Spring Into A Horse Riding Exercise

Up here in our neck of the woods, the snow is melting, the blustery wind is less stinging, and the sun feels just warm enough to start thinking about our riding program for the upcoming season. While we've ridden pretty much all winter, we can now lounge longer at the barn in less layers and more comfortable footwear. The sand is softer and spring is in the air!

And the horses know it!

If you've got a rambunctious, hippety-hoppety four-legged equine emerging from his shaggy coat and winter paddock, here is a fun and active exercise you can use to allow for movement while while also encouraging focus and calm attention.

Spring Time Exercise

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

The Pattern

As you can see, the pattern is fairly simple.

  • Start on the right rein.
  • Go up center line.
  • Turn left.
  • Left circle at B, 20-meters (or you can make it smaller for more challenge).
  • Continue to the far corner.
  • Change directions across the diagonal.

At this point, you can continue down center line or head back to the opposite rail. You can go straight on the rail, or add a shoulder-in or haunches-in if you want to add some lateral work. Or you can come off the rail just past A and leg yield to the rail.




Once you've gone to the right a few times, change direction and go to the left. Start on the B rail and head to center line from there.

But there's more!

The Transitions

Try this pattern in walk or trot at first until you have a good idea where you're going. Then add transitions.

If you like, you can do several walk-trot-walk transitions. Let's say you do the center line at a walk, trot through the corner and do the circle at trot, and then walk the rest and across the diagonal.

You can do trot-walk-trot transitions the same way.

You can add canter into the mix: trot the center line, walk the turn, trot to canter through the corner and canter circle, canter to trot through the next corner, and walk the diagonal line.

You can get creative with the transitions. Keep in mind the needs of your horse as well as yourself. If you need to work in the walk and trot, by all means, do so. Make sure it's a good, active, ahead-of-the-leg walk and a good trot!

At first, you might want to take your time through the transitions and help your horse develop a strong, round, flowing gait before the transition. In this case, you might not be too picky about exactly where the transition takes place. This is how I always start my horses and riders - looking for high quality movement and transitions before we get too much into accuracy.

Eventually, you might want to be more precise. You can decide where you want the transition and get it at exactly that letter. This helps you become more of a team with your horse. Remember to not sacrifice the quality of movement though just to get the transitions. At this point, you and your horse should be able to do the transition at the spot and do it well, with a good gait before and a good gait after.

The Point

This exercise is designed to do two things: give your horse room to move (straight lines and large circle), and require quick response to aids through transitions. Coming out of the winter, it is important to develop a forward-moving, ground covering gait that allows the horse to strengthen again after time off or less consistent riding. However, while you want to encourage movement, you also want to bring your horse's attention to you and work on responsiveness. What better way than through transitions?

I hope you enjoy the exercise. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

If you like this sort of pattern work, join my Practice Sessions Pre-Launch GroupThe Practice Sessions are Modules of many exercises that work together to develop one major aspect of riding. The are currently two modules being prepared, "Focus On Transitions" and "Suppleness." There will be more Modules in the future, each dedicated to other significant concepts in riding horses. There will also be a private community and many more bonuses included. Click here to learn more.

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IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY!

Let's celebrate!

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Five Years Of Horse Listening

We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!

Learn More.

Read more here: 

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

Why you Don't Want To Pull On The Inside Rein - And What To Do Instead: There is one other consequence to pulling on that inside rein that has little to do with turning.

In Praise Of The (Horse Riding) Hand: What goes into developing the type of hands that horses dream of?

How to "Flow” From the Trot to WalkAlthough we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to.

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End: Many riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!

The “Iceberg Result” In Horse Riding: 5 Factors

Only 10% of the iceberg is above the water. 90% of its mass lies below the water line, and it is this large mass that is affected most by the ocean currents. It's the bottom part that is the foundation of the iceberg.

Looks like horse riding is a lot like an iceberg.

We see the tip - but we fail to recognize the path that horse and rider had to take to get there (even if that final tip isn't world class level or picture perfect - whatever that means).

Let's take an example.

You see:

  • the horse and rider flow smoothly from one movement to the other.

What make a ride look effortless?

There are five factors that go into creating that harmonious ride. You'll notice that these components are the fundamentals of riding in general - but really, this is precisely why we're always working to improve the primary skills, even at the higher levels.

1. Consistent Balance

Both horse and rider are able to maintain balance through turns, transitions and changes of pace. This means that the rider doesn't tip forward through transitions, fall backward against the horse, or lean into turns. She stays tall and toned and moves right along with the horse. 



The horse is the same: no tipping forward in downward transitions, no hollowing of the back before a new movement and no dropping of shoulders to drift through turns. The body outline stays consistent regardless of what the horse is doing. 

2. Consistent Pace

Two things can happen with the pace: the horse can be sluggish, feeling like he's going to stop any second. Or conversely, the horse can be a run-away, rushing off in response to every leg aid. The rider would have to constantly adjust her position to counterbalance the variations in pace.

