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GOODHANDS

“That rider has good hands.”

The comment might mean little to those outside the equestrian realm, but within it, we understand it as a compliment. And one of the highest order.

As young riders, we try our darnedest for a somewhat light connection with the school horses and tough little ponies we likely learn on. We know we should be able to turn and stop with almost invisible aids…we’ve been told, and we’ve seen great performances by liberty trainers and dressage riders and accomplished horsemen with that magic touch on a horse. I even vaguely remember reading a story about a fairy with a tiny, mystical mount, and reins of a spider’s thread…and this is what I aspired to, over the years, despite a number of equine partners with less-than-enthusiastic responses.

Certainly, it would seem some people are born with feel and good hands. They get on a horse the first time and just know, innately, how to communicate with the animal beneath them. But the rest of us needn’t feel dismay, as we can improve the sensitive and effective use of our hands. The late great Sally Swift gives us two fun and easy exercises to help in CENTERED RIDING 2, her phenomenal followup to the international bestseller CENTERED RIDING. Here’s my take on both of them:

 

Booze Cruise (My Name for This Exercise, Not Sally’s)

With your fingers around the stems, walk around with two full (right to the top!) wine glasses. Notice how much easier it is not to spill the wine when you are grounded, centered, and soft with your fingers, than when you tighten and hold the glass stems with tense hands. Practice finding a more grounded, centered self that filters out to soft hands. Note: I recommend doing this in a room with tile floor or outside, where spillage isn’t a concern. Bonus: Go ahead and have a drink when you’re done. (And repeat the exercise as often as needed!)

 

bowl

Ball in the Bowl

Take a large mixing bowl and place any small ball (a tennis ball, for example) in it. Walk around holding the bowl loosely with your arms relaxed, your thumbs just under the outside of the rim, and two or three fingers underneath. Experiment with what you need to do to keep the ball “quiet” in the bowl (ie, not rolling around) as you walk. You will quickly discover that you must not try too hard, hold your breath, or keep a tight hold on the bowl with your hands. If you try to keep the bowl still by tightening your hands, the ball will roll around rapidly. Instead, balance your pelvis by softening your hip joints and dropping your sacrum. Ground yourself, use soft eyes, breathe easily, center yourself, and lengthen your spine up and down. You will discover that your hands become very sensitive in the way they carry the bowl, and the ball will be surprisingly quiet inside it. This is the quality of hands that you want when communicating with your horse through the reins. (Photo from CENTERED RIDING 2.)

 

 

CenteredRiding2PB-300For more enlightening exercises for better all-around riding, read Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2, available 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 business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

 

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neckmuscles

 

Many riders have neck and shoulder tension, which derives from the body’s reaction of “turning on” the trapezius muscle (see illustration above) in their daily lives. When there is a neuromuscular “highway” to an unproductive area such as the trapezius, there will be an almost automatic physical reaction, collecting tension in that area, regardless of what the rider is trying to do. Shoving tense shoulders back during a ride only makes the problem worse: Exertion used to “fight” a tense muscle area creates additional tension.

The answer is not to fight the muscles that are involuntarily tense, but to reduce tension with a) extensive stretching, and b) to learn to use the muscle’s “off” switch, which is found by training the body to make better use of other areas.

Believe it or not, stretching your neck muscles makes a difference. Stretching your neck actually stretches the elevator scapula as well as the trapezius muscles, in addition to neck muscles. If you carry tension in your shoulders and neck, this exercise is especially important, but if you are relaxed and supple, doing quick neck stretches on a regular basis can just be part of healthy spine maintenance.

Holding your arms down to keep your shoulders down, tilt your head from side to side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder with a deep breath each time.

 

neck stretch

 

You can also tuck your head forward as if looking under your armpit on each side.

Do not roll your head back because this compresses your neck vertebrae. If you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders, you can help release it by taking a free hand and squeezing your trapezius muscle or pushing down on it gently as you lean into the stretch. Do not hold the stretch very long before switching to the other side. These stretches should be done slowly and rhythmically.

