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Friday, 30 December 2011

Achieve Your Goals

Have you made your New Year's Resolutions for 2012? Have you got great plans for your horse? Perhaps you’ve decided to make better use of your school? Before you get too carried away with New Year enthusiasm - stop! Instead of thinking about what you want to achieve spend a bit of time thinking about how you’re going to achieve it.

So many riders moan that schooling is boring. It is if you don’t know what you want to do! There’s no point deciding to school your horse three nights a week if you’re going to spend the whole time trotting aimlessly round in circles.

A huge part of schooling is down to your attitude. Treat it as something interesting and your horse will do the same. Allow him to slop into the school on the buckle whilst you yawn and moan about it and how do you expect him to react?

If you hacked out every day would you expect your horse to be bored? It’s doubtful. If he gets strong on a hack do you put it down to excitement? BUT when he does exactly the same thing in the school do you say he’s bored?

The school is just another place to ride. OK it’s smaller and the view isn’t as good but it shouldn’t be any less interesting. Vary each session and you’ll keep your horse’s mind occupied. Fill it full of your ideas and stop him filling it with ideas of his own!

Your horse’s job is to do as you ask. Your job is to make life interesting enough for him to want to. Rather than planning to do something every day for a week try working to a rota. Don’t think in terms of Tuesdays – Wednesdays – Thursdays. Think in terms of Sessions 1, 2 and 3 which you repeat and repeat.

Session 1 – use this to improve a problem or teach your horse something new. Work out in advance what your subject is and how you’re going to tackle it. Use the search box on this blog (top right) to find an exercise to work with.

It’s important to realise that ‘on the bit’ is an end product of schooling NOT an exercise to work on. Think of your horse as a jigsaw – the finished picture can only be seen if you put all the pieces together in the right order. Work on something that will improve his way of going and he’ll work onto the bit naturally. Check out this page full of links -

It’s important to allow enough time for mistakes. This is a session you can’t do in a hurry. If you’re short of time give it a miss – go straight to Session 2. Nobody learns anything under pressure.

Session 2 - do something completely different so your horse doesn’t feel that he’s always under pressure when you take him in the school. Try lunging, pole work, grid work or even circuit training ( ) so he has to use different muscles and think in a different way. A change really is as good as a rest.

Remember whatever you do should be constructive. Stay focused on your horse’s balance and rhythm whether you’re cantering circuits of the school or lunging. Things shouldn’t change because you’ve put a few poles down either. Stay calm and relaxed – your approach will always affect his.

Session 3 - do something your horse finds easy. It’s a confidence boost for him. This session is all about you. Your position affects everything he does. The better your position the more beneficial your schooling will be. If he enjoys walk to canter transitions then ride some figures of eight with transitions at X. If trot is his best pace then try riding 10m circles at every point in the school. While he’s busy feeling clever you can focus on your position. Check out -

This rota of sessions works well whether you ride three times a week or three times a month. It’s a structure which is easy to stick to unlike some New Year’s Resolutions that start off with good intentions but soon fade.

Whatever you do in 2012 make sure you enjoy it. This is your hobby and it’s meant to be fun. Be positive - ride forward and never pull yourself or your horse back.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Friday, 23 December 2011

In Need of Inspiration?

Planning on doing a bit of riding over the festive season? In need of a few ideas? Here’s a selection that should keep you busy whatever your plans may be.

No school? No problem! Nothing is impossible if you want it enough. Check this out –

Whether you’re at a show or schooling at home your warm up sets the standard for the rest of your session. Check this out –

If the weather is against you or you’re just not in the mood for circles try this -

But don’t forget – if you’re out for a hack to enjoy yourself – let your horse do the same! Check this out -

Is your horse on box rest? Isn’t that just typical when you have time to ride?! Don’t waste time worrying about it. Put your feet up, grab a mince pie or two and try this –

Is your horse -

Don’t forget that your horse’s problems are often caused by you! Try this (your body) -

Fancy a go at lateral work? Try this easy exercise -

Want to know how to get your horse on the bit? Try this -

The main aim of schoolyourhorse was to give all riders ideas and inspiration. Hopefully there’s something on here for everyone but if you can’t find what you’re looking for there are at least another 50 waiting to be read. Key your problem in to the search box and see what comes up.