It can be quite a challenge to maintain a consistent pace, but it can be done. Add a half-halt before and after turns, corners and transitions. Add seat and/or leg after the half-halts to keep energy up and hind legs striding well underneath the body. The key is to recognize what ground-covering, round, powerful movement feels like and then time your aids to maintain it.

3. Smooth Transitions

Well-prepared transitions make all the difference. Teach your horse that he doesn't need to rush or tense into a gait change. If you can anticipate what you need to do to prepare your horse just enough so that he can respond smoothly and easily, you'll be well on your way to developing that effortless ride. Maintain an uphill balance, step into and out of gaits boldly and evenly, and you'll literally feel (and look) like you're floating along in tandem with your equine partner.

This is where "dancing" with your horse begins.

4. Ease of Movement

There is no greater feeling than the horse moving freely under saddle.

The idea is to let your horse move at his best tempo with a fairly large, active stride while you avoid interfering. Your job is to allow the freedom through your body while maintaining your balance. You also need to be the effective rider that knows just when to support the horse (mainly through half-halts) and when to encourage the horse with your aids.

5. Accuracy

I've added this as the final aspect because when everything else is in place, accuracy becomes easy and effortless. At this point, you've developed the necessary communication to have contact and connection. You've developed your balance, aids and quality of movement to be able to change things up when you want, where you want. While accuracy is necessary at a competition, it's something that is the icing on the cake even at home. 

***

Just like the iceberg, a ride becomes effortless only after all of the fundamental parts fit together into a harmonious whole. It's everything being done well all at once that creates the foundation. Just one missing factor will be enough to make the ride appear to be less cohesive - for both the horse and the rider. 

During your next few rides, after you've done your warm-up, see if you can work on a series of movements with the intention of developing this iceberg result. Use one of the transition exercises I've written about before and work on balance, pace, transitions, ease of movement and accuracy while you stay on pattern. Even if you can't be absolutely consistent, work toward it every ride. While it's not an easy task, eventually, both you and your horse will learn to put it all together.

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Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

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Read more here:

A Question Of Imbalance: Can You Tell? At some point, it becomes essential to be able to feel what is happening so that you can hopefully address it sooner than later.

Dressage As A Healing Tool: Even at its most basic level (or perhaps, especially at the most basic levels), dressage holds a value to horses of all disciplines.

Perfecting Perfection in Horseback Riding: We will never really find the perfect horse, nor will we ever be a perfect rider. However, of course we try for perfect!

The Pinnacle of Horseback Riding: Riding toward the ultimate release – this is the stuff riders dream of.

Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!

Go With The Horse

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

It sounds simple, doesn't it?

Just go with the horse.

Isn't that what you're supposed to do? I mean, if you're on the horse's back, and the horse is moving, you're undoubtedly going along with him (unless you're off his back and on the ground - fairly undesired).

So what's the fuss about "go"ing with the horse?

The novice rider, of course, can attest to how difficult it can be to learn to move with the horse. The rider's entire body has to learn the up-and-down and forward-back sways to the various gaits. It's not like picking up a tennis racket and learning to hit a ball (as hard as that may be initially); it's your whole body.

After a while, though, it gets easier and you learn to "stick" in the saddle better and you sway merrily along in tandem with your horse. But still, there's more to the going than just that.

The fact is, we will hone our "go with the horse" skills for years and years to come.

When Should You Go With The Horse?

While we often speak of half-halts and transitions to maintain balance and prevent the horse from running heavily to the forehand, there are many moments during a ride when we should make significant attempts to get out of the horse's way, so to speak, and let him do his thing while we do our best to not only avoid interfering and being a hindrance.




These are the moments when we just flow along in the horse's movement. We neither augment the movement nor stifle it.

  • Impulsion

Pushing power - that's when you've asked the horse to move along in response to your leg and/or seat aids. You've asked for increased energy, and the horse obliged by bounding ahead in the movement. In these cases, you just ride that wave of energy and let the horse know that you can be a partner in his larger movement. You can always go to the half-halt a few strides later - but after the initial ask, you should "just go."

  • Harmonization

Think of two dance partners as they step and twirl across the dance floor. They both move as one, and this is what we must do in many riding instances to:

... encourage the horse: can be done when the horse takes initiative to offer something you weren't expecting

... reinforce the right answer: after he makes an attempt at what you've asked, then surely, you can just ride along for a few strides to let him know he's on the right track

... develop confidence:  "just go" after the horse has overcome a mentally or physically demanding task (such as ride past a spooky corner) - get out of the horse's way and let him do his thing

Here's How

It's a simple concept: allow your body to move with the horse. But let's break it down a bit for the sake of clarity.

1.Loosen through the lower back

Many of us need to teach our lower backs to move with the horse, especially if we start riding in our adult years. Tight ligaments and tendons contribute to the body simply not being able to move enough with the horse, so one of our initial goals must be to be able to move through the lower back and seat. Here is a great exercise to try to isolate the area that needs to "find" movement in order to help you stay in the saddle.

