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Friday, 28 January 2011

Can't Stop, Won't Stop.

Bolting is a progressive habit. What starts out as a bit of a spook can soon get out of control. Horses bolt when you’re schooling for one reason. Because they can!

We all love our horses but there’s a line they mustn’t cross. They’re bigger and stronger than us. They can’t be allowed to believe they’re the boss. Once they do life can become frustrating and nerve wracking.

Be prepared to make a stand. Backing down isn’t an option. This is a habit which will only get worse so if you’re determined that this is the horse of your dreams and you’ve tried every other option read on!

A horse can be stopped but you have to get him before he takes hold. You have to be one step ahead. There are probably places and situations which create this problem. Think ahead and don’t be too proud to avoid them! Don’t think you have to tackle everything head on. You don’t. Not at the start. Get your confidence first.

Certain bits can help. If your horse tips his head up as he runs try a hanging cheek snaffle. If he drops a shoulder or spins to the inside first then try a snaffle with cheeks. Avoid all straight bar bits including pelhams because they give your horse the perfect thing to lean on or worse flip his tongue over. Use a flash noseband, with the top part done as tight as you can. For schooling only use a standing martingale which will stop him getting his head too high and will stop him pulling on you.

Try this.

Ban yourself from cantering for the next few weeks. Even in your warm up. It won’t make any difference to your horse’s fitness but it will do an awful lot for your confidence.

Don’t treat him gently, thinking you can avoid the problem or dare to think he’s doing it because he’s frightened! He’s doing it because he’s a bully. Treat him like we should treat all bullies. Stand up to him.

Take up your reins, have a good strong contact and kick as hard as you can to put him into your hand. This gives you somewhere to channel that pent up nervousness and it will shock the life out of him!

It’s important to use your weight. Sit back and keep your head above your seat. Clamp your thighs and your knees around him. This upright position is secure and strong. You’ll feel and sit through everything he’s going to throw at you. Tip an inch too far forward and he’ll be able to nip out from underneath you.

It’s easier to be brave when you’re going slowly. Stay in walk until you’re happy to trot. It doesn’t matter if you don’t trot at all. It’s your decision.

Keep hold of your outside rein. Without it he’ll know he can drop his inside shoulder and shoot off to the inside. Keeping a firm contact means you’ll feel him before he tries to go.

He’s going to try but this time you’re going to be ready. Here’s your plan.
The minute he goes you’re going to turn him. Tight. He can only get away from you if he gets straight. To do it you’re going to have to sit back, anchor your outside rein on his withers and lift your inside rein as high as you can. Give short, sharp tugs on it to swing him round. Don’t give in. You can do it.

When he gives in relax your inside rein and return to the track. Walk on as if you haven’t a care in the world. He’ll try a couple more times, just to make sure you really can stop him, and then he’ll give in. When you trot he’ll try again. He won’t be able to help himself. You can always rely on horses to be predictable, even when they’re being unpredictable!

When you do trot keep him busy. Don’t look for a fight but be ready. Use 10m circles, three loop serpentines and turns up and down the centre line. Move from a circle to a serpentine, throw in a transition to halt and then trot again. Don’t cover more than half the school without doing something.

All the time you’re doing this your legs should be kicking. Forget about looking refined. This is war! You are up there to prove a point. You have made a decision to crack this habit and you need to kick on through it.

When you’ve established control and you’re feeling brave – after you’ve won a few times – then have a go at the canter. There’s a saying don’t run before you can walk. In your case it’s don’t canter before you can walk!

Remember that brute force will never work but for all problems there is always a solution. WE just haven’t found it yet.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Your Attention Please!

Do you sometimes get the impression that you are the last thing on your horse’s mind? Horses which spook, shy or spin round can be frustrating and quite unnerving.

Spooking is an evasion caused by tension or boredom. It’s no different to stopping at a fence or bucking. Whilst the cause may be different the cure is the same. You have to take control.

Limit your schooling sessions to thirty minutes. Do as much as you can in that time. Don’t stop for a chat with your friend or walk round aimlessly wondering what to do. Get on and ride. How can you expect your horse to concentrate if your mind is wandering?

Allow your horse five minutes to have a look around and get his mind on the job. Once you take up your reins insist on 100% concentration. Your aim is get your horse looking directly ahead. Focus on keeping a strong contact in both reins which doesn’t allow him to look left or right.

Push hard with your lower leg to push him into your hand. Use your knee and thigh to slow the speed. Don’t worry if he gets strong at this stage. If your have no weight in your hand you can’t control the front end. Result? Your horse can spin or spook when it suits him. Sort this problem out first. The rest will be easy!

Most problems can be corrected as long as you stay consistent and patient. Evasions like this have taken months to develop. They’ll take months to put right. You need to be determined and calm – and remind your horse who pays the bills!