Happy Christmas and enjoy your schooling!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Use Your Head to Warm Up

Most horses vary a little from one session to the next but some are worse than others Is your horse different every time you get on? Ever thought it might be you?

You may think your warm up is a means to an end – the boring but necessary bit at the start of a session – but there’s more to it than that. The way you start every session sets the standard for your horse. It tells him how you’re feeling and what you’re going to accept. If you change your mind each time you ride how can he behave in exactly the same way?

It’s important to get warmed up properly especially at this time of year. Not only do you want to get your horse’s muscles stretched and loosened up you really do need to warm him up. A cold horse (or rider) can’t possibly concentrate or work correctly.

There’s a great warm up routine here -
It gives you a set plan you can use every time you ride in the school. A nervous horse will settle quicker if you use the same routine. This means you won’t waste time trying to get him settled. Having a set pattern allows you to concentrate on what really matters – riding your horse forward into a steady hand.

Do you usually allow your horse time to trot round on a long or a loose rein? Why? The warm up is a time to generate energy. You want to get his hocks underneath him so he can drive himself forward. If there’s no contact the energy has nowhere to go – his strides will be flat and he’ll fall onto his shoulders.

Ideally you want to use all three paces. No one pace is more important than the next. Trot is the pace most riders spend hours in but don’t! Horses find it easier to set themselves in trot. It’s the only pace in which they keep their head and neck still.

Canter uses muscles forward and over your horse’s back. The head nod makes it harder for him to set himself which explains why most horses feel better after a canter. Older, stiffer horses respond well to a period of canter at the start of a session.

However - sometimes canter is the last thing you want to do. Does it worry you? If it does it can spoil the whole session. Your horse will feel your tension and that won’t make it any easier. If canter worries you don’t do it. Replace the canter section in the warm up with walk. A good, active walk will get his muscles moving and it will do wonders for your confidence. It’s your hobby – make sure you enjoy it!

Tempting as it can be to get the canter out of the way with a young horse be patient. Give him a chance to relax and find his balance. The most important part of the warm up is getting his attention. Replace the canter section with transitions between walk and trot. Ride a set number of strides in each pace. Start with 20 and whittle it down to five. It’s enough to make him concentrate but not too difficult to upset him.

At a show everything changes. Warming up can often be more stressful than the actual class. Often you’re inside in a standard arena. Don’t be put off by other people. There are always going to be better riders than you – maybe your local professional. Don’t worry. They’ll be far too busy remembering what test they’re doing on which horse to be worried about you!

You have every right to be in the warm up arena but stick to the rules. Do that and most people will forgive you the odd mistake. Remember to pass left to left and move to the inside if someone is on the same rein as you but in a faster pace.  Looking where you’re going is a must! Don’t get in someone’s way just because you’re looking at the floor. THAT you won’t be forgiven for.

If you move up a level you could share the warm up with riders doing lateral movements. It can be unsettling but don’t panic. Look up and watch what’s going on. If it’s obvious someone is coming straight up the track in travers do the gracious thing and circle away – don’t hang onto the track because the rules say pass left to left!

Don’t make the mistake of trying to practise your test at the show. You don’t need to.  Get your horse going forward from your leg, working into both reins and moving straight. Use transitions - they’re important. Have you ever counted how many you ride in a test? A lot more than the serpentines or circles you have to do. They’ll get your horse on his hocks and that can only improve your score.

If you’re nervous about cantering amongst so many horses wait until you’re riding around the arena waiting for the bell. It is allowed and it will be far better for your horse than a short flurry of tense strides in the warm up.

