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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.

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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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In her acclaimed book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, the five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic silver-medalist provides step-by-step descriptions of 20 exercises to improve your position and your feel. We can all—whatever discipline we favor or breed of horse we ride—put the following lesson in lengthening and shortening the horse’s stride into practice:

Once you have the basic tools for controlling speed and straightness, the next step to master is basic lengthening and shortening of your horse’s stride length. I’m not talking about extension and collection here, but simply about developing your ability to get (and to know you’re getting) a longer stride and a shorter stride—covering more ground or less ground with each of his footfalls. For this work, you may find it useful to have a helper on the ground to confirm and correct your impressions about how you’re affecting the horse’s stride.

To emphasize the importance of “forward,” begin with lengthening:

1.     In the working walk, increase the feel in your legs with a “squeeze-soften-squeeze” sequence that almost asks for a trot, then softens, and squeezes again, in rhythm with your horse’s steps.

2.     Let your hips swing forward to follow the walk, as they should naturally do, while you close your legs and feel your horse gaining more ground by taking longer strides.

3.     And yet, your hands don’t allow him to trot, nor do your legs push quite that hard. As he stretches and nods his neck, watch this motion and allow your elbows to open and close, so that you follow with your arms but don’t drop the contact. Don’t smother him so that he can’t lengthen, but don’t let him trot. (Think of him as an accordion, expanding and contracting.)

Now that you’ve pushed your horse into a longer stride (make sure your helper on the ground confirms that you have), teach him to shorten his stride by using your retarding aids more than your driving aids.

4.     With both hands, take more contact in rhythm with the stride, as if you’re going to stop …

5.     … but keep your legs squeezing and softening to tell him, “No, don’t stop. Stay active—take a shorter step but don’t stop, a shorter step but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop.” Keep the movement rhythmic, so you get regular short steps, not choppy ones.

6.     Keep alternating the length of steps you ask for—short, short, short, then working (regular), working, then long, long, long, and back again, in the walk and then in the trot and canter so that you feel the different lengths and rhythms and develop your horse’s understanding of your aids.

7.     As you squeeze your legs, especially in the trot and canter, be sure your contact with the horse’s mouth is elastic, so that he can stretch into the longer stride. Remember that he can only lengthen his stride as far as his nose is poking out. If he’s overflexed or very short in the neck, he may throw his front leg forward, but his stride will still be short because he has to touch the ground at a point beneath where his nose is.

Listen to your horse’s strides. In each pace, try to make them as consistent as a metronome. With practice, as you get to know how his lengthened and shortened gaits feel and what balance of leg and hand aids produce them, you’ll be able to choose and then maintain whatever rhythm you want.

 

Get more great lessons on the flat and over fences in ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

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