2. Soften the elbows

Sometimes, it's useful to just loosen through the elbows. We often maintain tight elbows (and shoulders) in attempt to maintain adequate balance and connection. If you find yourself being a little too clutch-y, focus on loosening through the elbows. Avoid letting the reins get longer, and avoid the opposite - pulling backward on the reins. Instead, find the feeling of just loosening within a consistent rein length so that the horse can find a release but doesn't become suddenly unbalanced either way.

3. "Swing" through your body

Think of this as letting your horse move your body. You kind of trampoline along with him - with adequate tone - so that you become light and buoyant within his movement. Just remember that it's not like becoming completely jello. Too much flop becomes a hindrance for the horse as well as allows you to lose balance.

4. Travel further

If you're on the right track and your horse actually reaches further and strides out (rather than just speeds up his legs), you might find that you're being left behind. Your horse will feel you and stop his movement. Instead, be prepared for the energy surge. Maybe you should make sure your shoulders stay above your hips (might require a very small lean back in preparation) and get ready to travel further with each stride. 

The sooner you can learn to go, the sooner you will be able to communicate good "feels" to your horse, and the clearer your communication will be. While it may take many repetitions of just going every time you learn a new movement, it surely is worth the time spent. OK! Get out there and just go!

Horse Listening

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Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.

Included in the book:

  • design your overarching goals
  • long- and short-term planning,
  • debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
  • reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
  • sample goals and pages

The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.

Click here for more information.

white-book-3d-cover-2Read more here:

The Need For "Yes" Speed - While You Ride Your Horse: Do you know that there are many ways you can say "yes?" Here's how you can build confidence in your horse.

The #1 Rider Problem: Pulling To "Frame" A Horse: Pull. Any direction will do, really. Up, down, open rein, closed rein, back to the thigh... we can get creative about it.

The Power Of Self-Talk While You Ride Your Horse: There are many reasons why self-talk can be extremely beneficial for both you and your horse. Even if you think you know what you're doing in your mind, saying it out loud is something else.

Not Fast. Not Slow. So What IS Impulsion? Three things can happen when you ask for more energy. Which one is impulsion?

12 Riding Quick Tips - #6: Developing ImpulsionTrue impulsion can only happen if the rider herself "has" impulsion. Let me explain.

 

3 Relaxing Ways To Cool Down At The End Of Your Ride

Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

What do you do towards the end of your ride?

Do you find yourself hopping off shortly after you're done with the "lesson" part of your ride? It's tempting to do a few minutes of walking just to loosen your horse up a little and leave it at that. But do you know that there are many excellent exercises you can use to cool off but also build on your skills and communication with your horse?

If you can make these exercises a part of your routine, you might be pleasantly surprised at how easily your horse will pick up the new skills, and how the repetition will help you in your position and use of the seat and legs. The more you practice, the easier the movements will become, and practicing them at the walk will set you and your horse up for having an easier time transitioning to the trot and canter.

Doing these exercises at the walk will give you time to better use your aids. They will also give your horse time to learn to respond. It's a win-win all around, and adding them to the tail end (pun!) of your ride on a regular basis will ensure that you actually do devote enough time to make good progress.

Leg Yield To The Rail

This one is a very basic movement that you can teach young and uneducated horses.



Come off the rail just after the letter C or A and head in a straight line parallel to the rail. Now apply your inside leg and ask your horse to step forward-sideways back to the rail. Be sure to keep the horse's body straight while you step sideways, as walking back to the rail in a diagonal line isn't correct.

You can have the horse flexed slightly to the outside (so you can see the corner of the horse's outside eye) but the neck should be straight. If the horse leans one way or the other, just abort the leg yield, reestablish your good walk, then try again.

Click here for much more information about leg yields.

Walk Up Center Line And Halt, Back and Walk 

First off, walking a straight line without any walls to help you might be challenging enough. Then, practice halting. You can halt at different spots on the line each time, so the horse doesn't learn to anticipate. Ideally, you will use very little rein (half-halt preferred) and the horse should stop when your seat stops. Then count to 10 while standing still. Keep your reins straight and 'on" because you will back up in a moment.

After a stationary halt, apply your legs as you continue to hold the reins. The horse should give a forward-inclination before heading backwards in diagonal pairs of legs. Lighten your seat bones just a bit (not enough for an onlooker to see the difference in your posture) to invite the horse to use his back. Halt again after a designated number of steps (4 or 6 steps should be fine).

Then walk on. Make sure your new walk is straight and active. Continue until the end of the ring and turn.

Click here for detailed aids for the back-up.

Medium Walk-Stretchy Walk-Medium Walk

This movement occurs in many of the dressage tests but aside from preparing for shows, it's one of my favorite ways to teach the horse to swing through the back and then keep that loose back while re-establishing contact.