For horses which are looking for a way out of working try this.

Ride a 20m circle at E or B. Trot twenty strides and walk five. Trot twenty strides and halt. Trot twenty strides and canter five. You get the idea. Counting strides helps you to concentrate. It stops you looking for trouble.

Be firm about the transitions. Use your knee for the downwards (The Other Way of Stopping) but make sure he’s quick off your leg for the upward. (Be a Lazy Rider) If he’s not concentrating be bossy! The minute you feel his mind start to wander change pace or direction. Don’t give him a second to think about anything other than you.

For horses which spook because they’re nervous try this.

Stay on the 20m circle but each time you get to the centre line ride a 10m circle to A or C. before you change push your knees in hard to bring him back and once you’re on the right line push on. Ride one 10m circle and then return to the 20m.

This works because you repeat and repeat. This has the effect of calming a nervous horse whilst the addition of the 10m circles gives him something out of the ordinary to concentrate.

With both these exercise remember your one aim is to keep your horse looking directly in front of you. This can be changed once you’ve established yourself as the boss again. (More on that another day) Re-schooling like this takes time and patience but never lose sight of your goal. You can stop this annoying habit. You’ve just got to be prepared to make some changes yourself. Good luck.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

When You Know You Should ...

There are days when you know you should ride but you’re just not in the mood. You know the quickest thing to do would be to go in the ménage but the last thing you want to do is school your horse. Then don’t!

Remember schooling is just another form of exercise. Nobody said you had to ride circles. Your school is a great place to do some fitness work. It has a level, non slip surface and you know how far you are riding.

The average school measures 20m by 40m. Two long sides plus two short sides equals 120m.  You’re going to do less than that because of corners so count each circuit as 100m. Ten circuits equal 1000m. That’s one kilometre.

How many rides do you have where you can canter for at least a kilometre without a break? Next time you’re in two minds about riding save yourself the guilt trip and try this!

Make sure your horse is fully warmed up before you start. See December’s Warming Up for a simple, effective routine.

In a forward position, as if you were cantering out on a ride, canter as many circuits as you feel fit enough to do. Then do one more! By pushing yourself a bit extra each time you improve your fitness and your horse’s stamina. Ride equal circuits on each rein.

You may not be schooling but get into the habit of laying down the ground rules. You can’t ride every stride. You’ll run out of energy before your horse. Take a look at December’s ‘Be a Lazy Rider’. There is absolutely no reason your horse can’t go forward without you kicking every stride. Imagine if Pippa Funnel had to kick every stride round Badminton. She’d never make it!

If your horse is naturally forward going be careful that he doesn’t rush. Scooting round the school at 100mph doesn’t have the beneficial effect that a steady canter has. It’s common for a tense horse to hold his breath which won’t help his fitness.  When the canter is steady your horse breathes deeper and more rhythmically. The more oxygen he takes in the more his stamina increases and the further he can go.

Remember to count your circuits and keep a tally for next time. Canter as many circuits (plus one) as you can on one rein. Then walk on a long rein until he stops puffing. Don’t start the other rein before his breathing has returned to normal. You’ll only find you have to stop sooner. Fitness is about the recovery as much as the distance you travel. The fitter your horse the quicker he recovers.

1.6km is equal to a mile. So 8 circuits on each rein equal a mile. It’s something to aim for. Some horses will find it easier than others but if you’re careful and don’t ask for too much you and your horse can spend a pleasant and constructive half hour instead of the miserable time you were anticipating. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

More Power, Less Speed

Those riders who ride a bike will know that you drop down a gear to get more power. The higher the gear the faster your legs go round but you never generate as much pushing power as you do in the lower gears. It’s the same with horses. To create power (or impulsion) they need to slow down to get their weight onto their hocks.

Most riders do it without thinking. How many times have you slowed down to get a bit more control and then kicked on again?  It’s the same theory. At it’s most refined it’s called a half halt.

Try this.

This can be done in trot or canter but for the benefit of explaining we’ll use trot.

Establish your usual speed on a 20m circle. Now use your knee (see The Other Way of Stopping) to slow down until you are going as slow as you can possibly go without walking. Your horse might hollow his back and draw back away from your hand so use more leg and keep your reins short so you can keep hold of the contact.

Don’t worry about how it feels. Concentrate on staying in trot. You still need to have two regular beats to the trot – don’t slow down so much that you’re just shuffling.

Sit back and keep your hands up in front of you to encourage your horse to stay up off his shoulders. If he falls forward onto his forehand he’ll walk.

Trot five or six paces before you allow him to move on again. Sit back and hold onto your contact. Relax your arm and take your knee away which will be enough to allow him to go forward without throwing away the power you’ve created.

