A quick note before we start – it is our intention to start using pictures again. We’ve had a chat about it and decided that if trolls can’t handle pictures of horses in real life training situations then it’s up to them to get a life and not up to us to stop publishing. It takes a lot of pictures to find a perfect one, and sometimes a nose is a little behind the vertical, a hind leg is a little out behind, and the poll is often anywhere but the highest point. To them we say – get over it.
However, we were down on manpower today and the weather was frankly shocking, so there aren’t any pictures today. Next time!
For today’s lesson I was once again partnered up with my long time buddy Otis. For those who are new here, Otis is an ex racehorse – you’ll find out more about him in previous posts – and it’s a shame we didn’t have a picture from today because he’s come on an awful lot. The lesson began with a hysterical dash up the long side on account of a digger making a loud noise further down the yard, so I was fairly chuffed when he settled into a rather marvellous walk a few minutes later.
The exercise we started with involved a fairly small reverse turn – reminder, this is where you change the rein and maintain a counter bend – which I then had to turn into a pivot, also called a turn on the forehand. Imagine you are riding on the left rein. You are in the middle of the arena, on the centre line. You begin to turn away to the right, but you maintain left positioning with your body and use your left leg so that as your horse turns he stays flexed to the outside. At this point you feel him get more upright through the shoulder, and the neck deepens as the back comes up. This is the moment that you change to inside positioning on the right rein, picking up the horse with your right leg so that you keep the throughness. Now you apply a half halt to keep the horse on the spot, and use your right leg to ride a pivot around the forehand. Then walk on, ride another reverse turn, and turn that into another pivot. Wash, rinse, repeat.
What I was really pleased with in this part of the lesson was how relaxed and functional Otis was during the lateral work. As you know, historically he was quite angsty about lateral work on account of being croup high and having a very straight hind leg. The fluid nature of the sequence meant that he stayed relaxed and engaged, as the each part of the exercise doesn’t take very long. He stepped under and across evenly and consistently, which produced a lovely round but open frame. His back, which can be a bit tight, also felt really accessible and supple.
After one particularly good pivot, Andrew asked me to leg yield out on the circle. Otis promptly sailed away from my inside leg and I swelled with pride.
“No”, said Andrew. “You can’t let him fall through the shoulder.”
I had a bit of a scowl as I didn’t like my leg yield being criticised, but I held my tongue as Andrew has this way of being right about things. He said something important –
“When you do a movement like this, really ask yourself about whether the hind leg is moving first. If it isn’t, the horse is probably falling.”
He made me repeat the pivot, and then leg yield literally one step at a time. For the first two strides Otis stayed completely underneath me, but on the third stride there was this almighty lurch to the outside.
“See?” Said Andrew.
I did see. I carried on with the tiny, one step at a time leg yield. The trick was to keep a very vertical feel with my seat, an almost constant half halt, whilst using enough inside leg to move sideways but also enough outside leg to stop the horse falling. Bit by bit I was able to increase the amount of movement so that we had a lovely ground covering leg yield which also stayed completely under my seat. By this point Otis was completely in self carriage and I could feel the contact in my elbows rather than in my hands. We changed the rein and whoa, the horse shot out through the shoulder like greased lightening. I realised that this is probably how I’ve always let him go, only now I could feel it. So we started again – back to the pivot, line the horse up underneath, half halt the shoulder, and over we go.
By now the horse felt better than he has ever felt – completely through, nicely engaged, on the aids and in self carriage.
We went to the trot – spiral in with an inside leg pump to get the hind leg stepping through, spiralling out with a little lateral feel, and then do a reverse turn. This created a trot which was open but not fast with a lovely swinging back, and the same consistent self carriage.
Otis can struggle with the canter transition because it’s difficult for him to step under . Andrew’s solution to this was to use the reverse turn to help the canter. The moment that you change the bend is the ideal time to ask, because in this moment the hind leg is placed underneath the horse. This helped Otis to lift rather than push – therefore he was able to stay through and didn’t fall onto the forehand. The resulting canter was absolutely knockout, which caused me to start squeaking excitedly.
The moral of the story – always ask yourself if the horse is falling through the shoulder. If it is, remember that horse’s don’t fall, they are pushed. Luckily it’s easily rectifiable – all you need is twenty five minutes and the exercises above.