Start with medium walk. Come off the rail at the corner and head across the diagonal to change directions. Maintain an active walk, and use your seat to ask the horse to take the reins out of your hands. Note that you don't give the reins to the horse, but visa versa. The horse should stretch his neck down, head out and keep marching on in a forward striding, ground covering walk. Feel for the "trampoline" feeling of the swing of the back.

Then a few strides before the end of the diagonal, pick up the reins again, establish contact and keep marching. See if you can keep the swing you established during the stretch, even though the horse's outline is shorter now. Horses will often slow down or back off the bit as contact is being taken up, so it takes quite a lot of practice to teach the horse to walk into the contact and stay active through the corner.

Click here for more details about how to WALK the walk. 

I hope these three exercises will give you some structured ideas to add to your ride. If you do each of these exercises a few times each way, you can add 10 minutes or more to your ride, at the walk, allowing the horse to cool down physically and cool off mentally. They will also add a repertoire of skills and increase communication between you and your horse.

Have fun!

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Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

If you enjoyed the above article, you'll find many related chapters about training horses and and the rider in Horse Listening - Book 2. Your favorite Horse Listening training articles are compiled in this beautifully bound paperback (or digital) book.

Instantly order online. Click here to learn more.

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Read more here:

"Inside Leg To Outside Rein" - The Cheat Sheet: To gain a true understanding, and to begin to train your body, you may need more information in order to develop the ability to make it all happen in one movement. So let's break it down.

Stepping "Forward" in Horse RidingThe term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.

Three Ways To Use Your Seat In Horseback Riding: Breaking down the basics of the seat.

Love The Laterals - An Explanation: Have you wondered what those lateral terms mean? Here's a breakdown. 

An Awesome Over-The-Back Suppling Exercise At The Walk: Loosen your horse "over the top line" - getting longer through the neck and back, and then shorter - in a low-impact, non-rushed pace that gives him time to adjust himself physically and mentally to each posture.

“You’re STILL Taking Riding Lessons?”

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Maybe you've heard that question more frequently than you'd like to. It happens all the time to us lifelong horse owners and riders. Because surely, after all these years, you should know everything there is to know! Think of everything you've done with your horse. How can there possibly be more for you to learn?

This article is especially for those who have been riding for years and years. Do your friends insinuate that there might be something wrong with you if you still need lessons after all this time! Do your parents/friends/significant other complain that you shouldn't need to go to that clinic since you can pretty much write the book by yourself?

It's hard to put into words how there is no such thing as knowing everything in horse riding, that levels of expertise are relative and there's always more and more and more.... If there ever were an embodiment of life-long learning, horse riding is it!

Quick Fixes

As an instructor, when I start lessons with a new (lifelong) rider, two things happen. There is an initial change during the first few months, but the real learning takes a lot longer.



The little nit-picking bad habits that we can address right away will generally make an initial positive impact on the rider's feel and the horse's way of going. These fixes will make an obvious difference if practiced consistently during "homework" rides because they are likely the quick fixes that are currently getting in your (horse's) way.

They are the ones that are easier to do because they require less coordination or build on what you already have achieved.

The Plateau

Then invariably, the plateau hits. While it seems that nothing really changes during this stage, it is an essential part of long-term development. This is where the tough learning happens, where we work on firmly entrenched muscle memory habits that prevent progress. This is when you wonder if taking those lessons really make any difference at all!

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to step ahead.

Real Change

Making significant change can take at least 2 years - usually more if you take lessons (= get reinforcement) only once a week. Getting to the root of a problem is a difficult task not only in terms of changing old habits but also in terms of blueprinting new responses and movements.

We usually need to work on our basic skills more than anything. This is because all the more advanced movements rely on sound basics. Once you move on to the higher level movements, problems will arise not from the highest level skills, but from the basic skills that have not been established enough to be able to support the higher skills.

For example, you might be working on more advanced movements such as shoulder-in or half-pass when you discover that you have to give up the laterals yet again to better establish forward movement and straightness. Or how about the time when you think you're already sitting well in trot only to realize that you have to be more toned - which requires much more lower abdominal and core muscles than you're used to. Those changes seem to take much effort and time.

Little by little, you whittle away at the old habits, establish new habits, and build upon correct learning. Yes, this takes years, especially if you didn't start with strong basics in the first place.

But by then, the change is surely substantial because you would have made many small but significant changes to your basic skills that not only make your own riding better, but change your horse's life. There is nothing more satisfying than to one day realize your horse is moving stronger and more freely than ever before because of your dedication to making those changes in your own riding - day in, day out - until you can finally see and feel the result in your horse.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY!

Let's celebrate!

paperback-reflection

Five Years Of Horse Listening

We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!

Learn More.

Read more here: 

When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great:  How much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?

16 Ways to Not Become Bored During Your Ride: Here is a list of just a few ideas to keep ring riding fresh and interesting for both you and your horse.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Are you an average rider? Then join the club!

14 Reasons to Love Horseback RidingThere must be hundreds of reasons why people enjoy horses and horseback riding. Here are fourteen.