Slowing down has put your horse’s weight onto his hocks. When you allow him to move on again he will be glad of the release. He’ll relax, soften his back and lift his feet higher off the ground. Remember to keep hold of your contact. This controls the energy you’ve created and puts a spring into his steps.

Sharp horses will react straight away to this exercise. You’ll find you’re able to put more leg on and your horse will accept your contact more readily. Slowing him down and pushing him on again will give him something to think about and you’ll get his concentration.

The less ‘enthusiastic’ of horses may need a bit of help in the moving on department! Be consistent and it will pay off. When you slow down give little taps with your whip to keep him trotting. (See Be a Lazy Rider) When you ask him to move on again take your knee off and be ready with your whip if you feel no reaction. He needs to learn that knee off means go forward. Lazy he may be but slowing him down will reposition his weight onto his hocks. It will still improve his paces.

Remember schooling exercises are meant to be practiced. Nothing happens overnight. Accept and be grateful for the slightest change in your horse’s trot and build on it. You’ll soon have a horse which goes forward with impulsion whenever and wherever you ask him. 

Friday, 14 January 2011

Keep in Touch

Many riders think they need to keep off the brake if they want their horse to go forward. The opposite is true. To create impulsion you have to contain the energy you create from your legs. You need a rein contact.

Shake a bottle of coke with the lid on and everyone knows the result. It expands so much that when you open it the drink bursts out. Without the lid there’s nothing to contain that fizz.

Riding your horse without a rein contact has the same effect.

The lid on the bottle is static. It doesn’t pull or push, it restrains. Remember this when you take up your contact. If your hand remains constant (like the bottle lid) you’ll contain your horse’s energy without needing to pull or tug.

Long reins are a common fault. You may think you are being kind but imagine having a bit in your mouth with no idea when the next pull is coming. It’s enough to make you tense, isn’t it? A consistent contact helps your horse relax. He knows where you are. When you need to turn or take a check the pressure increases but it doesn’t come as a surprise.

Make it a goal this week to ride with a consistent contact all the time. Focus on the weight you have on each rein. It should be the same in each hand whatever you are doing. ‘Light in the hand’ is often misunderstood. It really means your horse is quick to respond not that there’s nothing on the end of the reins.

Put two mugs of water in front of you. Pick them up with your hands in riding position and elbows bent. This gives you an idea of the weight you should feel on your reins. It’s probably more than you thought. Keep hold of these mugs and stick your elbows out, drop your hand or round your wrists. The water spills out. This represents the energy you had in your hand. A straight line from your elbow through the rein to your horse’s mouth allows you to contain the energy you’ve worked so hard to create.

Create a soft rein contact by keeping your arm and fingers relaxed. You can’t lean on anything that isn’t solid. Nor can your horse. Move your fingers. Squeeze the reins as if you were squeezing water from a sponge which will stop your arms and shoulders becoming tense and rigid. That’s enough to stop him leaning. Dropping the rein and taking it back again has little effect. He’ll be right there waiting for you when you take your rein back up!

Bear this in mind the next time you ride your horse. Do your best to make his life as comfortable as possible and he won’t fail to do the same for you.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Correct Lead - Can You Tell?

When you first learn to canter you’re taught to ask in a corner because it helps to put your horse on the correct lead. Once you’re more confident make things harder by asking for canter at E or B. Without the benefit of the corner your horse may give you the wrong lead.

The correct lead feels comfortable. The movement rocks you from back to front like a rocking horse. When it’s wrong the movement rocks you from side to side and can be almost impossible to sit to.

Some riders can naturally feel when things are wrong. If you can’t don’t worry. Look down at the shoulders. The leading (inside) foreleg moves on its own. It stretches further forward than the other to help your horse to balance. When you’re correct the inside shoulder moves further forward than the outside. It takes time to see it. Practice cantering round the school. The more you practice the easier and quicker you’ll spot it.  

Just to complicate things horses can also canter disunited. Instead of a diagonal pair, one side of legs move together. In this case the inside shoulder may well be moving further forward than the outside but the canter still doesn’t feel ‘quite right’. If in doubt, trot and start again. It’s not the end of the world to be cantering round the school disunited or even on the wrong leg but it will certainly make your life more comfortable if you get it right.

Riders often slip to the inside when they ask for canter. By using your inside leg to ask him to strike off (see The Perfect Canter transition) you should be sitting squarer in the saddle. To make sure put a pole on the inside track opposite E or B. Ask for canter as you ride past. Lean to the inside and your horse will strike off in that direction – as if he’s going to start a circle. The pole will make you more aware of it.

How quickly can you tell which leg you’re on? Test yourself by asking for canter on the centre line. Look straight down the centre line and be clear with your aids. Have faith in your horse. Ride the transition exactly as you would in a corner. There’s absolutely no reason for him to give you the wrong leg.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Steady On!

