Have a Goal When you Ride
Don’t Waste your Horse’s Steps
We ended out discussion in Part 2 talking about working on upward and downward transitions and focusing on having the horse soft and balanced during the transitions. And, also working the horse off my inside leg to keep him straight and to prevent the horse from falling to the inside and dropping his shoulder.
Now I would like to give you more ideas you can try that might help you achieve your goals. These are some of the things I do to help improve my horse’s balance and attitude while working on my own balance.
I will ride a circle about fifty feet in diameter left and right to see how good my connection is with my horse. I am always striving to ride an accurate circle keeping the horse on the perfect arc so his body is curved on the circle and beginning and ending in the same place, without the horse changing pace or falling in or out. If for some reason all that is not working, I will continue on that circle until I get an improvement. If the horse is doing well on a 50’ circle, I will bring him into a 30’ circle then a 20’ circle for a couple of rides then bring him back to a 50’ circle. I will do this in both directions until he gets nice and soft, then its time to have a little break and bring the horse back to a simpler place.
This would be a good time for him to walk, drop my reins and see if I can ask him to turn left and right just using my legs.
Also, it would be a good time to back some circles left and right and see how good my horse can change his flexion going backwards. Then I will ask him to take his head around laterally and work on his front end.
What I am looking for at this point is his lateral and longitudinal flexion to be balanced so when I bring the front end across, the horse can rock back and keep his nose down and in as his front end comes across smoothly and without stiffness and a brace on my hand. Then I’ll pick up on the reins, get a soft feel, move him over off my inside leg, and work on my transitions through each gait.
If your horse had trouble keeping proper flexion, or is imbalanced from one side to the other, I would work on changing direction through a figure eight. I would focus on changing direction with my legs and at the same time maintaining a soft feel. I want my horse to feel as though my leg aid can change his flexion while he stays steady and not heavy on the reins. As I am riding, I am thinking about picking up on my horse and asking him to get soft, then giving him a long rein, then picking him back up again. It is absolutely critical that the horse can move smoothly in and out of a soft feel and a long rein.
The more repetitions I can do, the better my horse will develop his ability to carry himself and be soft and balanced with no fuss. All this will help develop his mind, attitude, and muscles.
A point Ii would stress here is every time I pick up on my reins, I think of a direct connection to my horse’s hind legs. Example: if I am doing a downward transition and I feel my horse braced in my hands it is because he has lost his engagement in the rear. To keep him soft in the downward transition, I must find the spot where the horse can stay engaged with his hind legs through the transition. If I can anticipate that everything I was feeling in my hand was a direct result of my horse either being engaged or disengaged with his hind end, then it really can help my technique to fixing a brace on the reins.
If I’m going to the left and I feel like I’m having trouble keeping my horse soft through his downward transitions, I might go back to stepping his hindquarters over to the right and see if I can engage that left hind leg.
Whether I am training a horse for a private party or giving a clinic the question always arises about the horse’s hindquarters and why I do what I do. There are many reasons why I do this but for now I want to focus on two. One reason to step your horse’s hindquarters over is for safety, to be able to get out of trouble if you need to. The second reason is to engage a particular hind leg by reaching it up and under the horse’s center of gravity. His front end needs to continue to step forward as you reach the hind leg up and underneath him.
Remember always build on a solid foundation and you and the horse will benefit.
In the next issue we will continue part 4 on having a goal when you ride.