Horseback Riders Do Nothing Anyway! Well, at least, that’s what “they” say. But we know differently, don’t we?

Not Fast, Not Slow. So What IS Impulsion?

what is impulsion
Photo Credit: NBAnaszak Photography

The thing is, we often think that energy is all about a surge of forward-moving legs.

Use two legs, squeeze either from the calf or from the lower leg. Follow with your seat to allow the increase in movement and energy from the horse. Then invariably, this happens:

The horse runs faster.

His tempo speeds up. His legs move faster, churning at a higher rate. He has to balance by bringing his head higher and "off the bit" (or letting go of connection), hollow his back to counter the energy that pushed him to his forehand, and generally brace through the body.

Speed often masquerades as impulsion and it's easy to just let it go. (Click here to tweet that if you agree!)

Three things can happen when you ask for more energy.

1. Faster Faster "Out The Front End"

This usually happens when horses and riders are learning what impulsion is about in the first place. It takes time and repetition to learn the "feel" of fast legs. Originally, we think of fast legs as increased energy and then try our best to stay with the horse through the flurry of increased movement. 

If we are reluctant to take the contact initially, then all that happens is that the energy increases leg speed and then is let out the front. This means that nothing really happens with the energy. We leave the horse to his own devices and expect him to deal with the resulting imbalance that the energy creates. 



While keeping the "energy in the body" (which is the opposite of letting it out) isn't done exclusively by creating short reins, the reins do play a role. If you let the reins slide out of your fingers in the moment that you ask for increased energy, you effectively send the horse into a longer body frame, which then results in sending his weight to the forehand. He then has to try to manage this change of balance while increasing his leg speed. You can now imagine why he would brace and perhaps hollow his back in effort to prevent a fall or stumble.

2. Slow But No Energy

So we grab at the reins and stop the forward energy. The horse has no choice but to disengage at this point. Rather than reaching further underneath with his hind legs, he shortens his stride. This can cause many problems in the horse's body including a hollowed, braced back (because there is lack of energy to give strength to the carrying muscles). The legs slow, but the body lengthens and suddenly you feel like you're riding a hammock.

You might have difficulty getting a turn, or changing gaits (especially to canter). Anything that has to do with balance becomes more difficult (like turning, half-halting, lateral movements). The horse might actually stumble because of the heaviness on his front end, or because he simply can't bring his hind legs deep enough under his body due to the lack of energy.

Fast isn't the answer and neither is slow. What, then?

3. Create and Contain

It sounds simple, really. First - create energy. Second - contain it.

The problem is that it takes a lot more strength and effort from both the horse and the rider to do both at the same time.

If you're not used to it, you'll find yourself teetering between both extremes. Sometimes, your energy causes the horse to move faster-faster. Other times, your reins cause him to plod along with stunted gait and feeling "stuck."

Fear not! 

Cut both of you some slack as you begin to experiment with energy and containment of energy. If you notice the legs speeding up, just slow down again. If you feel the horse getting stuck, ask for more energy. 

Keep fine-tuning your aids and soon enough, you'll notice that the difference between the extremes becomes less and less. One day, you'll feel a surge of energy that doesn't make the legs faster! You might notice an increase in movement but you seem to travel less than usual.

This is when you know you're on the right track!

How can you tell you're heading into real Impulsion-land?

The horse's legs move slower WITH energy and activity.

  • movement flows (doesn't feel like it's going to stop any moment)
  • more bounce to the gaits
  • horse generally seems to maintain balance better - not falling to the forehand or heavy on the bit
  • body becomes rounder, more uphill
  • transitions are effortless (especially downward transitions)
  • you travel further with less strides

When you're not used to this type of energy, you might even become a little unnerved because the horse feels like he's going to take off. That's the key! He feels like it but in fact, he doesn't. That energy stays in the body and becomes expressed in higher leg movement, more bounding strides, and most significantly, rounder movement that is usually easier to sit to.

If you'd like a tried and true exercise to help develop your impulsion at the trot, try this Canter-Trot exercise and see what happens to your trot after the canter. Be ready for the extra energy and ride it!

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2

Read all about impulsion here:

12 Riding Quick Tips - #6: Developing Impulsion:  How can the rider encourage impulsion?

How You Know You Don't Have Impulsion (Yet): There are actually two fairly easy to spot signs.

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem: One of the easiest, and most beneficial solutions to many riding problems is to teach the horse to move from the hind end.

12 Riding Quick Tips - #5: How To Prevent An Upper Body Collapse During TransitionsDo you have a tendency to "fall", or collapse in the upper body, during transitions?

38 Moments To Half-HaltHere are 38 moments in a ride that you could use the half-halt.

Kayla’s 35! An Endurance Riding Celebration Story

Kayla 35 years old
Kayla during her competitive trail years

It's January again.

This means that my old mare, Kayla Queen, has reached yet another milestone year. As an unraced Standardbred mare with no papers and no known history, it's hard to judge her exact birth date. But I was told by her previous owner that she was born on January 6th, and so I still celebrate her birthday early in the month even though it might actually be just a random number. 

