as ambidextrous as possible, while understanding he is going to have a naturally stronger side for life.

Note: I do not ask the horse to back up in the first few minutes unless I know I have competent people on the ground. Basically, when you have a person on the ground, she can quickly come to the rescue and place her hands on the horse’s chest to help explain what you’re looking for. Without one, I wait to make sure I have all of the other components in place. Before you begin, you must have all the tools in case you open Pandora’s Box!

From the walk, move on to the trot. The same expectation of a prompt response is true for the transition to the trot. When you ask for the trot, the horse had better trot off with conviction. Once trotting with confidence in a forward active gait, move on to see what
other “buttons” have been installed. If this is a horse with lateral tools in place, see how good they are. Start with a leg-yield, then on to shoulder-in, haunches-in, then half-pass, and lengthening and shortening.

Then on to the canter. Much of the same strategies should be in place as found in the trot. You’re looking for the canter to be well-balanced, active, and forward. When it is lacking, you can identify what you need to work to refine the horse’s skill set.

Whether you are considering a purchase or just determining a new training project’s schooling plan, a calm and progressive exploration of who the horse is and what he knows (or doesn’t know) should help you come away with the information you need.

For more training advice from Doug Payne, check out THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL, available from the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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