Whether you’re at a show or at home your horse will benefit from consistency. Have a warm up plan and stick to it. Stay calm, avoid nervous situations and use your head. Keep things simple and the problems always take care of themselves.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Get Your Horse Connected

Does your horse feel a bit flat? Are you going through the motions but struggling to set the world on fire? He may feel fairly light in your hand – perhaps he moves from your leg too – but if that’s the case why aren’t you getting better marks at dressage and why is your canter so flat? You need to get better connected.

Your horse has two ends and a middle. Those three parts are joined together by bone, tendon and muscle. Tendons and muscles are meant to stretch but allow them to get too far apart and you’ll struggle to keep him together. When he gets strung out it’s impossible for him to push himself forward correctly. Push on and you’ll generate speed but no power. Both ends will move faster - just not together.

You can tell a disconnected horse because his back is long and flat. He may not be on his forehand but he’s not sat back on his hocks either. He may have a ‘4 time’ canter too. It’s often overlooked as it feels similar to an ordinary canter. You may just think something’s not quite right but be unable to put your finger on it.  Listen carefully to the beat of the canter and you’ll hear four beats not three because the inside hind and outside fore aren’t moving as a pair.

To improve a four time canter the last thing you need to do is canter! Get your horse working between your leg and hand in walk and trot first and he’ll be better balanced and able to canter correctly.

Riding round the school trying to push your horse forward to your hand won’t work. It’s human nature to try too hard. You’ll end up pulling too hard and tightening his back or pushing him on so much that he falls onto his shoulders and rushes. You need to give him something to do which does it for you. Try this.

Direct transitions from trot to halt and halt to trot are perfect for pushing your horse together. Learn to use your thigh and knee to bring him back to you. The less you rely on your hand the better. If he’s relaxed in his mouth he’ll soften and round his back and work correctly. Check out -

You may be using halt but this needs to be a forward thinking exercise. Ask for your transitions on a long side at E and B so your horse has had time to get straight and balanced and has room in front of him to feel he can go forward again.

Turn onto the long side and focus on riding forward from both legs into a steady contact in both reins. Keep your hands level and in front of your body to keep your horse’s shoulders pointing down the track. Make sure, if you’ve had an inside bend, you always straighten him up on the long sides.

Never back off a downward transition – especially one to halt. Halt needs to be full of energy so your horse is back on his hocks and ready to move on again. Ride forward towards E/B and look up. Never underestimate the influence your weight has on your transitions. The further back you lean the more weight you’ll put on his hocks.

Two strides before E/B squeeze with your thighs to warn your horse the transition is coming. On the marker push your knees in as hard as you can and sit back on your seat. Keep your lower leg on to keep his hocks under his body. Come out of the saddle at this point and you’ll tip him into his shoulders and lose all the energy from your trot. Keep your contact in both reins.

Once your horse has settled in halt move straight into trot again. Don’t shuffle your seat in the saddle, shorten your reins or move your legs – you haven’t got time for that! Halt and move on again. Get it sharp enough and you’ll feel your horse rock back onto his hocks in readiness for the trot again. That’s where you want him.

The upward transition should be as sharp as the downward. Sit back, look up, take your knee off and use a nudge with both heels. If your horse doesn’t go the instant you ask tap him up with your whip bit don’t lean forward! That will put all your weight over his shoulders and make it impossible for him to engage his hocks.

You will never improve an upward transition by loosening your reins – just as you won’t improve a downward one by taking your leg off. Keep your contact even in both reins. Be careful you’re not focusing on an inside bend. Do that and unwittingly you’ll pull back on the inside rein. That sends your horse off to the inside. A crooked horse can’t use his hocks correctly to push himself forward.

Don’t just ride a couple of half decent transitions and move on. Spend the whole session doing them. Start on the long sides. When your horse is really halting and moving off with the slightest touch of your knee or heel you can move on to different places. Turn across the school, halting over the centre line. Ride figures of eight with halt transitions at X. Turn down the centre line and halt at X. Do anything you can to keep him thinking.