She turned 35 this year! It's hard to believe that she's still going strong, still bright eyed and bushy tailed (for real), and still enjoying each morning turn out (she can't wait to breathe the fresh air no matter the temperature), and each evening turn in (she can't wait to come into her snugly barn no matter the time of year), and every meal that is set in front of her (despite a few molars that are now worn right down to the gum).

There have been many a highlight through the 27 years that we have been partnered together, but I selected a vignette I wrote about her old endurance days when the following piece was first published five years ago, titled "The Standardbred Mare That Could," in Horse Canada, a national equine magazine. Back then, I was celebrating her 30th birthday, fully aware that these years are precious years, and to showcase the Standardbred's ability to be sure-footed and reliable riding horses far after their racing years. 

It was our second endurance ride, a 55-miler over some of the most beautiful trails in Ontario. Enjoy!


 

As we swept around yet another turn while negotiating a mild downhill slant, the slick ground underfoot gave way. Before either Kayla or I could realize our error, all four feet swept out from underneath her, and we found ourselves skidding on a sideways slant, heading to the ground. Luckily, we fell onto a hill rising up to our right side, so the fall was short and soft. Kayla immediately found her feet and righted herself. I was on my side on the uphill slope, unhurt but quickly discovering that I was horseless.

Kayla looked for the horse ahead of us. The rider had unknowingly continued at the canter and disappeared from sight. I was on my feet but not fast enough to catch the mare. In a flash she disappeared around the turn in swift pursuit of the horse, and I was left to myself in a suddenly deafeningly quiet woods, with no assistance.

I walked around the corner, wild thoughts running through my mind. I started reviewing the event and all the “should-haves” popped into my mind. I should have slowed Kayla down – she was too inexperienced to handle that kind of footing at that speed. I should have leaned farther back as I noticed the downhill slant. I should have….

But I’m getting ahead of myself.…

****

Very, very early that morning, we had set off on our adventure. The sky was still pitch black as we left camp, waiting for the most competitive horse and rider combinations to leave before heading out on the trail. In the dark, it was difficult to see the trail markers that were undoubtedly set up to keep us on track.

In the shine of the almost full moon, I looked down for guidance from below and followed the weaving path already expertly drawn into the grass by the horses ahead of us. The tall autumn grass gleamed with wet dew and splattered cool droplets over Kayla’s eager footfalls as we headed off on our second ever endurance ride, the 55-mile “Oktoberfest” contest held each year by the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association.

The darkness seemed to last forever, and most of the beginning of the trail was completed before I could really see the surrounding scenery. At long last, the first hint of grey daylight began washing over the foliage around us, and I could begin to pick out the trail markers – ribbons of red for right, blue for left and white for straight.

I let Kayla settle into her own rhythm; being a Standardbred mare, her casual footfalls tended to be faster and more ground-covering than the typical Arabian horse. I had learned over the years to let her do her thing, as she had an uncanny way of picking through the terrain to find the best landing spot for each foot. She rarely got snagged in underbrush or took a misstep over tree roots or rocks. The remarkable thing was that she could do all of this – FAST!

Three years prior to the ride, I had been taking riding lessons at my friend's lesson facility when I met Kayla for the first time. Impressed with her calm temperament and rideability, I bought her as my “dream come true horse”. Our initial outing together was to a trail ride organized by the local Trail Riders Association. At that ride, I realized that she had a lot of potential for speed on the trails, and one of the members introduced me to OCTRA.

standardbred mare trot
She has a gorgeous trot too!

Having little experience with Standardbred horses, I searched for information and assistance in training a racing-bred horse. A little research revealed that Standardbreds had originally been raced at the trot under saddle in the 1600s in America. It was about 150 years later that people began to race them in harness. I was convinced then that her flair for the trails was more than just my own wishful thinking.

Kayla’s history was vague and limited to the anecdotes of her previous owner, who had been unsure of her life story. Although trained to harness as a two-year-old, she had never made the qualifying track times, so she was never tattooed or raced. Typical to a retrained Standardbred, Kayla offered excessive speed at all gaits. As a “free-legged” pacer, she often switched into the pace, a lateral gait where both legs on the same side progress together. Even when ridden under saddle, she was quite content to settle into a rhythmical, side-to-side sway that matched the speed of an average Arabian horse’s canter.

Kayla’s racing ancestry enabled her to be a prime candidate for long distance trail. Aside from her good “wind” (her large flared nostrils could exchange large amounts of air in each breath), she also had that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it characteristic: heart. Having a strong intrinsic work ethic, she was most encouraged when she saw even the tiniest outline of horse and rider ahead. A competitive drive in a horse might be frowned upon in other riding disciplines, but in distance riding (and particularly endurance races), her insistence to always be first became a remarkable asset.