A rider with shoulder tension can make a habit of doing this stretch, holding it longer, at the end of the day. When doing a deep neck stretch (any stretch can be turned into a “deep” one by holding it longer), it is important to use your hand to help raise your head afterward, since a deep stretch in the neck muscles will stretch the fibers and you can strain something by trying to lift the weight of your head using the same muscles that you just elongated.

For more from Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom, check out her bestselling book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS!, available 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 business based on a farm in rural Vermont.  

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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.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 10.04.47 AM

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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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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walkthisway

Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg was accepted as a student at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in 1960 and rose rapidly under the tutelage of Colonel Alois Podhajsky to become the youngest ever First Chief Rider in the history of the school. Internationally respected, Kottas has successfully trained many horses and riders to Olympic standard in dressage. Here he provides easy-to-try solutions for three of the most common problems found with the horse’s walk.

 

Problem 1: Breaks Rhythm (Pacing)
Common cause: Tension in the back.

Solutions

  • Using poles or low cavalletti can encourage freer steps and regularize the rhythm. An average distance between poles for walk work is 0.9m, but be prepared to alter this to suit the horse’s stride length.
  • The rider needs to be able to feel what is going on in his horse, otherwise the timing of the aids depends on luck, and this can affect the clarity of the gait. If the rider does have difficulty feeling the movement, he can practice calling out the leg sequence. Riding without stirrups and with a deep seat will help the rider to feel the horse’s motion and leg sequence clearly.
  • Riding up and down hills is useful. A forward stride downhill normally improves the walk to four clear beats.
  • Ride transitions from free walk to medium and to free walk again. This will encourage relaxation of the horse’s back muscles. (Note the rider must take care to retake the rein contact carefully, so as to keep the relaxed quality in the medium walk. Taking a strong hold will create tension that will affect the walk rhythm.
  • Riding a walk shoulder-in is a good way to clear the pace to a correct four-beat rhythm.
  • If the gait is very hurried, this can cause the walk to become lateral. Try slowing the walk right down until the walk becomes four-beat again.

 

upanddown

Walking up and down hills can help fix rhythm issues in the walk. Photos from the book DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS by Arthur Kottas.

 
Problem 2: Walk Too Fast (Breaks into Jog)
Common cause: A nervous or excitable horse.

Solutions

  • Be very patient and spend long periods in walk on a long rein to relax the horse.
  • The rider must sit very still and quietly, so that eventually the horse tunes into the rider’s calm state and begins to relax, too.
  • Some horses become tense when they feel the rider’s legs on their sides. Keep your legs very light, so that he will gradually accept them without becoming tense.
  • Some young or cold-backed horses benefit from being longed before ridden work. This gives them time to relax without the disturbance of the rider’s weight on their back.
  • Use half-halts and frequent transitions to a square halt and walk again to gradually settle the walk.

 

Problem 3: Lazy Walk
Common cause: Dullness to the aids; poor rider position or aiding.

Solutions

  • Try giving alternate leg aids, coordinated with each hind leg stepping forward. You should feel the moment through your seat bones. Apply the leg just before the hind foot on the same side leaves the ground.
  • It is important that the rider is not tense or stiff in his back, or it will inhibit the horse’s freedom to walk forwards freely.
  • Strong rein contact can have the same effect. Try making small forward yields in the reins and keeping the wrists relaxed, to remove the “handbrake.”
  • Legs that constantly kick or grip tightly will dull the horse and make the walk feel lazy. The rider should keep a light touch with his legs on the horse’s sides and use the aids sparingly, supported by a touch from the whip if necessary. When the horse responds, the rider must cease the aid and sit quietly with relaxed legs that “drape” around the horse’s sides.
  • Riding over ground poles can improve the activity of the walk. Once the horse is negotiating them calmly, the distance between them can be slightly lengthened to encourage a longer stride. Pole work or low cavalletti can introduce some variety into the schooling and many horses enjoy this and we can therefore achieve improvements and give the horse some fun in his work.
  • Making frequent transitions up and down will help bring the horse onto your aids more attentively.

