September 20th 2016
This week, I’d like to pay special attention to the mental and physical alignment between you and your horse. While schooling these exercises, think about where your mind is focused and what your body is doing (both voluntarily and involuntarily) and how these both affect your horse. As you become more aware of what your mind and body as you ride, you will observe the way they effect your horse both negatively and positively. For example, if something is making noise in the trees next to the arena, the rider that continues riding confidently and ignores the distraction is positively effecting their horses way of going, just as the rider that tightens their seat or reins and becomes distracted by the noise can negatively affect their horses way of going. I use this example because everyone has been in this situation! And you do not have to be a Davo Moxham to spin this situation in a positive direction either! Every rider has the ability to positively affect their horses training. Remember that your horse cannot read your mind, but they most certainly can read your body language and that is why it is so important to be mindful of the signals you are sending your horse, whether it is in regards to a spooky sound in the woods or the amount of energy you want in your working trot. Take these thoughts with you into the arena this week and see how you can take the next step in positively affecting your horses way of going.
Intro: Ride a medium walk (full arena) focusing on maintaining equal connection with both jaws, feeling an equal balance of both seat bones in the saddle and equal weight in both stirrups. When you are focusing on these things, it can be very easy to get discouraged when you feel an unevenness, but don’t despair! Clear your mind and think about melting evenly to the left and right of your horses spine. This will help you find the areas of unevenness and diagnose the cause. The two major causes of crookedness are riders with a kink somewhere in their body (a tight hip, dropped shoulder, one hand closed more the other…ect.) or a horse that is over using one of his quarters (drifting a shoulder, dropping a hip…ect.). The more you are aware of exactly where the unevenness is occurring, the more effective you will be in repairing the issue. As you become more aligned with your horse, you will feel the two of you moving more as a team and this is fabulous feeling!
Now take that feeling from the long side onto a 20m circle at either E or B. As you bring your horse off of the long side onto a 20m circle, try not to change the alignment you achieved on the straight lines. You were keeping your horse straight while you rode the full arena (don’t give that fence too much credit!) and now that you want to circle, use your body to mold your horse onto the circle. If you were on foot and decided to walk in a large circle, you would just do it, right? Well, you can do that with your horse too! One of the reasons it occasional goes wrong is that we add or remove something that we were doing as we start the circle. When you work on this exercise, focus on maintaining the same balance and alignment that you had on the straight line as you bring your horse onto and back off of the circle. This will help your horse maintain the same rhythm and balance throughout the entire arena.
Once you achieve a sense of continuity from the long side onto the circle and back to the long side in the medium walk, begin riding the exercise in a working trot. It is important that you bring the same focus and awareness that you had in the walk with you into your trot work. Just because your horse is covering more ground, does not mean that you have less time to think. You and your horse are capable of the same connection regardless of the gait you are in, but this is up to you to maintain.
Each time you use this exercise, work towards a better alignment between you and your horse, both mentally and physically. Before you know it, you will be cantering through it as well :)
Training/First: Ride a working trot (full arena) making sure both you and your horse are traveling straight. This exercise focuses on turning with your outside rein, so while preparing to begin the exercise, ensure you have access to a little flexion to the left and to the right (both directions, inside and outside). This may seem like an obvious way to warm up, but I want you to really focus on softening the connection you have with each jaw, because remember that just because your horse is round does not mean that his/her jaw is soft. The warm up portion should not have a time line. The more time you invest creating an elastic connection from your elbow all the way to the bit ring, the better this (and many other exercises) will work.
Once your connection begins to soften, begin riding diagonal lines off of the long side. Remember that this exercise is focusing on the response to your outside rein as a turning aid, so as you bring your horse off of the long side, keep him/her straight. Most of my clients are familiar with me chanting “shopping cart hands!” throughout a lesson and this is what I’d like you to think about as your ride your horse onto the diagonal line. Ride like you are steering a shopping cart at a slight angle off of the long side. Keeping this visual will help prevent pulling the horse onto the diagonal with the inside rein and will also help you to maintain a good straight alignment through your horses head, neck and shoulders. These turns should be a little more square in their application than the way you would turn onto the diagonal in a test.