By the end of a good session you should feel your horse is more in your hand. You’ll have more weight at the end of your rein but in a positive way. He should be bouncier in his trot and itching to go forward when you halt. That’s connected. And the four time canter? Well that will be better but do yourself a favour. Leave it for another day.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Friday, 2 December 2011

He'll Bend - if you let him

Are you struggling to keep your horse out on a circle? When you return to the track does it take you three strides to get straight again? When you ask for canter do you find yourself heading across the school rather than up the track? You’re not alone. It’s a common problem. The good news is it’s easily solved.

If you ride a 20m circle at A or C the chances are everything feels fine. But do the same at E or B and suddenly you find you can’t quite get your horse out to the track on both sides. Kick as you might with your inside leg he just won’t step onto the track. It’s all you can do not to get off and drag him there, isn’t it?

Most riders come up against this problem at some stage. It stems from focusing too much on the inside bend. Without thinking about it the pressure on the inside rein gets stronger and stronger whilst the contact in the outside rein gets weaker. Lighten up a bit on the inside rein and you’ll notice a huge difference but take a look at the rest of your body to see why your horse reacts like he does.

The more you focus on the bend the more your inside hand tightens and draws back. As your arm draws back your shoulder drops down towards your hip. Your horse will start to fall in and you’ll need more inside leg to keep him out. As you do that your leg will creep up towards your hip. Within a few circuits your whole body will be curled up around your inside hip.

Your horse is a master of mimicry. Whatever you do with your body he’ll copy and do with his. If you’re curled inwards around your inside hip he’s going to do the same around his. This tightens his body making it harder for him to move forward or across. It’s not that he doesn’t want to listen to your leg it’s just that he can’t!

Put yourself on a 20m circle at E/B in walk. Establish the circle and focus on your position before moving on into trot. Look directly between your horse’s ears and straight ahead. It’s easy to end up looking at the floor about twenty yards ahead but keep your eyes up. If you’re not looking where you’re going is it any wonder you end up off line?

To maintain the shape of the circle turn your body from your waist onto the line you want to take. Pay particular attention to the distance between your hip and your bottom rib. It should be the same on both sides. Pull up through your body and lean back until you feel your stomach muscles pull. Then trot.

At each quarter of the circle – E, B and as you cross the centre line – ride two strides in a straight line. Turn your body so your shoulders and hips face the front and your horse will do the same. As you straighten up make a conscious effort to push your inside hand forwards an inch. This doesn’t mean you lose the contact. What it will do is release any tension you’ve got in your arm. Your horse will relax in his neck and you’ll feel him rebalance onto the outside rein.

Hold onto that feeling as you turn your body back onto the line of the circle again. Check the distance between your hip and your hand on each side. If you’re drawing your hand back the distance on the inside will be shorter than the outside.

This is a simple thing to do but it will have an immediate effect. You’ll find you reach the track at E and B easily. Your horse will move forward and be more relaxed because you’re not scrunching his neck to the inside and you won’t draw your inside leg up because you won’t be trying desperately to kick him out.

When you come to go large from the circle all you have to do is maintain the straightness in your body and keep your inside hand forward. Push on with both legs so your horse is in no doubt that you want him to go straight.

Try some canter transitions. As you ask for canter push your inside hand forwards an inch. (Remember NOT to lose the contact) If your horse hasn’t got to move into canter with his body scrunched to the inside he’ll be straighter in the transition and he won’t come in off the track as he strikes off either.

Try changing leg through trot between the ¼ and ¾ lines. Turn onto the diagonal, pull up through your body and look directly ahead. As you ask for trot push your inside hand forward, keep it there through the trot and as you ask for canter again. You’ll find the transition is straighter and you’ll hit the track just before the marker instead of struggling to keep your horse out.

An inside bend is important on a circle but only if it isn’t affecting everything else. Remove the pressure and your horse will bend naturally around your inside leg because he can. The more you practise the easier it will be to feel when you’re tightening up. When you can feel a problem nine times out of ten you can solve it.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.