For more training and riding advice from Arthur Kottas, check out DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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

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sitonhandds

We all want to communicate with our horses in ways they can understand. When riding, that communication is dependent on our aids. What we might not realize is just knowing what the aids are and in what order to apply them isn’t enough to “speak” clearly to your horse. It is important sit centered, straight, and even in the saddle.

In the book 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, we learn how to get a feel for a seat that is centered, straight, and even.

1  Take both feet out of the stirrups and let your legs hang.

Allow your upper body to swing gently from front to back. After repeating this several times, you will notice that you instinctively find your center.

3  Round and hollow your back in order to get a feel for a correctly upright upper body. This is important as only then can your spine compensate for the movement of the horse and remain in balance.

4  Now, have a friend hold your horse as you shut your eyes for a moment and concentrate on the feel of your seat. You must develop a feeling for both seat bones and whether they are evenly bearing weight. If you are having trouble sensing both seat bones, drop your reins and sit on your hands: place them under your rear end with the palms facing toward the saddle and the top of the hands under your seat bones. This should enhance the pressure of the seat bones and help you distribute your weight evenly left to right.

Note: If you have continued difficulty evenly weighting your seat bones in the saddle, you may have natural crookedness or movement patterns in your body that need attention from a physical therapist or biomechanics expert.

For a terrific reference of schooling ideas for English and Western riders, check out 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter.

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

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Rio2016

Who doesn’t get bored going in circles? Olympic Equestrian and TSB author Ingrid Klimke says that riding over cavalletti on circles and half-circles can be a welcome change, not only improving the rider’s seat so it is more secure and balanced, but developing “feel,” as well. And there are many benefits for the horse.

“Cavalletti work on circles and half-circles helps to loosen the horse, and can rectify stiffness on one side or the other, so the horse bends and flexes equally in both directions,” she writes with her father Reiner Klimke in their bestselling book CAVALLETTI. “If a horse is not straight, he will often lose rhythm – this where cavalletti work can help by restoring elasticity and encouraging the placing of the hind feet under the center of gravity.

“Over poles, the horse does not have the chance to step out to the side with the hind legs. The length of stride and placing of the feet is so precise that the horse maintains rhythm by himself. It takes very little practice before the hind feet step into the tracks of the front feet—and the horse becomes straight.

“Riding over cavalletti on circles is especially beneficial for training the horse’s inside hind leg to take weight. Because of this it can be quite strenuous, so avoid doing it for too long.”

Cavalletti1

Set up cavalletti on a circle. One exercise Ingrid recommends is on either end of a figure eight. Pick up a working trot, circling in your horse’s stronger (better) direction, keeping sure your seat light.

2  Just before the cavalletti, move your hands slightly forward, and ride exactly over the center of the cavalletti. If all goes well, change direction, and ride over the cavalletti in the other direction. The aim is to work the horse evenly on both sides, to work on lateral bend and suppleness through the ribs.

3  After working on the circle, do some exercises on the straight: ride forward on the long sides of the arena to re-establish freedom of movement. Riding forward helps overcome any stiffness or resistance.

Cavalletti2

Ride over the center of the cavalletti again, but now on each subsequent circle, make the circle bigger, moving out to where the space between cavalletti is larger, so the horse has to stretch more, making his steps bigger. This means that the inside hind foot must push off the ground with more energy and at the same time take more weight. At this point it is easy to cross the boundary between training to build muscle and straining muscles. For this reason, this exercise should only be repeated a few times, riding each circle just once in each direction every time.

5  Gradually bring the lesson to a finish. It is important to ride some easy exercises that the horse is familiar with at the end of the session. Finishing on a good note makes work the next day twice as easy. After working on circles a few times, allow the horse to stretch.

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For more cavalletti exercises from Ingrid Klimke, check out her book CAVALLETTI, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

And if you are a dressage rider, don’t miss Ingrid’s new DVD series TRAINING FOR DRESSAGE HORSES—the first level is now available!

TSB wishes Ingrid Klimke and all Olympic equestrians the best of luck in Rio 2016!

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

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