It took some time to learn how to correctly condition for a ride, and with no other competitive trail riders in my area, I was left on my own to read books on the topic and devise my own conditioning strategy to build us up for our first ride. Carefully, I started with “long, slow distance” rides, where I walked, then trotted, then walked again to end the ride.

Next came a change in her feed plan. After consulting with the local feed mill representative, I changed her grain over to a high performance, textured complete feed program. She stayed on the already good quality hay given at the barn, and I added a Vitamin E/selenium supplement to support her muscle cell requirements over long periods of exertion.

Week to week, I lengthened the trot component and slowly reduced the walk sections. Eventually, I added the canter, first only over short distances, then working up to canter/trot sections before a long walk to cool down. We entered our first 25-mile competitive trail ride after 6 months of steady conditioning.

****

Now at the endurance ride, having made a potentially serious mistake, I wondered what was going to happen to my horse on these strange trails. Alone and walking on the trail, I felt vulnerable and lost. Although I could follow the trail markers, it would be some time before I would get to a vet check. I was also keeping an eye behind me in case another competitor came up from behind me at speed.

I looked up when I heard a rustling ahead of me. To my amazement and wonder, the rider ahead reappeared, coming toward me with Kayla in tow! Both horses were walking calmly, and he courteously asked me if I was injured. When I responded in the negative, he gently handed Kayla’s reins to me. Noticing that I was going to get back on, he faced his horse toward us and stood still.

As I mounted, I was in awe that this rider, who was obviously in the race to win, had the generosity and composure to stop his rhythm long enough to know that I was safe, on my horse, and able to continue the ride. After a humble “thank you” on my part, he swung his horse around in the tight quarters and sped around the turn, back into his strong canter.

For the remainder of the ride to the first vet stop, Kayla and I matched the horse ahead in speed, with a significant change of strategy from my end – I rated her speed with more insistence at any area that seemed to have questionable footing. We slowed at the 2-mile marker and then came in calmly and confidently to the 20-mile stop.

In an endurance ride, you can strategize your entry into the hold. Knowing that Kayla usually had a higher pulse and breathing rate than the Arabian horses, it was to my advantage to walk almost to the vet check rather than come in at speed. I had slowed her pace early enough to give her parameters plenty of time to recover, and by the time we stepped into the vet check, she was below the mandatory pulse rate of 64 beats per minute and breathing slower than 12 breaths a minute. The lay vet checked her for possible injuries, palpated her back for any discomfort, listened to her gut sounds, took a look at her capillary refill rate and hydration status, and sent us through with no worries.

I checked my watch – only 2 hours had passed since we had left the start! We had completed the first section at an astounding 10-mile per hour pace – almost twice as fast as our competitive trail rides during the summer! It was then that I realized that the rider ahead was probably one of the most competitive in this ride (he was the eventual winner).

We negotiated the second loop at a more relaxed trot. Somewhere at the 35 mile point, after several hours of posting, my legs cramping and crying out for a break, I started wondering why I was doing this in the first place. For some time, although Kayla kept up a good trot, I caught myself thinking, “And this was my idea of fun?” I realized I was experiencing “the wall” that many long distance riders speak of.

When I could post no longer, I dismounted and walked casually beside her. For almost half an hour, I worked the tension out of my legs and gave Kayla plenty of time to recover and move without weight on her back. At the final two-mile marker, I remounted and we headed off at a very calm trot, aiming to finish strong. There were just two miles to go, a final vet check and a completion certificate to seal our achievement. Kayla scored mild hydration loss and slightly lowered gut sounds. However, her pulse, respiration and capillary refill time indicated good recovery parameters.

As we left the final vet check, I gazed into the infinite wisdom of her deep brown eyes. Kayla’s butterfly wink seemed to say, “I knew we could do it.” I looked at Kayla with the sort of awe reserved only for the most extraordinary and inspiring moments, thinking, “We really DID that… ?”

“To Finish Is To Win” – the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association motto – was certainly our experience that day. Although we were both exhausted, I was exhilarated with the realization that we had completed one of the biggest accomplishments of our lives.

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.

Included in the book:

  • design your overarching goals
  • long- and short-term planning,
  • debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
  • reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
  • sample goals and pages

The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.

Click here for more information.

white-book-3d-cover-2Read more here:

17 Wise Reflections - Straight From The Horse's Mouth! My horse, Annahi, is full of words of wisdom for those horses around her who are willing to listen.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

An Ode to Kayla Queen – As She Turns 30Happy 30th birthday, dear Kayla, the exhilarating horse with a never-ending zest for living!

A Recipe for Living: If life were a recipe, what would it look like?

5 Life Lessons From HorsesHow can horses help us grow and develop in our own lives?

12 Riding Quick Tips – #12: Five Ways To Reach Your Horse Riding Goals in 2017

Thank you for joining us for 12 Riding Quick Tips series of articles! 

Sponsored by O3 Animal Health Products. Please visit their website and enjoy their amazing equine supplements.