Start off with a very soft angle, such as the diagonal from S to F (traveling left). As the diagonal becomes easier, you can increase the difficulty by riding a steeper angle off of the rail (from S to P and then from S to B and finally finishing on a square turn across the arena from S to R). You will need to use all four of your major aids (both legs and both reins) to help keep your horse as straight as possible. Although we are turning from the outside rein, you should not have a visible counter flexion during this exercise, so maintaining an even connection with both the inside and outside rein is the best way to keep your horse straight as you bring them onto the diagonal lines. Your legs should remain softly next to the girth guiding the ribcage, their job is to guard against the ribcage either dropping to the inside or drifting passed the point you wanted to begin your turn.
There are many ways to spice up this exercise! You can increase energy on the diagonal lines, add a halt near the centerline or even ride the exercise in canter. If you do this exercise in the canter, have a plan for what you are going to do once the diagonal is coming to an end (ride an organized trot transition before you come to the rail, ride a shallow loop to the direct of the lead you are on, near the quarter line, remaining on the correct lead…ect.) This can be a very helpful exercise to improve your straightness and eventually prepare you and your horse for shoulder-in.
Second/Third: Ride a collected canter full arena. As you warm-up your collected canter, check that your horse is giving you the elements of a good collected canter: engaged hind leg bringing energy up to the bridle, actively softening jaw and good response to a half-halt. Once you are happy with the feeling in the canter, we are going to begin focusing on riding the short side. Now during this exercise, you can either focus on one short side (the one near A or C) or you can continue using the full arena.
There are two things to keep in mind as you school this exercise. First of all, a well ridden corner in collected canter should have right around five strides of bend. These strides should only be in the corner. You should not have left over bend as you pass by A or C, because a good short side has two separate corners and several straight strides/steps in between them. Secondly, it is your job to decide on how great every corner is going to be. Very often, I hear riders complain that their horse rushes through corners or never gets quite deep enough, but when asked, they were not actively riding a specifically deep corner. If you are not clearly riding the corner you want, your horse is going to give you the easiest corner for him/her… which is not exactly what the judge wants to see! So next time you ride a corner, concentrate on being very clear about how you want that corner to go.
A corner does not have to be “deep” to be well ridden, but it is counter productive to allow your horse to avoid the area just because they are not warmed up.
*** It is very important that your horse is sufficiently warmed up before you begin schooling deep corners!
There is common misconception that the higher you go up the levels, the deeper your corners are period. This is true in competition and it is true that a Fourth level horse should be capable of deeper corners than a Training level horse, but keep your training well rounded. Ride each corner with purpose, whether you are hugging the rail or three meters out… and this brings up the exercise:
As you canter through the short side, each corner will have five bending strides, but during this exercise, you will adjust the strides in between your two corners (the strides passing by A or C). Your baseline short side should be four collected canter strides between your corners. You should always be able to ride this short side and if things start to get out of hand, come back to this one and regather yourself. As you begin to feel confident in riding the four stride short side, you should “swing your pendulum” and alternate between riding three more ground covering strides between the corners and then riding five more collected strides between the corners. While you alternate between the different number of strides, always make sure that your corners remain controlled. The strides in between them may change, but your corners need to stay the same (thats whats so difficult!). The more strides you ride in between the corners, the deeper your corners need to become, but they should always have five well balance strides with flexion in the inner jaw.
Establish what your horses strong and weak points are during this exercise and work on the most difficult element for your horse. If your horse is a little sluggish, make sure that you can get those three big strides between your corners. If your horse avoids sitting, build up to six very collected strides as you pass by A or C. If your horse tends to tune you out, make sure that both corners (especially the one leaving the short side) are great quality. Don’t let him start collecting early or run through the second corner. As you address the weak points of your short sides, you will begin to see better balance and control in other areas aspects of your work.
Have fun with the exercise and make well ridden corners a part of every ride. Think about the fact that there are fourteen short side corners in Training Level Test 3 and Third Level Test 2 contains nineteen of them! So if you ride each one of those corners with purpose, think about how much you could improve your next trip down centerline! Happy riding!!!
As promised to my many friends and students back home,
may I present the inaugural “exercise of the week” article! I am planning on providing options for horses and riders at different stages of training, but I would suggest looking through all of them. Even if an exercise contains a movement or requirement that you or your horse has not mastered yet, you can tweak it a little to make it work for your own situation. If you have any questions, concerns or need some clarification, please feel free to contact me through the Contact page on this website or by emailing BlackburnDressage@gmail.com.