Riders often see canter differently to the other paces and that’s when problems arise. Don’t look at it as a quick whizz round at the end of a session before you go in. Treat it as you would walk or trot.

Horses get strong in canter for many reasons. Young horses find it incredibly exciting, older ones too if they’re naturally excitable. Others do it just because they can!

You can’t canter a horse into submission. Nor can you avoid it. Excitable horses thrive on adrenalin. The longer you canter the more adrenalin they produce and the stronger they become. Avoid it altogether and your horse becomes even more excited the next time you ask.

Try this.
Ride a 20m circle at A. Canter from X to A and count the strides that you take. At A trot and count the trot strides you take to X. Then canter again. Counting the strides is the most important part of this exercise. It gives you something to focus on. When your mind is on something other than the speed you are going you’ll soon find your horse settles down too.

There are two posts in this blog which may help. The Other Way of Stopping explains how you can use your knee and thigh to make your transition into trot. This reduces the amount of rein you need to use which means your horse will become less strong. The Perfect Canter Transition will help you get an accurate transition into canter.

If you can’t sort your arms and legs out to ride a transition every time you get to A or X then wait until you come round next time. Your horse doesn’t know what you’re doing. He won’t get wound up because you’ve missed a transition but he will if you rush him into canter or drag him back into trot.

When you feel more in control move up and down the school in canter. The minute your horse starts to get strong ride a 20m circle and repeat the transitions. Don’t be tempted to spin him onto a tight circle. This will unbalance and unsettle him which can only cause more tension. This exercise works well because you stay calm and confident in what you are asking him to do. When you’ve re-established control ride on up the school.

The more consistent you are the quicker he’ll learn to pay attention. If you never allow him to tank off up the long side because you always circle and make him trot he’ll soon admit defeat.

Never lean back and pull. This only gives him something to pull against. You can never win a tug of war. Your horse will always be stronger than you but you are more intelligent.  Think ahead, be consistent and you’ll always come out on top.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Canter - the mechanics

If you don’t have the luxury of a ménage ‘insides and outsides’ can get confusing. Your inside is the direction you are turning so if you turn left at the corner or end of the field then left is your inside. The outside is therefore the other one!

In canter your horse strikes off with the outside hind – hence your outside leg comes back to tell him which leg you want. The inside hind and outside fore go together. Last is the inside fore which is called the leading leg. This is the leg which your horse puts out to balance himself, similar to you putting your hand out to stop yourself falling. The more weight you can put onto his hocks the more balanced he'll feel and the less he'll need to lean on that shoulder.

Help your horse by sitting back and looking up as you ask for canter. Riders often lean forward and to the inside because they think it will encourage their horse to canter. All it actually does is put more weight over the leading leg putting the horse onto his forehand. This makes the canter flat and the horse fall in.

Trot to canter transitions create more problems than any other. Treat it as you would treat a walk to trot transition. The less you make of it the calmer you horse will be.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Riding the Perfect Canter Transition

Clear aids create accurate and calm canter transitions. Make sure you really understand your aids.
1.      Sitting trot tells your horse that a transition is coming.
2.      Asking in a corner encourages your horse to strike off with the correct lead.
3.      Your outside leg slides back to tell him which hind leg to start with.
4.      Your rein contact should stay firm to make sure he doesn’t rush.
5.      Your inside leg tells him when to strike off.

Try this.

Ride a 20m circle at one end in sitting trot.
Aim to ask for canter at A or C.
Put your outside leg back three strides before the marker but keep hold of your reins so he doesn’t canter.
At the marker give him a nudge with your inside leg. Now he should canter. If he doesn’t back up your leg with your whip.
Practice makes perfect and transitions ridden in this way mean that you are more in control of when and where your horse canters.

N.B. Many a crooked canter is caused by a crooked rider! Don’t forget to move your outside leg forward once you’re in canter.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

No Worries

Being nervous doesn’t make you a bad rider. It just means you have to take your time. You have an inner strength which keeps pushing you to follow your dream. Be proud of it and give yourself the time to gain confidence and enjoy your riding.  

If things scare you, it’s quite simple. Don’t do them!

As children we’re told “Get back on and do it again” but why? If you get bucked off every time you ask for canter in one particular corner the simple answer is, don’t ask for canter there again! The more you worry the more tense you and your horse will become. Avoiding situations isn’t cowardly. It’s intelligent and actually quite sensible.

If you don’t want to jump a five foot fence people will understand but tell them you don’t want to canter in the school or out on a ride they’ll look at you in disbelief. Let them. This is your horse and your hobby. Do what you want, when you want. You spend hours looking after your horse you should be enjoying the time you spend riding him.

Take things slowly.  Build your confidence. In a few months time you’ll be cantering round the school like every one else. And if not. Who cares? Your horse won’t think “We don’t canter because she’s scared”. He will if you keep putting yourself through it and falling off!