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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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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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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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When your horse performs the turn-on-the-haunches, the outside front leg must cross in front of the inside one, as seen here.

When your horse performs the turn-on-the-haunches, the outside front leg must cross in front of the inside one, as seen here.

In the book COWBOY DRESSAGE, readers not only discover the story of how and why this new discipline has secured such an avid and expanding fanbase, they also learn the movements recommended by Cowboy Dressage founder Eitan Beth-Halachmy as beneficial to the development of horse-and-rider partnership. Here are his tips for adding the turn-on-the-haunches to your horse’s skillset.

 

In the turn-on-the-haunches, the horse pivots around his inside hind leg. The horse must be slightly bent in the direction of movement. The exercise serves to build the rider’s control of the horse’s shoulders. The hands communicate with the shoulders and forelegs while the seat maintains the balance of the horse over his hindquarters without losing forward momentum.

 

It helps to teach the horse the maneuver from the ground first, then teach him to associate your aids from the saddle with a familiar learned behavior.

 

To perform a turn-on-the-haunches:

 

1  Bend the horse slightly in the direction of movement. The inside rein creates the bend while the outside rein maintains the bend and communicates with the outside front leg through the shoulder to build momentum. As an example, when turning to the right, the inside rein is your right rein.

 

2  Ask the horse to move his front legs and outside hind leg around his inside hind leg that serves as a pivot. If performing a turn-on-the-haunches to the right, open the right leg and apply the left leg at or slightly in front of the girth. The horse should remain in the same location by bal­ancing his weight between the two hind legs.

 

3  Ride the horse into the turn; do not pull the front of the horse. It is important for the horse’s body to remain supple and that he never loses the forward motion.

 

4  Teach the turn-on-the-haunches one step at a time. Start with one step and move forward out of the turn; work up to two steps, and so on.

 

Reward response to your aids by immedi­ately releasing the pressure as soon as the horse moves into the turn.

Turn-on-the-haunches to the left (top) and to the right (bottom).

Turn-on-the-haunches to the left (top) and to the right (bottom).

 

To sum up: In a turn-on-the-haunches to the right, the horse will be slightly bent to the right, and his weight will shift back as he moves his forehand to the right, in a clockwise direction, around the right hind foot. The outside front leg crosses over the inside one.

 

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There are more great exercises, tips, and training ideas in COWBOY DRESSAGE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or order now.

 

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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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.

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The Four-Leaf Clover Exercise from TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES.

The Four-Leaf Clover Exercise from TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES.

 

Incorporating simple traffic cones or ground poles in your daily training and riding lessons not only provides visual interest and physical guidelines for your horse as he moves around the ring, it also gives you a means of developing accuracy in your schooling figures and transitions. In TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, trainer Sigrid Schope provides over 40 exercises that will help improve your horse’s movement and response to our aids, as well as your own overall riding experience. This weekend, try this simple exercise:

The Four-Leaf Clover

You need four traffic cones, available from many supply or hardware stores. You can also use four empty buckets in place of cones—remove the handles and place them upside down.

The four-leaf clover is a great way to gymnasticize your horse and keep things interesting in the arena, using voltes (small circles of 6, 8, or 10 meters in diameter) in a simple pattern. The cones will serve as center-points, around which voltes will be ridden. This makes daily schooling of circles and changes of direction more fun, providing a point of reference to help you ride a more perfect figure and increasing the horse’s attention to your subtle aids.

1  In one half of your riding area or arena, place your four cones in a square shape, with equal distances between each. My recommended distance between the cones is between 20 and 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) or 8 to 12 giant steps.

2  Begin the exercise by riding from what would be the letter “C” on the short side of a dressage arena up to the centerline (see diagram). Focus on the first cone to your right, and ride a volte around it. A correct seat and position are important when riding this exercise. Use your inside rein (inside the circle) to position your horse on the bending line, and weight your inside seat bone. Bring your inside shoulder a little back and your outside shoulder a little forward. Encourage your horse forward with your inside leg at the girth. The outside leg “guards” just behind the girth, preventing the hindquarters from swinging out.

3  As soon as you are back on the centerline, change the bend and make a left volte around the first cone to your left.

4  Return to the centerline and ride a few strides straight ahead until you are across from the second cone to your right.

5  Repeat the pattern you just rode, completing a volte to the right, returning to the centerline to change the bend, and riding a volte around the final cone to your left.

6  Finish the four-leaf clover by walking or trotting straight ahead on the centerline at X in a straight line.

Begin by completing the four-leaf clover at the walk, move on to the trot when the walk seems easy, and try the exercise at the canter when you are very confident in your horse’s focus and your own riding ability.

It is important in this exercise to prepare your horse at the right time for a change of bend. Think about your weight and leg aids; stay erect in the saddle. Try to ensure that the horse doesn’t fall out over his shoulder or swing his haunches to the outside.

The four-leaf clover looks easier than it is! It takes a lot of concentration on the part of horse and rider to complete this exercise well. And as you increase speed or gait, you must be more precise about the timing of your aids.

 

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Get more great exercises using cones and poles in TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

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

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