How can you really and truly improve in your riding? Many people speak of "perfect practice makes perfect" but how does that relate to our day-to-day rides? I traditionally write about my New Year's goals around this time, but I thought I'd change it up this year and look at how to set goals instead.

Sometimes it seems like once we get into a riding groove, we fall into routines. Progress slows to a crawl. While it may be true that it can take up to two years to see real progress in any riding skill, we certainly can take intentional steps to improve. There are things we can do to plan, try, evaluate and recognize our progress over the long term.

Over a year ago, I went searching the Internet for a useful goal-setting guide specifically designed for riders. While there are many articles that give good advice, there was really nothing that I could use to plan and track my own personal progress. So last year, I published a new book, Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook.

I researched the best theory, but my criticism with goal-setting in general is that while we can easily decide what we'd like to do, what really happens doesn't always go as planned. I'm also aware of the fact that we have to include our horses into our decision making process.

Some days, nothing goes as planned. Other days, everything falls into place and your horse surprises you with movements you didn't know you could do. The more we learn to "listen", the better we will be at setting goals, throwing in challenges at a moment's notice, backing up when necessary, and working through problems compassionately.

So I added other, more relevant, aspects in the book. I did the ol' "practice what you preach" and have worked through the process myself over the course of this year. Here are five suggestions I learned from the process, that might help you make intentional progress as you head into 2017.

1)  Set goals that take you only slightly out of your comfort zone. 

Your goals can be smaller than you think. We often start with too large of a change and end up being unsuccessful. Then we get discouraged and back track or stop working on that skill altogether. The key is to find a small enough change that challenges without overwhelming. Make things just a little difficult.

2) Practice. Give it a good shot.

Nothing happens if you don't actually go out and do something. Start somewhere. If things don't go well at first, analyze: ensure your aids are correct and clear, look at possible environmental factors, and try again. Then re-evaluate: what do you need to do next?

3) Go back and fill in the "holes."

Often, when you focus on one skill, you'll realize that there is a prerequisite skill that hasn't been mastered "enough" to let you move on. Alternately, when you try something more difficult, you'll notice that your old weaknesses become more evident. In either case, going back to basics is more important than working on the new skill. 

For example, take the shoulder-in. It's time to add some lateral work into your daily rides. You set up the movement with a small circle which leads into the line on the rail. While you are able to position the horse in three tracks, the horse loses impulsion. Your trot becomes less and less active. You start to lose angle as you lose energy. 

In this case, you might need to focus on reestablishing activity and energy in the trot before trying for the shoulder-in angle. You might even want to "change the topic", focus on impulsion, and come back to the shoulder-in only when you have the better trot.

4) Do a monthly reflection.

It's  important to stop and pause at regular intervals. At the end of each month, take some time to reflect. What went well? What needs revisiting? What new goals emerged from the month's work? How did this month help you progress toward your intended long-term goals?

5) Keep track of the special moments.

We often overlook the key moments through the year. While we're busy participating and enjoying the moment, the learning is forgotten. Keep track of the special activities. If you went to a clinic, show or special lesson, record what you were told. Write down what you did, reflect, and let the feedback inform your next steps.

There are actually two more requirements for progress.

First, there is no replacement for an educated "eye on the ground." A good instructor can give you immediate feedback, explain theory, give you relevant practice, correct mistakes or show you your next steps.

Second, the quality of your practice does matter. I'm not talking about perfection here, but more about the way you work through the difficult moments with your horse. Try to be patient but ever striving for better movement. Because in the end, it's all about keeping your horse moving in a way that keeps him healthy and happy over the long term.

Do you have a copy of Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook? If so, I'd be very interested in your feedback. What did you like? What needs a rework? Is there anything that should be added? I will be doing a revision early this year. Please email me at fwdnrnd@gmail.com

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Now is the time to re-evaluate your goals and path to riding success!

If you’d like a structured, but personal tool to set goals, take a look our Goal Setting for the Equestrian: A Personal Workbook. The pages are designed for you to set and keep track of your progress over the course of a year.

Included in the book:

  • design your overarching goals
  • long- and short-term planning,
  • debrief your special events such as clinics or shows
  • reflect on, plan and evaluate your goals
  • sample goals and pages

The Workbook is available for instant digital download so you can print the pages right off your computer. There is also the option of a paperback version if you’d rather have a professionally bound book to hold in your hands.

Click here for more information.

white-book-3d-cover-2Read more here:

Top 10 Common Goals For Riders (Part 1): These are goals that most of us need to aspire to during our riding careers.

Top 10 Common Goals For Riders (Part 2): More goals!

Listening Corner - Riding Goals DefinedAt some point, you're going to find yourself wondering: why am I riding? 

The Truth About Perfect Practice and the HL Rider Learning Cycle: How does "perfection" fit in with horse riding, and what are the learning stages a rider goes through?

How You Know You Don't Have Impulsion (Yet)You can think of it as a sort of health insurance policy for your horse. The better the movement (which is highly influenced by impulsion), the healthier your horse may be over the long term.